Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Kiwi Christmas

We’ve had a totally different, totally wonderful Christmas in New Zealand. Since we’re in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas is in the middle of the summer when the days are the longest and school is out for summer break. We put up a small string of lights but its only dark for about an hour before we go to bed so they’re not on for long.

 The Ribets from our church group invited us over for Christmas Eve, where we had a dinner of things that might have been eaten in Christ’s time and sang Christmas hymns with the help of Nick’s ukulele.

On Christmas Day, Utah’s Christmas Eve, we talked to 6 of our kids and my sweet parents and sister. Then our friend Sue Collins invited us to have a picnic with their family on the beach in Tairua. We garden at her farm every Friday and were thrilled to get to meet her extended family. Her husband Derek resides in a care center in Tairua but got to be at the beach with us for the day. 

They also invited us to go to their Anglican Christmas service with them but we had family phone calls and couldn’t make it. After the beach, we made a stop back at the Ribets to see what Santa left the kids and have a few more treats.

We’ve had a joyous, delightful day to celebrate the anniversary of our Savior’s birth

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Kiwi Thanksgiving

We had a bit of a struggle trying to have a Thanksgiving dinner so far from home. I mentioned some of the ingredients I couldn’t find to my kids and Jennifer and Jon sent this: Now we had the cranberry sauce and the pecans for pies (along with delicious graham crackers for evening snacking)

Then we received a package from Rivka with decorations, plates and napkins and I hadn’t even thought about that:

After that, we discovered that turkeys were on sale last week for about $30 less than they usually are so a 12 lb. bird was $60 instead of $90 (at that point that seemed like a good deal!)  We went to an American store in Auckland for corn syrup and Stove Top stuffing. We used a Kiwi yam which they call Kumara and had to cut up large marshmallows since they had no miniature ones for the candied yams. They don’t have canned pumpkin so I baked a pumpkin and puréed it so I could use it to make pies. Then we invited the Higgins and the Chaddertons from our Branch and introduced them to a traditional Thanksgiving feast.

We had to explain what candied yams are and cranberry sauce and stuffing. Buddy took time beforehand to explain where the holiday comes from and when it was made an official holiday. We had a delightful time sharing our traditions with these wonderful friends.
P.S.- Kiwis usually don’t wear shoes in the house so even though we tell them they don’t have to take off their shoes, they seem to be more comfortable doing so. And though the drinks may look suspicious- we didn’t bring them home in a paper sack- they’re just sparkling grape and apple juices. 
Kia Ora! Elder and Sister O’Neal

Monday, November 20, 2017

A few weeks in Review

In looking back at photos for the last few weeks, I can’t come up with one theme so I’ll just explain a few. My sewing machine broke again so I’ve only been able to get things ready by cutting and ironing. However, we were able to go to Auckland today and get another belt for this old machine. The repair guy advised us to fix it and give it back to the city before it breaks again since the last belt should have lasted longer than two weeks (I agreed!). Actually that will be ok because Trish, the sewing teacher at the school, offered to let me borrow a machine from there. Yeah!! I’ll take her up on that offer next Tuesday. Here’s a pic of the crazy sewing room at the school:

I think I’ll still sew with this old machine until I can get to the school on Tuesday.
A few months ago, the Branch President in Coromandel asked me to help an elderly friend with his genealogy. He knew he had some Jewish ancestry but couldn’t find anything past his paternal grandmother. With a lot of help from, we managed to get him back 5 generations into England including copies of census reports, marriage and birth certificates. He was so excited! For his “day job” , though he’s retired, he fixes chain saws. I managed to get a picture of Elder O’Neal visiting with him after Church last Sunday where he took us down to his shop. The ceiling is barely shorter than Buddy so he had to duck at the 2x4’s. This kind of place is to Buddy what the sewing room is to me- mess with so many exciting possibilities.

And then, I had to include this wonder of nature that I found on my walk today:

The most wonderful tree! I can just see a family picture with all the kids sitting or hanging from the branches. Where was a tree like this when all my kids were at home??  It’s been a wonderful couple of weeks!  Kia Ora, Elder and Sister O’Neal

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Kauri Trees

Today we usually go to help in the community garden but when we got there, we were the only ones there. It looked like there’d been a lot of helpers the day before so even the weeding didn’t need to be done. About once a week, they have a special contingency of inmates from the jail come to work so they must have been there. Since there was no garden work, we decided to hike to the Kauri Grove about a half hour hike up the hill. We’ve been wanting to take this hike for months but its been too wet and muddy.
     Kauri Trees are another species indigenous to New Zealand and just in the northern part of the north island. They can grow over 150 feet tall and even though they grow low-lying limbs, they shed these as they grow taller making their wood of mostly parallel grain. That made them highly sought after for ship building in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. They can also be over 15 feet in diameter and live up to 1000 years!

Most harvesting of these trees has now ceased and the remaining groves are protected by law. We happen to have a grove of 20-30 trees just outside of town up a very steep trail. But the walk was worth it. Here is a view of town from the grove:

 and I made Elder O’Neal pose for one:

 And it's still only spring!    
Kia Ora, Elder and Sister O’Neal

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Youth Baptism!

Last Sunday, we had the first youth baptism in the Group. The Group Leader's young son Eliott was baptized at Egan's Park, a beautiful camping spot on a dirt road about 15 minutes from our home. We drove up the week before with the family to check out a couple of different options including the ocean and decided on this spot. The water was a rather chilly 14oC. (57F.) But Eliott was still excited and said he didn't mind. Here are a few pictures of the occasion:

They are a beautiful family and probably what makes it possible for us to even have a group here. Then following that wonderful occasion, we actually had a week where not one appointment cancelled!! That was incredible. We have pretty much decided that missionaries need to plan on at least 50% of their expected dates not coming through. We always try to have back-up plans for our time. But last week was not like that. We had one meeting where the non-member husband came late but we had a good long chat with the member-wife. We had one where the wife ended being busy but the husband came over here for a self-reliance lesson. And then we had a family that showed up an hour late but at least they came, for dinner and a lesson on agency. It was such a good week. That along with a visit to Joy in the care center, working in Sue's garden, having an amazing zone conference, getting to help the Higgins repair a rental unit, sewing etc, etc. We are keeping busy and happy.
And who could complain about the beauty that surrounds us everywhere we go:

These apple trees were lining the road on the way home from Zone Conference.
Kia Ora, Elder and Sister O'Neal

Monday, September 18, 2017

20o today (in C.)

On Fridays, we still go to Whenuakite to the Collin's house to help. They have lots acres with avocado trees, citrus trees, garden areas and lots to do. Sue is the sweetest lady on earth. She is in her 70's and her husband is in a care facility. We usually get there about 9 and work till noon. She then has us come in for "morning tea" and some chatting. Since we don't drink tea, she gets us a lovely drink called lemon-barley water. It's delish. She also likes to make us "mouse traps" which is toast with bacon, sweet onions and Edam cheese or sometimes orange muffins made by chopping up an entire orange (peel and all) and adding it to the mix. We love Fridays! Here's some pictures of her place in the spring: the circular driveway with her house on the left

The garden area, where I spent the morning getting it ready to plant and weeding the part I already planted:

The avocado trees out past the backyard hedgerow:

And some of the citrus trees (from which I picked oranges and lemons):

It's a heavenly piece of property and we always love being there!
Kia Ora! Elder and Sister O'Neal

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Silver Fern

As is evidenced in previous posts, we are quite fascinated by all the different flora and fauna that are unique to New Zealand. One really interesting plant is the Silver Fern which is entirely endemic to this country. It looks like any other fern on the top

But underneath it is very unique:

This plant is used extensively in New Zealand advertising:
The All Blacks rugby team:


And the front of the grocery store:

There was even a vote last year to try to include the fern on the national flag but it did not get a majority in favor. Some say trackers used the fern upside down on a dark night to light up a path. The more we notice this design, the more we see it everywhere.
Kia Ora, Elder and Sister O'Neal

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Table tennis and privet bushes

Whenever we go to serve in the community garden, there's a guy there who is always telling us about how the last two sets of missionaries (specifically the Elder) would join him with a group of other seniors for Table Tennis on Tuesday mornings. Last week, Elder O'Neal finally decided to have a go at it so I walked with him down to the Town Hall. Here's a picture as he's picked out a "bat" and is walking to help set up tables.

Both men and women play but I decided I'd rather go back home and sew some more Boomerang bags. He was gone for about 2 hours and had a great time! And, the man who kept inviting him wasn't even there. On his way home, he stopped at a sporting goods store and got himself a super-dooper bat so he should be a force to be reckoned with next week. He and his partner already ended up in first place last week.
In branch news, our little group finally assigned home and visiting teaching last month and turned in reports for it. That was a first. Elder O'Neal and I visited two families as home teachers, I visited two sisters with Emma as a visiting teacher and I visited two sisters with Kieren as a visiting teacher. All of the twosomes are split like that so that we get as many members in Whitianga as possible. I got to meet one sister, Tere, that we'd tried to visit at least 5 times and never caught at home, but Emma committed her to a visit and she accepted.
Today, Friday, is our standing appointment at Sue's garden/farm. The only times we stay home is if its raining but today was warm and sunny so off we went. She has a long driveway into her place that's lined by those tall trees I wrote about awhile ago. Today we began the lengthy task of removing obnoxious European Privets that grow all over under the pines. Elder O'Neal took a picture of me taking out the small bushes after he'd been through sawing off the large ones.

Remember, this is a winter day so I have a long sleeved undershirt, but we still got hot enough that the cool breezes that came through felt pretty good. We spent 3 hours there and came home exhausted and had to rest. Tough duty, right?
Also, a few weeks ago we passed our 6 months mark. We've met so many wonderful people, I'm already worrying about leaving them. Life is great!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

No gold at the end of the rainbow?

We headed out today for another curvy road, 2 1/2 hour drive to Temple View/Hamilton. Our days have now settled in to a schedule of a sorts. Two weeks ago, we took a break and drove to Hamilton to watch a stage production of "Les Mis". Originally, all of the senior missionaries were invited but they all had other things to do so we decided to still go by ourselves. (I know we're about the best "selfie" picture takers you ever saw, right?

Then last Monday we went to visit a less active member and she said she'd seen my picture in the newspaper. What? We'd not even read the newspaper yet, so we went home and got the paper out of the box and found this:

The first 100 of the bags that have been sewn are being given away today! And they even had my name in the article.  Pretty cool. I figure Elder O'Neal and I have constructed about 120 of them now by ourselves. He does all of the ironing and I do the sewing. Our little town wants to be mostly plastic-free in a couple of years. So this is just the beginning.
Saturday, we spent half the day visiting some sweet ladies. One of them, Joy, we visit a lot but its never on a schedule. We got there about 5 just as it was getting dark. She was so glad to see us and eventually told that she'd been depressed all day and had prayed that someone would come to visit her. She told us that was the third time she'd done that and right after that we showed up. That's the kind of stuff we're here for!

Today our trip was a very rainy one and we literally discovered that there is no gold pot at the end of the rainbow since we drove right past it!

Kia Ora, Elder and Sister O'Neal

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Our first Visitors!

This week, we got to welcome our first visitors to our home in Whitianga, my cousin Tyler Hunt and his beautiful wife, Kim. We got to be part of their around the world tour! We took them to Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove.

This is just before the 1 1/2 hour hike to see the cove. On the way back, we had another first. As we were huffing and puffing up the 10 flights of steps, a family walked by us heading down. The dad and youngest child were bringing up the rear when I heard the little boy say," Hey dad those were missionaries!" That made my day. Then, when Tyler and Kim caught up with us (they had stayed by the beach a little longer) they said the family was still discussing passing some missionaries on the trail. The little boy wanted to know why those missionaries were old when he though they were always young.
The dad gave him a short lesson on "senior missionaries". We've been here nearly 5 months and that was the first time we were pointed out. So fun!
Kia Ora, Elder and Sister O'Neal

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Still gorgeous weather but cool nights

We have had a rather adventurous week. Two different couples came to us asking for help quitting smoking because they both want to eventually be worthy to go through the Temple so we've been going through all the literature in the 12-step addiction recovery program and a special program designed just to help people stop smoking. Both coupes will be starting the program this week so we are really praying for their eventual success. We know it will be the hardest thing they've ever done.
Last week, there was rain forecast for Friday so we changed our garden service to Thursday at the Collins place. On the drive over, the colors continue to amaze me:

There are signs on the road that advise travelers to be careful since its now winter driving conditions. I'm not sure what that means since there is no snow but it could have something to do with this little road problem, called a slip:

That was on the way to Hamilton about 45 minutes from us and occurred because of rain. They don't even close the road, just put up cones and hope everyone stays away from them. I'm not even sure how they'll fix this one unless they carve the road further into the hill. (And yes, we do drive on the left side of the road.)
Then on Saturday, once we got to Hamilton, we did some shopping and in the evening we attended my second rugby game. Two years ago, with Kurt and Rusti, we watched the Chiefs take on the Blues in Auckland. This time we went with a group of senior missionaries and the game was at the Waikato Stadium in Hamilton. We've discovered we really like rugby. No time outs,  no body pads (ouch), lots of emotion, over in two hours flat and constant action. What's not to like? (The stands eventually got pretty full)

The Chiefs, the hometown team, beat the Aussie Waratahs. It was total fun. My kids are always laughing at the differences there are between a mission for a young missionary and us old folks. Except for a few basic guidelines, we make our own rules (since we know how to govern ourselves!). Every day is a new, wonderful experience.
Kia Ora, Elder and Sister O'Neal

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Teaching the Spragg family

Since they joined the Church over a month ago, we have been trying to set up more teaching appointments with the Spragg family. They live an hour away and they both work a swing shift so it's been hard. We were finally able to make it to their home Sunday afternoon. They live in what would definitely be considered substandard conditions in our country, something like a shed with an old travel trailer hooked on for the girls room. They have no indoor plumbing and only a hot plate to cook on, but they have the sweetest spirit there. Elder O'Neal gave the lesson on the Being of God the Father. He also managed to figure out how to have some small videos though they have no wifi. It was a special experience. Because they live on the western side of the Coromandel Peninsula, we also managed to get a picture of the sun setting. Since we live next to a large hill to the west, we don't really see the sun setting, just rising in the east, but here's what it looked like:

 Today we did a bit of sightseeing along the northern side of the coast 
and then came home to deliver meals for the soup kitchen and then prepare for the younger missionaries to spend the night with us. When they come, I like to be sure they have plenty to eat so here's everything I could find (including the chayote) thrown into one pot

I was afraid that I might have made too much but no worries. It was gone by the end of dinner time. And for dessert we had rhubarb/apple crisp. How I love all the fresh produce we get from the Collins' place!          

Kia Ora, Elder and Sister O'Neal

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Yesterday we drove out to Cook's Beach to give the Higgin's family some pointers on using They fixed us some lunch and I hope I got them to where they're feeling comfortable finding ancestors on the site. On our way home, we saw this beautiful stand of trees exhibiting our opposite season here. How can it be fall in May??

And along the beach, they've installed this little gem.

I'm sure you're all excited to come visit so you can get your picture taken behind it.
And, lastly, when we first moved here, I was loaned a sewing machine to use which has come in sooo handy for mending jobs. But yesterday we finally got the screen prints so I could begin a city service project using the sewing machine: Cloth grocery bags to replace plastic ones in the stores. We use fabric and other clothing donated to the 2nd hand stores in town. Young kids at the school have begun doing the screen printing on the pockets since Monday. It took about 2 months to get the screens back from Australia to carry the "Boomerang Bag" logo along with the city name. I think they're way too cute so people will probably just take them and not bring them back but what do I know?

This will be once-a-week project and I love it. It also gives Elder O'Neal a chance to go help a brother in town with a very messy garage.  Kia Ora, Elder and Sister O'Neal

Friday, May 5, 2017

A trip to Temple View for FHE

After watching Buddy's father's funeral service via Facebook messenger live and then attending the memorial service for Frank all in one day, it was a welcome diversion to head out for Temple View on Monday. The senior missionaries who live close to the Temple have a joint Family Home Evening every first Monday of the month but since we are 3 hours away, we seldom go (even though we're always invited.). However we had been informed that they'd found us some more gospel art for our flat so we decided to combine reasons and make the drive. Deanna and Rivka will be impressed that I did finally make goat-cheese stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates to take to the Monday night meeting and everyone loved them. The next day we also got to attend the temple, always a soul-refreshing experience. Then we loaded up our pictures into the boot of our car, did a little shopping in Hamilton and drove back home. We did make one stop in Tairua to visit Derek Collins in the care center. Derek, the owner of the bed and breakfast where we garden on Fridays, has been confined to a wheel chair for about 10 years. About a week ago he got an infection and ended up in the hospital at Thames for a few days and was then transferred to the care center to see if he could get well enough to return home. Here's a picture of the view from the carpark at the care center:

Today we went back to Whenakite where the Collins bed and breakfast is located, to help in the garden again. Elder O'Neal spent his time moving a huge, rotting wood pile while I weeded a hill. I kept hearing what I thought was 4-wheelers in the distance until I finally stopped weeding long enough to look up and see the actual source of the sound:

The biggest, fuzziest bee I've ever seen! I'm glad he was quite satisfied with the flowers and didn't head after me.  Then tonight we had the Ribets over for dinner. I think Hannah enjoyed the guacamole we made.

It's been a good week. Kia Ora, Elder and Sister O'Neal

Monday, May 1, 2017

A New Day

This week has been very interesting as we received word that Elder O'Neal's dad passed away Wednesday morning. He had been weak and sickly for years but there was no indication of his time being that short even the evening before. He went to bed as normal and just didn't wake up. Great way to go if you ask me but rather difficult for his daughter who lived with him and cared for him. Our hearts go out to all to all those who are traveling and present for the funeral and good-byes. We are comforted by the thought that the end of this life is not the end of life and families can be together forever.
     Our week has been full and fulfilling as usual. The memorial service for Frank has been scheduled for Sunday so we spent one day traveling between Whitianga and Coromandel to be sure everyone in the branch and at the Care Center were informed of the meeting. While in Coromandel, we noticed a bit of an oddity:

A phone booth- with a real pay phone inside! No, we did not try to make a call but we have heard that, in some areas, this country is still considered somewhat "third world". I guess this is the proof.
     We also took this picture of another phenomenon, the terracing of hills all over the countryside:

This is caused by sheep roaming over the hills for centuries. They always try to walk horizontally so they don't have to go uphill. Until recently, most all of the farmers raised sheep but now there's a prevailing opinion that cattle is a better cash crop at least on the north island so there aren't so many.
     Then, at the community garden, there was a weird palm-type tree with huge red flowers.  I had no idea what it was so I finally asked the garden manager. He took me to the tree and pointed up past the flower to the fruit:

Bananas! I know I'd seen a banana tree in Hawaii but that was over 20 years ago. And they are not supposed to grow here. The gardener told us these were cast off trees that were brought over from someone's home and burned in a pile and this little grove grew from the burn. Tenacious little trees! And the bananas are almost ripe so we can so take some home. Just another week in paradise.
 Kia Ora, Elder and Sister O'Neal

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A trip to Tauranga

I was supposed to have a meeting with the Boomerang Bag group this afternoon but it was cancelled via email around noon About the same time, Elder O'Neal was reading an article in the Church News about a new park that was renamed in Elder Matthew Cowley's honor in New Zealand last Saturday. In looking up the location of the park, he realized that it was only about 3 hours away from us. Sooooo, we decided that since our afternoon had just been freed up, we'd go see it. Tauranga is a place we've never been to and of course the drive was really windey but worth it. Here's a couple of pictures of the park (which is Matthew Cowley spelled in Maori and the phrase on the bottom is one he used all the time which meant to be humble, loving and kind or sincere)

It was beautiful little place and well worth the drive. Elder Cowley is rather famous in this country and was instrumental in converting a huge percentage of the Maori's in the early 1900's. Lots of streets and other locations are named for him.
After that, we found an old part of the town that has been turned into a little shopping area:

It was closing time so the streets were bare- just perfect!


Monday, April 17, 2017

Morgan's baptism

Elder O'Neal never could find previous records for Morgan (the father of the family that was baptized three weeks ago) so the Stake President asked that we just rebaptize him. Morgan was keen with that idea so on Sunday morning Elder O'Neal was able to baptize the father of our sweet family. We went to the previous place about an hour before our Church service and you can tell it's getting a little colder:

Morgan was shivering even before the ordinance was performed. Then here's a picture of most of the branch or at least all who attended to baptism:

The Branch president was gone for a family reunion so Kohia (in the red tie) was in charge but he had Elder O'Neal do all the officiating. He is the first counselor in the branch presidency but pretty shy and doesn't like to be in charge. Afterwards we drove over to the branch building and had our regular meetings where Morgan was confirmed.
I had made some stuff for a luncheon afterwards to celebrate the baptism and the other two sisters had also brought desserts. We assumed we'd have about 12-15 in attendance. Next time, I must remind myself that holiday weekends get crazy in resort towns. We ended up having 63 people there!! We had chairs set up on top of chairs and every spare space was full. So, by the time the meeting was over, we got out all the food we had and somehow, just like the story of the loaves and the fishes, it was enough for everyone. My own mini-miracle. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful way to commemorate Easter.