The Weekly Routine and Helping Hands

We are playing pickleball for a couple of hours every Tuesday evening in Browns Bay about 25 minutes to the north up the coast road.  Since arriving we have about 12 -14 of the senior missionaries from the area office come each week.  It is great.  We have met several local folks who play weekly too.  It is a great regular social and exercise opportunity.

Gordon spoke in Church and I taught Relief Society on June 9. I expect my turn is to speak in Sacrament Meeting is coming.  I am teaching English Connect (English as a Second Language) classes at the Church on Wednesday nights to help non-English speakers practice conversation. That is a night Gordon works late. I also help as needed at the mission office periodically, and on Thursday morning join the senior missionary sisters in a scripture class at the Area Office.

We are saying goodbye at the end of July to Elder and Sister Haleck, our Area President. He heads home to American Samoa after 7 years in the area presidency here. They are beloved.   We celebrated the 4th of July on the 6th with a party with all the senior missionaries – having pulled pork sandwiches, beans, coleslaw and homemade apple pie and ice cream. We sang, played games and remembered our founding fathers.

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Magical Anniversary and Business Trip to Tahiti

A few days later we flew 5 hours to Tahiti. We left on Thursday early evening, crossed the International Date Line, and arrived on Wednesday at 11:00PM.  Gordon had meetings and work there on Thursday and Friday, so we stayed one extra night and attended the Temple Friday – Tahitian language session, toured the beautiful neighboring island of Moorea on Saturday, and met new friends at church on Sunday.  

Tahiti was a celebration of 40 years of marriage for us on June 29, 2019!  It worked out rather nicely that they confused our reservation and didn’t have a room ready for us at 11pm when we drove in from the airport.  This is even after confirming by phone the night before- but French and Tahitian are the native tongue and little English is spoken.  So we waited almost an hour while they pretended they had something for us, then sent us to the wrong room.  We opened the door on some sleeping people and were very embarrassed.  To make it up to us, they put us in an over-the-water bungalow for the following 3 nights which was a fun experience.  The sound of the water lapping against the shore was soothing and the views were amazing.  We enjoyed the hotel and the buffets and loved meeting wonderful people and seeing the country side as Gordon toured several of many of the 60 Church buildings on the main island of Tahiti.  There are 8 stakes on the island and the members of full of faith and love.

We really enjoyed the familiarity of driving on the right side of the road again for a couple of days and getting a feel for the lifestyle outside the resort hotels. The Church was first established in Tahiti 175 years ago in 1844.  

On Saturday morning we took the one-hour ferry to the island of Moorea – it has spikey lush forested peaks and blue lagoons enclosed by protective coral reefs.  We spent the day driving clockwise around the perimeter of the whole island and stopped at our sister hotel to swim and spend time on the beach. But it was too cool and windy to spend much time in the water, so we watched the dolphin encounter that they do there and visited the Turtle Rescue clinic which was interesting.  The jagged mountain peaks and lush greenness were more than beautiful.  

Upon returning, we found that due to a national holiday celebrating the end of nuclear bomb testing in their country on June 29 sometime in the 1940s, there was literally no parking anywhere in downtown Pape’ete.  We were starving and tired of the hotel buffet. Since we were near the food trucks at the dock, Gordon circled for a half hour while I waited for our take-aways.  One was good-the other not so much.  But they were fun to eat on our back deck over the water as we watched the moon shine on the calm turquoise lagoon.  

Settling In, Shrinking a Bit, and Serving

Hallelujah!  The month of June brought us our long-awaited boxes on the 18th, almost 10 weeks from the time we sent them off until we received them. We understand they sat at docks for 5 weeks awaiting a ship with room heading to New Zealand!  Frustrating!  Also, somehow a few boxes we had intended for Takapuna somehow got sent to Bellevue storage instead, so we are without some precious books, most of our spices and kitchen gadgets, and a couple of knives and pans we would give a lot to have.  Oh, well!  We are still greatly blessed and continuing to love this beautiful place.  The daily views off our balcony continue to lift us.

Winter has also noisily arrived, and the winds and rains are impressive!  Being from the Northwest, we don’t mind so much and know it just makes the place so green and beautiful, so we are making lots of soup and waiting it out by shopping and socializing.  Speaking of soups, Gordon hasn’t been eating as much lately and has handily dropped 22 pounds since we got here.  I am so proud of him!  The funny part is he wasn’t even trying-it just happened since he was taking in a lot fewer calories than he’s been expending, and with walking to work and home daily, and going up and down 66 stairs each way a few times each day, it has really produced results.  The bad part is I’m still about the same.  I snack more and don’t get all the exercise so no pay off.  Yesterday he got a new belt so his pants now stay up again!

Since receiving our goods from home, we’ve given a few dinners and are settling in well. We have been visiting the Op Shops looking for treasures, household goods we didn’t bring with us, and going on adventures. We sang in the Stake Choir for Conference two weeks ago which was fun.  “Where Love Is” and Come Follow Me were familiar tunes and the choir had about 40 members-sounded good!  Plus we had great seats for conference! 

Kiwi Culture

One of the things I love about our flat is being so close to the water.  Winter has arrived in all its fury  (temperature in the 50s and intermittent rain), but that doesn’t deter those who love the beach from hauling their kayaks, paddle boards, wind sailing gear and sometimes even wetsuits out a quarter mile in front of my windows.  People here are tough.  Few locals will carry an umbrella or don a raincoat.  I’ve spotted several men and children (not women so much) going barefoot on the street for their mail or navigating a store.  They will swim in the ocean all year long, being committed to staying in close touch with the earth and taking time to be fit.  They also teach and promote from very young the responsibility they have to protect the precious gift of the earth they’ve been given by not littering, by not endangering native species, by recycling and respecting all life.  They’ve given away millions of reusable recyclable plastic shopping bags since last year when the country shifted away from single use bags. Now 6 months later, almost everyone brings reusable bags to all stores whenever they shop.

Store hours are generally 9:30am to 4:30pm, after which time people like to exercise, relax, play with their families and have dinner together.   They do a great job providing lots of playgrounds for children to enjoy, often in very beautiful places.  Everything of course, is all “at your own risk” and we have heard they are not a litigious people if a person gets injured at a park. You would never find many of the balance, climbing and spinning activities so common in the parks here in parks in the United States.  It just wouldn’t happen.  Check out the “Barrel Roll” below:

Things I see and hear “heaps” of:  tattoos (mostly arms and legs but some female islanders even have their faces and chins decorated), brightly colored hair, ripped jeans, high fashion, man purses, neck scarves, trash cans, recycle bins and the word “cool”- it’s even on printed electronic instructions touting the merits of their toaster or blender.

All the senior missionaries serving in the Area office and the mission are wonderful.  We have senior missionaries working in welfare, self reliance, family history, public affairs, physical facilities, missionary support, mental health, medical, educators,  and-of course-attorneys.  Gordon has 3 couples that work with him in Auckland and one in Sydney, plus two legal coordinators.  They make a great team and are all very busy.

The work Gordon is doing is extremely varied and there is something new and different every day.   So far, he has worked on matters involving shipping to the islands, logistics, property transactions, litigation, employment and employee benefits, human rights claims, privacy issues, missionary challenges, supporting the Area Presidency, redevelopment of the area around the Hamilton New Zealand temple, and a variety of other things. He is excited about a new Declaration on Human Dignity for Everyone Everywhere and its potential for good. Check it out at https://www.dignityforeveryone.org.

New Website containing the Declaration issued December 2018

Our highlights for the month included a visit by President and Sister Nelson and Elder and Sister Gong.  They completed a ministering visit to 7 countries in 9 days here in May and gave different messages during each visit.  In New Zealand, about 10,000 attended and we were told where the new Auckland Temple site would be (near the MTC) and treated to a re-telling of what it is like to date and marry an Apostle.  President Nelson requested the primary children sing “I Am a Child of God” to him and reviewed the most important things we should be teaching our children.  It was a sweet time for everyone.

“Vivid Sydney”

We just happened to be in Sydney May 30 – June 3, 2019, for the annual “Vivid Sydney” light shows where there are light displays on the Opera house, the Harbour Bridge and several of the downtown buildings.  It was a great event which only lasts three weeks. We also got to revisit the Bondi to Coogee beach walk, and visit Manly and Shelley Beaches as well as Palm Beach this trip in between the meetings and legal work.

View from Harbour Bridge on May 31, 2019 of Vivid Sydney light show

Though rain was predicted, we got lucky and were able to do a fair bit of hiking, scored great street food at Spice Alley which sold every kind of Asian food imaginable, whale watched (just a couple of weeks too early), and spent an hour at the Chinese Friendship Garden at Darling Harbour.  This site was a refuge of peace encircled by noise, cranes, skyscrapers and an energetic, cosmopolitan vibe.  The gardens boasted the usual koi, carved wood pagodas and benches, stone animal guardians and zig zag bridges and walkways designed to keep evil spirits away, and even rented beautiful Chinese clothing to those who wanted to “be in the zone”.  We just loved Sydney and were glad to have a car there so we could cover some territory.  Gordon will return there many times.  Tahiti is on the horizon for the two of us in the near future!

The sweetest time for Julie was another visit to the Sydney Temple where we went in March, this time for a J. Reuben Clark Law Society conference. Because it had been just over a year since my mom passed away I was able to perform the temple ordinances on her behalf and Gordon and I were proxies as my parents were sealed to each other, to their parents and then I got to be sealed to my parents.  The Temple presidency went above and beyond to come early and make themselves available so this could happen and Gordon could still make his meeting that evening in downtown Sydney.

New Beginnings in Takapuna

Having arrived on May 8th, we are coming up on our one-month milestone in New Zealand at the end of this week.   It hardly seems possible!  As we moved into an unfurnished flat, we started off feeling like we have been doing a bit of camping with no can opener, vegetable peeler, knives, etc.  But now we have a bed, table and chairs, two sofas and a dresser so are living comfortably until our 40 boxes arrive – hopefully by the end of June. In fact, wwe just learned that our shipment is here, but will be “clearing customs” for the next ten days.

View of Takapuna with Auckland Skytower in the background

Everyone we have met has been so welcoming; the transition has hardly been a sacrifice.  The challenges are things like tortilla chips not tasting like tortilla chips, the lack of parking in and around town, not knowing where things are, and knowing the best products available to use around home.  Gordon has done a terrific job of converting to driving on the left side of the road, both here and in Sydney. I need to start taking the car out by myself – if only to the grocery store.  I will do that soon – as soon as I can make my way out of the steep, narrow, twisty labyrinth leading up to street level from the lower basement of our parking garage.

Julie maneuvering our Camry Hybrid up from level B2 in our garage

Gordon works hard day and night with a constant stream of calls and emails that will never slow down and must be addressed “right now”.  This whole “retirement” thing was a mirage! I am teaching Relief Society this Sunday and speaking in Sacrament meeting the next; Gordon is speaking in Sacrament meeting tomorrow.  I have been asked to help teach English to a group of women on Wednesday nights, to show up at the Mission Office on heavy days and especially at times of transfer. And, I am looking to join groups that are already feeding the hungry or doing other humanitarian work.

Takapuna Ward Building – circa 1978

It has taken awhile to get used to the terms “courgettes”, “capsicum”, “minced beef “(zucchini, green pepper, hamburger) on the menus and the sticker prices in the grocery stores.  The prices can be so high I have to fight the urge to boycott many products.  But the eggs are fresher, and the apples and carrots amongst other things are so much sweeter and more tender!  Of course the ice cream, well let’s not even go there because I’m convinced I gain a pound every time I even talk about it or look at it.

Local produce shop across the street from the Area Office

The restaurants here are excellent and represent every nationality on earth.  As food prices are so high anyway, people tend to go out to eat a lot.  We have had our share already of Indian food, Turkish, Italian, Thai, Vietnamese,  Indonesian,  Greek,  Mexican,  Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese,  mid-Eastern and American.  There are so many Asians and Indians here. The responses coming out of their mouths in thick kiwi accents and style never fail to catch me by surprise.

Summer in March in the South Seas

Basking in sunshine and vistas

Cheers!  We are loving life here in Takapuna!  Granted, living out of a suitcase and eating out most every day is a little tiresome (we are so grateful for that occasional home-cooked meal!) but otherwise, life couldn’t be much better- unless you were here with us!

Geographically speaking, Takapuna is to Auckland as Mercer Island is to Seattle.  The traffic is really, really bad going over the bridge and there’s not much there for us so we’ll be happy staying put in this beautiful little piece of paradise.  There’s a long, sandy swimming beach a few blocks away facing the spot where America’s Cup will be held next year where we have gone to walk to see the sun rise or set.  Legend has it that President Nelson swam out to the volcanic island a couple of miles out and back about ten years ago.

Sunrise on Takapuna Beach viewing the island Pres. Nelson was supposed to have swam to and from

The people here are so great!  Almost without exception they are relaxed, love to laugh, and are full of faith and goodness. They are also very patriotic it turns out and fervently sing their national anthem, first in Maori, then English “God Defend New Zealand”.  They also know and use their original national anthem “God Save the Queen” being a part of the British Commonwealth.  Perhaps what I love best is the fact that the population is so diverse.  On every beach, in every bank, in every restaurant, you see people from every part of Asia, every island in Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia, Australia, England, Ireland, Scotland, USA.  There are transplants from France, China, Brazil among other places and intermarriage of all types barring none.

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With the temple in Hamilton having closed for renovation last summer and the one in Auckland not being completed for maybe five years, the closest temple is in Sydney, Australia.  Gordon had meetings there March 6-8, so I got to take some names through for all ordinances and then go work across the parking lot at the Mission Office. 

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Gordon with Jason from Kirton McConkie in SLC in Sydney for meetings

Julie and Michi had a chance to sightsee in Syndey while the guys were meeting local lawyers and dining at a fancy downtown restaurant.  With its iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House, Sydney was as beautiful as ever!

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Beautiful Harbour Bridge and Opera House on the waterfront.

Last Wednesday through Friday we got to attend an Area Leadership seminar in the gorgeous Bay of Islands.  We were treated to lunch on arrival and a boat tour of the bay. We were fortunate to be one of the 3 in 10 trips in that big tour boat to successfully “thread the needle” sailing through the heavily photographed Hole in the Rock.

About to “thread the needle” in the Bay of Islands

Our three days in the Bay of Islands was a fabulous experience to rub shoulders with so many faithful, consecrated husbands and wives who have worked tirelessly in building the kingdom of God in such places as Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Kiribati, Australia, Tonga, New Caledonia, Samoa, Tahiti, Marshall Islands where the church has made great headway in helping organize and finance humanitarian projects involving clean drinking water and sanitation.  We walked along the beach and grassy acreage of the Copthorne hotel near the treaty grounds where New Zealand was founded, hiked, shopped, ate, sang Karaoke, played games for two days and had a hard time saying goodbye!

Area Leadership Meeting at the Bay of Islands

Yesterday, we were invited by one of the Associate Area Legal Counsel and his wife – Elder and Sister Riggs from Tennessee – to drive north and hike the Ecology Walk in Tawharanui Regional Park and nature reserve.  The views were spectacular and being overcast early on, I only got slightly burned.  We started our hike by walking through “the bush”, resplendent with fern trees and abundant cicada and other tropical noises. Before descending to the beach, we found ourselves surrounded by green meadows, wood fences and sheep in a “Sound of Music” like spot.  Believe it or not, the Pacific Ocean was pleasantly warm, and I would have gone right in swimming had I a suit or a towel.  By next week, it may all be different as fall is technically here.

Perfect weather at Tawharanui Park

Church is from 9-11am for us at the Takapuna Ward -just 5 minutes away.  We will end up attending there four weeks in a row on this trip!  Everyone is so welcoming, and we are starting to feel part of the ward already.  We scoped out the cultural hall and there is room for a pickleball court, so I am working on finding a net to bring down.  That way we won’t be at the mercy of the rec center where 15 – 18 senior missionaries and friends play every Tuesday. 

We were here during the national tragedy in Christchurch on March 15th, when about 50 Muslims were fatally shot, and 50 others injured by a reputed white supremacist who entered a Muslim mosque during Friday prayer.  No one can understand or believe that this has happened in such a peaceful country with no such history.  At the same time, two LDS meetinghouses were burned to the ground also in Christchurch and in Greymouth under suspicious circumstances the week before – but fortunately no one was hurt.  At church today, many were shaken and tearful as we sang all five verses of “God Defend New Zealand”. 

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Ferns, BIG ferns  – everywhere you look

To end on a positive note, a touching story was related about a girl who just returned from Manila where she attended the temple and learned of a precedent set there.  Last summer it seems, a large family who had saved all their lives to be sealed there as a family were preparing to go upstairs.  All dressed in white, the Temple President sensed that they weren’t as happy or excited as they should be. “We are happy and grateful” they said, “But one of our daughters is not here and can’t be sealed to our family today.  We are missing her.”  The 15-year-old daughter lay in bed at their home, never having left the house due to having a cranium that had never completely closed – leaving her brain exposed.  They were asked to wait and a short time later, the President returned and said that President Nelson had approved a living proxy to stand in for the daughter.  The entire family was sealed for time and eternity that day in the Manila Temple.

Hamilton Temple – remodel to be finished in 2022

We left for Hamilton on Tuesday to see the site where the temple is being remodeled and where the former Church College of New Zealand was.  Gordon attended more meetings and we returned today by way of the infamous Pokeno’s ice cream place. 

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“Did she eat all 3?” you may ask.  Yes indeedy!

To end this visit we leave next following Tuesday for 4 nights in Manila for OGC (Office of the General Council) Area Cluster meetings.  Our flight home will take 24 hours (13 hours in the air and 11 more in time changes) so we actually land in Seattle 15 minutes before we leave Manila!  Then we have two days to gather everything we’re sending down in the 300 square foot pod they are shipping for us.  It’s going to be interesting- stay tuned!