Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas in Croatia...

I can hardly believe that Christmas has come and gone! Christmas here is so much more layed back than it is in the United States. But maybe I just think that because I did absolutely no shopping so I wasn't out in the thick of things like I usually am...They start their season two weeks before Christmas with St. Nicholas Day. The children clean their shoes and St.Nicholas puts treats in them. Kind-of like a Christmas stocking. No one takes off work or school, no huge big deal. We did see St.Nicholas down at the center of town, but he was with the devil or what it seemed to be, but later we found out that it was some one called "Black Pete" who is his helper. They sell branches with glitter on them, supposedly to spank bad children with. I looked up on line some history and here is a little of what I found.
 Strictly speaking, the tradition of St. Nicholas is not synonymous with the role of Santa Claus in the U.S.. As practiced in many European countries, the celebration of St. Nicholas is separate from the Christmas holidays, and occurs during the 2 weeks prior to December 6th, which is St. Nicholas day. Sometimes St. Nicholas Day is the main holiday for gift giving, and not Christmas. In anticipation of St. Nicholas nightly visits, children in several European countries put their shoes in front of the fire place. They sing traditional songs and provide a carrot or hay for the horse. At night Black Pete puts gifts and candy in the shoes.

 (December 6th). At one point during the evening, a loud knock will herald the arrival of St.Nicholas and at the same time candy may be thrown from upstairs; when the door is opened, a bag of gifts will be on the doorstep.
For families with older children and adults, different twists are added to the gift giving and may include gag gifts or the drawing of gift ideas or names, and most times are accompanied by poems with a "personal touch" that poke fun at the recipient in a gentle way (or not, depending on the families ;) ). Wrapping the presents up in odd packages and planting a trail of clues is also part of the general fun, and can sometimes be pretty tricky to get to, depending on the squeamishness of the recipients.

   So then on Christmas Eve they put up their Christmas tree...finally! You should have seen the flurry of activity two days before. All the sudden tree lots sprang up everywhere! Beautiful trees! Not huge ones like we have, (their homes are way too small to accommodate big, huge ones for the most part) but about 4  foot trees that were more like little bushes they were so full. No Charlie Brown trees here! They decorate them as a family and then they are left up until Feb. 2nd.
   Christmas Day is a family day where they gather with dinner and treats. I think Santa Clause is thrown in here at some point with gifts for the children, but certainly not indulged. The little girl in our ward got a Simba stuffed animal and I think that is about all. But no one gets stuff, so it's all good.
   As for Jim and I , we had the Elders over for a nice Christmas Eve dinner, they came a little early and helped cook. It was pretty fun. We had a member that doesn't have a family of his own here in Varazdin come over as well.
   Christmas Morning after they opened gifts from their families in their apartment, the Elders came over again and we pretty much spent the day playing games, eating leftovers and candy from our amazing boxes from home, (That's another blog) and of course Skyping. The Elders each got a turn talking to their parents and it was fun to see how excited they were. The time waiting for their arranged schedules were just so full of anticipation that by the time they actually visited with their families I think they were just exhausted!
   I found out earlier this week that the Croatian Christmas that the Zagreb Elders and Sisters were going to go to fell through at the last minute so they all went to Chinese Restaurant for Christmas dinner. I felt sooo bad! Zagreb is only an hours bus ride for them, they could have come to our house as well, had I known. I promise I will keep better tabs on what is going on in Zagreb next year!
   NOW! Here is the best part! We got packages from home!!! Boy did we get packages! The  23rd of December we had a wonderful Zone Conference/Christmas Party in Zagreb with all the Elders and Sisters in Croatia, all the Serbian Elders and the Humanitarian Couple from there as well, also the office couple, Elder and Sister Robinson and President and Sister Hill that came from Slovenia. It was an awesome conference. I will post pictures so you can see how much fun we had. And at the very end of the conference......da! da! We got PACKAGES!!!!  We could hardly wait to get home.. We almost had a mix up, but Jim saved the day. One of our packages was from our children and my sisters, our daughter, Charity posted it. It so happens that her last name is Jones, so one of the Elders who name is ELDER JONES started walking out the door with it. But Jim figured it out and retrieved the package for us. But after we saw the disappointed look on his face, we really felt bad for him..It was a really big package and he thought he'd hit the jackpot!
    We also got a package from our dear friends in Las Vegas and a package from Jim's brother and his wife from Mountain Green. Every one must have just been inspired, because we absolutely loved everything we got! I think I've gained another 5 lbs with all the delicious junk food! And my cupboards are still full! I've been eating pickles, yes, real pickles, like they were See's candy!  But I must admit the See's candy was the first to go! All our favorites...Yummmm
    We can't even begin to express how much the packages meant to us. They represented so much! Home, family, support, love and sacrifice of not only means but of time to put them together and get them sent over here at the busiest time of year. Each one of them, as we opened them made us feel like a couple of little kids on Christmas morning! How grateful we are to all of you who thought of us and made our first Christmas in the mission field so wonderful!
   Okay, I know this is bordering on being a book here, but we got one special thing in one of our packages that I just have to share with you. It was a new companion! His name is Elder Stanley. Our grand daughter Emma sent him over to us. And he has made our Christmas sooo fun!  Thank-you Emma, we are taking good care of him and will send him on his way soon. Many of our Christmas pictures have flat/ Elder Stanley in them so if you see a little paper Elder in a few pictures, that's why. Also, if you would like Flat Stanley to come visit you for a week or two, leave me a comment and I will get him to you.
   So Christmas has come and gone and we are anxious to get things back to normal. We are in Bosnia today and will see our little Bosnian family and will check on our Red Cross wheelchair shipment. Also we are going to a invalid hospital tomorrow as well.  We are still in the throws of the holiday season here in Bosnia, as their Christmas isn't until the 7th of January. Driving around town today was a joke! It's just a free for all is all I can say and I'm sure glad that when Jim prayed this morning he prayed for safety. I'm quite sure we had angels hovering over us protecting us from the crazy drivers and their lack of civility, good sense and ability to obey traffic signs!
   Next week we will be in Croatia and we are going to put in a project request for a children's hospital. It's a hospital that has about 100 children living in it that are disabled. When parents found out that their children had problems they just surrender them to this hospital.For many different reasons. I suspect the biggest one is money. Children with special needs require so much more money to raise and that is in short supply for most of the people here.  They need toys..Yeah! I hope I get to be on a toy buying mission soon! We will go visit the hospital next week I hope. I'll keep ya posted.
  Okay, this really is not a book.. I will quit now. Love to you all!  I gave up posting more pictures..Blogger decided to rebel. I will post more next time.

We put together and decorated gingerbread houses.
President Hill and his wife have the missionaries sing and play the "Hills Bells"  They really are pretty good at it!
You see who didn't participate very well. If you have ever heard me sing, you know why. Besides, I am on a picture taking mission, right?
Who wouldn't love these faces?  We have the best Elders ever!

Don't know why this picture ended up here, but I don't even try to understand the mysteries of blogger!
Clean up is Jim's expertise!
Mail room!  Those three on the orange couch were ours!
Christmas Eve Dinner with Elder Stanley.
Introducing Elder Stanley!
This was really about the best part of zone conference. Each missionary received at lest one, maybe multiple letters from home. They sat quietly and read these letters, many of them with unashamed tears rolling down their faces. I hesitated to disturb the spirit here, but my desire to always remember this time overcame.

We had wonderful Croatian food made by a chef whose wife is a member.

Yes, at over 7 feet tall, he does play basketball as does his brother who is 7'4" . He is from Canada , I want to say his name is Bachinski, but not sure of the spelling. Sis. Robinson?

Some of the Elders got very creative with their gingerbread houses?

All that gingerbread, frosting and all those beautiful much loved letters from home didn't just magically appear. Sister Robinson and Sister Hill are the worker bees that made it all happen. I bet they went to bed pretty tired that night!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dixon Christmas Party

Dixon Christmas Party- 2010
These are some of my brothers and sisters.
Linda Staker, Pat Welsh, Dick Dixon, Mary Kaye Dixon, Dave Dixon, and Kim Dixon
   As tradition has it,  every year my family, the Dixon's, have a huge Christmas party. Usually it is held in someones church, because we have way too many people to fit into a home. Over the years it has been played with, tweaked, down right changed, and some times openly grumbled about.  I came from a family of ten so there were always plenty of opinions about how, when and where the party would be held. One of the first changes that we made in the party was years ago when we finally quit giving gifts to each other, then there was the year that we finally talked my mother into giving up what she absolutely loved to do...give her grandchildren gifts. Mind you, she had 40 grandchildren by the time we talked some sense into her. It took her all year long and a good deal of their modest income to keep up that tradition.
   We have had years with Santa attending,  We have had some years with a talent show, for many years we all brought gifts for a sub for Santa family. A few years we tried to do an open house format, but that was fleeting, it's been in many different ward churches all along the Wasatch front, but a few things have remained  constant. We gather, we remember our roots, we know Christmas is a time for family, and a time to share with others.  This year at the Dixon Christmas party each family brought a wrapped gift. It was then auctioned off with the proceeds going to help Santa deliver Christmas to three little families in the Dixon fold who are struggling with the current economy. We try to take care of our own. I wish I could tell you more about all the wonderful things that went on this Christmas season, but I don't want to ruin the magic.
   When Mom and Dad both passed away, we thought, "well, the party really was for them, maybe we don't need it so much anymore", How wrong we were. Mom and Dad knew something we didn't . The Dixon Christmas party and all family parties everywhere, bring us that little bit of heaven, a little sneak preview of what it will be like, Aunts, Uncles, cousins, children, grandchildren. We do need the Dixon Christmas party! It's a time to rejoice and renew our belief  that Families are Forever.
    This year I didn't think I would be able to attend my families Christmas Party. WRONG ! I was there! From the dining room table in our house in Bosnia, Jim and I attended the party! How cool is that? We were seated at one end of the cultural hall and one at a time I got to visit with most of my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, children, grandchildren and all those precious people we cherish and love. Just to hear their voices, see them and to be able to see all the people getting their food, wishing each other Merry Christmas, giving each other hugs. What better gift could I have? I love Skype, I love Jim for asking Russ to set it up in the church for me, and I love Russ for going to the effort to do it. And I love all the people who came and spent a few minutes of their evening talking to us. The only thing I missed was the boiled custard, pumpkin rolls and ham!

Boiled custard and pumkin rolls! Yummm....Anyone needs a lesson on how to make the boiled custard?
James is the go to man. Give him a call!

Good Food....good company

A big thanks to Sandy Dixon for taking the time to send me pictures! I would have posted a few more, but it was taking way to long to put each one on the blog. 
   We had a wonderful Christmas and I will try to blog again about our first Christmas in the mission field!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

T'was the week before Christmas....

These are the things that are happening the week before Christmas:

 Our Elders are moved Monday into a new apartment. Yeah! They deserve a place that is not called for good reason, "The Cave".  We are excited for them and hope we can help them a little tomorrow.

Our little branch in Varazdin is having a Christmas program Monday night. We plan on attending with bells on our toes!

Tuesday is apartment checks, gotta love those missionaries! Hope no one comes in to check mine! Helped our missionaries move into and clean their nasty dirty kitchen. Great apartment, really, dirty kitchen..

Weds. Finish up our Elders kitchen cleaning. I sprayed the oven and need to go back to finish the job. Then do some last minute grocery shopping, (it would be nice if I could figure out what I am going to cook for our first Christmas dinner in the mission field). Does my companion really NEED a present? He says no, but my guess is yes. Maybe I can ditch him for a few minutes.

Thursday is Zone Conference, the Serbian Elders, and Senior Couple, all the Croatia Missionaries and The mission president and office couple and A.P's for Slovenia will be there. Mail call is the most important event of the day! Yeah!!!!  I understand that we have not one, but two boxes waiting for us. One from Las Vegas and one from our kids in Utah. Every parent should go on a mission before they send a kid out, so they know how wonderful and how loved you feel when you get a box! Sorry kids, if I didn't get you good boxes sent!

Friday is Christmas Eve and we will be having the Elders over for dinner.

Saturday we will be waiting for Skype to be up and running so we can be a part of as much of Christmas with our children as possible.

So we want you all to know how much we love and appreciate you. May you all have a Very Merry Christmas....Our card says it all! 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gratitude and More....

We started the week by being in the newspaper for our Red Cross Wheelchair closing. Not really celebrities, but made a tiny little corner on the back page. The missionaries translated it for us. It had about one sentence in it about the church.
Tuesday we went to lunch with the President of Caritas and his wife. Such good people, we are blessed to have been able to get to know them. As we entered the restaurant, there were two priests eating at a nearby table. Our friend had a few words with them and then sat down at our table. Being totally in the dark about what they spoke about, I didn't even give it a thought, until the priests got up to leave. And then as they left, they hesitated for a minute at our table, looked at me and in halting English, "God Bless You, God be with You". I was so touched by his small, sincere gesture. And then I remembered our friend, he must have told him what we were doing here in Croatia. Once more I was touched by their gratitude.

Then there was Grandma and Grandpa, You know Marcos grand parents. She called us on Monday night and asked if we would come to their house for dinner. We agreed and set the time. At 5:00 we arrived at their home and they invited us into their kitchen, Small, wood burning stove and a little table set with two plates! They had fixed a traditional meal with mixed meat and sour cabbage. Home made apple juice, (just about ready to turn hard) and cookies. No they would just sit and visit with us while we ate. REALLY ???
We had fun helping to decorate the tree..I guess bows are an American thing.
The members really liked them!
How could we refuse, they had worked so hard, most likely spent their whole weeks grocery money on this one meal. Oh My....such cute little people. So humble, so grateful that we got Marco a wheelchair. What a pay day for us!

Last Saturday, for our preparation day, we helped decorate the tree at the church. We had a great time. The missionaries hatched this great plan to distribute 500 copies each of  a Christmas letter that they had written, The Living Christ Statement and the Proclamation of the Family. They were so excited about the project, we rolled the papers up and tied them with a ribbon, for what seemed like hours, really it wasn't that long, but we ran out of ribbon and didn't get them all done. Last night we went with the missionaries and our little street singer. Since we neither sing, or speak Croatian, we were delegated to handing out the "gifts". It was a little slice of what the missionaries go through every day for us. They work so hard, with out seeing any results. Besides, it was really, really COLD out there.
Jim and I were passing out fliers ..any of you who have had the not so wonderful privilege of sitting next to me in Relief Society know why I was chosen to do that job! Besides my Croatian is terrible! They just had to teach me one phrase," Iz Volite"  "With Love"  I forgot it half way through...but don't tell the Elders! I just smiled and acted like a little old lady and they took them.  Jim was not as successful at passing them out. He didn't smile enough I think. We still handed out about 100 little rolled up gifts.

When we finished with our first street proselyting, we went to Grandma and Grandpa's again. We had seen them earlier in the grocery store and they invited us over to try their new batch of freshly pressed apple juice."No spray, just as God gave them to us"! We enjoyed the evening with them and gave them a pamphlet of the plan of salvation, their son has been dead for 5 years, and they are moved to tears of grief every time they talk about him. What a great blessing we have in "The Great Plan of Happiness"! We also left a Croatian Book of Mormon with them and taught them how to look up the answers to the questions  in the pamphlet They were so cute, they said that their son is a "Starjesina"....she pointed to Jim's name tag. "Really? where does he live?"  He lives in The Netherlands with his wife. And do you know what they have there? They have "The Fullness of The Gospel in the Netherlands"  Okay now, I leave it to you my dear blog readers, could it be that her son's family are members of the church?  We will see.  What ever it is, We wanted to say, "Hold on to your hat's's here in Croatia too!" Oh what comfort the gospel could bring to this sweet couple. We will see them again next week.

Jim presenting the President of Caritas a picture of Christ.
Today we had a wonderful closing ceremony for the Caritas Soup kitchen. Oh my, what a whirlwind! T.V. , Newspapers, radio, local and national. All for a stove. They were so grateful! Such good humble people. We felt bad being the center of all that when the kitchen volunteers were standing by and they are the true hero's. Working 6 hours a day to provide food for the hungry!

You might ask, why all the fuss? It's so against what we are always taught. Do our deeds quietly..not expecting the praise of men. But we have a two fold mission.1. Administer to the poor and the hungry and 2. Help bring the church out of obscurity.  I had a discussion with a member today that got me thinking. It seems he said, that the churches humanitarian department has become it's P.R. people. I guess it made me think, but really, if we can truly do good, accomplish both objectives with balance. What is going to be the most lasting benefit? A new stove or the hope and peace that the gospel brings into the lives of people? Those elect who are out there looking, may see a newspaper article tomorrow, and think, hummm, maybe I should check into these people. It's a balance. One that I believe is a good one even if our works are not done so much is secret.
I've never been in front of T.V cameras before so you can imagine how terrified I was when Jim told them I would be the spokesman. They asked how it was that we chose Caritas to work with?  Did we give the money for the stove or was it the churches funds?  How long will we be here in Croatia?  How did you choose Croatia to come to?
Things like that.............

The Star of the day! Four high powered burners, installed and ready to roll!

We had taken a picture of the chef on our first visit to the soup kitchen, printed it out and gave it as a gift to him. Jim said he thought he was more excited about the picture than the new stove! Sorry it's a little blurry,
I just couldn't delete it!

English Class tonight and Banja Luka tomorrow for the week-end. Maybe it will be warmer there. It got down to -11 C here last night, I just checked the conversion table. Okay so it's only 12.2 Fahrenheit . It still is plenty cold!

We got to talk to Rusty on his how we love our children! Happy Birthday again , son! Hope you had a great birthday. His birthday was always the day we put the Christmas tree up. And it always takes me back to those wonderful times, of sugar cookies, messy house, jingle bells on the piano over and over again, snowmen , hot chocolate, gloves and boots on every register in the house, excited children wanting me to come inspect some treasure they had made. I loved being a mother at Christmas time even if I went to bed exhausted every night for a month, it was worth it to me. My babies were everything to me and Christmas was a time that I could spoil them unabashedly!

Until next week...We love you from Croatia!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hey Baby...I'ts cold outside!!!

We woke up to a Winter Wonderland last Friday. I was very happy to have a warm coat, boots and gloves.

We have winter here in Croatia! It finally arrived just in time for our wheelchair closing last Friday. We woke up to 10-12 inches of the white stuff! Now really, what disabled person is going to show up to get a free wheelchair in that kind of weather?  I'll tell you. NO ONE!!! How disappointing! But we were warned that there would be disappointing days on a mission, so we shouldn't have been too surprised. We worked really hard all week to get things organized, so it would be a perfect closing. Not once did we even think about the weather being a spoiler. Really we did work around it. We had Red Cross Representatives from Zagreb, (the capital city of Croatia), Varazdin, (our little town), and three other surrounding towns. We had the missionaries from here and the District Leaders from Zagreb, our translator, one of our members, and about 5 press people from various different media outlets, newspapers, and radio. T.V. was invited, but the weather was more interesting news for the day. Can ya blame them????  We did have Marco's grandma and grandpa come, but they didn't bring Marco because of the weather. They were not happy because they felt like it was all about them and didn't want their picture in the newspaper. What a mess!! We had to get them to understand that it was  about 250 wheelchairs coming into the country for the disabled and that their personal story was not going to be on the news. Yi! Yi! Yi! What a circus! but when it all was said and done, it really turned out pretty well. The best was Jim's little project of the week. He worked so hard to make beautiful  "Thank-You " gifts for the two main Red Cross people. The director from Zagreb and our Varazdin Red Cross director. We presented a framed picture to them and told them how much we appreciated being partners with them. We had made little plaques for the pictures that quoted King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon, " When you are in the service of your fellow man, you are in the service of  your God. " In Croatia, however, that translates, "when you are in the service of your neighbor, you are in the service of your God" So when we gave it to them, we told them that, we felt like what the Red Cross does best is to serve  their neighbors and that we appreciated all their hard work. They were visibly touched by the gifts and we hope someday that they might ask us where that quote came from. We would love to tell them about King Benjamin.
I just let Jim do all the work, while I'm taking pictures! I'm on a Picture taking mission!

King Benjamin   -  Mosiah 2:17
Marinko (Red Cross -Zagreb)  He was thrilled with his picture!
Elder Andersen, (Cardston, Canada) Elder Pashe,(New Jersey) Elder Lee, (Cedar City, Utah) Elder Nita, (Las Vegas,Nev)
If you are a mother of one of these missionaries, know that they are well, wonderful and full of life! They had just come in  from a rousing snow ball fight with each other.
Boxed Wheelchairs. The Red Cross delivered these to individuals who were planning on coming to the closing, but couldn't because of the weather. Jim and I are planning on going to visit some of them later this month.

Jim, Marinko and Marko's Grandmother, They were showing her how the wheelchair has bicycle tires so it can go outside and it will also be easier to repair.

All the Red Cross people took us to lunch at a nice restaurant and then we took off for Bosnia. We didn't get there 'till after dark and then I spent the most cold miserable night I think I can ever remember. Where is my electric blanket when I need it?  We are in this huge, three story house.and we have no idea how to turn the heat on. Turns out there is a boiler that heats water, then the water goes into the radiators. And house is supposed to be warm. The boiler needs to be turned on, the pipes opened for the water and I don't know what else, but I do know that we need a lesson on how to make the place warm before we spend another night there.

I'm not sure if I made it clear in one of my other blogs, but we have been asked to spend a little more time in Bosnia. They, ( the powers that be in Germany) want us to start holding Sunday meetings in Banja Luka and we have agreed to do that. We are to set up an apt. for a new set of missionaries to come in July. Now, we are not sure if we will be that new couple, and a new couple will come into Croatia. Or if the new couple will come into Bosnia and we will go back to Croatia. But until that time, we will do whatever is asked and right now it is to be in this house, which really is a good location and size for Sunday meetings. But did I tell you, IT'S COLD???? If only being cold could make me loose weight! Apparently my answer to cold is hot chocolate.....hummm, something wrong there.

Saturday we went to our friends house in Banja Luka and Jim split wood. (Sunday, he wasn't moving very fast) don't tell him I said that. We had a great time with our sweet friends and I got a few pictures for you.

Working Hard! Did I tell you I was on a picture taking mission? I really did help a little bit. My job was to put the chopped wood in a wheelbarrow and Vickie's little sister and I stacked it in a shed in the back yard.

How nice to know that they will be warm this winter! Nine year-old
Vanessa (my wood stacker) and Tina, not sure about these strange people at her house.

Our Sweet friend Vickie, her real name is Violetta, but she likes "Vickie"
I'm not sure, but she maybe split more logs than Jim!

By the time we were done, that small second row was all the way over to the end and up about half way up. I learned that there is an art to stacking wood. It's like a puzzle, you don't want to waste any space.

Sunday our 20th grandchild was blessed and we missed it, but with the help of Skype we visited with most of our children and enjoyed the festivities from afar. We even got to see our little Eden in her blessing dress. We are so grateful for our children and grandchildren and for all their support. All those cute little faces that reach out to us over the miles just warms our hearts and souls. We have been reading in Alma and I think how hard the missionary work was for them, and marvel at our blessings. Skype, phones, post, e-mail, and blogs. Technology is just amazing to me. Forgive me for whining about the cold. My heart is warm and my testimony is red hot and burning. I love the gospel and am so grateful for having the opportunity to serve as a missionary . We love being a part of this great work .