Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Music, fabric and food...plus a little love!!

My mother raised me with the good old musicals of the 40's and 50's...she LOVED June Allyson, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Lena Horne and all of those great actors from that era.  I grew to love music from the cradle and when I was five years old, my parents bought me my first piano!  I say first because I have owned others but that one, which now lives in my youngest daughter's home in Texas, is the piano of my heart.  I took lessons from the time I was five until high school and was called on many times to accompany...I remember when I was 12, I was inducted into Job's Daughters and immediately was asked to be the 'musician'...that meant I played every Saturday for our meetings and I thought I was something special...that skill carried on through adulthood as I played for different events, taught for many years from my home when my children were small and now, here some almost 60 years later, I am still using that skill I gained from my mother's perseverance.   There is not a day that goes by that I don't think of her and silently thank her for my love of music!!  She played, not concert quality by any means, but she loved music and when she died, my tribute to her was to sing at her funeral...I also sang at my father's funeral in 1991 and gave them my thanks through the gift of music.

Upon receiving my call to serve in the Philippines, Sister Carlos told me one of my responsibilities would be the music education of the people here in this great mission.  I would have the opportunity to use the Harmon Grant that the church received to offer lessons, place keyboards in specific homes of the members, and through my skills [which are greatly lacking at times!], introduce them to music and help them gain the skill to play for their respective branch meetings.  It has been a wonderful experience for me and after my first recital in March, I moved on to two other branches.  We now have two more talented sisters who are willing and able to share their skills by teaching and Sister Carlos contacted the Harmon Grant people and they graciously sent us eight more keyboards!!  We will now have music education available in three districts!  What a blessing for these folks.

Another blessing of the grant is a 'permanent keyboard placement' program.  That program recognizes the skills and the student's willingness to share the gained skills with others and allows them to be gifted with a keyboard of their own.  In return, they need to be willing to teach others and continue to strengthen the branches by educating others.   I had one such student in Roxas.  Mark J came to me with an incredible ear...he played many songs without the ability to read music and even composed and arranged many beautiful pieces.  I saw in him such promise and when he told me he needs to learn to read music because when he comes home from his mission, his plans are to become a music educator.  Well, I applied for a keyboard for him and it arrived yesterday!  He was thrilled as was his little sister.  His mother died in 2009 and he has a younger sister who he had been teaching on the loaner I placed in his home for the lessons...when I 'pulled' the loaner to take it to another area, her lessons stopped.  She was just as happy as he was to see that keyboard arrive last night!
Could he be smiling any wider??

Alyssa and Mark checking things out..
I know we will see great things from this young man in the future!

Some of you know my carry on bag coming here to the Philippines contained my Bernina...I could not be without my machine for two years and so it traveled with it's mama...I have been SO grateful I have it for many reasons but the main one is to help these women turn on their creative brains and learn a new skill.  When Sister Mills arrived last month, she was immediately thrust into the fray!!  Her branch saw this warm, friendly, inviting senior sister and her first week in church [after the 20 hour trip here and trying to flip her body clock] they had her convinced that she was going to teach them to quilt....NOW!!!  This sweet sister told them that she couldn't do that yet but they insisted and she caved....last Saturday was their 'quilting activity' and Sister Mills was in charge.  Now I must interject that SISTER MILLS HATES TO SEW AND QUILT!  When she shared with me her situation, I, of course, volunteered to help her out.  I brought my 'Block Tool' with me so I chose a simple block [Broken Dishes] and we found scraps of fabric to make a few sample blocks.  They had a blast!  It was such a great activity and they enjoyed learning something new.  I have found that these women are so hungry for 'handwork' or 'crafts'..things we take for granted in the US.  We worked that day, in the 100* heat for 8 hours, teaching them how to measure, cut, press, and construct their projects and it was a success!

They were so fascinated with the electric machine-they are all trained on a treadle.. 
We love the youth!!  This April and May have been jam packed with opportunities for us senior couples to interact with the glorious youth of this mission.  They had their summer school break and each district hosted two separate activities for their young people...a three day camp and a three day youth conference.   All of the districts like to take the opportunity to travel to a different area for these activities and Nueva Viscaya is always a popular destination.  There are many beautiful resorts there and they provide a change of scenery to the participants.

Last week we were invited to teach a 'cooking' class as part of the Cauayan District's Youth Conference at the Banaue Resort.  We had been there many times before and because we were in that area of the mission helping the Russell's with apartment checks, we were thrilled to help out.  WE HAD A BLAST!!!  Sister Carlos helped me come up with two recipes we could teach in the designated 45 minute time slot [which we repeated four times], that would be inexpensive to prepare, easy and tasty.  Randy helped me by being the 'cooker or fryer' of the Elephant Ears [like Indian Fry Bread that was topped with cinnamon/sugar] and I headed up the 40,000,000 peso Cabbage Salad [the one with the ramen noodles].  We divided them into two groups and each group prepared enough for all to share.  All four sessions had about 18 youth total except one, where the teacher didn't show up, so they combined two smaller groups and we had about 30.  It was a wonderfully fun day and we really appreciated President and Sister Carlos extending the invitation to us.
Salad dressing in the making..

Elephant ears frying

I started out with a small lecture on cleanliness in the kitchen, explaining the different recipes, giving them tips on cutting or measuring and afterwards, having them all scrub their hands before entering 'my' kitchen...they all laughed.

What a glorious setting
When they were finished with their cooking and sampling, they washed up their dishes and got their areas ready for the next group.  I printed off the recipes for them to take home and they all remarked how simple, cheap and good the two dishes were...they all said they would cook them for their families.

Isn't love grand???  Do you remember that first time you saw the love of your life and how you glowed??  Well, this cute couple have waited a long time to find each other-both are in their 30's and after serving as District Young Men and Young Women's President in the Roxas District, decided they probably like each other a little...we knew them both, loved them and are so happy that they will journey to Manila in the near future and become an eternal couple...great things happen when we are patient and 'wait on the Lord'..
Sister Judith and Brother Virgo...soon to be man and wife!
Our week progresses and we are still melting...the temperature in our home is between 90-95degree F and the outside registers well over 100 degree F every day...we are so grateful for a/c in our bedroom-I don't know how the sisters and elders sleep!!  I am a wuss I guess but with the heat and humidity, we are thinking Texas sounds pretty good when we get home..our blood will be so thin, we won't be able to stand the cold!  Guess we will have more sympathy for Cristin and Chip, our two coldblooded kids...

Hope you all have a grand week...keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we continue to serve the Lord in this glorious land...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sunrise in the Philippines

 I am so sorry you haven't heard from me in TWO weeks...I have been very ill and am now just getting back to normal.  I picked up an intestinal bacteria from some food I ordered at a restaurant and it took it's toll on my body.  Because I am so infrequently ill, I don't do it well.  I had a great 'nurse' who took good care of me and things are up and running again BUT I MISSED SO MUCH!!!!  I feel like my time here is so precious and it really bums me out when I have to spend it 'down'...

Recently, Elder Shaner went shopping...not something he does often, and bought himself a hat!  He was surprised that he could find one that fit him as his head is quite big but he got this and loves it-he looks so cute in it..John Wayne he is NOT but he is MY hero...

cooking dinner while I was sick in bed...

isn't he cute???
Last Saturday Sister Russell helped me in San Pedro as we taught the sisters the basics of crocheting and how to make 'plarn'...Sister Lundy [her son is serving here in our mission] sent me some hooks [I have another 100 coming in a box from Chip and Stephanie] so we began the teaching process with their branch.  Sister Russell has this down to a science and is a great teacher-I just sat back and observed.  When she goes home in July, I will be on my own..haha!  These sisters were so excited and they even got some of their hubby's to help.  Brother Gaspar became an expert at cutting the bags...it was a fun day and has given them a new craft plus a way to build a skill and create an income stream for their families.

busy room as they all scurried about..
Two weeks ago my piano lessons started in Aurora.  That branch is so precious and the people are wonderful.  22 people signed up as interested, 19 came to the first 'organization and informational' meeting and when we started classes, we had 14.  Last week 11 came [one girl and one couple told me they would not be there] and when it is all done, I think I will have 14 students.  That is about normal-many are interested but when the program is explained to them, they realize they will have to practice and that progress will be expected, sometimes that commitment is overwhelming.  We meet for three or four group lessons where we  begin with theory and then after the keyboards are distributed, they meet with me individually every week.  It is a huge time commitment for me but when I see their progress and their enthusiasm, it is all worth it!

Aurora piano students
One of the little girls is only 6 but I think she will have her cousin's support and will do ok.  Her English comprehension is not as good as some of the others but we will work through it-she wants to learn!

About a year ago, Sister Larsen [who is no longer in the mission] bought a wonderful orchid and the mission gardener grafted it to a palm tree in front of the mission office.  We have all enjoyed watching it bloom and bloom and again this week, it was in full bloom but THE BLOOM HAS BECOME HUGE!!!!  Look closely-I wanted to stand in the picture with it to give you a perspective of it's size.
See the huge bloom???? You would love it, Judy!!
Monday nights we are often invited to Family Home Evenings in different branches or homes.  They are always fun and the one in Mallig was no different-we were invited to bring games and the lesson.  We used Don't Eat Pete and Cops and Robbers, two of our favorites we have learned.  These people LOVE games and all were involved.

Randy explaining the rules of the game..
Because we were way in the middle of the 'bukid' [rice paddies accessed only by using small roads that are only a raised 'hill' surrounded by water...] and this road was not as familiar as some to us, we decided to leave earlier than later.  Driving on those roads in the pitch dark can be unnerving.  Randy was told of a different road that was wider and better so we decided to take that one back to town..

Driving along in the dark, we noticed an intersection [and that is a broad exaggeration of the word] coming up and were focused on not missing that turn.  He was driving [ALWAYS!!] and as we were slowing down, we suddenly felt and heard this HUGE NOISE that was a THUMP, DROP!!!  Guess what???  He had driven right into a ravine!!  [if Cherlyn is reading this post, he and I are now even!  Some of you might remember my post from last summer where I backed my SUV into a huge ditch at Girl's Camp!]  In his defense, when we were looking at the road, we noticed a small darker area and just thought it was a small dip, NOT A HUGE WASHOUT FROM THE SIDE OF THE ROAD!!  There we were-night, pitch black, scary...we texted the Elders and they jumped on a motorcycle [driven by a member-they are not allowed to operate vehicles and these are obedient Elders] and they came racing out to find us but in the meantime, a man stopped and got off his motorcycle.  His English was good enough to realize we were in trouble so he took charge.  Every vehicle that passed, he flagged down and within 5 minutes, he had returned home to get a crowbar and shovel, had a team of maybe 12 men and by the time the Elders arrived, we were out of the ditch!  These are the most helpful people - we were hearing them repeating 'missionaries' 'americanos' and we imagine they were talking about those stupid American missionaries that drove into a ditch...but they came to our aid anyway...what a blessing!!

the front of the truck was buried to the bumper
While we have been here, we have seen a harvest and planting and harvest again of the rice fields.  This is the life of the Filipino people, plant, harvest, dry, till, prepare fields, plant, harvest, dry, etc.  They are amazing people who have such tremendous stamina.  They work in this oppressive heat, covered in clothing, and do it 7 days a week for their entire lives.  They do have a few week break as the rice is growing but very soon, the cycle starts again.  

As the fields are harvested, those who are very poor will go back into the fields and sift the chaff...the 'tailings' of the harvested rice is piled in the fields and families will go through those piles, sifting and sifting to find the remaining rice that was missed the first time.

Entire families set up their umbrellas for shade and sift the chaff.
It always makes me think of our work here-we sift through the people to find the ones who are ripe for the picking...those who have been prepared by our Father in Heaven to hear His word and accept his commandments, change their lives and become a part of His kingdom.  Many are not ready...many have not been prepared...for many, it is not their time but when we find the ones who will accept our challenge, what a glorious experience that is.

The sunrises here are so beautiful...I love the early morning, the beginning of a new day and a fresh start.  So many of our Father in Heaven's children are also searching for that fresh start...our glorious responsibility and privilege is to find them, teach them and bring them into His fold...what could be more important or have more impact on our lives or the lives of these wonderful people...this is the best two years for sure!!!!!!!!!!!!!

sunrise in the Philippines

Friday, May 4, 2012

Faith Factor, another year older and the loss of a very special couple...

There are SO many advantages to being a friend to Sister Carlos!!  She is, without any competition in MY lifetime, the most creative, energetic, and enthusiastic person I have EVER met.  Together we have pulled off many amazing feats..and had many laughs in the meantime.  Last week was another of her brainchildren that all of us senior missionaries helped her to accomplish with Faith Factor.  
Back in her other life, she was a reality show junkie...she is the one who got me addicted to The Amazing Race and Survivor along with The Apprentice, Project Runway....etc.  Well, remember Fear Factor????  That was the basis for our activity/training day with our elders and sisters.  Because of the numbers, she divided the mission into three 'groups' of Zones and they gathered in the building closest to their area.  They self divided into four groups, Omni, Himni, Aaron and Ammon.  Those of you who are Latter-day Saints will recognize those names as the four son's of Mosiah.  Sister gave a little background on those four young warriors and then the activities began. 
We didn't invite them to come until after lunch but were finished by 3:30, allowing them to return to their areas and get 'back to work!'  We [us Senior Couples] planned and executed the challenges and also helped with the questions that were like a scripture chase...Sister Carlos called it 'Preach My Gospel Chase' and she is correct...I was amazed at the speed some of these missionaries could locate things in that book!  It was amazing!!

Sister Carlos explaining the rules..

Elder Jackson and Elder Cajumbun [the Assistant's to the President] were the emcees of the day.

They are trying to devour a pie plate of whipped cream..

Elder Griffin trying to balance a tub, bowl and rag.

Elder Smith did a great job-a little cockeyed but he accomplished the task

Elder Lundy is concentrating so hard and being cheered on by his team

Elder Oliver and Elder McGuffin trying to eat soda crackers FAST!!
Get chewing Elder Oliver!! Elder Dixon is ahead of you in the bubble challenge..

Elder Hamblin and Elder Fry trying to eat the can of sardines and the rice...yuck!!
 The day was so fun and I think all of the missionaries learned more about how they can use their PMG..after all, we are a Preach My Gospel Mission!!!

Elder and Sister Laker arrived in the mission the middle of February and have not missed a beat in their training.  When the Breeses were leaving, President needed to find a replacement for them in the office.  Randy and I were actually trained in the MTC to be the office couple our last year here but President decided he didn't want to change our assignment, giving us more time to work with members, leaders and complete the training in the Roxas District that we have started.  When the Lakers arrived, he interviewed them and after considering their backgrounds and experience, decided to have the Breeses train them to take over the office responsibilities for their 23 month mission.  Being the intelligent people that they are, they picked up the tasks in record time and have just stepped in.  Well, Sister Laker celebrated her birthday last Sunday and we had a little party for her-Sister Carlos had Sweet Nothin's [you remember the Cookie Monster cake for Elder Shaner's birthday?] design a cake for her-she LOVES flowers and they did a great job in making the perfect cake for this sweet lady.
Sister Laker and her basket of flowers cake

With the imminent departure of our Sister Breese, and her birthday not until December, us senior sisters decided to have a 'Happy UnBirthday Luncheon'.  Sister Breese had gotten special purses for each of us and wanted to give them before she left so we gathered at our favorite local restaurant, Hotel Andrea for a girl's lunch.  It was SO funny-we opened our purses from Sister Breese and all of us had gotten something for Sister Laker [whose birthday was the day before] and because Sister Carlos birthday is May 7th, we shared with her also and in all, we got NINE purses!!  It must have been the purse exchange day... 
Sister Breese, Laker, Russell, me and Carlos showing our new bags.
After 23 months of dedicated service, the Breeses returned to their families this past week.  There were tears, memories, laughter and in all, many accolades for a job well done.  It gives me hope that we actually DO return home eventually..we bid them farewell, wishing the very best for this great couple...
The Breeses at the airport, just minutes before boarding their final leg of their mission.
I have been battling a virus this week and am laying low today.  Randy is off training all day and I will just chat with you, listen to music and maybe read a little...what a rough mission this is!!