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December 3-9 Cooking at High Altitude

On Tuesday we attended a Self-Sufficiency Workshop for people seeking help in applying for employment. Eight young people attended and we had a great time. Bro. Gomez is a great teacher - humorous, detail oriented, lots of examples, and a great way of connecting with the students. We were observing carefully, as we will be teaching this soon. The course covers making goals, evaluating your assets and using them, and how to achieve success. It was a long day, but the students seemed to enjoy it and were excited. After work, we went to buy ourselves a Christmas tree at the HomeCenter (the store name). We hadn't eaten since breakfast, so we stopped at the food court on the ground floor of the HomeCenter and ordered a hamburger to share. Either I was super hungry or it was super delicious! Unfortunately, when we went upstairs to get a tree, they were all gone (the smaller ones). WHAT! It's only Dec. 3. We did find one 5' tree for $300, but that was out of the question. We wheeled the cart around the store looking for an acceptable alternative, like some sort of cool decoration, but they were all so ugly.

Exito, another store we had heard about, was across the highway, so we walked over and it was like a giant Target (the TYPES of things, not the brands). No trees, but we found a pack of Oreo's for $5 (score), along with some more cheddar cheese and a can of Pam spray in the "Imported Food" aisle. We stuffed it all into Mike's backpack and on the way out of the store spotted a white, vinyl, sales tent filled with the last of the Christmas items. There, sitting alone on a pile of boxes, we spotted a perfect little tree about three feet tall. The ticket on the tree said $54,000 pesos ($26), but it was on sale, so we paid just $13! Mike went back inside to get some lights, but came out empty-handed. The only box left was imported from Finland at a cost of $40 for a strand of 100 . . . . . no thank you. We arrived home and our neighbor, Leonor, heard us and came to her door to invite us for juice and cookies. Elisa (Minnie Mouse) received a chef's outfit from her great aunt who was visiting that day and insisted on making cookies, so naturally, she wanted to share them. We sat and visited for awhile, then went home to put away our groceries and put the tree up. Christmas is in the air!

The most exciting thing of the week happened Tuesday night. It was the BIG REVEAL! Megan had her ultrasound in the afternoon and because of sick kids, Matt couldn't be there, so she created a super fun way to let Matt, the boys, and everyone else find out if they would be having a pink or a blue. She baked a cake and colored the batter to match the sex of the baby. Then she frosted it in white and wrote on the top with green, "It's a . . . . . . . . ." When everyone was hooked up to Skype, she carefully cut a slice and when it was removed from the cake, everyone could see it was PINK inside! Yes! After two boys, Matt and Megan will add a little girl to their mix. That will make four little granddaughters to go along with our thirteen grandsons. Soooooo happy!

Wednesday our Area Self-Sufficiency/PEF supervisor from Peru, Hugo Antay, came for our three-day training in the new program that is rolling out in January/February. He is the sweetest, kindest man with a calm demeanor and a heart of gold. The volunteer service missionaries from Bogota, our supervisor, and Mike and I received the training. It was a long, but informative day, and we got home just in time to let the "dueƱo" (landlord) and his repairmen in to begin the repairs. The deck door was easy, he just brought the original key which easily opened the door. Apparently, the three keys made from the original were "malo" (bad). Deck door-check! A new drain and pipes were installed in/under the kitchen sink and so far, no drips. Kitchen sink leak-check! The toilet was removed and I heard whacking and banging and then the toilet was back on. He wants us to test it out and if it won't flush even once, he will replace both it and the bathroom sink even though the sink works perfectly fine. Both fixtures are forest green and he wants them to match (a man who thinks like a woman).

Wednesday PEF Training

Wednesday Lunch - Do Not Ask What is On Mike's
Plate, More on that Dish in a Later Post
 
We spent all of Thursday continuing our PEF (Perpetual Education Fund) training and received answers to most of our questions about the new program, which was great. When our stomachs got hungry, we walked several blocks to a Caribbean restaurant. I enjoyed "pollo planchada" (flattened chicken). The verb meaning "to iron", is "planchar", so I pretended like I thought the chicken was ironed and my female co-workers thought that was so funny. After work, Mike and I continued our search for a clock and Christmas lights. We checked out a “Christmas store” near our office - we discovered they had lots of trees and decorations, but no lights. The Panamericana across the street had a group of clocks, most of which I would not want hanging in the apartment. Hello Kitty just doesn't do it for me nor do huge purple and yellow butterflies. There was only one acceptable choice - silver. Upon check-out, I asked for a battery to make sure the clock worked before getting it home (returns are a nightmare). It was a good thing I checked, because the clock didn't work. They asked me to select one of the other clocks, but I told them the silver one was the only one I liked. They offered another one from under the counter, which had flakes of the silver worn off, but I declined. One resourceful worker checked the computer, found another silver one in the system, and retrieved it. While checking to see if that one functioned, the battery got stuck. Four or five workers attempted to remove it but, without tools, it wouldn't budge. I finally got a pen out of my bag and dug it out, which made me the heroine - it doesn't take much! At that point, we called it a day and stopped for a drink at McD's on the way home. We haven't seen any pay-phones anywhere and now we know why - an alternative exists. On a street corner outside the mall, a viejita (old woman) sat in her wheelchair with five or six cellphones attached to it by five-foot lengths of chain. Anyone needing to use a phone would pay her and she would hand them one of the cellphones. Very creative small business!

Thursday Lunch - Fish Colombian Style

The Cellphone Entrepreneur

Our New Wall Clock
 
Friday was one of our best days yet as we attended the Bogota Temple with Bro. Antay and our co-workers in PEF. The Wakefields, who we met at Thanksgiving dinner, greeted us and helped us get our temple clothes rented. It's amazing that once you're inside the door, all the outside noise from traffic, honking, sirens, loud music, etc. is blocked completely and you are surrounded by the quiet peace of sacred space. Temples are constructed from the finest materials available, as was Solomon's Temple from Old Testament times. Temples are considered to be the House of God and are some of the most beautiful buildings in the world. If you ever have the opportunity to see one before it is dedicated, don't pass it up. After our session at the temple, we took taxis back to the Area Offices and went to lunch at one of our favorite places, Sopas de mi Mama y Postres de mi Abuela, then called it a day. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day for Colombianos and occurs anytime between noon and 2:00 p.m., so we just eat a snack for dinner on days we go out to lunch. While checking the "natural" store in the mall for some Melatonin (no 1 mg tablets to be found in-country), we saw an interesting sight. The cash machine on the main level was in the process of being replenished and four or five guards surrounded the area with pistols drawn and ready to shoot anyone who tried to get the money and run. Umm! Would you mind not pointing that gun in my direction please!

The Bogota Colombia Temple

 
 
Love that we can sleep in on Saturday - 8:30 a.m. (our day off). Yawn! We finally got the courage to light the gas stove to cook some breakfast. It is an older stove and kind of scary looking (images of exploding kitchen cabinets had come to mind). We bought some matches so we could light the gas burners (two electric and two gas), but decided later we needed a butane fire starter instead after discovering the matches were 1" long with plastic shafts. No thanks! I did most of the laundry Friday night so we could get an early start on our hunt for Christmas lights. While on our way to town, we ran into a friend from church and he took us to the "centro", then right to a little store with all kinds of Christmas lights. Yippee! What he calls the centro is the place to find things. It is one of the older business areas of Bogota and the sidewalks were filled with street vendors selling everything imaginable. The guys selling ties even called us "Elders" (they evidently had some experience with our missionaries buying ties). We also found Christmas ribbon there to decorate our little tree. We took a taxi back to the apartment, as we purchased way too many groceries to carry that far.

My fun thing for the day was baking cookies. I got a Betty Crocker Chocolate Chip Cookie mix since decent tasting chocolate chips are not to be found in Colombia. I made the dough and turned on the oven. The temperature dial only went up to 350 degrees, which I thought was a little weird. While talking to Amy on FaceTime, I went to check on the cookies and found smoke pouring out of the oven. When I opened it, the smoke alarm started beeping loudly, just as I got a glimpse of the blackened circles on the cookie sheet. What! Eight minutes at 350 degrees could do that? Upon closer inspection of the temperature dial, I noticed the faint outline of the letter "C" above it. Oh, yeah. Centigrade. I cooked those babies at 662 degrees Fahrenheit! While the smoke cleared, I made bows from the Christmas ribbon and put the lights on the tree. We're going to leave them on continuously as the prongs of the plug are like aluminum foil and bent almost in half when I missed the plug the first try. The cookies? Well, I cooked the rest of them at 200 degrees (Centigrade!) and they were the right color, but flatter than pancakes. My friend later told me you HAVE to adjust for the high altitude. I guess that would be right, since Bogota sits at about 9,000 feet.

That evening we walked to the church for our ward Christmas party. As usual, it started about an hour later than announced. One of the young set of missionaries brought a couple with them who are investigating the church. Blanca is a lovely woman about my age and her husband has been blind for 7 years as a result of diabetes. We chatted and as we did, others members came over to greet them. Two minutes before the program began, the bishop asked Mike to give a Christmas message, as one of the speakers couldn't come at the last minute. He did a great job! Then, while a second person was giving their message, the elders (whenever I use this terms it means the young missionaries) came and asked us if we would join them in singing "Away in a Manger" for the musical number. When it was our turn, we stood around the microphone and started on three different pitches (with piano accompaniment). It took about one line to get everyone together. Dinner was served one plate at a time and looked a little dicey - rolled up beef with egg filling and other unrecognizable items, so Mike and I disappeared before we got to the head of the line and found a nice little Italian restaurant down the street, where we enjoyed dinner with Rudolph staring at us through the window. Mike asked the waiter if they run out of meat do they kill the deer? The waiter thought that was pretty funny. Mike ordered what he thought was Chicken Parmesan, but got breaded chicken smashed as flat as a pancake. They seem to like to do that with chicken here.

On the way home, we saw small candles burning everywhere we looked - in doorways, on the sidewalks, on stairways, etc. We asked the neighbors - why all the candles? We received various explanations (everything EXCEPT Pearl Harbor Day), so Mike looked it up on the internet. Evidently, the immaculate concepcion is celebrated in Colombia on December 8 and it marks the official beginning of the Christmas season. So on the 7th, beginning in the evening, they express their fervor through fireworks, Christmas lights, and by lighting small candles. It was very beautiful. This goes on until about 4 in the morning of the 8th (which it did), ending in a rousing fireworks finale (which it did). They call it the Day of the Velitas (little candles).
 
Baked With Love at Nearly 700 Degrees

The Ward Christmas Party

Scary Reindeer

Day of the Velitas

Bogota at Night
 
Blanca and her husband attended church on Sunday and enjoyed it very much. They are such sweet people. We told them about the work we do with helping people with employment and they were very interested. Her husband is attending a program to learn computers for the blind and he also makes mops which Blanca sells, but this is not sufficient. Sunday evening we had dinner at the home of the Mouritsen’s and their three children (members of our congregation). He works for the DEA at the American Embassy. When the elevator doors opened to their apartment, Caroline (4 yrs) was waiting, threw her arms around my legs, and yelled, "Grandma's here!" Claire (8) and Sam (6) called me "Grandma" and "Fake Grandma" the entire evening. We did puzzles and played Memory. Before dinner began, a set of missionaries and another mom and her two kids, Mikela (8) and Ariana (4) joined us. They called me "Grandma" also (the kids, not the missionaries:) I was on cloud nine. While doing puzzles, Claire remarked, "You're a fun Grandma. Our grandma just hangs out with our mom. She doesn't play games." So don't forget to play games with your grand kids if you're a grandma! The Mouritsen’s mentioned they had seen us from their car after they left the Christmas party – hadn’t we left much earlier they asked? Busted!     

Fake Grandpa

Be Careful How You Light These Puppies

Our Christmas Tree
 
Monday at the office was humming. Everyone was busy, busy, busy trying to get all of December's work done before Dec. 15, when things pretty much shut down in Colombia (through about the 5th of January). We put in a ten-hour day on Monday and will continue to do so through the holidays, since we really don't have the same types of distractions as the locals. And that is why we are here. We seem to have a growing sense of how fast our time is going to go and a corresponding sense of urgency. We will take some time to celebrate our 40th anniversary on December 21 and take a break on Christmas Day. On the other hand, one's thoughts always turn to family at this time of year and being alone so far from home is going to be tough. We miss you. We try not to think about it too much or the emotions flow, if you know what I mean.

Chao from Bogota

 

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