Friday, December 28, 2012


This seems like a very good day to start a blog entry, since such a date will not come around again for 100 years. (at least that is what I think)  December is about half gone, and we will not have seen even one snow flake or had one day of freezing temperatures. We have seen plenty of 90 and 100 degree days,  and then we have some in the 60’s and 70’s.  We are not sure what the real summer months will bring but my guess is more consistently hot days.  We are not fans of hot days and are less fans of hot nights. It was in the high 70’s overnight and in the high 90’s yesterday, and today and our flat is a bit like a WWll bunker; cool when it is cool out and hot and staying hot when it is hot out.  Oh well !

We had an amazing Mission Presidents Fireside earlier in the Month,  the music mostly by the missionaries.  It made us less aware of the fact that we are missing the Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert. We also have watched and listened to the First Presidency Christmas broadcast, and on the 15th we have the Chinese Branch Christmas Devotional and social event.  On the 24th for FHE we are doing the nativity.  Sharla has handed out the script and parts for every participant, most of whom are new members or investigators.  It will be interesting to see who shows up and how it goes.  We love these people.  They are kind,  loving, appreciative, and so willing to enjoy life. They are a boisterous and loud bunch and often sound angry. They are not; they are just loud. Later next week we have the Mission Christmas activity at the Mission Office.

Now it’s almost a week later, and we just concluded the Branch Christmas Devotional and feast. It was an experience of a lifetime. The program was rather traditional with lots of Christmas hymns, scripture reading, short talks and a power point presentation prepared by Kikik, who has been a member for 2 weeks.  The music was provided by missionaries and branch members.   Some of it was amazing, and the rest of it was also amazing, but in a different way. There is no doubt however, that the spirit was present, and the event was enjoyed by everyone.  The food was much like you would get at home, but how the whole thing was handled is very different.  People started showing up to set up and prepare food at 3:30 for an event scheduled to begin at 5:30 with the devotional,  and the meal to follow at 7:00.  Even hot food items were prepared and set out around 5:00, long before the meal was to be served buffet style. 

The rule that hot food should be served hot, and cold food served cold does not apply with the Chinese or Vietnamese.  One night for a Vietnamese Fireside we were at a member’s flat helping prepare food to take in. Her “flatmate” came bursting up the stairs yelling at her and telling her that she could not prepare food for a commercial event in their “shared kitchen”.  It went on and on. A couple of missionaries came by to pick up food to take, ( a 20 or 30 minute tram or train ride) and Elder Guy, a big rugby player from England was about to flatten the scrawny little “flatmate” with his fists.  Sharla shoved as much of the food as was ready in their arms and told them to leave, then used her “calm down angry parent principal negotiation skills” on the flatmate.  We concluded the preparations and headed for the train station, me carrying  had a big aluminum roasting pan full of something that was very hot, and Sharla and Tam loaded down with bags of food.   I’m sure we made quite a sight traipsing/running down the street one after the other carrying all of this food, with Tam tottering along in very high heeled shoes.  Tam finally succeeded in hailing a cab, and we arrived sort of on time.  It was the same that night…meeting first, eat later.

I am one to eat first and perhaps talk later, but in this blog I have talked way too much.  We love serving these people and serving with “our missionaries.” We love sitting in teaching situations and feeling the spirit witness the truth of the teachings of Jesus Christ.  We are thankful for the opportunity to share our testimony that He lives and invite others to hear his message of love and salvation. There is no doubt that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love and care for and about the whole human race. We value their love and wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  Max and Sharla

Monday, November 26, 2012

November 27,2012

It is a damp, cool, dizzily, morning in Melbourne. I am bummed. I bought a new rain gauge a few weeks ago and attached it with a couple of fishing nails to the 2x4 railing atop the fence near our entry door. I had one that I brought from home in the same place and it blew off one night and did a Humpty Dumpty on me and you know the rest of the story.  The new one is or at least was working fine until I found it lying on the side walk the other morning.  It is not broken but I am not putting it back up there without proper nails or screws that have large enough heads that the gauge will not slip right over them and go plop or splat or whatever again.  We were at Bunning’s yesterday, (Australian version of Home Depot). 

Actually, better than Home Depot in the area of customer service for sure and I think they have all of the (Home Depot) stuff that one would ever want or need.  My problem is I am such a tight wad.  Sharla wanted to buy a little pack of nails with heads on them. It was over $5 and I said, no do not spend that kind of money for two little nails. Of course then it would rain overnight.  What a dilemma!! It is even more complicated because we were looking at Big W (Australian version of Wal-Mart) right after we got the new gauge and I was too tight to buy nails that day.

They were laying loose in the bottom of the display case. We took, borrowed, or stole them. They did not do the required job as I have described.  Then on Sunday I was in the Member Janitorial Closet at the Branch and I found a couple of nails and a couple of screws that I put in my pocket to bring home and try. It was a hot day and I had my jacket off many times and in a couple of different trunks (boots) of cars and Sharla carried it a couple of times for me when we were walking to or from the train or tram. Very long story short,  I am still looking for those nails or screws.  I will get this project finished somehow.  It is raining quite hard right this minute and I am going to go out and put it in a temporary spot. Perhaps you will hear more about this sometime in the future.  Probably not much more.

We are doing fine.  Most of the time well, and once in a while not very well. The not very well is associated with times when we are missing our family, like Thanksgiving which of course is not celebrated in Australia. ( We did a P-Day dinner on the 19th for our Zone. Total of 28.  Turkey and the trimmings, 2 11# whole birds and a boneless roast that was dozens or more pieces all neatly rolled in and placed in a net, all for a total cost  of $194.49.  It would have cost $194.50 had I not paid for it on the credit card, since in Australia they round all transactions to the nearest nickel.  They do not have pennies. They have 50, 20, 10, and 5 cent coins, as well as $2 and $1 dollar coin; no one dollar bills, just 5,10,20,50, and 100 dollar bills. Someone said the other day that they have a $500 bill. Probably, I will not carry one of those around any time soon.

Back to our doing fine, We are about as settled into our efficiency flat as we can get. There is no room for any more stuff.  There are at least a dozen things that we complain about regarding the flat, but we have come to accept that our complaining is not going to change any of it, so if we want it changed we do something about it (at least Sharla does) and otherwise we have limited most of our complaining to each other.

We are accustomed to the fact that we rely 95% of the time on public transportation. The newness of that has worn off, and a few Sundays ago when we walked over 60 blocks doing all of the stuff that we had to do that day (we also rode the tram a few times and even rented a Taxi) we complained to each other that it was too far, too much walking.

 We actually rented a car a couple of weeks ago for a day and went on a beautiful drive down to Inverloch and visited a woman and her son who I met nearly 50 years ago in my first area. We felt so liberated to be able to stop along the way at a travel plaza and go buy a map or a diet coke or whatever we wanted. It was a beautiful drive, The ocean there was spectacular. We also borrowed a missionary car on Friday and drove to Costco, mostly for supplies for all of the Branch feeds. (paper plates, flatware, cups and that sort of stuff).

The amazing, truly amazing part of being here is the Chinese and Vietnamese people and the missionaries. (the young ones, not us) I will never cease to marvel at how hard the missionaries work and how dedicated and obedient they are and how they are blessed to learn the language that they are assigned to learn and then speak that language almost exclusively for two years. Think about the challenge of being a missionary and teaching the gospel to someone you have never met before and then throw into the mix that you are going to do it in a language you know nothing or very little about and you are going to be teaching people, many of them who know nothing at all about Jesus Christ or his Church. That is what is going on here and we are privileged to be on the sideline taking it all in, or at least as much of it as we can.

Most of the students have completed their finals. Summer vacation has begun for them and many of them will return to China for 6-8 weeks. We are anxious to see what that means regarding participation in the various activities. We are having more than 100 in Sacrament meetings; often a dozen or more first time investigators. At “English Class” a couple of Saturdays ago there were 19 people there that had not been there before. (Sharla has them eating out of her hand.) Last night at FHE there were over 50 people there. We had 5 baptisms this week;  three Chinese and 2 Vietnamese. 

We are  touched with the testimonies spoken and the accounts that we are hearing about how these people were guided to come here. One young man told us he was trying to find a job in China and also applying for his Australian Visa concurrently, and that he had decided he would enter the door that opened first. They both opened the same day but the Visa was first and he has simply stated that God brought him here to learn about Jesus Christ, and the Restored Gospel and Church of Jesus Christ. We are so impressed with them, their faith, and how willing they are to step into a brand new world with Jesus Christ being at the very center of it. Hopefully, we (all of us) can be of some worth in our lives and hopefully we can keep Him in the center also.

PS: the rain gauge has measured .96 of an inch since I put it out.  Just thought someone might want to know.  It isn't as big as it looks.  Sharla had to stand on a chair to take the photo.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Bla Bla Bla Blog !   November 15, 2012

October has come and gone, and it is past time for me to share my rambling thoughts about this “Mission Down Under” another time.  It is very interesting to look back to the day of our arrival and the first few days that we were here and to move forward as we have done each of the following weeks. It makes me think of the quote that says something about the nature of the task actually does not get any easier but those of us working at the task discover, develop, or create ways to do the task more efficiently.

Maybe we are becoming more efficient in our efforts. We seem to have completed most of the tasks that would be required if you were all of a sudden Robinson Crusoe on a deserted island. We were in fact dumped here and given our agency to sink or swim. We treaded water a few times, we drank some nasty salt water more than a few times, and now we are quite familiar with our mission, able to go about the activities, and put forth the effort to complete each day, and even feel most of the days like we have accomplished a little bit of good.

Spring is in full swing in Melbourne. We have enjoyed watching the flowers and plants and trees as they have followed the natural path of buds, blossoms, and leaves.  We had over 1.25 inches of rain at our flat in both September and October. We were hardly ever impacted by it in our travels back and forth. (I wrote this a couple of days ago and sure enough, yesterday it rained a lot and we were out in it numerous times. We stood at a tram stop after we got off of a train for about 12 minutes, and it was raining. We came home cold and wet and sorry that I had mentioned how well we had fared so far in the blog.) Unfortunately I am saddened by the demise of my rain gauge that we brought from home. It was blown off its’ perch by the wind one night; we found all of the parts,  but after we got them all put back together in the proper Humpty Dumpty fashion it does not work anymore.  Oh well Christmas is coming and perhaps we can find something similar in this civilized country/continent of Australia.

We were joined last week by another Senior Couple who live in the “flat” just above us. They are the Lacys from Centerville, Utah. We were glad to be at the Branch on the day that the President brought them there after having delivered them and their stuff to the flat. Although we were expecting them all for district meetings and Introductions about 10:00 AM, they arrived around 1:00 PM. It seems that the keys President Lifferth had for their flat were wrong and they had to drive back to the Mission Office to secure the correct ones.  As we have previously stated.  Everything, and we mean almost everything here is hard, and it takes more time and more effort than one can imagine. 

We are thankful however for a good bed and the ability to sleep quite well most nights, good water to drink right out of the tap, fresh produce that we buy at a farmer’s market every Saturday morning that sets up in a street only about three blocks away, and plenty of Diet Coke. ( We bought some yesterday 30 cans for $10. It is usually about twice that amount so we actually bought two of them and of course then had to carry them through the streets of Melbourne. The Zone Leaders however brought them from the branch to our flat for us in their car, and we did not have to carry them on the tram.) We are also thankful for the financial resources that allow us to be here, and most of all we are thankful for each other, our family, friends and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

October 29, 2012

It is a beautiful Monday morning in Melbourne, and we are waiting for the zone leaders to pick us up and give us a ride to Costco.  It takes a lot of food to make meals for 30 – 40 people three or four times a week, and we are always glad when we don’t have to buy everything at the local grocery stores and haul it home on foot.

We had a couple of great diversions last week.  On Monday we rode the train 45 minutes or so to Brighton Beach, where we enjoyed collecting shells, filling our shoes with sand, and a eating a yummy burger from a dive near the beach.  When the menu said “Burger with the Lot” we thought it would include fries.  We were wrong.  The “Lot” part meant beets, a fried egg, pineapple, cheese, grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, spinach, and what appeared to be a 3 ounce sausage patty.  It was yummy and we hope one day to take our bikes on the train, ride along the beach, and eat at the dive again. 

On Wednesday our friends from Packenham took us to Warburton, sort of a resort/old mining/country town along the Yarra River in the Donnabuang Mountains, 2 – 3 hours northeast of Melbourne.  We hiked along the High Lead Walking Track, an old logging tramway through lush rainforest type vegetation.  Robert warned us to watch out for snakes, as all snakes in Australia are supposedly poisonous.  Well, a red-bellied black snake slithered across the trail in front of Max, causing him to jump and me to scream bloody murder.  Robert is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to Australia, and he pointed out wombat burrows and identified bird calls.  We had a yummy dinner at an old hotel, and on the way home he pointed out an area of which he said he had painted a picture.  He drove us home and to our amazement and surprise, presented us with a beautiful 24x36 inch canvas of the scene he had pointed out to us!

Probably the best part of the week was Sunday, when what used to seem like clamor and noise to us seemed normal, and we felt like a part of the branch.  The Chinese teased us about 100… 1000 year old duck eggs they were cutting up to put in a soup, since it was “Soup Sunday.”   I guess Chinese used to preserve the eggs in horse urine, but now use ammonia.  Anyway, the eggs were black, smelly, and seemed like they belonged in a spook alley not in soup.  Needless to say, neither of us ate any of the soup.  Sunday we were invited to Tam’s flat for a surprise birthday celebration for Elder Lynguyen.  Eight or 10 Vietnamese members and investigators were gathered in her small flat, and yummy food was prepared and consumed.  Elder Lynguyen was surprised, because he thought they were coming to help Tam move.  Even though Vietnamese was the language spoken, once again, we felt like we belonged.  Marring the evening was a phone call to Elder Rigby that his grandfather had passed away that day.  Earlier in the week, he received word that his grandmother had died, so it was a double whammy for him.  The Spirit was so strong as, through his tears, he bore testimony of the Plan of Salvation in both English and Vietnamese.  

We have been teaching English to a number of students, and basically teaching means asking them questions then correcting grammatical and pronunciation errors.  It is fascinating to learn about Chinese customs, traditions, and what it was like to grow up in Communist China.  We are very blessed to be citizens of the USA!  In spite of tired feet and on-going frustrations with how long and or difficult it to accomplish what were quick, easy things at home, we are thankful for the spiritual and cultural experience into which we are immersed.



Saturday, October 20, 2012

October 21, 2012

You know you are a missionary couple serving in the Chinese Branch in Melbourne, Australia, because….

For excitement, you play “chicken” with the crowds on the sidewalk to see who moves first to let the other pass…..Saturday feels different from the other days in the week, because you go to the Farmer’s Market for produce and wear a more casual coat to go to the city…….You look forward to Monday, because maybe you can get a ride to Costco……For an evening diversion, you read all the flyers and junk mail that comes……Your credit card bills top out at over $5000 the first month you are on your mission……You get an early viewing of conference on an IPad, watching it with a Chinese girl…….Conference is broadcast a week late in Mandarin and is translated into Cantonese, Vietnamese, and thankfully English, all in the same building…..In order to watch the big screen in English, you ride bikes 4 miles to the stake center, falling against a fence on the way, resulting in a small bloody cut that necessitates spending $10 to get one pair of pants dry cleaned.  

A drunk spends the night sleeping on your parkstrip;  you make sure he’s alive and walk around him to go to the market…..An electrician comes to change yet another light bulb instead of replacing the faulty fixture, and the bulb works a week before sparking out and blowing a fuse…..The TV channel selector doesn’t work, so you only can watch one snowy channel…..Instead of having 6 kids who reluctantly  help with technology related questions/problems, you have 22 missionaries who are happy to get their hands on your IPAD or computer for whatever reason….. You can’t use your computer or IPAD, because the settings have been changed to Chinese or Vietnamese, and you don’t know how to set them back….You walk a block and pay a seamstress $10.00 to sew up a 16 inch split seam in the butt of the pants of a very large Tongan missionary, while providing him with a white baptism towel so he can continue teaching an investigator….For a night out at the movies, you see Madagascar 3 because it is the only one with an appropriate rating….You pay $25 for a hair cut, and it’s so bad, the members wonder if you cut your own hair (Max)…..You ride a train, bus, two trams, and walk over a mile to buy three 1# cans of Crisco at a USA food store, so you can make Halloween sugar cookies, then realize you don’t have a rolling pin when you have time to make the cookies.  (It seems vegetable shortening doesn’t exist here.  I refuse to use lard!)

You know it’s a warm day, because the people you are smooshed against on the tram have bad BO……Ladies on the tram who are all decked out in hats and heels are headed for the horse races, while you are headed for a baptism….An early morning run takes you by Maseriti, Lamborghini, and Ferrari luxury car dealerships, to name a few, but you haven’t seen the front seat of a car since leaving the USA….a huge department store in downtown Melbourne devotes an entire huge floor to cosmetic counters….you spend $75 for a stock pot large enough to make food for all the activities and  walk through pouring rain to get on a tram stop to get it home....After 11 weeks, the Chinese students don’t all look the same….There are as many “ups” as “downs”….You realize that President Uchdorf’s statement “lift where you stand” applies to us all, regardless of where and what we are doing. 
 Australian money is like using play money.  The smallest coin is a $2 coin, and they don't have a penny.  Other coins are $1, 50 cents, 20 cents, 10 cents, and 5 cents.  In stores, they round up or down if the cost ends in $1.99.   Occasionally someone slips us a foreign coin, and we can't use those.  Stuff costs a lot more than in US, but we are becoming more accustomed to the high prices.  We are happy to buy diet coke 2/$5.00. 

The Yarra River Trail goes for miles and miles and miles.   This is the trail we took to ride our bikes to Conference, and I've pounded out a quite a few miles running.  Many people ride bikes on this trail from the suburbs into the city, and it is a crowded trail on Sunday afternoons.  The river is pretty lazy and muddy.   I've seen lots of university skulling teams practicing on the river.  Coaches ride behind them in a small motor boat or ride bikes along the side of the river, yelling instructions to the athletes. 
We hope to rent kayaks some sunny day and spend some time on the river. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

OCTOBER 1, 2012  (just a little more)

It was great to return to our assignment on Friday and be greeted by “our missionaries” with comments of how much they missed us, and one of the Chinese members surprised Sharla with a birthday cake.  They were especially glad to see her, since a couple of the missionaries needed mending done.  The word is getting out that she is handy with a needle and thread.  We finished up the week with a baptism at Fairfield Chapel on Friday night and a train and tram ride home.  The walk to the train station from the chapel, (maybe ½ mile or so) is not well lit, and there were three people coming towards us. They stopped and sort of waited by a tree in the parkway as we approached.  We were sure we were about to be mugged, and Sharla  thought, oh no, this is the end of my I pad.  It turned out to be a missionary companionship and an investigator headed to the chapel for “Friday Night Sports Night, ” and they were going to scare us, which they did a little. We got home just fine.
Saturday evening was “Moon Festival” at the Branch, one of three major Chinese celebrations that occurs each year.  It was a full out feast of sorts, attended by 80 or 90 people or maybe more. We are beginning to learn that the old rule of hot food hot and cold food cold has never been explored by the Chinese. So right now it is sort of all food cold. I guess in the summer, depending on the temperature, it will be all food hot. Oh well, they still know how to have a good time and they are not shy about eating anything you can think of and a few things you would never think of, or eat.
We miss lots of things, especially our family and friends.  Sharla explained to Sister Lifferth, who after being here more than two years is still homesick, that she is homesick, but not miserable.  I’m used to having her cry when she sees a baby in a stroller or pulls up photos on the I Pad to share with someone.  I was thinking this morning as I was getting ready for church that if I were home, I would not have to leave the house one hour before starting time to be there on time; nor would I have to carry a briefcase filled with 50# of food to serve.   Love and kisses and hugs to all of you.  Max and Sharla

October 1, 2012

It is my turn to blog the BlogSpot, and I do not know where to end, let alone where to start. Oh well what else is new.  We participated in a very fun and nice senior missionary retreat this week hosted by our Mission President and his wife.  Tuesday afternoon, the Woffinden’s from Arizona who are serving in the mission office, drove to our flat.  They have been here a couple of weeks longer than we have and had not ventured very far from the square mile of space that surrounds their home and the mission office.  They have use of the mission van, so came to pick us up to take us back to their house, where we would spend a couple of nights.

Since they had not seen any of the city or the Chinese Branch where we meet, been on a tram, or walked the busy Melbourne streets, they parked the van near our flat, and we went in to the city together.  We walked around downtown for a few blocks, went to the Branch and saw a few members, missionaries, and investigators, then had dinner at Madame Kay’s, a Malaysian Restaurant.  The food was so yummy, that we are going back tomorrow to celebrate Sharla and Elder Mao’s birthdays. 

Wednesday we drove about 3 ½ hours through miles of lush, green back country and saw acres of fields of yellow flowers, which we later learned were canola plants, saw kangaroo road kill, and ended up in Echuca, a country town on the Murray River.  We met 5 or 6 other couples and some senior sister missionaries.  We all rode a steam powered paddle boat on the lazy, muddy Murray River, which according to locals is a healthy river when it is muddy, because that means it is active.  We were reminded of lots of fun trips to Lake Powell, as we saw many large house boats docked along the river banks.  We strolled the streets of Echuca, eating ice cream cones and bakery treats, did a bit of window shopping, and enjoyed the beautiful spring day.  We drove to a wild reserve at Kyabrum  and spent a few hours in a very casual setting observing many of the inhabitants of Australia, including koala bears, kangaroos, dingos, wallabies, Tasmanian Devils, emus, wombats, cockatoos, and snakes indigenous to Australia.  Dinner was at a Pizza Hut, and we were glad Elder Woffinden was the driver back to Melbourne. 
Talk about a couple of man - sized "toys."  That chain saw would have helped a lot last December when we had all the trees to cut up.  I think that motorcycle would go way faster than the speed limit here in Australia, which is generally 80 kph on the open road.  Apparently tickets are very costly, and according to missionaries, there is no grace for even 1kph over. 

Thursday we went to the Melbourne Temple, had a BBQ  at President and Sister Lifferth’s home, then visited a couple of sites in the Dandenong Mountains.  Even though they are not mountains as we know them, they are spectacular in terms of the trees and plants. We went to a huge botanical garden that had over 300 varieties of rhododendrons, mostly in full bloom.  Talk about spectacular colors and beauty! We loved it.  After a light supper of soup, we had a meeting where testimonies and experiences were shared.  Elder Woffinden took us to our tram stop, and we were home before 10:30.

Monday, September 24, 2012

SEPTEMBER 25, 2012

Spring is certainly coming to Melbourne, as evidenced by blossoms popping, the smell of freshly mowed grass, trees leafing out, and the appearance of more ants in our flat.  We are quite comfortable sharing our accommodations with them, but draw the line when they choose to climb on our table.  Then we squish them with our finger, brush them on the floor, and continue eating. 

The saga of the electricity in our flat continues, as one of the 60 watt bulbs burned out, and we can’t get another to work in its place.  We had a very nice old electrician come a couple of weeks ago, but instead of replacing the fixtures, he messed with some wires and managed to get them working for a short time.  Now we have a total of 40 watts lighting our living room.  It gives us a good excuse to not study much.

We think we are finally getting a clearer picture of what our role is here.  We were called to a “member/leader support” mission, and that is what we are doing.  We make lots of food, wash lots of dishes, mop the kitchen floor, empty the garbage, vacuum the carpets, and assist the missionaries and members in any way they ask.  I’ve done some clothing repair for the missionaries, and it seem as the word spreads that I can work a needle, more of them bring pants to be hemmed and seams to be repaired.  They in turn love to help us with any computer/Ipad issue we might have, help us eat leftovers and treats, give us rides places if they have a car, tell us where the good places to eat out are, ask us to help with teaching, and are very solicitous and kind.  Their energy, and enthusiasm is contagious and they are certainly forces for good.

We attended the Melbourne temple last week with the missionaries in our zone, and that was a good experience.  Gone are the days when we can leave home, do a temple session, and be home again in two hours.  We left on the tram before 7:00 am, returning home at 1:30 pm.  Pretty much all we did was a temple session, and walk, ride, or wait for a tram or bus.  I love seeing the countryside, looking at all the shops along the streets, and following where we are on the IPad.  Have I said before how thankful I am to have an IPad.  And, I have an IPad tutor, a kid from Thailand I think, who keeps me up to date and always has something new to show me.  He likes to hang around with the senior couples, and since we are the only couple here, he has become our shadow.  Last Saturday we decided to ditch the Branch for a while and go to the Royal Melbourne Botanical Gardens.  Johnny decided he wanted to come, so he was our guide until he had to leave to catch a plane to go home for a couple of weeks.  The gardens were huge, and consisted of plants brought in from all over the world.  It was fun to see families having picnics, kids running around, ducks in the ponds, and lots of beautiful flowers.  We liked seeing a black swan taking her 5 little babies to the pond for a swim.   Unlike botanical gardens most places, it was free, so I'm sure we'll return there often.

Life is good, and we are looking forward to a senior couples retreat this week.  The missionaries kind of look at us funny when we tell them we won’t be around for a couple of days, since they never get a day off.  Even PDay has lots of string attached, for them as well as for us, as we come back to the Branch for Family Home Evening.  This week I taught them "Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree" and the missionaries liked teaching the actions.  They laughed and giggled and had a great time singing and playing Fruit Basket, even though in all the excitement of trying to find a chair, the new missionary twisted his ankle pretty badly.  Guess we'll have to come up with games that are a bit more tame. 

Saturday is Australia's equivalent  to the Super Bowl.  It's fun to ride the tram and talk to some of the Aussies and get their perspectives.   It seems like a really big deal, and there will be lots of beer consumed, I'm sure. There are lots of liquor stores in our neighborhood; in fact one takes up pretty much the entire block.   We live close to the stadium where the game will be played but won't be attending the game.  Hopefully we'll take in some of the Australian Open in February.  

I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I'll never get over being homesick and missing home, friends and family.  This morning we were walking to the grocery store, and a baby in a stroller was crying.  I started to tear up thinking about Zada and Jack.  Max just tolerates my unstable emotions, and I’m sure shakes his head in unbelief.  Such is life.  We spent $190 and "topped off" all our prepaid phone, internet, and 3G data, for the next six months or so, so I guess that means I need to stop looking for plane fares back home.  However, we sure hope to have some visitors.  Love to you all,  Sharla

Sunday, September 16, 2012

September 16, 2012

It is hard to know where to start or when to finish since everything we do seems like a blur most of the time. We come home (interesting how someplace like this can be called home and how it feels ok) at night, and we are tired, and we have a race see who can get out of our “Missionary Clothes” the fastest. After we are comfortable, we start trying to make some sense out of the day and make some notes about the people we met and who were taught.  It is still very difficult to differentiate them as individuals, other than male and female, and once in a while we even miss on that one. To remember names and to associate names with faces is still an almost insurmountable task; one that we are making some headway, but much slower than we like.

Something that we are having zero problems with is loving these amazing people and learning to laugh with them and enjoy their incessant chatter… at least some of the time. There are so many examples of these new members and investigators accepting with their whole hearts the doctrines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and committing to changing their lives to comply with that doctrine. Many of them have very little experience with “Christianity” as the world knows it and no knowledge at all of the Apostasy and Restoration.

I cannot speak for Sharla about whether or not this is getting any easier.  I know she has her spells of homesickness, and perhaps it will strike me at some later date. We are both trying hard to get used to a rigorous schedule and get enough down time to rest and regenerate. We sort of thought that we would get a day or two off each week, and with this assignment that is not the case.  We have responsibilities at the Branch and with the missionaries every day of the week; some of those days being 10 or 12 hours.

 I am doing better with all of the walking, and at least one of the pairs of shoes I brought are starting to feel a bit more comfortable.  We have taken a couple pair of my slacks to have taken in because “Sister Fillmore” would not let me wear them looking so baggy.  Either all the walking is paying off, or Mr. Mac did a poor job of fitting my pants properly. I haven’t been cold hardly at all, and I haven’t worn my coat once, but I wear pants rather than nylons and a skirt.   Sharla is glad for the warm stuff she brought.

We are also enjoying the Elders and admire their hard work, the knowledge they have, and what amazing “teachers” they are. We like having them for dinner; a couple of them just left, and they did not disappoint. (By that I mean that all of the companionships have consumed enormous amounts of food.)  I even had one elder a couple of weeks ago eat two huge omelets with all of the trimmings.

We are anxious to see what this week brings our way and we hope that whatever it brings your way will help you to be of good cheer.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

September 9, 2012

It is Sunday afternoon; probably most of you are sleeping soundly, anticipating the Sabbath.  Church this morning was pretty good.  I especially liked having one of my favorite and not often sung hymns, "He is Risen," sung as the rest hymn.  I know I am confused, but I'm wondering if in Australia Easter comes in September, which is early spring, here.  Blossoms outside our flat are in bloom, and when the wind  blows in the right direction, their fragrance is very sweet.  The wind gusts pretty much non-stop, and there are areas in downtown Melbourne that we are convinced are wind tunnels.

Highlights of last couple of weeks include getting our IKEA furniture put together by Elders Rigby and Lynguen , yet another trip to Office Works to purchase a small file cabinet, and an outing with  Robert, Miriam, and Paul (people Max converted many years ago) to the Dandenong Mountains to see the Cockatoos and to visit the William Ricketts Sanctuary. 

They swarmed us for food and only drew blood a couple of times

Statues were cast in clay, fired, then attached to rocks. Figures appear to be growing out of the rocks.  This work was done in the 1960's and there are dozens of statues, mostly Aboriginal in nature.

We are blessed to work with wonderful missionaries, who carry their Sunday meal to the Branch in their backpacks.  (note the frozen chicken breast and salad.)

Elder Staples and Elder Kirklin
Baptism of 3 Vietnamese
Family Home Evening Activity at the Branch
The missionaries are teaching many Chinese and Vietnamese people, and we are thankful to report baptisms and great conversion stories.  One man named Chris, who has two masters degrees in engineering, committed to baptism after just one lesson.  The field is certainly ripe, ready for the harvest, and we are thankful to be able to contribute in very small ways.  Mostly we smile, talk with the members and investigators to the extent they understand English, make food for almost daily activities in the Branch, and occasionally assist in teaching.   

Our Kitchen is Very Small 
We were able to rent the trolly for $50 to help us bring the file cabinet 3 blocks back to the Branch.  No one seemed to give us a second glance. 
Our flat is small, and getting the things we need sometimes can be a bit of a challenge, but we manage public transportation pretty well, and we walk a lot.  Sometimes the Zone Leaders give us a ride.
Flinders Station
Melbourne Central
There are many historic sites in Melbourne, and the architecture is a great mix of old and new. 
Depending on the day, we are adjusting to missionary work and the new culture into which we've been immersed.  We do know our Heavenly Father loves us and each or you, and that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer.  We are thankful to feel safe and that we have the physical, financial, spiritual, and generally the emotional strength to serve here. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

September 2, 2012


1.      You have a total of four light switches.
2.      There are four doors, one of which is a sliding door and one is the closet door.
3.      There are 15 total knobs/handles in the entire flat, plus of course, two door knobs.
4.      From your kitchen chair you can access all of the cabinet drawers (4) the microwave, the refrigerator, and all of the lower cabinets (3.)
5.      Sitting on the throne, you can do your business, as well as operate the washing machine, spit in the sink from brushing your teeth, and sort the clothes from the clothes hamper/bag if you like.
6.      You improve leg flexibility, as you train yourself to swing your leg around the corner bed post that you must pass to get to the bathroom or the living room;  otherwise you CLUNK your leg every time you pass and it hurts. (Missionaries are not supposed to swear.)
7.      Physical dexterity and balance is also improved, because on the far side of the bed, there is about a 6 “ space between the bed and the wall.  You quickly learn to get out of bed in the middle of the night very carefully, otherwise you might hit your head or your foot on the cement or plaster wall.  You also have to maneuver around the radiator heater and big old fan that are in the egress.  You might think, why don’t you move them?  Reason being, there is no place to move them.
8.      There are a total of four wood windows in the entire flat, all of which have peeling (probably lead) paint, have dirty moldy screens, and which may or may not open in case of an emergency, but which help maintain a consistent humidity level in the flat.  It probably would be very easy to break out if necessary.
9.      You have 4 dinner plates, which is plenty, since there are only two kitchen chairs.  When 2 guests come, a small desk chair is available, and one person stands at the end by the refrigerator, facilitating easy access to food that is kept there during the meal, because the table is so small.
10.   Energy is saved, because the TV doesn’t pick up any stations, so doesn’t get turned on.
11.   A car vacuum is adequate to vacuum the whole place.
12.   Two of the four light fixtures accommodate two bulbs each, but only work at 50%, saving additional electricity.  
13.   Six small pictures, framed in $2.99 IKEA frames, and two pillows is all the interior decorating needed.
14.   There are two sinks, a single small one in the kitchen, and one in the bathroom that could easily be mistaken for a urinal trough.
15.   An element of luxury is 16 electrical outlets, three 4 banger power strips, and one lengthy power strip with a cord that reaches anywhere in the flat.
16.   Nine foot ceilings provides for an open and spacious feeling.
17.   An electric wall heater, two transportable radiator type heaters, and a small space heater help maintain a comfortable climate, and double as the clothes dryer.   

Sunday, August 26, 2012

August 26, 2012

It is amazing what a difference a week can make!  First of all, we are both finally sleeping at night and waking up refreshed and ready to conquer the world.  Our familiarity with the area has increased from 1 city block to 3 or 4, plus we are familiar with a couple of tram and train lines.  We know the names of all the missionaries we are working with and sometimes can remember names of 10 - 12 Chinese students.  We attended our first Zone Conference (good, but very long) had one pair of missionaries to our flat to dinner, and I went on a 6 mile run along the Yarra River without getting lost.

We are getting used to the oddities of our little flat, which is very little.  Two of the light fixtures only work part of the time, the tv doesn't work, and the shower turn on knobs are outside of the shower, so adjusting the temperature creates a bit of a challenge.  It seems that the oven works part of the time.  It took 45 minutes to bake a pan of brownies, yet a roast was cooked to a crisp at what was supposed to be a low temperature in a couple of hours.  We are in close proximity to a tram line, a "footie" field, 440 meter track, a farmers market, supermarkets, a mall, lots of shops, hundreds of mostly Asian food restaurants, and less than 3/4 of a mile from a huge IKEA store.  I've really enjoyed all the walking, and I think Max is losing weight, because he's had to tighten his belt another notch.  It seems people on the street don't make eye contact with anyone else, but if you ask a question, they are extremely friendly and eager to talk and help in any way.  We met a man the other day who had a small pet bird perched on his shoulder.  He said he had rescued it, because it got kicked out of the nest.  The bird was colored in brilliant shades of blue, yellow, and green and was very tame.  It only had one foot; maybe why it was kicked out of the nest.  I think he called it a lourakeet.

This weekend we  attended the baptisms of 4 Chinese students and 3 Vietnamese students.  We hope that since most of the students will return to China, that their faith and testimony will remain strong, and that they will be able to help build up the Church in their country.  It is amazing to witness the teaching of the students, and though we mostly sit and try to stay awake during the Chinese discussions, sometimes we are asked to bear our testimonies in English.  We spend lots of time visiting and interacting with the students, and they are very kind to us.  They are studious and interested in learning English, so they can pass a competency test.  I teach an English class once a week, and the skill levels of the students differs to a very wide degree.

Even though we have been here less than two weeks, we feel that this missionary assignment is the best in the Church.  The Chinese students are great, but we also get to interact daily with 16 dedicated and faithful  missionaries.  We are amazed at how hard they work and how much teaching they do.  It's like having our own grandsons with us every day.  We loved watching them crowding around the mail desk at Zone Conference, hoping for a package from home, and then getting excited about really small a Pez dispenser, Chex Mix, or a key chain.  Make a young missionary happy and send them a package.

Thanks for your prayers and faith on our behalf, and please keep it up.  I know a power beyond our own pulled us through that first week.
Hello you all !
This is the other half of the companionship from down under. My first comment is: "yah, what she said."  It has been/is a bit overwhelming but we trust that we will learn and improve in some way most days and that we will some how be able to serve the Lord by serving these missionaries and the Chinese Branch.  Today is Sunday the 19th, so we will get to attend the branch for the first time. Branch President is Chinese but Cantonese speaking, not Mandarin and we hear that becomes a bit of a problem some times. We might, probably won't ever know.

It is so amazing to actually be here. We are slowly getting acclimated and we hope that continues to improve.  Sleep has been hard to come by.  Waking up, especially Sharla at 2 or 3 in the morning. This morning we both were awake about 4:30. (maybe Sharla even earlier.) No place to take a nap at the Branch and so when we get home and eat dinner, what ever that might be, we are about worn out, but not to anxious to go to bed at 8, so hopefully that will get better, not worse.

The weather has been cool or cold and rainy.  It is 49.5 F right now at 6:45 AM. We have not been totally soaked yet but Sharla got pretty wet yesterday on a run and then later at a local Farmers Market.  We are not having any trouble spending lots of Money. I forgot to call Capital One and so they put a hold on my credit card.  Oh well, I will just use a different one.

We think about family and friends very often, we have had one face time experience on the ipad and that is amazing and it was a great way to connect. Hopefully it will prove to be a very good way to keep up with family.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Friday, August 17, 2012

Whew!  So many things have happened in the last couple of weeks, and we are now "down under" enjoying some Australian hospitality. 

We spent a week in the Provo Mission Training Center learning how to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with the focus of the training coming from "Preach My Gospel."  We were assigned to a group with 4 other senior couples, and together our young trainers motivated and inspired us.  I loved walking the grounds of the MTC and seeing all the missionaries; probably my favorite time all week was on Wednesday, watching them get dropped off.  A "host" missionary was assigned to meet every greenie at the curb, help them with their luggage, and bring them into the MTC.  I didn't see any sad farewells; rather quick good-bye hugs at the curb, then enthusiasm and eagerness to get started.  Mealtime was also an experience, as 2000 plus starving young men and women gobbled down enormous amounts of food.

We filled the 24 hours after we arrived home from the MTC until we left for the airport with fun family activities:  an evening at the North Salt Lake Splash Pad Park playing tag, running races, getting wet in the rain, eating yummy food, and visiting.  Saturday morning Rachelle and I had a last long run around Bountiful Pond and celebrated with a Keva.  Then  the adults and Whisenant kids went golfing and to lunch at Rio Grande.  Seems we tried to cram in all the good food possible. 

Kam took us to the airport, and waited to make sure we didn't get hung up in security.  It was sure hard to wave good-bye to him from the other side of the scanners and walk towards our gate.  While waiting for our plane to leave for Los Angeles, I shed lots of tears watching the video Tyler put together of all our grandkids and kids giving us advice. 

The airbus from LA to Melbourne was huge, service was good, and fortunately we had a seat between us for the 18 hour journey.  We both slept soundly for a few hours, thanks to Ambien, and when we woke up, watched the sun rise on the south pacific. 

Passing through customs and quarantine was stressful, because we had so much stuff.  A little Beagle  sniff dog sniffed all our luggage for contraband and thankfully wagged his tail, giving approval for us to emerge from the caverns of the Melbourne airport, where we eagerly anticipated being greeted by missionaries.  Problem one was there to greet us. We looked at each other, shrugged, and I headed for the nearest ticket counter to purchase a ticket home, while Max went in search of help.  He returned soon with Sister Lifferth, who was waiting at a different location.  Her warm smile, hug, and greeting warmed our souls, and we knew we had at least one friend in Australia.    We met President Lifferth, crammed our luggage and ourselves in his Toyota Camry, and headed to the mission home.

The Lifferths treated and fed us like royalty, helped us get  our "Working with Children Permits,", introduced us to other missionaries, and drove us to an area where kangaroos grazed on the hillside.  We walked among those funny critters for an hour or so watching them scrutinize us and hop around on two legs.   Heavenly Father certainly has a sense of humor and was in a really good mood when he created them.  Sister Lifferth effortlessly  prepared dinner for 10, as she had invited 4 people Max met and converted 50 years ago to join us.  It was fun to get reacquainted with them.

Our assignment is to work in the Melbourne Chinese and Vietnamese Speaking District with 16 missionaries who are mainly teaching students.  We spend most of our time in an LDS "church center," which encompasses the second floor of a highrise building in downtown Melbourne.  This area is a hub of activity from about 11:30 AM till 8:00 PM every day of the week.  The floor has a chapel, 2 medium size meeting rooms,  a small kitchen, office, clerk's and branch president's office, library, ping pong table room, lounge area, and 4 small teaching rooms, totaling about 10,000 square feet.  It is a very open area,  (no place to go take a nap) and generally between 10 - 20 assorted investigators and missionaries are in the area teaching or hanging out.  Our job is vaguely defined; general description is to teach an Institute and English class once a week, provide treats and meals for some of the activities, and be a mature presence, hopefully assuring that no inproprieties exist between missionaries and the very cute, enthusiastic, Chinese female students who are being taught the Gospel.  It seems there is an average of 3 - 5 baptisms per week from this district, and we have also been asked to try and help with retention and tracking these new converts, many of whom return to China.  The Gospel is taught in Chinese and Vietnamese, but the students all speak English to some degree, so we can communicate with them. 

We live in a very small flat, walk or ride the tram everyplace we want to go, and have only branched out a bit.  Generally we are comfortable, warm, and well-fed.  For a couple of old duffers used to having everything conveniently our way and being surrounded by family and friends, this experience has so far been overwhelming and hard.  Sister Lifferth told me that when the Chinese don't all look the same to us, we will know we have "arrived."  We know the names and backgrounds of most of the missionaries in our district, and have become acquainted with a couple of the Chinese students.  Everyone is kind and eager to help us.  We are thankful to have a week under our belts and know that as each day passes, we will become more comfortable with our assignment as missionaries and our life in Melbourne.   

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Thanks to a raging flu bug, Max and I missed out on a great camping trip as well as the Deseret News 10K.  We were both pretty much incapacitated for a couple of days, then got serious again about mission preparations.  There are so many things to do.  Dit helped me pack my winter clothes suitcase, and we learned that the big suitcases hold more than 50#.  We are re-evaluating what size will best meet our needs.

Today was our "farewell" meeting, and it is a relief to have it over.  We felt loved and supported by many friends and family members.  It was hard, but we managed to keep our emotions pretty much in check, as we kept  telling each other to stick to the talks we had written.  The hardest thing for me was when Medium Max walked in, and I realized he will be on his mission before we get home.  Jeremy was the Youth Speaker and did an awesome job.  We are proud of him.

Shannon, Rachelle, Kristin, Kelli, and Tami prepared food for a delicious open house meal, including honey baked ham, fruit, salads, scalloped potatoes, rolls, and desserts, then managed setting everything up, serving, and cleaning up the mess.  The grand kids certainly got a sugar high from all the yummy cookies and brownies.  It was a great day, and we enjoyed visiting with friends, family, and neighbors.

We gave Kelli and Tyler, and Kristin and Dave a bit of  a run-down on home maintenance needs.  They made fun of us because we told them in the written instructions where to find light bulbs.  I guess they know their way to Home Depot.  We love watching the Olympics and cheering for USA, though we know our days in the USA are numbered.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Two weeks to go, and we both are sort of in a fog.  We didn't need the MMR immunizations after all...seems there was poor communication somewhere along the line.  We keep watching the weather in Melbourne, and it looks like it is pretty cool and raining almost every day.  Contrast that to the heat here, and I think we'll be in for a bit of a temperature shock.  We bought another suitcase and keep looking at the piles of stuff we hope to take with us.  It will cost $190 to take an additional suitcase, and it can weigh up to 50#, so we are considering that option.  I can't imagine early missionaries going without purse or script.

The top of Timp

Jeremy and his harem

The king of the mountain.

The snow field leading to Emerald Lake
We are trying to cram in all the activities we can before we leave.  One of the agenda items was to hike to the top of Mount Timpanogas.  It was a perfect day, and all the hikers who planned to hike to the top reached the summit.  Kam, Dave, Grace, Jens, Sam, and Jeremy slid down the snow field and said it was a great adventure.  The rest of us took the long way down.  Highlights were the big horn rams and the beautiful meadows of wild flowers.

Beautiful Granddaughters
Dawnika, Sarah, Lauren, Nathan, and Megan spent a few days with us, and it was really hard to kiss them good-bye this morning, knowing that we won't see them for a long time.  In the three days they were here, we shopped, had lunch, went to the splash pad, Handcart Days  Parade, fireworks, played night games, went to "Get Air," a trampoline park, and had a retirement party for Max.  There were cousin sleep-overs and lots of visiting.  The Blatters, Blanchards, and assorted cousins fit in our house just fine.  We feel badly that Nathan was a bit under the weather this morning when they left.  Hopefully they arrive home without incident.

Fun at the Splash Pad

After running the Deseret News 10K and spending a couple of days camping at Smith Morehouse with the family, we will get serious about wrapping up last minute details, packing up more things in the house, and preparing for our "farewell" which isn't supposed to happen.
It's 4 weeks from MTC D-Day.  The 4 month anticipation of this mission to Melbourne, Australia is  comparable to being 9 months pregnant for 4 months.  People keep asking when we are leaving, like they want to be rid of us, and I'm sure some do.  We might be delayed, since we learned yesterday that we are required to have MMR vaccinations, which we were told when we sent in our application weren't necessary for individuals born before 1955, which category we both fit.  We need two shots, 28 days apart.  Might be a good excuse to leave the MTC for a Bountiful break.  Purchasing items needed for the mission is progressing, much to the dismay of our bank accounts, but packing has yet to begin.  Probably we'll be able to take half the stuff back when we learn we can't cram everything into 2 50# maximum suitcases. 

We've gone on a couple of two day trips, and our sweet granddaughter, Alivia, is always so excited to see us come back and wonders if our mission is over.  She has a lot to learn, and I'm sure we do to.  However, we look forward to this adventure, and while we don't want to wish the next four weeks away, will be glad to finally be on our way.  (much like finally going into labor)