"Grand as it is, planet Earth is part of something even grander- that great plan of God. Simply summarized, the Earth was created that families might be." Elder Russell M. Nelson

When we left Salt Lake on Monday for the airport, it was snowing and everything was beautifully covered in white. When checking in our baggage, one of my bags was too heavy so I removed two shoes and put them in another bag which allowed the correct weight.  I already left most of my winter wardrobe at Erica's house trying to get the bags to 50 lbs each. We arrived in San Francisco and met Sister Denney, from American Fork who was also on her way to Sydney.  She is a sweet, genuine person who was glad to have some traveling companions.  In her wandering she met Sister Kwansing who had been working in Iowa waiting for her visa to Australia.  She was flying on our plane too. She is from Figi. We had a five hour lay-over and were glad to finally board our flight to Australia. We stopped and ate at The Pier restaurant in the airport where we met a very kind person who helped me with a solution to keep some medication cold on the long flight down under. He saw our name badges and felt compassion on the humble, inexperienced travelers.

Flying less than first class (see topical guide for "Steerage") has become an uncomfortable experience.  We could barely pull our carry-on bags down the narrow aisles an we were packed into our row so that eating and moving were challenging.  Some slept a bit.  I think I dozed for about two hours during our twelve hour flight to Aukland, New Zealand.  I spent much of the time watching old ER episodes. After 5-6 hours I thought it might have been more comfortable to swim to Australia. I felt like a we were a pound of sardines packed into a 5 ounce can. My comfort was having Sheila beside me to remind me why we were doing this.  When we arrived in New Zealand we changed planes and picked up eight darling elders on their way to the Sydney North Mission.  They were excited and filled with the spirit.  One was from Cambodia, one from the Cook Islands, one from India, one from Figi, one from Chile and the rest from New Zealand.

Three hours later we arrived in Australia and made it through customs without a glitch which I definitely felt was a blessing from God.  The dog sniffer stopped at my baggage and the attendant asked if I had food to which I replied, "there are dried prunes in my pocket" and she said, "no problem, go on through".  We were met by the mission assistants, Elder King and Elder Ostler, who were so kind and helpful.  Once we had all elders and the two sisters who had joined us in San Francisco, the mission assistants had us divide into groups and practice GQing - which is asking the Golden Question.  I was paired with Elder Quon (pronounced Kahn), from Camodia.  He told me he had been on the mission before and went home but wanted to come back and President Checkett's agreed.  He said when he joined the church his parents threw him out of the house and did not have any relationship with him.  I felt so badly for him.  When President Checketts arrived, we boarded our transportation and headed out.  There was sooooooo much traffic that what should have been a 15 minute drive for the President had taken an hour.  As we left, he parking attendant did not charge President Checketts for parking.  He said that was amazing as everything is charged for in Australia. The weather was amazing, huge sky filled with dark clouds. It poured most of the way to the Temple. When we arrived, the rain stopped and the sun began to appear. The Temple is beautiful and there are several other buildings owned by the church on the property. The grounds are very well groomed making it a jewel in the area. 

We were taken to the mission president's house for lunch and then to the mission headquarters, which was a short walk.  We had training an learned about customs and laws in Australia.  Here in Sydney, traffic is crazy.  Because they have lots of foreigners, they have road signs reminding people that they drive on the left.  They also have a law that if there is a passenger in the car and they have a ticket or get in an accident, the driver is responsible for 70% of the cost and the passenger 30%.  They expect the passenger to help the driver avoid accidents.  Before we get our car, we have to take a test and go driving with one of the office people.  President Checketts said we would be going to a small branch of Armidale, near a rainforest and about a six hour drive. We are told that it is about 3000 ft elevation and quite a ways from the coast. There is a road there called Waterfall Way where there are reported to be several waterfalls. We will post pictures when we are able. We were also warned to watch out for kangaroos on the road, especially at dawn or at dusk. Apparently the missionaries cars are involved in collisions with the kangaroos far too often for anyone's comfort. We are told that big kangaroos are 7 feet tall and go some 300 pounds. Well, if they won't let me shoot one...  I decided I wanted to drive there but not in Sydney.  President Checketts said he was sure the new branch president would want to use us immediately but he wanted us to stay in Sydney for the mission Christmas party on Tuesday and then leave for Armidale on Wednesday.

We were kept very busy to try to keep us awake and help us to adjust to the time difference.  The Church has an apartment complex where people who travel to do temple work can stay overnight and that is where we will be staying until we leave for our area.  It is very clean and comfortable.  We fell into bed at 9:00 p.m. so happy to go to sleep We had actually been mostly asleep since early afternoon without the use of our higher functions, In other words, we were walking around in a zombie like state. When my head hit the pillow I slept like the dead.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Today was a busy day.  We were picked up at 8:20 to join the Ellis's and the Mackays in self-reliant training.  It is thought that there will be a need in the Armidale area to teach the churches new self-reliance program.  I discovered Elder Mackay knew my Uncle Vaughn.  He lived in Connell, Washington and was on the school board and had occasion to fight over issues with Uncle Vaughn. He said he was a colorful guy to which I agreed.  He also knew my cousin Terryl, Vaughn's son, who passed away way too young from early onset Alzheimers.  He and his wife are assigned self-reliance in the Sydney South Mission.  The four of us agreed we hope to see each other on occasion.  The Ellis's asked us to join them and the Mackays tomorrow in a tour of the city to which we eagerly agreed. It seems as though there is a great need for self reliance training in this part of the world. I guess I take for granted that people want to better themselves and their situations. Where we are from it seems to be the norm to want a better education and a good job. We are not satisfied to rely on others. We even strive for spiritual independence by strengthening our testimony and gospel knowledge.  

After training, we had a hurried lunch at the Carlingford Court across from the temple.  It is a huge mall with meat, fruit, bakery markets, grocery stores, pharmacies and many, many other stores. After lunch, we went to a temple session thinking that as we will be six hours from Sydney we should go before we leave.  We were both suffering from jet lag and had a bit of a challenge staying awake.  It was a small temple with no chapel.  The endowment room held approximately 50 people.  There were about 12 women and 7 men attending today. It seemed strange to picture the worker on the other side of the veil as Mick Dundee because of his accent. We went across the street to McDonalds (called Mackees here) and got some food. The menu is pretty much the same as here and I did not detect any flavor difference. We also tried KFC and the only difference seems to be that the original recipe is not as spicy which for me is a very good thing. 

When we finished at the temple, we joined Elder Williams, who has to pass the driver's off before they get a car, and he drove us around in the heavy traffic and then turned the driving over to Rick who did a good job.  It will take lots of concentration until driving on the left becomes instinct.  We also have to watch the speed limit very closely as cameras are everywhere and tickets for speeding are expensive. Because the turn signal stalk is on the right side of the steering column, I tried to do a lot of signaling with my wipers. Elder Williams thought that was funny, he laughed and laughed. Driving on the busiest street in Sydney today made me glad for the stringent gun laws here as the other drivers were not nearly as tickled as Elder Williams and they only had boomerangs to throw. If we were in Los Angeles you would have heard the guns cocking all around us. Elder Williams grew up in Northern England and moved to Australia in 1971. He was a big fan of the Beatles and the Stones when he was young and saw them perform live in England. I am sorry that I will not be able to spend more time with him before we leave Sydney for our assignment. He was jealous of me because I got to see the Beach Boys a couple of times at Lagoon but I would give almost anything to have seen The Beatles in person.

We finished the day at the mall once again, picking up a few things to eat tonight knowing we were both too tired to go out to eat and still not eager to drive in Sydney. We hit an ATM to get some Australian dollars and spent about 19 of them on groceries. We got 200 dollars Au for about $143.00 American.

Friday, December 19, 2015

Elder and Sister Elliss picked us up at 8:20 a.m. and we joined Elder and Sister Mackay at the pier where we boarded the River Cat ferry. We traveled for about one hour seeing the neighborhoods along the bank of the river and many sailboats in the harbor. The wind blew fiercely and my hair was beaten to pieces but we had an enjoyable time.

Once we disembarked, we boarded a tour bus and listened to a recording about Sydney as we traveled around Sydney. There were many interesting sites and stories. One of the funny things that stuck in my mind was the government statistics building that the narrator said was called The Hatch, Match and Dispatch building. We saw the beautiful opera house and Harbor bridge that is nicknamed the Iron Lung because during a downturn in their economy the bridge provided much needed jobs for the 17 years it took to complete it. We walked through a small part of the beautiful Botanical Gardens.

We went to the Bondi Beach for lunch and had delicious fish and chips that were as hot as our water in our motel room! We are told that fish & chips are a very traditional Australian dish. They came without tartar sauce and if you wanted it you had to pay extra. We rode on the top of the bus in order to see better and I was glad for sunscreen but Rick, without sunscreen, ended up quite sunburned. I did not get that burned and the blisters should be going away in about a week. The ride back from Bondi Beach gave us a beautiful view of the ocean and the expensive homes with ocean views. 
We stopped at Paddy's market, a huge indoor Asian market so that Sister Mackay and I could buy what we realized was a much needed addition to our wardrobe - large brimmed hats. Afterwards, we headed for the train station which was quite an impressive place, boarded a busy train to take us back to the River Cat and back to our cars. As Sydney has a population of 4 million, every form of transport seems busy. We were all exhausted but had a great day. When we got back to our temporary flat, we took a ride down to the market to get dinner and something for tomorrow. Most of the stores were closed and it was only 6:00 o'clock in the evening. We need to learn not to assume that things here are the same as they are at home. We did manage to score some KFC before they closed. Goody!

Four of our checked bags in Salt Lake, all beautifully decorated with turquoise ribbon to make them easier to see when they came off the airplane. 

Adam ready for school the wintry morning we left

Blogging in the midst of 270 lbs. of luggage in our lovely, temple patron apartment in Sydney. It would have been heavier but during our flight I was wearing 6 pairs of pants and 17 shirts in order to make room for some more of Sister Berger's shoes. Just Kidding, I was only wearing 4 pairs of pants.

Another view of the luggage

Sydney Temple Patron Accommodations

They have a microwave, fridge, laundry facility and are very clean and comfortable.
They have the hottest water I have ever felt coming from a tap. It has got to be very near the boiling point. It can be dangerous to shower so we will be careful.

Sydney temple from across the street The temple is actually straight, it looks like it is leaning because I had to hurry and snap the picture when there were no cars or trucks in the picture.

Front temple grounds with a beautiful flowerbed of Marigolds.

Sydney Temple front with Moroni

Rick passed his driving test - here is our Corolla and below our strange set- up with steering wheel on the right.

Everything is backwards!

The Sydney Opera House

And again
The Sydney Harbor Bridge, if you look very closely, you can see people who have paid a lot of money to climb to the top of the bridge by walking along the very top arc of the structure itself.

The Harbor Bridhe and the Opera House off in the distance.

Sheila and I posing in front of the bridge. I am the fat one in the shorty pants.

Sheila with the bridge in the background.

Selfie in the upper deck of the bus.

Other missionaries on the bus.

Our train ride back to the River Cat

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