Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cold Days; Warm Friends

On one Christmas card from tropical California was an envious note saying, "You'll probably have a white Christmas." To which Ranelle quickly replied, "We will, but we'll trade you."

Christmas is now past, and in its wake many warm memories. Like Ranelle suggested in her last blog: "overall, the Lansing, Michigan people are some of the most kind and courteous we have ever known." The most overt kindnesses are of course, individual and personal, but even the kind acceptance of so many who were until recently but strangers is most humbling. Example: just today Ranelle and I spoke in the St. Johns [Michigan] branch. They are thirty miles to the north but as we watched the crowd arrive we were thrilled to see perhaps fifteen very good friends. We waved back and forth as they spotted us, and felt affirmation of the Savior's admonition to "love one another."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

December 15, 2009 - Taking Joy in our Homes and the Season

As we were enjoying these pictures, John commented on how our Father in Heaven has blessed us so richly--beyond our wildest dreams. All our needs are met. We recognize the privilege of living in comfort--to have such a lovely place of retreat from the varities of the world, to be warm when it is cold outside and cool when it is hot, to retreat from the brazen ugliness of the world and the harshness of some of today's societies. It is the time of year to take stock of such things.

How quickly the fall semester has passed. We've shared the "ups-and-downs of romance, engagements and weddings, new students moving in, and other moving out and on to something else. We've seen growth in these wonderful young people, especially the beginning college-students who arrived in the fall. We've taken special joy as we've shared experiences with those who have come to a knowledge of the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and have been baptized into His true Church.

We've finished another semester. In a few days the students will complete their finals and leave us all alone for the holidays. Still, our social calendar seems to fill up. Local members of the Church are concerned that we are not alone at such a "family time of the year." And there are projects we've anticipated we might be able to accomplish during this time with fewer scheduled obligations. And though we are without our children and grandchildren, our brothers and sisters and their families, we have each other--this great blessing we value! WHERE WE ARE TOGETHER, THERE IS HOME!

Our Michigan Home

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

At times home-bound simpletons perceive the limits of the world extend but to the limits of their myopia. And then they go missionarying. Suddenly, with newly-prescribed "cheaters" they learn that not only do far-flung stakes of the church exist, but they even thrive. Cases-in-point: Muncie, Indiana Stake; Lansing, Michigan Stake. Furthermore, these simpletons learn first-hand that not only are those mission fielders "Mormons" in name, but they actually live the doctrines of the gospel, and they teach and garner up the same principles of truth as do the Saints at home. Furthermore, those simpletons discover that far-flung stakes contain brothers and sisters of uncommon warmth, and intelligence, and stature--matching or exceeding (is it possible?) those they knew at home!

Last night, for instance: driving out the stakehouse parking lot, my missionary companion blurts out: "My, WHAT wonderful people!!! She was ecstatic. And for good reason: slightly less than one year ago not one of those people knew--nor cared--that John and Ranelle O'Dell even exist. (Note: from past experience we knew they existed, but knew absolutely not one of them.) And now, after a rich and warm stake social, we discover we not only know a hefty percentage of them, but we love them, too. And our friendships, some of them, promise to extend far into the future.

And all of that because of one simple phrase: "Yes, we will go."

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Down three from this is an article entitled: "Secret Loves." This is now four weeks hence and there is some progress to report.

Firstly, the "Joseph/Jenny" Update: Last Monday after Family Home Evening those two "beamers" (note: when together, those two glow!) came up and showed Ranelle and me her brand, new, shiny-bright "engagement string." They are now officially engaged! Celestial Day! (Note: that term "string" is not a typo, it is correct. You see, when they two placed their order with the jewelry store, they ordered their ring via a catalog. Shortly they were notified the ring manufacturer no longer produces the design they requested. So not wanting to delay their announcement, Joseph tied her new ring around the finger of his bride-to-be!) Resourceful, no? As yet they have made no announcement of a wedding date.

Secondly, the "Mitchell/Kelly" Update: As an attorney who daily "tries" legal cases in court rooms across the land, there are times when Kelly's employment is near-by enough that she can drive home before departure again the next day. And since the "Olsens-to-be" savor the Everlasting Things, last night they honored our classroom with their presence. After the lesson, Ranelle and I visited with them awhile. Among the small talk the speculation drifted to: "What will you look like in fifty years?" "Where will you have lived in fifty years?" "What will you have experienced?" "How many children?" etc. etc. Finally, after wearing out that nonsense, our conclusion: we'll all four just get together then and compare notes! I only regret not saying: "Now that you've found each other and get to face life together it'll all be just fine."

Contemplating Richard L. Evans' phrase, "I am impressed with the endlessness of it all," I am reminded of the poem that President Spencer W. Kimball wrote to his wife:

As I look back across our mingled years
I know it is not just the joys we shared
That made our lives one pattern,
But the tears we shed together,
And the rough, wild seas we fared.

Through all the disappointments we have faced.
Through this world's faults and failings,
We have come to heights of understanding that are based
More on the sorrows than the joys of home.

Young love is beautiful to contemplate.
But old love is the finished tapestry--
Stretched from oaken floor to Heaven's gate--
We wove on earth for all eternity,
With threads made stronger by the steady beat
Of hearts that suffered--
Yet knew no defeat.

Addendum: Being sensitive to how dinner guests must feel when their hostess serves chili beans for dessert let me add this:

In April, 1959, I Greyhound-bussed-it into Salt Lake City friendless, and homeless. All I had along was a twenty dollar bill, a change of clothing, a razor, a comb, and my dictionary. I also had within a burning testimony of the truthfulness of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Somehow before nightfall, I managed to pay for one weeks' room-and-board (fifteen dollars, can you imagine it, paid for one-week's bed and meals!). Within a couple of days I located some menial employment and before the week was out had earned enough to pay my keep for the week following. Thus gaining a toe-hold, I attended church at the old Seventeenth ward, and in a few weeks was baptized a member of the Lord's Church. Shortly, Bishop Val J. Sheffield ordained me to the priesthood, and called me to work in the Mutual Improvement Association (called then the "M.I.A."). I also became a ward teacher.

Because of my presidency position that year in the "MIA," I met and associated with Doctor Lynn M. Hilton, who was then the Stake MIA president. And my first ''ward teaching" (note: that was the correct term in those days) companion was a Church architect named "Brother Gould." I know it is uncanny, but here it is fifty years later, and since coming to East Lansing Michigan, I have met grandchildren of both of those men! Would you like to know who those grandchildren are? One of them is Jenny, the girl I mentioned above; her grandpa is Lynn Hilton (still living); the other is the grandson of Brother Gould the architect (now deceased). The grandson's name: Joseph Gould, and Joe is Jenny's fiancee! (Can you fathom that????)

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Just now Ranelle and I got back from our "beauty walk" (Note: it doesn't work that way anymore). Along the way we admired the many, many colors in the trees and fallen leaves that were strewn along the pathway on the ground. At one place I exclaimed, "Just think! Had we not come on our mission everything at home would be just fine, and we would be plenty happy there. But just look at all we would've missed!" I was gesturing just then to the glorious woods we were walking through. To this she added: "Yes, and there is also Mitch, and Kelly, and Kate, and Joseph, and Jenny, and...." What we were adding up was the vast wealth we have garnered for our lives--just by using one word that is already in our vocabulary; the word "yes." And all of this has happened so far in just a short ten months. We still have until the end of April before we leave, so imagine what great experiences--and acquaintances--yet lay before us!

What we are tacitly saying is that we have absolutely fallen in love with Michigan! With but few exceptions we love everything we have seen about the place. And here around our "house" we have grown to love River Terrace Drive (that is our "walking street"), our "forest" ("woods" is what "those in the know" call it), our apartment, and our neighbors. And our "work!" For the present, we would like to be absolutely no place else. I suggested once that we could sell our house and purchase one of the homes on River Terrace Drive. Abruptly I was rebuffed. One word once again: "Grandchildren!"

Saturday, October 10, 2009

October 10, 1964

Just 45 years ago this very evening, we looked like this. Can you even recognize these skinny kids? I've always looked at the pictures at Golden Anniversary celebrations and tried to make the old people fit into the pictures of the bride and groom. Well, here we are at our wedding reception the day after we were married on October 9, 1964. I can't see that we look that much different--can you? Be honest now. Actually, don't tell us--we don't want to know.

We'll keep pushing toward that 50th -- wonder what we'll look like then?


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Saturday, September 26, 2009


Back in the days when radios played music and not noise there was a lovely tune, the lyrics of which said, "Once I had a secret love...and now my secret love's no secret any more."

I've thought of that song this morning ever since I met Joseph as he was skipping like a six-year-old (really!), and beaming all over. I said something like, "feeling good this morning?" His reply: a big smile and an uninhibited, "Do I EVER feel good!" as he skipped on past.

Then I took another ten steps and met Chelsie, and she had a happy look on her face. (We live here, you see, in a church-owned apartment complex that houses perhaps seventy single LDS students--men and women segregated, yet somewhat evenly mixed.)

I'll return to Chelsie in a moment, but let me first tell you the rest of the "Joseph" story: I got in the house and Ranelle told me that Jenny (Joseph's girlfriend) had just driven away, so that means he had just said goodbye to her before I saw him. (And she is so pretty her very presence would make any young man want to skip and smile.) But I just have a suspicion there's more to the story because last night as we were headed out, they two were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the back yard. As we walked past we told them how good they look together. They smiled knowingly as we turned the corner and left.

Returning now to the "Chelsie" encounter, I suggested that maybe she was headed off to work. "Nope!" was her quick reply: "to Krogers--to buy a ticket. Nathan and I are going to the renaissance (whatever that is) and I can get them cheaper there!" There was a happy light on her face too.

And then last night we saw Kelly stepping briskly to meet Mitch as he drove in from his day at school. Happy, happy greeting between the two. Watching her from far away her every body movement reflected her intense joy at greeting her man. (Those two are a very happy story--she's a 29-year-old, six-year convert to the church, and just as beautiful as can be, plus she's a highly-successful practicing attorney who is "on the road" all week long. Mitch is four years younger but he is perhaps the most promising attorney-to-be that the near-by MSU Law School has produced in many years. Mitch and Kellie will marry next November.)

And Elder and Sister O'Dell get to sit on the front row of the grand stands, cheering as this happy, everlasting drama unfolds before them!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

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Last week our institute director was away all week with responsibilities with a family death. Consequently, we picked up all his classes--which was a bit of a stretch for us. It takes all week for us to be prepared to teach our classes, conduct the BYU devotional/discussion, do the meal for Friday forum class, and have a presence in the institute building. Age has definitely put limits on how much we can handle. Yes, there is a big difference even, comparing ourselves as we were in the last mission, 5 1/2 years ago. I taught his Book of Mormon class on Wednesday and Friday, and we ordered pizza for the Friday lunch. John taught Church History on both Mondays that Brother Draut was out of town.

The Wednesday class required traveling south about 1 1/2 hours to Hillsdale, Michigan--almost to the Indiana border. Hillsdale is a college established in the 1850's. It has never accepted any government funding. The campus is beautiful and well maintained. Newer buildings have been built in the same flavor as the older ones. Everything was well maintained and extremely attractive--even the students were neatly dressed, friendly, and impressive in every way. There are only four LDS students on this campus and once a week they attend a class with Brother Draut. The drive to and from was beautiful--much of the trip was on secondary roads through wooded countryside.

Wednesday was a full day with Missionary District meeting before we left for Hillsdale. We arrived back in East Lansing to find our CES supervisor from Virginia waiting to visit with us, after which John had his class to teach. Whew!

Actually, the entire week was busy with a Welcome Back BBQ for the Living Center residents on Friday evening, a huge University Ward luau on Saturday night, and Ward Conference on Sunday. We feasted both physically and spiritually all week long.

We've enjoyed our patio garden and are reaping the rewards of our tomato plants. We have raised green beans, cucumbers, peppers, chard, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. It isn't as successful as in-ground gardening, but it certainly is nice to step out and pick a ripe tomato.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Autumn Leaves

Today, our "beauty walk" together (Note: it doesn't work that way any more) brought a nostalgic/sad sensation. Reason: the leaves. Looking old, they are, the leaves--kinda ragged. Most look stressed; many are coloring; some falling. Oh it was warm, the weather was, but there's no mistaking: Autumn's here--it just is!

Want to know what rankled me? The sense we're are on the home-bound slope. Wasn't long back and we had the whole mission ahead--months and months of it still to go. Like young kids, we had time yet--for everything! With the end lurking now, we've got to shift thinking!

Only "yesterday" and it was all so new. And fresh. And we were savoring and exploring new neighborhoods; new friends; new quarters; new towns--one vast, rich treasure. Now? it's all still wonderful, and what's best it all now "belongs" to us. We'd just like to keep it that way--forever.

Don't cry for us, there's still months ahead; we're just assessing that wells aren't full forever. And the leaves verify that.

Thank Heaven for the massive adventure of Mormon missions!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

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September 12, 2009

Today is a lovely day. Sitting here at my desk with the window open before me, the sun is shining, the sky is blue (though it was overcast and foggy early this morning), and the air is crisp and fresh. There is a hint of autumn colors and soon our vision will be assaulted with the brilliance of autumn in the upper Mid-west.

We have finished our second week of the fall semester. Our institute serves students attending several different institutions of higher education: Michigan State University, Cooley Law School, and Lansing Community College. In our University Ward and in our two apartment complexes, students hail from coast to coast, from China and Korea. John and I are each teaching one class at the Institute: John teaches Doctrine and Covenants on Wednesday evening, and I am teaching New Testament: the Gospels on Thursday afternoon. We view the BYU Devotional on Tuesday at 1:00 and conduct a short discussion following. On Fridays we prepare a meal for the noon class. We are spending 2-3 hours each day at the institute building in hopes more students will utilize the building if we are there and availabale. We are finding student contact rewarding. In addition, we attend other classes which are taught, particularly a class taught for the adult members of the Lansing Stake, thus giving us the opportunity to associate with others our age.

On Labor Day the senior missionary couples met at the mission home and enjoyed a few hours eating and visiting. I made a cheesecake. Having never made a "real" cheesecake, I was very pleased with the outcome. So to try to match Erin's blog and her culinary art pictures, I will try to include a picture of my cheesecake.



Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Only insane highschoolers will lust after stingey, severe cold conditions. I know they will because I was once one of them. We wanted it so cold the mink furs would fill our rich and full.

I know better now.So here I am way up north, and I shiver at the very thought, and I cannot yet even see my breath! But then, August just passed, and every one knows that's way too soon for winter. But that's only because they have not lived in Michigan.

But then is it? Not when you live in Michigan, it isn't. And we've been experiencing the onset of autumn for the past week, plus a day or two. No changed leaf colors yet, but I'm certain they're not far away!

So whoever you are; wherever you are, savor your lower latitude, and feel blessed that you've got a few more weeks before you begin scraping car windows.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Michigan Summer - August 8, 2009

For years I watched our children finish the school year, June saunters by, we celebrate the 4th of July, and the next thing you know the children are headed back to school and the summer is over. Of course, with school not dictating our lives, we are not ordered quite that way now. Except, of course, that we happen to be serving as Church Education System missionaries. And once again, our lives are dictated by the school year. In just two weeks we will finish the summer semester and begin the fall semester on September 2.

For the summer semester John has taught a class on the Pearl of Great Price. My subject has been Teachings of the Living Prophets which has been a wonderful experience. After a few basic "learning-how-to-study" classes, the remainder of the classes have been based on talks by the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve from the April General Conference. I have loved my teaching experience and though student attendance has varied from week to week, those attending have had much to contribute and we have all been edified. I am amazed at what I personally have gained from this indepth study. The Prophets and Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are truly directed by our Heavenly Father and what they teach us will bring joy and progress to our lives as we integrate those principles.

From early spring through the end of August, the Student Living Center (which is owned by the Church) where we live has been undergoing a great deal of renovation. It has been a bit intrusive, but we are almost finished. We have new windows, new furniture, new paint, new carpet, new doors and by the first of September, we will have a full residency in both buildings.

The summer has not been all "work and no play." In May we enjoyed Muncie company (the Hobans and Ryan and Betty Jo Shrack). The end of May we traveled two hours northeast to meet with the other Senior Missionaries for part of a day in Midland. We spent the 4th of July weekend in the far north (Mackinaw area) with two other couples from Lansing. And two weeks ago another of our "Muncie children," Stephanie (Baker) and Tim Turner, came to visit us. We saw them off to their home in Ohio on Friday morning and immediately boarded vans with 18 other people from the University Ward on a very short trip to Nauvoo. John recently elaborated on that wonderful experience, but I have been caught up in the "thick of thin things" and haven't taken the time to write. Nauvoo was a different experience for me than other times when I have been there. We saw the pageant, City of Joseph, on Friday night, plus other entertainment programs presented by the senior missionaries and summer youth missionaries serving in Nauvoo. In the pageant, the story of Nauvoo was retold by the characters who lived it in the 1840's. The pageant ended with the main characters coming forward to speak to us in this current day to remind us of our heritage and responsibility. Having at least four of my great-great grandparents (the Knights, the Averetts, and the Bairs) driven from Nauvoo in 1846, this touched me very deeply. I went to the Lands and Records office Saturday morning and was able to come out with many records, dates, newspaper articles, etc. recorded on a CD pertaining to these ancestors. What a privilege it was to make this trip to Nauvoo with the young single adults and the bishopric of the University Ward.

Today, August 8, we have spent the day in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in a training program for seminary and institute teachers in the three stakes for which our supervisor (Brother Draut) is responsible. We speak in Sacrament meeting tomorrow morning and in the weeks ahead will have speaking assignments in other wards in the Lansing Stake.

It was just one year ago today that John underwent the extensive surgery to correct the massive injuries he received as he was loading a large cherry log. While that was a most traumatic and intrusive experience, we have been able to continue in life with less disruption than one would suppose. We have been greatly blessed!

We are well, busy, and very happy. John recently said: "We give a little, and ten times that comes back to enrich our lives." We commend each of you to serve the Lord to the fullest extent possible in your individual circumstances.

We appreciate your comments and emails. If you desire to write, our email address is, our mailing address is 4912 South Hagadorn Road, #26, East Lansing, MI 48823, and our phone number is 517-862-4805. Ranelle

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Lessons in Sainthood

One mark of True Religion is that God exacts covenants upon those who occupy His church. Really! God personally sees to it that one does not just fall into full membership/fellowship in His kingdom with mere consent, and passive attendance. It's that same way with serving God--one actually pays for the privilege!

Outrageous? Check it out! God is not looking for a cadry of applauders, but a team-ful of beefy players, and a full count of second- and third-stringers who can--and do--freely substitute!

This reality became clear, last week, as Ranelle and I stepped out of the van that drove us to old Nauvoo. Upon realizing the magnitude of where we were, we suddenly saw the vast irony involved. You see, just six months earlier we had laid on the line not only our wealth, but also our Eternal security should we not do the job! No hint of anything in return--nothing. And now this: a free trip to Nauvoo, and Carthage. Suddenly, there at the van's doorway we glimpsed the generosity of our kindly God.

So for part of two days we walked the streets of that wannabe City of the Saints, and there we sensed the screaming and hateful mobs that once trampled the very turf upon which we stood! Our presence there was an unbelievable gift, and we wore ourselves out just walking and looking!

Then at second days' end, Sister O and I re-entered the van, and with our group hauled off to nearby Carthage. There, we visited the jail. In the tour, Elder O'Dell stood for twenty minutes at the very window where God's Latter-day Prophet Joseph Smith received two bullets. As his riddled body crashed through that very window, he received two more bullets from the courtyard below, then another as he lay dead where he landed.

Me, I was sobered. Sobered at being there, and sobered to think that not one lawful finger was ever pointed at the 150 "brave" mobsters who did it.

Leaving Carthage at 6:30 p.m., our group of 13 hunkered down for an eight hour drive back home. Wonderful trip!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Michigan America, U.S.A.

If a child had any idea of how much of his adult-hood success he owes to his teachers, he might take a different attitude toward schooling. Example: Last night (Saturday, July 4, 2009) at this time (8:00 p.m.), Ranelle and I were standing in the vicinity of where Father Marquette marked some of the history he is credited with making. And who is Father Marquette, you ask? He is one of the very people Miss Anna Krause brought alive to her sweaty-skinned "recess freaks." Yet somehow she penetrated that mis-direction, with some of it sticking in our brain--even to this ancient date! My sincere gratitude, Miss Krause. Unthinkingly, I fear I was too pre-occupied with the prospect of summer vacation to even say "good-bye," and certainly I did not say, "thank you."

Father Marquette, in case you do not remember, was/is real. So too was/is the vital history that occurred in Upper Peninsula, Michigan, USA. And last afternoon and evening, as Chris and Neil Barncard, and Julie and Eric Hancock, and Sister and Elder O'Dell motored along, here and there a roadside sign gave us terse glimmerings of the perfidy that once transpired in that sacred (and magnificently beautiful) land. Example: One marker hailed some famous treaty that is still unknown to me. There on that supposed very spot, the French magnanimously deeded back to the mighty Chippewas an entire three square miles of a vast area they once freely claimed--and roamed. Why? So that that once-great people could hunt and fish there, just in case they might need the food to feed their families! Once the extortion was complete, I have a feeling the French never even considered saying "thank you."

Re-crossing the five-mile-long Straits of Mackinac bridge, we looked down on three-city-block-long ore ships passing on the waters there beneath us. It took some concentration to imagine match stick-sized (by comparison) birch bark canoes that formerly plied those same waters. Once again back safely on mainland Michigan, we paused and witnessed Fourth of July fireworks before arriving sleepily back "home." (which, Saturday night, and the night before, was the lakeside family cottage of our hosts Chris and Neil Barncard.)

Next morning, church. All the way to Cheboygan (MI) we went. Fast and Testimony meeting. As I sat listening, something prompted me: "1959?" "And this is 2009?" "And which day is this--July 5th ?" So consulting with a note I carry along, I had "inadvertantly" verified that it was exactly fifty years ago, to-the-very-day (maybe even to-the-very-hour!) that I was confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! So there marches I up to the pulpit announcing to a roomful of strangers that this was the golden anniversary of the second-most important day of my life. I also testified to them that I firmly knew that on that day fifty years ago, that I had joined the Lord's only--and own--true church!

After church, and it being Sunday, and it being Chris's day to cook, she fed us sumptuously on roast pork loin, fat potatoes, and delicious salad. With our bellies full, Neil and I covered their jet-ski boat anchored out in the bay, then Ranelle and I changed into travel clothes. We heartily thanked out hosts and the Hancocks for such a glorious weekend and left for Lansing, Michigan, U.S.A. Many times during the next few hours of driving, I mentally contrasted the verdant greens and blues of this great state, with our lizard-skinned west. And I thanked Heavenly Father for the unspeakable privilege of being an American. May God bless America--and may He also bless Chris and Neil Barncard, and Julie and Eric Hancock for being our friends.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

growing up

In answer to my brother Dan's question when are you coming home, last night, I had a funny reaction--it was that wistful, lonely feeling of a small child longing for his mommy. A kind of teary reaction, you know? very, very fleeting in time, but still very real. I told him the same thing I've told others, that Elder and Sister O'Dell have extended our mission another four months, and we will be released, come April 30, 2010.

Just why such lonliness flairs up after an absence from my family for some fifty years, I do not know, but I appreciate that feeling of brotherhood and kindship that I've not felt in many, many years.

Which feeling has led me to ponder, all day long, just what is all this about, this mission stuff; this Church stuff. It kinda brings one up short. But it also brings one to consider on the many gospel lessons I have been professing this past six months, and the eighteen months some five years ago--just what is it all about?

My answer? Eternal Life! You know, I've processed that term now, for many, many years. Never thought much about it much, just kind of took it all for granted. But somehow in the six months that we've been in Michigan, the idea of Eternal Life has come into sharper focus, along with my determination to achieve it--(Note: I'm learning that it is not something one just falls into; it must be earned. And the "earning" is not all that easy! When the apostle Paul said to "work our your own salvation with fear and trembling," he was not just whistling Dixie!

One realization garnered this time around, is that real, true Eternal life is not just a berth in the Celestial Kingdom--or "Heaven" as some people like to think, but an entire dimension that is all by itself. It is the place the Savior taught: "Strait is the gate, and Narrow the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that enter thereat." ( ). I guess what I'm saying, is that in recent months I have learned that that narrow and strait gate is just as it says it is--very, very strictured to get through.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ossification of the Spirit

It just blows the mind how easily one lets life breeze by without even lifting his nose to test the air. "Ossification of the spirit," they call it. And one sure test of the disease is to count how few contributions the afflicted makes to his own blogspot.

Knowing it is but one disadvantage of several, one upliftment we westerners forego is the onslaught of fireflies come summertime. I never cease to experience an almost child-like glee at seeing those little friends--they are an authentic gift from heaven! One lady last winter described standing on the edge of a cleared acreage and watching the dark night swarm with twinkles. We are making a point, this year, to experience that.

The Great Philosopher Dizzy Dean once said, "If you done it, it ain't braggin!" Now don't think I'm braggin', but tonight I experienced the electricity that's generated when an interesting subject is taught to eager learners--it's memory de-ossifies the spirit. Example: tonight in my Pearl of Great Price class, we discussed chapters 1&2 of "The Book of Abraham." Most had not read it. And then to share what a magnificent man Abraham was, and reveal to them the all-but-unspeakable gifts and promises given by God to him, the wonder in their eyes was a joy I cherish. But the creschendo came when I could promise they too are heirs to those very same promises. Their contribution: active fidelity to the same gospel of Jesus Christ that Abraham taught. (Want to trade me places? Forget it!)

I taught my lesson tonight; Ranelle teaches hers tomorrow night. Her class title: "Teachings of the Living Prophets." Note: she is a 98-percentile teacher! I love sitting in her classes--her other students do too! Ranelle's lessons are predictably excellent and easy to attend. Thank Heaven for the doctrine of Eternal Progression because there is still hope for me!

Note: John and Ranelle O'Dell love YOU!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

June 21, 2009 - Ranelle

The past few weeks have been crammed full of activity and momentous happenings.

Early in the month, our CES supervisor from Virginia spent some time with us on his rounds of supervision. He informed us that we will be having a slight adjustment in our assignment in that our line of supervision will change from the Housing Director to the Institute Director. We will no longer have responsibilities with the Student Living Center and will be spending all of our time with institute responsibilities. We may do more traveling assisting the Institute Director with two of the three stakes for which he is responsible. We'll probably be working more with searching for the young single adults who are not taking advantage of institute and church experiences. We will be meeting with Brother Draut tomorrow to receive further direction. Prior to receiving this news, we had contacted the area CES office in Virginia to let them know we would like to extend our time of service until the end of April 2010, the end of the semester for Michigan State University. Now it seems even more important to spend those extra four months here as CES missionaries.

We've had some wonderful experiences during the last few weeks. On June 12, the senior missionary couples met in Midland, Michigan, where President and Sister Jones hosted lunch, after which we toured the Dow Gardens. These gardens cover 110 acres and were initially developed on the estate of the founder of the Dow Chemical Company. What a lovely day we experienced together, getting acquainted with other couples our age, and seeing such lovely landscape! En route we visited the beautiful little town of Frankenmuth. Patterned after an old German community, we found it immaculate and charming with a lovely covered bridge, shops and parks. We also visited an enormous Christmas store which covers the space of two football fields.

Last week we moved from one end of the hall to an apartment on the other end of the building, necessitated by the gutting of the bathroom in our original apartment. Both apartments are of the same floor plan, but we now view the woods from our living room. This move was made more difficult because the apartment we moved into was not available until late afternoon while the demolition crew moved into our apartment around 9:00 a.m. After a week we are nearly settled in our new quarters. At this point we plan to stay in this apartment until we complete our service here.

Exciting experiences lie ahead. Along with truly rewarding teaching experiences which we are having this summer, we look forward to spending the 4th of July with a couple in the stake who have invited us to their cottage for the holiday. So we will travel to the northern tip of Michigan where we will enjoy celebrating this great holiday watching fireworks over the lake and enjoying the amazing scenery of Michigan. We will get to cross over the five-mile Mackinac Bridge to the Upper Peninsula. There will be lots to share when we write again.

We hope you each are enjoying the wonderful summer.


Friday, May 29, 2009

May 29, 2009 - comments from Ranelle

We are just completing five months of being "Michiganders" and we are feeling quite at home. Our surroundings are beautiful. Everything is very green and there are many wonderful flowers in bloom. This is a very "clean" state: it has to be--it get washed so constantly. Wednesday afternoon enough rain fell in three hours to equal one-forth of Utah's annual rainfall.

We are two weeks into the summer semester. John and I are each teaching one class. Though enrollment is small, our classes are very rewarding. Along with the students, we feel we are also learning and growing in our understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are also attending a class taught by the institute director. He is an amazing teacher and we are educated, inspired, and edified as we participate in each class.

We've enjoyed some Muncie, Indiana, company this past week. Gene and Jim Hoban stopped by on their way to their cottage on Lake Huron. It was good to be with them again. Gene was my Visiting Teacher in Muncie and we biked with Jim and Gene on the beautiful Indiana greenways. They loved seeing our apartment, the institute building, and our woods--then they took us to dinner.

A few days later, Ryan and Betty Jo Shrack came for the weekend. These two were undergraduate students at Ball State University. Ryan served a mission in the Utah Provo Mission and we enjoyed lots of contact with him when he was in Provo. Betty Jo served a mission in Salt Lake City and we were able to see her when she entered the MTC and again as she completed her mission. They began dating when they both returned to Muncie and were married in December 2007. Now they are going to be parents in August. We had a delightful weiner roast with them in our "woods" and enjoyed two full days sharing this mission with them as we shared our first one in Indiana.

We are enjoying our garden on our deck. We are harvesting fresh salad greens now and will have tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, and green beans later in the summer. We plan to plant some zuchini and yellow squash in the garden plot on the edge of our woods soon.

There are wonderful pictures to share, but I am still having difficulty learning how to connect them to the narrative. I'll still keep trying, but you might just have to use your imagination.

We enjoy your comments and emails.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Adrift in A Sea of Youth and Virtue

Last night I highlighted the missionaries, and yes, they are authentic heroes. Their counterparts--likewise heroes in their own right--are the young people who, with no formal rules imposed, follow their own self-chosen regimen using "rules" offered by the Lord God Himself. And without question or murmur they daily live God's way with scarcely any outside notice.

Take Family Home Evening for example. Tonight our young people held "FHE" here in the institute building. No outside supervision; no adult help, they simply go about their elective togetherness and have a great time doing it.

It goes this way--they gather in the Institute building, all twenty-five of them. Seated around one room's perimeter, one young lady was tonight's teacher. On the "board" she listed three scriptures that had been pre-assigned as "homework." Listed beside each scripture were associated questions. For the next hour the participants freely contributed thoughts and other passages of scripture. All was quiet; all was orderly; all was peaceful and calm. It was wonderful! (In a word, it was "heavenly.") After the discussion, the group adjourned to the playing field, and the sweet ambience erupted into energetic motion as lithe bodies raced full-speed while playing a game of "steal the flag!" It was fun for the old couple watching from a distance, but in the words of James Clyde O'Dell, "What a vulgar display of youthfulness!"

At times like these, Ranelle and I enviously watch and whisper to each other how blessed we are to be tolerated by some of the world's finest.
During the 1950's, a recent transplant to Californian was called an "Okie." (I am told that term has since become extinct.) Thereafter, his descendants could legitimately be known as "Californians." If one originated in Utah, he/she was/is called a "Utahn." I suppose children born in Oregon are called Oregonians, and New Yorkers are just as their name implies. But what happened when you came from Missouri? Of all things, in the past you were called a "Puke." And if from Illinois, in the past you were called a "Sucker." And from Indiana, you are still known as a "Hoosier." (And while we lived there, someone was manufacturing for sale, a cement statue of an animal they called a "Hoosier Goose.") I mention all this, because we have learned that citizens of Michigan are referred to as "Michiganders." (No mention of what the Michigan women are called.) Interestingly, however, the state of Michigan consists of two parts--the upper peninsula, that is connected with the lower peninsula by a massive bridge called the "Mackinac" bridge, and we are told that those living in the southland of Michigan are referred to as "Trolls." (Why? Because they live "under the bridge.")

Just a lot of nonsense, but it is interesting to experience this local flavor. I will say, however, that despite the cold, if you happen to be a Michigander, you come from one very lovely state!

I mention this, because last Friday Ranelle and I traveled to the "Celestial City" of Petoskey, Michigan (you need to experience it to appreciate what I am saying), and along the way we gazed in wonder at the greening farmlands, interspersed everywhere by just-leafing-out woodlands. All along the way northward, the countryside is lightly salted with stately red barns, and elegant farmsteads that resemble, in some cases, miniature cities. We feel most privileged to be here!

P.S. An interesting note about Petoskey is that down on the "seashore" (of Lake Michigan) one can pick up "Petoskey stones" that are found only in that location, and no where else in all the world. From a distance they resemble common gray rocks. But when wetted, and examined closely, they have pretty little crystalline rosettes that are somewhat like cells that make up the substance of the stone. And my guess is that the reason Lake Michigan is so large is because people gather for souvenirs, so many of those stones!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Mormon Missionary Miracle

I may wear this theme out entirely, but it bears repeating. And repeating. It is about Mormon missionaries.

Each week, and at various times in between, Ranelle and I get to sit in with about twenty of them in their zone conference meeting. And being the senior couple, we have been asked by our mission president to give them a ten minute lesson, each time, about grooming, manners, doctrine, or whatever we judge is helpful for the service they are giving. Last week Ranelle conducted a class in "conducting" (music). Today I gave them a class on teaching, and had them read six different scripture passages about what they need toward being more effective teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our parts went, I am happy to tell you, very, very well.

But our contribution is minimal in comparison with what materializes when those missionaries meet. Reason: Because present there is a group of the finest young people imaginable--just fine, young men. Handsome, courteous, confident, righteous.

And today Ranelle and I got to be a part of that miracle! I tell you, it is a joy to mingle with those kids, shake their hands, and listen in as they instruct each other, and discuss the nuances of their lives as they serve their Lord.

And Sister and Elder O'Dell get to be a part of it! We are blessed to the very core!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

pictures from Holland Tulip Festival

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Tuesday, May 5, we took a trip to Holland--Holland, Michigan. It is 95 miles from East Lansing on the coast of Lake Michigan. We took TiLan and her parents with us. TiLan lives in the Student Living Center and is graduating from MSU with her Ph.D. in Finance. She will be teaching at Clemson University in South Carolina. Her parents are here from China for her graduation. We went to experience the Holland Tulip Festival where they celebrate spring with a week-long extravaganza of displays, entertainment, and TULIPS. We enjoyed the day very much even though we could not communicate with TiLan's parents. Elder O'Dell taught Mr. Tang how to say, "See you later, Alligator" -- go figure! And he learned to say something in Mandarin Chinese.

The city of Holland retains a remarkable flavor of old Holland. For the festival, residents don authentic costumes and share Dutch customs, arts, dancing, music, and handicrafts such as Delft china, wooden shoes, lace, and wooden bowls.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

SO THIS IS SPRING? - May 2, 2009

Our first semester is behind us. Classes ended Friday and students are now finishing finals. Summer classes will begin May 18 and we will each be teaching a class Tuesday and Wednesday evening. The end of the semester means lots of changes in the institute, the Stoddard Living Center, and the Lansing University Ward. Some students are leaving, some will be back for fall semester. As the apartment improvements are completed we will have more residents in the fall than we now have.

We will have to move to another apartment sometime this summer for 3-4 weeks while our bathroom is remodeled. The apartment on the other end of the hall will be vacated sometime in June. If it is available before we have to move, we will take that apartment and stay there until the end of our mission assignment. It has the same floor plan as the apartment we are now in, but the living room faces east looking into the woods--ours faces west and from the living room we see the MSU campus and hear all the traffic on a very busy street.

Spring is slow in settling in. Finally, we are seeing some leaves on the earlier bushes and trees--the woods are a lacey, spring green. Some flowering trees on campus and around town are in full bloom. It is very pretty! Temperatures shot up temporarily last week, but it has rained a lot the past few days and has been cool.

Our break between semesters will be full of great things. We have stake conference this weekend. Today's meetings included a priesthood session, an adult session, and a potluck meal at 6:00 p.m. Tomorrow we will enjoy a two-hour session at 10:00 a.m.

Monday or Tuesday we plan to drive about 95 miles to the west to the city of Holland on the coast of Lake Michigan. There they have a week-long tulip festival celebration. We are told it is something we should not miss.

On May 15 we will have a half-mission conference/play day in northern Michigan. It will be a day-long involvement with meetings, activities, and lunch. The missionaries will go together in vans. We will probably drive up alone in our car. The only other missionary couple in this area and as the "office staff" they will be involved in much preparation and with a vehicle loaded with supplies. We are looking forward to seeing that part of the state.

At the end of the month we are going to have company. Ryan and Betty Jo Shrack from our Muncie, Indiana, mission experience are coming to spend the weekend with us on May 22, 23, and 24. They visited us in Provo last summer. We hope we will have other friends visit us while we are in this beautiful state.

We have our garden well underway in planters on our deck. I used the money April, Leland, Tiffany, and Sarah sent for my birthday to purchase a lovely hanging basket of ivy geraniums. We have planted two long boxes with spinach, swiss chard and lettuce. We found a large round container in the storage garage and have planted a tomato. We need one more round container to plant a cucumber. With tomato cages to contain the tomato and cucumber, we should be able to grow enough for our table use. And we won't be competing with the rabbits, raccoons, and deer for the vegetables.

Hopefully we can add some pictures to show you what we are experiencing here.

Thanks for checking in on us. Ranelle

May 1, 2009 - Ranelle

Today was the last day of the "spring" semester. Classes are over until May 18 when the summer semester will begin. We will each be teaching one class. We won't be preparing a Munch 'n Mingle during the summer, but we have a number of other projects which will suit the summer schedule. We answer to

Friday, May 1, 2009

When farm hands trade tractor seats for desk chairs, they soon learn that the car horns are louder than moo cows, and the air smells different too. It's a process called "adjusting." So when a southern Californian moves northward to colder Utah and thence upward to Michigan, our counsel when he complains: "Buck up!" So while squinting at the baby tree leaves outside, I still wonder at my surprise to learn that the seasons here are so different.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Navigating the State of Michigan

I suppose each locality has eccentricities that cause strangers to smile. Michigan is no exception--the people here talk with their hands!

It's like this: When you ask where a "Michigander" lives, instantly he raises his right hand, the palm aimed at his face. Then with his left index finger he points to the area on his right hand where he "lives." And that to a citizen of the state, is tantamount to a roadmap to that man's front door! It's a language all its own! I call it "Michibabbel!"

The reason: the land mass of the main part of the state resembles a mittened hand, with the "thumb" jutting into Lake Huron. I had never noticed that before. Everyone here knows it though, and they all use it. You see a group across a crowded room talking, and when one of them raises his flattened hand in the air, you know exactly what he is explaining.

And then when they describe the entire state which includes the "upper peninsula," they first hold up the "mitten," then they hold up the left hand, palm forward and horizontal, and they almost touch the fingertips of both hands together, and that represents the entire land mass of Michigan.

Which brings up another curiosity. It is in the area where the fingertips "touch" that in real life is called the "Mackinac Straits." At one time ferryboats moved traffic across those straits, but now it is joined by a five-mile-long bridge, called the "Mackinac Bridge." And while the bridge is no curiosity, the condition it creates is--the people in the "U.P." (Upper Peninsula) refer to those living on the Mainland as "Trolls." The reason: "because they live under the bridge!"

Saturday, April 18, 2009

C.E.S. Missionarying-it in East Lansing, Michigan

When Ranelle and I signed up for our first mission we were timid about specifying just what kind of mission to ask for, or where to serve--we did not want to be telling the LORD what He was to do--or not do--with this pair of his children. So when we got the word that we were to serve a CES (that stands for "Church Education System") mission, we were gratified because of the feedback we had had from our friends Bill and Linda Lyda. So we went where we were told to go, and did the things the LORD knew we could do best. That was some five years ago, and we returned infinitely richer in experience and friends than we were before we left. Then when the impulse came to serve a second time, we were a bit more bold, and we outright asked to serve another CES one. Plus, after finding that this opening required roughly the amount of money we could realistically spend, we specifically asked for the opening in East Lansing.

I say this because you need to know that a CES mission does not entail the same hard-nosed, fill-every-second-of-every-day kind of devotion a proselyting mission exacts. Not that we don't work hard, but there are days where we can let up and look around a bit. Which is what we did today. Early on, Ranelle attended stake Relief Society conference, and I stayed home and wrote a stack of letters. She came home and since the day was sunny and nice (for a change), and warm, we dressed in "grubbies" and sauntered out for a walk. Most, most pleasant! First we walked up our favorite little street. Then up near the cul-de-sac, we descended into our favorite little forest (the same forest that's connected with the back of our "house," only we began walking about 1/4 mile east of here). Once into the wetlands that keeps our forest a forest (the land is not good for anything else), we tripped and wadded our way homeward along the river side. NICE! Very, very nice. And picturesque. And wildish, and private. Just the two of us, walking when we wanted, and halting and observing where we wanted--just looking and sensing the pleasantry of nature and the companionship of each other. Then before coming home, Ranelle re-counted what little wildwood friends we encountered along the way. (Care to join in?) We saw: two turtles; two Canada geese (from close up, and "tame);" a wood pecker; a blue jay; deer tracks; beaver tracks; a crayfish; two pond splashers (I suspect maybe frogs, or fish). We heard an unseen cardinal bird; saw two ducks, and a handful of tiny minnow fish who were daring the strike of some lunker fish that was lurking in the depths below. Closer homeward, we saw the marks of mighty beaver teeth that had either eaten off the bark of some standing trees, or had "necked-down" the wood of other trees, and toppled them over.

And that was just today. At other times we have observed white-tail deer, a snake (harmless garter snake), ducks mating; squirrels of course, one raccoon so far; vultures, two hawks eating; and maple trees yielding their sap.) What I'm saying is that besides the unspeakable privilege we have of declaring the uncomparable truths of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, we also get the privilege of living a lifestyle we could never match in our back yard in Provo, Utah.

At Relief Society today they served a portable sack lunch. So Ranelle purloined (by invitation) a lunch for me too. It is suppertime now, so we missionary companions will take our two lunches to some scenic lake we know of, and eat supper together while sitting on a bench looking over Lake Lansing.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Maple Syruping-it

Before I/we leave this subject of maple syrup, let me inform you of something of which I know very little. It sure is delicious, maple syrup is. And except for sugar cane, and sugar beets, I know of little else that produces sugar in any quantity that yields a marketable product--maybe honey. As for maple syrup, it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to yield one gallon of syrup. And if you'll scroll down and look at the picture that is published way down from here, you'll see that one gallon jug full of sap that is hanging from one of the trees I tapped. After photographing it, we took the gallon inside and boiled it down. The small quantity of syrup in the cup is what resulted from that one gallon of sap. Last week I overheard a maple syrup producer telling someone how he recently produced 4o gallons of syrup in one day. I have a feeling that much syrup might, for once, satisfy my appetite for such a marvelous gift of nature.

Lovely Easter Weekend - 4-13-09 - Ranelle

Saturday morning a group of us left the institute building at 6:00 a.m. for the drive to the Detroit temple. The drive takes about 1 1/2 hours. This temple is a smaller temple and only a certain number of people can be accommodated for each session. Though we had checked with the person in charge of sending in the information for our group, we found our names were not on the reservation list. We had a tense 10-20 minutes hoping we would be able to participate with our group--we did get into the session and enjoyed the privilege.

We did not travel home with our group, but drove north and west about thirty minutes to visit Phil and Vicki Boling whom we had known in Muncie, Indiana, when we served our mission there in 2003-2005. We had such a great time being with the Bolings again. Vickie had prepared a lovely meal. It was fun sharing experiences, old and new, with them.

The drive home was relaxed and very pleasant. Most of this trip was not on a major freeway, the day was sunny, and we were not in a hurry. Back at our apartment, we did our weekly cleaning, took a walk in the woods, and after dinner we watched a movie (DVD) on the computer.

Easter Sunday was just about perfect--spiritually edifying talks and music with wonderful association with fellow saints. The Bishop was concerned that no one be alone on this day of celebration. We invited two young women to share dinner with us. Because of holiday, fewer residents in our apartment complex attended the weekly Sunday evening devotional, but we read 3 Nephi 11 about the Savior appearing after His resurrection to those living here on the American continent and watched the seminary video about how He healed and blessed those people.

Springtime is slow in its arrival in Michigan. Tiny leaves are beginning to show on the bushes, and we see a few daffodil and crocus flowers. We have planted some lettuce, spinach, and swiss chard in some planter boxes on our deck. We can see a few specks of green appearing. I am missing my yard and garden.

We have nearly completed our first semester of teaching--three weeks to go. Then we will have a break from the structure for the first two weeks of May. This summer John will teach two classes and I will teach one. A number of our students are leaving--some will return after summer's work, for which we will be happy. And, of course, new students will arrive bringing an expansion of our experience and more people to love.

Feel free to email us --

We'd love to hear from you too - Ranelle

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lansing, Michigan Swamplands--4-10-09.

Having a blogspot is like owning a horse one never rides. Our blogspot is something I don't think about except when I am out of the house.

If such can be counted worthy to be called a "thought," let me describe one phase of this "Land of Many Waters."

Recently I heard this: "Way-back-when," Michigan statesmen wanted a centralized capitol city; something besides Detroit. So that's where they set their capitol--dead center--from the east, the west, and the south. Then they gave it a name, "Lansing." But in order to set it here, I am told, the founders had to drain vast swamp lands. That being done, they went to work building their city.

If that story is accurate, this area must have been really swampy because there is still lots and lots of swampland left. I mean LOTS of it! Today, for example, as Ranelle and I drove about we encountered swamps everywhere! And you can easily spot them because most are surrounded by hardwood trees--lots and lots of beautiful trees.

Personally I love it! I am charmed by the thousands of ponds, swamplands, and "woodlots." Not only do I like the trees, but I like the "green" ambience they provide. I also like the protection those woodlands provide for the wild friends living in them. But were I a farmer, or a builder, or a land developer, I would go nuts. Reason: the awful wasted potential use of the local land. And as bad as I hate the cold here, I can just imagine what it will be like once the mosquitoes start breeding! (If there happens to be enough left of me, come summertime, I may try describing what it is like swatting mosquitoes.)

We love Michigan! We are so happy living here. My one great wish would be to transport this magnificent water resource out to the arid west (there would still be enough water left over for Michigan, too!). If somehow one could import the water, he would see the state of Nevada feeding the nation, with Utah, Arizona and California feeding the rest of the world.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

April 7, 2009 - Ranelle's Thoughts

Our weeks are getting more involved. We move from church meetings and the Sunday night devotional for those living in the Student Living Center, to preparing for Munch 'n Mingle and serving it on Tuesday, attending a class for adult members of the stake on Tuesday night, Missionary District Meeting on Wednesday, John's class on Wednesday night, my class on Thursday night, our visit to a care center on Friday where we read from the scriptures with two residents, various activities on Saturday, and than we start all over again.

We are involved with the students and their activities. On March 28 this institute hosted a state-wide dinner/dance. The response far exceeded the activities committee's expectations. Well over one hundred young people came from all over and had a wonderful time. The decorations, food, activities, and dancing were enjoyed by all.

We were able to watch General Conference here at the institute building. At 10:00 a.m. we had a waffle breakfast before gathering to watch the sessions at 12:00 and 4:00. I love General Conference and can hardly wait for the printed talks to arrive in the May Ensign. I also feel very close to family and friends when I know we are all watching and learning from the wonderful messages at the same time wherever we are in the world.

Will spring ever arrive in Michigan? Though it was cold and windy, we took a walk last Friday and could see baby leaves beginning to appear. But since Friday, it has not been pleasant enough to go for a walk.

This narrative makes life sound a little dull, but we are not in least bored. We are busy most of the time and love the experiences we are having.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mormon Missionarying-it

Something's right about young men or young women primetiming-it. Two long years of it--for free. No wages; small thanks; hard work. No sweetheart. Two-by-twoing-it; two long years of doing it--for free.

And Ranelle and I watch them executing it. Kids for sure, but they succeed in it. Special--really special kids.

Zone conference yesterday. Forty-six black-suited, grown-up children. An all-day-long get-together; a work-and-social meet combined. And we, we got to go too.

High-spirited, agile bodied, handsome faced, well-dressed-and-groomed, they were all there powwowing-it--while serving their God.

And we, we got to go too.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March 17, 2009 - ASSIGNMENTS

President Jones, our Mission President, recently emailed us with instructions regarding his expectations of Senior Missionaries. We are to attend all zone (every six weeks) and district (weekly) meetings. We are to help train missionaries in the following subjects: doctrine, language, dress and grooming, hygiene, and table manners. He further stated: "You are an example of family life, living the gospel, and enduring to the end. Many of these Elders (and Sisters) do not come from ideal family situations and need to see love and support from you. As with your own children, reprove with love and support." We will be making these presentations to all missionaries serving in the greater Lansing area after which the missionaries will break out into individual district meetings.

We met the other day with Brother Draut, the Institute Director, to work out the schedule for the summer and fall semesters. He remarked that we are responsible for much more than many CES missionaries. We have three major areas of responsibility: institute (teaching, Munch 'n Mingle, and activities), the Living Center, and the Michigan Lansing Mission. We are busy, but are better able to manage now than we were two months ago.

The weather has moderated; but as we experience in Utah, spring has not "arrived." The red buds on the maple tree behind are apartment are swelling, the snow has melted (except for piles in parking lots), and the birds are singing. We appreciate all this.

The other day on a walk through the woods, we came upon one more gallon of maple sap, frozen solid. We brought it in and boiled it down to about 1/3 cup. Those privileged to taste it pronounced it better than maple syrup from the sugar maple--a milder flavor. We have now had our "experience" and are satisfied and will leave it to the professionals to produce maple syrup.

This is my second draft of this blog. When I went to find pictures to add, I lost the narrative. I am going to publish this and look for the pictures to add later. We need to go to a class now.


Sunday, March 15, 2009


Once, a looong time ago, the famed baseball pitcher "Dizzy" Dean said, "If you done it, it ain't braggin." And me, I "ain't" braggin' exactly, but I do confess it was I who initiated this second mission. And just between you and me, for awhile the idea was not very popular. Slowly, however, the concept materialized until--"here we are." (Or in the vernacular, "Play Ball!") And ironically, with me having all the original verve, you'd think I'd at least get up to bat! Not so. They let me suit up for the game, okay, but I merely stack bats and carry water--that sort of thing. At other times, I sit in the dug-out cheering the super-star on!

And my, HOW she plays! I only wish there were a "play-by-play" broadcast; better yet, a DVD of it all. But all you get is my poor description. Trust me I am watching a thriller, and my big wish is that you were in the bleachers watching too.
The famous baseball pitcher "Dizzy" Dean once said, "If you done it, it ain't braggin." Well, please don'think I'm braggin if I said I initiated this idea of a second mission for Ranelle and I, and at first it wasn't very well received. Gradually, however, she eased herself into the mission mold

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

When white men invaded America, one treat their hosts furnished was maple syrup. It made the long trip worthwhile. Then after learning the syruping "recipe," the intruders trundled "sugarbush" saplings back home. No go. The trees would grow but the sap would not flow. Reason: wrong climate. Too late they learned that the only place maple sap flows is in American New England and eastern Canada, Michigan State included. So to this Californian-now-in-Michigan, the prospect of "sugaring" made him eager to make "some of that wonderful stuff."

And now with the "sugaring-off" season upon us, two weeks ago I purchased six stainless steel tree-tapping "spiles." Then with borrowed drill and drill bit, I poked holes in the nearby tree and it wept like a waterfall. So tapping in the spiles, I attached plastic milk jugs, and "let-er flow!" Next morning, nearly five gallons of clear-as-water maple sap went up to our kitchen and soon was boiling. I left for the dentist's chair. Upon my return, one whiff of indoor apartment air told the story: the boiling sap had quickly retrogressed from the "hard crack" candy stage to the "black crack" carbon stage. Ranelle felt sheepish, but I assured her that with the vast number of maple trees available for tapping, one miss step is but one tiny kink in the learning curve.

But then my conscience got to bothering. Something deep within suggested I had not been sent here to harvest tree sap. Then consulting with my companion, we reasoned together that we had accomplished our maple syruping purpose. So Sister O'Dell and I decided on the next thing to do--abandon ship.

I found a willing young man, handed him my sap-drawing paraphenalia, and finished out that phase of my mission--and one of my life's dreams.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Harmony and Jubilation

Just now two oldsters dragged themselves home all bedraggled and sore-fingered. The reason for being away: Family Home Evening. Our kids staged the weekly event and held it over in the Institute building which is maybe 200 feet from our apartment. For this particular Monday evening we played "parlor" games (whereas sometimes we have a spiritual lesson, or any other decent and clean activity that one of them can think up.) The object: wholesome togetherness. This evening there were probably thirty kids there, and after an opening prayer and brief spiritual message they broke into informal groups and played various "parlor" games--pool, foosball, checkers, Chinese checkers, some card game(s), pingpong, and air hockey. Really good, clean fun! And from my vantage, all were involved in something; all were included. I like to see that!

But "Elder" O'Dell (very, very aptly-named), and his elderly companion, "Sister" O'Dell, wore out looong before the kids, so they ducked out early and came home. I told Ranelle as we left the place that the Chinese checker set we brought from home has had so much use since we came that the corners are wearing off from the marbles to where they are actually getting round! She looked at me a little funny but I think she agreed.

Sometime remind me and I will describe what our Institute building is like, and what function it serves. Good night.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


It is interesting how a mission gets one out of the house and plants him into places and circumstances that he would've entirely missed had he remained his comfortable couch-potato self.

Example: Five years ago while still in Muncie, we learned that in their land the maple trees grow maple syrup--diluted. So upon learning we were coming to another land flowing with milk and maple syrup, I determined to fill my lifelong lust for tapping maple trees and boiling down the sap for making syrup. And since that process begins in early March, last week I hunted down a place where I could buy some maple tapping "spiles." Bought six of them. Then after my class was taught last Wednesday night, and having ahead of me an entire week with no teaching responsibility, I gathered some tools, took my spiles, some one-gallon plastic milk jugs, and set out for tapping into maple trees. They are all around me here--lots of choices. So drilling the first hole, I was amazed to see how much sap gushed out! I drove in my first spile, attached the plastic milk jug/receptacle, and let 'er drip! In all, I set out five catch basins around that big tree, and by next morning had nearly four gallons of sap. Bringing it into the house, I went to the dentist. Four hours later, I returned to an apartment house reeking of burnt maple sugar! (Almost as bad-smelling as burned beans!) A sheepish Ranelle explained that from the "hard crack" stage in candy making, it is but a brief time before the "black crack" stage begins--and she proved it.

No problem because around here there is plenty of "sugar bush," (that's what the maple syrupers call a collection of sugar maple trees) and plenty of sap potential for making all the liquid gold (that is how much we value pure maple syrup) we could need for a looong time. Then next morning while thinking about the project, I decided that I do not have the time for devoting to "sugaring," nor am I sent here for that purpose. So confessing my folly to my kind missionary companion, we both considered our syrup project a success in terms of what we experienced and what we learned. So by nightfall, I had given away my spiles, my drill bit, my plastic jugs, and my dream. That means forever after, the maple syrup we use will be the home made kind, which is cheaper, faster, easier, and almost as good as the real thing. Our one big mistake: no pictures taken of the project!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ranelle's "two-bits" - February 24, 2009

I had not realized how long it has been since I wrote. There have been some great experiences that I would like to share.

Last week's Book of Mormon class was one of the most profound lesson experiences I have had. Our scripture block was 3 Nephi 8-11 where, after His resurrection, Jesus Christ appeared to the people here on the American continent. As I prepared, I continually found myself cutting material I had pinpointed to include in the lesson. More than anything else, I wanted the class members to FEEL something. After making a few doctrinal points, I finally focused only on His appearance. I asked two of the class members who are music majors to present the hymn, "I Know That My Redeemer Lives." One of the students was a pianist and vocalist--the other a clarinetist. It was a beautiful and meaningful rendition. After this performance, we read 3 Nephi 11:3-17. Then we watched a video portraying the Savior blessing and healing the people. The response was all I had hoped for, both within myself and with many of the students.

Saturday the University Ward had planned a trip to the Detroit Temple. The weather forecast didn't look good and to my relief, the excursion was postponed until March 1. The snow didn't start until after 8:00 a.m. and all day long the snow fell and the wind blew. We didn't stick our nose out the door all day--it was a delicious day! I had completed the house cleaning and the laundry in order to be away on Saturday. We worked on our lessons, read, napped, and in the evening we watched a DVD movie on the computer.

For Munch 'n Mingle today we prepared Navajo tacos. It was a little more work than other lunches we have prepared, but it was very well received. I will include the recipe for the buttermilk scones which was the foundation for the refried beans, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and salsa. Better yet would have been to add some quacamole and fresh-picked garden tomatoes; but cost, effort and the season precluded those ingredients.


1 qt. buttermilk, warmed
2 pckgs yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water (to soften yeast)
2 tbsp sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp soda
9 cups flour (enough to make a soft dough)

Add half flour to all ingredients. Beat until smooth. Add enough flour to make soft dough. Raise double. Punch down. Refrigerate overnight. Roll out to desired thickness and fry in hot oil. Makes 3-4 dozen scones. Dough can be kept for several days in the refrigerator.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Spreading the Good News

One of my thrills is seeing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints streamlining itself. Example: Years ago I sat on the front row in the Salt Lake Tabernacle the night President David O. McKay inaugurated the "Every Member A Missionary" program. The directive: "ask Golden Questions." "What's that," you ask? It means you asked each stranger, "How much do you know about the Mormon Church?" Next question: "Would you like to know more?"

I lived in Utah then, and asking those questions there was futile. But traveling abroad I asked them, and noticed they carried the same soft touch as a sledge hammer. But at that early date, how better could one communicate such a needed and sensitive message? Now-a-days, we approach people with printed "pass along" cards, and they are more discrete.

Accordingly, this very day while shopping, Ranelle and I passed along some "Pass Along" cards. Result: at least one tangible and positive response! The missionaries will soon be calling on that person. As to the others, "who knows?" But as Elder Marion D. Hanks used to say, "You can count the seeds in an apple; but how can you count the apples in a seed?"

And thus the work goes tirelessly along--offering the masses the priceless opportunity, but teaching and baptizing them one-by-one. That's the Lord's plan, and we rejoice so to be involved.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

IT'S BACK 2-14-09
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Friday, February 13, 2009

February 13, 2009 - from Ranelle

Finally, a window in my schedule and I can add some comments to our blog.

We've experienced a mellowing of the weather as you can see from the picture preceeding. The snow has melted--though I doubt that winter is over. We actually had temperatures as high as 60 degrees. In the five weeks we have been in East Lansing we have seen a span of at least 70 degrees in the temperature--greater if you consider the wind chill factor (temperatures were minus 10 degrees in January). The Red Cedar River is spreading and flowing rapidly. Other signs of "spring" include piles of dirt in the lawns (the moles are very active), frisky squirrels chasing each other, and beautiful red cardinals.

Monday 2-9-09 our institute director called to say he had a family emergency, "Could we teach his 11:00 a.m. class?" John graciously let me have the opportunity. So I put my Book of Mormon preparations aside and prepared for the New Testament class. I learned a needed lesson. I spent an hour plus and the class was great! Perhaps I am laboring too hard as I spend many hours reading and developing my lesson plan for the Book of Mormon class. We are both feeling a little more comfortable in the assignments we have to teach and appreciate this challenge to grow.

We are now preparing a Munch 'n Mingle lunch only once a week. This has eased the pressure for me. Twice a week was hard especially on Thursday when I also had to teach.

Wednesday 2-11-09 we drove to Kalamazoo (about 1 1/2 hours south and west of East Lansing) for a zone conference. We had a wonderful morning of instruction from our mission president. Then we enjoyed a lovely lunch prepared by the Relief Society sisters in Kalamazoo. Lunchtime affords us the privilege of socializing with other senior couples serving in this mission. After lunch the missionaries circle those who prepared the delicious meal and sing "Called To Serve"--sweet experience! We left after lunch so John could be rested and ready for the class he teaches that evening.

We are well, and happy in the privilege of serving our Heavenly Father as we teach and mingle with the students of Michigan State University. As we teach, we also come to a greater knowledge of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and His great gift to us. "Conversion" is a continual, evolving process which requires our daily attention. To be wholly converted, we find the "desire for things contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ has actually died (Marion G. Romney)." Hopefully, we all are striving to be converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and finding rewards as we serve Him.

Thanks for letting us share our experiences with you. We appreciate your emails and comments on the blog.


"Heart Attack"

Valentine's Day brought this "heart attack"Posted by Picasato our door.

Snow is gone--river is rising!

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Michigan Tourage

For this missionary mankind, time's as scarce, nearly, as money. Thus Week after week one brief pause and the "scrambles" begin. Painful disease.

But not all is work. And here in the fabled land of Great Lakes, one would short himself plenty were he/she not to look up sometimes, and look around. And since Lansing, the state's capital, houses the state's museum, last Saturday the O'Dells teamed up with Elder and Sister Davis of Lehi, Utah, and toured the place. Nice diversion. In case you don't know, lots of good things have happened here in Michigan, among which was manufacturing many of the machines that made America. (And know what? While inspecting the myriad photographs of turn-of-the-century men working amid the cold and mud and mosquitoes, my personal judgement is that the "good old days" is now!)

You and I both have seen that phrase "Six munse ago I could not even spel teecher, and now I are one." And knowing you would scream plagery if I claimed authorship, I'll jus' tel the truth--I dictated it. Reason: for teacherocity, this one falls too far short. I am hoping, however, to ride on Ranelle's coat tails because she excels the ideal. With her clear, lilting voice her comments add lustre to any meeting, and her formal class lessons ring true and memorable. Try as I may to live up to her instant reputation, however, I'm drifting way, far behind!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Another Busy Week

Late Saturday night, but I do not want to retire until I put in my "2 cents."

What a great week we have had. Finally it seems we are getting life in control. It is amazing how much is required to get set up and functioning. I begin cooking something and find I am missing an ingredient--which, of course, is on the shelf at home. It seems we have spent lots of money acquiring the basics in the pantry and the apartment. What is amazing is that we have the money available to purchase what is needed. Yesterday we purchased a computer table and two office chairs for $10.00 each at the MSU Surplus store. The chairs are comfortable, swivel, raise and lower and, when I clean the upholstery, they will look very nice. Best of all these purchases make our "office" work so much more convenient and pleasant.

We did a couple of great Munch 'n Mingle lunches this week. We are going to cut it down to one day a week, plus the lunch that goes with the Friday class taught by the institute director. With all the money budgeted for Munch 'n Mingle going for one day instead of two, we will be able to provide more food so they can expect to have enough to eat. Tuesday we made biscuits and gravy. Thursday I baked bread and we made potato soup. To go with the hot bread, I made honey butter. Was it ever good!! Erin shared the recipe with me--so easy and inexpensive:

Beat together 1 cube of butter and 1/3 cup honey. Fold this into 8 ounces of whipped topping and pile it on the hot bread. hmmmmm

The Student Living Center, where we live, is part of the Institute of Religion property. In this close-knit community, we have a pretty unique association. This evening, for instance, we were just finishing our meal, when there was a knock on the door. One of the graduate students came by to ask for some recipes. She sat down at the table with us and we shared the cookies just out of the oven. Before she left, three sister missionaries knocked on our door. They enjoyed cookies and played a game of Chinese checkers with us. Then one of the men came by to answer a computer question I had and we sent him down the hall with a few cookies in hand. So much for the cookies.

Last week at a potluck meal, I took my camera and now have collected about thirty pictures of individuals living here and attending church in the University Ward. It has helped a great deal as we try to match names and faces. Soon we will get acquainted with everyone at the institute and hopefully all those attending the student ward.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009


I can honestly say there is not a place anywhere I would rather be, or a thing of any kind I would rather be doing than what I/we are doing right now. Isn't that a nice condition?

When we learned we have only one lesson each to give per week, I was disappointed. But when we must work so hard at preparing, along with the other things we do, one lesson is about right. For one thing I really stress and strain just getting ready enough to teach sensibly. Ranelle is much more organized so she spends less time preparing, then gives better lessons in the process. I gave mine last night; she gives hers tonight. My subject this semester is "Missionary Preparation;" hers, "The Book of Mormon." Last night I had six students, one of which was a non-member of our church. Lovely young lady soon moving away to med school. Whether she is ever baptized is uncertain, but meanwhile she is seeing the very heart and soul of Mormonism. Last night I said, "Cheryl [not her name], the next time you hear Mormons accused of not believing in Jesus Christ will you please tell them what you've seen--from close up?"

It looks like the young people we work with number about forty--maybe more. A few are not students, and of those who are, a good half are in graduate school. All of these kids are remarkable because all by themselves--independent of parents or spouse or friends, they seek after the everlasting things. Most, most impressive, all of them, but especially those doctoral candidates. Masters candidates too. It would not surprise me at all to hear of some of those kids in the years to come.

Meanwhile, they generously let Elder and Sister O'Dell mingle among them, and we feel honored.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

It's the Sabbath. Elder and Sister O'Dell have just finished the sixth hour. One--maybe two--hours left to go. Pure joy. The first three hours--regular church. The next hour--ward missionary committee. Rushing home, clumsily I helped as Ranelle assembled "chicken a la king." Just in time. Over at the Institute we added our offering as twenty-five "pot-luckers" (students) filled plates and began eating. Nice gathering for otherwise-lonely Young Single Adults so far away from home.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

January 24 - Saturday Evening

With no scheduled obligations, today has been devoted to some household duties. I did make a batch of cookies. Monday is the Chinese New Year and since we have a number of Chinese students who reside in the Student Living Center, I thought it might be nice to give them a bag of cookies and a card wishing them a happy new year. About 4:15 p.m. we got in the car and drove around our area a few miles in each direction to get better acquainted with our surroundings.

Erin requested a picture of our "snowy woods" after John's blog telling of our walk in the woods--so here it is.

Last night we dressed up and attended a dance sponsored by the students in our Institute. Other young single adults came from a stake east of us close to Detroit and west of us at Grand Rapids. We danced a couple of times, but we really don't know how to dance to the music which appeals to this generation--no waltz, no swing, no cha cha, and no fox trots. We're pretty old--we would do better going to a dance with our grandparents than our grandchildren.

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snowy woods on an early Michigan morning

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

January 22, 2009 outside: 29 F

Today for the first time ever, Elder and Sister O'Dell trekked out into our new backyard and explored our hardwood forest. "Cool!" It took some doing for me to tromp down enough snow in order to convince Ranelle to step across the deep berm left by the snow machine. Once into the flat, we two waded back, back, back into the forest until we reached a lovely picknic area complete with tables and a firepit. Then walking beyond we came to the Red Cedar river and looked down onto its eminence, and all the foot tracks on its frozen surface. Hard to tell just what kind of tracks, but looking at the gnaw marks on the nearby trees made me wonder if they were beaver tracks. At one place we saw a set of footprints that made us wonder if they were made by a bigger animal like a linx or a fox--they came down together in wide, four-footed bounds as if brer fox were chasing a squirrel or something. They were there too, squirrel tracks were, but not as many as you might think. The reason of course: Mr. Squirrel "squirrels" away his food in summertime so he doesn't have to become food next winter!

The temperature is warmish today, but on the really cold days it is interesting to look into the forest and see all that is moving--exactly nothing! Not even birds. Obviously Mother Nature somehow provides for her little ones.

Tonight Ranelle teaches her second class; I taught mine yesterday. Good thing for second chances because all week long I was ready to pack up and go home! What happened, after preparing my Missionary Preparation class many, many hours I gets to class only to have but three girl students. No intention of serving a mission, none of them. And what's worse, one was not even a Church member and knew almost no Mormon Doctrine. Another had joined the church only two months earlier and knew little more, and the third was a member, but not interested in serving a mission. . So there I was serving "meat" when I should have ordered pudding. Needless to say, they did not return. But last night two prospective missionaries came, as did two presently-serving Elders. The result: a highly-stimulating lesson from which we all emerged edified--and instructed. Guess I have to stay another week now or so.