Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ishinomaki / Nebuta / Aomori Zone Conference / Misawa / Tagajo

Another busy week has come and gone!  On Tuesday, we made another run to Ishinomaki to take care of some bicycle issues.  It's only an hour or so from Sendai.

We saw some kids playing soccer after school.  We are beginning to see a few signs that spring is coming our way.  We'll see.

The big road trip was on Wednesday.  None of the assistants have a driver's license at this time, so President Smith asked Elder A to drive.  (I think he hit a bump when we took this photo!)  We also had a couple of bike issues to take care of, so we crammed a couple of bikes in the back of the van and took off for Aomori.  It's about 4 or 5 hours north of Sendai.

This is the Aomori chapel.  No one was there yet, so we took a few minutes to look around town.  One of our elders had served in Aomori for a couple of transfers, so he knew what to look for.

One thing we found without looking very hard is snow!  It is piled up all over the place!

This man was taking some of his snow and spreading it around in the street to get rid of it.  It looks like he's done a good job of it because most of his snow is gone, but most people still have mounds of it.  I asked one of the elders if the city tries to get rid of some of the snow and he said they are hauling it off all the time, but they just can't keep up to it.  

It was difficult to see around corners and to exit a parking lot.  And, some of the roads were only one lane wide in places!  Plus, they told us it is about half what it was a month ago!

This is a bridge out at the harbor.  Aomori is right on the northern coast in a bay.

We went into this museum right by the ocean.  It is called Nebuta.

Here we are!

Every summer they have this huge festival.  They have about 20 floats like this.  They are made of paper and wire with lights inside.  (There is a generator underneath somehow to power the lights.)  The paper is held on to the wires with wax and then it is hand painted.  By obviously talented artists!  They work on the floats for many months in preparation for the festival.  The floats are on wheels and it takes 20 men to pull and push them through the town.  The red and white board at the bottom is where they walk and push the float.  Ten men in the front and ten in the back.

They are 9 meters wide, 7 meters long and 5 meters high and weigh 4 tons.

Some big drums that are part of the festival.

This is a huge foot showing the wire and paper construction.

All of these will be burned and destroyed before the next year's parade.  Then the best five of the new ones will be on display here for a year.  There were photos of the parade going back many years.

The museum lady wanted to take our photos, so we returned the favor and took hers too!

These were really fabulous!

This is the parking garage at the hotel where we stayed.  The circle on the ground rotated the car since there's very little room to make a turn.  Then it went up in an elevator somewhere.  The next morning when it came down, it had been turned around so it was facing forward.

The view from our hotel room (13th floor - no superstitions here).  The white patch on the mountain is a ski resort.  At night, it was lit up for night skiing.

The shore line is just beyond the buildings.

We left in the morning and drove to Misawa to trade out some bikes.  The weather was a little bit worse than predicted, so our, three-hour tour turned out to take a little longer than that.

But it was very beautiful country.  If a person had time and some camera skillls, some beautiful sights could be captured.

We made it back in time for the last half of zone conference.  This is the missionaries from Hachinohe District doing a musical number.

And a lesson on bicycle safety.

And, we got to watch "Meet the Mormons"!  It was great.  And we were so happy to see some of our missionaries who have been transferred up north!

At the end of the meeting, President Smith asked those who will be going home in the next two transfers to bear their testimonies.  There was over 10 missionaries.  What fine young people!  They will do much good as they return home and start the next phase of their lives.

Since we were on the road, we missed the Tagajo and the Kakuda English groups this week.  And we had to do a little catching up when we were back at the office.

Sunday was Sister Shitami's last time to go to church at Tagajo.  They held a "Linger Longer" potluck after church.  We invited the Smith's to come if they could.  They did come and the bishop was so glad to see them, he let them speak in Sacrament Meeting!

And a Happy Birthday to our family's February Birthdays:

Sunny and Chelsea Grace both are February babies

And our William (the day he was born, everyone in the hospital was excited to watch the USA beat USSR in hockey at the Olympics!)

Here's Perry, between his cousins Zackary and Zyon

And, President Smith had a birthday this month too!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Miyako / Hachinohe

We had an opportunity to go with the elders to Morioka on Friday.  We left early in the morning so they could help set up for the Zone Conference.  Elder K. had been in Sendai on splits, and since he has a driver's license, he drove us there.  He was one of the APs when we first came to Sendai.  We were reminded of how he and his companions have driven the length and breadth of this mission fulfilling their assignments.

As you can tell from the photo, the weather was nice all the way from Sendai until we got to Morioka.  Then the snows started.  Big time.  

As the missionaries arrived for their conference, they were brushing off the snow from their heads and coats.  It was fun to see some of the missionaries we haven't seen for a while.  We had planned to stay for the conference and then drive the APs back to Sendai, but the Hachinohe missionaries had called the day before saying they needed help with their bikes.  We figured since we're half way there, we should just do it during the conference.  (The weather prediction was for only 1 - 3 inches of snow.)  We just didn't expect it all in one hour!  But they said it was clear in Hachinohe, so we decided to give it a go.  We left just as they were starting.  

The freeway was closed down part of the way, but we were finally able to get to Hachinohe on Highway #4, which goes the length of Japan, but is only two lanes most of the time.  So if someone wants to turn right, it stops traffic for a while. 

Here we are in Hachinohe trading out the bikes.  They had some serious wind there!  (They also had a Pizza Hut!)  We picked up more bikes than we expected, so we told the elders they'd have to find another way back to Sendai.  They were OK with that, because the other way is the bullet train with the Smiths.

Then we headed back towards home.  Again, it was slow going.  We did see a couple of snow plows, but the roads ice up really quickly.  Everyone drives slower than normal.  We saw a couple of accidents along the way too.  But we made it back to Sendai in time to drop off the bikes at the repair shop.  (Around 6:30 pm).  So it was a long day in the van.

When I closed my eyes to go to sleep, I could see snow blowing towards me!  We were very thankful to make it home safely.

Here's a couple of photos from English the other night.  We played a categories game where everyone had to say the name of an animal or fruit or whatever (in English!)  It came down to these two.  Our elder did not want to lose to this little kid ..... but he did!

In church today, the Sacrament Meeting talks were about taking care of yourself physically and spiritually.  Then after church, everyone gave us candy and cookies for Valentine's day!  Just when we were almost caught up to our Christmas treats!

And for my family favorite this week, this is my nephew Adam and his boys.  Adam and Jenny have a son serving a mission in Colorado, and their next son is Arizona's Defensive Player of the Year  in high school football.  He has signed to play at Mesa College next year.  Way to go!

We love all our missionaries!  And we're so happy for Sister Smith for passing her driving test this week!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Transfer Week Again; Driver's License; The Sea of Japan

We have had another great, busy week.

Tuesday morning we got up early to deliver a couple of bikes to Ichinoseki for an elder being sent there.

Our first arrival came in the morning and was delivered to the mission by her parents.

Then, we went out to the airport in the evening to meet the plane with the missionaries coming from the MTC.

We were expecting to pick up four missionaries, so we were a little bit surprised to see that we had five to pick up!  (We had received a notice that one missionary was being reassigned to another mission.)  A nice surprise, but still, it meant that President was on the phone before the missionaries had collected their luggage.  The nice thing was that the newly assigned trainer was so happy.  She said she just knew she was supposed to be a trainer, so she was wondering why that didn't happen.  It all works out somehow in the Lord's work.

We have had four missionaries return recently after having to go home for a while!

It was a little bit tight coming back from the airport.  There's an elder back there somewhere!  (And he does have a seatbelt.)

The next morning, the new missionaries had their orientation and were sent on their way.

We took off to the Driver's License place so Alan could try again to get his Japanese license.  (His international license is only good for 12 months.  It will expire before it's time to go home.)  And, hooray!  He passed!  Fourth time was the charm for him.

These photos show some signs on every light pole telling how far to the McDonald's  (750 meters, 600 meters, 500 meters).  We wanted to show this since we probably won't have to go to that side of town too much now that the driving test is behind us.

We saw these guys washing windows in the city.  Just hanging around like Spider Man.

And, look what's happened to our Big Boy!  What is he holding?  A plate of rice and curry?  Where's the double decker hamburgers?  And,,,,, do his eyes look funny?

We had a couple of the sisters that were going home with us when we went to Tagajo for English.

One of these sisters had served in Tagajo, so it gave her a chance to say good bye to some old friends.

Thursday morning was new leadership training.  Alan made a run to McDonald's for Egg McMuffins.  Then in the afternoon, the returning missionaries have their final interviews.

We were invited to the testimony meeting and sukiyaki dinner this time since two of the honbu (office) staff are leaving.  These three elders have all lived upstairs from the office, so we've learned to know and love them.  And one of these sisters served in Tagajo with us.  It's getting harder to say good bye since we've known them quite a while!

It was great to hear their testimonies of how their missions have changed them.  They have learned to love the Lord and the gospel as well as the people of Japan.  They will be missed!

And Sister Shitami will be returning home in a couple of weeks.

They went home to New Zealand, Japan, Utah, Texas, and Hawaii!

It is a tradition that the assistants cook the dinner.  They did a great job!

Sisters Smith and Shitami were practicing being good Japanese women who bow to the samarais.  (Don't hate me!)  We had a lot of fun.

The next morning, they were off to the airport (five left on the plane).  One lives nearby.

On Saturday, we did some apartment inspections in Yamagata and Tsuruoka.  And moved some bikes around.  The snow from the storms has stayed in the mountains.  We went through countless tunnels to get there.  We were surprised the snow was so deep.  

This machine was digging snow from behind the fence to keep it from falling onto the highway.  

This was a huge pile of snow in the parking lot of a home improvement store.  It is probably over 20 feet tall.

We had to buy the elders a new heater for their apartment.

Before we headed back to Sendai, we found the Sea of Japan.  We brought some lunch with us and watched the fishing boats for a while.

This is a tiny island with a little lighthouse on it.

There was a cruise ship out in the distance too.

Fairly good beach weather for February!

This was where a river comes down to meet the sea.

There are lots of artificial sea breaks that they've made to protect the shoreline.  Many different shapes and sizes of cement blocks to provide protection.

Looking for some sea creatures.  Didn't find anything.

They've built these steps along the shore line to help slow down the waves.

We've made it through another week!  (A lame selfie!)

For my family shout out this week, I want to mention my niece Ann, she and Rob just sent their (first) son to the MTC.  So she is having missionary mom growing pains.  We know Drew will do great in Argentina!  We know Grandma and Grandpa Allen would be thrilled that he's going to Argentina since they served two missions there.

Here he is getting a good bye hug from his sister, Lauren, just before getting dropped off at the MTC.  See you in a couple of years!