Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas away from home

Well, here we are the week of Christmas surviving a Canadian winter with no snow and warmer temperatures than Logan, Utah. Everyone tells us "wait until January through April". We did pass a house with snow and a snowman (man made, of course). We decided the heat wave in Toronto comes from Santa's extracurricular activities. It will be a different Christmas being away from home, but we are not alone; There are hundreds of other missionaries in the mission (and thousands from other missions) that are also away from home this year.

Snow in Toronto

Mr. & Mrs. Santa heating it up in Toronto
Sister Wheeler got a call from Sister Carroll who was having a piano recital in Brampton on Monday evening and wondered if Sister Wheeler would be willing to play a lively song like "Sleigh Ride" for the recital. She agreed. Sister Carroll had the music in Brampton, but we looked for it (without success) in Toronto so Sister Wheeler could practice. She got the music about 5:30 before the 7:00 recital and was able to run through it a couple of times. She didn't like the left hand part of the arrangement, so during the first part of the recital she changed how she would play it. She really jazzed it up and made it a lot of fun.

Sister Wheeler at the piano in Brampton
We decided we needed to reach out for Christmas instead of just feeling sorry for ourselves for not being with family. One way to do this was to offer a Christmas party for our zone as part of Wednesday's district meetings. Sister Brown said her family had Navajo Tacos for Christmas, but where do you find fry bread in Toronto? We decided on Indian Tacos and used "naan" (a bread from India) instead. Sister Wheeler made three batches of chili and prepared the fixings for the party. She made an ice cream roll and a jelly roll (for a sister who is lactose intolerant) for dessert. We found some soup mugs and put a package of chicken-noodle soup and goldfish crackers in the mugs for gifts. They held separate district meetings then combined for a short program with music, special thoughts, and testimonies. This was followed by lunch for 24 missionaries. It was a lot of work, but the missionaries seemed to enjoy the activity so it was worth the effort. 

Soup mugs with soup and crackers
Setting for lunch
Hungry missionaries
Thursday was a day to take Christmas cards to some of the Portuguese ward members. We passed out cards on Sunday to those who were at church. We had cards for all of those we have met in the ward. We were able to visit Paulo (real name Amerigo) and his wife Maria from Portugal. Out of all the homes, theirs gives the us the feeling of visiting Portugal. Part of it comes from the pictures on their wall painted by an aunt. Also, Maria sings Fado, the traditional Portuguese song. She treated us with a rendition while we were there. We also stopped by Dufferin Mall for a few items and visited the park across the street with a fun little house. 

Portuguese guitar (one of several paintings)
Paulo and Maria (with grandson)
Little house in the park
We have been trying to get free tickets to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, but finally gave up and paid the price. This is a world class natural history and anthropological museum. They had a special exhibit on the Mayans. There were artifacts from around the world, both modern and ancient. There were also dinosaur bones (and a lot of man-made casts to fill in the gaps), bird and mammal exhibits, and a wonderful mineral and gemstone exhibit. The AAA guide suggest planning 3 hours, but we were there for at least 5 hours. 
Royal Ontario Museum
Native-American canoes
Asian warriors
Small part of the mineral collection
Star sapphire
Damaru with human skull caps
Egyptian tomb visit

We started Saturday with a shortened version of ESL. Our topic was about holidays so our class read Luke 2 from the bible, explaining words they didn't know. We had a short party afterwards for the students. We took out some more Christmas cards. We were able to see several of the Portuguese members with whom we have had little contact. One was Catia (we had met with Patricio, her husband before). Her nine-year-old son has not been baptized, but Catia agreed that it would be a good idea for him to receive lessons and prepare for baptism.

Catia with son and daughter

We were invited by the Verdasca family to join them for their Christmas Eve activities. We were very grateful, but didn't realize how extensive their traditions were. We started with a wonderful dinner which included port loin and a traditional Christmas fish dish. For desert we had Bolo do Rei (Cake of the King) which is traditional in Portugal as well as other treats (one of which was a rice pudding that Elder Wheeler especially liked). We read the Christmas story from Luke and Matthew (in Portuguese, of course) interspersed with Christmas carols. Next came Santa and handed out gifts (for us too). Tiago, a boy who will barely say two words at church, was full of life. Everyone was really laughing, especially Grandma Elvira. We finally had a chance to meet Manuel Berrencourt (a friend of Verdascas). We have seen his son, Tiago, at church, but Manuel was one of the Portuguese members we had not been able to visit. Overall it was a wonderful Christmas celebration.

Sister Verdasca, our hostess
Grandma Elvira and her new-born grandson
Good food with pork loin and traditional fish dish
Many desserts with traditional King Cake, etc.
Tiago and Manuel Bettencourt
Sister Santa
Elder Santa
The "real" Santa (Tiago)
The family gang

Christmas Day was on Sunday this year (I guess it was for the rest of you too). We had a small tree with only a few gifts. Since we are always together, there were few surprises. Elder Wheeler got some Bucky Balls to play with and Sister Wheeler got some wooden spoon drum sticks for the kitchen. The biggest sunrise was the small quilt Andrea made with pictures of our grandchildren. It brought us to tears. We received many Christmas cards this year that let us know we are not forgotten. Thank you.

Christmas Tree (setting) with presents
Sister Wheeler with her wooden spoon drum sticks
Family quilt
Christmas cards in the window
We only had sacrament meeting for church on Christmas Sunday. The bishop wanted to have a Spanish choir and a Portuguese choir, each to sing three songs. The Spanish choir, though small, has been practicing before church for several weeks. The Portuguese choir was set to practice after church, but with baptismal serves (and many other things) only one person showed up and that was only one time. When all else fails in the mission field - Call On The Missionaries. We put together a choir at the last minute with 15 missionaries (5 Portuguese-speaking, 6 Spanish-Speaking, and 4 English-speaking) and 6 members of the ward to sing two songs in Portuguese. Don't tell the Spanish members, but it was better than their numbers even after all their practice.

We mentioned a few weeks ago that the Toronto ward had a new Brazilian bishop. We finally caught him and his wife in the hall for a photo. There seems to be a lot of excitement about the work among the Portuguese in Toronto (except for the choir, of course).

Bishop Landim and his wife
We had another Portuguese baptism today (though Mateus doesn't speak Portuguese, his mother does). He is 9-years old and hadn't been baptized so the elders worked to teach him and work with his mother to prepare for the baptism. Sometimes working with the children strengthens the parents as well.

Mateus with his mother, Amanda (right), Sidy (left), and the Portuguese elders

Well, Christmas is wrapped up and 2011 is almost wrapped up. In case some of you have not heard the news - We Are Being Transfered the first week in 2012 to a small branch called Trent Hills. There are no other missionaries there and only about 15 active members. Goodbye big city and hello small town (the whole township which covers a large area and includes three small communities only numbers about 12,000 people). We hope to have more information on the next blog.


AZ SMITHS said...

Sounds like you had a busy Christmas season. It was really nice of you to throw a party for all the missionaries. I'm glad you liked the quilt. Love you!

Nancy W. Jensen said...

That quilt is gorgeous and so fun, Andrea! Sounds like you are experiencing the festive nature of the Latin people--we vanillas just have no concept of a party, do we?