WOW! What a busy holiday week - filled with lots of work, lots of fun, and great blessings!
Monday started like any other week, but we left the office about 1 p.m. and rushed back to the apartment to pack an overnight bag for our tip to Kinston. We had been assigned to attend the Christmas conference in Kinston on Tuesday for the missionaries in the southern part of the mission and also needed to drop off a bag of bedding that had been left in Portsmouth for a couple of weeks to a missionary in Elizabeth City. We had hoped to find a cemetery for Elder Ashton to image on the way down, but the weather didn't cooperate and it was drizzling rain and pretty dark so no picture taking took place. However we were able to catch a picture or two before the rain got too bad as we made our way down the road to Kinston.
A well-maintained little historic home in one of the small towns we passed through. I particularly liked the trim on the porch and the pretty door.\
One thing I have noticed as we have traveled around back here is that there are a large number of abandoned homes/buildings sitting just off the roadsides. I guess the weather and the dense forest growth quickly takes over those buildings because we see a number of them on each trip we take - mostly overgrown with vines and crumbling down. They seemed to be especially prevalent this time, but because it was gray and rainy I thought a picture would not be able to capture those overgrown homes. We did run across two old barns that are still being used and maintained.....
The wood in this red barn looks really old to me!
This one does not look quite so old and even looks like it has had a new roof not too many years ago.
I like seeing trees growing right up out of the water and the dual image it creates as the trees are reflected in the water. These were out in an inlet we crossed over.
I've mentioned before that this area is really swampy.....and snapped a couple of pictures as we passed by of trees growing out of the green swamp water.
More trees in the same swampy area.
Because Elder Ashton is an early riser, he awoke a couple of hours before I did, went downstairs and got some breakfast and decided to go out and try to take pictures (images) of gravestones in a cemetery he found behind the hotel. When I got up, I looked out the back window to see if I could see him and although I couldn't see him, I must say that I find my eyes filling with tears as I looked at this view of the cemetery through the bare branches and noticed the graves with the flag flying overhead in the misty gray morning. This adventure we have been on has certainly brought me a greater appreciation for this country I am privileged to live in!
We arrived at the Kinstson Stake Center at about 8:30 on Tuesday morning and began helping with the set-up for the conference.
A whole line of these beautiful bushes with the bright red-oranges berries were growing in the flower beds just outside the door to the church. I don't know what kind of bush it is, but told Elder Ashton I wish they would put placards on every plant back here so I could identify what I am looking at ;-)
From the office in Portsmouth, we brought a special Christmas letter for each missionary, packages and other letters sent from home, a case of Books of Mormon, extra pass-along cards, tangerines for the small goodie bags that the Senior Missionaries and the President and Sister Baker had prepared for each missionary and I brought lots of extra "grandma" hugs for the Sister missionaries. We watched The Muppets Christmas Story - about Scrooge and Tiny Tim. It was entertaining :) and then we had a delicious luncheon prepared by several sisters in that stake. Once the luncheon was over, the missionaries had some time to spend together just visiting and having fun....it was great to see them greeting one another and sharing laughter. They had a great time being silly!
Tables set and ready for the group
A few Elders helping President Baker
Sisters enjoying the time together and Elders greeting one another in the background. I got a huge smile on my face as I watched the missionaries hug each other when they came in and saw ex-companions that they served with earlier. They really do become great friends and just like family when they serve together.
Cute Sisters having a great time
Checking each other's head gear out ;-)
Some of the Elders even got in on the silliness :)
A program in the chapel followed and about 20 missionaries performed different musical numbers - guys and girls. It was great. We were privileged to listen to President Walker, the Kinston Stake President, who told a couple of Christmas stories from his own life - one about taking a plate of food to a man named Rudolph at Christmas time. He had no family and lived in really humble circumstances and President Walker said he was an ornery 15 year old who really didn't want to go. However, as he watched Rudolph hungrily eat the food and emotionally thank them, his heart was changed and he realized how much Heavenly Father loved Rudolph. As they got ready to leave, and asked if they could sing a song, Rudolph asked them to sing, "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." He said that night was one of the first times he deeply felt the spirit even though he had been a member of the church his whole life. Very touching story.
We also heard from Sister Baker with a Christmas story and President Baker relating how Christmas is so tied to the atonement....in fact to Christ's entire life. He encouraged the missionaries to focus on the work and think of the gift they are bringing to others as they are out here far away from home. He promised them if they would serve faithfully, they would have success in their future lives as well as happiness now and in the future......the spirit was pretty powerful.
We arrived back in Portsmouth/Chesapeake about 8:15 on Tuesday - a little tired but also energized from our adventure in Kinston.
Wednesday and Thursday were scheduled to be regular office days - but since we had been out of the office for 1.5 days, both Elder Ashton and I had some catching up to do. We got right to work and I was surprised not to find additional bills to pay. I asked the other office staff about it and learned that not one piece of mail was delivered on Tuesday. We waited and waited and waited for the mail. When it had not arrived by about 2:30 I decided to call USPS and see if we could figure out what was going on. I called the national 800# and was told I needed to call the local post office. They gave me the number to call so I got right to that. However, I let the phone ring until it just stopped ringing and got no answer. By this time it was 3 p.m. and still no mail. I finally decided to try the local number again - this time I talked to a supervisor who said he would get with the "substitute" carrier and try to find out why mail had not been delivered and tell him to bring it right by. I am sure he said that because I told him we had 200 missionaries waiting for letters and packages from home and that they would surely be very disappointed if they didn't receive those things because the mail wasn't delivered. We waited and waited and waited - still no mail. I called again at about 4:30 and talked to a different supervisor this time....she said we would NOT be getting a mail delivery that day because she would not talk to the carrier until he returned to base for the day. I gave her the same sob story and at about 5:10 we left the office to come home. At about 5:30 Elder Ashton got a call from the brother who was keeping the Family History Center open saying that the mail had just been delivered and he would put it in the file cabinet in the FHC. Maybe my sob story worked after all.
Thursday we had a few things to do (including getting a few groceries) so we left the office for a bit to get that done. The grocery store was CROWDED! Mail was delivered about 2 p.m. and the President came in about 2:30 to pick up any packages that needed to be delivered so he could play Santa Claus the next day. We left the office before 3 and came home to a VERY QUIET Christmas Eve at home. We talked with a few of our kids that evening - sure do miss all of them!
Christmas Day - is not what it used to be when our six children were at home. I got up about 7:30, we were done opening gifts by 8:30 and I was in the kitchen starting the preparation for a mid-day meal with the Elders.
One of the gifts I gave to Elder Ashton was a custom designed cycling jersey to commemorate his rides to the Great Dismal Swamp with some of the Elders.
The front of the jersey has a picture of the group of them at the end of the trail just as the sun came up. Hope that will provide him with great memories of this mission when we get back to Arizona.
We were able to talk with or FaceTime with the other family members and there is no way to explain how much I loved that opportunity to talk with them. We have a GREAT family - every one of them- and we feel very blessed. We received some wonderful - not wrappable- gifts from family members when we learned of mission preparations and temple plans from several of them. What great gifts - I can't stop smiling each time I think of those upcoming blessings for family members!
After lunch and a couple of games of Left, Center, Right with the Elders, we packed up and headed to Richmond/Monticello for some planned sight seeing on Saturday. I figured that was the best way for me to avoid feeling homesick and feeling sorry for myself due to missing my family.
As we crossed the Monitor/Merrimac Bridge/Tunnel, we noticed this ship out in the bay - in fact, there were three of them. Don't know what they were but they were really big.
Saturday morning we left Richmond and drove about 65 miles out to Monticello (home of Thomas Jefferson - 3rd President of the US and author of the Declaration of Independence). We stopped first at a visitors center and walked around a little......and I quickly learned that Thomas Jefferson was an extremely intelligent man!
Scale model of Monticello
Pictures along with some drawings of Monticello. I learned that he designed the house and hired people to build most of it.....then went to France on business for the government. When he came back, he had become so enamored of French architecture that he tore down the 2nd and 3rd stories of the existing house, redesigned and rebuilt them in more of a French style.
A model of how the rotunda was built.
This is a construction log book, keeping records of the construction of the house.
Some of the types of tools used in the construction
The posts that surround the second floor rooftop were all carved by hand - this is one of those posts.
The posts in "real life"
"Real life" posts on the other end of the house
It is surprising how large the posts are.
A unique tree on the grounds....see how the branches come down and form roots to almost become a second tree.
The same kind of tree....notice the huge bumps on the branches.
Standing outside waiting for the tour to begin
Notice the clock above the front door has only one hand.....Jefferson thought we needed to focus on what we were doing rather than time.....
A unique view in the fog
Statue of Jefferson. I learned that he stood about 6'3" tall and had red hair......I always thought he had white hair because the only pictures I have seen are of him in one of those crazy powdered wigs ;-)
We went under the back of the house and saw this example of the kind of zig-zag roof Jefferson designed.
This is the type of things found in the kitchen - which is under the back of the house
Notice the HUGE spoons and the sings for drainage.
The headstone marking Jefferson's grave.
We left Monticello and headed back to Richmond - to see still more sights. We went to Tredegar Museum which is housed in the old Tredegar Iron Works. At the time of the Civil War, this iron works was the 3rd largest in the nation and was extremely important to the war effort.
One of the foundry buildings with a cannon sitting outside
Elder Ashton getting an explanation and a demonstration of how the balls, ram and powder worked in the cannons.
The "Kids" room with Civil War dress-up clothes, I thought that was a GREAT idea!
A surgeon's kit for civil war time......some rudimentary tools to take care of the wounded.
A paddle-wheel and another cannon outside the foundry.
A building on the foundry property.
Another couple of buildings on the foundry property.
I loved this little memorial area especially when I was reminded that Lincoln came to this area during the war .... "to bind up the nation's wounds" We were listening to something on TV about Lincoln last night talking about the pressures and stresses he endured to do what he felt was right for the nation......it even went so far as to say he is the greatest president this nation has ever had.
Left the foundry and drove over to the state capital which was designed by Jefferson.
We found lots of flowers like this blooming on the State Capitol grounds - we've had lots of warm weather and I guess they think it is Spring.
Coming from the west and not seeing Holly grow in thee wild, I was astonished to see the size of this Holly tree, just inside the fence of the State Capitol grounds.
The state capitol building - designed by Jefferson and still in use today. Very impressive.
The bell tower building on the State Capitol grounds
As we left the state capitol grounds, I wanted to capture a picture of this ornate church just across the street. I was pleased with what I had captured, but didn't realize I had captured a duplicate image until I took a closer look at the photo and could see the reflection of the church tower in the glass windows of the building behind.
As we approached the Monitor/Merrimac Bridge/Tunnel flashing signs warned of fog ahead and required that we reduce our speed. As we crossed over the bridge I could hardly make out the water through the thick layer of fog. We crossed this same Bridge/Tunnel when we arrived here 14 months ago and I nearly freaked out driving through the tunnel.....I think if it had been foggy that day I would have turned around and headed back to Arizona cause it sure was creepy driving over the water in the fog....but thankfully I am adjusting to the water and can even drive through a tunnel or over a bridge without much anxiety!
We have finally reached the end of this adventurous week and you might think that we do nothing but travel around and play.....but that is not true. During this little sight-seeing trip we had the opportunity to share a little about the gospel with a couple of people in the museums, share a pass-along card with another, and help out a mom from India whose 2 year old was having a melt down....so while we play we also do some work ;-)
Although we have really missed family and friends during this holiday season, it has been a season filled with good news and miracles. So as we rush toward 2016, we wish you all a Happy and Prosperous New Year!