Sunday, December 28, 2014

Aaron's Visit

We worked a couple of shifts at the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society this past week.  A lot of the regular volunteers were out of town or had family visiting, so we filled in the gaps.  We helped several marines that had last minute money crises just before the holidays.  As usual we were happy that we could help them.  We feel grateful that we have had the opportunity to volunteer at NMCRS.
Tuesday was our all-mission Christmas conference/party, and it was wonderful.  Early in the morning we transported 4 elders to Richmond for the party.  All 280 missionaries from the entire mission were there, and it was a sight to see (2 photos).  To watch all of these dedicated young people sitting together and knowing how hard they work, how much sacrifice they have made, and how hard they are trying to be good people - well, it was just overwhelming.  Our program followed a set pattern.  Someone would give a short talk about one of the attributes of Christ, such as patience, charity, diligence, faith, hope, etc.  And then there would be 1 or 2 special musical numbers.  The talks and the music were both superb.  I told Lezlie that some of these talks could have been give at General Conference and they would have fit in seamlessly.  Most of the musical numbers were simply amazing.  We were in awe of the talent in our little mission.  Of course there were several beautiful singers, some solos and some numbers with duets or ensembles.  I had two favorites.  One was the sister that sang "Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel."  Her voice was like a controlled opera singer, and she conveyed great emotion.  Another was a sister that sang a very interesting arrangement of "Silent Night."  Her voice was like crystal, pure and clear.  Her testimony was obvious as she sang with great emotion and tenderness.  We also had some superb elders that played instruments - a wonderful rendition of "Silent Night" on the violin, "Emmanuel" again on the organ, and then a cello solo.  There were a couple of solos and ensembles that did not have stellar voices, but their testimony of the Savior and their emotion came across strongly.  After two hours we broke for lunch.  A group of women and young people had prepared lunch for all 280 of us, and it was excellent (see pictures).  We had excellent ham, cheesy potatoes, rolls, salad, and pumpkin pie.  Afterwards we sang "Called to Serve" to the servers as a thank you.  While we were on our lunch break a couple of humorous numbers were performed.  The best one was when a very large Tongan elder played the ukulele.  His companion, who was about one-third of his size, did a very funny rap poking fun at the mission president.  The whole audience was just roaring.  It was good to see these hard working young people having fun.  Following our afternoon session we gathered in the gym one final time.  A group photo was taken, and you can imagine how long that took.  Getting 260 young people and 20 old folks lined up was not easy.  Then the mission president and his wife gave each of us a small bag of goodies for Christmas.  Also, one of the sister's family own a company called Fatboy Ice Cream.  They had sent several cases of ice cream bars on dry ice so that we could each have one.  What a special treat!  Although it was a long drive home after the party, Lezlie and all of the elders slept, we were very happy that we got to attend such a spiritual and fun Christmas conference.  It was nice to spend a day totally focused on Jesus Christ rather than on the other trappings of Christmas.  We spent the few hours left in the day making final preparations for Aaron's visit.  We are very, very excited about that. 

After working at NMCRS on Christmas eve we met a brand new Navy family that just arrived on base Saturday.  He is a lawyer – the Navy provides all the lawyers for the marines.  It was a very nice family.  She is a Samoan and their sons have cool names like Kiumana and Tao.  But it was also a sad visit.  This dear sister has stage 4 cancer and is battling for her life.  You would never know it though.  She was cheerful and positive.  We were glad to meet her and offer our help in any way we can.  She had lots of family their visiting for the holidays, including her parents.  So she is in good hands.  Finally we got to travel to the airport in Washington DC and pick up Aaron.  We had almost no traffic and all went well meeting him.  We were so happy to see Aaron!  We probably talked way to much on the drive home but we were just very excited to see him.  Upon our arrival at home we gave him a tour of our apartment and had some excellent sloppy joes.  We opened a few Christmas presents and had a great time just visiting and catching up.  We got to skype in to Anne and Rex’s family Christmas Eve program, which was really fun. There were many excellent performances by all of the family.  We were so proud of all of them.

Merry Christmas!  We had an outstanding Christmas  morning.  Lezlie got up first thing and started mixing up the dough for the spudnuts for our young marine friend.  It is a complicated recipe so she was up early.  Our marine arrived just as the first spudnuts were being cooked.  He was very surprised and touched.  We could tell.  He told us many stories about his grandparents and what they did on Christmas Day, and about he and his cousins eating dozens of grandma’s spudnuts.  Shortly after he arrived two of our missionaries stopped by, the young elders from our ward.  We fed them a good Christmas brunch, and they also ate many spudnuts.  The elders gave us an excellent spiritual thought about the life of Jesus Christ and then they had to leave.  To our surprise our marine stayed for another hour and helped us finish our Christmas jigsaw puzzle.  He seemed to enjoy it very much.  But all too soon he had to leave.  We were so pleased the way the spudnut surprise went.  I think he really knows that we care about him and has come to trust us.  After we opened the rest of our gifts we took Aaron for a tour of the base.  We dropped plates of Christmas cookies off at two of the gates and the guards were very pleased.  We were able to show Aaron all over the base, which was very quiet since it was Christmas Day.  We also dropped off some toffee at one marine family home, so Aaron got to experience that part of our missionary work too.  While on the base we stopped by the Potomac River and saw lots of birds (photo below).  We did a lot of puzzling and game playing in the evening.  We also got to have an excellent group video chat with all of the family – Anne and Rex and their kids from Texas, Chris and Stacey from Colorado, and Carrie and Matt and their kids from Washington.  We really enjoyed that.  It was a quiet but very, very nice Christmas Day.   

Of course the day after Christmas was Lezlie’s birthday.  Happy Birthday Lezlie!  During breakfast she opened her birthday presents and enjoyed them very much.  Throughout the day she got many phone calls and happy birthday songs on the phone.  We spent most of the day at the Marine Corps Museum.  Aaron really enjoyed it.  He did not read quite as much as Rex, but he did take his time and read most of the signs.  We had a superb lunch at the Tun Tavern restaurant in the museum.  After a couple more hours of browsing in the museum we finally headed home and worked on our second jigsaw puzzle and played some more games.  For Lezlie’s birthday dinner we went to Bahama Breeze.  We had some really good seafood, and we all enjoyed it a lot.  It was a low key birthday for mom, but we had  a great time sharing it with Aaron.  Here we are at the Marine Corps museum.

On Saturday we had a leisurely morning at home getting ready to take Aaron to DC and to the Baltimore airport.  We found downtown DC more crowded than we had expected.  It was a beautiful sunny day for December so I guess that attracted a lot of visitors.  Here are Aaron and mom in front of the Museum of Natural History.  We really enjoyed both this museum and the American History museum.  We once again were very impressed by the gem collection, which Aaron really liked too.  He saw the dinosaurs and bones as well and thought they were excellent.   In the American History museum we took our time in the transportation section and the power machines area.  Those areas were very good as well.  I suppose everything in the Smithsonian Museums is done well.  Finally our time was up and we had to head for the Baltimore airport.  We had not been to that airport yet, and it is a nice one.   It was easy to get to and not too crowded.  We had enough time for a quick dinner together at the airport and then all too soon it was time for Aaron to leave.  We had a wonderful time with him, and we think he enjoyed it too.  We feel so fortunate that all of our children and grandchildren have come to visit us on our mission.  Not all senior missionaries can claim that.  In the future when we tell stories of the things that happened in Virginia on our mission they will have a much better understanding of what we are talking about.  We were so happy to have everyone visit.

Even though we were kind of tired from all the activities during Aaron’s visit we had a busy Sunday too.  A young LDS marine from Georgia showed up for embassy guard school on Friday.  The military relations senior missionaries from San Diego told us about him.  We contacted him about 3 weeks ago and so we knew he was coming.  We took him to church today, but not to our ward.  The embassy guard school is on the west side of the base, so it is much closer for him to go to a ward in Stafford.  Besides that we are going to start an OCS class in a couple of weeks and we would not be able to give him a ride.  He was a very nice young man and made a lot of friends at the ward very quickly.  We have learned that the embassy guard school is very competitive and only excellent marines get selected to attend.  This young man was no exception.  He was bright and well spoken, and we really enjoyed him.  After a short rest at home we attended one last Festival of Lights concert at the temple.  We took along our friend Will.  We got to hear a big band that was outstanding.  I just love big band music.  They did several jazzy Christmas selections as well as some standard big band songs.  We all really enjoyed it. As a bonus, we ran into the Colsons, old neighbors from Richland, Washington who are serving a mission in Washington DC. it was good to see them.  We had a nice time visiting with Will in the car as well.   It will be our last trip to the Festival of Lights.  We sure have enjoyed that program at the temple.  The beautiful lights, wonderful music, and friendly crowds of people really have been a special Christmas treat.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas to All

Last Sunday I got to teach a lesson in High Priests group and talk about being a senior missionary.  I just opened the floor for questions about senior missions, and was flooded with questions.  They asked all about the application process, the rules for senior missionaries, the costs, the training at the MTC, and on and on.  It was good interaction and I could tell many of them are seriously interested.  After a short rest at home we picked up two of our marines and one new member.  We took them to the Washington DC temple for a Festival of Lights concert.  It was still daylight on the way to the temple, so Lezlie pulled out the bells and we had some ringing Christmas carols in the car.  Those bells are loud in the confined spaces of the car!  The Christmas lights and displays are always beautiful at the temple and our guests seemed to enjoy everything.  The concert was given by Jenny Oaks Baker, a violinist with a small backup orchestra.  I am in no way a big violin fan, but she is just fantastic.  She played several Christmas songs that were just superb.  We were close enough to the front to see her facial expressions and her movements, and it is obvious she feels the music deeply.  A highlight was a number by her four children.  Their ages are 7 – 13 and they played violin, cello, piano and guitar.  They were excellent too.  I can only imagine the amount of music practice that goes on in that household. One of my favorites was Amazing Grace.  She explained that although it was not really a Christmas carol that it expressed her testimony of Jesus Christ.  When she played we surely could feel the spirit there.  Our entire group really enjoyed the concert.  We took food in the car and everyone enjoyed chatting about the show and eating on the way home.  It was a delightful evening, and we are so glad we could take some guests.  Our two young marines are from small towns in Utah and they said they had never been to a big concert like this before.  It was so humbling to be able to take them.  We got a couple of nice pictures of the temple, one just as the sun was going down and another with all the lights.

We had a great lunch with one of our single marines on Monday.  This is the young man that had three serious surgeries.  He has just recovered enough from his final surgery to enjoy going out for lunch.  We had a nice time, and were delighted that this young man feels so much more at ease with us now.   He works on the President’s helicopters and told us he was going to arrange a tour for us.  We were overwhelmed.  That would be so cool.  To see how far we have come with this young man who would barely talk to us when we met him a year ago is simply amazing.  It is through no skill of our own, but rather the promptings of the spirit guiding us in what we should do to help this young man.  An added tender mercy of the day was really the icing on the cake.  We ate at Panera Bread and each ordered soup and sandwiches.  The bill was about $30.  The cashier that was ringing us up was a trainee and the manager was helping her.  At the end of the transaction he stepped up the register and started punching in some keys. We thought he was just helping the trainee.  But then he handed me a receipt and said, “Thank you for your service Elder, you are good to go.”  I looked at the bill and it showed a zero balance.  He smiled and said, “I am a church member.  Thanks for taking care of some of Heavenly Father’s children.”  I explained that the young man was a marine that was under our stewardship and he said that is what he had guessed.  I thanked him profusely.  What a blessing to be recognized by someone and thanked.  His words meant as much as the $30 donation.  We were so touched.  It is so true that we receive many extra blessings as missionaries.
In a followup story to our lunch with our bachelor marine, one of the things Lezlie asked him is what he would miss about not being home for Christmas.  He said that every year his grandma made spudnuts and homemade root beer at Christmas and he would really miss that.  You could just see his whole countenance light up as he talked about this tradition with his grandparents.  When we got into the car Lezlie said that she had a revelation that she was supposed to find his grandma, get the recipe for the spudnuts, and make some for this young man for Christmas.  We knew that one set of senior missionaries was from the same town as this young marine’s grandparents and we knew their last name was Bauer.  But we knew this was the last day of their mission!  We called them anyway and reached them somewhere in West Virginia, as they had already begun their trip home.  They said they knew a family by the name of Bauer and got us the phone number.  Lezlie called these Bauers.  They said they were not related but they thought they knew of the right Bauer family.  Lezlie called them and it was the uncle of our Bauer!  He gave us the grandma’s phone number.  So with about 3 phone calls we found the grandma!  Lezlie had a nice conversation with her and told her how fondly her grandson spoke about her.  She said that our marine was her oldest grandchild and that she had always felt close to him.  She said he has had a hard life and she worried about him.  She also told Lezlie that she was currently battling cancer but had not told our marine because she knew he was going through serious medical issues himself.  She said she was doing okay but that the chemo treatments made her very weak.  This was going to be the first Christmas that she was not able to make spudnuts for her grandchildren. Lezlie told her not to worry, that she would make spudnuts for her grandson.  Lezlie and she both cried.  So, she is sending us the recipe today and we will make the spudnuts, buy some fancy root beer, and give them to our young marine on Christmas Day.  He is coming to our apartment for a Christmas brunch.

We had a wonderful end of the year family home evening with our The Basic School group.  They will all have two weeks off, so we will not meet again until January. We went all out on treats.  You can see the evidence in the below photo. Lezlie made toffee, pistachio pudding desert, and chocolate mint brownies.  They looked beautiful all laid out on the table.  We were a little sad this night because we knew it would be the last time we saw our gal from Moldova.  She is leaving for California to finally join her husband at his marine base. We are happy about that.  Anyway, we had a great lesson about gifts we can give, and talked about non-material gifts we can give to others – patience, love, understanding, forgiveness, joy, friendship, and on and on.  There was a great spirit at the meeting and we all enjoyed it so much.  We then did several carols with the bells, which they loved.  One of our gals is a percussionist and she brought several items for us to use with the bells – tambourines, shakers, rattles, etc.  We had so much fun!  All of them were laughing and joking.  Then as we were ending up the meeting our gal from Maldova stood up and said, “We all wanted to thank you for your great service to us so we got you a small gift.”  They gave us a beautiful snow globe.  It shows a book inside and on the book is a beautiful poem about friendship.  They also had it inscribed with, “TBS Family Home Evening, 2013 – 2015, Matthew 25:35.”   This is what the scripture says.  For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.  On top of that they gave us a beautiful framed picture with 4 of our long term family home evening attendees at the temple.  They had gone to the Festival of Lights together and arranged things so they could get the picture taken.  Needless to say we were quite overwhelmed and many tears were shed.  We feel so overwhelmed with gratitude just to associate with these young people, and to have them give us a gift was very humbling.  We feel like we have done some good with these folks.  Here is a picture of the kitchen after the treats were prepared and then one of how they looked on the table at TBS.

Our main activity today, Wednesday, was attending the chaplains briefing for the new The Basic School class.  The chaplains briefing is where all of the religious lay leaders get to introduce themselves, including us.  This class consists largely of the group that just graduated from Officer Candidate School in November.  We had a large group of visitors that attended out family home evenings at OCS.  So today we had about a dozen of them come up and say hello and thank us for our service to them at OCS.  Once again we felt totally humbled by their words.  We feel like we get so much out of this work that we should be thanking them for letting us be a part of their lives for their short time at Quantico.  It was just delightful to see them again and we simply felt overwhelming love for these good young folks.   

Our Thursday began with a long shift at Navy Marine Corps Relief Society.  We have been crazy busy there the last few weeks and today was no exception.  On an average day I might do 1 or 2 budgets.  Today I did four.  I was running and hustling the whole time.  But it is good to help these young marine families.  We always love our work at NMCRS.  I also finished a project for the NMCRS office.  The front door of our office trailer does not face the parking lot and we did not have a sign on the parking lot side of the trailer.  Some folks had trouble finding us.  So I made a sign to put up on the parking lot side of the trailer.  It was not complicated, just a plastic logo sign on a white board. But it was fun to do a little project with my hand tools.  It turned out well.   We were schedule to take two young people to the Washington DC temple to attend one of the Christmas concerts.  But one of them cancelled out and the other was late.  By then traffic was so heavy we were not going to make it in time for the concert.  Instead we took the young marine out to dinner.  He wanted to go to a fancy sub shop that he knew.  We were not thrilled to go out for submarine sandwiches as we eat at Subway once or twice a week.  But that is what he wanted so we went there.  It was an excellent sub shop and we did enjoy the food.  But even more important than that,  our young marine loved it.  He liked the food but he was also happy to introduce us to a new restaurant and tell us all about it.  He used to go to this chain of sub shops back home in Chicago with his dad, so it was nostalgic for him too.  So even though the concert did not work out we had a good time with our marine friend. 
On Friday we did a lot of Christmas preparations.   We are so excited that Aaron is coming to visit for Christmas.  We have been trying to make extra special preparations to make sure we have good activities and good food.  We would also like him to experience a little of what we do on our mission.   We also got to deliver four more sets of Christmas goodies.  We were especially happy to find one of our bachelor marines working on the front gate so we delivered his treats there.  His coworker was pretty happy too.  We also caught up with another hard-to-catch bachelor at this barracks, which made us happy.  That leaves one family among all of our marines that we have left for a Christmas delivery.  We are hoping to catch them Sunday evening. 

On Saturday we attended our Senior Missionary Christmas party.   It was held at the mission home in Richmond.  This is where the Mission President and his wife live.  The other senior missionaries here, the Andersons, rode with us.   We love the Andersons and are so sad that they are leaving in mid January.  We have been to the mission home a couple of times but had never before seen the entire house.  They gave us a tour this time.  In the basement are enough beds for 12 young elders.  Upstairs there were enough beds for 10 young sisters. The first and last nights on their mission are spent at the mission home.  It is a beautiful big home and we enjoyed being there.  They had lovely Christmas decorations including two trees.  For dinner they served us ham, scalloped potatoes, broccoli and rolls, and then a delicious trifle for desert.  Then we sang some carols and had a short Christmas message from President Wilson.  Finally we did a white elephant gift exchange that was great fun.  Lezlie and I ended up with a jigsaw puzzle and a scarf.   It is always inspiring and strengthening to be with the other senior missionaries.  They are a bunch of competent, friendly, and dedicated folks, and we feel it an honor to be a part of the group. Here is a picture that was taken at the party.  

Our Sunday sacrament service was excellent.  We had lots of music including the choir and a special piano, violin duet, all excellent.  Each of the members of the bishopric gave a short Christmas talk.  Everyone was dressed in their best Christmas clothes, so there was a lot of red and green sprinkling the pews.  We helped a young marine with his children in primary for the 2nd hour and were about to walk out to go to our 3rd hour classes.  A member of the bishopric grabbed us and asked us to teach the 4 year olds as their teachere was absent.  So with no prior notice we made up a lesson for four 4 year olds.  Lezlie made up some questions about Christmas and we asked what gift they would give to Jesus for Christmas.  We had them make some small ornaments and them Lezlie drew a large stable on the blackboard.  The children drew in all of the nativity people and things.  It went well and we enjoyed being with the kids.  We made our final Christmas goodies deliveries Sunday evening. We had one new marine that we just met last week.  He and his wife of six months are here for The Basic School.  We got to meet her and their sweet little dog.  It was a nice visit.

We wish all of you, our family and friends, a wonderful Christmas full of joy and peace.  We also wish you a most Happy New Year.  We hope to see all of you in 2015.  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Happy Early December

We learned this week that Aaron is coming for Christmas!  We are so excited!!!  He will be here just a short time, but it will be wonderful to see him and show him a little bit of what our life is like here.  We are happy, happy, happy.  He will arrive on Christmas Eve.

We had a couple of long shifts at the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society over the past few weeks.  I had two long and complex cases, a couple of the toughest ones I have ever experienced.  But we got through it and I was able to get funds approved for both marines who needed the money badly.  One case was en especially touching one.  A young marine had recently gained custody of his two children – his wife has essentially just run out on him.  He was struggling to make everything work, but is has been very hard on him.  We were able to figure out how to get his some money to help him out for a couple of months.  He got big tears in his eyes when I handed him a check for $2300 for rent and child care, and I got quite choked up too.  It was a true joy to be able to help him.  We also had our NMCRS Christmas Party this week, which was enjoyable.  We have come to love and appreciate our fellow volunteers, all of whom willingly give of their time to help out the marines.  They are a great group of people.  We will miss working with them when we leave.  At the gift exchange Lezlie got a hand knitted scarf from our director, which will be a special keepsake.  I got a DVD of the Wizard of Oz! I love that movie.   Hooyah!

We were able to attend the Washington DC festival of lights recently.  This is the festival at the Washington DC temple in December.  For the entire month the grounds are lit with millions of lights.  The visitor’s center, which has a large auditorium, has wonderful concerts every night.  They also have many international manger scenes that have been loaned by embassies in Washington DC. We took two of our The Basic School family home evening sisters.  It happened to be the opening night of the Festival of Lights.  We got to see the beautiful lights, tour the visitor’s center, and look at all the international manger scenes.  The concert for the evening was the Mt Vernon Bell Choir and they put on an excellent concert.  Our favorite part was when they had a sing along.  Singing Silent Night with bells was beautiful. This is our friend from Moldova at the temple and then a shot of the wonderful Christmas lights at the temple.

We had a lovely getaway one day for a few hours.  We noted that our annual passes for Mt Vernon were expiring soon.  Our friends the Andersons, the other senior couple here, had told us they would like to visit Mt Vernon one day.  So we invited them to go one Friday morning and we had a most enjoyable visit.  We got there just as the grounds opened and had a good tour of the mansion.  The museum and art gallery are always excellent, and we took our time today and really got into reading all the information and watching all the videos.  We had a delicious lunch at Mt Vernon Inn, a restaurant we have come to appreciate very much.  We got some photos by the beautifully decorated Christmas Trees.  It was a fun morning with the Andersons, whom we have come to love and be grateful for.   We will be sad when they leave in mid January.  We spent time at home working on Christmas gifts after that.  It got cold in the afternoon so we were glad to stay in.  This is us and George in front of one of his many Christmas trees.

We had a superb activity on the afternoon of Sunday Dec 7.  We  drove to Annapolis for a mid-afternoon performance of the Messiah by the Naval Academy Men and Women’s Glee Clubs.  It was spectacular for many reasons.  We almost did not go because at church I pulled my back.  It was the strangest thing.  I was just sitting in class and I crossed my legs.  As I lifted up my left leg something just sort of popped in my back and a huge pain shot across my lower back.  We got home about 12:30 and knew we needed to leave for Annapolis by 1:15.  So Lezlie gave me some excellent back first aid and I took some Aleve.  After laying flat on my back for half an hour I decided to go for it.  Lezlie drove and we found a very convenient parking spot near the chapel.  The first reason it was so spectacular to attend this concert were the decorations.  There were beautiful greenery, trees and lights in the chapel and it was very festive.  The second reason we loved it was the spectacular music.  The orchestra, soloists, and the chorus did a superb job, and of course we love the music of the Messiah so much.  It was wonderful to hear.  For me, though, there was much more.  I sang in the Messiah every year I was at the Academy, and it brought back many fond memories - memories of hard practices trying to learn all the difficult music of the Messiah; of flirting with the girls from Hood College that combined with us for the Messiah; of being filled with joy in singing that music; of thoroughly enjoying the short respite from the hard work of being a midshipman; and of performing for a packed crowd and being proud of how our hard work paid off.  Singing with the Glee Club at the Academy is what gave me my peace and my relief from stress.   I do not think I could have made it without the music.  So anything related to music at the Academy is very, very nostalgic to me.  After returning home from Annapolis we also enjoyed the First Presidency Christmas Devotional.  Fortunately after a couple of days of taking it easy my back was fine. Above is me being happy at the Messiah and below is the midshipman chorus.

 Early in the week we headed for Stafford and had several nice visits.  We delivered Christmas cookies and a message to four marine families.  We told a couple of them, the ones that live the farthest away and that need us the least, that this was likely our last visit.  It was emotional saying goodbye to these folks as we built up a lot of history with them.  One mom especially.  We helped her out a lot when her husband was away at school and we spent a lot of time at her house helping her with chores and entertaining her children.  But we had good visits with all.  We then got to attend a very special Marine ceremony.  In the building where we meet at The Basic School is a small chapel  that we have used it occasionally.  It is named the Capodonna Chapel after a Navy Chaplain who worked with marines.  He received the Medal of Honor after he was killed in combat in Viet Nam.  He died while ministering to marines and trying to shield them from hostile fire.  His family recently donated his actual Medal of Honor and Presidential Certificate to the chapel.  So they had a dedication ceremony.  It was quite nice, with some excellent speeches, good music, and the playing of taps.  This was an invitation only ceremony, so we felt honored to be there.  After a quick dinner at our favorite, Bob Evans, we held our TBS family home evening.  We had a fun lesson about receiving gifts during which we gave all of the group small gifts.  Then we brought out the bells and played Christmas carols.   We were a little worried that they might think the bells were silly, but they really got into it.  They picked up on how to read the music quickly and did a wonderful job on some carols and on the Marines Hymn.  They were laughing and teasing each other the whole time.  We promised we would bring them again next time.  Here is our small TBS FHE group playing the bells, two marines, a marine wife, and a friend. 

Our Friday morning was quite busy with baking some more and preparing plates of Christmas goodies to deliver to our marines.  We also attach a nice Christmas greeting to each plate and provide manger scene stickers or scratch board ornaments for all of the children and of course dog biscuits for all of the dogs on our route .  After loading up about ten plates of cookies, brownies and toffee we headed for the base.  Our first appointment was to take a marine out to lunch.  He is married, but his wife and daughter had traveled home to see her family.  So he was home alone this week.  He was sad because his wife is gone and because he is dealing with several injuries.  The marines are deciding whether or not to discharge him.  So we just let him talk and unburden himself.  After lunch we visited several additional marine families in Stafford, which is even further away than the base.  We had some really nice visits, some of which will likely be our last for these families that are far away.  After our Stafford visits we also stopped to see 6 families on base.  It was really good to see all of them, and fun to wish them Merry Christmas.  Even though we made multiple deliveries we still have several more ahead of us.  So we baked and baked some more in the evening.  Nice Christmas music does make the baking easier.

We had a successful Saturday morning and afternoon of more visits and deliveries of Christmas goodies.  It was great fun, and we saw almost everybody we had hoped to see.  It is so enjoyable to see the decorations at their homes, hear of their Christmas plans, and feel the excitement of their children.  We were able to visit six families today, which means our list is getting smaller.  We have just a few more families to visit.  Then we will be focusing on getting ready for Aaron’s visit.   We are very excited about that!  Delivering goodies and saying Merry Christmas may not seem like much.  But it helps these families, many of whom very seldom come to church, that someone in the ward knows about them and cares about them.  We call it our cookie ministry!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Billings' Thanksgiving Visit

Our Saturday began with a long drive to Tappahannock, Virginia.  There we attended a senior missionary activity.  It was great fun.  We always love to be around the other seniors and to be inspired by the stories of their work.  Each senior couple shared a short spiritual thought, and they were all very inspiring and strengthening. Then we headed south to meet our daughter Anne and Rex, Leah, Alex, Brenna, Eli and Zach on their drive to our home.  It was great fun because we surprised the children.  We parked at a McDonalds and texted Anne our exact location.   Then Anne and Rex just drove into the parking lot next to us.  The grandkids  were so surprised! Then we got to drive back home with them and have a nice visit in the car.  Even though it was late everyone talked all the way home because we were all excited to see each other.  We had a quick tour of the apartment – it doesn’t take long for a 2 bedroom place – and figured out how to bed everyone down in our small home.  It was tight but we worked it all out.  And the apartment was alive with the sound of happy children.

On Sunday we got to take all of the Billings to our ward here, the Quantico Ward.  Things were made a bit tricky by a flat tire on their van that we discovered as we were loading up for church.  But we made two trips, got everyone to church, and things worked out fine.  It was so nice to have them meet some of the folks we have told them about.  Everyone was very nice to all the Billings.  Each one of the kids had a good time at Nursery/Primary/Young Womens.   After a quick lunch at home most of us drove to Manassas.  Lezlie stayed home with Zach, partially because he was sound asleep taking a nap but also becaus we only had one van.  Everyone enjoyed walking around the beautiful fields at Manassas.  But they were also respectful in that they knew it was a battleground.  We saw a movie and read all about the two Civil War battles that took place at Manassas.  Alex and Rex read every single historical sign.  It was great for eveyone to learn about history and see some of the background of the Civil War.  In the evening we had a pumpkin bread baking frenzy.  Lezlie and Anne, with the help of Leah, Alex, Brenna, Eli and Zach, made about 40 loaves of pumpkin bread, wrapped them in saran wrap, tied a ribbon around each, and added a Thanksgiving spiritual message to every one.  It was quite a production.  They did a great job. Here are the grandkids helping with the bread.  

Monday morning could have been a disaster. But it was not.  Actually things worked out quite well.  We were able to pick up the Billings’ repaired van tire at 7am and get it onto the car by about 7:45am.  Rex had a dental issue that was troubling him, so we walked into the dentist that Lezlie and I go to at 8am when it opened.  They welcomed Rex as if he were an established patient and told him they could see him within the hour.  By 9:15am Rex’s dental issue was fixed and shortly thereafter we were headed for our visit to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.  It was a gorgeous day for late November, up in the 60s.  We had a wonderful visit.  Rex loved the history, the grandkids loved all the statues and monuments, and Anne loved hearing my stories of being a midshipman.  We saw the chapel, museum, Bancroft Hall, the midshipman store, the midshipmen's noon meal formation, the dining hall, and the 7th wing where I lived for 3 years.  It was a great visit, and I was proud and happy to show off my alma mater to family members.   Who knows, maybe someday one of the grandkids will go there.  All of them have seen USNA now.  The pictures are Zach inside a cannon, the grandkids at the Class of 73 bench, and us watching the midshipmen at noon meal formation. After an unbelievably quick drive home through Wash DC traffic we went to a nearby seafood restaurant located on the Potomac River.  Everyone got to try some local crab and everyone seemed to enjoy it.  We had to do an urgent missionary visit after that.  A dog who belonged to one of our dear friends at the Quantico Ward died in the morning.  This man lives alone and his dog had been with him almost 14 years.  So we really wanted to go see him and provide some comfort since we understood what he was going through because of our dog background.  So the Billings family went home and we went for a visit.  He cried in our arms as he talked about his sweet little dog.  It was kind of a sad ending to an otherwise joyful day. He will get lots of support and comfort from the ward, though, and we know he will be okay eventually.  When we returned home we had a Family home evening with our family about teamwork.  We then used teamwork to make trail mix to take with us on our future excursions.

We were lucky that an Officer Candidate School (OCS) graduation parade took place while Anne’s family was here.  We loaded up early Tuesday morning and arrived at the base just before the parade started.  All of the grandkids were impressed by the marching marines, the excellent band, and the loud cannons.  It was quite a spectacle for them.  After the parade we got to greet several of the marines that we had befriended at our weekly services, and it was such a joy to see them on this important day in their lives.  We got several hugs and many thank yous, which all helped Anne and Rex get a better understanding of what we do here.  Next we toured the Marine Corps Museum, and everyone really loved it.  It was great to see the grandkids learning so much about our country’s history and about the marines.  It just so happened that we were still there when the OCS commissioning ceremony took place.  So we all got to hear the new 2nd Lieutenants from OCS sing the Marine Hymn.  It was very cool.  Next we traveled back onto the base and showed the family our Navy Marine Corps Relief Society offices, which is where we spend a lot of time volunteering.  It was fun to show them where we work and introduce them to our friends there.  Then we split up into two groups and delivered about 30 loaves of pumpkin bread with a Thanksgiving spiritual message to almost all of our marine families.  The kids really enjoyed it especially since they had helped prepare the loaves of bread.  It gave them a small insight into one of the things we do here on our mission.  We ended the night with our TBS family home evening.  It was a small group but it went well.  We had a lesson on gratitude and the kids helped by holding up pictures about the lesson and reading scriptures that were written on the back.  Since Zach can’t read we had him hold up a picture of Marine Captain Herrera, an injured marine whom we discussed in the lesson.  Zach was just supposed to say, “This is Captain Herrera.”  But Zach likes to pretend he is reading.  When he heard the other kids read scriptures he pretended like he was reading scriptures.  So he said, “Behold Captain Herrera….”  and then made up some words that sounded like scriptures to him. He stopped and started about 5 times, and each time he would say, “Behold Captain Herrera.”  It was quite funny and cute in a very innocent way.  The kids seemed to enjoy the family home evening, and it also helped all of the Billings see a little bit of what we do here.  It was a long, tiring day, but it was also a wonderful day.  These photos show us greeting some of our marines at the OCS graduation parade.

We had planned to go to Washington DC today, Wednesday, and Mt Vernon on Thanksgiving Day.  But the weather forecast called for rain, snow, and cold wind.  So at the last minute we switched our plans and went to Mt Vernon instead.  We were lucky to be able to do so because we had tickets for Mt Vernon as well as things in DC.  But we successfully switched everything around.  It worked out really well.  The bad weather kept the crowds small at Mt Vernon.  We did not have to spend too much time outside, and luckily there was a lull in the rain when we were out.  And we spent a long time in the excellent museum.  The grandkids had a ball at the there with the many videos and hands on exhibits.  It turned out really well and we were so glad we could visit George Washington’s home.  Even though the restaurant there, the Mt Vernon Inn, was supposedly full we were able to get a table for lunch.  We had a great meal and fun time there too (see picture).  To start the holiday season we watched Elf that night after we got home from Mt Vernon.  It was great!

Thanksgiving Day is an excellent day to tour Washington DC.  There was very little traffic and we found things quiet downtown.  We were able to park right near the mall and see even more things than planned.  We first found a parking spot near the Lincoln Monument and got to walk around it for a few minutes.  It is always spectacular.  We even got some picture without a bunch of other people in the background. We then had a great drive around the National Mall so that we could see most of the monuments and famous building.  While Rex and I parked the cars everyone else got to tour the National Art Gallery, which they enjoyed.  Next we saw the National Museum of Natural History.  Everyone’s favorite area was the gem stones.  We loved the diamonds, rubies and gold.  And the ladies and girls really loved the fantastic jewelry.  After a good lunch at the museum cafeteria we went on to the National Museum of American History.  Our favorite exhibit there was the original Star Spangled Banner.  Eli, our 6 year old grandson who loves patriotic songs, sang the Star Spangled Banner while looking at the flag.  It was very touching.  We also enjoyed the Presidents exhibit, especially the first lady’s dresses and the president’s timeline.  We finally made our way across the mall to the Washington Monument.  Anne had reserved tickets for us, and we got to step onto the elevator almost immediately after we arrived.  It was spectacular.  We had a clear day to see the view, and we really enjoyed it.  We could see from the Reagan Airport to the Capital Building and way out into the Potomac River.  We finally made the long trek back to the car, detouring right past the White House for a good view of that.  We had an easy drive home with almost no traffic.  We then enjoyed a turkey breast we had cooked all day in the crock pot.  Rex was even able to stream the Seahawks football game, so we wound down the night watching a little football.  It was a long and tiring day, but boy was it fun. 

For the last day of Billings’ visit we toured Colonial Williamsburg.  Even though we had a mini-crisis because I forgot the tickets, we got it all straightened out and had an impressive tour of Williamsburg.   Some of the grandkids’ favorites were the blacksmith, the tailor, the jewelry maker, and the gun smith.  They really enjoyed asking the historical actors questions.  We had an excellent lunch at one of the old time inns, and some got to tour the Governors Palace.  The kids got to try out some colonial era games too.  Although it was a bit cold, we did have a clear and dry day.  We all really enjoyed Williamsburg and learned a lot about colonial times.  We all spent the night in a hotel nearby and had a nice evening just relaxing in our hotel rooms. 

After a quick breakfast Saturday morning and lots of packing up the Billings headed south for Houston and we headed  north for Woodbridge.  It was sad to say goodbye, but we have much missionary work yet to do in our remaining three months.  So after a long, quiet drive home we spent time putting things away and regrouping to get ready for our weeks’ activities.  The apartment seemed sadly quiet after having two extra adults and four energetic children here all week.  It was a wonderful, wonderful visit.  We are so grateful to Anne, Rex, Leah, Alex, Brenna, Eli and Zach for all the energy, time and resources they spent to come here and visit us.  We loved every minute of it!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Happy Veterans Day

Besides a good checkup at the dentist this Monday we had a wonderful family home evening with a marine family.  We developed a new Power Point lesson on Teamwork.  It went very well and the children behaved nicely.  They enjoyed it too.  For a teamwork activity we took our bells and had the family play several songs, which they greatly enjoyed.  For a teamwork snack we gave each family member a small paper bag of some sort of trail mix food.  Then each of them dumped their bag into a large bowl, we shook it up, and then we had trail mix.  That was great fun too.  This was a very active church family and it was such a nice time being welcomed into the home, the family participating fully, and having such a warm and peaceful setting for our lesson.  Being with this family made us realize how long we have been here.  We recall one of our first visits with them and she was pregnant.  Now their little boy is over one and is almost a toddler rather than a baby.  He was a joy to watch. So we had a wonderful time and felt like the family home evening was successful.
Our Tuesday morning was filled with zone training.  Half of our zone, about twenty elders and sisters, got together for some small group training with the Mission President and his wife.  It went well and there were some good training lessons.  After taking some elders to lunch we dashed down to the base.  We had developed a short spiritual message appropriate for Veterans Day.  We decided no treats this time since we just did Halloween treats and will soon do Thanksgiving ones.  So we just taped our message on the front door of each of our marine families.  We stopped at twenty front doors.  That was fun.  In between times we also texted about a dozen of our past marines that are all over the country now.   Finally we visited the home of a less active marine family and provided our teamwork family home evening.  It went very well, even beyond what we had hoped for.  They loved playing the bells and kept asking to do just one more song.  They really enjoyed making the trail mix and eating it.  As we were getting ready to leave their five year old girl said, “When are you going to come back?”  We just laughed, but the dad said we have to come back again next month for another FHE.  We were so pleased about how well this visit went.  We just love this family and want them to experience all of the blessings available to them if they just get back into coming to church. 

We spent much of Wed morning day baking.  Lezlie made several dozen of her no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookies and I baked a double batch of snicker doodles.  We are glad we did extra baking because we had 29 at our Officer Candidate School family home evening.  There were widely varying emotions tonight.  About half of the students were elated and smiling because they have 12 days left and they know they will make it.  Many other were very concerned because they have to appear before a review board because of poor academics or leadership.  At the board the OCS Commanding Officer will decide whether they stay or are dropped.  If they are dropped they get them out of there very quickly and within hours they are headed home.  So we tried to offer a lot of encouragement and good wishes.  We had an excellent lesson by Lezlie on obedience and it went very well.  In this lesson she uses pictures of the candidates that she gets off of the OCS website.  The Marines always love to see themselves up on the screen.  As we have said before we have only 2 church members that attend our mid-week family home evenings.  Tonight I had about ten of the non-members thank us for our services.  They said things like "we love coming here on Wednesday nights”, “thank you for your lessons that were very helpful to us”, “we appreciate all of the wonderful food you provided”, “thanks for your encouragement,"  and so on.   It is overwhelming to us that we can be a part of this pivotal period in their lives.  We do not feel like we are doing anything extraordinary.  We are just trying to look after these young people like we would want our own children looked after in a similar situation.  We learned a lesson about turning things over to Heavenly Father tonight.  We checked the traffic conditions online as usual, and the map said it would take us 30 minutes to get to the base.  We added some margin and left 45 minutes early.  The traffic was terrible and it took us an hour and 5 minutes to get there.  We thought that the group would all be there waiting for us and we were worried about getting everything set up quickly.  But it turns out they were about 5 minutes late so we had plenty of time to get our computer and projector set up and get all the refreshments ready.  This is the first time they have not been there early.  God knew we had made our best effort to get there on time and took care of the rest.  We need to have faith that when we make our best effort God will make sure everything works out.

Yesterday, Veterans Day, we sent messages and emails to many or our marines that have moved on from Quantico.  We wished them all a Happy Veterans Day and sent our best regards. We received some humbling responses that brought us great joy.  We are including some of these notes below.  We share them not to claim any credit, but just to let you know how wonderful it is to be a Senior Missionary and to be an important part of these young lives for a short period of time.  Here are a couple of the best notes.
Elder and Sister Couch,
I got your text today and just wanted to wish you a happy Veteran's day and thank you for your service in the military also. It's always inspiring for those of use who are currently serving to see the example of people like you who provide examples of both faithful gospel living and military service. 

I also realized I never thanked you for your gift at graduation, I've been using the book during my personal study and am enjoying it.  I also wanted to thank you for everything you did during my time at OCS and TBS, it was a huge support to me.  I don't know that you realize how much I appreciated seeing you that first time at OCS, knowing that I would have a connection to the Church was a huge support to me and I always looked forward to Church and FHE to break up the challenges of training and provide perspective as I was going through OCS.  I will always be grateful for the rest of my life that you two chose to serve a mission so that me and the other Marines like me would have that support during the challenging adjustment to life in the Marines.
I hope you're doing well and that the Marines at TBS and the candidates at OCS are doing well.  I've been good, I'm currently in Salt Lake City, working with the Officer Selection Team.  My MOS school starts in January in Camp Pendleton, so I'll be headed down there then.
Happy Veterans Day to you as well Brother Couch.  You and Sister Couch were our saviors on Mount Zion throughout USMC training.  Thank You. 

During our six hour Thursday shift at Navy Marine Corps Relief Society today Lezlie gave out $2000 to marines.  She was busy.  A lot of marines were happy when they left our office. 
We were able to take a marine wife out to lunch on Friday.  We took out our gal from Moldova out.  She has been struggling lately with decisions about her career, both civilian and in the Army Reserve.  So we had a long talk with her about making sure she stays close to God, prays about these issues, and seeks answers in the scriptures and in the Temple.  We just love this young lady and want her to find happiness in her situation, but there is not much we can do but be there for her and pray for her.  We also got to take out one of our bachelor marines for dinner.  This young man is the one that married his high school sweetheart and she divorced him 3 months later.  He was heartbroken and year ago when he told us about this.  But today he even made a joke about it, so he is healing.  He is an outstanding young man and we had a great time visiting with him.  Much to our surprise he bought dinner for us.  He just slipped his credit card up to the cashier when he rang up the bill and insisted on buying us dinner.  We were surprised and very grateful.  He said he appreciated our support and wanted to buy us a meal this time.  It was great fun to be with him. 

Another of our young bachelor marines has been struggling a bit lately.  He is a fairly new member of the church and is a great young man.  When he first moved here a senior marine sergeant took him under his wing and gave him a ride to church every week.  But then the sergeant moved away and our young man kind of got lost.  He had not been answering our calls or texts.  We stopped by his barracks on Veterans Day and left him a card thanking him for his service.  He contacted us and thanked us for the card so we invited him out to lunch.  He seemed happy to see us and talked about all sorts of things.  He also ate a large lunch that he really enjoyed.  We invited him to come to church with us and he said yes!  So we were very happy that we got to spend some time with this young man.  We also had another great experience.  We were able to visit our young bachelor marine that is having major surgery at the end of the week.  We also invited another young bachelor marine as well as his hometeacher.  We all met at  his barracks and we gave him a blessing.   He seemed to appreciate everyone stopping by and has a good attitude about getting through this last surgery.  It was a sweet visit and we were so glad everyone we invited showed up.  Finally we got to take two young Elders out to dinner.  They said they had been dreaming of some Mexican food so we took them to a nearby place and had an excellent dinner.  As usual it was very enjoyable to spend a little time with the Elders and get to know them a little better. 

Sunday was bitter sweet- most of our  candidates that thought they would be going home did get dropped. We really become attached to these fine young men and women, and they put so much into being here it is really heartbreaking to see them get hurt, and disappointed. We were excited to have 2 bachelor marines coming to church with us, but the active one got called into work, and the inactive one, just said he couldn't make it at the last minute. However, church was good, and there were some folks there we hadn't seen for a while, so all ended well. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Grateful to Be Here

We had a very gratifying experience on Monday morning.  One of our marine wives recently told us about a friend of hers that had been asking her some questions about the Mormon Church because her church had offered a class on Mormonism which  had some very interesting concepts which were very interesting, but very far from what we believe. The marine wife asked if we would talk to her because she was not sure how to answer all of her friend’s questions.  So we did.  We prepared as best we could and loaded up our bag with pamphlets, books, and our scriptures.  She turned out to be a very, very nice lady.  She was not hostile or confrontational at all, just curious.  She told us all sorts of outlandish things she had been taught in the class about Mormonism, and we helped to clarify what the real story is inside the church.   We were pleased that we were able to answer all of her questions and we realized how much we have learned on our mission.  She was anxious to hear our story of converting to the LDS church.  We gave her a Book of Mormon and some other things to read, and she said she would read them.  Although she was just  curious rather than interested in joining the church, we felt that we taught her truthfully and represented the Church well.  It was a very good experience and we had a very pleasurable discussion about religion in general .  We told her we would be glad to meet with her again if she wanted.  At least we know that she no longer believes we are a secretive, cultish people that worship Joseph Smith and do not allow anyone in our meetings. We also got to go out with our young female friend  from Richland that is here at the FBI Academy.  We ate at a Bahama Breeze restaurant, which was a new one for us.  It was great fun with excellent island music and delicious Caribbean food.  She just completed her FBI certification as a Forensic Scientist as a fingerprint specialist.  It is fascinating to hear from her how they do their work.   Her certification program was really long and hard, which is as it should be since the FBI is the best.  She is a great gal and we have really enjoyed getting to know her better here. 

We worked a long shift at Navy Marine Corps Relief Society this week.  It was an interesting day.  I had a case with a retired Navy woman like I have never had before.  She had numerous loans for thousands of dollars from NMCRS, and had recently defaulted on two loans.  Her story about her needs did not add up and she had no documents to prove it.  So I had to sit down with her one-on-one and tell her no.  She was very angry.  It was one of the worst cases I ever had.  But my main feeling for this young woman was sadness.  She blamed everyone else for her troubles but did not want to do the real work needed to help herself.  In contrast I had a very nice young male marine from Montana.  He did not want a loan but just wanted to work through a budget so that he could figure out how to save some money.  He was pleasant, respectful and grateful.  Quite a contrast from the lady I dealt with.   Today we got a copy of the performance statistics for our NMCRS office.  We are proud to be a part of this office and we think we did some good work over the past year.  So here is our data:  Total cases – 829, loans given - 609, grants given – 78, and total amount provided $498, 604.  We helped a lot of marines this year.  

We got to teach another Temple Preparation lesson to our friend from the ward.  He is always a joy to visit, and we had a nice time.  We will be excited to see him go to the temple.

On Thursday we attended a Zone Conference.  This is the zone meeting when our Mission President and his wife attend and give training.  This one was a little different because it involved two zones.  So instead of 40 missionaries we had about 80.  We had some very good training, especially from Sister Wilson who taught us to be happy in our work.  One of the Sisters that works in our ward sang a sweet version of I Believe in Christ.  It was pretty spectacular and the feeling of the spirit was obvious.  When she finished there was absolute silence.  President Wilson paused for a moment before he stood up to speak and it was a delicious moment.  The strength of the spirit was enormous.  Some women from one of the local wards prepared an excellent lunch for us – various soups, salad, rolls, and brownies with ice cream.  As is traditional we all stood in a semicircle around these sisters and sang Called to Serve to thank them.  It is pretty overwhelming to have 80 missionaries surrounding you and singing with zeal (see pics).  All of the ladies were crying as the missionaries sang.  It was pretty touching.  In the evening we fed dinner to our two elders in the Quantico Ward that are also our zone leaders.  We love these guys and really enjoyed feeding them and getting to know them better.  The senior companion has been here for six months so we know him well.  He has been here for dinner several times.  The other Elder is a new zone leader.  He is the black Elder from Louisiana that we have mentioned before.  He is a very bright and articulate young man and we have enjoyed being trained by him very much.  It is always a delight to feed the missionaries and we had a good time

Friday was Stake Temple day so we spent a long afternoon and evening at the Washington DC temple.  We traveled up to the temple with the other senior couple here in Woodbridge, the Andersons.  We have come to be good friends with them and love to spend time together.  We attended a nice temple endowment session and then had some time before a special stake meeting was to be held.  We had barely enough time to leave the temple to go out to eat, or we had plenty of time to go to the vending machine cafeteria in the basement.  We chose the latter.  Although it sounds bad, the vending machine cafeteria is pretty nice.  They have packaged dinners, pizzas and sandwiches with several microwaves.  The nice thing about eating there is that it gave us plenty of time to just sit and visit.  We greatly enjoyed getting to know the Andersons better.  They are interesting and accomplished folks.  He was an agriculture professor at BYU-I and she was a nurse.  I don’t know if we mentioned this before, but in one of those amazing coincidences we discovered that our daughter Carrie and their son Seth were on a program together in China about 10 years ago.  Carrie dug into her scrapbook and found this picture of them together in China (Seth is 2nd from the left and Carrie is on the right).  And to think that these many years later his folks and us are serving together as senior missionaries!  Pretty remarkable!  After our delightful chat with Andersons we attended a stake meeting held in a special assembly room on the top floor of the temple.  It was a beautiful room and we had some powerful speakers.  It was great to see so many people we knew from our ward at the meeting.  We finally journeyed home via a Wendy’s for some ice cream.  It was an excellent temple day. 
Our Saturday morning we attended a very pleasant baptism.  A sweet young girl, about 12, that has

Down ’s syndrome was baptized.  In cases like this the Bishop does a very careful interview to make sure the person is capable of understanding what they are doing and what they are accepting.  He did so in this case and determined that this girl was capable of understanding what she was doing.  She was very happy and smiley the whole time.  When she came up out of the water after the baptism she had a huge grin and let out the most joyful laughter possible.  Everyone was moved by it.  At the end of the service she bore a short but very sincere testimony that she was happy to follow Jesus.  Every baptism is good, but this one was very special.  After that we traveled to Mt Vernon (George Washington’s home) where we met Jerry Hong, father of Matt Hong, our daughter Carrie’s husband.  Jerry was in this area for a business trip and called to ask us out to lunch.  He is staying near Mt Vernon so we met there and ate in their cafeteria. We had an excellent time discussing our children and grandchildren.  It was fun to share some stories about Danny, Kaylee and Abby that the other had not yet heard.  We very objectively agreed that we have the smartest, kindest, most beautiful grandchildren in the world.  After Jerry left we took advantage of our season passes and did a short tour of the Mt Vernon museum.  We scoped things out so that we can be all ready to take Anne and all her family through when they visit us at Thanksgiving.   It was a quick but enjoyable tour.  What an amazing man – George Washington.
Sunday morning began with a service on the base for our dear Officer Candidate School students.  We do love being able to meet with them.  We had a good discussion today about faith.  We only had four females today, and they are all still worried about finishing.  Even though they have only two more weeks there still are some hard things left.  We talked about having faith in themselves to accomplish this hard goal.  Our one LDS gal is quite worried because she has had trouble with academics.  She has not scored well overall on her written tests so she has an academic board this week.  She asked for a blessing and of course we gave her one.  She cried but we know she left feeling better.  Although there were only 4 young ladies there today they ate almost every bit of the fruit and muffins we provided.   One of the best times during these meetings is the last 30 minutes when they have eaten their fill and are just sitting and talking with each other.  They share their triumphs and challenges at OCS and buoy up each other’s spirits.  It is wonderful to see.  We feel so grateful that we get to work with this wonderful group of young people, and we are continually inspired by their dedication and effort.  After OCS we have to go directly to church for our regular meetings.   Today the speakers all followed the topic of gratitude.  A young marine couple that is new to the ward spoke, and they gave exceptional talks on this subject.  We have visited them and they are in a tough situation right now.  He had some sort of injury so cannot do his regular marine job.  He is being evaluated by a medical board for discharge.  They were transferred here from Japan and they have not yet received their shipment of household goods.  So their home is almost bare and they have only a suitcase full of clothes.  But they stood there and talked about how grateful they were for their family, their health, prayer, the earth, and their faith.  It was very heartwarming and moving.  We were so glad we were there to hear this humble marine family show such tremendous examples of faith and gratitude.  It made us remember how grateful we are for our many, many blessings.  Right now we are grateful for our mission here in Virginia.  We are also very grateful for all of our family and friends that have been so supportive of our mission.