Friday, December 30, 2016

Getting around; the good, the bad and the terrifying!

We have been driving 4 1/2 months now.  Although it's not anything like driving in Manila, Philippines, it is different and we are older!

 The good....we are to the point that we can get some places without Miss GPS.  It's nice to be able to drive without being on high alert every minute! 
            We have figured out the detour system when there is road construction.  Miss GPS doesn’t know when a road is temporarily closed due to construction and just keeps “re-calculating route” right back to the closed road!  They have an alphabet system of detour signs.  So if you come to some road construction, look for the letter and follow those signs….for instance this “B”.  There might be other letters but you ignore them and follow your letter bread crumb trail! 

We have grown used to having a traffic light for every lane.  If the intersection is traffic light controlled, each and every lane has it’s own light, including the bus lane, the pedestrian lane and the bike lane.  It is easy to miss your light as you approach and see this wide array of lights!       This picture is too small for you to see the bike and pedestrian lights on the right.  We are getting better at zeroing in on our lane!

The good and the bad….
            If you are a bicyclist, the little bike traffic lights are wonderful!  Green bike you go, red bike you stop. Also if you are a car…you know who has the right of way.  In all instances the bike has the right of way if there is an incident…green light or no. 

The bad is on a dark, rainy night the bicyclists are still out and it is so very hard to see them!  We are both on high alert on those nights! 

This is one of the intersections in downtown Zeist.  The motorbike on the right has a blue license plate so can drive on the bike path, not the road.  Watch out for them buzzing past you!  We are always watching for bikes, buses, other cars, people and motorized wheelchairs as we drive around town.  For that reason, if we leave Zeist we drive, if we do errands around Zeist we bike.  Much easier; less stressful, takes about the same amount of time, no cost and hassle finding a parking place and great exercise! 

The roads here are perfectly paved.  We hadn’t seen a single crack or pothole in a road until we got to a parking lot last week and the parking lot was full of potholes.  A first here for us.  Most of the bike paths are equally smooth.   There is only one place between here and our nearest grocery store that if we’re not careful bumping over the crack in the bike path we find an egg
or two cracked when we get home! 

This is the first dirt road we’ve seen.  We laughed at the 60 km/hr speed limit!  Around towns the speed limit is always 30 km/hr, maybe 50 km/hr if you are on the outskirts of town.  Very slow…We didn’t try 60 on this road : ) 

The terrifying; driving in the downtown of any size town or city is terrifying! (youtube "biking in Utrecht centrum!)The roads are narrow, the bike paths are the  same size, signs are confusing and there is so many cars, bikes and people it’s crazy!  We go to great lengths to avoid driving in the city centrums!  In Utrecht we either park outside the city centrum and walk 15-20 min. in or we ride the bus from just outside our front door. 

We were checking missionary apartments last month.  One of our assigned apartments is above the McDonalds (yea for me!!) right on the city centrum plaza in Almere.  We had googled it, put Miss GPS on it, talked to others who had been there and headed into town.  We ended up in an alley by a market.  That wasn’t right.  We headed back down the alley and saw a little underground pass.  Someone had told us we needed to go through an underpass.  (all this time Miss GPS was repeating over and over “you have reached your destination”, which we clearly hadn’t!).  Remember we are in the city centrum, there are people, bikes, buses, and cars everywhere. So we headed into the underpass.  I could see a parking garage but no entrance. Just into the underpass (by now we are both pretty stressed out) I said with amazement “Wow, here we are in the city centrum and there’s NO traffic”!  10 seconds later Joe says with just a bit of panic “we’re in the bus lane”!  Indeed, I had driven down under the city centrum bus terminal into the bus garage area!  Bus lanes here are sacred and no one ever drives in them!  We  drove for 3 blocks like scared rabbits until we came out on the other side of the centrum.  We turned on the first side street we could find and parked.  We called the missionaries, told them we would be late and googled mapped it from our car to their apartment.  We happily walked the 20 minutes to the apartment!  We have now been there 4 times and finally found the close, cheap parking lot near the apartment.  

We go some places with ease, we have had only 1 speeding ticket and 2 parking tickets (a good mission record apparently!), and know where to avoid if at all possible!  Not bad for oldies in a new place!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

What's not to love about missionaries?

   Our missionary activities started early in Dec. with our Zone Conference.  This time we had a visiting General Authority, Elder Johnson.  Three zones met together so we fed 90 people for lunch.  Elder Van Der Put asked me to be in charge of the lunch (me? The non-food soul?!)  I called my go-to-Sister Senior missionary, Zuster Hill and she worked it out with me.  (what will I do when she goes home in March? : ( ! 

We are the tiny couple in the middle of the back row! This is half of the mission!  President and Zuster Bunnell are 2nd and 3rd from the left, front row. 

 The song we sing to celebrate birthdays at Zone Conference....think our very own "haka" dance!  

 We had a district p-day ice skating activity.  In our town of Zeist, they put up a very small rectangular ice rink on the plaza in the centrum.  It had been quite cold but warmed up a little that day… lots of fun!

For the first time we had district meeting at our house instead of meeting at the chapel in Gouda. It was so nice to cook and serve from my own kitchen!  

It’s transfer week next week….we will miss the missionaries moving on.  We come to love them so much as we work and learn together.  

With the missionaries moving from time to time, their mail needs to go to the mission office.  It is distributed at zone conferences.  Because it’s Christmas, lots of packages and mail arrived after our zone conference on the 8th.  So the senior couples went to Leiden to become Santa’s elfs!  The office elders helped us stuff it all into our car!  All of the senior couples have 7-8 missionary apartments they inspect quarterly.  We took the packages for our eight apartments.  We delivered to Almere, Hilversum, Amersfoorte, Gouda (2), Utrecht, Nieuwegein, and Den Bosch.  Including our trip to Leiden to pick it up, we drove 548 kilometers! Or 340 miles! The missionaries were so happy to get their Christmas from home that it was worth all the hours on the road! 

While in Leiden all the senior couples had lunch at our favorite pannekoekenhuis….lekker! (yummy!).  They are very large crepes that have sweet or savory toppings.  You cut them up or roll them, whichever you like. 

Our whole group, including the mission President in front of our favorite windmill in Leiden centrum.

The best part of Christmas was the beautiful Christmas program we had in the Utrecht Ward on Christmas Day and having 4 of our missionaries over for Christmas dinner and Skyping with their families.  Between our 2 laptops, 2 iPads, and 2 iPhones, all 5 of us were able to talk to our families at the same time! 
When I think of how hard it was to call home when we moved to Asia in 1999 I am so very grateful for the advancement of technology!  We talked to our kids and Mom several times each over the course of 24 hours!

It was hard to be far away from our families but these missionaries we love, both young and old, made it warm and a lot less lonely! 

(rear view mirrors for our bikes....we aren't Dutch...we need them!)  And Christmas love and jammies from home!

Christmas is.........

Christmas is BIG in America….and not so big in the Netherlands.  It was mid-Dec. before we saw a Kerstbomen (Christmas tree) lot.  We were fortunate, our dear friends the Oostveens had an extra tree complete with lights that they offered to let us use.  Also the use of their darling daughter Julia to decorate the house for us while I cooked for our YSA party!

 We missed the Den Bosch ward Christmas party due to Joe’s being sick and the Utrecht ward didn’t have a party.  The English speaking ward in Zoetermeer joined with another ward and had a wonderful Christmas program on Sunday evening the 11th.  There was a large choir, strings, piano and vocalists….the Christmas hymns in Dutch and English along with the Christmas story narrative. It was the real kick off for Christmas for us.  I’m sorry I didn’t take any pictures! 

One of the highlights of our Christmas season was the open house we hosted for our neighbors!  We decided we needed to get to know the so created an invitation to take around.  It was hard to go out in the dark to knock on the doors of strangers.  (think missionary work every single day!)  To our surprise everyone who answered the door was enthusiastic and excited!  One neighbor commented that it was too bad it took Americans to move in to get the neighborhood together!  It turns out almost all of the neighbors didn’t know one another!

 So I prepared Dutch treats (snoepjies), went to our local cheese store and got a cheese tray, made mini banana muffins and hot spiced apple cider.  We had no idea if everyone (we invited 20 households) or no one would come!

We had 25 of the kindest, warmest neighbors come!  They were so excited to meet each other.  One family brought 2 children.  I had made play dough and set up a kids table to entertain any children who came.  The kids loved the play dough!  The adults stood around the table, visited and ate for an hour and a

We played a Tabernacle Choir Christmas program on our TV as background music. 

They viewed it more as a “housewarming” and all brought presents!  Mostly beautiful flowers. 

We didn’t RSVP on the invitations but we received lovely notes from some of those who couldn’t come.  It was so sweet. They all want to do it again so we will organize another social in the spring.   It turned out to be a wonderful evening and hopefully the neighbors have had a positive experience with Latter Day Saints! 

We also got in an hour or so of Christmas shopping in the Gouda Centrum.  We delivered Christmas packages to the elders there and it looked so enticing we decided to stay and shop!  And of course I need those hot, yummy “frites” (fries) they sell on the plazas : ) ! 

Although we missed our family this season, between our neighbors, missionaries, YSA’s and the warm greetings from home we felt the love of the Savior and our Heavenly Father : )  

Friday, December 16, 2016

What do you do when your companion is sick and you have to stay in?!

To those who know me, this needs no explanation!

It's been a couple very slow days stuck in the house.  I have a new appreciation for missionaries when their companions are too sick to work.  

We found this puzzle while shopping in a bookstore.  This week was the perfect time to get it out!  It kept me sane while allowing me to enjoy one of our Christmas traditions from home.  win-win.....

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Planting seeds in the wintertime

We had a wonderful experience this week.  Utrecht is a university town, with lots of students.  The elders had met one of them who was clerking at a store.  The clerk said he was the leader of a group of students who were studying religion and were interested in learning what the "Mormons" believed.  So arrangements were made for them to meet at the Utrecht Chapel to learn about us. The sisters, elders and ourselves met with them.  The students were interested, respectful and mature.  Most of what they know about the "Mormons" comes from watching "Sister Wives"!

 The missionaries did a great job of explaining what we believe and how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is different from other religions, When one student asked about women and leadership, I was able to explain the organization of Relief Society and the role of women.  The students were so honestly inquisitive, mature and religious.  One of them said the closing prayer.  A girl wanted a Book of  Mormon to read.  We chatted for a few minutes afterward the meeting.

At this point, no one said "please teach me more!" or "could I be baptized?"!  But in the cold winter of organized religion, the perception that people need no religion, and lack of faith, some seeds were planted in fertile soil that will some day come to fruition.  I am grateful to have been a small part of this planting.

And when we walked out of the building after locking up, there were all the students, in true Dutch fashion, riding out of the parking lot on their bicycles, on a cold, damp winter night made warmer by an intelligent, congenial exchange of ideas.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Traditions matter :)

We love our American holidays!  Thanksgiving is one of them.  It’s just another day here in the Netherlands of course….so do we make it a holiday or just ignore it?  Since I was cooking dinner on Wednesday and Friday for the YSA’s in Utrecht and Den Bosch as usual and Sister Hill had invited us to a potluck Thanksgiving dinner on Sat., I sort of decided by default that I would ignore Thanksgiving on Thursday. 

But our amazing District Leader, Elder Roberts,  called and asked if I would host Thanksgiving for the elders and an investigator (potluck, of course!).  Sunday in Relief Society I was mentally wandering during the announcements (after 2 hours of listening to Dutch and straining to catch a word or two I sometimes find this happening!) when I heard the RS president say my name.  I looked up and she asked me if I was going to cook Thanksgiving dinner for the missionaries. As the sisters all looked at me I was happy I could say yes….it would be awkward to be called out in RS and not have the right answer!  She was happy and said she just wanted to make sure the missionaries had their holiday dinner (LOL!).

It sounds easy enough….but finding a turkey proved anything but.  I finally found a whole, frozen turkey but it was too big for my crockpot and my microwave/oven just won’t do the job.  So I settled for turkey roasts.  I decided we needed one our family’s traditional foods….homemade rolls.  So I 

 started experimenting.  My oven bakes unevenly, burning the edges and the bottom so I have been looking for a silver cookie sheet to replace the black one I have.  No luck but I did finally find a silver pizza pan!  I found the warmest place in the house, the entry way, and set the rolls to rising.  To my joy they baked up better than expected….just a little strangely shaped and a little unevenly browned but they tasted delicious! 

and brought a pie and the yams.  Our new friend, Jacqueline brought green beans and a delicious pear/cinnamon fruit dish.

We are grateful for traditions! It was a lovely evening with good food, a new friend, kind and caring missionaries, and gratitude for all we have been so abundantly blessed with….especially the privilege to be here, together serving our Heavenly Father’s children in the Netherlands. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Summer, _____ ,Winter?

We arrived in the Netherlands in mid August amid beautiful sunny, hot, summer weather.  The Dutch shook their heads and told us how unusual it was. 

 They issued an extreme weather warning when the temperature hit 85.  We admired the beauty of the country and basked in the summer.

By mid September we were settled in our home and bought bikes.  The weather was still a steady parade of gorgeous summer sunny days.  The Dutch continued to shake their heads and tell us how unusual it was.  We just kept loving it!

By mid October I was beginning to wonder if Fall would come, if the stories of cold, wet weather were just that…stories.  I started to ask the locals if all the beautiful trees lost their leaves in the winter.  They assured me they would and that the winter we had heard about would indeed arrive.  

By the end of October the leaves finally began to change colors.  As we drove around the center of the country the trees were such a deep orange and red, not so much brown.  
The leaves finally began to fall to the ground.  The bike paths crunched as we pedaled to Ziest to do our errands.  Fall arrived and was over in a couple weeks.  

Today our favorite street was mostly bare of leaves, both the trees and the bike lane.  It has been alternately cold, cloudy and damp, and then only cool, cloudy and damp!  We’ve only had one trip to town on our bikes when it was really raining.  Today it was just sprinkling a little.   I guess winter is here to stay since I am wearing tights every day!  I would love to see the canals freeze over this winter so the traditional ice skating race across country could happen.  They say it hasn’t happened for a number of years now.  I think I’ll pray for that!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

My God and your God

Last month our mission President challenged each of the missionaries to read the Book of Mormon from beginning to end by Dec. 31, 2016.  Our purpose is to look for and underline any reference to Christ or the atonement.  We are to record all the names used to describe Christ.   I began by recording the names in the front blank page of my Book of Mormon. In a matter of a few short chapters I realized there wouldn’t be enough room there, so I began recording them on an additional piece of paper. 
I have read the Book of Mormon many times and yet I am amazed how many times our Savior is referred to in the Book of Mormon!  I have read as far as Alma 34 and have found only three pages without a specific reference to Him! 

When I got to 2 Nephi 10:3 I found the first use of the name “Christ” to refer to our Savior.  At that point I became interested in recording not only the names used but the reference where the name was used for the first time in the Book of Mormon. 

I began to do a little research and discovered that others had had the same curiosity. There are over 100 different name-titles for the Savior in the Book of Mormon.  John W. Welch [“Ten Testimonies of Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon” in Doctrines of the Book of Mormon , ed. Bruce A. Van Orden and Brent L. Top, Deseret Book, 1992] wrote “Of these 

names…many were used exclusively by one author, while others were used almost universally.”

 On a website dedicated to building faith in Jesus Christ through the Book of Mormon,, I read “The writings of major Book of Mormon prophets reflect a personalized understanding and testimony of Jesus Christ.  This is evident in part by the unique names that they used to describe him……Lehi is the only author who refers to Christ as “a prophet”, while his son Nephi alone uses the name “Beloved Son”…….It may be that Lehi’s calling as a prophet allowed him to identify personally with Christ on that level and that Nephi’s position as a “beloved son” of Lehi helped him to readily understand Christ’s sonship.”

As I have pondered these thoughts and the names on this list I have made, I am profoundly moved by two thoughts.  Enoch says in Moses 6:43 “The Lord which spake with me, the same is the God of heaven, and he is my God and your God.”  First, the names I have listed as I have read testify so beautifully of the universality of the Savior’s atonement and love for all of mankind everywhere.  Second, at the same time, our personal experiences in mortality, our circumstances and our learning and growth in the gospel allow us to have a personal, unique relationship with the Savior.  He knows, loves, and will succor each of us in a very individual, intimate way.  I add my testimony to that of the Book of Mormon that the Savior is the God of all mankind and is my God and your God, in His name, Amen.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Where are Grandma & Grandpa?

We spent a lovely three weeks in Zeist with a short trip to Barcelona over Halloween. It was great to see what G & G's life is like, what they are doing and meet their new friends. Our first week was spent trying to recover from jet lag and following G & G around while they did their work. 
 On our first evening the institute that G & G taught was at a bishops house and what would you know they had a trampoline, Chuggington, Thomas the Train, and How to Train Your Dragon toys so the kids were right at home.



The kids loved the nursery's so we played at the 2 churches while G & G taught institute later in the week.

We accompanied G & G to stake conference and is Dean listening to the English translation.

The people were exceptionally kind and friendly and kids made a few friends quickly. Dean says the favorite part of visiting G & G was the park behind their house. Here he is with a few neighbor boys at the park. They played on the playground, with hot wheel cars, and shared Kinder Eggs (chocolate eggs with a tiny toy inside).

Dean also made friends with one of the missionaries, Elder Roberts. We saw him three times during the trip and you would have though they were best for years! 


Dean has been into Geckos lately (dressing up as a gecko in his long johns every single day) and one of the toys that Grandma was able to borrow was a blue rubber gecko. Before we left Sonder ( the grown boy whose toy it was) gave it to Dean for a birthday present so we got to take it home. Dean was so pleased!

One evening G & G invited some friends over for dinner and what do you know, they knew how to tie balloon animals! Ruby was instantly in love. 

 One of the best parts of visiting G & G are the priceless moments together between work and tourist adventures; squeezing OJ, playing toys with Grandpa, playing with grandpas headlamp in the wee hours of the morning, and of course drinking juice out of a bowl in Grandmas kitchen because that's what geckos do.

Where are Grandma & Grandpa? This was the response I got every time we went to G & G's house here in Utah before our trip. And after, we drive past G & G's neighborhood and what do hear from the back seat? "Are G & G waiting at their house for us?"......Not for another 15 months, buddy!... We might need to take another trip.