Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Adventures of Christmas in March

Saturday, March 28, 2015

I don't know if I mentioned in a previous post that Elder Ashton had recently decided he just had to have a new truck and I was pretty surprised when he said that to me!  I think my jaw dropped about six inches.   He had talked about a new truck before we came out here and I thought I had him convinced that what we had would work just fine and then we could think about getting something new when we got back to Arizona.   However, in our Monday meeting as we were planning the trip to the Raleigh, North Carolina temple for Wednesday, the President mentioned that they didn't expect us to take any missionaries with us since we just had the pickup truck.....I think I'll blame him for adding fuel to the idea that was already simmering in Elder Ashton's brain that he wanted a crew cab pickup.   I didn't sleep most of Monday night because I just really didn't want to spend the money and I could tell Elder Ashton was really serious about it because he begged and begged like a kid at Christmas time that wants a particular toy and I finally gave in with some price, size, color, etc. parameters in place.    First I told him I didn't think a crew cab would fit in our garage....well he figured out a solution for that by sending a text to our son Colby and asking him to go measure the garage at our house.  Secondly I balked a little at spending the money for a new vehicle, but Elder Ashton just kept looking and looking and mentioning all the positives!

I believe I have mentioned before that we are having a terrible time with mail delivery here.   Some things take weeks to get to us and others never get delivered.   That makes it challenging to do out jobs.  One such instance is when checks sent from SLC to pay the bills take 2-3 weeks and we get charged a late fee.   Another is when the check is never delivered and missionaries get an eviction notice on their door.   Another is when Elder Ashton is trying to track gasoline purchases.  Each missionary vehicle has a credit card assigned to it that is to be used strictly for gas purposes.  The missionaries are required to send all gas receipts and a mileage log from the previous month to Elder Ashton the first week of the month.  In March he had a little contest to see who would get theirs in first and he got a great response.   However, he kept calling one set of Elders in Norfolk (about 10 miles away) to tell them he had not received their gas receipts and they kept assuring him that they sent them on Monday, March 2nd.    This Tuesday they finally arrived!  

You will note from the picture above that the envelope is crinkled up and had been wet.   You might also note that the postmark is from Richmond, VA (a little over 100 miles away) on March 5 (I have been told that all mail from this area goes to the "area" processing center in Richmond first).   So, this envelope with gas receipts and mileage log went from 10 miles away on March 2, to 100 miles away and was postmarked on the 5th and came back to Portsmouth and was delivered on March 24!!!!  We've complained locally but nothing happens.   Any suggestions on fixing the USPS bureaucracy*%#@$%+)&%

On Tuesday afternoon, Elder Ashton thought he had some free time so he disappeared from the office and went to dealerships in the area to look at what trucks were available.   While he was gone from the office, the phone rang and the secretary answered it and I could tell from her end of the conversation that something upsetting was going on with one of the cars - especially when she asked me when Elder Ashton would be back.   She said to me, "One of the new cars has been stolen from the missionaries' apartment complex."   Wow - that shook us all up just a little!  I called Elder Ashton's cell phone to give him the news and he made a hasty retreat from the Chevy dealership to take care of more important matters.  He called the Elder and had him call the police.   They found that a towing company had towed the car and impounded it because the temporary plate had expired and they would not release the car until it had a valid plate.  We worked like crazy for about 20 minutes trying to get applications filled out for the 3 new Volkswagens that are in the mission in an attempt to get valid plates for all 3.   We drove as quickly as possible over to the main MVD office, (20 minutes away) and the lady was so kind and helpful but couldn't do anything for us. Long story short, the dealer had dropped the ball and never sent the title out or gave Elder Ashton the plates.   Both were supposed to happen at the time he picked up the new vehicles.  Since we were slated to go to the Raliegh Temple with a group of missionaries the next day, the salesman at the dealership promised he would have the 3 license plates and titles ready on Thursday morning.   It was a stressful and crazy few hours to end the day on Tuesday.

As we traveled to and from Raleigh for the temple session and a zone conference on Wednesday, I couldn't help but think I might be mixed up about the season.   All along the road I kept seeing foliage in Christmas colors - Red, Green and White!

In the photo above just behind the white car you can see the Red, Green and White - the evergreen/pine trees, the red bud trees that are in bloom, and white trees (they are called Bradford Pear trees) and are very plentiful. I loved seeing that and got a little smile on my face as we passed numerous areas like this along the road.

In addition to the white trees being a Christmas color, many of them are shaped like a traditional Christmas tree.   This is one of the first ones I saw and it reminded me of the "flocked" (spray on snow) Christmas trees that were popular in the early to mid sixties.   We could not afford enough spray on snow to cover the whole tree but we sprayed some on and I loved it!

We left home at 5:55 on Wednesday morning to meet the missionaries at the Stake Center.   There were a total of 47 of us going....and it was just Elder Ashton and me in our vehicle because we didn't have a new crew cab pickup ;-)  We  did a quick stop in Emporia (about half way) for restrooms and snacks and I saw two very large Bradford Pear trees and they looked beautiful in full bloom!

The lady in the convenience store said the trees are totally white when they first bloom, then they start to get their leaves and turn a spring green, then as fall comes they turn from green, to gold to red.  Sounds lovely to me, but I did a little research and found that these trees are not considered a nuisance tree.   They were brought in because they were considered a pretty ornamental, landscape tree and they had been bred to be sterile.  However, some closely related tree was brought in a few years later and the trees cross pollinated and now they are everywhere!   And they don't produce edible fruit, just little berry type things that get all over and make a mess.   Hmmmm...wonder if there is a life lesson about some things that are beautiful becoming a nuisance?

As we continued south, we passed this pretty pastoral setting that seemed very peaceful.   Would have been nice to stop and walk around and take more pictures but we needed to hurry on in order to arrive in Raleigh by 10:00 a.m.

Arrived at the temple and found more beautiful trees - a pretty light purple flower this time!
But the best sight of all was all the young missionaries with smiles on their faces :)

The smiles, the handshakes, and the "thank you for all you do" from the elders made it a great day.   I had a hard time remembering names when I met them at first. The Elder in the gray suit with the gray and purple tie is the one whose car was "stolen" by the towing company.  His name is Elder Butikofer.   I was really struggling trying to remember his name and he said, "just think of a beautiful gopher" - haven't forgotten his name since!

Sisters Beifuss and Burr (I think)   Sister Beifuss is one of the ones that got in a car accident and the car was totalled and now her back hurts a lot but she is always smiling and happy.   Every time she sees me she tells me , "I just love you so much".   Being around all these young men and women reminds me so much of being around my awesome grandkids!

Entering the temple - who are these two OLD people?!?

Same two OLD people leaving the temple

The entire group outside the temple

Lunch with the missionaries....I think this mission must wish they had stock in SubWay because that seems to be our easy go-to meal when we need to quickly feed a bunch of missionaries!

Note we even take time to put centerpieces on the table.   These specific ones had been traveling back and forth to Raleigh for other temple trips over a 3 week time period and look a little the worse for the wear!

Leaving lunch.  Elder Nelson is leaving on Tuesday for Czech/Slav mission.  The Sister is one of the ones that serves in our ward here in Portsmouth.  The first time I fed the Sisters after she was assigned here I made Chicken Pot Pie and she only ate about 2 bites -- guess she didn't like it very well.   This last time I fed them I made little Calzones - she ate two and said they were good - guess she liked that better.  And there is that OLD lady again :)

Sister Parry (left) and Sister Rudy (right).   They serve in our ward and haven't had many to teach for a couple of weeks and now they are very busy - one lady showed up at church last week and told the bishop she wants to be baptized so they are busy teaching her.   One of the investigators they had a couple of months ago and decided she wasn't interested has changed her mind and wants to go forward with lessons.   Those kinds of things really put smiles on the faces of these young ladies, but I have learned that even when they smile it is not always easy for them.
Sister Rudy has a mild case of Aspergers syndrome and is really very shy.   She has a hard time staying focused so it is kind of hard for her to read but she said she really wanted to come on a mission and that she has learned so much about herself and how to really love others.   She is a wonderful artist and hopes to have a career in that after she finishes school.
Sister Parry is really hard on herself and thinks she needs to be perfect.   I keep telling her no one is perfect and she is doing just fine. She still struggles and doesn't get much support from home except from her Grandpa - she said her Mom has only written her twice while she's been out for a year and her Dad has sent one short email.   She came up to me the other day and asked me if I would be her adopted grandma.   I gave her a hug and told her of course I would.  I learned today that she is gifted at playing the violin.   She played "How Great Thou Art" for our Easter  Program and it was spectacular but it made my eyes leak all over my dress!!

All in all, Wednesday was a great day and I was exhausted when we got home at 8:30.   Elder Ashton thought the navigation system was telling us to go the wrong way so he turned off onto a country road and it recalculated to let us follow that route - but it was a narrow 2-lane rode just like you would imagine in rural North Carolina.   Then he realized he was too tired to drive any more so I got to follow that narrow 2-lane road the rest of the way home in the dark!   Yes - he was almost in the doghouse for that but I was too tired to put him in there ;-)

Thursday morning Elder Ashton was anxious to get to the office and get going on straightening out the "stolen" car mess.   He left the office at 8:30 and was gone until 5:10 getting those three cars which were scattered over a little over 200 miles around the mission (I think).   Anyway, after he picked up the license plates and titles, he went to pick up the Elders and get the car out of impound and the tow yard wanted $210 CASH - no checks, no money orders, no credit cards.   It is a good thing we opened an account at a Wells Fargo out here for when we needed cash because that was what finally saved the day and got the car out!

While he was out of the office we had some mail returned to us as undeliverable.   Sister Shaw and I looked at it and just started to laugh.   I told her we must take a picture of it - because it looked like we were encouraging some new rules in our mission.

Can you see what new rules Elder Ashton seemed to be instituting when he sent these two envelopes out?  I wonder if anyone noticed?

More bad mail delivered on Friday.  We have no idea how long it took to get here because it had been wet and part of the envelope was ripped away so it was impossible to tell the postmark date.   ARGGGHHHHH - so frustrating!

But we got some wonderful mail from the Catalina Ward Primary.   We received some letters and some Flat Stanley/Flat Primary Kids.   We will take the Flat Primary Kids along with us on some of our adventures and let the Catalina Primary kids know what it is like to be a missionary in Chesapeake, Virginia :)

On the way home from the office on Friday, I noticed that a number of trees along the road that I had assumed were Evergreens (because they didn't lose their leaves in the winter) had started turning red. When I arrived back at the apartment there were 2 of those trees in the parking lot area so I went to check them out.

As I got closer I was a little frustrated because it looked like the maintenance workers had spilled paint all over the tree.....until I looked closer and realized it was a spotted tree!

It looks like the new growth of leaves comes in red, but also appears that there will be pink/red blossoms showing up soon.  It will be interesting to see what happens.

And Saturday, I found out that I was right - it really has been Christmas in March this week.  Elder Ashton got that shiny new truck he was begging for - a Ruby Red Chevy Crew Cab with a short box.  He's like a little boy in a candy store!

 And there's that OLD man again with that shiny new truck

And now that we are driving a vehicle with a Virginia license plate, I feel like I should say,
"we love all y'all and really miss all y'all.   You have a blessed day now."

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mixed Adventures

Sunday, March 22, 2015

What a mix of events this past week....Some days I felt like I was going around in circles but I think I finally got back to walking a straight line by the end of the week.

An updated picture of Elder Ashton's key barn. You will note that the keys are all still neatly organized but he has added a couple of things.   The Sign Here tags along the bottom shelf are all lined up almost perfectly.  Plus, you probably notice two plastic cars displayed on that bottom shelf.   The Sister Missionaries that work in this area came up to him in the office the other day and told him that since he likes to play with cars, they decided to give him some.   They laughed and laughed about that and then really thought it was cool when I told them that Elder Ashton spent about 20 years as a firefighter so he probably liked the Fire Truck the best ;-)  He also has a white business card holder in there where he has lined up the extra EZ Pass transponders.  Good thing he is such an organized guy- it helps him keep all that stuff straight!

Spring is trying to get a foothold here.   We had several pleasant days this last week before it ended the week on Thursday night and Friday with cold and rain.   The nicer weather is making some of the early blooms and trees come out and it makes me smile when I see the dazzling spots of color :)

I'm not sure what type of plant this is usually in shrub form and has dazzling pinkish/red flowers all over it.   The flowers cover the entire bush and they don't seem to last long but are really pretty while they are blooming!

A dazzling yellow daffodil found in the church courtyard.   I went out there on Wednesday to check and see if the Magnolia tree was blooming yet -- it was not, but I found some gorgeous daffodils.

Blossoming Dogwood trees in the schoolyard across the street.   I noticed the  blossoming trees and when I went over to check it out, I noticed the baseball/softball fields and the track.  I stopped for a minute and imagined I was back in Arizona watching some of my grandkids participating in those sports.
Dogwood is the State Tree for Virginia.

This tree is called a Red Bud tree.   They are quite prevalent in the area and when you see them from a distance it looks like it may be trees with pink blossoms that are ready to bloom, but these are trees that really do have red buds and red blossoms.

I think these are beautiful!

I believe this is a Holly Tree......there are several different species of Holly that grow out here.   This tree was in a cemetery that we stopped out on the Eastern Shore and although there are still a number of red berries on the tree, many had fallen off and were on the ground.   I'm not sure if they lose all their berries in the heat of the summer....guess I need to do some research.  

Saturday morning I decided I wanted to play first and work later, so as soon as I got myself out of bed and got ready we went on a little adventure to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel.  I had been doing some research about this and was anxious to see it and see if I would be able to traverse the bridge/tunnels without feeling claustrophobic or nervous about driving into the water.   The picture below is an aerial view of the boats passing over one of the tunnels

Image result for chesapeake bay bridge tunnel
This bridge/tunnel was first opened in 1964 and is a 23 mile fixed link crossing at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.    You can see the long expanse of bridge, and there are two tunnels along the expanse and 4 high level bridges.   The tunnels and bridges allow ships to still traverse the opening of Chesapeake Bay from the ocean.  The bridge/tunnel won an engineering award in 1965 and I can certainly see why!

Starting across the first stretch of bridge

Approaching the first tunnel....note the ship sitting out further in the ocean waiting to cross under one of the high bridges which was scheduled to open in 45 minutes.

The second tunnel approach seen in the distance.

Entering the second tunnel

 Sun glinting off the water under a cloudy sky.

Approaching one of the high bridges

Feeling almost like we are driving on water.  As I looked out across the expanse of water, and marveled at how any human mind could conceive the idea and work out the complexities of sending traffic 23 miles across the water, I couldn't help but think of the Savior and Peter walking on water.   I thought of the strong faith Peter had to attempt to walk to the Savior and how that faith held him up for a time.   While it is physics and engineering that allowed us to cross the bay, we needed to also have some faith....that the bridges and tunnels would not collapse and we would make it safely from one side to the other.  As well as being a sight-seeing adventure, this little trip turned out to be a faith promoting experience for me too.

Reaching the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.   And I had not felt the least bit nervous while we were crossing the bay!   That's a big change from the first tunnel we drove under when we first arrived and I was so nervous I could hardly breathe.

When we got to the other side of the bridge, commonly called the Eastern Shore, we found this country church with a cemetery beside it.   Elder Ashton said there were too many graves to image so we decided to move on.

First Cemetery seen on Saturday

We drove a little further down the road and came across another church with an attached cemetery.   There were only 150 images there so we stopped and Elder Ashton took photos while I played Tetris on my phone.  
This morning Elder Ashton told me that many of the images he took yesterday and was transcribing this morning were associated with a family where a lady from West Valley City, Utah had entered some genealogical information into Family Search but was missing quite a few names of spouses, etc. I thought that must surely have been an answer to someone's prayer that we would happen upon that cemetery by chance, Elder Ashton would take pictures and post them to Billion Graves (which can connect to Family Search) and notice the connection.   I believe it was not a coincidence that the graves were Elder Ashton who loves taking and posting the images.   

Small town on the Eastern Shore.   I liked the big brick house and the not quite so big white one next to it.

Starting back across the bay

Blue sky, blue water, and sunshine.   Who could ask for anything more?

 Sister Mangum and Sister Taylor attend out ward here in Portsmouth.   These two biological sisters are both widows who served in the Navy many years ago and now live together.   They have stories to tell of living in Italy, Germany, England and several places in the US.   They are quite the pair and I smile every time I see them.   One of them is EXTREMELY opinionated and bossy and is not afraid to tell anyone just how things are.  The other is only Moderately opinionated and bossy.  I love to sit by them at ward socials because they are generally more entertaining than the planned entertainment. Every time I see them, I think of my own sister and wonder what it would be like if we were two old ladies living together....which sister would I be, the EXTREMELY opinionated and bossy one or the Moderately opinionated and bossy one?  

The one in black and white plaid loves BIG earrings and Bright Colors.   She said she had to bring her Cherry purse today for a splash of color!