Friday, December 30, 2016

Joyeux Anniversaire!

Elder Geddes is the best, sweetest companion!  He made every effort to make my first birthday in my life away from home and family one of the best ever.  Pain au chocolat and hot- chocolate- Yop for breakfast; Lyon Rosette salami, boursin cheese and baguette for lunch; salmon with capers, veggies, pommes au raclette, French bread and Champomy (non-alcoholic Champagne), with mint, strawberry sorbet for dinner; beautiful gifts from him, the kids and great friends,and Star Wars!  The only thing that could have made it better would have been grand kids, but  we got to skype with all our kids and received so many birthday wishes from sweet friends too, so that made the day complete.

Merci infiniment, chéri et tout le monde!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Reading Churches

Most of the "work" we have been doing during this Christmas season has been around the generous dining tables of our wonderful French friends.  We are learning what Charles de Gaulle meant when he questioned  "How can you govern a country that has 246 varieties of cheese?" Judging from what we have seen just in the past week, de Gaull's number was a bit low!

Between meals, we have had a little time to indulge ourselves in a few visual feasts as well.  We love to visit everything from the small parish churches to the grandiose cathedrals and basilicas here in France that are even more numerous than the variety of cheeses.  Many of these edifices were built centuries before the development of the printing press for congregations who were largely illiterate to the printed word, but who were keenly literate to the language of the visual symbol.  Interestingly, our culture today has some of the inverse problem as far as the church symbolism is concerned.  We sometimes forget that icons are not just those cute little things that originated in the computer age.  These churches are not just filled with beautiful decoration even though many of them are an aesthetic feast for the eyes.  They are in fact bibles, the only scriptures that centuries of earlier Christians could ever read.  So during this temporary slow down, we have visited and tried to read a few more churches.

An altar in the Church of St. Pierre in Mâcon.  The king and high priest of Salem, Melchizedek, offers bread and wine to Abraham.  This is one of the many old testament "types" that predict the new testament, this one foreshadowing the last supper and sacrament.

Alpha and Omega, the trinity and the Greek cross all contained in a circle.

Stained glass from the Vienne cathedral:  Fides (Faith) holding the cross, Caritas (Charity) holding the chalice, and Spes (Hope) holding the anchor.  What better symbols could there be for these three virtues?

Saint Christopher (saint of safe passage) and Saint Louis (Louis IX, king of France).  Lots of tradition and history can also be read alongside the biblical references.

A painting of Saint Cecelia (early Christian martyr and patron of musicians) in the Lyon cathedral.  The martyr's palm and musicians lyre at her feet identify her.  This is who Paul Simon sang was "breaking my heart...shaking my confidence daily".

The home of the French romanticist poet Lamartine in Saint Point, near Mâcon.  With the beauty of this area you can easily see why Lamartine was so inspired by the "cathedral" of nature.

Some "snowflakes" in the mission office made by some of the young missionaries.  I guess not all the symbols here are from early Christianity!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Il est Né le divin Enfant

A traditional Christmas hymn in France is "Il est né le divin Enfant" (He is born, the divine Child).  And today is Christmas.  So the little manger in our new santon crèche is no longer empty.  And even though we are far away from home and family, there is nothing empty about our lives either. 

We have so many reasons to celebrate today.  The first is that we know that "Il est né"!  Today is not just a holiday and the crèche that we have is so much more than just a nice tradition.  We also celebrate our family today.  We were able to talk with our four great kids, their four marvelous companions and all 14 wonderful little grandkids.  We often joke that the best Christmas lights are their car headlights when they come home. . . and then their tail lights when they go back to their own homes.  But this Christmas and next, we will really miss those headlights.  We also celebrate new friends and traditions here in France.  Both Christmas eve last night and Christmas day today came with dinner invitations.  The first evening, dinner started at about 7pm and didn't finish until well past midnight.  It takes time to get through an evening of multiple courses including fois gras, escargots, duck, salads, cheeses, fruit and desserts.  And today was only lunch, so it lasted a mere four hours, not including the time it took for two of us to shuck about 12 dozen oysters! 

So we have much to celebrate.  We are also grateful that our next dinner invitation isn't until a week from now on New Year's Eve because we are not going to be hungry again until then! 

Il est Né!

A Christmas dinner marathon...

...complete with escargots.

Shucking oysters.

Good friends and sparkling grape juice!

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Typical Week?

As missionaries, we have come to find that there is no such thing as a typical week.  And it is this very thing that makes our particular calling so interesting, challenging and rewarding.  Here are just a few things from this past week:  We hosted a Christmas party for the Lyon Stake single young adults.  We had an inspiring multiple-zone conference with Elder Sabin, a General Authority Seventy who is in the presidency of the Europe West Area.  We had another senior missioinary couple from Geneva come to the conference and then spend the night with us.  We had a family home evening with our older single adults.  We went to two different ward Christmas parties and over ate at both of them.  We sang a wonderful arrangement of a Christmas hymn with the Lyon Institute Choir in four different ward Sacrament Meetings, two of which met for the first time in a beautiful new 5-story church building here in Lyon.  We had 8 young missionaries over to our apartment for their P-day breakfast and an art lesson on religious symbolism found in churches and cathedrals.  Then we all went up to the Fourvière Cathedral together to have a good first-hand experience in "reading" the symbols in the mosaics, stained glass, paintings, and sculptures.   And that was just the extra stuff that we do in addition to our main responsibility with the Self-Reliance Initiative.  One thing is certain about this mission calling.  We are never bored!

Two sister missionaries singing for our older single adult family home evening

Brother and Sister Djemai came to our FHE all the way from Amboise, about 5 hours from Lyon.  Brother Djemai (smiling at the camera - He is always smiling!) is our wonderful Self-Reliance manager.  He is so helpful to us.

Bishop Pommier talking to the Écully ward primary.  Elder Geddes goes to Primary because he plays the piano for them.  Plus, it is more on his intellectual level!

Our missionaries visiting Fourvière.

A missionary selfie overlooking Lyon from Fourvière.  The smiles are because they were well fed twice: First on crepes in our apartment and then on the artwork in the cathedral.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Crèche de Noël

We can't remember the last time that we were away from home on Christmas.  This year we will miss our family, our friends, and many of our traditions.  But we are making wonderful new friends and even continuing some of our traditions here "à la française".  At home, we love to put up different nativity scenes we have made or collected over the years, many of which we have found while traveling.  This year for our Christmas present to ourselves, we added a new one to our collection; a traditional "Chèche de Noël" from provence in the south of France. 

The traditional French "santons" or "little saints" that make up a Crèche de Noël often have Mary and Joseph being visited not by the typical kings and shepherds but rather by the local villagers all bringing their gifts.  We noticed that many of the crèches that are now apprearing in cathedrals, churches, and other places around Lyon have an empty manger.  We asked someone why Jesus was not there.  They told us that the baby Jesus isn't there before Christmas.  He is only added on Christmas morning.  So in our new Christmas gift to ourselves we had to have two versions of Mary, one waiting for her new baby boy and the other one that will be set out on Christmas morning when the baby Jesus is placed in the manger.

Our new crèche complete with a backdrop from a Cezanne painting of Mt. Sainte Victoire in Provence.

Waiting for baby Jesus

Villagers and a pig coming to see the baby.

Gifts of lavender, lambs, geese and a rabbit.

On a little less religious note, we also bought Père Noël who brings gifts to nice children and Père Fouettard who whips naughty ones.  The looks on the children's faces say it all.  We're just glad that Père Fouettard wasn't around when we were young!  Of course, Sister Geddes wouldn't have had to worry anyway.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Shining Shoes

Our bishop in the Écully Ward really integrates his missionaries in all the ward activities.  We are included as members of the ward council that meets two evenings per month.  Last Thursday, Bishop Pommier gave us the assignment to do the Saturday cleaning of the chapel.  It was actually really fun to meet and clean the church with six great young missionaries, one from Italy, one from Germany and the rest from the U.S.  And it's kind of comforting when you finally get an assignment that you actually feel qualified to do!

This week we got a letter from some dear friends back home who have recently received the call to serve as the president of a mission.  As they anticipate their assignment, they are feeling a bit overwhelmed and under-qualified by the magnitude of the responsibility.  We can empathize.  We experienced the same feelings of inadequacy when we received our relatively easy call.  But the letter they sent also said that they know that they "can love" and that is "the key".  Anyone who has figured that out is qualified to be a mission president or about anything else in the church.

Recently we were just down the street from our apartment in the mission office where two other senior missionary couples serve.  One of the senior office missionaries, Elder Mahaffey, had a shoe shine box by his desk.  Every time a young elder walked into the office, Elder Mahaffey would have him sit down and put a foot up on the box.   Elder Mahaffey would bend down and polish the young elder's shoes in exchange for a spiritual missionary experience.  

We shared this shoe shine story with our newly called mission president friends who aren't yet feeling quite up to the call.  We assured them that Heavenly Father isn't looking for someone with CEO expertise to be a mission president.  He just wants someone who can shine shoes, especially when someone else's feet are in them.  That's the kind of "mission president" the Savior was.

Cleaning the church with the young missionaries.

A local poster that reads "Be Yourself.  Unless you can be Batman."
(Seemed somehow appropriate with the first photo posted above!)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Les Choses qui Parlent. . .

I was walking along the presque-isle* area of Lyon and came across a wonderful street full of art galleries and antique shops.  Something hanging from the rafters of a little shop full of antique toys really caught my eye.  It was a late 19th or early 20th century wooden bicycle ridden by a stereotypical Frenchman complete with moustache and beret.  It had a long wooden handle that would allow a child to roll him along the street causing the chain on the turning wheels to move the man's feet around the pedals and ring the bicycle bell.  I was smitten!  The next day, I brought Chris back and so was she.  So now the little bicyclist hangs on our Lyon apartment wall.

As we were talking with the old gentleman who owned the shop, he told us about why he had been collecting and selling childrens toys for over 40 years now.  Like all children, when he was little he wanted toys, especially a toy train.  But he explained that his father was an "ouvrier", a common laborer, and that a train would have cost half of his father's annual salary.  Consequently, as a little boy he didn't have toys.  But for the past 40-plus years this his been his livelyhood and his passion.  He talked to us about how the things in his shop are "les choses qui parlent"; things that talk.  Some of the toys, in fact, actually did speak.  But all of the toys, he explained, have their stories and all of them spoke to him. 

I guess that is what it means when we say that something "catches our eye".  It means that we heard at least part of it's story.  I can only imagine the "Belle Epoch" era child who first pushed this little bicyclist along a French cobblestone street well before World War I.  It no doubt belonged to others before it came into the shop of our toy-collector friend who grew up in a much darker, war and occupation era of France's history.  And now for a little while, we will add a chapter.  I hope that when our little Frenchman rides off to his next home, probably with some of our grandkids, they will be able to hear what he has to say too.

Our Lyon toy-shop owner taking his little bicycle rider down from the rafters.

For now he is now flying almost E.T. style over two posters from his own "Belle Epoch" era on the wall of our Lyon apartment.

*Lyon's "Presque-Isle" (almost-island) or peninsula, just upstream from the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône rivers.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving in France

Our little ward in Écully has a few American expats and missionaries including us, so the ward council decided to have a Thanksgiving dinner and party.  Of course it was up to us to show them what the traditional menu is like, so we went to work.

Finding the right ingredients for a dinner like this proved to be quite a challenge to say the least.  First of all, the only whole turkeys we could find came complete with the gobble!  No problem with freshness, but we didn't want to go down that road.  So after a little searching we were able to find some turkey breasts.   We could also find whole pumpkins, but pumpkin-pie filling just doesn't exist here.  And the thought of boiling down pumpkins sounded about as fun as plucking feathers!  And stuffing mix or cranberry sauce?  Forget about it! 

We finally did hear about "My American Market", an online store out of England.  About a week later our package with boxes of Kraft stove-top stuffing mix, cans of Libby's Pumpkin and Ocean Spray cranberry sauce arrived.  We put on a pretty authentic American Thanksgiving and the ward really loved it!  Some of the primary children even dressed up and performed as American Indians; not very politically correct at home but really cute and funny!  At first everyone was a bit skeptical of pumpkin pie and especially of the stuffing.  But Chris had doctored the stove-top with lots of fresh marché mushrooms, celery and onions and at the end of the evening the hugh bowl of stuffing and all the pumpkin pies were gone.  And Chris' traditional American rolls disappeared in a flash which is quite a compliment in a place that has the caliber of bread that France has.  We even got a few requests for recipes!

It was a little strange to be away from home and family at this time of year when families gather together.  So this year we were especially thankful for things like "FaceTime" and "Skype"that gave us the opportunity to see and talk to all our kids and grandkids.  And in spite of being far from them, we are also very thankful to be in this place at this special time, and to be with wonderful people here who are becoming like family to us.

Goods shipped in from "My American Market"

Thanksgiving in Écully Ward

Lots of food.

A young married couple who will be attending BYU-Idaho when we get home.

We are learning that you never turn your back on our bishop's wife!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Back to Clermont-Ferrand

This weekend we had the assignment to present a self-reliance fireside in the Clermont-Ferrand ward.  We went early enough so that we could attend their block of meetings and get to know the members a little prior to the fireside.  There are so many stalwart members here; they have to be!  In many cases it is quite a sacrifice just to travel to chapel each Sunday.  The ward and stake boundries are often very large and spread out and many people rely entirely on walking and/or public transportation. Some travel almost two hours each way.  To avoid having to make an additional trip, the ward had their block of meetings in the morning, had a meal together after the meetings and then went right into the fireside. 

That evening after the fireside we went into the old city center for dinner.  A few weeks ago we stopped briefly in Clermont-Ferrand during the day on our way to an assignment in Bordeaux.   But this time it was after dark when we made our visit the gothic cathedral made of black, volcanic stone.  Notre Dame de l'Assomption has an otherworldly, almost surreal feeling at night.

Having lunch before the fireside in Clermont-Ferrand

Members working in their "Mon Parcours" booklets during the fireside.

Notre Dame de l'Assomption in Clermont-Ferrand at night.

Cathedral façade

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Families are the best!

This last weekend was the baptism of our grandson, Clay and the baby blessing of his new baby brother, our newest grand baby, Jace.  This puts us up to 14 grand children; four girls and ten boys. .  All of our children and grand children were able to attend.  We were the only ones not there.  But we are very proud of the great parents our children and their spouses are to these precious grand children.  We love these kids so much and were sad  to miss the sweet occasion, but we are so grateful for our family!  The gospel of Jesus Christ and our family are the two most important, precious things to us in this world!

Getting to Know the Saints

Throughout our careers as teachers, Chris and I had many opportunities to bring students on European tours.  These were always marvelous experiences for us as well as for the students.  But the only problem with a tour is that we were never in any one location long enough to really get to know the place or the people.  We have been in Lyon now for almost three months and are really loving the opportunity of having an in-depth experience. 

The members of our Écully ward are amazing.  We feel like they have really embraced us.  Chris and I presented a self-reliance fireside for our ward last week.  It was really fun to interact spiritually and socially with the saints both during and after the event. You really get to know people when you sit down and eat together.   And I spoke in Sacrament meeting yesterday.  I could see the faces of the congregation with their nods of encouragement as I struggled through 15 minutes of second-language French in front of a group of native speakers.  What a sweet if not terrifying experience!

The other saints that we are getting to know are those whose images are in the paintings, sculptures and stained-glass windows of the many churches here in Lyon.  Wherever you travel, the Christian churches are adorned with biblical stories as well as images of lesser known local saints or martyrs.  It's fairly easy to get to know the more universal ones; Saint Peter who holds the keys or Moses with his "horns" and tablets.  But there are always other local saints that you can't know without a little more time studying that place.  Some are connected to an entire region or country, like Joan of Arc or Clovis and Clothilde here in France.  But some are specific to a region or even to a city, like Saint Blandine or Saint Pothin here in Lyon.  We have never before been in a single place long enough to get to know these local saints.  And we find their lives and sacrifices to be inspiring as well.

Some of our friends in Écully ward.  Chris is talking with our Primary 
president. (I play the piano for primary!)   The elder's quorum president 
and his daughter and our Stake self-reliance specialist are in the background.

Some of our young adult friends that we do family home evening with every Monday night at the Institute building.

Saint Martin d'Ainay Romanesque church.  One of the oldest in Lyon (begun in the 10th century.) At
one point this monastery had over 200 monks in residence.

Painting in St. Martin d'Ainay.  Outside figures: St. Clothilde and St Martin (early converts in France). Clothilde became the queen of France who converted her husband, Clovis (Louis I), the first king of what is modern France.  Next two figures: St. Blandine and St. Pothin (both Christians who were martyred in Lyon during the reign of Marcus Aurelius).  Figures on each side of Christ:  Mary His mother and St. Michael (protectors of Lyon).  Christ in the center, holding the orb or world in his hand.  The 4 rivers are running out to all the world from under his feet.  

St. Pothin was an elderly bishop in the city of Lyon during Roman rule and
persecutions.  Even though he was 80 years old, he was beaten for his beliefs
and thrown into prison where he died.

St. Blandine was a young slave girl who refused to deny her Christian beliefs.
Consequently, she was put to death in the Arena of the 3 Gauls here in Lyon.
Legend has it that the lions refused to harm her.

Blandine in the tympanum of another church here in Lyon.

The Arena of the 3 Gauls in Lyon where Blandine and many other Christians were killed.  

Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Fireside and an Aqueduct

Last night we had our first solo experience putting on a ward fireside.  This is one that we scheduled with the ward, organized and presented.  We were a bit nervous about the prospects of going in on our own.  But when you're a missionary you're not really on your own.  The fireside turned out great.  The bishop added a special spirit with his introduction and the ward members brought some wonderful things to eat at the end.  So we know that at least it started and ended well.  Actually, the middle part, the self-reliance fireside, went very well too.  It was a great evening for us.

We are still exploring and getting to know Lyon.  This is a very beautiful and historic region.  The Romans made Lugdunum (Lyon) their capital city in Gaul.  Just on the outskirts of Lyon we found an impressive Roman aqueduct that provided water to Lugdunum.  It had an ingenious system of ramps and siphons that would pull water up over the hills.  Plus it was very beautiful with its surface treatment of brick and stone.  Aesthetics and function; a great combination.

A cute missionary getting ready to present a ward fireside

Singing the opening hymn

A little food at the end

The aqueduct on the Gier river just outside Lyon

A siphon ramp on the aqueduct

Beautiful surface treatment of red brick and white stone

A neoclassic theatre in Lyon

Lyon is a very beautiful city