Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Catching up since leaving Tonga

It's been almost three years since we left Tonga and returned back to the United States. I was sure there was nothing we did after returning home that could compare with our experiences in Tonga. So, I decided to quit writing my blog. Boy, was I wrong!

When we left Tonga the end of June 2015 we were not sure what the future held for us. We bought a condo in Rexburg fully expecting to live and build a house there. Garth didn't have a job, and we didn't know how long it would take him to get a job, so we expected we'd be in Rexburg for some time.

Well, just about month after returning home Garth received a phone call from Quorum Health, the company he had worked for in Alaska, and they asked if he was ready to return to work. Getting a job so quickly was an answer to prayer. They told Garth they had a job for him in southern California. Without even hesitating Garth told them no. When asked why, he said, "It's southern California!" They were persistent, however, and explained that the job was at a little acute care hospital in Big Bear, up in the San Bernardino mountains, at almost 7000 feet elevation. On August 10 Garth arrived in Big Bear to become the interim CFO while I remained in Rexburg awaiting our household goods which were still in transit from Alaska. I was able to join Garth in Big Bear the end of October. Garth likes to say that Big Bear isn't really California, but "you can drive to California from Big Bear."

Big Bear is really three small communities surrounding Big Bear Lake: Big Bear Lake, Big Bear City, and Fawnskin, with a total population of about 5000 residents. The population can swell, however, to over 100,000 on a holiday weekend as tourists flood Big Bear to enjoy skiing in winter, boating, hiking and mountain biking in the summer.

In August of 2016 Garth accepted the permanent position of CFO, and we bought a house! It was back to Rexburg for me so I could go through our things, and decide what should go to Big Bear, and what should stay in Rexburg. I still often forget what is where. Some things we ended up buying two of, so we could have one in each location - like a VitaMix! I suppose you can never have enough VitaMixes.

The people in Big Bear are friendly and welcoming. We love our little ward here, but find we are often out of town on weekends, so don't attend as much as we'd like.

We have been having so many fun adventures and making wonderful memories that I don't want to forget, that I've decided to start up my blog again. We are enjoying our time in California and are exploring a part of the United States that we have never visited. Driving five or six hours after Garth gets off work on a Friday to some new exciting destination for the weekend has become our new normal.

I hope you enjoy tagging along on our adventures with us as I post about them.

Here are some pictures of Big Bear.

Gabrielle sketching at Big Bear Lake dock summer 2017

Our house in Big Bear January 2017

Coyote visiting our neighborhood (across the street from my house) fall 2017

Enjoying the outdoors around Big Bear

We bought a Jeep!
The ski runs at Summit Ski Resort Dec 2018 - the only snow in Big Bear was the man-made snow on the ski runs.

Sunset from our back porch

View towards Baldwin Lake from our back porch. Cool cloud formation!


Jon, Tyler, Ashley and Sarah 1998

I was talking with Garth earlier this week, and wondering if we asked our kids about some of their favorite memories growing up, would they be the same as ours? Sometimes as parents we plan elaborate activities or vacations in hopes they will bring us closer together as families, and create lasting memories. These are the things WE remember. But, when our children were asked, after all is said and done, it was the small things, the spontaneous moments, the seemingly insignificant things  they remember.

While we were "hanging out" with our daughters recent I asked them what some of their most favorite moments were growing up. And surprise, surprise.......most of our fondest memories were also theirs. Yeah!!!!

Time together as a family was precious and difficult to come by. Garth's job and church callings kept him away from home most evenings, and almost every weekend.

A little history: In April of 1990, six months after Sarah, our youngest was born, Garth was called as a counselor in the Juneau District presidency, where he served until 1995 when we were made a stake. The Juneau District covered the northern half of Southeast Alaska. But when we were made a stake, we joined with the Ketchikan District. Our stake then covered all of Southeast Alaska, all of the Northwest Territories in Canada (which was pretty much just Whitehorse), and west to Yakutat. I think it was close to 250,000 square miles, and 14 ward and branches. Garth served as a councilor in the stake presidency until 2004 when he became stake president. He served as stake president until 2013. On the evenings Garth was not in meetings for work as CFO of the hospital in Juneau, he was in meetings for church. Weekends were spent traveling.

So, Mondays and Fridays became sacred, not to be disturbed, calm islands in a sea of busy-ness. The phone was taken off the hook, and we spent time together with family. Some of those family members were family by choice - dear, dear friends, who will always be part of our family.

And so we don't forget, and our children won't forget, and our grandchildren will know....here are some of most favorite, FAVORITE family activities we remember.

Singing together - one of my earliest memories of singing with my kids is when we lived in Idaho Falls. Ashley must have been 4 and Jon 3, and Tyler a newborn. In the evenings before bed time we'd gather around the piano. Ashley would stand on the piano bench on one side of me and Jon on the other, with Garth behind us. Usually, Tyler was in bed by then, but if not he'd be resting quietly in Garth's arms. We'd sing all the kid's favorite songs.....over, and over, and over again. They couldn't seem to sing them too many times. "Somewhere Out There" from An American Tail, "If We Hold On Together" from Land Before Time, and "Never Ending Story." The evening wasn't complete if we didn't sing "Popcorn Popping," or "Book of Mormon Stories," or "Once There Was a Snowman," complete with actions.

As the kids got older the songs started to come from musicals introduced to us by Uncle Wes and Aunt Nancy - "Phantom of the Opera" - Ashley belting out those high notes from the theme song; "Les Miserables" -  before Tyler became a bass he was our Valjean and his sweet tenor voice would soar in "Bring Him Home;" Jon was Javert singing "Stars;" Tyler and Jon would take turns being Marius singing "Chairs" and "A Little Fall of Rain," with Ashley and Sarah singing the parts of Cosette and Eponine....the ending to that song always so very sad. Les Miserables was definitely a favorite! Then came "Wicked" with Ashley and Sarah singing the duets of Elphaba and Glinda - "Defying Gravity" (which I could  never play, but they'd keep singing despite all my mistakes - or just give up and sing to the sound track :) ), "I'm Not That Girl," "Popular," and my favorite "For Good." Other favorites were from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat - "Close Every Door", and "Those Canaan Days" complete with accents and dramatic pauses;  "When You Believe" from Joseph, Prince of Egypt - especially the part sung in Hebrew starting out quietly and sweetly, and ending singing at the tops of our voices! And so many more. When we'd go on vacations we'd take our favorite songs with us and play them in the car, always singing along.

One favorite memory of singing was on a Christmas vacation to Hawaii with the Huntsman's and the Willis'.
We began Christmas caroling with these two families the Christmas of 1988 - a year after we moved to Juneau. We caroled every year, through rain, snow, appendicitis (was it appendix or tonsils, Katie?), and who will ever forget the year the kids stepped into the dog doodoo and tracked it into the back of Old Blue? What a mess! So, we found ourselves in Hawaii. We were missing Sarah Willis who was newly married and living on the other side of the US, and Kyle Huntsman who was on his mission in El Salvador, but we decided we were NOT going to give up our tradition of caroling together just because we didn't know anyone in Hawaii, and were a little nervous going door to door and caroling to strangers - but we persevered. We had a lovely time.

We found ourselves caroling outside the door of a counselor in the bishopric from the ward we had attended that morning. He loaded us all up into the back of his pick up truck and drove us around to different member's homes in his ward. We stopped in an intersection and caroled to the full-time missionaries and then they caroled back.

The counselor who was driving us around asked us what singing group we were with. Yeah, right!! We laughed and told him we were the Juneau Alaska Family Choir. He asked us if we were going to be in town the following week, and when he found out we were, told us he was going to put us on the Sacrament Meeting program. We kind of laughed and didn't think much about it. Until  mid week. Was he serious? What if he was, and we walked into Sacrament Meeting and found ourselves on the program and totally unprepared? Maybe we should prepare something "just in case."

So we came up with our own a capella arrangement of "Come Thou Fount." And then waited on pins and needles until Sunday to see if the counselor was joking, or if we would indeed be on the program. Sunday morning we walked into sacrament meeting, looked at the program, and there on the program was a special musical number by the "Juneau Alaska Family Choir!" Thank goodness we were prepared!! Our turn came on the program, and dang! We were good! It was one of those magical moments when everything just went right. We were a choir of 13 - ages 17 to....well, not sure if anyone was 50 yet, but well on the way. It was lovely. A very, VERY favorite memory.

Golden Eye - When we finally broke down and bought a Nintendo, one of our favorite games to play was Golden Eye. We'd play four players at a time. I, of course, stunk at this game. I was a terrible aim and usually got killed off early on. One of the favorite characters to be was Boris because he could run fast. Jon loved being Boris. A new word came into being, and is still heard occasionally around the Hamblin household - schweapon. Meaning: weaponless. It was dishonorable to kill someone who was weaponless. So, when you'd lost your weapon you'd yell very loudly, so everyone would know you were vulnerable, "I'm Schweapon, I'm Schweapon." Then you left alone until you could get yourself a new weapon. Jon, however, would holler "Schweapon," then run up to another character and slap them!! Which he'd do over and over until they died. And there was nothing you could do because you were honor bound not to shoot him. Then he'd laugh maniacally and run off.

Power Outage Night - I don't remember why or when power outage nights came into being, but these became favorite times. Every once in a while we'd declare power outage night. All the lights would be turned off, we'd bring out the candles and lanterns, the popcorn or other treats and the games, and spend the evening with only the flickering light of the candles and lanterns to see by and play our favorite games or read from a favorite book. Sometimes, however, the VCR (and later the DVD player) would magically work, and we'd sit around watching a favorite movie all snuggled up together on the couch.

Hiking and Camping - One of our earliest hiking/camping trips was to Peterson Lake. It is almost 4-1/2 miles into a snug little cabin on the banks of Peterson Lake. Tyler was 3, and Ashley must have been 7 or 8. Jana Williams and her four children, and me and my three (Sarah wasn't born yet) decided to hike into Peterson Lake cabin and spend a night. We packed lightly. The older kids had to pack all their own gear, while the younger had to pack only their pajamas and snacks. Jana and I packed everything else. It had rained a few days before, so the trail was muddy. The first part is spent up and down little hills, over tree roots, and getting covered in mud. Tyler was behind and not happy. He wanted to turn around and go home. But, we encouraged, coaxed, and sometimes bullied him on. The older kids were up ahead and anxious to find where the trail met up to the meadow. We knew once we got to the meadow the hiking would be easier on board walk, and we would be nearly to the cabin. We heard a shout up ahead. They had found he meadow! They came running back to tell us we were almost there! Ashley had fallen but was okay. She'd seen the meadow, hollered "It's the Meadow" (quote from Bambi :) ), started running along the damp boardwalk, and yes, fell flat on her behind.

We ate hotdogs that night for dinner, played in the rowboat on the lake the next day, and had a very wonderful time.

Other favorite camping and hiking experiences were nights spent camping at Herbert Glacier, hiking the East Glacier Loop Trail, camping at John Muir cabin
John Muir Cabin with Mace's, Sanbei's, Huntsman's and Hamblin's
and who will ever forget the Chilkoot Pass! A 33-mile trail from Skagway, Alaska into Lake Bennett in Canada. We spent a week hiking and camping with the Huntsman's, the Sanbei's, and the King's, and our combined sons - five of them - ages 10 to 14.

Then there were the annual Mother's Day camping trips. We often spent these trips at Crow Point, near the boy scout camp. The beach is nice and sandy and fun to camp on if the weather is nice. Or we could camp protected under the grove of fir trees if the weather is a little drizzly.

The Mother's Day just after Ashley turned 16 was especially memorable. Friday night had been a little drizzly, so we were camped up under the trees. The kids woke early (I think we were with the Sanbei's, the Huntman's, and I don't recall if there was anyone else) and headed to the water front to play in the canoes. About 9 o'clock they came running back into camp yelling that they'd been splashed by whales. And indeed, some of them were pretty wet. We decided to investigate and headed to the beach. Sure enough, just off shore, was a pod of Orcas.  The kids had not been paying attention as the Orcas came through the first time. They were just having fun playing around in the canoes. It wasn't until an Orca came up and then dove close enough to a canoe to splash all those inside, that they noticed the whales. It was a National Geographic moment. We spent the entire morning watching them go back and forth  between Benjamin Island to the north (where a sea lion rookery was located) and the Boy Scout camp. They were a pod of transients, and the adults were teaching their young to hunt baby sea lions. Some of us got into canoes and floated amongst them. Close enough that you could smell them - and no, they don't smell very good! A very memorable experience.

And there were the numerous times we went out on the Kumput with the Huntsman's, camping on a small island, Karen and I and the kids picking huckleberries and blueberries while Don and Garth went out fishing.

And there were the first picnics of the year - us in our Explorer, following the Huntsman's in their four-wheel drive truck breaking trail through the remaining snow on the unplowed road towards Echo Cove, seeing how far we could get. I believe it was on one of these picnics (although we only made it to Auke Bay) that Don Huntsman and Garth convinced Hunter Kirkpatrick (I think he was 10 at the time) that he could use a cooler as a raft. Poor Hunter. It was a cold, drizzly day in early April, and Don and Garth coerced Hunter into a cooler and set him adrift in the frigid waters of Auke Bay. I don't think he made it even 10 feet before he capsized. Then he had to spend the rest of the picnic huddled by the fire trying to get dry. Boys don't ever really grow up, do they?

So, those aren't ALL, but many of the fun things Garth and I remember doing with our family - which includes all those friends who have become family by choice. They are experiences we will never forget!

Leaving Tonga: Some things we'll miss....and some we won't

As Garth and I quickly approach the day we will leave Tonga and our mission, we have talked about things we will miss - and some things that we won't.

We will DEFINITELY miss the sunshine and warm weather as we contemplate moving to Rexburg, Idaho - or as Garth likes to call it...Hoth (you know, the cold, perpetual winter planet in Star Wars?). I, for one, am not looking forward to the windy, sub-zero winters of southeast Idaho. But, I am looking forward to being closer to family, and having warmer summers where I can grow TOMATOES!! and CORN ON THE COB!! and lots of other veggies we can't grow in Juneau. Leaving Juneau, however, is a story all on its own, and one I don't want to think about right now....and maybe won't even think about for a long, long time...until I have to get on a plane and actually leave. And maybe not even then.

Back to Tonga.....One thing I will NOT miss is the 100% humidity, 90+ degree, still, stifling, breezeless, need to take a shower five minutes after getting out of the shower because you're all drenched in sweat again days of summer. I'm more of a cool to semi-warm kinda girl. And the summer rain showers (or storms - summer IS cyclone season - another thing I won't miss...that is cyclones. I kind of really like the heavy rain storms that come thundering down the street towards you sounding like a great locomotive) only adds MORE humidity to the air. No...I will DEFINITELY NOT miss the summer heat and humidity.

One thing I will miss terribly is the ocean. I have lived near the ocean now for nearly 30 years. It is a part of me. When I'm feeling depressed, or upset, or like the world is too loud and my brain needs some quiet time away from all the noise, I find peace at the ocean. I'm not sure how I'm going to survive leaving it behind. And the warm waters of Tonga are a delight. I'm going to miss all the shell gathering (I don't think Garth will miss that - I have gathered BUCKETS of shells while in Tonga), the long, leisurely walks on the beach with the breeze keeping you cool and comfortable.

I will miss seeing my Dad every day. Serving with him has truly been a blessing and an experience I will always be grateful for. I loved watching him interact with the missionaries as he served them, unlocking doors of MQs where keys got locked in, fixing plumbing, buying curtains, buying cleaning supplies, driving missionaries to dentist and doctor appointments, driving them to the temple or to meetings, picking them up from all over the island of Tongatapu and driving them wherever they needed to go, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning, sometimes late at night, and always during the daylight hours. He never complained about the long hours he put in.

He was known all over the island as Hiki Nima (the waving man). When people saw his van they would wave or yell, "Elder Berger." He always had a smile, and often gave them chocolate kisses he carried around in his pocket.

Dad, Sister DeeAnn Mitchell, and Sister Marsha Aland

He was also known as the "banana man." He was always out buying bananas. He loved that you could buy an entire stalk of bananas for 10 pa'anga or less. He'd hang them on his back porch and then deliver them to everyone around him, including the mission office where the missionaries would scarf them down. If you found a bunch of bananas on your doorstep you knew Elder Berger had been there.

He has always been, and will continue to be, an example to me of someone who loves serving the Lord.

I will definitely miss the singing. Everyone in Tonga sings. And they sing anywhere and any time. The church choirs are amazing. They are not shy when it comes to singing. The sound of their voices can be heard at LEAST a block away. They sing with their whole heart. I will miss the quiet, but uninhibited, singing of the passerby as they slowly make their way along the sidewalk in front of our house. I will miss hearing the Hymns of Zion sung by families staying at Temple Housing who gather outside on a warm, quiet, summer evening.

I will NOT miss the sound of the ubiquitous crowing rooster, or the ever free-roaming snarling, fighting dogs, who decide to raise their voices at every hour throughout the night, each and EVERY night. Who knew roosters were such poor time keepers. Or, maybe it's just that they have poor eyesight, and can't actually see that at 2:00 a.m. it's very dark outside, and the early morning sun's pale golden rays have not yet begun to peek over the horizon.

I will miss seeing all those cute little roly-poly baby pigs running around all over Tonga. They are so darned cute. And I'll miss seeing the little baby chicks cheeping and following their mamas. There always seems to be an independent one among the group, however. Always trying to go off on his own and Mama having to cluck him back into the fold. You can almost make out her words, "You'd better get back here, Mister. Or your father will hear about this when he comes home." 

 And I'll miss the children, and they're wave and quick "Bye" as you approach....and again as you depart. I'll miss their angelic faces, their engaging smiles, and their beaming, large, dark brown eyes.

Most of all, however, we will miss the people of Tonga. Garth and I have long loved the Kingdom of Tonga and her people. There are many Tongans who live in our home of Juneau, Alaska, and many of them are dear friends. We will miss their generosity, their warmth, the genuine joy that radiates from their faces when they smile, their ability to find happiness in everything, their great faith, their beautiful brown skin.

The staff at the Niutoputapu hospital

Three of my favorite ladies - Sister Huni, Sister Va'enuku, and Sister Funaki

The Lino family from Niutopatapu

I have had many experiences with these wonderful people that have caused me to have such great love for them. But, two stand out as perfect examples. They truly live the commandment, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” 

In April 2010 my youngest sister came to Tonga as part of a group of nurses from BYU-Idaho. While sightseeing at Hufangalupe, their teacher, Sister Lee, fell to her death.

The arch at Hafangalupe

In the days following Sister Lee’s death, my sister, along with her fellow nursing students, experienced something amazing. As they worked to complete the commitments they had made at clinics around Tongatapu, the people of Tonga went out of your way to talk to them and ease their suffering. They hugged them, and cried with them. They fed them, housed them, and loved them.

There was a young man, newly married, who helped drive them when they went sightseeing. He was there with them at Hufangalupe. He spent his nights sleeping on the floor at the foot of Brother Lee’s 
bed, so Brother Lee would not be alone.

They reached out to Brother Lee and these girls – total strangers – and made them one of them, treated them like family. Their love and generosity has changed these ladies forever. I will be forever grateful to them for taking care of my sister so well.

Three months later, in July 2010, our oldest son passed away. He lived in Sitka, a town not far from Juneau, but accessible only by plane or boat. A dear friend quickly flew us to Sitka so we could be with Jon’s wife and infant daughter. We returned to Juneau a few days later to plan Jon’s funeral. As we came out of the departure lounge at the airport we were met by an amazing sight. Over 50 of our Tongan friends, including President and Sister Tupou and many of President Tupou's family, were there to welcome us home, so we would not have to arrive home alone. Our tears flowed, and were mingled with theirs, as they hugged us and held us close.

Throughout the next week they lent us vehicles for our out of town family members. They visited us often.

The night before Jon’s funeral they held a feast for our family. There was a concern that they would not be able to get enough lu (taro leaves for making lupulu and lusipi) from California….at least enough of the BEST lu. So, one of the men who worked for Alaska Airlines was prepared to fly overnight to Hawaii and back to ensure we had enough lu. And, of course, there was lu to spare. There is always more than enough to eat at a Tongan feast.

Feast held in honor of Jonathon and hosted by our Tongan friends in Juneau, July 2010

We asked that a Tongan choir sing at the funeral. Many of those who sang were members of Pres. Tupou’s family. They also sang at the graveside.

I will never forget the love and strength we received from our Tongan family at one of the most difficult times in our lives.

Is it any wonder we love the Tongan people as we do? 

Tonga, you will forever be in our hearts.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound
Lyrics by Marta Keen Thompson

“In the quiet misty morning
When the moon has gone to bed,
When the sparrows stop their singing
And the sky is clear and red,

When the summer’s ceased its gleaming,
When the corn is past its prime,
When adventure’s lost its meaning,
I’ll be homeward bound in time.

Bind me not to the pasture;
Chain me not to the plow.
Set me free to find my calling
And I’ll return to you somehow.

If you find it’s me you’re missing,
If you’re hoping I’ll return,
To your thoughts I’ll soon be list’ning,
In the road I’ll stop and turn.

Then the wind will set me racing
As my journey nears its end,
And the path I’ll be retracing
When I’m homeward bound again.

Bind me not to pasture;
Chain me not to the plow.
Set me free to find my calling
And I’ll return to you somehow.

In the quiet misty morning
When the moon has gone to bed,
When the sparrows stop their singing,
I’ll be homeward bound again.

This has long been one of my favorite songs. It's on my "favorites" playlist on my phone. It speaks to me on my levels.

As I contemplated Mother's Day this past week, I listened to this song and thought of my children. I am a slow learner, and one of the hardest lessons I've had to learn is to let go of my of children, and let them find their own way. No longer can I control them as I could when they were little. I cannot make their decisions for them. I cannot make their choices. I must set them free to find their own path. 

I hope they are influenced by our (their parents) examples, and by the things we tried to teach them, and by our love for them. When I see them making choices I know will not ultimately lead to true happiness I must step back and let them find their way, and trust that they will remember, and at some point, return home to what they know is right, and will know they are always loved.

As I think of my feelings about my children, and the message of this song, my thoughts are naturally drawn to my Heavenly Father, and my relationship with Him. He loves me so much that he has set me free. He has given me agency....ultimately so that I will choose on my own to follow Him. But, even when I don't, He does not, and will not, take that agency away from me. And He loves me always.

In my mind's eye I see Him looking down on me, His heart aching when I make a choice that takes me away from Him. He longs for me to remember the path home to Him. And He is anxious that I follow that path, so that I can return to Him. I see Him with His arms open wide waiting to pull me to Him and hold me tight in His embrace. His love for me is intimate, personal, and eternal.

I want to love my children as my Heavenly Father loves me. Being a mere mortal and very flawed I don't even come close to loving my children as they deserve. But, I do love them more than I love anything or anyone else on this earth (except perhaps their father). I love them enough to let them make their own choices in this life. And whatever their choices, my desire is that they will not doubt my love for them, that they will see by my actions how much I love them, and they will feel my love for them as we make memories together. And like Heavenly Father, my arms will always be wide open, ready to enfold them and hold them tight.

As Garth and I have recently listened to this song, our thoughts have reached forward approximately a month from now, when WE will be returning home from our mission...home to friends, home to family...and home to our children, where we can once again embrace them, hold them close, and tell them in person how important they are to our happiness, and how much we love them.