Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Our First Christmas

Christmas on our mission has felt different---but very good---this year.  We enjoyed spending time with ward members, the other missionaries, and then Skyping on Christmas day with each of our children and their families.  It was a sweet experience for us to open gifts via Skype with each family.  Mike and Heather's family did a Nativity play also. They did several different scenes over a few days so everyone had more than one part, then they emailed it to us.  So fun to watch!  Besides the '12 Days of Christmas' gifts and memories that Jared's family sent, we had other special gifts sent to us from others in our family. It was always fun to see a package at our mailbox.

Our "Christmas card door tradition"
at home turned into a "Christmas card wall" here.  We sent more cards than we have ever sent before and it was fun for us to get lots of cards and pictures in return.  It sure reminded us of how precious our family ties and friends are to us.

In previous years we remember feeling a little emptiness at times when we just seemed too busy to really appreciate the quiet beauty of the season.  We still got busy towards the end, but keeping things simple, and concentrating on visiting and serving others was so refreshing.  We were able to get our few gifts and Christmas decorations done very quickly and things put away in about an hour compared to a whole day or so at home. What a relief!!  Substituting a poinsettia for a tree might not be such a bad idea!

On the Monday night before Christmas we went on a "date night" to Phipps Conservatory to see the Christmas Lights.  It is a beautiful botanical garden where they have garden displays both inside and outside.  We walked around and saw all the Christmas lights that were put up everywhere indoors and out.  It is a different experience for us to pay to see Christmas lights.  We think we have taken Temple Square for granted all these years!

On the 23rd we were invited to a ward members' home for a holiday party for many people in the ward who were not leaving town to see friends and family.  As we were visiting, we made another interesting connection!  We met the Liu's who are second generation Chinese members of the church. He is from Texas and she is from Taiwan.  He is a student at CMU (Carnegie Mellon University) and she is teaching school.  We found out that Sister Liu actually taught in the Chinese Immersion program in Jordan School District before they moved to Pittsburgh.  We were especially interested in that because our granddaughter, Kennedy, is in that program also.  Anyway, as we visited with them, Sister Liu shared how satisfying it has been to have some of her students being sent all over the world as missionaries

who are speaking Chinese on their missions.  She mentioned Singapore, Hong Kong, and even Canada.  We then mentioned that we have a "grand nephew" (Jim's brother's grandson) who is serving in Canada (Mandarin Chinese speaking).  She got a big smile on her face as she looked at our last name on our name tags and she said "He was my student at Herriman High School"!  It is definitely a small world!

On Christmas eve we were invited to a "chili dinner" in the area of the mission where some other senior couples live who work in the mission office.  When we got back from dinner, we gave the Elders who live in our same building a call.  They had two other elders in our district staying

overnight with them.  They asked us previously if we would have a "Christmas Eve program" with them.  We were delighted to say "yes"! They came down in PJ's and with their blankets, and they had a program all planned.  We talked about feelings about the Savior, watched "He is the Gift" video and had pumpkin pie with them.  It was wonderful to do things with them that we were all missing doing with our families at home.

We found out that the elders had spent the earlier part of the evening decorating their van with removeable car paint that said "Merry Christmas" and "He is the Gift". Then they drove around downtown Pittsburgh shouting "Merry Christmas" to everyone.  They had a ball and we had fun listening to how excited they were.

They said many people waved and and yelled "Merry Christmas" back at them!

We invited the Elders to our apartment on Christmas morning for our traditional 'breakfast casserole' and we also had 'monkey bread'.  Then we opened our computers and Ipad for them to Skype with their families.  Christmas Day and Mother's Day are the only two days of the year that the younger missionaries can Skype or talk on their phones to their families--- so they were really excited for the opportunity.

Besides all of our Skype fun on Christmas, we were also invited for Christmas Day dinner to the home of the Hoskins.  Getting to their home was an adventure in and of itself.  It is at the top of the steepest hills we have been on in Pittsburgh so far! Sister Hoskins is
from Brazil and is an excellent cook.  She made "flan" and "made from scratch pumpkin pie" for dessert that was heavenly!  It was interesting to talk with them and get to know them. They also invited a brand new set of Elders to the area and Brother Lewis from the ward.

Monday, December 22, 2014

More People and Places

Last Preparation Day we took our own little walking tour

around part of the city.  
Parking in the city is almost always a challenge, but our church building provides a perfect parking spot and we have several great attractions close by.  We walked to the Cathedral of Learning (for our second visit) and took an audio tour where we could see more of the nationality rooms.  Many different nations were represented and since the students were on Christmas break more rooms were available.

We also walked to St. Pauls cathedral which was VERY beautiful.  We are loving the stained glass  in so many of the churches and homes.  We have learned that the reason we see so much  artistic glass work is that the very first glass factories were located here along the rivers.  Seems glass is made from sand, ash, and coal--something we had never thought much about before.  There are
large, very ornate churches on many of the street corners and the thing that always stands out to us is the stained glass windows.  We also visited Heinz Chapel which is just next to the Cathedral of Learning and saw more beautiful glasswork.

We also walked past one of the most prestigious computer engineering schools in the country---Carnegie Mellon.  Many of the members of our wards are students at this school.  We sometimes feel a little intimidated when they try to tell us what they are studying.  Their explanations go right over our heads!!  They tell us that they are really just a bunch of nerds---- so we are getting along fine with them!!

It is also really interesting to drive around the city and see artwork done on the sides of buildings.  It's surprising to look up and see the whole side of a building painted in a beautiful mural.  There is plenty of graffiti in the city and many pockets of rundown ghetto type buildings.  The murals in many neighborhoods, and also the renovation going on in alot of the old homes, is evidence of the city's efforts to revitalize many of the areas.  We have been impressed with the efforts we have seen.

We have had an amazing family history experience with a sister named Martha.  She has VERY interesting life story that has been featured on "60 Minutes".  If anyone is interested, you can Google "Martha Curtis" and see it.  Anyway, the sister missionaries (Sister Toupin and Sister Rock), that we became so attached to in just one month, have now been transferred.  We are so sad---but know it is probably for the best.  Before they left, they introduced us to Martha and we did what we could to help her get her family history organized and connected on FamilySearch.
We feel like we are really beginners ourselves in a way, but we did the best we could---- and we must have had a lot of extra help from above---because it connected beautifully and she went right to one of her pioneer ancestors. She read a journal from her great grandmother to us out loud and it touched all of our hearts deeply.  We are still meeting with her---- and hope to keep helping her and learning ourselves.

We are also starting to go on more and more visits to the elderly widows and single sisters in the wards.  This has really been enjoyable for us and it is so interesting to hear their life stories and feel of their strong testimonies of the restored gospel.  Two of the special sisters we visited this week were Karen and Callie.  Karen has been a church member since 2003 and is coming to church every week now because some church members are giving her a ride.  Buses don't run here much on Sunday and so it is very hard for some of these sisters

to get to church.  We are also starting to help Karen with family history and she is working on the "My Family" book.

Another fun thing about our church building is that the Institute of Religion for students at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon is located in the lower level of the building.  It has only been open on a part time basis, but the institute director talked to all of the missionaries  and asked us to help take shifts during weekday hours to keep it open more often for students to come and hang out. He wants the students to have a place to bring friends. There is a pool table, ping pong table, foosball table, kitchen and other classrooms.  Jim loved playing ping pong and pool with the Elders after district meeting.  Pat even joined in as we played a game of "around the world ping pong".   It will surprise everyone in the family, but Pat actually ended up in the "final three"!  It's probably no surprise that Jim's competitive nature got him into first place in "one on one" competition with the Elders.  If it sounds like bragging--we are.  At our age we need we'll take what we can.

Then on Sunday we attended our second baptism.  We have been present in Patti's home on a few occasions as the elders taught her lessons.  She has an energetic little son, Elijah, and it has been wonderful to see her take this important step in her life.

We also found another really nice park where we can go walking.  It is called "Frick Park" and is located in the Squirrel Hill area.  We have heard that this area of the city was once the wealthiest neighborhood in the country.  It is quite a large park so we are excited to keep exploring during our exercise time and on our Preparation days.

Friday, December 12, 2014

People and Places

We have decided that life on a mission sometimes feels like every
day is Sunday---but all the days seem to blend in together after a while.  We are seeing so many new sights and meeting so many different and interesting people along the way that it is sometimes hard to keep track of everything. We feel that this blog will really be valuable to us one day when we try to recall people and places.

One of the biggest landmarks in Pittsburgh is called the Cathedral of Learning.  It is affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh and is the second tallest educational building in the world, with the tallest being in Moscow.
The inside of the building truly looks like it just came out of Harry Potter.  In fact we've heard many people call it "Hogwarts"!  The bottom floor is basically a very cool study hall that is very solemn and quiet.  On the upper floors are many of the classrooms that are called "nationality rooms". They are designed by different ethnic communities in the city as a gift to the university.  It just has to be the most interesting college building that we have ever seen.

We are getting a first hand look at all the
hills, steps, and bridges here.  The pictures we try to take though just don't seem to do it justice.  We drove up a hill the other day to visit a family and Jim said that he's not sure he could have made it up in a jeep!

We have combined district meetings with the Northside and Morningside districts and we had an extra nice one this last week where we had our meeting, cleaned the kitchen at the Institute of Religion (church educational center for college age kids), exchanged $5 gifts, and went to lunch at Boston Market. We took pictures of the group that will undoubtedly be split up soon:{  Pat loved her sister missionary nutcracker that Sister Toupin made--complete with name tage and scripture case!

One of our best Christmas memories will be an activity we had at a senior center in an area called Swissvale. We visited, helped serve and clean up lunch, sang Christmas carols, and visited some more.  The people there were just delightful and they seemed to enjoy so many cute young people coming to visit.  It is sad, but the churches in downtown Pittsburgh are just beautiful with gorgeous architecture and stunning stained glass windows, but many of them are mostly empty or closed down.
Some of the people at the senior center mentioned that it is wonderful to see a church with lots of activity going on. We are also excited to have our "Christmas Tree" up!!  We got a 12 days of Christmas package from Jared and his family and we will open our first gift soon.  We are also starting to receive other packages and cards.  Thank you to everyone!!

Christmas Begins

It has been fun to watch the city of Pittsburgh come alive with the Christmas spirit.  It is also quite refreshing to be able to focus more on service and the true meaning of the Christmas season.  We had our first zone conference on December 2nd.  It was a learning experience for both of us, but especially for Pat.  Since she has never served a full time mission before, the  districts and zones etc. are all new to her.  The zone meeting was held in a chapel in Green Tree, PA and we were given instructions from President Johnson and his wife.  Each district in the zone prepared musical numbers so Jim and I were involved in learning a special arrangement of Away in a Manger with our district and one other district.  The worldwide Christmas initiative of "He Is the Gift" was presented and we were given our wallet size cards to give out.  It has been so fun to give these cards out in grocery stores, hospitals, and just to people that we meet and have reason to engage in
a short conversation.  The faces of each of them has lit up when we have presented them with a card.  We have explained that the video on the website will help them feel the Christmas spirit more. We have found that the more we watch it and the other church Bible videos, the more we also feel the Christmas spirit.

On December 3rd, we had quite an experience with our new friends from Hawaii (previously Micronesia).  Arson (age 23) had what we now know was not really an esophageal transplant but more of a 'resection' and total reconstruction.  We got up at 3 in the morning to get them to the hospital by 4 am.  He then underwent 14 hours of surgery.  We visited the hospital a couple times during the day and we could really relate to their family's heartache and worry.   We then came back in the evening and were there with the family when the doctor came out to tell them the outcome and explain how the surgery had gone.  It was then that we learned what a delicate operation it had been, with the surgical team having to work carefully around the trachea, the vocal cords, and the aorta.  It seemed that they were very hopeful that everything went well and
since he was sedated and on a ventilator we all went home for the night.  The next day it was so great to enter his room and see him awake, smiling, and giving thumbs up for picture taking.  We were all very grateful and excited that he was in such good spirits and doing so well.  It has been a week since that day and he is now transferred to a regular hospital room and so far things are going well, but still with ups and downs.

We have made some member visits, ward councils,  and attended a couple of ward parties this week.  We are still really having trouble putting names and faces together.  One ward is usually hard enough, but to get everyone straight in two wards for two "old minds" is really a challenge for us.  Jim keeps telling everyone that we are "just off the boat"!  Wonder how long we can use that excuse!

We also had a really neat family history experience this week.  Pat knew that

her third great grandfather, Robert Gibbs, spent some time during his life in Pittsburgh so she brought along a three ring binder of his history-----but she hadn't looked at it much in the last few years.  As we drove through the countryside to the temple last week and saw some of the signs that said Washington County something in the old brain clicked. Pat realized that we had a tiny tidbit of information that said Robert was born in Washington County which is just next to Alleghenny County where we live. We don't know anything about this family line previous to Robert--no parent's names or anything.  So this line has basically been a "dead end" for doing much more research.

Anyway, we decided that since we are so close to Washington County that we would look into things here a bit.  Pat called Lorrie at the church family history center here.  She made the comment that we didn't need to come to the center because ten minutes from our apartment is the best collection of history on western Pennsylvania available anywhere--- at the Carnegie Library.  And so guess
what we did for our P-day this week?  Lorrie gave us a good lead of a friend whose name is Marilyn and works at Carnegie. With her help are finally making a little progress.  We didn't find anything earth shattering, but we did find a good lead for a court case with the name Robert Gibbs in the right time period.  This probably means that next P-day might be spent rummaging through old books at a courthouse somewhere!

We also wanted to mention that we have also attended our first baptism in the mission field.  The young man baptized was Gregory.  He and his family have recently moved her from South Africa.

They were originally from the Congo. They were all baptized previously, but Gregory was busy playing on a competitive soccer team and wasn't too interested in the church.  Turns out that he started reading little bits of church literature and the Book of Mormon secretly on his own and before long he gained a testimony of the truthfulness of what he was reading.  He just received the priesthood last Sunday and is so excited to now be able to visit with the Elders as they teach the lessons.

We have also been able to visit in the home of LaShawn and her children, Grace and Jeffrey.  LaShawn was just baptized last April, but it seems like she could have been a church member for many years.  She has a great knowledge of the scriptures from her previous church, and she is already teaching a Sunday School class.  She is working towards going to the temple next April.  We have attended some Family Home Evening lessons that the Elders have taught to Grace who was baptized a few months after her mother.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thanksgiving Week in the Mission Field

Our bullet point "to do list" from last week sounded really good at the time, but of course we had to make a few 'course corrections'.  Right after we made the list, we got an assignment from the bishop to help a family from Hawaii (and previously Micronesia) who are here for surgery for a 23 year old son.  It seems our ward has 8 hospitals within the ward boundaries and some of them are very prestigious.  This particular young man was sent here because no one else could perform an 'esophageal transplant'. Seems it is done routinely by a doctor at UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center).  They are staying at a hotel paid for by insurance, but they have very few other resources so it led us into a few interesting experiences trying to help them.  One of those was trying to find a restaurant that serves rice, since that is their main staple food.  Turns out that downtown Pittsburgh doesn't have a Panda Express!  Being new to the area, we ended up at a Chinese restaurant in a less desirable part of town and as we were leaving the restaurant we witnessed a somewhat noisy and scary demonstration connected with the Ferguson shooting.  Chalking up another cultural experience! Pat also ended up cooking lots and lots of rice for this family later on.

Anyway, this family has been on a roller coaster of emotions for a year as they were shuttled from one hospital to another and had insurance battles in the middle of everything.  As Pat talked to the mom we realized that it may be another "not so coincidental moment" since we can really relate to the 'roller coaster emotional thing' after all that Emily went through before we came on our mission.

P.S.  The building in the picture is not the hospital.  It is the U. S. Steel skyscraper and a major downtown landmark. UPMC has it's administrative headquarters there.

We also spent some of the week trying to schedule times to Skype with all of our kids and their families---it was challenging to juggle times, but we finally accomplished it and it was so fun. We have their pictures hanging all around our apartment, but being able to visit with them "live" is wonderful! Mission rules for couples are much different than they are for the young Elders and Sisters who only get to call home twice a year----on Christmas and Mother's Day.

The Wednesday night before Thanksgiving we went on a visit with Elder Hartman and Elder Sorenson to Denise, a black single sister.  She is less active in the church---but not in her testimony of the gospel.  She herself is elderly and now takes care of an elderly mother in her home and tends two small granddaughters as well, so she can't often get to church. We asked her to tell us about her conversion to the church and what an amazing story we heard.  She said she had grown up going to the Baptist church and as a young woman had severe intestinal problems. This caused her to have some surgeries and be hospitalized for several months.  During the whole time that she was in the hospital, her pastor did not visit her and told her he didn't make hospital calls.  When she regained her health she began thinking about searching for a new church.  She had somehow been given a Book of Mormon at one time and began studying the Bible using the

footnotes at the bottom of each page in the Book of Mormon.  Then one day, two missionaries were accidentally in the wrong area, but knocked on her door anyway.  She answered and when they told her who they were she promptly said she was already reading the Book of Mormon.  Of course, it didn't take long for events to unfold from there that led to her baptism.........Just one of many neat conversion stories we have recently heard from members here....

Thanksgiving morning we went to watch the 1st and 7th Wards "turkey bowl".  The highlight was watching the two sister missionaries play with the members and Elders.  One of the sisters made a "miracle catch" that Jim is still talking about.  He said he wished BYU receivers could play as well.  The real miracle was that Pat actually got a picture of it!!

In the afternoon we were invited to eat dinner at the home of one of the senior couples in the mission.  We took a new investigator, Sibel, with us.  She seemed to really enjoy sharing the holiday with others.  There were several other missionaries there and also some other members.  We were surprised to see several deer right outside the apartment eating their Thanksgiving dinner on the patio!  We were each asked to share one of our most memorable Thanksgiving experiences and we had to agree that this year will be one of the one's we will always remember--- even though it is hard being away from loved ones and family traditions.

On Saturday we drove to the Columbus Temple with another couple from the ward.  Many of the youth and leaders were there to do baptisms for the dead.  It is a very small temple, but very beautiful and we had a really memorable time there. It is three and a half hours away so it was a long day trip, but we were glad to be able to go.

The next closest temple to us is Washington D.C. and we hope to get there before our mission ends.  The Philadelphia temple will be completed in 2016, but we are not sure just when.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Exploring Pittsburgh

One of our first stops has been to the building that we think will probably become our "home away from home"!  Three wards meet here and we are assigned to meet with two of them.  Since they each have a block of three meetings each Sunday, it will probably mean that we will have very long days on Sunday.  We have really enjoyed the meetings though and also getting to know many established members, brand new members and investigators of the church from various backgrounds.

Another nice surprise has been the opportunities we have for exercise here.  The church really encourages missionaries to exercise at least 30 minutes each day and longer if they want to get up early.   Sometimes it can be hard if you live in an apartment, have a busy
schedule, and bad weather.  We were so excited though to find a wonderful park just a couple miles away from us.  It has a track around a reservoir and a lot of trails and paths everywhere.  We have already been walking there twice and really liked it.  The weather really hasn't seemed as cold as we thought it would be either, YET anyway!!!  We had one day that had just a 'dusting' of snow, but it seemed like they put down more salt on the roads than there was snow!

We have found out that Pittsburgh is a city of hills, rivers (3 major ones), bridges (446) and lots and lots of steps.  We are trying to take the steps everywhere we go to also add to our exercise.  We have also heard that there are some other wonderful parks a little farther away so we want to explore those soon.

Today felt like our first real "P" day (Preparation Day).  Most missionaries seem to really try to take full advantage of these days that come around once a week on Mondays.

The first thing we did today was to visit the Vintage Senior Center that is just down the street from us.  We were so impressed with it! Okay----we know that means we have officially entered old age!
We have been assigned by the bishops to help older single women in the wards and so we wanted to find out the services that were offered there.  Anyway, it will also be a great place for us to go in and use their treadmills and other exercise equipment.  Don't laugh too hard!!!

We then went to the Heinz History Museum--
yes---ketchup, along with Big Mac's and Mister Rogers all originated in Pittsburgh. It is a museum associated with the Smithsonian museums and it was very impressive.  In fact, we got a year membership so that we can take some of the young Elders and Sisters (or other visitors) with us.  We decided it was so interesting to us that we can spend many more hours there.

There is a whole floor dedicated to sports and we thought of all of our family as we visited this floor.  We took a few pictures that we thought some of them might like.

Turns out that the first jeep was invented in the
small town of 'Butler' that is in an area northeast of Pittsburgh.  We plan to visit there one day.

Of course, there's also lots about the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pirates.

A lot of other sports like golf, hockey and women's sports were represented.

They had a whole section about black sport leagues too.

 Our museum membership also includes the Fort Pitt museum.  It is located on "The Point" that is at the confluence of three rivers--The Alleghenny, The Monogahala, and the Ohio. There is a beautiful state park there.  The fort was used mostly during the French and Indian War.  There was a lot of Revolutionary history information here and also lots about George Washington.

Almost everywhere we drive we see beautiful views of the city with a bridge or river or interesting houses nestled in the hills.  There is so much to do on our "P" days that we think we will become like the younger missionaries who sometimes count how long they have left on their missions by the number of "P" days that they have left!

Following our fun activities of the day we also went with the Elders to help with a family home evening at the home of Sister Martin and her daughter and son.  She has only been a church member for a few months, but seems like she could have been a member all of her life.

Even though we had a great time today we are now looking forward to a busy week ahead with many missionary opportunities.

  • work on a Power Point for the mission president's wife on Poison Ivy (seems most missionaries from the West don't have any idea what it looks like and how bad it can be to get into it).
  • work on Family History so that we can start being able to help some of our single sisters with their family trees
  • try to keep our fridge and cupboards stocked up and food ready to feed hungry Elders
  • visits with the Elders in our apartment building who teach lessons that we help with
  • visit by ourselves to the single sisters to try and get to know them all
  • follow up with women at the senior center who expressed interest in what we do.  We left "pass along cards" with them (small pocket size cards with information on videos that the church makes available to those who call in)
  • study, study, study--to try and learn and remember everything. 

We miss everyone at home, especially at Thanksgiving time.  But we are so thankful for all the love and support that we feel, especially from each of our children and their families.  

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone from Pittsburgh

Friday, November 21, 2014

Home Sweet Home---A Tour

We thought it might be fun to take you on a tour of our new little dwelling.  We are mostly getting settled in and REALLY like it---but it has a few interesting quirks.  It is in an old building with steel doors everywhere.  Jim can't get over how the hallways look like the maximum security cells that he once visited when working on a job that Beacon Metals was doing at the Utah State Prison (Note to Jared---FG2 with solid panels).

The building hallways look like a giant corn maze to Pat who seems to have some sort of "directional disability" that we think is getting worse!  When we were at the MTC they asked each of us why we were each glad to be with our companion.  She said it was because Jim could compensate for her lack of sense of direction.  She has to take her phone in the hallways so she can call if she gets lost!  We've decided she could get lost in a paper bag!

The biggest PLUS for the apartment is the HEATED GARAGE.  We go from our apartment into the elevator or stairs, and then into a car that is hardly even cold.  The weather outside has been freezing.  The Arctic cold front seems to still be with us, but it really doesn't seem too bad  because of this extra little perk.  It makes us feel a little guilty though when we think of the Elders and Sisters who are out in it a lot more than we are.

The inside of the apartment is much more spacious than we expected with an open style living room and dining area.  We brought a few pictures to hang from home and we were given some others by the mission office staff.
It has been fun to do a slight bit of decorating to make things feel like home.

The apartment is on the second floor and is cozy and warm.  It seems like we are sandwiched between the first and third floor and that keeps us well insulated.

We have a nice desk and lots of storage space.  We are not used to having much empty storage space at home so we hope we can keep it empty. We know for sure that we won't be able to fit anything else in our car when we come home.

One of the things we wondered about the most before coming was what kind of a bed that we would have.  We have gotten VERY attached to our bed at home!  The beds are great though and almost as good as our one at home.

The last picture is of our GUEST ROOM! Hint Hint!!  President Johnson has told us that as long as we get approval from him and don't get too carried away with lots and lots of company that he thinks having family here for a few days is a great idea.  So...... everyone just let us know the dates you would like to come and we will schedule you in.

Home Sweet Home