Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Our First Christmas...

The Christmas Eve Gingerbread House
This past week was a busy one but oh so rewarding.  Both of us were a little wary of spending this Christmas week away from family and friends but with the schedule we kept, we didn't have a lot of time to think about it.  However, on Saturday morning and Monday morning [here], we did really enjoy hearing from four of our children and their families.  Everyone seemed to have a great time and all were healthy...all except Randy!  He has been battling an awful cold/upper respiratory infection but seems to be on the mend.

The stage area with the stockings displayed

The tables were set and festive

A friend of Sister Carlos got 175 DARLING stocking, one for each Elder/Sister

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of last week we held our quarterly Zone Conferences.  At Christmas time, we have all of the missionaries come to Cauayan and we bundle the training with a Christmas dinner/ celebration/ gifts/ singing/ skits and a fun party.  We also group the zones together and hold it three days in a row because there is not room for all 160 missionaries in the church building attached to the Mission Office/Home compound.  Tuesday we hosted three zones, Wednesday and Thursday only two.  I was in charge of the dessert and decided my 'famous' Chocolate Pie would just fit the bill.  Randy calculated the ingredients and did my shopping for me [such a sweetie] so I only had to cook.  During the course of the week, I made the equivalent of 36 pies!   The most efficient way to do it was in 9x13 pans however and that worked great.  We have one elder who is allergic to chocolate so on Thursday, I made one vanilla and it was also a hit!  Filipino's are not normally wild about really sweet things but there was not a lot of waste and I saw many coming back for seconds.  
A friend of Brenda's who has a business that takes her on buying trips to China repeatedly during the year worked with her suppliers to get enough darling Christmas stockings for each Elder and Sister to have one of their own.  We had fun matching some to the different personalities of the missionaries and we filled them with handmade gifts, candy, and a special letter from their family or a testimony from a member if the family did not respond with a letter.  They were so cute and it was such fun to watch the eyes of the missionaries as they entered the cultural hall and spotted them on the stage.  One American Elder [who knew about stockings-the Filipino's didn't understand the concept for the most part but caught on quickly once the tradition was explained to them] leaned over to me and whispered..'sister, are those real stockings or just for decoration?'  I assured him they were real and he was so pumped!!

Sister Carlos made a bizillion pans of lasagna, salad, garlic bread and everyone got their fill.  The most popular item I think was the fresh green salad-a luxury here for the missionaries.  Most don't spend the money to buy then prepare salad so it was a huge hit!

Each zone was asked to prepare and present a skit..some were fun, some serious and all very enjoyable.  The senior missionaries and the AP's had our own skit-it was a take-off on The 12 Day's of Christmas, Filipino style...using a lot of things we only find here.  President and Sister Carlos wrote it on a recent road trip and we had such fun getting our 'props' together.  Here is a UTube link if you want to be brave..hahaha!      

This clever group used rice bags to create their costumes

A Christmas song sung by the Tuguegarao Zone

Sister Fort and Sister Martinez sharing their great talents

Immediately after the meetings on Thursday, we piled into the mission van and traveled to Ilagan for our 5th Devotional then on Friday, to Santiago for our final performance of the season.   Even with his horrible virus, Randy did a grand job with his vocal solo [When Joseph Went to Bethlehem] and his violin accompaniments.  The experience has been awesome and one we or most of the members will not forget.  They are all asking for an encore next year and Sister Carlos and I have actually discussed it...

Our Ilagan characters

And Santiago, our final performance
Saturday Randy and I had one of the best experiences we have had since arriving in the Philippines as we invited Elder Rausa and Elder Oliver to join us in 'the orange project'.  As small children both of us remember having a fresh orange in our Christmas stockings.  Over the years, the orange tradition has been passed down to our children and now our grandchildren.  Oranges, to us, represent love, family, warmth, home...all of the fond memories of our Christmas' past and we decided to purchase and bag oranges to deliver to the people who have put their footprints on our hearts this season...mostly our new members, investigators and a few of the branch families we have become close to and love so much.  At the first house, we just briefly explained what oranges mean to us and that we wanted to share with their family [a very short visit, not the usual 20 minutes we spend].  Then we left...well, at our second house, when we had finished our story or our reason for coming, Elder Rausa broke out in 'We Wish you a Merry Christmas' and we all joined it..that became the way we ended all of the visits and everyone was so thrilled.  Fresh oranges are a treat for most of these people.  It was a wonderful day for us and this afternoon, we are teaming with the sister missionaries to do the same thing in the branch where they serve.  Roxas 1st and 2nd Branches are our main focus and by the end of today, those people will all know how they have touched OUR lives..

Bagged and ready..

Elder Oliver, me, Randy and Elder Rausa
Christmas Eve we decided to involve ourselves [and dragged Elder Oliver and Rausa with us!] in the mission home activities.  President Carlos was very sick so he was quarantined to his bedroom but with the help of Elder Katoa and Elder Cajumban, Sister Carlos was very able and capable of pulling off a grand party!  We had BBQ Chicken on skewers from the grill [thanks to Elder Katoa and a few helpers], President's world-famous eggrolls [thanks to Sister Carlos and Elder Cajumban], Raspberry Chipolte Cream Cheese and crackers, veggies, rice, chips, and a variety of desserts including pie, many different homemade cookies and bars and GRAHAM.  Graham is pronounced 'Gray-hem' by the Filipinos and is a favorite of theirs-I am sending the recipe to Stephanie and Kimberly but if any of you want it, email me.  It is made with graham crackers [hence the name], cream, fresh mangos, sweetened condensed milk and NO CALORIES!!!  yeah, right!!  It is wonderful and I will make a couple of pans for New Year's Eve this weekend.

Sister Carlos is a kid at heart and loves to create things, hence the main activity that night-construction of a Gingerbread House.  Most of the Filipinos have never seen or heard of such a thing but they all did a great job.

pretty nifty, huh??
Christmas day we talked in a district by assignment from President Carlos then gathered with the other old folks at the Mission home for our dinner and gift exchange.  President was feeling a little better but as I type this, on Wednesday morning, he is still not up to par.  It was a great evening and solidified the love I have for these other seniors.  We work well together and play well together...what could be any better???

One last thing is the tradition of 'carolers' here in the Philippines.  Starting mid-November, groups will come to your house and sing Christmas songs and when finished, put their hands out expecting to be paid a tip.  The people here are interesting-I think I have mentioned in the past that there is NO middle class-people are very rich or very poor for the most part and that breeds begging.  I am not one to give handouts, never have been and never will be so when people or children approach me on the street, in front of restaurants or other business establishments, in the palenke, etc. with their 'sad' eyes, the moaning and hand out, I normally ignore them.  We were told early on about the poverty and the begging and were told that as missionaries, we cannot give to beggars.  Americans are targeted anyway because, according to the people here, we are all filthy rich and can afford anything...boy, do they have THAT wrong!!!  Anyway, parents tend to exploit their children in the begging and caroling is no exception.  Many groups came and just wanted peso's but this little group actually sang for us a couple of mornings and touched the soft heart of my hubby.

Our cute little carolers
We are hoping each of you had a grand Christmas with lots of goodies, family and fun gatherings.  New Year's is a big celebration here [and a dangerous one-check next week's blog for more update on that] so we will be gearing up for this weekend when we will all welcome in 2012!  Where has the time gone???

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Picked at 2-3 a.m.,,,,purchased at 6 a.m.,,,cleaned and ready for the fridge/wok by 8 a.m.,,,total cost 2 hours of my time and about $3 US...could life be any better???

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Now THIS is a White Christmas!!

Our White Christmas participants with their silly missionaries...we love these guys and gals!
I have such a difficult time realizing it is December!!!  And only two weeks until the red man creeps through our house and fills our stockings and I AM STILL SWEATING!!!  I suppose if you grew up with palm trees, rainy nights, air conditioning and wanting ice cream in December it would not feel odd but MY history is a fireplace, a warm, snuggly blanket, hot chocolate, a snowstorm howling outside and a great book in front of the tree listening to Christmas music filling the air.  Somehow this just doesn't feel right however.........we had two more marvelous Devotionals and the missionaries are helping me get into the spirit and create a new Christmas on the other side of the world.  I can't even begin to tell you how much I LOVE these people.  They are so warm, friendly, appreciative and enthusiastic.  Our teaching is really blossoming and in the new year, the focus of the work will change drastically...can't wait to see what explosions occur then~
Elder Macaisa, Elder Miole, Sister Tabudlong, Elder Young, Elder Valdez
Friday night we had our second Devotional in the Alicia district.  The missionaries there are so amazing and did a fabulous job of pulling off this wonderful message.  President Carlos does such a great job of bringing the focus to the Savior at this time of year with his message at the end of each presentation.   One of the most moving parts of the evening is always at the end of the devotional when we invite any current or past full-time missionaries to come up and sing 'We'll Bring the World His Truth' with the missionary choir on the stand.  Some are hesitant to come forward but once a couple stand up, they all join in and what a powerful message is delivered-we are bringing His truth to this part of the world and how wonderful that truth is in our lives.  There are few dry eyes, even the investigators are touched.

Yesterday was such a busy day-the morning started with the District [kind of like a Stake but more spread out] Relief Society Christmas Party.  The women here LOVE to party and can really put on quite the event.  It is so funny though because the word promptly does not exist in their culture.  When I ask someone when an event is supposed to start, they give me a time range of usually two hours.  I was told this party will start around 8 but it was 10 when the actual opening exercises, the welcome, etc. occurred.  I think part of the reason is the distance and transportation issues these people face-some come two hours to attend and bring their food for the day with them.  The Relief Society party went until 2 and most then boarded Jeepney's to take them to Burgos for the Devotional.

The sisters from Tabuk-2 hours away

The sweet Aurora sisters with their part of the entertainment
We also had a marvelously 'white Christmas' with the baptism of 24 people!!!  What an awesome sight as they all gathered for a photo shoot.  The baptism was at noon [but really started at 1:15] and with the speakers and the program, ended at 2:45 which really put a crunch on the devotional participants but we pulled it off without a hitch!  Randy has a solo part that is just wonderful-he sings 'When Joseph Went to Bethlehem' with such feeling and emotion and it takes me back to our Christmas eve celebrations with our little ones-we always 'did' the nativity and that was a favorite song for our family.  If Cristin and Kim were to hear him, they both would be weeping...he also plays the violin as an obligato to Mary's Lullaby, normally sung as a duet with Brenda and me but last night, as the Carlos' were at a District Conference and couldn't attend, I invited our 'Filipina Cora' to sing it as a solo-she is only 8 years old but has such a strong and pure voice.  I saw many eyes being dabbed during her presentation.  Brenda invited her to do it again in Cauayan on the 18th for their devotional so we will hear her one more time.

Our 'characters' for Roxas were Elder McGuffin, Elder Oliver, Elder Rausa, Elder Ward and Sister Villamor
Tomorrow I will go to the mission home very early and will spend my preparation day baking Christmas cookies and candies with Brenda.  Not sure if Gloria or Sister Russell [Sharon] will be able to come but it will be fun.  I am making Soda Cracker Candy, a favorite of our family.  What is your favorite Christmas goody and are you making it this year???

Thursday, December 8, 2011

WOWEE!!!! such beauty...

The setting of our hotel

Two cute old people...

Brenda and Randy walking down a little path leading to a souvenir shop-notice the dense foliage

These are wild poinsettias..they are everywhere and HUGE!!!!

I have lived MANY years and have never, for as long as I can remember, seen such breath-taking sights as we saw last Monday in Banaue.  If you google it, you will discover it is the 8th Wonder of the World and now, I know why.  It was absolutely gorgeous and it was not even the best time to be going.  You can see the rice terraces in the picture above and in the spring [April and May] all of those areas that are currently mud [waiting to be planted] will be lime green with new seedlings.  We hope to go back then and see it in it's height of beauty.  Another senior couple has been assigned to our mission and will be coming in February so we will probably take a road trip so they can enjoy the splendor.

A short history lesson...
It is amazing to think these people arrived at this mountainous area, saw the possibilities and actually accomplished such a feat with NO TOOLS!!!!  The native Ifugao people are still there and enthralled us with a cultural program on Sunday night, sharing with us the dances, clothing, and traditions of their people.  They are very small people, as you can see by the picture of Randy with this man in his native dress.
A native ritual dance

Randy and our new friend-Randy is the one on the right!!

Ifugao woman in their typical resting pose
We truly enjoyed the beauty and the glorious experience of being in that part of the mission, if for only a day.  Randy took a couple of movies and will post them on UTube sometime soon.

Last Friday we had our first of many Christmas Devotional's scheduled in the next few weeks.  Upon our arrival in August, I learned of Brenda's desire to give this opportunity to the Stakes and Districts in this area and because we have written and produced many events together in our former lives, I think she was just laying in wait for me to come.  I am not the front man but I am a great supporter!!  Together, we gathered our scriptures, a computer and within a few hours, had a great one hour production.  It took another morning to gather the costumes but both of us have, in our young families, done the nativity so the costuming was not complicated, just a challenge here in the Philippines, to find the items we needed.  The groundskeeper at the mission home even provided a staff for the shepherd from a nearby tree!  I wish you could have seen the faces of the members as they filed into the chapel and saw the missionaries on the stand, some dressed in their costumes, and heard, for the first time in their lives a quartet singing acapella!!!  Everything went off without a hitch and I think it turned out great!  Our second one is tonight, another tomorrow afternoon in all, we have 6-7 planned.  An interesting side note-the District President, upon welcoming the audience [some were members and many were just friends who were not of our faith] said history was made that night-NEVER in the past have they had any program of this kind.  Both Brenda and I were so touched by that but saddened that nobody had thought to provide such an evening for these great saints.  Well, people, this will be one of two because we will definitely do something again next year.  
Elder Bangal and Elder Williamson [shepherd and king]

Missionary Choir during their pre-performance practice
The highlight of our weeks are normally the time we spend with our dear young elders and sisters and this week, although starting with a little break, was no exception.  We worked with the Mallig elders on Tuesday, the sister missionaries and our dear President Munoz on Wednesday and finished with the Zone Leaders on Thursday, teaching 22 lessons!  That is what this is all about-teaching, lifting, supporting, and helping those who are seeking truth, find the answers and in the process, changing lives and helping families come to Christ.  What are we doing tomorrow you ask?  Over 20 baptisms, another devotional and more spiritual food for us!  What else could we possibly want???  [maybe a kid or grandkid to hug?.haha]