Monday, December 31, 2012

So long 2012, and thanks for all the fish! (and haka, and laughs, and dances, and experiences, and memories)

2012 was a great year. And a hard year. I think they're all that way.

Some of the triumphs and blessings in my life in 2012 in no necessary order:
  • Was officially accepted to graduate school
  • Changed departments and jobs at work--so much happier!
  • Saw wonderful family and friends during a trip to the mainland in April
  • Made more friends and found new family
  • Attended three temples
  • Went back to Tonga!
  • Hosted my mom and all of my siblings, minus one brother, in Hawaii a few weeks ago (so fun!)
  • Didn't miss a single day of writing in my journal the whole year (well, one more night to go, but I'm planning on not missing one)
  • Began reading the Book of Mormon in Tongan
  • Bought a car
  • Quit one of my jobs
  • Served in the Primary and made it through program (you may not understand this as a great triumph unless you've served in Primary and been responsible for the annual program)
  • Tried a lot of new foods
  • Dated a very nice boy
  • Read some really good books
  • Watched Les Miserables, which was amazing
  • Cliff-jumped into the ocean from 30 feet
  • Felt joy for some dear friends of mine who got married
  • Discovered Crossfit
  • Branched out into more up-toned colors in my wardrobe, much to my little sisters delight
  • Stayed and made a life in HI a whole year longer than initially planned 

  • Tbh (to be honest. I just learned this new acronym from my instagram and facebook addicted sister), there were a lot of challenges and trials this year, some of them extremely difficult, some of them extremely long-lasting, and some of them on-going. BUT, despite the difficulties, which, since this is a blog about REJOICING, I shall not list here, I still have great reason to be happy.  The. End.
Goals for 2013:
  • Finish reading the BoM in Tongan
  • Finish reading Die Buecherdieben
  • Get a scholarship
  • Go to graduate school
  • Help little sister get into college
  • Go camping at least three times with little brother
  • 100% visiting teaching
  • Save at least 40% of my income
  • Complete physical therapy for my back
  • Run a 10K
  • Go on a cruise
  • Add five new states
  • 100% journal writing
  • Learn how to cook fish
  • Smile, even when it's hard
  • PRAY
  • Refrain from negative or critical thoughts or comments
And, added to everything already mentioned, additional things I'm looking forward to this coming year:
  • Seeing my VTee's
  • Getting a pedicure with my manager
  • Little sisters HS graduation
  • Training for a 10K
  • Visiting family and friends on the mainland for a couple of months before grad school
  • Grad school + ensuing challenges
  • *maybe* visiting family/friends in Tonga again for Christmas
  • Seeing my grandpa and his wife on their mission
  • Being pain-free and strong after back heals
  • Finally signing up for a frequent flier plan so I can start earning free flights! :)
Just for the record, I am grateful for my life. For everything in it, good and bad, though sometimes the bad takes me a while to appreciate. I am grateful for the two of you who read this blog on a regular basis (you know who you are), and for those others who stumble upon it. I am not perfect and my life is not perfect, but I love it nonetheless, and I hope that if nothing else, these posts will help you see that, in spite of the challenges of your own life, even in pain, YOU TOO, have great reason to rejoice.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

'O4 a2 Tonga

READERS ADVISORY: This post is long, mildly sappy, and extremely text-heavy. If you're not in the mood, you should probably skip it

It is difficult for me to explain what Tonga means to me.

It is a place that has become so immersed in my life and heart that it's a struggle for me to remember who I was without it. I was less well-rounded, that's for sure, and I seem to remember a time when my passport didn't have so many stamps in it.

But now it has a few more, plus a visa that I had to pay the Kingdom a full-month price for, even though I was only going to be there two days of that month. In addition to those, there are four other new stamps--entrance and exit records from Fiji, where I inadvertently spent two days. I know. Who does that, right? Well, let me tell you--it's Air Pacific's fault.

I left Maui the end of September, with plans to spend three and a half weeks in Tonga. I would be traveling to three island groups to do research, see friends, and spend time with family*. I had to fly to Honolulu the night before, so I spent a day exploring Waikiki, where I was lucky enough to stay in a huge, beautiful room right on the strip. (good thing I work for a hotel, eh?) I ate delicious local chicken, got my phone fixed at the Apple store, and gawked in awe and wonder at the beautiful world the Lord has created. Oahu is not *quite* as gorgeous as Maui, but I will admit that it is lovely enough on its own. :)


I left for the Honolulu airport at 4:00 in the morning to catch my flight. It was to take me to Samoa, Fiji, and then to my beloved Tonga. I settled into my window seat, tucked two airline blankets around myself (I always get cold in the air), and settled in to spend a relaxing day with a delightful book. Samoa passed without incident. I met a couple buying open-ended tickets around the world, napped a little, and tried to keep the excited butterflies out of my stomach as much as possible. We landed in Fiji and I was curious to see what it looks like. "Where do the cannibals live?" I wondered. "Where do they grow the eggplant?" I looked out the window and saw green as far as  there was land in any direction. Green hills, green fields, green trees. Interspersed amongst the green were colorful houses. It was fun to be in the airport there--to think to myself, "wow, I'm in Fiji!" and to see so many cultures working around each other. A live band played and sang for us as we waited in line at customs before our next flight. We were only there 90 minutes or so, though, before it was back in line to go to Nuku'alofa. I found my seat on the new plane and giggled with happiness and the expectation of meeting my aunty* and her kids and being in Tonga in less than two hours.

Alas, 'twas not to be.

It was raining too hard in Tonga to land the plane, and after two attempts the pilot made an announcement that made my stomach sink: we were heading back to Fiji, and there were no answers as to when or if we'd get to Tonga.

Okay, pause here to explain something: Although I consider myself a fairly adventurous person, I do generally try to avoid getting myself into bad situations. Bad situation, as defined by me = white girl traveling alone in a foreign country where she doesn't speak the language, doesn't know anyone, and is a prime target for a plethora of criminal opportunities. [Not that I worry very much, in general, about my personal safety. My thoughts: If I'm doing what I feel directed by the Spirit to do, I will be protected]. Fiji wasn't in my plans, and I was unprepared for this "opportunity" to "see" a new country, financially, mentally, and emotionally. (not to mention MAJORLY disappointed that I wasn't going to make it to Tonga that night, especially after flying alllllllllllll day).

[aka I had a panic attack.]

But then something happened: I learned that I was sitting next to one of the three Nephites.

Okay, okay, he's not really from the scriptures, but in the course of the next two days, the man I was sharing an airplane aisle with, and his two companions, would become like angels in my life. (And since they're Samoan, and Samoans are descendants of the Nephites, I'm taking creative license and nicknaming them. K, thanks).

During the course of our two hour flight that was supposed to land us in Tonga, S. and I had become good acquaintances. He had been reading a Liahona magazine that I had asked to borrow after he was finished. He noticed my CTR ring and we struck up a conversation about the church and the church in the South Pacific, which he works with. After the pilot's terrible announcement, seeing the dissapointment and panic which must have been showing on my face despite how hard I was trying to remain calm, S. invited me to "stick with" him and his two companions. They would take care of me, he said, and it would all be okay.

And you know what? It was.

We spent two nights at a hotel in Nadi (not on the airline's dime--since it was weather related they said they couldn't take responsibility), attended church in a Fijian branch on Sunday (such nice people! and such a small world!--I knew several of the ward members/missionaries friends/family from BYU), sight-saw in Nadi and Nautoka, and two days later got back on a plane to Tonga. They didn't send my luggage till the day after (take the hint and never fly Air Pacific), but I had a spirit full of peace, gratitude, and humility at how well the Lord knows us and how He always takes care of us. I guess in the end I am willing to have sacrificed those three days in Tonga for the three new friends I made and the new experiences I had. BLESSED. LIFE.

water bottle a steward on the plane gave to me. tender mercy that spoke to my heart: I don't know why he chose me, out of all the passengers, to give this to--I didn't ask for it--but anyone who knows me well knows that water is the only thing I drink, and only Heavenly Father would have known how thirsty I was in that moment, and how concerned I was about having enough water. small, I know, but this picture speaks to my heart.

branch meetinghouse in nadi.

Fijian sugar cane fields.

ANYWAY, that was Fiji. And then I got to where I was going in the first place: The Kingdom of Tonga.

Hoi. I love Tonga. Stepping off the plane was a thrill. I hadn't been there in three years! My aunty and her kids met me at the airport and took me home. They live in a village just outside of the main city on Tongatapu, and although I was too tired to see anything that night, I woke up the next morning FULL of joy at being there and being with them and all the things I could look forward to in the next month. I loved eating the food, walking the roads, driving on the left side of the street, and going to church dances. I LOVED playing with my little cousins, having spontaneous dance parties in the living room, and relishing the time I had to relax, learn, and expand my heart a little more.

my aunty-guys live in such a nice house. just fyi, most Tongan homes do not look like this.

 And that was just the first island, just Tongatapu. Then I went to Vava'u, where, interspersed with research and dream-time with NZ and Germany friends, I had even more dream time with new friends, got to watch General Conference (loved it oh-so-so-so-much!), picked and ate about fifty million mangoes, swam often, and even got to go to a new little island. My oh my, it was wonderful.

And then there was Ha'apai. Ha'apai remains the island closest to my heart because of the people there. I have adopted family in Pangai, and it was a joy-beyond-joy to hang out with them, play rugby with my bro, build a raft with my cousins, dive from the wharf, eat my mom's cakes, and do my laundry in a bucket there. I was actually supposed to stay only four days there, but by the time my trip was supposed to be over, I still wasn't ready to leave so I extended. BLESSING. I would never trade any amount of money I would have been able to make in those two weeks for the additional time I was able to spend there. The people I love and was able to see was the number one best part of the trip.

Like this kid, my brother in Ha'apai. I love this guy MUCH-O.

And this lady. My other mom. There is no one else like her.

Here are some of my new friends. Goofs, all of them. Love them a lot.

plantation near Tokomololo. I think that's 'ufi.....

the blowholes. so cool!

Hufangalupe. a natural coral arch that the ocean pours into. you can see the size by how tiny my aunty and her son are up there on top.

These are some new places I saw. The Lord created such a beautiful world!

At this point I feel like I should clarify and say, though, that Tonga is not really a tourist destination, and it's definitely not for the unacustomed-to-the-reality-of-life-faint-of-heart. Sometimes people who hear me talk about it say, "Ooooooh it sounds so nice! I want to go!" But to be honest, I don't really recommend it for most people. It is beautiful, yes, but there are a lot more beautiful places that are a lot easier to get to, so if that's what you'd go for, I don't think it's a good enough reason. A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that they won't have hot water--you shower in the cold, there is a law against taking your shirt off in public--even for the males, even when you're swimming, and if you're not a big meat and starch lover/eater, you're probably not going to like the food. Food is actually the number one thing I struggle with, because I HAVE to have vegetables. If I lived there I would grow my own garden, but when I visit, the marketplace is good enough. I just feel like I have to give a caution, after I express my love to someone about Tonga, that yes, I love it, but it does take getting used to. For most of you reading this, it is a very different culture. Wonderful, in many aspects, but different.

More people I love--Pisope Vimahi and some of his kids in Pangai.
yay for aunties!

love and miss these guys a lot.

lupe. mami. love her.

So, that was Tonga, and now, two and a half weeks later, I'm back to my "real", regular life. For those of you who are interested and keep asking me, I have come up with my next year in plans though, written below. 

Maui till the end of May.
Mainland till the end of August.
End of August=big move across the Pacific and official induction into Kiwi-land.

You're still welcome to come visit me. :)

LIFE is a great reason to rejoice!

To end this post, although it is supremely personal and highly sentimental-sounding, I have decided to include a poem that I wrote a couple of years ago when I was extremely "homesick" for Tonga. Those of you who have traveled and left a part of your heart somewhere far away can probably relate.
(ps, yes I was an English major, but I am not a poet so don't judge my doggerel, okay? thanks).

Dear Tonga,
I need you:
        Under my feet.
        Around my shoulders.
        Before my eyes.
You're already
        Inside my heart.
Dear Tonga,
        Please wait for me.

I picture us together.
My hand in yours,
Watching the sun set on the reef in Pangai.
I know you see it every night,
But me, only in my dreams.
Please save a place for me on the sand beside you.
Where the little crabs will
Crawl over my toes
When I bury them
In your soft folds.

Please don't forget your promise of beautiful fish
And fruit and tea and flowers.
And the shouted "Ma'lei!"s and "Sai pe?"s of the villagers.
Remind the children that
I will bring them lole
When I come
And teach them the English words
For "goat" and "cow" and "sheep"
If they will smile at me
And let me play with them.

Dear Tonga,
Please tell your people
That I love them.
And though I'm white and
Have blue eyes,
In my heart I dance the lakalaka
And delight to serve and
Love them too.
Ask them to please accept me
And let me clean the coconuts
And do the laundry and
Climb the tree to
Get mangoes.

It's true Tonga, you're not rich,
And neither am I.
But I know that we will be happy together
Even if I have to sleep on the floor,
And shower from a bucket.
I don't mind
As long as I'm with you.

There are just a few things I don't want you to do:
          Don't use me.
          Don't leave me.
          And please don't forget me.

I'm counting on you Tonga.
Please make room.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Just a note

Andrea Bocelli makes me want to learn Italian.

I am grateful for beautiful music; it makes me rejoice.

Meine Mutter

Yo. Hey.

Today for lunch in the cafeteria at work they had hot dogs. Hot dogs always remind me of my grandma, and 99.9% of the time, if I eat them, I eat them like I used to with her--cut up in "wheelies" with mustard on the side. Hot dogs eaten any other way just do not taste good to me.

I miss my grandma.

It's funny how foodstuff's remind you of people. I was also recently craving Hormel brand canned tamales, and when I eat them, I invaribly think of my mom. Aside from me, she's probably the only person on earth who eats those, let alone likes them. And guess what? I learned to love them from her.

I love my mom.

This post is really personal, but with all the happy, "good-feeling" things I post on here, I think it's time you learn the truth: I'm not always happy or overflowing with good feelings. Sometimes, in fact, I'm not very nice at all. 

Of all people in the world, my mom probably knows this the best.

Over the years, from me alone, she has put up with a lot of attitude, a lot of ingratitude, and a lot of disrespect. I am not proud to admit that. But growing up has helped me to recognize the humanity inside my own mom--how she's my mother, but she's also just a person--and how much she HAS done with what she's been given. My mom is amazing! She gave life to eight children! She cooked upteenthousandmillion meals, and eased all of her children through how many nights of crying, vomit, and bad dreams. She has done so much for me, and for each of my siblings, let alone how much time, love, and resources she has offered in the service of my friends. And what she taught us! She taught me  to cook, to sew, to plant a garden, to ride a horse, to read, to sing, how to tie a bucket to your hip to pick raspberries, and the list goes on forever. More than anything she gave me, I am grateful for two things in particular:

1) The Gospel.
My dad was never an active member of the church throughout my life. Everything I learned about the gospel as a child came from my mom. She dressed us up every Sunday (I still remember the awful, leftover-80's POOF she would make of my bangs every week when I was little), got us all in the car, taught my brother to go first and hold the door open for us girls, and sat proudly BY HERSELF with all of us (under 13 years old at one point), during sacrament meeting, only occasionally whispering threats down the pew as necessary. She fulfilled her callings, did her visiting teaching, looked out for those in need, and uplifted others right and left. I shouldn't write in past tense, because she continues to do this today. My mom is fully converted to the Gospel, and she lives it as well as anyone I know.

2) The gift of hard work.
I now understand that it was an act of great love for my mom to teach me, starting when I was very young, how to work hard. She taught by example, because I highly doubt that she has ever lived a day in her life when she has not gone to bed at the end of it worn out, with aching feet and heavy eyes. I am unspeakably grateful to my mom (and the examples of others in my family too) for loving me enough to give me this gift. Nothing that I now have in my life, no opportunity that I have been presented with, would have been possible or attainable if I hadn't learned young how to "put [my] nose to the grindstone rough...." I will forever be thankful to my mom for teaching me to work hard and with integrity. Her supreme motto, when I was growing up, was "leave it better than you found it." If all the world was raised in my mom's house, it would be a better place.

I know there are a lot of people who think a lot of their own mother's, but overall, I just can't help but think what an incredible example my mom is. Of faith, humility, and humor. Remember Elder Wirthlin's talk from conference a few years ago? "Come What May and Love It?" That's my mom. She cries sometimes, but most often, she laughs. I don't know how she can consistently do that, but I live with the hope that, as I get older, I will become more like her in this regard, and many others. I want to be known by others as she is, as someone that is true in all things and can be trusted with anything that they are given to do. To be a person that serves and uplifts others. That will be there to give a hug or entertain a child or clean a dirty house or wash a sink of dishes. She's the kind who does those things. I've seen it again and again. I've seen her kneel in prayer for help and gratitude. I've seen her go through trials that would break any lesser person. And by break I mean "destroy beyond recognition." She's incredible. No, she's not the same mom I had when I was little, but then again, I'm not the same chubby-cheeked cry-baby I was when I was little either (well, okay, maybe I am, but I'm trying to grow out of it :) ). All in all, she's just incredible, and I'm grateful for her. My mom is one of the great reasons I have to rejoice.

Hopefully your mom is one of your reasons too. If so, go tell her you love her. And thank her. Thank her for everything.

I love you mom.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Auckland Proper. Not my picture.

I know I wasn't very informative in my last post. If you care, you're probably wondering what "Hoi" and "That's all I have to say about that" mean, as a reflection of my feelings regarding grad school. Answer: I was overwhelmed. I had a million thoughts. I haven't been able to articulate, very well, my feelings and thoughts and expectations for the coming years recently.

But it's getting better.

Last week I met an incredible person whose acquaintance helped me immensely. This person left home at a very young age right after high school to accept a scholarship to a university in a very foreign country. This person did not speak the language of the country. This person did not understand their classes. This person missed their family and their home and their culture and their life. But this person put the proverbial shoulder to the wheel and carved out an incredible life. This person learned the language. This person succeeded in school. This person made friends and found a career and lived and laughed and loved and enjoyed, and they are a better person for it.

That's what I want to do.

Truth be told, I'm nervous. I tremor slightly thinking of a four year commitment across a wide sea from most of what I love, and I shed tears every time I think of moving away from this island. But, along with the knowledge I have that the Lord is in control of my life and is there guiding and directing me, the example of this person strengthens me a lot. I know that it will not be easy, but I am preparing for the challenges as best I can. And I also realize there is more to look forward to than the hard work. I mean, hello, I'm moving to New Zealand! I'm going to have access to and be able to see a part of the world that I've never fully experienced before. New places to visit, based on closer proximity: Australia, SE Asia, Japan, China, and India. There will be new food! And new people! And a larger YSA program than Maui has! Plus, when I graduate, you will all have the privilege of referring to me as Dr. Cook. Yep, that's right, I will have some new initials before and after my name, haha.

So, all in all, I am excited. I believe that life is to be lived, not just observed. I have been so blessed. I know that everything I have is from the Lord, not because I deserve it but maybe just because it's a test of trust. Will I do right with what I have? Will I use these opportunities to become the person He wants me to be? Will I be an influence for good on the people I will come into contact with? I want to. I hope to. I plan to. So, those are my thoughts, in case you were wondering. Also in case you were wondering, you are definitely invited to crash on my floor or couch or in my bathtub if there is no where else if you want to visit NZ sometime in the next four years. Anyone want to go to Thailand with me?

Doesn't that possibility just make you feel like rejoicing?

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Blessing of my life #38498574738927475394875474939300349857102256459031247230048474734:

I am officially accepted to graduate school.

School: University of Auckland
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Degree: PhD Candidate
Program: German
Anfangsdatum: 01 April 2013
Projected Graduation Date: three to four years later
Feelings: hoi.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Once again I invoke upon us the promise of a visionary Robert Browning:

(from pinterest)

PS: Haben wir nicht gro╬▓en Grund zur Freude?

Friday, August 24, 2012

island summer

I was going through the photo roll on my phone the other day and enjoying its contents immensely. I'm not a great picture-taker, but the one's I did capture make me smile. I hope they will make you do so too. 

This is just what it looks like, a massive pile of pineapples. Believe it or not, these are the leftovers from a dozen or other, much larger piles we've had steadily sitting, dwindling, and then replenishing in our carport for the past two months. Every ten days or so my grandpa would disappear with my brother and come back a few hours later with a truck bed full of perfectly ripe, sweet, and delicious pineapples. As you can imagine, we all average about two a day, not including fresh pineapple smoothies, jam, and pies that have been staples. Alas pineapple season is at its close now, so no more of these Goliath surprises, but mango season is right around the corner!

sometimes people from the mainland ask me how my life is different here. Aside from "everything is more expensive", I really can't describe differences very well because it's just my life and most everything seems normal to me now. But this was one thing that made me smile and realize, "oh yeah, this is not something you usually see." This is a wonderful ward member of mine working out the pieces of a broom she is going to make by stripping single leaves from a palm frond of their hard inner core. Amazing. I didn't know that's what our broom here at the house was made of!

some of my primary kids. (I love these kids!) we went to the beach as a primary activity during ward camp week and had a blast burying these gems in the sand.   

both of these pictures were taken while I was enjoying the beautiful Kapalua ridge trail to the north of where I live. Faka'ofo'ofa.


One of my favorite things this summer has been the frequent text messages from home containing funny stories and pictures of my ID fam. these beauties came from my currently samoa-dwelling sister who kept me updated on amusing antics with regularity. these pic's make me miss my family and everything a desert summer means: canal swimming, outdoor family movie nights, trampoline sprinklers, cool-evening lawn mowing, garden vegetable eating, backyard camping, and sunday afternoon sibling time while mom naps. Oh, and remember connor's affinity for costumes? well he actually made each of those helmets from paper-mache. I tell you what, this boy's a keeper!

cousins have been here visiting from CA. from right--sister, Lope and I on the way to an eat for a baby blessing.

attached to a text message from a different sister in the words of M (cousin): "I love you Kasia. you're only the best you're only the beautiful you're only like me most!" haha. miss this little girl oh-so-so-much. how did I get so blessed to have such delightful relatives?

sometimes I'm just driving and wake up to the realization of what I'm looking at. holla.

new haircut. woot woot.

for me there is nothing like flying that makes me feel closer to my Creator and more in awe of his handiwork. this is Oahu and Diamond Head (the big volcanic crater in the center) before landing at honolulu, where I went for a YSA conference a couple of weeks ago.
at said YSA conference huki-ing (sitting on top of each other) to fit in the shuttle van to the church. from left--friend, brother, me, mom. all totaled we had 10 very large adults in a 7 passenger van.

dad and mom (YSA parents in the ward too!) at conference dance. love them so much.

I work there!

cousins and total hams. :)

haha, M and her friends from a picture text.

received an amazing blessing+tender mercy when a dear friend from Vienna-days came to HI for vacation and ended up (randomly, but not really, you know?) staying at my resort while she was here. I introduced her to cliff house for some picture-perfect cliff-jumping and Ulalani's for shave ice. wunderbar.

I know I look ultra-creepy but I had to show you this picture of my current boyfriend. I VT his mom and O. and I are in love. no matter who is cuddling him in that moment (and in a Tongan ward babies are ALWAYS getting passed around), when he sees me his eyes light up, he smiles, and he holds his arms out to come to me. heaven. love this child.
Looking at all of these pictures and thinking about all of the scenes not captured on camera, I am overwhelmed. The Lord is so good! When we put our trust in Him, there is absolutely nothing that He cannot do for us, and He will do it if it's right. Although life is not perfect and I am really not perfect, my happiness is at a ten. With blessings and tender mercies and opportunities to learn and grow abounding (not to mention the above beautiful things and people to look at), I really have great reason to rejoice! 

PS- Coming soon: another book post!