Saturday, July 27, 2013


Usually I would say that the days are long but the weeks are short BUT this week I think just the opposite.  It has been a VERY long week--maybe because we basically had eight days, not seven!

We began our week by saying goodbye to Japan and those we have grown to love.  First, goodbye to our branch president, President Onuma, and his family.  They are really amazing.  President Onuma has been the branch president for six years and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight.  He was incredible during the tsunami and keeps going.  His wife is so supportive and his two boys have gone from boys to young men:

On Monday we finished up all the last minute things like cleaning, getting rid of our Japan insurance and our internet service.  On Monday night we went out with the Kikuchis one last time.  They took us to their favorite sushi place which is quite a treat.  It is the kind that the sushi goes around on a conveyor belt but there are different prices according to the type of sushi.  Each plate color has a different price assigned to it:

As you see it goes from 88 yen (88 cents) to 588 yen ($5.88).  That is for a small plate with two pieces on it!  Here is a sample:

Notice this is on the middle green plate which cost $2.28.  It had chopped salmon and salmon eggs on it.  At the end the plates looked like this:

And we were sad to say goodbye to our friends the Kikuchis:

On Tuesday morning we got up early and began our journey to the mission home first stopping to do some service:

There were hand massages, body massages, and some crafts which were quite labor intensive!  I took the last of the cookies we had baked last week and a few things that we didn't want that we thought they might like.  (We were right--they did enjoy the treats and other stuff!)  The best part was seeing all of the volunteers that we had worked with these past 19 months.  We will remember those service opportunities forever!

Next stop was the Miyato Community Center where we had done the children's English class.  We saw our friends:

And then ate at the little café-type place that they also run.  (It was delicious!):

After a brief stop in Sendai, we made it to the mission home to check out, talk to the mission president,  and spend the night.  We stayed in the "general authority" room as they call it because whenever a general authority comes that is the room they get to stay in:

Hey, I knew you would be impressed!  It really is a great treat to spend a night at the mission home and we have done so a few times so it has been really nice.  We went out to eat dinner at a KOREAN restaurant!  How's that for a FINAL dinner?!  It was really good though and we were not disappointed in the least.  PLUS we stopped off at Baskin Robbins afterwards for dessert!

Wednesday morning bright and early we were at the Sendai airport for our final journey home!

It was a LONG series of flights:  first to Tokyo, then 6 hour layover, then to Portland, Ore. (9+ hours), 4 hour layover, then 2 hours to Salt Lake City.  Yes, something like 22 hours!  At least we started out cheerful:

But it seemed a little long when we saw the sun rise for the SECOND TIME on the same day due to the international dateline!:

And FINALLY we got home!  And were welcomed warmly!:

AND since it was the 24th of July (Pioneer Day) it was a real celebration complete with BBQ:

And lots of grandkids:

And even fireworks:

It really was wonderful.  And on Friday we got our final release with our stake president:

So I haven't really figured out what to say now.  I could say it was wonderful, or hard, or exhausting, or amazing, or well worth it, or almost anything else and they would all be accurate. 

I guess maybe I can say we finished what we set forth to do.  It doesn't really seem like the END but more of a continuation of living.  Now more than ever life seems like a journey.  We try the best we can and sometimes we have to pick ourselves up but mostly we keep trying.  We are not perfect but really no one is. 

I did gain a stronger conviction that there really is a God and I appreciate so much that knowledge.  To me, it makes all the difference.  And I marvel at the love He has for each of us.  It makes me want to be a better person.

Thank you for following us on this part of our life's journey.  Knowing that you were there made it so much easier for me to write it each week!  My plan now is at some date in the future to close the blog and get it printed and bound as a book so we can remember, remember, remember. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013


So I have to admit this week has been so eventful that it was basically a blur.  I am glad that we have photos to remind me what we did.  And if there are any of you out there that DON'T want to see pictures of us eating food, you can just stop reading right now because much of what we did seems to revolve around eating!

First, I wanted to show you a photo actually from last week.  In Japan the people celebrate food.  Right now it is cherry season.  And even though they are expensive, the Yamagata cherries are the favorite.  Here are some branch members savoring their cherries:

Happy Birthday Souta!

Last Sunday we were invited to Souta Kawatsuna's sixth birthday party.  Really he looks to be about four but he is six and is so cute.  He has two older brothers and there was another family from the branch with two other boys so it was quite lively.  The kids love to make an agenda for their parties:

So I think we had an introduction, opening song, prayer, dinner and I am not sure what else but the kids were very organized.  They even planned a game and a closing prayer.  Dinner was do-it-yourself sushi which seems to be the choice of this family's kids since we have done that before.  Everyone seems to LOVE the food.  Notice that it is FINGER-LICKING good!

Then there was the traditional cake and candles.  There were SEVEN candles but who's counting?!

And, of course, the birthday photo:


I told you this was a food blog and so on Monday the Kikuchis called and asked us if we wanted to go out to lunch at a ramen place:

Actually I was excited since I really do love Japanese ramen and they have a spicy Chinese version that is so good!  Calvin had a COLD version of the spicy ramen which was totally different:  it had fresh veggies on top!

Lunch with the Stake President and Stake Patriarch

On Tuesday we were invited to lunch with the stake patriarch, Bro. Hayasaka and his wife.  Also there was the stake president and his wife, President and Sister Sugawara there.  Pretty impressive, huh?!  Brother Hayasaka was in the same mission as Calvin eons ago and so they talked prior mission talk.  The food was amazing!  And we took tons home!

District Meeting

Wednesday we had district meeting and afterwards we went to lunch (of course) at our favorite all-you-can-eat place:

Someone should alert some of these restaurants that we are keeping them in business!  It was good to be with the whole district plus the zone leaders.  So sad to see them for the last time.

Norie Palmer Comes!

For almost six months before we came to Japan, we had Japanese lessons from Sister Norie Palmer at the MTC.  Sister Palmer came to Japan this past week (she is from Japan) and came to visit all of the missionaries she had taught.  She spent a week meeting with everyone!  That included mission presidents, temple workers, and other missionaries.  It was quite amazing that she did that since she traveled a great distance to do so.  Then she is spending the next three weeks with her mother in Japan.

We picked up Norie at the station after our English class on Wednesday and she stayed with us overnight.  In the morning we visited some of the tsunami sites even though it was raining like CRAZY!

It was probably the MOST rain we have seen here and many of the streets were pretty flooded but it didn't seem to be stopping anyone from driving.

Afterwards we headed to Matsushima and had lunch:

I had to take this photo because I have been wanting to order this for a long time even though it was mostly Calvin that ate it!  It is basically raw whatever and fish eggs on top of rice.  It was good but it is Calvin that is the raw fish connoisseur.  Here we are at in Matsushima:

It was actually not that bad of weather the rest of the day when we were in Matsushima considering the prior downpour.  It was raining a little but not bad.  Norie loved the Japanese gardens and we even fed the seagulls some shrimp chips on the bridge!  After Matsushima we headed to the mission home.

It was just in time for dinner!   The office staff, President and Sister Rasmussen and Norie and we went to dinner around the corner at an Okomiyake place.  Basically it is a pancake looking thing with eggs and veggies in it.  It was really good but we were stuffed, having eaten lunch not that long ago!  We didn't get a photo, sorry.

Friday:  More Food

On Friday, Takie and Sister Date invited us to Taikanso overlooking Matsushima once again! 

It is a French restaurant and I counted TWELVE utensils in front of me.  There are several courses and I felt like rolling home!  The view is always spectacular:
Saturday:  No Food!
Just to show you we can go ONE DAY without food, here it is.  We began by doing some service (hand massages) at a temporary housing unit:
However, it was short lived because the mission home called Calvin and asked him to come and set up their computers into their newly redecorated office!  So he headed off and I went to the Church and prepared for our Relief Society activity that night which was making eco-bags.  It actually turned out to be a good project.  I always worry about these things because I don't really know if I am going to be able to communicate instructions and don't know who is really going to show up.  But all turned out well:
Goodbye Ishinomaki Branch!
Today was our last day of Church here.  Sad.  We spoke in sacrament meeting which went okay.  Afterwards we had linger longer:
The food is always amazing.  But the biggest surprise was that Sister Chikamori who was a missionary here last winter came!  She finished her mission in March but came literally hundreds of miles to be with us!
And we are excited because she has plans to visit us in Utah soon!  Calvin got EXTREMELY camera happy so here are a couple of other photos of the day.  Brother Abe (our convert) who is so wonderful:
And the guys in the branch who wanted their picture taken:
One interesting thing is that we have had several small earthquakes lately.  When Melissa and her friends were here we were awakened two of the three nights she was here around 3:00 a.m. with earthquakes!  One was about 5.3 and the other was 4.6.  And we seem to have them daily though most are small.

Everyone asks how it feels to be going home.  I have to admit it hasn't really hit me yet.  Mostly this past week has been so busy (we also took our suitcases to the mission home to be sent to the airport in Tokyo) that it seems like it was all we could do to get through each day.  Sometimes all I can think of is being able to SLEEP on the plane!  But my plan is that I can only sleep the first little while or jet lag will be awful. 
And thankfully, our next two days are quite busy.  We will be taking care of loose ends tomorrow and then heading to the mission home on Tuesday.  I do plan on posting one last blog next week so it will seem like we really did end our mission!
Looking back, it has been a remarkable journey.  What more can I say?  Maybe it will hit me this week . . . .

Sunday, July 14, 2013


So I guess this week begins the hot and humid season.  With Shawn and Becca and family here, this is was our only relief:

Yup sitting on the sofa under the air conditioner next to the fan eating popsicles (actually watermelon bars).  At night it became so hot that we pulled all of the beds out of the second bedroom into the livingroom-kitchen to stay a little cooler.  But the last night Shawn braved the heat because he didn't like the sun coming up at 4:30 a.m.

Around and About with the Baxters

Of course, no trip to Ishinomaki is complete without going to Matsushima and feeding the seagulls:

McKell wasn't a big fan of handing the gulls some shrimp chips so she settled with tossing the chips to them on the ground:

But Brayden loved it:

And of course they had to ring the bell to wake up the Gods:

And the (constant) rain didn't stop us:

Another day we went to Akiu Falls which is always beautiful.  Before heading down the trail there is this sign that reminds us NOT to feed the monkeys (although we have never seen any):

This time of year the falls and the surrounding area are particularly beautiful because it is so green--probably all of that heat and humidity.  (Whose arm is that?!):

Ta da!  We made it!  The kids even went wading in the water.

Here is a family photo looking downstream:

And Shawn climbed up the cliffs to get a better snapshot:

Good Reminder

On our way home we stopped at our favorite India curry restaurant in Izumi.  Yes, we have eaten there about five times in the past month and we probably keep the place afloat.  We walked in to find out that we weren't the only ones enjoying the food.  There were six of our elders and five of our sisters there also eating--including the sisters from our area!:

Sister Johnson on the left just got there a couple of weeks ago and I think she was glad to hear some English.  She is from Denver and is in a threesome in Izumi.  This is the first time they have had sisters in Izumi so all of them are working hard to get some new investigators. 

It was so good to see all of them and a good reminder that we were still missionaries for two more weeks!  AND in the kids' words, "The food was NOT just good but AWESOME!  We stuffed ourselves as usual.

Melissa and Company

We dropped the Baxters off in Sendai around 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday and came back to Ishinomaki and taught our English class.  Immediately following, my niece Melissa and three of her co-workers came!  We picked them up at the station and they got a small taste of the people in the English class.

While they were here we went out to eat a couple of times:

Pictured are Albert, Tony, Melissa, me, and Andrew.  That night we had all-you-can-eat Japanese food.  It was delicious of course.  Also all of us appreciated the fact that the dessert bar featured a chocolate fountain and soft ice cream among other things!

While in Ishinomaki, the foursome went to Sendai, the Pokémon center, a Rakuten baseball game, the mall, cartoon museum,  Matsushima, and played ping pong with the branch members on their regular Friday night tournament night.  They had rail/bus passes so it was easy for them to go wherever whenever.

We had a great time with them.  And no, they didn't win the ping pong tournament.  The kids (12 and 13 years old) have become really good so they probably took the whole thing. 

Our apartment seems really big now that all of our company has left!

Did Someone Say Square?

Recently someone (can't remember who) asked me if I had seen a SQUARE watermelon in Japan.  They had read (and I did too) that there are square watermelons here--the Japanese like to conserve space.  I had to admit I hadn't one until this past week we spotted one at the Sendai station:

I told the kids (Brayden and McKell) to stand back because I didn't want to see it fall off the box:  it cost $126!  Really it wasn't much bigger than the other round watermelons . . . So how did they do that?  Get the stripes so even and such?!

Home Stretch

I guess it is safe to say we are on the home stretch now.  We have 10 more days left on our mission.  We will definitely leave with mixed emotions.  But this next week looks like this:  Skype our kids, institute class, English class, lunch with the stake patriarch and his wife (Calvin knew him on his first mission to Japan), birthday party for 6-year-old Souta, two service projects at temporary housing units, teach a sewing class, linger longer meal after Church, speak in Church, transport company (like UPS or FedEx) picks up our bags and takes them to the airport, gas company coming for some reason (don't know why but they insisted they needed to install something), pack suitcases, clean apartment, have our Japanese teacher from the MTC here for one day and show her around and take her to the mission home, go to a Young Men's activity, go out to dinner with Takie and Sister Date, AND cook to the wazoo for these activities with the ingredients we still have on our shelves!

Pretty crazy . . . but we'll savor every moment like it was our last time . . . because it will be.   (already crying!)