We had very little planned for Christmas Eve day, just a few errands, getting caught up at home, resting, and watching family Christmas Eve programs on Skype. I (Dan) went to do a quick shopping trip for our Christmas Eve pizza and noticed we needed gas in the van. As I pulled into the gas station I spotted two of our young Elders on their bikes waiting at the corner for the light to change. It was a cold, windy day and I knew they must have been freezing. So as they crossed the street and neared the gas station I flagged them down. They were on their way to do some needed shopping. So I offered them a ride. We loaded up their bikes in the back of the van, drove to the store, got what they needed, and I hauled them home. This little side detour greatly lengthened my quick trip to the store, but it was nice to help these young men on a cold day. Then we had another unexpected trip. One of our young marines just recently moved his family here, and moved from the barracks into base housing. But we were having trouble getting in touch with him to find out his new address. We had a plate of Christmas goodies all ready for he and his family, but had about given up on finding them before Christmas. Then on Christmas Eve afternoon we got a text from his home teacher with the address. So we bundled up and drove right down to the marine base. We found the house and delivered the Christmas treats to the marine and his son. We did not get to meet his wife and daughter who were napping. But we were very happy to find where he lived and be welcomed into his house. His son was excited about the Christmas treats. That made us 100% for delivering treats to all of our marine families on the base. Yay! We are not so concerned about the percentage as we are the people that it represents. Upon returning home we had some excellent pizza to keep our Christmas Eve dinner tradition going. Then we worked on a Christmas jigsaw puzzle which was fun. Then we got to skype into family Christmas Eve Programs at Anne and Rex’s and at Carrie and Matt’s ( Aaron was at Carrie’s). In between we talked with Chris and Stacey and Stacey coached us on Google groups. It was wonderful. Not quite as good as being there, but still it was delightful to see all of our family and watch all of the grandchildren’s performances. We saw some great singing, clarinet playing, and dancing. It made us happy to see this family tradition carrying on as well. We had planned on opening one gift on Christmas Eve, but by the time we watched the programs here it was late (the west coast program started at 10 pm here) and we were tired. So we just went to bed. But we did have a very nice Christmas Eve day, and were grateful to be involved with family this evening- it seemed like a real Christmas Eve.
We started Christmas morning by getting up early and baking. We made French breakfast puffs, a quiche, and a large fruit plate. About 8:30am four missionaries arrived, the two sisters and two elders that serve in the same ward as us. We had a wonderful breakfast with them, and they all told us about their family Christmas traditions. We had a great time eating good food and talking to these young folks. They left late in the morning. We then leisurely opened our Christmas gifts, which ranged from touching to funny. Carrie got us stockings with items for our “go bags.” All of the grandkids provided handmade, personalized items that are greatly treasured. We got some great books, a Washington State calendar, goodies to eat, and many more enjoyable gifts. Aaron had organized a sizeable gift certificate to a very good bread company so that we can take fresh bread as refreshments for our marines. We greatly appreciate the wonderful presents, but mostly we appreciate the thought, effort and care that went into them. Thank you all so much. After our presents were all opened we set to work on the Christmas puzzle. We spent time off and on throughout the day working on it, and by bedtime we succeeded in completing it.
We also had a fantastic Google group video chat with all of our children and grandchildren. Thanks for organizing it Stacey! It was great fun to see and chat with everyone on Christmas Day and to hear about all the things they were doing. Of course the grandkids were excited to show off what they had received. Even though it was just the two of us, we cooked up an excellent Christmas dinner. We had a small turkey breast, stuffing, and gravy. Delicious! This was a very different Christmas for us, a very quiet, contemplative day at home. Although we missed the family, we were not sad and lonely. In contemplating our mission before we got here, we were a little worried that holidays might be really sad and depressing. But that was not the case. We enjoyed a break from our routine, a quiet day to rest, time to read the Christmas story in the Bible and really think and talk about it, and being at home and enjoying each other’s company for the day. Although we had several different invitations for Christmas dinner, we chose to stay home and have a quiet, low-key day. We would not want to do this every year, but we did enjoy our day. Just before bed, Dan gave me (Lezlie) my birthday present- it was an overnight trip to Belle Grove, the historic plantation home of the Conway family (my ancestors)! It is now a bed and breakfast. It was something that I did not think that we would ever be able to do. So we planned about what to take and quickly packed so we could leave from the district meeting the next day and save time.The day after Christmas we had our weekly District Meeting, so left a little after 8:00 so we could pick everyone up. It was nice to see all the young missionaries, who were all happy and excited because of their good Christmas Days. Lezlie got texts from several of them wishing her a happy birthday. All of them got to call or skype with their families yesterday, and they were joyfully telling each other about their experiences. The meeting started off with all 40 of the young missionaries singing Happy Birthday to Lezlie. She was tickled about it. And Dan had nothing to do with it, the missionaries did this totally on their own. Dan brought cupcakes for Lezlie’s birthday and shared them with all the missionaries. After a good district meeting in which the young missionaries did some excellent training our district all went out to lunch together. It was mom and I and 6 young elders. Although we have two sisters in our district they could not make it. They were fasting. We had a pleasant time getting to know these outstanding young men better. We admire them a lot. Finally, after getting everyone home, we headed toward Fredericksburg and the Belle Grove Mansion, the plantation that was owned by Lezlie’s ancestors, the Conways. It is also the birthplace of President James Madison. It is now a bed and breakfast, and we went there for Lezlie’s birthday. It was a pleasant drive south of Fredricksburg through Virginia wooded rural land of horse farms and tobacco fields. We arrived just before sunset. We were met by one of the managers, Brett, who came out to greet us and carry part of our luggage. We took things into the beautiful blue Conway room. The sunset on the Rappahannock River was beautiful. Brett then showed us around and told us to make ourselves at home. There were some interesting books in the library- one about colonial dog breeds (including Papillons of course) and one about all of Lezlie’s ancestors in Caroline County. Dan had brought a book, so we just relaxed and read and enjoyed the beautiful Christmas tree and decorations, and the peaceful lovely atmosphere. It was mind boggling to think of someone related to me( Lezlie) looking out on the same river 300 years ago!!! At 5:00pm, Brett and Michelle brought in some appetizers to the library. There were clam shells filled with deviled crab, some type of small sweet peppers filled with chunk crab, cheese and meat rolls, and crackers on a silver tray. It was very attractive and delicious. We had a very nice discussion about genealogy, and Michelle (Brett’s wife and the other manager) had inquired with several Conway genealogists, and their current hypothesis is that James Conway was illegitimate. However this is still a hypothesis. The family Bible is the key as to how related James is to Catlett. After a very nice discussion, they recommended a little restaurant across the Rappahannock River, so we went and had some great crab cakes. The waitress was the most efficient waitress we have ever seen. She was the only waitress (we found out later she was the manager) and there were so many customers that she looked like a dancer, juggling things and getting things to tables quickly; it was delightful to watch. We were about ready to leave when Michelle and Brett showed up and gave us the key to the house and said they would be back in a little while. So we went back and had the entire mansion to ourselves. Our bed had been turned down and there were old fashioned molasses ginger cookies on a silver tray on the bed. It was so quiet and peaceful. We were going to play some games together, but Dan had seen that a football bowl game was on at the restaurant, and I was really interested in reading some of the books I found there. So I read out by the Christmas tree and Dan watched in the little TV room off our bedroom for a while. He really enjoyed it because we do not have television at home. Then Brett and Michelle came back and we talked to them for a few minutes before turning in to bed. The bed was very unusual- it was a canopy, but the canopy was very interesting, and even Dan was intrigued. It was heavy silk folded and tucked into different swirling patterns, almost hypnotizing to look at.
The next day we got up early at Belle Grove and saw eagles flying over the river. Lezlie took lots of pictures. We had a tasty and attractive breakfast- orange juice, Cherries in Greek yogurt, and caramelized French toast with orange marmalade syrup. It was really delicious. We had a nice chat with the Michelle and Brett again. They told us all about how they had acquired the property and all the work they had done to get the bed and breakfast up and running. Lezlie did a bit of knitting under the Christmas tree and also took some pictures outside of the house. We took our time loading the car and then had a relaxing drive back to Woodbridge. It was a wonderful and meaningful trip. We spent the rest of the day unpacking, putting things away, writing thank you notes, etc. We called Leah for her birthday and were glad that she liked the hoodie we got her.
On Saturday Dan made a quick run to Great Harvest Bread Company. Several of the kids got us a large gift card there so we could provide bread as a treat for our marines. A great gift! So Dan grabbed two loaves of bread for future use. We had a fun lunch at Famous Daves with two elders, one of whom had a birthday yesterday and is finishing his mission next week. We have known him since we arrived, so it was fun to talk to him about his post-mission plans. We gave him a fresh loaf of bread for a gift. At dinner time we headed for the base to take one of our bachelor marines out. He is a nice young man, but seems pretty lonely. He also had a recent birthday, same day as Lezlie’s on Dec 26. So we gave him a fresh loaf of bread too for a birthday gift. He was very excited, saying that they had a Great Harvest Bread Company near their home in Utah. His family went there all the time, and he loved their cinnamon bread, the type we gave him. He was very happy to get that loaf of bread. So thanks to our children for the outstanding bread gift card that has already provided us a little miracle. We had an excellent dinner at Applebees with this young man and chatted about his family, job, and interests away from work. He has an interesting job repairing the electronics on the President’s helicopters, which are stationed here at Quantico. So we had two excellent meals at restaurants today. It is a tough job, but somebody has to do it! Seriously, taking these young folks out to a good meal is one of the best things we can do for them. The missionaries always seem to be hungry, especially the biking ones, and they do not usually eat right when they cook for themselves. And the bachelor marines eat at the mess hall on base all the time, which they say is okay but pretty bland and boring. So it is fun to be able to take them out once in a while. They always enjoy it.
On Sunday we began what we thought was going to be a quiet and calm day at church because we had no extra meetings or assignments. In our morning prayer we said, “…help us to be of service to our ward.” We had a very nice sacrament meeting with some excellent talks and a great solo for a musical number. We had barely left our seats when the primary president sought us out. “Can you please go sit in the nursery? We just need extra bodies in there because the nursery leader did not show up today.” We said, “Yes Of course.” We love children and miss our own grandkids, so we were glad to do it. But then we got in there and found out that all of the other 3 ladies in there were fill-ins as well. Not one of the normal nursery staff was there, and no one knew the routine or plans. It was one of those moments when you know you need to step up and just do it. So Lezlie stepped up and took charge. One of the moms had stayed in there with her crying son before so she remembered a little bit of the routine. And luckily, one mom had some appropriate snacks in her car that she gave us, pretzels and Pringles. We did puzzles, the snack, singing time and mom did a short lesson, just kind of ad libbing as we went along. Then two of the moms left for other things. Luckily we only had about 8 kids by then, because a few of the kids went into class with the sunbeams for training in sitting through a lesson. We did some coloring, got out the toys, played and read stories. And as seems to be the tradition in many nurseries, we did bubbles for the last 15 minutes. We did a good job and we were more than happy to help. But it certainly was not quiet and calm. We have decided we are getting too old to be nursery subs. All that bending over, getting up and down on and off the floor, and chasing children back and forth made us kind of sore and tired this evening. But we were serious when we prayed that we could be of service, so we are very happy our prayer was answered. We are grateful to be in a wonderful ward with lots of folks that support and help us in many ways. So we are grateful when we get to serve them. And it was fun to play with the nursery children.At the end of Christmas week we feel grateful that we had a quiet Christmas to truly think about the birth of Christ. We are grateful for the gift of Jesus Christ and His life. We are grateful to be here on our mission.