My sweetheart is sleeping this afternoon because he doesn't feel well due to a flu bug with a cough. Our afternoon appointment cancelled because she was sick. Here in Armenian, the belief is that if it is cold outside, you will probably get sick if you are out in it. One of our investigators is a guard at a bank they are building. They shut off all the electric so he has no heat or lights where he guards. He got the flu really bad and told us it was because they shut off the electric. So if someone is sick, it is due to the cold weather you were out in or cold buildings. I felt bad for him as he is pretty miserable without heat or lights and to be sick on top of that. However, the great news is that he brought his 4 year old son and 9 year old daughter to the New Year’s Party/Christmas party for our branch in Gyumri on December 27. That was not a typo, Here in Armenia, the holidays run from 31st of December (New Year’s Eve) to the 6th of January, which is Christmas. So while we are on our mission, we get to have two Christmas celebrations.
The day after our Christmas celebration (December 25th), we went to a Christmas program at the elementary school, There were about 25 children all dressed up in costumes like different toys and snow princesses, The music teacher was with them on stage leading them in their songs and helping them to know when to say their lines. After each line was said and song sung, there were cheers from the audience. Some of the songs were even in English like Jingle Bells. The teach the children English, Russian and Armenian in the schools. At the end all the children chanted calling for Grandfather Winter to come for about 5 minutes. When he showed up, they were all screamed with excitement. To end the play, they sang a song in English called Happy New Year and lite sparklers several children were holding on the stage. Everyone in the audience knew the song, and sang along with them.
That night, we went with the missionaries to teach a man who lives by himself. His electric is shut off so he had us come into his kitchen to be taught. He had moved his bed in the kitchen to keep warm so three of us sat on it while the other two sat on the kitchen chairs. The room was warm since he had three of his gas burners on the stove on for warmth and the room had light due to the stove and 4 candles lite in the room. As the missionaries started to teach, he was having a real hard time focusing. But as he felt the spirit of what they were saying, all of sudden he really focused and started to listen. As they taught, he wanted to hear more and got excited. For some reason, it reminded me of the play earlier that day when the children got so excited when Grandfather Winter came on to the stage. Isn't it great that we can all get excited about our feelings and what happens in life no matter our age.
On Tuesday the 27th was the Gyumri branch party at 3:00 in the afternoon. We have one large room that we use for a chapel on Sunday and a recreation hall for activities. All you have to do is hook up the sound system, to put up some balloons and streamers and then move the chairs to the side of the room. We sang Christmas songs out of the hymn book, watched people dance some Armenian dances, watched a couple of skits about New Year’s Eve and Grandfather Winter coming and listened to several people sing songs. But the highlight for our family would be when the children called for Grandfather Winter to come and it was my sweetheart dressed up in a Santa outfit. We were worried when the asked him since we don't speak Armenian, but here all he had to do was pass out some boxes of candy they had for the children and have his picture taken with different groups for old to young. One of the sisters came to get me to help him since his pants were coming down. He had put his costume over his clothes but the pants didn't have a belt and kept slipping down. He has already got it planned how to handle it for next year. I helped with the refreshments. Every plate had an apple, orange, 2 pieces of candy, cookie, and a tortilla with chicken and grated carrots inside is the best way to describe it-it's really good! After eating, they all dance to Armenian music. Everyone dances - old and young, missionaries old and young. It was really fun!
On Wednesday the 28th, we squeezed 4 of us into a cab to go to Vanadzor, our other area an hour away. After our district meeting and teaching appointment, we found out that it was Vanadzor's day for the New Year’s/ Christmas Party at 3:00. Much to my sweetheart disappointment:(, they have a professional Grandfather Winter in the branch so he could just relax and enjoy the afternoon. They turned the chapel into the recreation hall, had the same sound system, tree, balloons and streamers so I think that these are the typical decorations for New Year’s/Christmas. The program was about the same with carols, skits, musical numbers, dances and Grandfather Winter arrival just before the food was served. The food was just about the same and there was lots of fun dancing after. I wonder at my age if there is a need for an old American Dancer in Logan? After the party at about 6:00, we helped teach a lesson at the church until about 8:00. He was a businessman with lots of good questions that we were able to help answer. My sweetheart was really able to help with this lesson a lot.
On Thursday the 29th, we woke up in Vanadzor at the huge hotel downtown. It is close to the church and the missionaries so it is walking distance to everything. It is 4 stories high and huge. However, they only use the 4th floor at this time. You tell them what time you'll be coming in so they can turn the heat on in your room and warm it up. There is a bucket of water to flush the toilet if there is no water. You tell them what time you want warm water in the morning so they can get you back up water turned on if there is no water for your shower. We always buy some bread, apples and juice to have for breakfast before we check in at night. Our first teaching appointment was at 11:00 to a cute little old Armenian sister who is 76 years old. She joined the church a couple of years ago and had wanted the missionaries to come over. They have to have a priesthood holder with them to visit so we were a perfect fit. She gave us some of her homemade peach juice that was really good. She sang and danced for us which was delightful. It reminded me of an old medicine man dancing and singing. We looked at pictures of her performing in the past in her much younger days. It was amazing to her story about joining the church and how it changed her life for the good.
It was one of our missionaries birthdays, so we took the six missionaries out for lunch in a place near the church they had never been before. It was really nice and even had a water fall inside it. We had salad, soup and main dishes with juice to drink. For main dishes some had buffalo wings (basically fried chicken wings) with lots of fries, steak and fries, chicken stew and pork pot pies with hot home bread on top (my favorite). It cost about $6 a person for all of that in this nice restaurant. After that wonderful meal, we went out to teach two lessons. One sister had lost her mother a year ago and was having a hard time. She was interested in the temple and taking out her endowments. Since we had worked there, we were able to share with her some things that really helped her. The second sister had had an operation and was recovering. She had some family member's visiting her so we were able to tell them a little about the gospel. The aunt was laughing as she was telling us that she had a degree in math and had ended up having a business making noodles. At 5:00, we all met back at the church to sing Happy Birthday and eat a beautifully white decorated cake. The cab picked us up at 5:45 and we headed back to Gyumri. On the way, the driver had to stop for natural fuel for the car. It is about 10 miles out of town and you have to get out of the car and get several feet back while they fill up the car just in case it explodes. The moon was beautiful and I thought of all of you:)
It was getting cold in the room I am in, so I turned on the little heated by the computer and warmed up some Armenian cherry juice which is wonderful. I will really miss it when we go back home as I have never tasted anything like it. It is not just me either as all the elders love it also. There is a certain kind of cherry tree they have here that we don't have in the US. It was really fun to watch all the excitement of everyone getting ready for New Year’s/Christmas. The stores and the street markets were jammed with people buying for the last minute preparation. Just like we save money for Christmas, they save money or borrow money from family for this celebration. The women in the home all talk about the week before all the cooking they have to do for New Year’s Celebration. The store carry special things also. We found mozzarella and Swiss cheese and ham which we hadn't ever seen before in the store on Saturday. The elders were thrilled to get ham and cheese sandwiches with the chili we served them.
One of the hardest things about being on a mission so far away is that you can't be there for the really hard times for your loved ones. We have been very concerned about Ed's father, Muerto. I can remember when we first met him, how impressed I was with the kind of gentle, loving man he was. I could see why Catherine loved him so much when she talked about him. It was very apparent that he loved his sweetheart, sons and their wives and grandchildren. You could tell that he had been a hard worker all his life providing for his family. Having a handicapped child myself, I was so impressed that he would go visit Louey so often. I remember how thrilled Catherine and Ed were when he decided to get on his very first airplane ride and go and visit them. I thought of the courage that would take for me to be able to do that especially by myself. I loved looking at the pictures of him during the visit and the expressions on his face. He was having so much fun and loving every minute of it. I was inspired by the picture him to going down the giant wagon at the park when I decided to try it following his example. Catherine told me how much the boys loved it when he would go out in the backyard to spend time and swing them. None of us knew at that time that that would be the greatest gift he could give their family in this life was his time. He will truly be missed by all of us that loved him. The only way to comfort myself at this time so far away is to think about how great the reunion is on the other side with his loved ones that have passed on. Thank you Ed and Catherine for sharing such a wonderful man with us.
Our electric went off twice on Saturday which caused us to lose our heat Saturday night about 10. We were planning to stay up for the New Year’s fireworks at midnight but it got so cold in the house that we got in bed to stay warm. We both fell asleep and woke up at midnight with fireworks booming over our head. We live on the top floor of our building and someone was on the roof above us shooting fireworks off the building. Our kitchen window overlooks the city, so we were able to watch the great show that Armenians put on for New Years. The fireworks were the kind they shoot off for the 4th of July only this was all from individuals. What really surprised us was how long it lasted. We finally went back to bed about 1:00 a.m. I was thinking of all the excitement of the children in Armenia as I drifted off to sleep. The parents had probably just been able to calm them down and got them to sleep. Grandfather Winter comes on New Year’s Eve while they are all sleeping. I was thinking of their excitement as they woke up the next morning. I remember how excited my own grandchildren were when we watched them on Christmas morning. Thank you parents for making that possible for us to treasure.
New Year’s day started off with church at 11:00. Everyone was full of the holiday spirit and one sister even gave us some candy out of her purse to get us in the spirit of it. "Snore haw vor nor daree" was said over and over by all. For church we had an opening song, prayer. the Sacrament, closing song and prayer. Most of them were so excited that they were thrilled. My only concern was about a sister loves the gospel and church so much. She lived in the village of Artic which is about an hour away. She had got paid the day before and was so excited because she could afford to go to church the next day. The mar/shoot/knee didn't fun on New Year’s so she took a cab which I am sure was most of her pay with transportation both ways. But still she was just happy to visit with the members and talk to the missionaries for a while. She is such a happy person who just loves life. She is a great example to us all. The missionaries spent the day with us eating pancakes, playing Zarahemla, watching It's a Wonderful Life and eating stew, bread, salad and cake. My sweetheart found that if you use T bone steaks the meat is tender enough for stew meat if you boil it for several hours. They had to be in by 7:00 both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
In Armenia, New Year’s Day is a big family day so they encouraged us not to visit on those days. They all make big tables full of food and go visit each other enjoying each other's tables of food. The first day is with family and the rest of the days are when friends are included to come and visit until January 6th which is the day they celebrate the birth of Christ. The tables of food are full for anyone who comes to visit. Most of the businesses are closed during this week except for a few stores, cabs and mar/shoot/knees for transportation. It is a time to visit each other and relax together.