Expeditions with CHOICE Humanitarian

Before becoming “Service Nomads” we joined CHOICE Humanitarian on 4 service trips, and plan to go again! These 2-week adventures are a mix of fulfilling hard work and forever-friend-making in some teeny tiny villages, as well as some crazy adventuring and sightseeing.

Here are some short, entertaining videos of our escapades . . .

(For best viewing, go full screen and turn on speaker.)

NEPAL 2015


PERU 2017

KENYA 2018

We LOVE partnering with CHOICE Humanitarian and whole-heartedly support its mission to give people a choice and a path out of poverty, with operations in 8 countries throughout the world. To find out more about CHOICE, please click here.

Vive la France ! Vive le fils !

“Long live France! Long live the son!”

The son, as in our son, Ethan. He had another close call . . .

Our mid-March plans took a little detour when Ethan had “un accident de ski” in France.


He had gone with some buddies to speedfly (fly with a small, fast paraglider wing and skis) in the French Alps.

Yes, they are skiing/flying with a modified parachute or “speed wing”

They had a couple of epic days flying, then the winds picked up, so they took a day off from flying to just plain ski at Les 2 Alpes on Friday, March 10th. France has had very little snow this winter (unlike Utah’s record-breaking dump). This made for bad conditions, including an unexpected rough spot that normally would have been groomed smooth.

Ethan hit a bad bump going fast, and according to him, he “tomahawked then scorpioned” (two particularly painful wipeout positions), before sliding to a halt, with the wind knocked out of him.

Good news – He was wearing his helmet. And he is alive.

Bad news – His back and stomach hurt very badly.

Good news – He did not lose consciousness, in fact he skied down to the base.

More good news – One of his companions, a physician, quickly determined that they should make a trip to the ER 90 minutes away to check things out. We’ll be forever thankful for the care he received both from “doctor dad” and all the health professionals who assisted Ethan.

Bad news – As it turns out, he had a level 3 lacerated spleen and a compression fracture to his T6 vertebra. He’d already ruptured his spleen, less than 2 years ago in a car accident. That was bad, and this time it was even more critical.


Good news – The university hospital in Grenoble (actually across the river in La Tronche) is the best public trauma center in France, and they were able to perform a minimally invasive procedure (Splenic Embolization) to stop the internal bleeding. They did not have to remove his spleen, and it should retain most of its important function. His spinal fracture was non-displaced and stable, and did not require surgery.

He felt well enough to make Instagram posts the whole week

Bad news – His activity is limited for several weeks to several months, and he needs to wear a back brace for 45 days.

Good news – Mom was able to fly out and spend afternoons (2:00-8:00pm) with him in the ICU. Her rudimentary French had recently been revived during hers and Jeff’s 3 weeks in French Polynesia. It came in handy communicating with the doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff. Jeff had important meetings in California, so the Service Nomads decided to “divide and conquer” last week. It worked out well.

Bad news – Ethan was ordered to stay in bed for several days.

Good news – Once he received his back brace, he was permitted to stand up and move around. His pain was manageable with mild medication.

Bad news – He went stir crazy being in the hospital for so long. It took a little effort to convince the doctors to expedite his followup CT scan and release him to travel back to the USA.

Good news – On the 8th day post-accident, Ethan was discharged, and we arrived back in Utah on March 19th. He was able to go straight back to Alta Ski Area where he lives and works. They have modified his job so he has no lifting, shoveling, or skiing duties for the remainder of the season. He has a followup appt this week and we’ll see what the American doc has to say . . .

Karen enjoyed one morning of sightseeing on her own, and one afternoon with Ethan after his release. The trip home was relatively smooth, even with the strikes and civil unrest happening in France right now.

Grenoble was the site of the 1968 Olympics

A street performer in old town Grenoble. Click the arrow below to listen.

Karen enjoyed France. She (and Ethan’s) last visit had been in 2005.
Colorful old apartment buildings along the river
Karen stayed in a charming B&B near the hospital
A++ comfort and hospitality
View from the bedroom window
We rode “Les Bulles” or “The Bubbles” up to the Bastille, for panoramic views of the city and the French Alps.
The Bastille fortress is also the historical headquarters of Les Chasseurs Alpins, the elite mountain infantry force of the French Army.

Our service nomading involves friends and strangers, and strangers-turned-friends in foreign lands. And with this trip, it now involves family members in foreign lands.

It’s impossible to convey how much we love our children and grandchildren, and—as our parents did for us—try to assist in appropriate ways whenever and however we can. Every one is different, on a unique life path, and their needs vary greatly. Lately, Ethan’s physical misfortunes have been more visible and easier to include in our blog. The care and concern, prayers and efforts for each of our family members is a balanced and ongoing focus of our service . . . whether home or abroad.

“La Ora Na”

French Polynesia is a country of 118 islands in the South Pacific
Hello, Welcome, Be Well in Tahitian. Pronounced (lah-yo-rah-nah)

It all began with the postponing of our planned two-month trip to California, which opened up a 4-week window in our calendar. At the same time, Karen received notification of discounted airfare to French Polynesia. So, rather impetuously, AND after spending an arctic-cold and dark season in Norway, we decided to go the other direction—southwest, REALLY far southwest . . . for a 3-week stay on the islands of Tahiti and Mo’orea (or Moorea). This journey turned out to be less service-oriented than usual, but was balanced with work, fun, and discovery.

Main island of Tahiti in the background, Moorea in the foreground with its 2 largest motus

What to take? Just the opposite of what we had just unpacked—bring on the short sleeves, sun glasses, flip flops, swim suits, snorkeling gear, shorts, and sunscreen!

The travel from SLC was efficient. SLC to LAX, 2-hr layover, then direct to Pape’ete (or Papeete), all in about 14 hours from our home base in Lehi, Utah. It was nice to leave and arrive on the same calendar day, with Tahiti just 3 hours behind Mountain Time. The time zone was also nice for Jeff to be able to wake up early with the sun and get in a full workday with his office and clients in California.

Welcome to Tahiti!

Upon arrival at the Papeete airport, we were greeted with the warm welcome of an authentic Polynesian band and the warm wave of tropical humidity that quickly encircled us in layers of semi-salty sweetness, oops – SWEATness. On top of that, French was in the air — everywhere! Arriving as the sun was setting, we worked our way through Customs and to our trusty all-wheel drive rental car that would shuttle us around the two islands during our stay.

Our drive to the Airbnb that would be our home for the next 8 nights was fairly direct. After a few trials and errors, we found the road winding up the ancient volcanic flow valley to our little place in the hills overlooking the ocean. We also quickly learned that speed bumps (really small hills) are everywhere, keeping road speeds minimized. Which is a good thing, since wandering dogs are also everywhere, especially the middle of roads. We had a couple of close calls but are relieved to report that no dogs were injured in the making of this blog.

Sunset from our first logement or résidence. Can you guess why it’s called “The Red Tiki?”
Daytime view from Tahiti across the 11.5 mile strait to Moorea

Our first grocery shopping experience, like nearly all other places we have been, was slow, educational, and this time especially expensive! With most items requiring a long distance import trip, prices are much higher than the US. We wondered how people make ends meet with an average annual income of about US$20,000. It didn’t take too long to discover the cost efficient daily staple when we got to the bakery section and saw the large bins and flurry of activity surrounding them—French baguettes! Typically about 3’ long and costing around US 75 cents. This started our daily exercise of baguette-counting as we were out and about—some folks walking along and eating one like a snack, other loaves poking out of backpacks and bicycle baskets, and some folks with large bags designed to carry many loaves home to a nest of hungry baguettlings.

We did partake, but politely passed on the popular french fry or chow mein-stuffed baguette sandwiches.
We enjoyed lots of healthy food too, like this Thon (Tuna) stirfry, YUM!
. . . and cute baby pineapples!

Our first week on Tahiti went by quickly. Jeff continued to work full time most days and we used his off hours to tour the island in little bites. Hiking to fresh rain waterfalls, beach exploring, swimming and snorkeling were the main activities. Not to be missed were the regular visits to the pop-up food trucks for local cuisine, and the downtown merchant market where all things Tahitian could be found . . .fresh fruit and veggies, exotic scented oils, purses and hats woven of Pandanus leaves, artfully dyed table linens and pareos, beautiful tropical floral arrangements, etc. Of special note were the Tahitian cultured “black” pearls. They come in varied iridescent shades and are very striking. We’d be lying if we said we returned without a few of them.

Just a little strand?

Almost more impressive though, was the plethora of flip-flops. We have never seen so many colors, styles and brands of flip-flops, the primary “shoe” of the locals. They are affordable and practical and versatile. We lived in ours for sure!

Borrowed photo of a flip-flop market

The pace of life was definitely chill. One instantly recognizable difference was the absence of smart phones being the focus of humanity. Rarely did we see people with their noses glued to their devices. More often, we observed people sitting and having “hang-out” discussions and picnics . . .

We had the opportunity to attend the temple in Papeete a couple of times and feel the warmth and love of the people there. We also went to Sunday church meetings in three different towns and truly enjoyed meeting the people. They greet each other with an embrace and two kisses, one on each cheek. Services were held in both Tahitian and French. With Karen’s Canadian upbringing and a few BYU classes, her 35 year-old French skills miraculously revived, though quite rusty and blended at times with the Spanish she has recently been studying (see our Costa Rica blog posts). This new “Frenish” dialect was entertaining, as she fearlessly attempted to chat with the locals, sometimes semi-successfully! In a crunch we resorted to English, which some Tahitians speak fluently.

Papeete Temple
Church on Moorea, complete with outdoor baptismal font

The church members, as always, were so kind and generous. This friendly couple welcomed us with open arms and Etetera spontaneously gave Karen the fan she was using. It is Karen’s most treasured souvenir from the islands.

New friends Etetera et Pascal
Karen’s awesome Pandanus fan

The sisters adorn themselves very carefully and colorfully for church. Here’s a sampling of the lovely hair flowers, hats, dresses, and jewelry that we observed. Come to think of it, we saw a lot of flower-bedecked hats and headpieces worn even in the stores and on the streets. So fun!

An unexpected treat transpired when we met Yvannah at church (owner of the the fancy hands above). She invited us to spend a day on the floating party pontoon that she and her husband Stanley have anchored in the middle of the reef-protected Puna’auia lagoon. They rent it for day use and special events, but it was not reserved on Monday. After a tour of the luxurious yacht “Miss Kulani” that Stanley captains, we were transported to the floating bungalow by their skipper Charles, and spent the next 7 hours there. Charles cleaned and made repairs, as well as played his guitar and sang Elvis Presley songs for us. He transformed the couch into a post-snorkeling nap bed, and cooked up a yummy Ramen soup for our midday meal.

From the pontoon, we embarked on four long snorkeling sessions, but unfortunately we didn’t have a great underwater camera to capture the fantastical sea life. In between sessions, we scanned the crystal clear water from above for more aquatic creatures, measured our time in the equator-hot sun, and became fast friends with Charles. After watching a beautiful sunset, he motored us back to the marina and refused to be paid for his services. Between some broken French, some broken English, hugs and tears, we bid “au revoir” and left with precious memories of a glorious day and a forever friend. Thanks to Yvannah, Stanley, and Charles for a magical Tahitian experience.

Back to the food trucks—we think Tahiti might be where the whole idea started, as it is clearly a long-standing tradition here. Every night, starting at around 6 pm, the food trucks fire up their grills and can be found pretty much everywhere. Not surprisingly, we were magnetically drawn to the trucks offering savory and sweet crepes—big square ones, not the silly little rollups we are used to.

As mentioned earlier, there were plenty of wandering dogs, as well as cats and chickens— even in some of the finer eating establishments. It was Farm to Floor to Fork for the animals!

After a week on Tahiti, we caught the ferry to the adjacent island of Moorea – about a 30 minute ride. As we have learned, the ferries usually require the cars to pull in backwards, a skill Jeff is becoming increasingly adept at—squeezing into the tiny spots they provide. This one was so tight that severe inhaling and belly inversions were required to get out of the car once parked.

Approaching Moorea on the ferry

Moorea – the place where our adventures were enhanced, and another place to leave a piece of our heart. We started our time at a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list “over the water bungalow” for two days and two nights.

Let’s just say . . . there’s not much better than sitting on your private deck feeling the cooling trade winds, slipping down your private ladder to snorkel with abundant tropical fish amongst the thriving coral, taking a fresh water shower and drip-drying on the deck, then coming inside the modern bungalow to air conditioning and a glass floor, eating a buffet dinner and watching a Tahitian dance show, then finally slumbering to the sound of the waves crashing on the coral reef about a quarter mile away. Gotta love buckets and bucket lists . . .

Just a photo op . . . we returned the conch and it scooted away
It wasn’t ALL play and no work
This was one of their tamer dances
Happy Jeff

Our next week+ Airbnb on Moorea was set back in its backyard about 100 yards from a secluded beach in a normal residential area—no hotels, tourists, etc. This is where we lived quite similar to the locals, and we loved it! From this base we snorkeled, kayaked, did jet ski and quad tours, enjoyed food trucks and seafood restaurants, swam with sharks and rays, worked, beachcombed in the pouring rain, and star gazed for constellations in the southern hemisphere’s jet-black night skies. We also got reacquainted with armies of ants—both friend and foe (fire ants) who were like white on rice anytime the smallest crumb of food was not cleaned up or a dead bug from one of our flip-flop smackings didn’t get disposed of quickly enough.

Our Airbnb on Moorea
Not a bad office, oui?
Our backyard looking towards beach, in the rain

Daily rain showers were the norm, usually for an hour or two in the afternoon. It was a new feeling to get rain soak chilled then slip into the clear, warm lagoon waters.

The bugs were not nearly as bad as we’d anticipated, though we did get bitten a bit. In each place we stayed we found and adopted a “Gary the Gecko” (Gary the I, II and III). The name Mo’orea actually means Yellow Lizard, lizard (Mo’o) and yellow (rea), so it was appropriate that we met so many of the little fellas.

Some of the geckos were semi translucent

The snorkeling, marine life, amazing shades of blue and green water . . . all of it . . . was incredible! The endless variety of fish, vibrant corals, perfect temperature mainly calm, crystal clear water and lack of a million tourists is really indescribable.


We kayaked from our little beach to try some yo yo fishing . . .
. . . but had more success snorkeling and enjoying the view.
An afternoon wave running in the lagoons and on the open ocean
Jeff with a Blacktip Reef Shark
We were circled by the 5-6′ long sharks . . .
. . . who are more passive than their Great White cousins.
We also got cozy with a big Pink Whipray. Our guide said this female is over 35 years old!


Belvedere Lookout
Our ATV tour into the mountains was fun!


Statue of a Taaroa warrior at Painapo Beach
Mount Rotui with its legendary hole, made by Pai’s spear thrown all the way from Tahiti
A family swimming in the freshwater Maraa Grotto

The ancient ceremonial sites (called Marae) with their tiki statues were interesting
The Haapati Catholic church with its idyllic backdrop
Some very tall coconut palms at the Hisbiscus Hotel

We visited the Rotui fruit juice factory and are now longing for the Banana/Tahitian Vanilla blend that became our go-to thirst quencher (and bowel regulator). Almost everywhere we go we find a new food we can’t live without, that is either impossible or prohibitively expensive to acquire in the US.

Jeff’s new fave


If we had a bit more AC there, we may not be writing this blog from a basement in Utah. It was a place you’d want to stay forever. But in the end we decided we’d better return. We are grateful for the opportunity to relax, witness and explore the beauty and diversity of one little dot of land in a big blue ocean.

After a week in the paradise of Moorea, we went shopping and donated a load of food to a local church to be shared anonymously with families in need. After the delivery, we ferried back to Tahiti where we spent our final 36 hours. We then returned to the cold, snowy USA, a bit of a shock with both the environmental climate, and the general lack-of-friendliness climate, compared to where we had just been. It sure would be nice if we could slow down a bit here, set aside the “smart”? devices, and friendship each other more meaningfully and charitably.

Home again, Home again . . .

We’re now nearing the end of a quick 3-week stop in Utah before heading to Central California for a couple of months to work and help family there.

Thanks for sharing in our wanderings.

“Until we meet again”

Let There Be Lights!

December 26th Aurora Borealis near Alta, Northern Norway

*This post contains lots of photos and some short video clips. Please turn up your volume and press the white PLAY arrows to view.

Hi, Hamiltons here!

After realizing we’d be alone for Christmas, and failing to see the Aurora Borealis during our Canada-Alaska trip last summer-fall, we opted for an excursion to Northern Norway, primarily to hunt the elusive lights. This was more of a holiday than a service nomading trip, but like always, small opportunities revealed themselves.

We went to Norway during what is called the POLAR NIGHT (opposite than the MIDNIGHT SUN), and we never saw the sun. A subdued light would seep over the horizon for a few hours each day, which was beautiful in its own way. Here is a diagram that explains the phenomena:

Light (or the lack of it) became a factor in all we did in Norway. For example, we brought our Nordic skis, not fully considering that to use them would entail—as relative novices—navigating dark, unfamiliar trails in frigid conditions. We are not Scandinavians, who are rumored to be “born with skis on their feet.” Now we know why most of the wise locals wait until spring to do their recreational skiing. In fact, multi-day ski touring from one mountain lodge to the next is an annual tradition for many . . . in the sunnier springtime.


Upon arriving in the capital of Oslo, finding a taxi van that would fit our 7’+ long ski carrier was the first challenge. Fortunately Habtu, a former refugee from Eritrea/now Norwegian citizen, came to our rescue. He was dependable and friendly, driving us to/from the Oslo airport 4 times, the last day with a 4:00 am pickup.

Our first friend in Norway

Beginning in Oslo, looking at the weather forecast and planning activities with limited sunlight was an eye-opener. We were also suffering from some serious jet lag, which was an eye-closer. The only real signal to our brains and bodies that marked the time of day was the extravagant breakfast buffet at our Oslo hotel. The downside to that was after getting a bellyful of food then looking outside at the dusky dark, we just wanted to go back to bed . . .

The hardy Norwegians press on in their normal daily routines, dark or light. They are well outfitted with warm winter clothes, headlamps and reflective safety vests and could be seen walking, jogging, scootering, bicycling, and kick-sledding their way through whatever environment. Here are a few types of winter transportation we encountered:

You gotta be tough to get around in Northern Norway
Our Airbnb hosts had a trailer like this to haul the kids on family outings
We tried out their vintage kicksled. Some folks harness up the family dog to pull them along.

During our two full days in Oslo (December 21-22) we were able to visit the Nobel Peace Prize Museum, the National Museum, the Viking Planet, and one of the many Christmas markets. The highlight was attending a Christmas concert in the Neo-Gothic Fagerborg Kirke, where some talented musicians put on a stirring performance of sacred and popular music (mainly in Norwegian). Music is one of the few languages that needs no interpretation. It was a great way to feel the Christmas spirit.

We made it to Norway, kids
Oslo Fjord
Jeff’s and Norwegian Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”
“Welcome to Vinterland” says Santa Moose
The glogg (hot mulled/spiced juice with almond & raisin chunks) was oh-so-good.
Waiting outside Fagerborg Kirke
Inside the church
It was an inspiring performance


After two days in Oslo, we flew much further north to the town of Alta, 250 miles/400 kilometers ABOVE the Arctic Circle. This part of Norway is in the regions of Finnmark, and Sápmi (or Lapland). Going this far north meant even less daylight, more snow, AND most importantly, the best chance to see the Aurora Borealis.

We would spend the next two and a half weeks in an updated plankhouse (or plankehus) about 10 miles north of Alta, in Raftsbotn. A little history . . . after Germany occupied Norway during WW2, they retreated from the Alta area (and other communities in Northern Norway) burning and destroying as many structures as possible, including the homes. Only a few churches were spared.

Hitler didn’t want the advancing Russian forces (and Norwegian citizens?) to have shelter or infrastructure.

The Germans had built an airport runway using wooden planks, and for some reason left them unburned. Local families retrieved these wooden planks and built small homes. Some of these plankhouses are still standing, and our Airbnb hosts had remodeled theirs into a warm and cozy (koselig) cabin for visitors to stay on their farm in the woods.

The Plankehus (2-story original with 1-story addition)
Jeff immediately began looking up for the lights.

Upon our 2pm arrival at Alta airport on the Friday before Christmas—already dark outside— we bundled up, found our studded-tire rental car (studded tires are required in the winter), and drove to the rural community of Raftsbotn.


Homes along the way had lights in every window—with blinds and curtains wide open—and some had basic lights on the exteriors. We noticed, for the most part, a lack of the multi-colored disco-flashing arrays of commercialized Christmas that are common in the US. These lights there were a simple warm white, creating a consistent Christmas glow on the snow-covered roads, hills and rivers as we wound our way “home.” We arrived to find the little plankhouse warm and welcoming, wonderfully decorated, and perfectly situated.

It was interesting that in Norway and other Scandinavian countries HEARTS are associated with Christmas. Here are a few examples of Christmas hearts and some other unique decorations . . .

Hearts on the Christmas china
A lit heart-shaped wreath on the barn, viewed from our kitchen window
Window candles in a heart-shaped stand
Woven heart baskets for the Christmas tree . . .
. . . are filled with candy or nuts
Hearts and Norwegian flags on the Christmas tree!
And of course the waffles are heart-shaped
Merry Norwegian Christmas (pronounced Go-Yule)
The window lights we saw ranged from illuminated star paper lanterns, to candelabras, to these simple “Norge” mason jars.
Other new-to-us decor included rosy-nosed and cheeked gnomes
This guy hung outside the bathroom – haha!
Even the sheep were festive


Because the stores were closing early the next day (Christmas Eve) for the entire weekend, we ventured back out to find food. As we have experienced in other countries, the first trip to a grocery store can be a lengthy one. Though pictures on the packaging are helpful, Google Translate is a necessity. We were almost tempted by a container with a cute kid’s photo on it, only to have Google tell is it was liver paste—no thanks. We were able to find what we needed and return back on the ice-covered roads to our place, ready for the Christmas weekend. Here are some other Norwegian delicacies we politely passed up (yes, that’s a sheep head). Maybe next time we’ll be braver . . .

Our hostess left some Christmas candy for us, including the traditional Marsipan pig. Whoever finds the hidden almond in their bowl of sour cream Christmas porridge wins the pig! See it unwrapped below, with a variety of other Norwegian holiday treats…


The days (more like 20-hour nights) that followed were filled with remote work for Jeff (a bit challenging with a 9-hour time differential between Norway and the California office), Northern Lights tracking, satisfying meals, and naps. Our outdoor activities were generally scheduled during the daily 4-hour window of light, but we also ventured out in the “day dark” sometimes.


Cathedral of the Northern Lights in Alta
The departing cantor was giving his farewell performance


We visited the Sámi Siida (community) on December 24th
We learned a lot about the culture, including the symbolism of their traditional clothing.

We had encountered lots of Caribou on our Alaska trip. And now lots of Reindeer in Norway. So here’s a question for you . . . what’s the difference between Caribou and Reindeer? Officially they are the same species, Rangifer tarandus. Caribou are wild, but if domesticated, they are called Reindeer. After some generations, they develop slightly different traits. For instance, Reindeer tend to be smaller than Caribou, and have new antler patterns. If you want to know more, here’s a better explanation – https://a-z-animals.com/blog/caribou-vs-reindeer-4-main-differences-explained/

In Northern Norway, only Sámi families who have historically been semi-nomadic reindeer herders are legally allowed to own them. (Other Sámis do not practice reindeer husbandry, but are fishermen, farmers, or other professions.) Don’t begin to imagine that a “domesticated” reindeer is docile. Only the few that are chosen and trained to pull sleighs and interact daily with humans could be considered “tame.” And only one that we met tolerated being petted, but we wouldn’t dare cozying up to it. Most of the reindeer are herded and lassoed and are still quite wild. If you want to know more about the reindeer and their seasonal migration, this is a great article – https://www.visitnorway.com/media/news-from-norway/the-great-journey/.

Ready to go!

Our Christmas Eve reindeer ride. We each drove our own sleigh through the forest.
Chillin’ on our reindeer skins by the fire. Because reindeer hairs are hollow, the hides are very insulative.
We visited around the campfire for a long time. The Sámi are the indigenous people of Sápmi (formerly called Lapland), stretching across Northern Scandinavia and part of Russia.
We shared a sleigh back—it was warmer that way. Our little reindeer was strong!
Back at the base, Karen took a brisk lap around the track.
It was a fun and educational outing


We stayed one night in the Sorrisniva igloo hotel, where all the rooms and common areas are made of ice and snow. The only “non-ice” things were the wooden door to our suite, the LED lights, and the reindeer hide-covered mattress. There was an adjacent warm wooden lodge containing restaurants, restrooms/showers, and a sauna to thaw out the next morning. But once snuggled into the sub-zero sleeping bags they provided, we slept amazingly well. In full transparency, Karen also wore a down jacket and down pants to bed!

Entrance to the igloo hotel
It was a cavernous space filled with ice carvings and snow sculptures
This year’s theme was “Africa”
One of the two guest room wings
The door to our suite
Checking out our digs
View from the bed to the sitting area
Testing out the sleeping bag
Balaclavas on, and ready (or not) for bed!


This was the brightest 4-hours we had in Norway. No sun, but the top of a 1:00 pm-ish sunset was visible. We snowshoed to a canyon lake while two nice dogs pulled supply sleds for our group.
Jeff just screwing around
Holes drilled and waiting for some action . . . We had lots of fun, but alas, no nibbles.
Traditional Sámi Lavvu tent in the background, where our guides Kalle & Mats prepared and served a delicious salmon and veggies lunch over an open fire.
Knitting is popular in Norway among young and old, and apparently all genders. We were impressed that Mats made this Icelandic wool sweater himself. Icelandic wool is very warm and naturally water repellent.


With our goal of seeing the Northern Lights, each day found us monitoring iPhone apps that predict solar flare activity and sighting probabilities. Of course, nothing was guaranteed, especially if it was overcast. Clouds became a four-letter word as we constantly looked out the windows, and sometimes parked the car in wide open spaces waiting for the lights to appear.

During our 2+ week stay in Alta, we had three spectacular viewings, beginning on Christmas night—the perfect gift! No words can describe what we saw, especially at times when the changing shapes and colors moved faster than we could decide how to photograph them. Also, they needed to be seen with broader vision than through the narrow lens of a camera. Sometimes they would be visible for 30 minutes—usually greenish in color. The more vibrantly colored green, pink, and purple dancing displays seemed to last only 5-10 minutes. These pictures do not do them justice.

Our friends Runar & Kristin caught this action over Alta on December 26


We drove along the fjord road towards Alta to get a closer view of the 8:00 pm city fireworks. It was fun to watch young families walk to the viewing field—with children, in their warm one-piece snowsuits and reflective vests, carrying rolled up reindeer hides to sit on the ground. It was an impressive fireworks display, with some giant aerials and a huge variety of colors and effects . . . very exciting! The show probably could have lasted 3 times as long, but they set off the rockets in quick succession and many simultaneously. On a frigid New Year’s Eve, we suspect they opted for a crazy 15-minute show over a subdued 45-min one. Afterwards, we returned to our koselig plankehus and had a quiet evening. Happy New Year to YOU!


Seasoned Iditarod athlete Trine was our guide. We harnessed up our 4 dogs . . .
. . . and hit the trails. Oh how they LOVE to run!
Jeff mushed first, then Karen. Corners, hills, overhanging branches, and braking were a little sketchy.
It was COLD. Karen’s nose and cheeks resembled the gnome decorations in our plankehus. And Jeff’s right big toe came close to frostbite. OUCH! But SO worth it!


Most of the food we ate in Norway was extremely palate-pleasing! The fish soups and the salmon we tried were delicious. Surprisingly, to us the reindeer filet tasted just as good—if not better—than filet mignon. Don’t worry, Rudolph is safe, as they mainly process the calves. Other new “berriers” that we hurdled were cloudberries and lingonberries, and they were very delectable! There were tasty fresh juice blends readily available. We loved the Norwegian meatballs with potatoes and gravy (reportedly even tastier than the Swedish version), and potato Lefse rolled with honey butter and cinnamon. Lastly, the Freia brand chocolate was delicious and impossible to ignore.


We were able to attend three Sunday services with the 5-6 friendly members who gather each week. They meet in a government office rented for the 2-hour meetings. It was subtly symbolic to watch them, before the meeting each Sunday, respectively remove the Norwegian King and Queen’s portrait from the wall, and replace it with a picture of the King of Kings, then swap it back at the conclusion of the worship service.

A welcome sight
King Harald and Queen Sonja
Jesus Christ

We also had the chance to host dinner a couple of times (Christmas and New Year’s) for the young missionaries who had recently been assigned to the area.

We had some uplifting discussions with Eldersk Porter og Eldersk Jones


We thoroughly enjoyed mingling with the gracious Norwegian people and were relieved that they could speak English very well. A special highlight was an invitation to Runar & Kristin’s lovely home, where we were served a wonderful supper of waffles, brown cheese, cloudberry preserves (hand-picked and hand-preserved), and glogg, then afterwards we were treated to a Norwegian folk song by Runar. Kristin is a nurse, a musician, and a knitter extraordinaire, among other talents. Runar works for Alta City, is a competitive sled dog musher, a musician, and leader of the local congregation. They are the quintessential Norwegian couple and we were so blessed by their warm hospitality.

A memorable evening
A sumptuous holiday supper
Can you say DEEEE-licious?
Kristin with her intricate handknit Christmas ornaments hanging on curly Witch Hazel branches or “trollhassel”
A lovely Norwegian folksong

Time slipped by, as we eventually gave up trying to adapt to a strict routine, just to have to readjust again at home. Our daylight/nighttime bodies and brains presented the most unexpected challenge of the trip. We plan to return to Norway one summer, when just the opposite will occur, with 20 hours of full daylight!

A last few glimpses of beautiful Northern Norway during the Polar Night:

Our return voyage to Oslo gave us another day in the capital, which we used to explore the old Akershus Fortress. This fjord-edge castle has a long and colorful history, and was the inspiration for Disney’s “Frozen” castle.

From the fjord (Photo by Terje Borud)
The fortress dates back to 1299


We didn’t run across any other Americans while in Norway (except a woman in the Oslo airport). There were many European tourists, and a few from Asia, but no Americans that we met.

In the ice hotel we overheard a mother with two daughters speaking in either Ukrainian or Russian. We smiled and said “Hi” and left it at that. But the next day when we saw them again at the Alta Museum, Karen couldn’t resist chatting them up. They relaxed a bit once they realized we were friendlies, and had nothing against the three of them. As it turns out, they were Russian citizens who had driven 24 hours north from Moscow to cross the border straight into Norway for what they called “a holiday.” It was a short, interesting encounter. We said goodbye and wished them well.

On our last evening we were walking around downtown Oslo and came across a small demonstration. We first heard a man singing, then saw a circle of Ukrainian flags. As we approached, the anthem ended and a patriotic chant began. Our hearts hurt for the Ukrainian people, and for innocent citizens on all sides who find themselves embroiled in the conflict.

Ukrainian National Anthem
“Україні Слава Слава Слава / Ukrayini Slava Slava Slava / Ukraine Glory Glory Glory”


Our three weeks in Norway was one of the most unique travel experiences we’ve had yet. The contrast between the cold yet beautiful environment and the warm and beautiful people was probably our main take-away. Along with a desire to visit again and explore more of this incredible country.

The 25-hour flight back to SLC was smooth compared to the trouble-plagued holiday travel in the US, and it was nice to return to our relatively sunny home base in Utah.

Thank you for making these journeys with us virtually. 2023 will be an interesting mix of travel and service experiences near and far. We hope you’ll continue to come along!

What service nomading does the New Year hold?

Look below for our Fall/Thanksgiving report “AN AWESOME AUTUMN.” We did not send out a separate announcement for this one.

An Awesome Autumn (and other types of falls)

Hi Friends! The last quarter of 2022 was a bustling time. In addition to Jeff’s work—including two trips to Modesto, California, one to Boulder, Colorado, and one to New York City—we had a family reunion in Southern California, hosted Thanksgiving with our kids, and seemed to run from one event to the next. Service activities (planned and spontaneous) were intermingled along the way. In addition to all the fall fun, there were also some not-so-fun falls. More on those later.

This blogpost begins with October 8th when Karen flew from the Philippines straight to California, where Jeff had been working for a week. The next day, our fourth grandchild was born! The problem? She was far away in Utah. It would be another 3 weeks before we met her for the first time.

Our second precious granddaughter
. . . and baby makes four!

Karen kept busy in Modesto with projects— two days touch-up painting in the office, ordering new lobby furniture and artwork, gathering supplies for refugees, and giving blood, which unfortunately didn’t go as well as usual. Tired and a bit dehydrated from her Philippines travel, she took one bite of her after-donation snack and suddenly felt faint. She voluntarily slid off her chair to the floor, avoiding an involuntary flop. (Fall #1) She recovered well enough to get up and drive back to the airbnb, but it took a day or two before she was feelin’ fine.

Jeff had driven the truck to California, so on our way home we did a little treasure hunting, beginning with gold-digging in Woods Creek. After 2.5 hours of back-breaking dirt-shoveling, hauling and sluicing, we found about 6 microscopic flakes of gold in our pan. Let’s just say, Jeff won’t be quitting the day job! In other locations we found obsidian, turquoise, garnet, and sunstone (labradorite).

Professional prospector Nate showed us how it’s done
We struck gold! Magnified to show detail 😉
A nice turquoise nugget
We drove through Yosemite and enjoyed this dusky view of the north side of Half Dome

During the next 2.5 weeks in Utah we were able to get a lot done, including some yummy baking, singing in the church choir, attending the temple, and visits with kids and grandkids, as well as Jeff’s Aunt Deanie and Uncle Ray.

Grandma Karen Storytime

We also attended 3 concerts—renowned a cappella ensemble Voces8, sometimes sassy/sometimes sultry samba from our friend Jay Lawrence’s band, and one of our favorite old rockers, Alan Parsons. We got to watch his pre-show sound check and have a Q&A session. Sons Jace & McKay joined us for the evening. It was nice to have those of the younger generation immersed in music from ours.

Still making great music
They liked it!

We flew back to California the next morning, this time for a family reunion with Jeff’s parents and most of the siblings at Oceanside. We had way too much fun eating, playing cards, singing, more eating, sunset and wave-watching, beach combing, etc.

Sister Cathy was taking the photo
The ocean and sunset views were incredible

Jeff’s fun came to an abrupt pause when he tumbled down the last 8 feet of the slippery seawall behind our airbnb, landing head and shoulder-first on the rocks below. (Fall #2) Miraculously he did not break bones, lose consciousness or show any signs of concussion. A great time was had by all, even after the fall. And Jeff got to bring home a swollen ear as a souven-ear.

We flew home from Oceanside Monday night, and the next evening Jeff boarded another plane to Colorado for 2 days of meetings at Choice House in Boulder. The pace really didn’t slow down last fall, especially for him.

When he returned we had a few more days to prepare for our Family Thanksgiving celebration. Since our Lehi house cannot accommodate the whole family for a multi-day event, we rented a beautiful new home in Heber City, Utah that worked out perfectly. Almost everyone was able to be there. We missed Emma, who was in Oregon for the holiday. And we miss Braden and Megan ALL the time since their passings 4 and 3 years ago respectively.

The gang

We put the house to good use, with its 2 kitchens, many bedrooms and bathrooms, trampoline, hot tub, and sauna. We created music, made food, ATE food (lots of it), and did our annual holiday humanitarian project—this year assembling “welcome kits” for teenaged refugees to Utah. Lifting Hands International will deliver the kits as new families with teens arrive. It was a wonderful family Thanksgiving.

Finishing refugee kits with personalized “welcome” notes

Knowing that we’d be leaving the country on December 23 and missing Christmas in the USA, we started celebrating early. We enjoyed several holiday concerts and musicals, including a Messiah Sing-In with the Utah Symphony at Abravenal Hall, where (drum roll please…) Jeff performed a short solo! It had been a couple of decades since he last practiced the tenor part. During one of the choruses we were standing with the rest of the audience and singing our respective parts. The sopranos ended and next up were the tenors, with several measures of orchestral music between. Jeff got one measure ahead in the score and began singing the tenor part, nice and strong . . . and ALONE. His beautiful solo was cut short after a few notes when simultaneously he realized what he’d done and Karen nudged him. Bravo Jeff!

A once-in-a-lifetime experience (he hopes)

After Thanksgiving it was back to California for one week, where something BIG happened! Hamilton & Company completed a merger with a group of similar client-oriented firms under the umbrella of Platform Accounting Group. This is a significant step towards longevity for the firm and an eventual pathway to retirement and other opportunities. We feel very blessed to have found a great partner to move forward with.

IS NOW . . ..
New Name, Same Great Service

While Jeff was involved at the office, Karen helped out with a local service project—Comfort Kits for children in Modesto’s huge foster care system. In true “weekend warrior” mode, she and two other volunteers unloaded a large U-Haul, drove to the storage unit, reloaded it, drove back, unloaded it a second time, carried numberless heavy boxes and bags up and down stairs, sorted and organized thousands of donated items, helping set up for the big assembly party the next day with 300 volunteers.

We got home from California Saturday night, and left for Manhattan on Monday morning. Another quick turn-around! Jeff had a board meeting in NYC on Tuesday. Karen was not planning to go, but there was an extra seat on the jet, so she was able to tag along for the quintessential “free ride.” We decided to stay 2 extra days to experience the Big Apple during Christmastime. And what fun we had! We attended the Manhattan Temple. We went to “A Christmas Carol” on Broadway, which we didn’t realize was a one-man show until well into the first act. It was creatively staged and well-acted. We saw “The Lion King,” took a rainy Central Park carriage ride, visited one of the Christmas markets, saw the big Christmas tree and watched the skaters at Rockefeller Center.

Dark, rainy, and fun
The big one
Times Square kiss

Our favorite show was the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular. Wow, was it impressive . . . dancing reindeer, dolls, marching soldiers, there were even fairy drones. Jeff loved the two big organs and organists that popped out of the two walls flanking the stage. Everything was magical! We were especially happy that, though most of the acts were secular, near the end there was a wonderful live nativity. And in case you’re wondering . . . NO, the shepherds didn’t rip off their robes and start doing the can-can! It was very respectful—even reverent—and brought the true spirit of Christmas to the stage. A recent article congratulates Radio City Music Hall for continuing to feature Jesus in its annual holiday show. https://dailycitizen.focusonthefamily.com/radio-city-music-hall-unabashedly-and-unashamedly-continues-to-feature-jesus-in-its-christmas-spectacular/

Leaving Christ in Christmas

Since we spent such a lovely Thanksgiving with the family, and almost everyone had other commitments for Christmas Day and New Years, we decided to get outta town . . . FAR outta town. Stay tuned for our next post about our 3-weeks of life in Northern Norway, with Christmas, New Years, Northern Lights, and so much more!