"Go Royals! Go forth to serve well. Return with honor!

"Go Royals!  Go forth to serve well.  Return with honor!
This family photo is from August 2003, just before Brad left on his mission to the Philippines, but it remains a personal favorite

Monday, August 2, 2010

The First Weekend Home: Final Thoughts (August 1, 2010)

Brad and Whitney's wedding, January 4, 2008
            It was wonderful having the entire family together once again after two years.  We gathered at Mom and Dad’s house for swimming and lunch on Saturday.  I told David that was where I first went swimming after returning home from my mission (ahem) 29 years ago.  The Vegas heat is just . . . HOT.  David said he thought that the summer heat in Piura was hot, but now concedes that Piura has nothing on Vegas.  Summers in Vegas are like living in a furnace.  I hung out with Dad in his computer room, working valiantly on the family blog, after swimming only a short while.  (I can only take so much of the heat.)  We had some lunch, then David and I left to attend a baptism.  As we entered the stake center chapel, Jordan Mitchell (who returned home from the Texas Dallas Mission (Spanish speaking) a month ago) got up from his seat and ran to David.  They embraced.  It was the kind of reunion I had become used to watching.  David reunited with his Uncle Dave, the Littles, Bishop Olds, and other members of the ward present.  It was a great service.  I had wanted to take the entire family to watch my nephew Steven Olson in the play “Seven Brides and Seven Brothers” across town, but I knew that would be a tall order as there were already plans to take David to his first post mission movie: Inception.  We tried to get to an early movie so we could do both, but . . . the matinee was sold out, so . . . no go.  (How was the movie?  IMO: Meh.) 
Catalina Island, June 2008
            It was especially cool having David at the ward meetings yesterday.  Our Sunday began with David reporting to the High Council at 7:00 a.m.  That was fun - a great moment for a parent.  Jake Evans, who just returned from the Spain Barcelona Mission, also reported to the high council.  David gave the opening prayer in sacrament meeting and clearly had trouble praying in English (he mixes up words and phrases a tad).  We had a very powerful testimony meeting.  It felt so good to be home, back with our family, back with our ward.  There truly is no place like home.  David later attended our stake missionary preparation class and teamed up with Jake as guest speakers.  They gave an impromptu presentation to the class about their mission preparation, the MTC, learning the Spanish language, and being effective missionaries in their respective foreign countries.  They did a great job.  It was a wonderful hour.
David, Provo MTC, August 2008
Lima, Peru MTC, September 2008
            We spent the evening relaxing, watching the BYU/Oklahoma (September 5, 2009) football game that I had saved for David on the DVR - from start to finish.  Even though we all knew the outcome, we still had our doubts that BYU would actually pull it off again.  So, David has been running around catching up with friends like Mike Garrard, Michael Taylor, Dan Lee, and even attended a singles activity.  He is excited to be back.  We are excited to be back - and to be together, as a family again.  Maralea commented yesterday that David went into the mission field as a young man and returns home a man, noting: “and we did not get to watch the process.”  She did not say that begrudgingly, but with amazement and awe.  These missionaries are like caterpillars, going into the cocoon for two years.  Their struggles and triumphs allow them to attain the strength to eventually free themselves from the cocoon and, when they emerge, they discover beautiful wings with an ability to leave the ground and soar into the air, providing them with an entirely new perspective on life.  Our hope is that they continue to soar in life, using their mission experience as a springboard to personal success and happiness.
David with his first missionary companion, Elder Campbell - at the Piura airport, July 20, 2010

            The theme in our stake mission preparation class surrounding what it takes to be a successful missionary has always been based on Alma 8:15, faithfulness.  It relates to a vision Alma the Younger had with the same angel who had visited him several years earlier at the prayerful leading of his good father to give him one last ultimatum to follow Christ or be destroyed.  The occasion of this second visit was under far different circumstances, where Alma the Younger had been serving valiantly for Christ and had just been rejected and run out of the City of Ammoniah.  Despite this apparent failure, Alma was told that he had “great reason to rejoice, for thou hast been faithful.”  Personal faithfulness is something we control entirely.  That is therefore, in my opinion, the true measure of success as a missionary, a person, a parent, etc., regardless of the circumstances.  However, our experience with David these past two weeks gave me a new perspective as to one more key measure of success: deep, lasting relationships.  The angel Clarence in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” told George Bailey in his final words: “No man is a failure who has friends.”  David has friends - many of them.  Every soul is precious to the Lord.  (D&C 18:10.)  When we build a deep relationship with a soul that leads them to Christ, we are rich.  (See D&C 18:15-16.)  I admire David’s ability to create and nurture relationships.  What a blessing that will be to him in life.  True happiness in life comes as we look beyond ourselves and constantly reach out to others.  David taught us that on this trip - without even trying.  Yes, it is very good to have him home again.
Welcome home signs warm the house
Not sure we'll ever take them down!

Lima to Las Vegas: Arriving Home - FINALLY (July 30, 2010)

Tracking our way home, to our left is Chiclayo, with Piura at 10 o'clock
            Flying throughout the night is actually pretty cool . . . if you can sleep.  If not, it’s brutal - especially if you are dead tired.  I would say we managed perhaps a couple hours of sleep, which is not bad.  I spent a lot of time staring at the screen which tracked the progress of our flight.  I cannot explain why, but I was very interested to see when and where we would finally make a left turn over Florida towards Atlanta, GA.  (Answer: Just north of Everglades National Park.)  We only needed on form to be completed for Customs, so David filled it out then handed it to me to sign.  I did not read it, just signed (ooops).  (David did not know I had snacks in my back pack.)  When we arrived in Atlanta, we went to baggage claim and I got sniffed out by a police dog that went ape over an undeclared bag of beef jerky that had been in my bag since leaving Las Vegas.  I also had an old apple and a couple other snacks buried in my bag.  I was directed to an area where my bag was searched and all food (and water) was confiscated like it was illegal contraband. (And apparently . . . it is.)  No big deal.  I have just never been outed by a police dog before.  Now I have.  (The dog clearly has a nose for beef jerky, but apparently nothing for chocolate donuts purchased on in Lima that mysteriously made it past Customs and onto the flight to Las Vegas.)  It was nice to have phone service again (that does not cost $2.50/min.).  We did not have much of a layover in Atlanta before boarding our final flight.  David and I actually sat across the aisle from each other.  I tried to catch up on some sleep.  Unfortunately, I drank a huge bottle of water that I did not want to waste at Customs in Atlanta and my body kept reminding me that it really did not need all that water at once.  So, sleep for an extended period of time was not happening. 
Las Vegas is just below!
En route to baggage claim
David was actually nervous about that family reunion moment
Just about to baggage claim and the awaiting family
            Maralea and David had changed seats prior to our approach to Las Vegas so he could look out the window and see the landscape from above for the first time in two years.  He was a bit nervous, I think.  We arrived at the terminal and decided that Maralea and I would go first, so we could take pictures of him arriving.  (We did not want to miss all that.)  I noticed that my camera was not taking good pictures as we exited the tram but did not have time to fiddle with the settings.  We just moved on.  We went down the escalators to see our children, some extended family and friends with posters.  David came down the escalator all by himself to a round of cheers.  He hugged everyone.  

David discovers that little brother Jordan has grown . . . taller
Balloons and signs were a welcome sight
             We got the three boys together and, just as I suspected, Jordan is now officially the tallest.  (He is even taller than David with his shoes off and David’s shoes on.)  Whitney had set up her camera to take a group picture of everyone, and then we made our way to get the bags - all accounted for.  As we walked out into the Las Vegas heat we were reminded that we are now above the equator where it is summer - and oh so hot.  David continued wearing his suit in the heat but was anxious to get to some air conditioning.  We arrived home to a “Welcome Home” sign posted by the Littles, and balloons.  
David and Kelli, with Whitney videotaping from behind
Setting up for a big family picture in baggage claim
Jordan (right) was all smiles at taking over the "I'm Tallest" title, Brad (left) laughs because . . . misery loves company (ha)
We came home to a "Welcome Home" sign by the Littles
David with his Aunt Chris, and cousins Lisa and Kimberly
            After dropping off our bags, we went to the stake center for David to be released by Pres. Kyle Peterson.  David again signed the plates he first signed at the Stake Young Men’s Encampment of 2002 at Del Webb in Lehi’s Tent where he committed to serving a mission.  I remember that moment in 2001 very well.  Even though I was then serving as the Young Men’s President of my ward, I was not really aware of Lehi’s Tent and the invitation extended to the Young Men to sign the plates to commit to serving a mission.  David was then 13, a short, scrawny 13.  During the evening fireside, Father Lehi would address the group and invite those young men who had signed the plates that day to come down and receive a token of their commitment.  Since I knew nothing about the plates, and did not communicate anything to our youth about it, I figured there were not be any from our troop who would be going forward.  But, without any hesitation, David stood up and walked down to the front, received his token, and returned.  My heart melted as I thought of his valiance and desire to serve - and for making that commitment without any prodding from his father.  David never wavered in his commitment to serve since that time, and today provided the most important signature to those plates: the one in which he returns and reports on a commitment completed, a mission served - now a permanent record on those wonderful plates.  There is nothing so great than to be able to return and report to the Lord on a completed assignment.  (David had also signed plates at a Young Men’s Encampment in 2004 at Lake Arrowhead, which were present at the time of his release.)  The family gathered together for David’s release.  Maralea took off one of his name tags, David removed the other.  He will no longer be known as Elder Royal, but simply David.  That sacred title was temporary, but David will have to transition to life without the name tag and title.  It was a wonderful thing to have our entire family present for that experience, in addition to Mom and Dad.  Brad and David have left Jordan with a brightly lighted pathway to follow in life, for which I am very grateful as their father.
David signing the plates to memorialize his kept commitment, with Pres. Peterson
Signing these plates was the end of an eight year commitment, dating back to 2002
David with the 2002 and 2004 plates, signed, sealed and delivered
Maralea removed David's name tag
Lehi's plates, up close and personal
Mommy got the first post missionary tag hug

            We went to get some sandwiches as Firehouse Subs afterwards, then returned to the house to start the chore of unpacking.  I sat down on the hardwood floor of our entryway and began going through the first bag when I was suddenly hit with extreme fatigue and sleepiness.  I figured I would lay down for just a moment, but there I remained for a couple hours, before waking up and gathering just enough strength to get upstairs to bed.  I then slept for another four hours, before David woke me up for some pizza.  Still groggy, I managed something to eat, went into the front room, laid down on the couch, and fell asleep again.  I did not wake up for another five hours, then went to bed and slept through the night.  I woke up at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday and finally felt rested.  So, I started the task of going through emails, and updating the blog while everyone else slept.  This blog took on a life of its own.  I cannot believe I tried to write so much.  But, I did, and . . . it’s now all in the family history books, so I suppose that one day someone may be glad for that.  (Even our adult children generally admit they just look at the pictures, so . . . .)
"We've gotta father and mother, sister and brother, pullin' together we can work it out!"  Together for the first time in 2 years.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Puerto Maldonado to Lima (July 29, 2010)

Maralea relaxes in a hammock - best place in the jungle
            I did not sleep well last night.  It is hard to sleep when one side of your room is open to the wiles of the Amazon wildlife.  I was especially freaked out about walking in the darkness of our room after seeing a bunch of tarantulas.  (Yes, I admit it.  Those were huge, and creepy.)  We had bats visiting us nightly in our room, and other people reported things like frogs appearing in their toilets, and one had a tarantula visitor.  I usually get up once during the night - as a matter of principle.  But I so wanted to stay within the protection of my mosquito net (well, protection from spiders, bugs and bats . . . not from angry monkeys or pumas on the prowl).  When you get out of bed at night in our room, you do not have many options so far as lighting is concerned.  It is pitch dark.  As I got up in the darkness, with Maralea and David asleep, I had a bat fly just above my head and leaped back within my net.  (I am not like Bella.  I do not want to become a vampire.)  Mustering all my courage, I made a second attempt to leave the confines of my mosquito net, using my phone as a flashlight (because for reasons I cannot explain we left our other flashlights sitting somewhere in the room other than our night stand).  I accomplished my task, hoping for the best, and made the trek back within my mosquito net.  It was a memorable experience, for sure.
Pretty sure there are some exotic birds up there somewhere
            We refused to take cold showers in the morning.  No way - not even in the jungle.  We had breakfast with the world travelers in our group, and were taken to the airport to make our 10:30 a.m. flight to Lima.  We got a picture with the members of our group in the jungle - great people.  We decided we are not cut out to travel like that - taking months off at a time to go to the furthest reaches of the earth.  This was probably our biggest trip ever - after more than 27 years of marriage, in terms of time and destinations.  We were longing to be home after a short while.  It kind of reminded me of George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” who always wanted to travel the world and felt deprived and cheated by life because he was saddled down with family and community responsibilities.  It took a remarkable experience for George to figure out that he had the best life of all - one surrounded by family and friends.  A lot of people travel the world, but at this point I do not envy them - at least not as I used to.  I am ready for home.  But, we really enjoyed our friends from Australia and England.  It was really fun getting to know them for the brief time we were together.
Leaving the jungle . . . the way we came: via da river
Bye bye pirana - I hardly knew ye
Here with our Amazon guide, Fernando
Our jungle group - from left: Sandra (England), Amanda (England), Karen (Australia), Chris (Australia), and you know the rest
            Upon our arrival in Lima, we decided to get a room at the Lima airport hotel during the 10 hours we had as a layover.  It is located about 100 yards from the terminal.  That was soooo worth it.  We had full access to the spa, computers, had a room to use to prepare for the final journey home, re-pack our bags, and a great place to eat.  We were all pretty giddy about getting home.  After we got all cleaned up and dressed, David received a phone call from Christian, the son of Hermana Luz Marina in Chachapoyas, who called to speak with David before he left the country.  David answered the phone with excitement and just went running off in Spanish (as he did with everyone on the trip).  He and Christian talked about how they would keep in touch via email and Facebook.  David has a great desire to stay in touch with his friends from Peru and those missionaries with whom he served.  It is an amazing world we live in, where keeping in touch with anyone in the world is incredibly easy via the internet.
Random pic of Maralea at the Chiclayo airport (because I have none from Lima)
            We had dinner at the Lima airport hotel, rested for another hour or so in our room, then headed off to the airport where we got checked in, then went through customs.  En route we managed to leave behind one of our suitcases three times.  Maralea got it started by forgetting one of her bags at the beginning of the Delta check in line.  When we checked in our luggage, we realized we were one short.  I went to the back of the line and saw it sitting there, abandoned and scared.  I took possession of it and cautioned Maralea to be more careful.  JINX!  I was responsible for the next two lost luggage incidents.  The first was after purchasing some snacks at Duncan Donuts.  (By the way, Brian Regan was right, there really is a ‘spring smidge” donut out there with sprinkles just set off to the side.  All this time I thought he made that up as part of his comedy routine.)  We got what we needed and proceeded to security.  I stopped
and asked: “Wasn’t I pulling something earlier?”  Then, I ran back to the doughnut store and there it was, yet another bag apparently abandoned, scared and frightened.  How could I do such a thing?  Okay, so that balanced out the karma.  Maralea and I were even in a matter of minutes.  After we went through security, I approached Maralea and she said: “Where’s the orange bag?”  I looked back at the security line and there it was, sitting by itself, abandoned and sad.  I called David over to explain to security that the orange bag is ours.  A guest put the bag on the conveyor belt to go through the x-ray.  I retrieved it, approached Maralea and she said: “Okay, that’s three times we have left a bag.  Let’s keep it together here.”  We went through customs and got to the gate with about an hour to spare.  We had internet there, but I did not fire up my computer.  Instead, I just posted a few pictures on Facebook from my phone.  David was intent on using up the rest of his Peru phone minutes, so he called Hermana Ynes to say goodbye.  They had a lively conversation until a few moments before we boarded, when his minutes ran out and the phone call ended abruptly.  But, as we boarded the plane, David was doing exactly what he has loved most while serving in Peru: nurture personal relationships.  That was a recurrent theme for this trip, something that clearly made David happy - reaching out to others.  That has been a lot of fun to watch, up close and personal.  
David's pensionistta, Hermana Yness (right) called to wish David well as we boarded the plane in Lima

Welcome to the Jungle (July 28, 2010)

The river in the early morning is quite peaceful
            We got up before dawn for a 5:30 am breakfast then off to the boat for a visit to a local lake.  The river in the morning was beautiful, with the sun barely rising above the trees, the mist hovering over the water.  It was all so calm.  It is interesting being in the Amazon jungle.  There is beautiful wildlife here, a vast variety of trees and interesting insects.  The weather has been incredibly good and I love going to sleep to the sounds of the jungle.  I also discovered that a hammock is pretty nice.  Anyway, back to our boat trip.  We landed our boat at a point about 15 minutes up river, then walked to a lake, where we got onto a catamaran.  I made a couple of observations immediately.  First, when we sit on the boat in the river, wearing a life vest is mandatory, while there were no life vests on the catamaran.  Second, wearing a life vest on the catamaran was also not an option - because there were none.  Third, as we boarded the catamaran, one of the workers was bailing water.  I was not really interested in getting wet with or without a life vest - especially in a lake reportedly filled with cayman as long as six meters, and is the home of several species of pirana.  But, I just went with the flow.  (The bailing of water continued at various points during our lake trip, but . . . no worries.) 
Oxbow Lake, filled with pirana and cayman
One of the two cayman we spotted in Oxbow Lake
Some crazy birds that defecate as a defense mechanism
Maralea was the first to catch a non-flesh eating fish
I got one, too!
Ever seen a pirana up close?
            We saw some of the big cayman (which we were told “are afraid of humans and will not attack them” - right), but the most spectacular thing for me was fishing for pirana.  I could not believe that I might get a shot at hooking a pirana.  They gave us these sticks with about six feet of fishing line, with meat baited hooks at the end.  One of the workers would fish differently, tossing a line about 20 feet behind the boat.  A worker was the first to catch a fish: pirana.  We got to inspect it up close and personal.  They showed us its teeth and put a leaf into its mouth to demonstrate how the fish uses those teeth to devour.  It was impressive.  Maralea had a pole and was fishing next to me.  To her left was a woman from England trying her hand at it.  Within about 10 minutes, Maralea caught a fish and started screaming.  She pulling the fish out of the water and kind of whacked the woman from England with it.  I was a bit worried that she had just tossed a flesh eating fish onto a fellow fisher woman.  But, as it turns out, Maralea caught a lake sardine, which was virtually the same color as the pirana caught earlier, about the same length, just skinnier.  So, Maralea beat us all to the catch (as she usually does).  (Maralea and I went fishing once in Oregon, at Cougar Dam, where she beat me 17-1.  She even caught one by hooking onto a cut line and when we pulled it all in to clean up the tangled mess, there was a fish at the end of the cut line.)  I was the only other guest to catch a fish - but not a pirana.  It was of the same variety that Maralea caught.  (Royals 2, Everyone Else 0.)  We saw a family of Amazon otters, and a black eagle (a rare sighting), among other wildlife.  With all these man eating reptiles and fish in the water, I did not panic about riding on a slowly sinking catamaran with no life vest.  I knew we would make it safely.  We did.  (Whew!)

Video of one of the piranas caught and brought on board

So, after seeing cayman and pirana, how would you feel about the driver constantly bailing water from the boat?
             During our boat ride back to the lodge, I was enjoying an apple I had set aside in a cargo pants pocket when David asked: “Hey Dad, did you wash your hands before eating that?  I mean, you were handling fish and raw meat.”  Great.  Thanks for the reminder.  Suddenly, with a loss of appetite and inability to take another bite, I placed the half eaten apple in the muddy river water.  When we arrived back at the lodge at about 10:30 am, we took a much needed rest from the hike back.  It was hot.  We had some juice and a sandwich, at which point our tour guide said that we would be leaving on another hike in 10 minutes.  Maralea, David and I just looked at each other.  We knew where we were going to be in 10 minutes: in our open air room where we could shower, rest and just relax.  That felt so good.  We hung out until lunch, where we caught back up with our group.  Over lunch, there was more discussion with David about his mission, and with us about sending our other sons on missions.  We have had a great opportunity to discuss the missionary program of the Church to others on this trip, which has been wonderful. 
Oxbow Lake from our pirana catching spot
Had juice and hammocks waiting for us back at the lodge to dream of our pirana catch
 An Australian young woman in our group, Karen, heard me talking about my chronic cough and said: “Would you like a cough lolly?”  I had no idea what she was saying.  There is another Australian gentleman named Chris who was standing by and acted like what she had just stated was quite normal.  I asked her to repeat it three times until we both realized I was having trouble with the word “lolly.”  Karen said: “In Australia, we figured out that a lolly pop does as much good for a cough than a could drop, so we just refer to cough drops as cough lollies.”  (We have two others in our group from England: Sandra and Amanda, sisters who are in the middle of an 11 month traveling binge.  They are very funny, easy going and fun to talk with.)  Our trip to the botanical medicine area got me thinking about Alma 46:40, where Mormon writes of the people living in this part of the world anciently:

“And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land; but not so much with fevers because of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men were subject by the nature of the climate.”

Maralea with plant medicine paint
David's face paint made him dopey
Mine made me CRAZY!
Another beautiful Amazon sunset
Tarantula near our sleeping quarters - sweet

             We took advantage of the evening limited electricity hours to charge up our batteries (we only get electricity here four hours a day).  After dinner, we went on a night hike to find tarantulas.  That was fun.  We got to meet three of them, and got a few pictures - not great ones, but not bad, either.  It was a bit creepy walking out in the dark, dense forest of the Amazon in search of tarantulas.  Plus, the cheep batteries we bought for our cheep flashlights in Cuzco lasted all of about four hours total, so we were running low on light. (We have plenty of great flashlights at home, but forgot to toss any in our bags.  So far, though, that is about the only thing we forgot.)  We returned to the lodge area at about 9:00 p.m., just in time to say goodnight to our group as the lights of the entire camp went out.  There we stood, in the Amazon jungle in pitch darkness, with only our flashlights to show us the way to our room.  But, we made it, got ready for bed, and will hit the ground running tomorrow, as we fly out of Puerto Maldonado for Lima at 11:00 a.m.  This part of our journey to Peru has been really fun.  We stayed in a nice place in Cuzco, but we did so much running around there without leaving much time for relaxation or to even get used to the altitude.  We took more time to just relax here, which is something we needed.  As I write tonight, David and Maralea are asleep in their own mosquito nets.  I am sitting in my mosquito net protected bed, listing to guys snoring in rooms on both sides of us, as the open side of our room brings in the noises of the jungle.  It is pretty amazing.  And the night sky here is beautiful.

David needed help with his mosquito net to keep the tarantulas out

            I think we are all pretty excited to get home.  This trip has been fun, and a bit challenging.  I am not sure what we would do differently, other than to perhaps leave a thing or two out so we could build in more time for relaxation.  Still, it has been fun to get out and meet a lot of different people.  We did a lot of that here in our Amazon visit.  I think David is quite anxious to get home as well.  Tomorrow will be the beginning of what will amount to about 26 hours of travel (counting layovers) before we arrive home.  It is hard to believe we have reached this point.