Sunday, April 27, 2014

Musings after Mongolia

Easter egg hunt in Arkansas
Going from the mission field where all our love, energy, and focus was on moving the work forward to a life without "have to's" is quite the contrast. We had a structured life with a built in support network and plenty to do. Now we do what we want when we want with no specific agenda.

All our friends and contacts in Mongolia don't seem to apply anymore. We haven't yet immersed ourselves in our old network of church friends and activities. We are able to move into our home after July 1 and really unpack and get settled.

In the meantime, we are living as guests in various of our children's homes. The grandchildren are wonderful to be around. 

Our newest grandchild, three month old Max

Tally's youngest daughter, Angelina

Tally's middle daughter, Juliana

Tally's oldest daughter, Elena, - second from the right - during a soccer game warm up

Tawny's second oldest, Chase

With our daughter, Tassa, Darlene, and I helped prepare new ground for a vegetable garden. That meant a lot of digging for me.

We also made numerous trips to a pile of free mulch to cover all the flower and garden beds for three homes in the St. Louis area. It felt good to be engaged in physical activity and to make progress toward a concrete goal.

Darlene put in at least seven hours hemming a prom dress purchased online. It was too long for Maren and needed to be shortened. It was complicated and needed hand stitching to finish. Somehow we are busy as always but not the kind of busy we are used to.
Aunt Tawny, Tassa, and Maren
It was fun to be there as her mother and aunt worked on her hair and to meet her date.
This young man is of Chinese descent.

We probably won't start the new blog, Musings in Missouri, until after we are back in our home. I will be putting a lot of thought about what I want to be doing with my time and what I want to write about that will be of interest to the worldwide viewers of Musings in Mongolia. At the end of our mission we had about 2,500 page views a month from all parts of the world.

We plan a life of service in one form or another and to be active in good causes. It will take some soul-searching to arrive at that point. Family History work - especially with our own lives and our ancestors is compelling. I like photography and need to learn a lot about how to do it better. It is way too early to make decisions like these right now.

We are rather enjoying our time of the sidelines of life and being available to our children's and grandchildren's needs. 

This will be an enjoyable interim as we getting closer and closer to a normal schedule in the fall.  

A welcome rest stop on the way to Arkansas
We planned a spontaneous trip (two days notice) to Little Rock, Arkansas to visit our daughter Tally and her family. She is there alone with her three children awaiting a family move to Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania in June where her husband Eric is working a breast cancer surgeon. Four adults, ourselves and two daughters and 8 grandchildren joined Tally for the Easter weekend. It was a great visit!
This isn't as easy as it used to be

If you give a ride to one, you have to give a ride to everyone

Easter fun - We also attended church as a family with the granddaughters enjoying braided hair.

Each got their hair braided by Nonni

Back row - Nonni, Juliana, Elena, and Mariah - Front row - Aubrey, Angelina, and Annalisa


An Easter parade of French-braided grandchildren

In the meantime, I will continue for the next two months on this blog with something called Musings After Mongolia. We will report our mission to the High Council on May 4 and then set a date for a Stake fireside at that time.   


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Home - at last

Our mission is over. We have been released by our Stake President Hintze. He aked us to report our mission to the High Council on May 4. He said he would like to organize a Stake fireside for us and we will set the date on May 4.

We were able to attend a fast and testimony meeting in our ward on April 13. We both bore our testimonies, Darlene in Mongolian.

It was great to sing the songs of Zion in our own language and to understand everything in a meeting for a change. We enjoyed seeing our old friends again.

Word from Mongolia. What we did miss in Mongolia was Elder and Sister Stewart's farewell party and testimonial. They served well. They went about doing good. They were generous with their time and found creative ways of blessing the lives of others.

Through a charitable philanthropic foundation in Canada, Dr. Stewart arranged for ten choclear implant operations for deaf people in Mongolia.

Nine of the ten are members of the church - one, Elder Oyunsukh, is a fulltme missionary. Manduhai, second from the right on the top row, is our daughter's convert.
All ten came to their final testimony meeting. It must have been something to be there and hear all of them express their appreciation for the life changing gift of hearing they received because of the Stewarts.

Our trip home. We learned that our departing flight had been delayed two hours thus throwing off our connecting flight to Shanghai. We were rerouted to go to L.A. through Tokyo with no Shanghai layover. We arrived in L.A. a day early but our next flight to St. Louis couldn't be moved up.

L.A. wasn't Shanghai but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It was less stressful being in a country where we knew the language.

We also enjoyed thoroughly the relaxing day we had recovering from jet lag and getting some extra sleep. We had our first top of the line Mexican meal across the street from our motel.

Acclimatizing ourselves to the US. Once home we enjoyed the wide array of foods available in the United States, a couple of trips to Costco, driving on the orderly, spacious and predictable roads, and seeing flowering spring trees in full bloom.

Of course our time with our children and grandchildren have been precious. Darlene has been engaged in shopping while I built a challenging puzzle.

I'm helping put in a garden and also clearing honeysuckle trees from the forest behind our daughter's home. The physical activity has been a treat for me.
Looking ahead. Our home is leased until July 1st. we will be staying on our daughter Tassa's home until that date. We will be traveling to Arkansas to spend Easter with our daughter Tally and her family. Two families will also make that journey to Little Rock.

We plan to go back to Arkansas for a visit during May, We are also are planning a trip to see another daughter Tara and her family in North Carolina during June. We will be transporting three grandchildren to North Carolina and then on to Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania to help Tally with her family's move there. 

I also have a ranch consultation scheduled for Northeastern Montana in mid-May. I will try to stop off in Fargo during that journey.

Personal goals.  In the life of Val Gene, "another story must begin." The change from mission life to a life without a schedule or duties is quite the contrast. Lounging around is a treat to be savored. We will be in the swing of things soon enough.

I need some time to get my focus and also to concentrate on grandchildren. As soon as we settle in our home again, I'm sure there will be opportunities for church service again.

After this blog, I will retire, "Musings in Mongolia" and start a new blog, "Musings in Missouri." I plan on turning the blog of our mission into a book - mainly for our family but for others also who want a thorough glimpse into Mongolian life.

"Musings in Mongolia" will remain on the Internet for the indefinite future. I may add some post scripts as I hear news about the mission or its members. 

If any of the readers of this blog were attracted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints because of this blog, I would like to hear from you. I've had over 37,000 page views during the past two years from various parts of the world. If you have a story to share, I would love to hear about it. 

The content of the new blog will be advice, perspective and perhaps some conservative political commentary - a little less photography and more thematic content. 

I won't be starting up my regular newspaper column again. My archived writing can be accessed through The freedom away from those relentless deadlines has be a blessing at this stage of my life.

I will do some part time farm and ranch business consultation to keep my hand in my former profession. Not many people can do what I do in the United States and I am needed.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

last blog from Okinawa - on to Shanghai

The symbol of Okinawa
The time has gone quickly. We keep finding there is more and more to do. Wednesday was a rainy day but we managed to go Round One, a sports entertainment complex. 

There was a video arcade where Louisa tried her hand at playing the drums.

On Thursday, we spent our last whole day on Okinawa going to Okinawa World, Arana Beach and ending the night with a dinner at Jack's.

Okinawa World. There were three main features of Okinawa World - a demonstration of the Habu snake and a snake museum, a musical cultural program, and a spectacular limestone cave about 5 km long. You can experience the day along with us by checking out our photos.

                       Habu snake
The demonstration and information about the snake was in Japanese. Try Wikipedia for more information. 

The Habu possesses a deadly bite and is comparable to the cobra in its quick striking ability. The are numerous on Okinawa and there is much interest in the snake and its behavior.

They used to have a snake-mongoose fight but the demonstration now consists of an underwater race between a  snake and a mongoose. The Habu was clueless he was in a race but the mongoose sped right along.

The mongoose is approaching the finish line while the habu in the lower tube is still lounging around the start
                       The cultural program

The cultural program was about a half hour long and consisted of a drumming and singing. 

It was a loud, exuberant and highly entertaining program.We also viewed a glass blowing demonstration.


                   The limestone cave

We enjoyed this cave. It was a tourist and child friendly cave. To us, it was more dramatic than Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. It took less than an hour to walk through the cave and see all the beautiful creations of nature. 

The lighting was enhanced by my flash but the water was a turquoise blue
An underground waterfall
                           Arana Beach

Okinawa - the birthplace of karate and Mr. Miyage - the karate master from the Karate Kid movies
We spent the next 2 hours at beach enjoying very pleasant sunny and warm weather. The kids enjoy doing things in the sand and walking in the water. Very relaxing!

Our time in Okinawa is drawing to a close
                             Dinner at Jack's

Jack's is a Japanese restaurant on Kadena Air Force Base. Both the food and the service were exquisite. This was our goodbye meal in Okinawa. We probably won't see our son, Tyler and his wife, April, and the grandchildren for another year at least. 

They are growing up without us around - but we connected 
The Japanese chef put of a visual display of skill, dexterity, and dramatic effects while cooking the meal at our table. The kids (and everyone) loved it.
Our food is under there somewhere
 Tomorrow we start our journey home by way of Shanghai. We overnight there on a layover and fly to Los Angeles on Saturday.      

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

More Okinawa



We have enjoyed our stay here. Lots of fun interactions with the grandchildren, adult conversation, wonderful meals and touring.

Granddad and Louisa - I read at least five books before she would let me go

A long overdue piano lesson

Backyard fun

Most of you won't be interested in the former, so we will fill you in on some of the fun times we are having in Okinawa.

Treehouse in Okinawa

                            On the Beach

Beach activities
We enjoyed a hiking experience on the beach near where Tyler and April live. The children enjoyed the beach environment and we relaxed.

Lincoln with starfish

Preston walking out at low tide

It was wonderful to spend the time having fun and exploring the seashore - something that is hard to do in Mongolia.

Unusual formations

Exploring caves and tombs

                        Botanical gardens

The next day we went to the northern part of Okinawa to a botanical garden next to the Ocean Park Aquarium. It was gorgeous and a great place for photography.

                         Butterfly Gardens

Next we tried the Butterfly Gardens, similar to the Butterfly House in St. Louis.

The quantities of butterflies weren't particularly impressive but it was nevertheless a great family activity.

The golden pupa
                     A visit to Cape Hedo

We then drove to the northern tip of Okinawa to a lookout point where the East China Sea meets the Pacific Ocean.

The setting was scenic and beautiful. The drive back to central Okinawa took two hours and reminded us of two lane highways along the Oregon coastline.

We may have one or two more cultural events before we leave Okinawa this Friday. We are getting closer and closer to going home.