JULY 4 2013
While you are sitting in the shade, drinking lemonade, and watching parades, we are enjoying a windy, chilly, rainy day on the holiday island of Tasmania. The upside down seasons we experience in this "Land Down Under" causes us to shake our heads and creates confusion, as spring is fall....fall is spring....winter is summer...and summer is winter. The two week long school holiday kids here are enjoying is more like Christmas break at home. I doubt there is much swimming or playing outside, as families huddle around wood-burning fireplaces and stoves to keep warm. The infrastructure for central heat doesn't exist, so if a fireplace isn't available, single room split systems, which can be either an AC or heating unit, supplemented with small oil or electric heaters heat the homes. Thankfully, our flat is warm and cozy.
Our first morning in Tasmania was spectacular, with air so clear you could see for miles and miles. However, as the temperature has dropped, the valley fills with smoke each morning, and after our walk/run, we come home smelling like a camp fire. Fortunately, the smoke clears out later in the day. We have asked the locals if pollution is a concern, and they just give us a questioning stare. At least there are no factories or refineries belching out smoke.
For months we eagerly waited for June 3 to come, and finally that day arrived, and we took the big blue van to the airport to pick up the Whisenants. Claire was the first to come through customs, and she was a very welcome sight. The rest of the family followed, and it seemed they had only been away for a few weeks. The week we spent with them was a welcome reprieve from the routines of missionary life, and it was hard to send them on their way to explore Sydney, while we went to find our gate to return to Melbourne.
Josh was starving, so the first stop was a McDonalds near the airport. We drove to the city and parked the Big Blue Van, dropped Brian off at the Branch, so he could recuperate from air sickness, then took off on foot to explore the wonderful, beautiful city of Melbourne. First on the agenda was the State Library.
We got as close to the top of the dome as possible. It was hard to leave the artifacts, paintings, and books behind to continue on our journey.
We stopped for lunch near the South Bank of the Yarra River. Huge high-rises and architecture, integrating new with the old, is very common in this part of the city.
The 360 degree view from the top of the Eureka Tower, which is the tallest public building in the Southern Hemisphere, has awe inspiring views of Melbourne and the surrounding areas.
Federation Square, the main visitors center of Melbourne, buzzes with cultural festivals, exhibitions, event launches, performances, forums, films, concerts and fashion shows. We were disappointed that the Indigenous Art exhibit was closed on Monday.
As the weary travelers fought the effects of jet lag, we opted for a walk through Fitzroy Gardens over a circle tram tour of the city. In the gardens, this stump of an old Red Gum Tree has likenesses of fairies, dwarfs, gnomes, koalas, flying foxes, and a host of typical Australian animals and birds carved into the irregularities of the tree trunk.
Sam was eager to take on the challenge of climbing this tree, but was a bit less enthusiastic when he found spiders in the crotch just above his head.
Every time I ran through Fitzroy Gardens, I looked longingly at this giraffe and wished I had grandkids swinging there. My wish came true!
At this point, it was either walk or fall asleep, so we walked some more and had a quick look in St. Patrick's Cathedral before we were kicked out because of closing time. By this time Brian had joined us.
And who did we see walking the streets of Melbourne, but Elders Rigby and Lynguyen, two of our favorite Vietnamese speaking missionaries who were hurrying to the Branch to change clothes after finishing P.Day activities. These elders lived close to us in Richmond, and we were always glad to have them drop by.
It had to happen sometime, and all Sam had to do was sit in a chair to fall soundly asleep. We wondered how he managed to not fall off the chair???
While Sam slept, Josh and Claire played Ping-Pong with some of the members, and Shannon and Brian became acquainted with our many friends, we posed for pictures. This was to be our last FHE at the Branch, and everyone wanted one last shot with us. Sarah and Frank are brother and sister and are long-time church members. They attend the Branch with their family, because their Dad is in the Branch Presidency. Charlotte probably will soon be engaged to Frank.
Kiki, and I rode a tram a long way last fall to see Santa arrive at one of the parks. Kiki never stops smiling! Caroline loves to cook and always can be found helping in the kitchen, and we have been the lucky recipients of some of her yummy dishes. Before Kiki and Caroline were baptized, I was the tallest female in the Branch. They certainly changed that dynamic.
Joey is one of our favorite sons, with whom we helped with resumes and job applications. He has a tremendous amount of drive and interest in business and will be very successful.
Elders Johnson and Liao lived just a bit off our route home to Vermont, so we enjoyed taking them and all their groceries home after FHE. I'm sure they were a bit bummed when the Whisenants all showed up with us, knowing they would have to take all their purchases home on the tram.
Leon, ah Leon. Max spent hours speaking English with him, and we thought he was only interested in the English lessons rather than the Gospel. But he was baptized and remains active, even after an extended trip home to China. We have high hopes for Leon and the potential he has for church leadership.
Elder Self is another favorite missionary.....of course we love all the missionaries we served with in the Chinese Branch. When our missions are over, we will have some stories to share with Elder Self.
Matthew is one of the Elders in the Branch. He has had some personal struggles, and we hope he will endure to the end.
Charlotte and Sarah are both excellent musicians. Sarah directed the Branch Christmas Choir, and Charlotte usually leads the singing in Sacrament Meeting.
Claire got lots of applause when she participated in the FHE game.
Sam, on the other hand, was led by an investigator to a couch, where he could sleep more comfortably.
At the "Spirits of the Sky Birds of Prey and Parrot Show," we watched as majestic and colorful birds swooped over our heads and showed us their hunting skills.
Sam is finally fully awake.
Claire is feeding one of the many lorikeets, a small, brightly colored parrot.
Sam is a bit hesitant that this bird chose to rest on his arm.
This black cockatoo likes the food Josh has in his hand.
Fortunately this native of Australia was behind glass. The "Death Adder" can bring sudden death to anyone it chooses to bite.
In contrast, the Koala looks cuddly, inviting, and soft. However, the claws it uses to maintain its position while sleeping 20 hours a day in eucalyptus in trees, aren't so inviting. We were lucky to be at the enclosure during feeding time, so the Koalas were active and showed a lot of interest in the fresh eucalyptus branches the keepers brought in. We learned that they aren't very social, and they sleep all the time, not because they are drunk on eucalyptus leaves, but because it takes so much energy to digest the leaves.
The Joey in the pouch is peeking out. Later he climbed out and hopped around, always maintaining a close proximity to his mother.
How many kids can say they have fed a kangaroo?
Wednesday we visited the Dandenongs, a mountain range very close to our flat. This colorful parrot and many like him were in abundance.
The 1000 Steps Kokoda Track Memorial Walk, a 2.8 km walk was no challenge for Claire and Sam, but Max and I lagged behind a bit. The most discouraging thing about the walk is that when you get to the top, you see a road and houses, and could easily have driven there.
We were having a picnic lunch, and Josh was standing up, holding his sandwich in his hand. In swooped one of these kookaburras and took off with half of his sandwich, flew to a nearby tree, and laughed. All Josh could say was "the....bird.....just.....took......my.......sandwich!!!"
I couldn't resist taking a photo of this sign inside the stall in the women's restroom in the Cairns airport. Clearly many foreigners visit Cairns, and they must need some instruction regarding how to use a toilet.
We were about to embark on an adventure of a life time to the Outer Great Barrier Reef. This is the first and last time during the day that everyone was smiling. The ocean was rough, and the motion sick pills Shannon provided didn't help everyone.
Snorkeling was good but not great, as the water was rough and we didn't want to venture very far from the pontoon. Wet suits helped keep us warm, but not warm enough. Lunch was pretty gross, and though we dreaded the 90 minute boat ride back to Cairns, were glad to be finished with what should have been a much better day.
The ride back was much better than the ride to the reef, but Shannon, Josh, and Claire held down a spot on the back of the boat where there was the least motion.
Obviously, the rocking of the boat only put Sam to sleep....again....
.......and Max looks like he is trying to catch a fly in his mouth.
And that brings me to the end of this post. Thanks, Shannon, Brian, Josh, Sam, and Claire for coming to Australia and sharing your time, energy, and enthusiasm with two old missionaries. Thanks to you, we saw and experienced parts of Australia we never dreamed we would see or experience. Know that the best of everything was spending time with each one of you.