Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Quiet Christmas in Virginia

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.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Festival of Lights

Early this week we had a long baking day since we had multiple plates of Christmas goodies to deliver and refreshments to provide over the next several days.  Lezlie baked and baked while I took a young elder to the doctor.  He is an interesting young man from Canada.  He is quite bright.  He graduated from high school at age 16 and then completed two years of college before his mission and got early acceptance to dental school.  However, he gets impatient with the other missionaries that do not have his capacity to memorize and catch on to things as quickly as himself.  We have seen him be impatient and he has mentioned to us getting so frustrated that things move too slow for him.  So he has had to learn to be more humble and patient.  We have talked to him about that a couple of times, and it seems to be something he is learning.  But he is a great young man and we just love him.  He had to have a large planter’s wart removed from his foot that was painful when he rides his bike.  Although it was not the best of circumstances, it was delightful to spend some time with him and get to know him better.  He did get his wart removed successfully and is ready to hit the streets with his bike again.
Our outstanding Christmas activities this week were two trips to the Washington DC temple to attend the Festival of the Lights, an annual holiday event.  The DC temple has a large visitor’s center.  They decorate the temple and visitor’s center grounds with hundreds of thousands, of spectacular lights.  Inside the visitors center was a room filled with nativity sets from all over the world, which were very beautiful, unique and interesting.  There were tons of people there all dressed in holiday best, and there were many young missionaries escorting folks around and answering questions.  Each night, from Dec 6 through Jan 1, they have exceptional entertainment in the visitor’s center auditorium, which seats about 500.  On our first visit were able to get into the last concert of the night.  It was a violinist named Jenny Oaks Baker (daughter of Dallin Oaks) and a singer from Ireland named Alexandria Sharpe.  They were backed up by a small orchestra and some singers.  It was an exceptional concert.  They played all Christmas music, and the quality level was very high.  We are not big violin fans, but we do love any type of performance that is done really well.  And this was.  The violinist played amazing and beautiful songs, and her fingers moved across that violin unbelievably fast.  We Googled her afterward and she has a Masters in violin performance from Julliard.  She previously was the lead violinist for the National Symphony in Washington DC.  The biography said she had cut way back on performing to spend more time with her family.  One of the highlights of the night was when Jenny introduced her four children – girls 12, 10 and 9 and a boy 7.   They did an outstanding medley of Christmas songs that had been specially arranged for them by the conductor.  The girls, oldest to youngest, played violin, piano and cello, and the boy played guitar.  They were good beyond their years, and you could tell they were raised by a professional musician mom.  In addition to playing violin with her siblings in the quartet, the 12 year old girl also played percussion with the orchestra, and did a great job there too.  We enjoyed watching her play mini-cymbals, bells, tambourine, triangle, and many more things, always perfectly on the beat. The singer was excellent too, and did a wonderful version of “Breath of Heaven” as well as “Silent Night” in Welch.  Another highlight just before the final number of the night was when Jenny bore her testimony of the gospel, and told how blessed she was to play her violin to celebrate the birth of Christ and praise him.  It was very moving.  The final number was an outstanding version of Ding Dong Merrily on High.  It was an exceptional performance, made more so by the fact that these are all church members that just volunteered their time to perform for the Christmas season.  We later bought the violinist’s CD.  Christmas CD and it is outstanding.   Our second visit to the temple began with a separate errand.  One of our young marine friends called us the night before he was to fly home for Christmas leave.  It turns out his ride fell through and he needed a ride to the airport. When we picked him up at Quantico Base he was in a great mood because he was heading home for Christmas.  He was also very happy to get a break from the marine school and see his family after 4 long months of training.  It took us a full two hours to make a normal fifty minute drive to the airport.  The holiday traffic, with folks trying to get out of town or get to the airport, was awful.  But we finally made it.  It was fun to chat with him and get to know him better.  He was all smiles as he headed into the airport.  From there we fought the traffic for another hour and a half and finally made it to the Washington DC temple.  We went into the temple and had our dinner out of the vending machines in the basement.  It was an interesting experience.  Although they used to run a cafeteria in the temple basement, it was not cost effective.  So they installed a kind of a vending machine cafeteria, with all kinds of entrees you can heat up in the microwave.  So after an excellent dinner of pot pie, pizza, and cookies, we went to the concert of the Washington DC Bell Carillon.  This bell choir was excellent.  They did a superb version of “Ring Christmas Bells” and all of their other songs were great too.  After a quick peek at the spectacular lights we headed home after a long and tiring, but exceptional, day.

We had another excellent morning making three deliveries of gifts and goodies.  We had a commitment in the afternoon that precluded Lezlie from attending a baby shower for two ladies in our ward.  One of them is the mom of the baby boy Cooper that Dan blessed a few weeks ago.  So we delivered small stuffed bulldogs as baby gifts in lieu of attending the shower.  The bulldog is the mascot of the marines.  We delivered the 3rd bulldog to another mom we visit as often as we can.  She has a premature baby with several severe medical problems and she is struggling right now.  All the moms were very pleased to receive the bulldogs and were sorry Lezlie could not attend the shower.  We then attended our second Chaplain’s Briefing at The Basic School (TBS).  About every three months a new TBS class of about 250 marines starts the course, and during their second week the Chaplain has a meeting with them.  He invites all of the lay leaders and then gives them a few minutes to introduce themselves and what they do.  Our first such meeting took us by surprise, because the other lay leaders sort of gave competing mini-sermons (my beliefs are cooler than yours and you should attend my services).  We decided this time to just play it very low key, so we just introduced ourselves, where we were from, why we are here, and announced our Thursday evening family home evening.  Sometimes meekness is appropriate.  After the meeting all 5 of our LDS OCS gradates came up to say hello, and 4 or 5 of the marines that were visitors to our services at OCS stopped by to chat too.  We even had two Washingtonians stop by to say hello because we had mentioned Washington State in our introduction.  They asked us where we lived in Washington and wanted to know all about why we are here.  It was a very happy, joyful interaction with these good young marines.  And it felt like validation too.  None of them had to come up and greet us, but they all did.  One gal who was a visitor to almost all of our services told us that our Sunday and Wednesday services were one of the things that got her through OCS.  She said they all so looked forward to those precious hours when they got to relax, discuss important things, and just be regular people.  It really was touching for us.
On one day in the middle of the week we left home at 7:30am and returned at 7:30pm  – what a busy day!  After stopping at Target to get some baby toys and some dog treats, we had an excellent visit with a sister and her 10 month old twins (and her two Beagles Snoopy and Charlie Brown).  This was a great visit because we have had a hard time getting in touch with her.  We were concerned that she was just trying to drop out of contact with church and church folks. But she was very welcoming and friendly.  She said between her job and the twins she has been kept very busy.  It is really hard for her to take the twins to church without her husband, who is off in Marine training.  We had fun playing with the twins and they loved the little stuffed Beagles in Santa hats that we gave them.  This Sister was even able to get a little work done while we played with the twins.  Next we visited the pregnant sister with the little boy who loves washing machines.  We stayed for an hour,  and I played washing machine related games the whole time.  This Sister, who has a chromosomal disorder making it hard for her to carry babies full term, loves to talk to Lezlie about all of her medical issues.  She gave us a huge box of chocolates and a handmade ornament with a meaningful sentiment on it.    We took this as a huge compliment.  As we left she thanked us and gave Lezlie a spontaneous hug.  It was touching and rewarding.  We also contacted another mom whose marine husband is away, and she said that she and her 3 kids were all sick with the flu and she did not want us to visit.  But she did say she was out of chicken soup and it was about all any of them could keep down and it w.  So we took her chicken soup, crackers, and gator aide.  She did look really sick, but was also very appreciative of the food.  Next we put in our 4 hour shift at the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society.  It was a very busy day, and we were answering the phones, filling in data sheets for clients, and helping with all sorts of things.  Dan had a rewarding case.  He helped the Director take care of a young marine who needed emergency leave.  His father has a disease that damaged his kidneys, and he is on dialysis while awaiting a kidney transplant.  He is terribly sick.  Yesterday this young marine’s parent’s house burned down.  He is going home to help them take care of the insurance stuff, clean out the home, and find a place for them to live.  We got him a plane ticket home to Huntsville, Alabama, and $200 for miscellaneous expenses.  He was a really nice young man, very concerned about his folks.  He had been on duty all night and had been worrying about his folks the whole time.  He was grateful for the assistance and anxious to get home to his folks. It was nice to help him.  After getting off of our work there at 4pm we headed out with 5 plates of Christmas cookies and candy.  We found our Bishop and two military families home, delivered our treats and wished them all Merry Christmas.  The other two families were not home.  We could have driven home and called it a night, but instead decided to eat dinner in that area and try again.  After a delicious meal at Panera Bread – they make great soup and sandwiches - we found one of our two remaining families at home.  They were happy to see us, invited us in to see their tree, and chatted for a few minutes.  That was our last delivery for the night, but we decided we needed some things at Costco before tomorrow.  So we detoured on the way home and made a Costco run.  Finally, after unloading the purchases and bringing all or our “stuff” in from the car we were able to put on our comfortable clothes and sit down for a few minutes.  It was a busy but rewarding day.  We are grateful to be able to serve folks and help them out when they need it. 

On another day we had a lengthy transportation job.  We drove 4 Sisters to Richmond (90 miles) for a special training meeting.  We had not had much interaction with these 4 young ladies before, so it was fun to get to know them.  What amazing young women.  They all left behind school, good jobs, family, and even some boyfriends to be here for 18 months serving others.  Since the meeting and their lunch took about 4 hours we spent some time at the Virginia Historical Society Genealogy Library.  Lezlie got a few more clues about her Virginia ancestors the Conways.   We picked up the Sisters and got them home safely.  We then spent the late afternoon getting ready for our Thursday evening family home evening with our Basic School marines.  Lezlie outdid herself on treats.  There were beautifully decorated Christmas sugar cookies, chocolate mint brownies, peanut butter cookies with red M&Ms on top, shelled pistachios, and some toffee.  We also had hot spiced cider and cold apple juice.  Our five LDS members in the class all showed up and were very happy.  This was mostly because tomorrow they start their Christmas break.  Classes do not start back up for them until Jan 6.  But we like to hope they were happy for our family home evening too.  Lezlie gave a great lesson on giving gifts.  We talked about giving gifts to others and to God – not just material gifts, but gifts of our time, kindness, and help.  It was a good lesson with lots of interaction by our group.  Then we pulled out the bells.  These tough, young marines played every Christmas bell song we have.  They laughed, made fun of each other, and kept asking for one more song.  We were a little concerned that they might think the bells were too childish, but they had a great time playing the bells.  We fed them all the treats.  What they didn’t eat they took back for their platoon mates or to eat on their plane rides home.  Finally we bid them Merry Christmas and goodnight.  So it was another long day with a lot of driving, but also a very rewarding day.  Some nights we return home exhausted, but we are so uplifted and fulfilled by working with these outstanding young people that the exhaustion is joyous.

Late this week we got to attend a Sing Your Own Messiah event at a nearby church.  It was held in a small Lutheran church.  There were not as many singers as we had experienced sometimes in the past, but it was a quality group, and produced excellent, uplifting music.  As a prelude there was a group of about ten young violinists (ages about 5 – 12) that played multiple carols.  They were REALLY good.  Prior to the Messiah the choir sang several carols.  We really enjoyed that music.  Finally the orchestra conductor and soloists were introduced and we began.  It was like putting on a favorite piece of warm clothing.  Those songs of the Messiah that are so familiar to us now, just resonate in our souls.  And they feel like Christmas.  It was not the largest group of singers we have ever been with, but the spirit of Christ was definitely there.  Afterwards they had a nice set of refreshments, so we had a couple cookies to end the evening.  It was greatly enjoyable for us, and we felt so fortunate to have the Messiah as part of our missionary Christmas.
On Sunday the ward choir did an enjoyable Christmas program of music and narrative.  We really enjoyed it.  Sacrament meeting ended with a single talk, and the man gave an excellent, moving Christmas message.  It was a really good Christmas meeting.  After the rest of our meetings the ward held a “Linger Longer,” which is what the ward calls their post church potluck supper.  We sat with two men from Liberia in our ward, and it was quite interesting to talk to them about their country.  During one of our early meetings on Sunday we became aware of a man, recently baptized, who was having some personal mental struggles and was temporarily staying in a half-way house.  We had attended this man’s baptism and got to know him a little bit.  We felt urged to go and visit him.  So on a cold, rainy night we set out for Manassas, a town about 30 miles east.  We found the place easily, and knocked on the door.  It is a regular residential type house, but is set up for low risk patients with problems that just need some care and attention for short periods.  Although we had not prearranged the visit, we had about an hour visit with this man, and it turned out to be a good, good thing.  He really wanted to talk, and he unburdened himself to us.  He told us a sad, sad story.  He really seemed to need to talk, and we just let him.  We expressed our love and the love of all the ward family for him. We left him with hugs, a bag of Christmas treats, and a nice prayer.  We felt humbled by this man and how he has fought to overcome his extremely difficult family trials.  We felt rewarded that we got to provide him a small bit of light and hope tonight.  We are continually amazed by the interesting, varied, and uplifting experiences we are able to have on this mission.

Although we are a little sad we are not with family this Christmas we feel greatly blessed to be serving the savior this holiday season.  We believe the greatest gift of all was the gift of Jesus Christ.  We will have a quiet holiday in our little apartment, and as you can see we have been showered with multiple gifts from friends and family.  We wish all of you a wonderful Christmas.



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Snow in Virginia

God works in mysterious ways.The sloppy weather at the beginning of the week turned out to be a blessing for us.    We spent some time (well, mostly Lezlie)baking and decorating brownies and cookies.  We decided to think big, so we prepared ten plates of Christmas goodies along with our Christmas message.  When we arrived on the Quantico Base and visited our first marine family, we came to find out that school had been cancelled because of the early morning ice and snow.  However,  by the time we left, the main roads to the base were fine, but most of the base did not have power.  Since the schools were closed, every family we visited was home, and the kids were thrilled to see us. So were the moms as they had been isolated in their cold homes without TV or video games or lights all day with all of their children.  They were not only happy to see the Christmas goodies, but because they were so bored, the manger scene stickers we had brought for the younger kids, were in big demand even with the Jr. High set....  We ended up stopping at ten separate homes and delivered all of our treats.  Nearly every family wanted to visit, told us about their Christmas plans and of course,  the kids wanted to show us their Christmas trees and decorations.  So it was lucky for us the schools were closed!  It made for a lovely day of visits with moms and kids. 

Most of Tuesday was taken up by District Meeting- hauling 8 Elders back and forth, so that took some extra time.  However, we had excellent meetings today.  We have a new district leader who did a great job of making the meeting quite efficient and spiritual. He also really included us as part of the District, which is unusual because we are actually separately attached to Quantico, so sometimes feel like observers at these meetings.  But they asked us to tell them what we are doing there, and acted interested. Dan as asked to give some training too. It was fun and interactive and different from what we have been doing and went pretty well.  Overall,  it was one of our best District Meetings.  

We did our regular 4 hour shift at Navy Marine Corps Relief Society, and Dan got to prepare his first actual budget for someone, with a mentor looking over his shoulder.  Luckily this lady just wanted some budget training and advice and was not asking for a loan at this time.  So there was not as much pressure since a loan was not riding on the outcome of the budget.  He learned a lot in doing the budget.  He also found out that some of the folks that come in just want someone to talk to and kind of unburden themselves too.  This lady was conscientious and trying to do a good job, but was frustrated too.  It seems that her husband’s parents are not well off.  His younger sister died, and he stepped up to pay the bills for the funeral and plot.  It set them back $8000, and they have been trying to pay it off ever since.  We gave her a lot of ideas and budget advice, and she left in a positive mood. 
We had our first family home evening with our new The Basic School class.  This is our group of OCS students that just graduated at Thanksgiving time.  We had a great time.  Only 3 of the 5 LDS kids showed up, but the others let us know they had a barracks inspection that they were cleaning for and could not get out of.  We had a really good time with the three that came.  We had a good discussion about receiving gifts.  We all told stories about some of the best gifts we have ever received at Christmas and what made them so special.  Every one of the stories were related to people much more than the actual gift.  So the stories made a nice point.  We also read multiple scriptures about the gifts that God gives to us, and discussed how to use our gifts to benefit others.  Lezlie went all out since it was our first meeting with this gang at TBS, so made chocolate mint brownies,  toffee, and gingerbread cake (served with whipped cream).  We had plenty, so the three that were there took leftovers to their platoon mates to try to get them to come next week. Then we played a game sort of like a white elephant exchange with silly but useful gifts that we bought for them.  It was so much fun, especially since our TBS family home evening for several weeks has not had any participants since the other classes have graduated.  We are excited to continue working with these young men and women for a while longer. 
We have also had a lot of fun this week.  We took the dad of the baby Dan blessed two weeks ago out to dinner.  He was alone for a couple of weeks while his wife was visiting her folks with the new baby.  We had a good dinner and an excellent conversation.  Before he joined the marines he was really into horses, so Lezlie enjoyed talking about horses with him.  He is a very interesting and also a very nice guy.  He seemed to enjoy having some company.  He said it is pretty lonesome and quiet in that house with his wife and baby gone. 

Mom and I also found that we could watch a replay of the “Live TV Sound of Music” with Carrie Underwood program online.  So we watched that and enjoyed it very much.  It felt very Christmassy. 

We also had an excellent outing to the George Washington home, Mt Vernon.  We took Crystal Watts from Richland along with us, and had a great time visiting with her as well as seeing the mansion and grounds at Mt Vernon.  Lezlie and I bought season passes so that we could go again several more times when the weather gets nice.  it is only about 30 minutes from us. They first show you an excellent short movie about the grounds, and also about the life of George Washington.  Then you get a guided tour of the mansion.  It was very interesting, and we heard a lot of interesting stories about George Washington and his family.  The home has a spectacular view of the Potomac River.  We walked around the grounds a bit, but cut that a bit short as it was cold.  It is a huge park, and it will be fun to explore it more in the spring.  We got to watch some candy making done the old fashioned way, and also got to taste some old style hot chocolate.  There is a large gift shop, which we explored a bit too.  We skimmed over several areas that will be worthy of spending time at next time, like the gardens, greenhouse, blacksmith shop, and the grist mill.  But we knew that we had the season passes and we would be back, so did not spend too much time outside.  Afterwards we brought Crystal back to our apartment and had a great roast pork dinner.  It was fun to just relax a little with her.  It was a fine day. 

We did a lot of preparation for the ward Christmas party by shopping and baking.    Our party had a Joy Around the World theme, so folks were asked to bring international deserts.  Lezlie made two types of German cookies.We went early to help set up.  Having been in charge of a ward Christmas party before we knew there would be a lot to do.  The church was already decorated beautifully.  In the lobby a Christmas picture backdrop was set up (see picture) with a wonderfully decorated tree and presents.  The dinner tables had white luminary bags with electric candles.  Oriental looking white paper balls with electric candles were hung from  the ceiling with strings.  There was beautiful greenery and lights everywhere.  On tables in the back and on the front edge of the stage were many interesting nativity scenes from all over the world.  The Primary had decorated a large tree with paper doll ornament that each child had made representing his "heritage", and even the nursery had made a banner of their little handprints like an earth with a scripture inside about joy and peace on earth. It  was very well executed. There was a nice ham dinner, with desserts from all over the world. We have folks from all over in our ward- Ghana, Argentina, Mexico, Mozambique, China, Japan, Phillipines, Russia- that I know of, and most of the people have traveled extensively, so had interesting dishes. We also had a musical show. Dan and I borrowed a guitar and played our traditional "Ballad of the Christ Child, and the other missionaries in the Ward played Hark the Herald Angels Sing and Angels we have Heard on High on the Bells with us.

There was a lot of nice music.  At the end they had a piƱata for the children. We came home very tired, but we stayed up preparing food for a TBS dinner the following evening.
Now that our OCS group is in TBS, they are geographically moved to the opposite side of the base where there is a separate school for TBS. Church-wise this is very complicated. When they are in OCS they are not allowed off base, thus church comes to them. We provide LDS marines a service, the Catholic priest provides the Catholics mass, the protestant Chaplain provides a protestant service, etc. OCS is in the Quantico Ward boundry, so if there is any need for a Bishop or extra services we cannot provide, we use Quantico Ward for everyone. However, once they are in TBS, they are expected to get to church on their own. TBS is located not only out of our Ward boundry but out of our Stake. In addition we have marines that are single and under 30 who want to go to a Singles Ward, the closest of which is located in Fredricksburg ( 30 miles away) and  married marines, whose wives are living elsewhere while they are in school, and who live in the barracks with the singles, but go to the family ward which is in the boundries of Quantico base on the TBS side ( Rock Hill). The other marrieds live off base with their wives or families in apartments, which, depending on the location of the apartment is either in the Aquia or Accokeek Wards.- also in a different Stake. I realize this makes no sense if you are reading this and do not understand how LDS church boundries are set but it makes it very complicated because at each of these different locations we have to work with different people. Fortunately, everyone we have dealt with is very supportive and helpful. So this Sunday we left at 7:00 and drove the singles to Fredricksburg as they will not have cars until after Christmas. It was really fun to be in a Single Adult Ward again ( Dan and I had a job of working in a Singles Ward for 3 years) There were some newly returned missionaries reporting, and our waiter at Bob Evens was there and had written a phenomenal  musical number. He was to be leaving for Japan this week, but had a sudden and serious medical problem, and is on hold. The music the choir did was spectacular, and he did a solo and a duet as part of it the was really beautiful. So we were glad to see him. The YSA Sr missionary couple, the Cores, whom we had contacted before we showed up, came right up and met our marines and so did the bishop and everyone just sort of absorbed them. We left after sacrament meeting and the Cores brought the marines back from Fredericksburg after the rest of meetings.  We had to get back so we could take our married marine to Rock Hill. It was so cool because we just drove into this big parking lot to pick them up and even though we were early each time, they were ready- Dan just loves everyone being so punctual...It was fun to see them all dressed up in civilian clothes, too. We had a good time visiting and getting to know them better. Everyone is getting excited to go home at Christmas. One of our marines is getting married in Myrtle Beach over Christmas. We still have to determine which ward he will be in when he gets back...
Tonight the other couple from Quantico that works with OCS invited them all over to their lovely home near the base for a Chili Supper and just to hang out. They brought some of their friends- it was really nice- we had lots of food, our female marine turned out to be an excellent pianist, and we talked about the upcoming wedding and Christmas plans for them all. It was really a fun, peaceful and warm evening. I saved some of my German cookies for our German marine, and she was really pleased. She said that she used to make the Zimtsterne at home when she was little. Sunday was a very nice end to a great week. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Pair of Christmas Parties

Two outstanding Christmas parties this week really put us into the Christmas Season.  First was a luncheon with the other Navy Marine Corps Relief Society volunteers.  The wife of the Commanding Officer of the entire Quantico Base is a long time volunteer at the society.  So each year she hosts a Christmas party for all of the volunteers.  As the CO of the base her husband is provided a huge, beautiful house on top of a hill overlooking the base.  It was magnificently decorated for Christmas, with beautiful pieces from their travels all over the world.  It was great fun to get to know the other volunteers better, a great bunch of people.  We had a lunch catered by Famous Daves, so we had some outstanding barbecue.  We had a fun gift exchange as well.  It had a "get to know you" theme, so we learned a lot about each other.  It was great fun and a nice way to start the holiday season.  We are enjoying our volunteer work, and as we get to know the other volunteers better we realize we are working with a great group of people.  Our second party was the Christmas get together for all of the senior missionaries in the Virginia Richmond mission.  About 30 of us gathered in a church building in Richmond, which is about 90 miles south of where we live.  We had a nice training session from 10 - 12.  We had some good lessons about blessings of a mission, how to see service that needs doing, and how to help church members.  I was asked to give a short talk about developing Christ like attributes, so I talked about Knowledge and Charity.  It went pretty well.  They especially liked my vacuum cleaner analogy.  We got a new vacuum and mom began vacuuming right away.  I read the owner’s manual and then vacuumed, but knew all the little hidden features of the vacuum.  If I had read the manual and never vacuumed it would have been a waste of time.  So we both vacuumed and got the work done.  Mom did it quickly, which is needed sometimes.  I did it in a little more depth, which is needed some times too. But you have to do the work.  So, learning and obtaining knowledge are meaningless if we don’t enact what we have learned in our lives.  Several people commented that they liked the vacuum cleaner story.  I also told some stories about times we received charity, including the time that our home teacher gave us $20, sent us out on a date, and made popcorn and did magic tricks for the kids.  I think some of our children remember that night.  Anyway, my talk went well.  Then we had an outstanding potluck lunch.  Lezlie made pistachio pudding desert with maraschino cherries on top, very Christmassy looking and delicious too.  We had salads, breads, hearty soups (Lezlie- my favorite was the Virginia peanut soup; Dan - my favorite was the vegetable beef soup) and deserts.  It was superb!  Then we gathered for a gift exchange, which involved rolling dice for doubles to get a gift, and then stealing others gifts if you rolled a double again.  It was fun – a lot of laughing and teasing and good natured swapping of gifts.  Mom got a small puzzle with a CD of relaxing music.  I ended up with a red necktie, but traded it at the last minute for some fall leaf stickers that mom wanted.  Our final activity for the get together was to tour an old Victorian style mansion called Maymount.  It was built by a railroad millionaire in the late 1800s, and was large, majestic, and beautiful.  It was decorated top to bottom for Christmas.  There were wreaths in every window, a gigantic Christmas tree with authentic 1880s ornaments, evergreen boughs in every room, red candles on all the tables,  and ribbons everywhere.  We got an excellent tour by a historian, and really enjoyed it.  The picture below shows the bed of the lady of the house, who loved swans.  There is also a picture of the dining room table all set for Christmas dinner.  The guide was able to tell us about a lot of the Christmas customs of the time.  The two hour drive there and back made for a long day, but we were glad for the fun Christmas gathering. We came home with a lot of extra pistachio pudding desert.  So we called each of the 4 sets of missionaries that live in our apartment complex.   About every half hour between 7pm and 9pm two missionaries would show up at our door for some desert.  Four of them had additional appointments, so just took some desert away on a paper plate.  Two of the Elders had time, so they ate their desert here and then played Christmas carols on bells with us (we bought a set of bells to use here).  They thought the bells were great fun.  Then the two sisters that live in our apartment complex stopped in and admitted that they had not had any dinner yet.  So we quickly heated up some soup, gave them a meal, and then gave them some desert.  They also played some carols on the bells with us and really seemed to enjoy it.  So our late evening was great fun too.  It was great fun to see all of our apartment complex missionaries.  They are a great group.  We have found some Christmas movies that we can get for free on Amazon, so we have been watching some fun, old-fashioned Christmas stories.  We watched a couple of Christmas shorts that were probably fifty years old.  They were simple, predictable stories, but great fun to watch, and with good Christmas messages.  So it was a wonderful day.  

We were able to get all of our Christmas gifts mailed out this week.  We hauled 6 big boxes to the UPS store and quickly found out that shipments from Virginia to Washington were more expensive than shipments from Washington to Washington.  But Shipments from Virginia to Texas are not bad.  We were happy to get everything mailed out.  We had several transportation requests from the young missionaries this week.  One young elder has been suffering with a large planters wart on his foot right where he pushes on his bike pedal.  Apparently it is very painful for him.  I took him to a dermatologist to get it taken care of.  We ran several missionaries back and forth to meetings and appointments.  The weather and early darkness are making it trickier for the young elders to get to distant places on their bikes.
We had a full day in Zone Conference this week.  About every three months we have a full day zone conference where the mission president attends and provides training and guidance.  We had multiple talks and instruction from several of the leaders among the Elders and Sisters.  Two of the best were Elder Wray, talking about “All Present and Accounted For’ and Sister Allen talking about receiving personal revelation through prayer.  These were two of the first young missionaries we met when we arrived here. Elder Wray is an outstanding young man from Blackfoot Idaho, a potato farm boy.  He told about how 2000 inexperienced young Book of Mormon soldiers fought with power and courage because they loved the Lord.  He compared themselves, as inexperienced missionaries, to these stripling warriors.  After the big battle Captain Helaman, fearing the worst, rode out to see his troops.  He asked the Commander how bad it was, and the Commander said, “All present and accounted for sir.”  This meant that not one person had been lost in the terrible battle.  At the end of their mission these young sisters and elders  should be able to say, “All present and accounted for sir,’ meaning that everyone they should have taught was taught and nobody was lost. Sister Allen is a great young lady from St George, Utah.  I do not recall all of the things Sister Allen said, but her talk was powerful and touching.  She mostly talked about how a simple but humble personal story or testimony has great power.  It was a tremenous talk from an outstanding young woman.
We had an excellent 3 hour volunteer shift at the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society.  We got to do a lot of shadowing and learned a lot from our mentors.  We both got to process our first Quick Assist Loans (QAL).  Any marine that meets just a few basic criteria can come in a get a QAL for up to $500.  We are supposed to be able to process them in about 15 minutes.  It is a little complicated.  But Lezlie and I each got to do one, with the qualified worker looking over our shoulder.  It was such a good feeling handing over that check to the young marine and his wife that really needed the money right now.  The purpose of the QALs is to try to prevent the young marines from going to the loan sharks right outside the base.  Those companies loan the marines large amounts of money with almost no qualification requirements, but then they charge a huge interest.  If they don’t pay off those loans their credit rating goes way down.  So we give them interest free loans to try to keep them away from the predatory loan companies.  We are happy to be working there and feel like it is a good service.

One day this week we visited two marine wives in Stafford, which is about twenty miles south of us.  We have visited them before and probably mentioned them in our blog.  One is a young mom with three children under 5 whose husband is away at a school.  Her 5 year old is autistic and a handful.  So we go over every couple of weeks and help her clean, play with her younger boy, and hold the baby.  She seems to really enjoy the adult company.  The other lady is pregnant but is having a difficult time.  She had a 4 year old and her husband is at school most of the time.  So we took her lunch, helped her fix a cabinet, and rearranged some furniture.  She also talked nonstop, and I think she really appreciated the adult company.  We really enjoy these opportunities to really serve by doing helpful things for these dedicated marine wives.  These pictures show some of the practical, meaningful work we do.

This week we had an unusual Sunday.  We were aware that bad weather was on the way – snow, wind, and freezing rain.  But it did not look too bad in the morning.  So we headed to church early to attend a missionary correlation meeting.  This is when we meet with the younger missionaries that work in the same ward as us.  We make sure that we are not visiting the same people on the same week.   Before we began the meeting there was a lot of talk in the hallway about the bad weather and possibly cancelling meetings.  Out the church windows we could see that the snow was getting heavier.  The bishop and his staff, who were having a meeting, all walked by and headed out the door.  They stood out in the snow scuffing their feet on the parking lot for a few minutes.  Then they all trooped back in, saying they were going to check on the latest forecast by the weather channel.  So we went ahead and started our meeting.  About 15 minutes later the bishop stuck his head into our meeting and said that the weather and the roads were getting worse so all meetings were cancelled.  So we began to load up our things and head out.  But the younger missionaries were complaining that they had really wanted to be able to take the sacrament this morning.  Just as we were walking out we could see that inside the chapel the Spanish Ward was just starting.  They decided to go ahead with their sacrament meeting and then send everyone home.  So we quickly went in and sat down so that we could take the sacrament.  We listened to the bishop in Spanish and actually understood a bit of what he was saying.  It was fun to sing Christmas carols in Spanish.  After we had a chance to take the sacrament we exited and headed home in the snow.  Then we spent all day inside working on lessons, reading, listening to Christmas music, and baking goodies for some visits tomorrow.  It was a quiet day, but it was nice to be home and out of the nasty weather. We are looking forward to watching the church Christmas Devotional tonight.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


We have had many things to be thankful for this week. This was not only the traditional holiday, but also graduation for Officer Candidate School. As part of the OCS graduation ceremonies we attended Family Day.  We got to gather inside the auditorium and listen to the school’s commanding officer gave a short briefing about what the candidates have been through for ten weeks. Having seen them twice a week for that time we felt like we were a part of it.  Then we got to mingle with the OCS candidates and meet several family members.  It was fun to meet folks we have heard the students talk about so much.  It was fun to get to see these kids in a more relaxed setting, enjoying their families and smiling huge smiles. The following day was graduation. It was a cold, windy, rainy day, and the marine candidates voted to have it outdoors anyway (after all this shows how tough they have become) because they had practiced their parades and the marching band, nor the cannons show off as well indoors.  We bundled up in many layers and hauled blankets.  Luckily we got covered seats because we are part of the religious lay leaders.  But it was cold, wet and windy.  Things started right on time, of course, which always delights Dan.  The students marched on and stood in the drizzling rain for a long time.  There were some short but nice speeches.  The special awards were cool because one of our guys got the Gung Ho award, the peer voted award for the candidate that shows the most Marine spirit.  Finally the company did their pass in review and marched right by us.  We cheered for our guys and gals.  Finally the parade was over and we got to mingle with them again.  We had written personal notes of congratulation for each of our LDS graduates on Marine Corps notecards.  We included a Semper Fi magnet, invitation to future family home evenings, and our business card.  Semper Fi means Always Faithful, which is the marine motto.  So we got to hand out the cards to all of our students.  We hope we will see all of them at our weekly family home evenings at The Basic School.  After a quick trip home to remove some of our layers and have a quick lunch we departed for the commissioning ceremony, which luckily was held indoors at the Marine Corps Museum.  It was a joyous, happy occasion, with hundreds of family members milling around, taking pictures, and chatting with their sons and daughters.  The 159 candidates sat in chairs and most of the audience stood around the edges, or on several balconies above.  Again there were a couple of short speeches, very good ones too.  Then the graduates took the Oath of Office and all were commissioned as Second Lieutenants.  As soon as the graduates were released they found their families and had their moms, dads, girlfriends and wives pin on their new Second Lt bars.  We got to see almost our entire group to congratulate them and say hello.  We felt so proud of them, and so humble and appreciative to be a small part of their journey through this school.  Here is a picture of the rainy parade in the morning and of some of our newly commissioned LDS marine officers at the afternoon ceremony.

On Thanksgiving  we spent our first big holiday away from home.  We missed seeing the kids and grandkids, but had a nice day.  We had a delightful Skype session with the Hongs and Billings the day before in Houston , and a nice visit with Chris, Stacey and Aaron via telephone. Late Thanksgiving afternoon we met two other senior missionary couples from Washington DC for a Thanksgiving meal at Cracker Barrel.  We had an excellent meal and good conversation.  It was fun to hear what the other senior missionaries do, particularly the other Military Relations Couple who are stationed at Ft Belvoir in DC.  Afterwards we went for a drive around Quantico Marine Base, which none of them had seen before.  We are thankful for the quick and interesting friendships the Church facilitates, and how wonderful it is to feel at home wherever you are.

On Saturday afternoon we met with the a young family to talk about Dan’s blessing of their baby.  About two weeks ago they asked him if he would do the blessing since the dad is not a member of our church.  We had a lesson about Christ blessing children and about how precious children are to the Lord.  Then we talked about what would actually happen during the blessing.  Finally we just talked to them about what their hopes and dreams are for their darling little son.  It was a very nice meeting and we really feel close to this young couple.   It reminded us of all the hopes and dreams we had for our children when they were newborn babies, and how grateful we were to have 4 healthy children.  We got to attend a baptism later that day.  Two young boys, about 11 and 13, are from an inactive family where the mom and dad are divorced.  They spend weekdays with dad and weekends with mom.  But through the missionaries, friends, and other family members the boys decided they wanted to be baptized.  Many old friends from an Asian ward they had initially attended traveled some distance to attend and participate. It was a very sweet event.  Afterwards two young Elders came over for dinner, which was excellent.  These two are our Zone Leaders and are really outstanding young men.  It was nice to get to know them better.  Then we had a bell practice with them.  The two of them, Lezlie and I, and the two sisters assigned to our ward are going to do a bell choir song for the Quantico Ward Christmas party.  It was great fun practicing.  The Elders had a great time and were laughing the whole time.  We are thankful for the opportunities we have here to share our talents and enjoy the talents of others.

The highlight of church today was Dan getting to bless the baby Cooper.  The 6 week old baby was almost 100% cooperative, and the spirit was felt strongly.  The blessing felt very good.  During it the mom and dad cried.  At the very end, maybe the last 30 seconds, the baby started getting fussy and you could hear him winding up to really holler.  But the Bishop started stroking his head and he held off.  What a good baby.  It was a wonderful experience and Dan felt honored and humbled to be asked to perform such a sacred ordinance for our friends. We are thankful for the Priesthood and the opportunities we have had to serve and to bring others closer to our Savior, Jesus Christ.

If you are reading this blog, we are thankful for the influence you have been in our life, and the interest that you take in us. Thanks.  We love you and miss you.