Thursday, October 30, 2008

Elder Dougie's Birthday 10/27/42

lder Dougie's Birthday 

Weather Report:
Overcast & rainy
Wind moderate

Temp 5.7c

No, that's not the date today. That's my birth date. I'm 66 and gratified to have gotten this far. By now, I have outlived both of my parents and escaped the curse of repeating the father's death date. My next hurtle is the early 80's. That was my mother's mother's age when she died. I figure my longevity won't be seriously challenged until then.

The next 15+ years will be clear sailing (pardon the pun Dick), and I figure that we can get in 5 more missions before we are 82. I say "we" because Sister Cindy and I were born the same year. She just came three weeks earlier to make sure things were in order. You can't leave the details to chance.

Anyway, about the missions, I figure we get back from Russia in May of 2010. If I can get Shannon to plant some peas in March, Green Beans in April, and tomatoes the first of May, we could have the garden up and going by the time we get home. Then a fall garden with a planting of peas and Cole crops in August and we are good until spring. Then we put in our papers for Tahiti or maybe Guatemala in spring, have the summer to work in the yard and party, leave in the fall, winter in the tropics for 18 months, home again for another 18 months, Nauvoo for 18 months . . . what do you mean that won't work. I've done my time in Siberia, don't I get to pick my missions from now on? No? The Lord? Whoa! You mean we have to do this, "I'll go where you want me to go" thing again? Each time?

Well, why not. The Lord did a pretty good job with this assignment. I, we, have become deeply convinced that this truly is the place we should be and doing what we really need to be doing. That's a real leap from where we were in June. Man, was that a shock. You know what made the change? The missionaries.

I am sure that every senior couple loves their missionaries, but anyone who knows how the Lord works knows that the most capable get the hardest jobs. That's just how it works. If you are having a rough time, just know that God is testing your metal, but He will not test you more than you can bear. That is why I, we, can say without fear of overstating the obvious, this is the hardest place to put missionaries and therefore these are the best God has to put in the fight. I am sure the missionaries in our next mission assignment will be great, but these are the best.

We just said goodbye to several of our Zone's missionaries who are going to other cities and I did not realize how much I loved them until they said goodbye. They are my sons and daughters. They are family, and I will miss each of them very much. We will especially miss Elder Jones, left, who was an Assistant to the President (AP) He left for home and another life at BYU in January. As his companion, Elder Egan, said, "He was a good soldier." We also love Elder Egan who left for his last transfer in another city before going home to the "girl he left behind." The only consolation is that others just as good and just as valiant have replaced them and I will soon love them just as much.

They are why I will go again. Oh yea, there is the obedience thing, and the called to serve thing, but it is the missionaries that will draw me back into the mission field anywhere in the world again. It is not the palatial accommodations, the gregarious neighbors, the sumptuous food, the moderate climate, the huge wards and stakes, the Temple nearby, the supportive local authorities, or the personal freedoms that will bring me back into the mission field. It is the opportunity to support, love, and serve these great missionaries and what's more, they need us. We are their link to home, their surrogate parents, a friendly face and a kind word to combat the rejection and hostility. We are actually needed and appreciated and loved in return. This is a truly needed service and the Lord has allowed us to give it. I have five of these great missionaries in my own family and I can say without fear of being called parochial and prejudiced, these are among the finest human beings I know. Someone served them in a like manner, and it is a joy and a privilege to fill that role for the son or daughter of someone else.

Enough of that. Lets get on with the elder Dougie's BIRTHDAY, day. I first awoke to the melodious tones of "Happy Birthday" from my companion and chief grampa-sitter, Sister Cindy. I got SKYPED by the Youells, Shannon, my sister Diane, Brian & company, talked to some of our friends via the SKYPE telephone service and an email birthday wish from Scott. Thank you all for the love and the birthday wishes.

We needed to do apartment inspections this day as the Monday before transfer day, so President Gushin drove us around to the five apartments and at each we gave them Sister Cindy's cupcakes and I was greeted with more renditions of Happy Birthday from each companionship. At the sister's home I received several pieces of "wacky cake" (an egg-less cake from the mission cook book).

We then stopped at Megas for a few odds-and-ends and proceeded to the office where I was again regaled with Happy Birthday from various members of the office crew and finally shared the cupcakes Sister Cindy made and the wacky cake along with some ice cream I picked out at the Megas. All in all, if I'd have to have paid royalties on the Happy Birthday song, It would have cost me a pretty rouble.

That night Sister Cindy served lemon chicken & mashed potatoes to Elders Pister & Doroshkin (both of whom left for other cities) and the office elders (Watson & Worthen) and the birthday grampa and again received the usual musical offering. It was a fun day and I had fun with it.

Being in this particular country is only a footnote to being in the mission field with these missionaries. It really does not matter where we serve, it just happens to be here right now. Serving is the important thing. God has blessed us with the health, the means, and the support to do this and what better way to "wear out your life". We love being with our family and watching them grow. We love traveling with our friends, and we will again. We love playing "Hand & Foot" with them and we will again. We love being involved in the ward and the community and we will do that again too, but when the Spirit whispers "Go" each of us needs to decide what we value most. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

What a life. What a birthday. What a country to experience both in.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The View From Here 10/30/08

The View From Here 

Weather Report:
Rain at night, overcast, wind calm

I'm not really a country-western fan most of the time, but occasionally I hear something that grabs me like, "I'm Proud To Be An American" and some CSNY stuff I have on my computer at home. Today, someone sent us this song and it grabbed me, especially from where I sit right now.

The view from here is a mixed bag. I see the Elect, struggling to grasp the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a land without God as we know Him. And then I see the general population typified by an encounter last Sunday evening while walking from the Left-Bank chapel through the housing units to the park and the Metro as I have described before.

I was in the company of Elders Swensen and Kravshenko. As we approached the park, Elder Kravshenko stopped a family about to pass us and said something like (Swensen translated for me) I am a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I have a message for you about Jesus Christ. May I share it with you? To that, the father said no, we are atheists. Kravshenko then said aren't you interested in God? Here is the message. The man said, and I quote Swenden's translation, "I know there is a God but we are atheists." That, my friends is the situation here. The man could not even get his own position straight. He knows there is a God, but thinks he is an atheist.

From where I sit in Novosibirsk, you folks in the US have much the same problem with those who are trying to get God out of America. They worship at the alter of "Separation of Church and State" but have no idea where that term came from and think it is in the Constitution, or Bill of Rights, or the Declaration of Independence, or SOMETHING, isn't it?

Well, no it's not. The closest thing in the Constitution is the prohibition against the government establishing a religion; a state religion like existed at the time in England.

The fact is that the 13 colonies and the United States that it evolved into always was and still is a Christian nation and there is NO, and there never has been A, state religion, Christian or otherwise until the devotees of "separation" started trying to create one under the disguise of liberality and tolerance.

The fact is that this movement is neither liberal (in the classic sense) not tolerant. They are demagogic and demanding, and the majority of the God-believing population had better get over being bullied by their name-calling and rhetoric and start pushing back or the God of this land is going to allow a scurge to come upon this land to clear us off and make room for another people who will worship him in truth and honesty. We will not succeed as a non-religious nation. All of Europe is demonstrating that right now.

To those who ballyhoo the danger of religious persecution, I have a word for you; LIE. We Mormons have earned the right to have an opinion on this subject and we as a people stand with the religionists and the Constitution. There have always been people who will use any excuse, including religion, to persecute those they fear or need to oppress. We experienced it in Ohio, in Missouri, in Illinois, and again in Utah. It has nothing to do with religion. It is about power and who has it.

Ladies and gentlemen. Brothers and sisters. Let us take back the nation from the few intellectual snobs and bigots who threaten to destroy it. Let us stand up for God. He doesn't need our help, but we NEED to show our colors. We NEED to show God that we love Him, that we fear Him, that we worship Him in the face of all opposition, no matter how many TV networks, movie studios, newspapers, talking heads, celebrities, or internet sights they control.

We still trust in God and we need to show it. I hope the song grabs you like it did me.

What a country is the USA. Lift up your lamp and take it back.

Diamond Rio: In God We Still Trust

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Eastern European Area Conference 10/26/08

Eastern European Area Conference 

Wind calm

A big welcome to Mike and Deb and Maddy to the Grampadoug blog group. Thanks for following our story. You make the 20th official follower as a group. There are more that read the blog, but most are not computer literate enough to register. We love them too.

It is difficult sometimes to recognize a historic moment while you are in it, but this weekend has been such a moment. It actually began yesterday (Saturday) afternoon with the 3 pm leadership meeting for our District where President Nikoliachev (Brat Pyotr), President Chudinov (2nd Counselor) of the District Presidency and President Drachyov, the new 1st counselor in the mission presidency instructed us. The attendance was about 30 people, the core of the leadership for the four Novosibirsk branches; the branch presidents, relief society presidents, maybe a counselor or even a Young Women's president. They came to be instructed by their file leaders.

In Gospel terms it was like the deacons being instructed by the teachers presidency with a bishop silently presiding. These are sincere, trusting, faithful members trying to learn their duty and wanting to build Zion, but not knowing exactly how. I love each of them for their faith, for their willingness, for their dedication to doing what is right as they learn it day to day.

It is like being in Kirkland listening to a recently baptized "Apostle" teaching the more recently called branch leadership who lead the even more recently baptized members what Joseph had just taught them in the School of the Prophets. It is like being present at the birth of a baby with all of the effort, pain, blood, and sweat of the mother who is being coached by those gathered around the bed who want so much to help but cannot really do more than encourage and support. It is a beautiful, agonizing, and exciting event full of groans, cries, and prayers; wishing it were easier, but admiring the immense effort and courage.

The message in this meeting, and the entire weekend, is watch-cry of the moment; missionary work. It is the EEA version of the home teaching message we get all the time in the states. With the reduction in foreign missionaries, we (the Russian membership) must become the missionaries. Every member must accept that reality and step up to the plate. There is no other reality and no one else to do this work. It is the Zion's Camp of our day and those who survive and stay faithful will emerge as the foundation of the church in Russia. We, they, will be the ones quoted in future Sacrament Meeting talks, honored by memorial pageants, sung of in Primary programs of the future. We, they, are the pioneers, the elect, the Believing Blood of Israel, the remnant of the tribes of Jacob who were scattered to the north and are being gathered in preparation for Christ's advent. We, they, were gathered first and must gather the rest ourselves.

These are the decedents of those spoken of in Jeremiah 9:16, "I will scatter them also among the heathen, whom neither they nor their fathers have known: and I will send a sword after them, till I have consumed them." We, the missionaries, are then described in Jeremiah 16:16, "Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks" so that it may be as in verse 21, ". . . I will cause them to know mine hand and my might; and they shall know that my name is The Lord."

As we hunt them out of the holes in the rocks, we must teach them to become hunters and fishers themselves and swell the ranks of those sent to gather Jacob to the Lord. This weekend was a shift in that effort from primarily the foreign hunters and fishers to the native hunters and fishers, courtesy of the new restrictions placed on those foreign hunters. What Satan thought to destroy shall become stronger through the transfer of responsibility to the native members and their awakening to their own destiny.

Later that evening at 6 pm we heard from President Gushin (District 1st Counselor), Sister Mickelsen, President Mickelsen. These were good, solid instructional meetings with positive messages and good counsel.

At right is the Gushins with sister Gushina wiping tears from her eyes as we all laughed and laughed about their adventures at Disneyland in California and their attending Conference in Utah while on their recent trip to see old friends and their daughter Dasha at BYU.

Today at 12 30 pm was the first direct broadcast of the East European Area Conference of the Church and it was viewed by many of the 34,000 members in the EEA by satellite transmission in meeting halls and chapels all across the Area. In Novosibirsk we hosted saints from Kemerovo and Novokuznetsk. Others gathered in Omsk, Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, and Irkutsk to hear the Area President, Elder Peiper, the Primary counselor Sister Matsumori, Elder Quentin Cook, and President Monson talk directly to these great Saints of the EEA.

As we gathered at the "left bank" chapel, a refurbished bank building on the west side of the river, the excitement of the members and missionaries was palpable. Many members had a chance to greet elders and sister who served formerly in their cities and a lot of digits were used in cameras that went off minute by minute. Handshakes, hugs, and a variety of cultural greetings made it more like a family reunion than a church meeting.

The main body of saints was gathered in the second floor chapel with an overflow room on the fourth floor for the Russian version. A small room off of the second floor foyer was used for the English transmission. Some of the missionaries sat with their investigators in the chapel while the rest listened in English. Here we are just before the broadcast started.

As we sat, listening to the leadership fill us with instructions and the Holy Ghost witnessing its truth, I glanced out the window to at the world of Russian doubt and fear that these "hunters" will go out into later today. What a contrast of realities. A room full of light and a world full of darkness. I love these young missionaries. They are truly the best of the best. They are my sons and my daughters doing the Lord's work in faith and strength.

President Peiper gave a masterful talk in Russian, speaking to his people with power and love. He answered some of the questions most often asked by members such as When will we get our own Temple, can I have a Patriarchal Blessing, how do I find someone to marry in the Church? The answer to every question is in growth. We need more members and he mentioned Jeremiah's prophecy. He then put the burden back where it belongs. If you want the blessings you must do the work.

He then focused his remarks on the need for every member to be a missionary, the very message of Saturday's meetings. He listen four things the Lord needs from these members.
  1. A willing heart and mind -- desiring to do the work. We don't need to know everything. We just need to be willing to use what we know and go forward with the work of gathering.
  2. Pray to find the Elect -- Believe that people are prepared to listen and God will help you find them. They are out there.
  3. Go about doing good -- Be a good neighbor. Openly show love and do things for others. Say hello to strangers. When asked why, say "I believe in God" and they will ask for more.
  4. Invite them to come and see -- Sceptics will doubt, but just keep inviting to branch events, church meetings, FHE, English Club, Game Night, Sports Night. Help them to feel welcome.
He ended with this, 20 years ago there was no light is EEA. Today there are 34,000 lights. The Lord needs your light to shine and welcome others into the fold.

Sister Matsumori focused on the family and helping others to see how we love and teach within the family. Elder Quentin L. Cook focused on the need to strengthen converts and creating Zion here in the EEA. President Monson based his remarks on the charge to build the Temple in D&C 88:19 and what each of our lives must include: fasting, faith, learning, glory. He concluded with a line from the play, "Shenandoah" where it is spoken, "If we don't try we don't do; if we don't do, why are we here?" He finally reminded us to learn our duty and act in the office to which we are appointed.

This has been an important event and it can be the door to greater things in the Novosibirsk Mission. We will do our part and help the missionaries teach the members to do their part. There is much to do and the Elect are waiting for us. They just don't know who we are yet; but they will.

What a Church. What a country.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Another District Meeting Lunch 10/24/08

Another District Meeting Lunch 

Weather Report
Fog, burning off around noon
5.8c Wind Calm

Sister Cindy is doing her magic in the kitchen Friday morning multi-tasking with the phone, dishtowel, the sour cream, cooking the re-fried beans, and the ground beef for the burritos.

IT'S MEXICAN LUNCH DAY at the Simmons house because sister Cindy found REAL tortillas at the Syuprmarkyet across from the Poshe Lennina metro stop and the opera house. She made a second shopping trip Thursday with the Gushins who just came back from a 4 week visit to Utah & California. They are sort of expensive (637 roubles for 7 pkg of 6 each) but the missionaries really love Mexican food. By 9:00 pm last night they were all gone.

This was the last District dinner for some of our Elders. The Zone Leader, Elder McCleary is going to Kemerovo, Sister Berlutskiya is going to Ulan-Ude on the far east of the mission, Elder Pister is headed to Omsk, and Elder Doroshkin is going to Krasnoyarsk. We are getting Elders Bradshaw, Olson, Wilson, and sister Timochko. Elder Egan, the AP will be replaced by Elder West. Change is good, but we will miss these missionaries for a time.

A word about Elder McCleary (in the Cabo chair under the window, I have trouble remembering that he is only 20 years old. He has a great spiritual depth that comes out each time he teaches the District Meeting lesson. This week he instructed the district to set personal goals and be accountable to themselves. He also bore his testimony about the search for the elect and that when we as missionaries are lonely or discouraged to remember that "them who are with us are more than them who are against us". I love this young man and hope that he comes back into Novosibirsk again before we leave.

Some of these young men are pretty big and here is the proof. On the right is a missionary pair of shoes next to Sister Cindy's shoes. Enough said!

Today was a busy day with two other major events. The first was the Yulia License celebration in the office. She finally passed her driving test and we all had cake and ice cream to celebrate with her. She is a sweet young lady and a lot of fun. She speaks good English but does not have confidence to do it often.

After the Office Elders and the Assistants came by to help us finish the last of the burritos, Sister Cindy and I did our house jobs (I ironed 10 shirts and did the laundry while she finished reading and responding to her emails) and we opened the 5 boxes we had received this week.

It was a voyage of discovery, uncovering treasured ingredients from the mysterious land of California and the frozen plains of South Dakota. What a thrill, each time to open a box and see what creativity emerged from it. We got a lot of cooking spices, brown sugar (non-existent here) powdered sugar (also extinct in Siberia) coconut, and a variety of other miscellaneous items. We got soup mixes, candies, Gatorade, jello, and Spam. I don't know who thought up the Spam, but that's got to be the most unusual item in the whole shipment.

Several boxes had ruptured plastic bags which made for an interesting mix in the bottom of the box. One box was torn open and they delivered it in a bag like Elder Lunt's last month. We salvaged EVERYTHING, pouring out of one of the emptied boxes a mixture of Gatorade and lemon jello into a zip lock bag for later use. That should be interesting. We looked like a couple of desperate, marooned sailors who just had a box dropped from a spotter plane. You should have seen us as Cindy would say, shaking the box again, "I think there is an other teaspoonful here. Hold the bag up higher.

We combined it with the earlier box from Trisha and from Heidi Coleman, a great friend who was in our ward before she got married and moved. Her box was wonderful too. By the time we got it all inventoried and sat back, the thought hit both of us, "Where are we going to put this stuff?" After going through the entire apartment's geography, we settled on consolidating the landlady's teenybopper book collection into one shelf of the hutch and opening up the area under my "desk". Here is the after-glow of this box-opening frenzy.

It is so fun to get these boxes and discover what our friends have sent to their "starving" missionaries in Siberia. Honestly, we are not starving, but we do miss some of the comfort-food things and ingredients that we are used to and covet. I think we are good on most of the dried herbs used in most cooking, and we are definitely well stocked with that white powder, oh yes, Creme of Tartar. It is surely not cream and I don't know if it is tart or not, but we sure have a lot of it.

Since this stuff is Sister Cindy's department, I hesitate to make any comment and I am surely grateful for the Gatorade and peanut butter, but I have noticed an obvious absence of Reese's Pieces. Now I don't want the 19 of you blog followers to get the idea that I am asking for Reese's Pieces or even M&M peanut candies. I wouldn't think of encroaching on Sister Cindy's territory, but it is just an observation. I also noticed a lack of Duct Tape. Now there is an essential for anyone marooned on a desert (or arctic) island for any time at all.

Anyway, thank you, thank you, thank you for all that sage and tartar, and thyme, and stuff. I am looking forward to what Sister Cindy is going to make with it all and I am keeping the Spam for myself; Cindy is not a lover of 1940's prepared meats. It will go great on the stale bread in the office refrigerator.What friends. What a District. What a country.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Boxes are Coming! The Boxes are Coming! 10/22/08

The Boxes are Coming! The Boxes are Coming! 

Weather Report:
+5.2c, Winds are calm, Sky is cloudless

Thanks Amy B for your comment. Check out the "Frost in Cabo" post for more pictures of your parents-in-law & their place in Tomsk. Sign-on as a follower if you can. Thanks for joining the Grampadoug clan.

Hey You Guys! The boxes are beginning to arrive in mass. We got one last week from the Empty-nesters & two from family. We trashed the first EN box before we thought to look at the number, but it must have been an even number because the 4 we got today are 1, 3, 5, and 7 of 7. All odd numbers. What's the chances of that? The first one must have been an even # which means we have two to go. Number 5 came in a Russian Postal Service bag because it "Exploded" somewhere in route and was put in the bag like Elder Lunt's in August. (see prior posting) Can't tell if anything is missing.

Thanks so much for all the great stuff. We have not inventoried the new boxes yet because today we went shopping after two weeks hiatus and we had almost 5 hours of washing produce and putting away the new stuff, all the while Cindy is baking chocolate chip cookies for the District meeting Friday and starting to think about the menu for same. It has been a busy evening. The cashier at the Megas store had to split the order into two charges on my credit card because the amount went over the machine's limit. The total was over 17, 000 roubles. Most of that will go to feed missionaries. The workers at the store are getting used to us, but the customers are aghast. "No one should be buying that much food. What are they thinking?"

We also received a box (the shorter one in the foreground) from Lelia Guilbert, an old college buddy from Sac State who is now running a B & B in Mitchell, South Dakota, the hunting mecca of the prairie. Thanks Lelia. The box arrived in perfect shape.

We also got a package via the Gushins who visited their daughter in Provo for a couple of weeks after seeing Disneyland and some old friends from the mission at a reunion. Sister Cindy has already tried out the ghost peeps and the slippers are in her closet (which is full of powdered milk and oatmeal. The card was nice too; from the grandkids and the Trisha. Grandma likes all the nice stuff for her and I got to read the card. I think it was addressed to "Grandma and old what's his name".

Anyway, thanks bunches for all the kind attention. The fridge is full and running like a top, the spices and other ingredients are in the cupboard waiting for the call to action, and we are remembering our friends and family with love and appreciation. If you don't think we are in this thing for the long haul, just check out the head-gear. This is serious business.

Bye for now from Grampadoug (old what's his name) and the Arctic Snow Fox.

What a country.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Frost in Cabo 10/20/08

Frost in Cabo 

Weather Report for Monday 10/20/08
Snow on the ground, -4.1 c (24 f)
Wind calm, sky overcast

First, a welcome to new followers Rodney & Sara +3. I think you are Trisha's former roommate, right?

There's frost in Cabo, snow in Novo, and we are closing the Cabo room for the winter. The picture at right shows the frost on the Cabo window and the temp in the room is under 32f. I dismantled the big chair and have reassembled it in the parlor for sister Cindy to sit and read a book. (The doors are too narrow for the chair) I told her that the third time she sat in it and read more than a page I would stand on my head.

The picture on the left shows the little industrial block below our window looking north with snow on the roof and looking picturesque. The series on the right shows the man who parks his car in the end garage trying to thaw out the lock so he can get his car out of the garage. A little primitive, but effective. Again, forgive the picture, it is taken through our screens.

Now to comment on the housing in Tomsk as promised. The Bowdens live in a nice one bedroom unit on the 7th floor in Tomsk about 30 minute walk and a 5 minute cab ride from the church. Their elevator is three times the size of ours and very clean and modern. Elder Bowden said their building was build within the last 7-8 years.

The Bowdens have made their apartment into a very comfortable and attractive place; Really a home. The first thing you notice is the large entry. It is sort of a room, about 8x10 feet with entries to the kitchen, front room, and the hall to the bath-toilet-bedroom areas. our entry is tiny and really has room for only one person to stand comfortably. As you first look around you notice the rooms are a little larger than ours, but the big difference is the entry and halls.

Off the living room is a door to the enclosed patio where they dry clothes and store stuff; much like the Cabo room. They have a newer couch, but it is the same "L" shape with a pull-out bed. The Bowdens insisted on sleeping in the living room and gave us their bed; real hospitality.

They have cable TV and get the BBC station. As I sat there for about 20 minutes the first night, I realized that they have only about 15 minutes of programing that they repeat over and over. I saw the same previews of coming news probably 3 times in 20 minutes and finally saw the news items repeated during the last minutes of my viewing.

For me, the most notable thing about both of our apartments is that you are living in a concrete box into which have been placed various modules that are not attached to anything, but it is still a concrete box. All wiring and piping are surface mounted and you get an industrial feeling to the whole place. There is a harshness to it that is intuitive rather than blatant. The kitchen has nicely designed cabinets, but they are also not attached to anything. The counters are the same. Everything looks like you could dismantle the whole apartment in a couple of hours and return it to a bare, concrete box.

I noticed that the entry door was not finished on the inside. By that I mean that the steel door and frame were set in an opening in the concrete wall and industrial foam was used to glue it in place. You could cut the foam with a knife on the inside and lift the whole door assembly right out of the opening. I asked Elder Bowden, who is a builder by trade, why the landlord did not finish it. He said that he'd asked the same question to which the landlord answered, "If you want to finish it, I don't mind."

The bathroom is the same story. The sink and tub share a single faucet that will also operate the shower with a turn of a valve. The tub/shower combo is standing on 4" feet near the back wall with no connection to the walls. Usually you have tile or something up the wall and a tile edge around the tub to tie it all together. Not here. It is all free-standing. It even has two shower curtains because there is a 4" gap between the tub and the wall on the side and faucet end; like it was just temporarily set there some time with the intention of finishing it some day. There seems to be a "that's good enough for now" attitude about it that is fascinating.

We visited the Elders' apartment and installed a "peep hole" for them to see who was knocking at their door. They have a peep hole in one of the two security doors that is useless because they have TWO DOORS; hello? What are you people thinking?

The church, on the other hand, is a model of the best construction in Russia. Everything is finished to the last detail. The workmanship is good, not perfect, and everything looks like it is intended to last for ever. They also employ a guard in the building 24/7. The first time we came in on Friday for English Club, this man was standing just inside the entry door looking stern and in charge. When we saw him on Saturday, I was surprised, but thought he was there for the game night. Finally on Sunday morning, when I saw another man obviously standing in the same position I had to ask and was told that it was cheaper to hire a guard than to repair the building.

Most of the early 20th century stuff we saw around the universities was obviously meant to stay there for a long time. Even the masonry & plaster buildings were well preserved, but the post war stuff is crumbling to dust. It gives an incomplete or even temporary feeling to these buildings, as though they expect them to be moved or even dismantled in the future.

The frost in Cabo heralds a new season.
What a country

Sunday, October 19, 2008

To Tomsk & Back 10/119/08

To Tomsk & Back 

Weather Report: SNOW, lots of it.
Temp 0.3 c that's 32.4 f
Winds 1-2 mph from north

We just returned from an exchange trip to Tomsk to inspect apartments, monitor the branch, check out their new building, see the town, and visit the Bowdens. Mostly the latter.

We left Friday morning after Elder Bowden and I went to the office to finish some last-minute work, fax the monthly reports, and get a case of the FEP manuals in Russian for the Bowdens to use in their Humanitarian assignment. They will be offering the program to NGO's (non-government agencies) and government departments to serve their family clients.

We were picked up at the office, taken to our apartment, loaded the sisters and the luggage, went to the Palace where the office elders live, picked up the bus tickets they bought Thursday night after English Club, and headed to the bus depot. Novo's bus station is in deep renovation and is a little primitive right now. You wait for your bus next to numbered signs that serve as loading gates. The picture at right is of the type of bus we rode for 5+ hours north to Tomsk. I took this picture at the "comfort stop" that's 2 1/2 hours from Novo and 2 hours from Tomsk.

The bus holds about 40 passengers and rides like the back of a pickup. It took a road north out of Novosibirsk and stayed on the east side of the river, taking about an hour to get out of Novo and into the countryside. About another hour out of Novo the road began to get quite rough, forcing the driver to slow a bit. Fortunately the pot holes were filled in during the summer so they produced humps instead of dips in the road, but it was just as rough.

About 2 hours out of Novo the road forks. The right fork goes to Kemerovo where we have a Branch and 4 missionaries, and the left fork goes to Tomsk where we also have a Branch, 4 elders, and a senior couple; both about the same distance from this fork.

Another half hour and we made a "comfort stop". All of the buses stop here where there are two important facilities. On the north side of the road, the side we stopped on, is a convenience store and very limited cafeteria with two tables and four chairs. On the other side of the road is a building with a sign in 2 foot letters "TOILET" spelled in Russian, but it sounds the same; not too subtle. You are charged 10 rubles (about 40 cents) to use the facility and you can also buy some liquor and cigarettes while you wait for a seat. Pretty good business, I'd say.

Another 2 hours and we're in Tomsk, a city of nearly 500 thousand, about 100 thousand of which are students at the many universities and colleges there. We took a taxi to the Bowden's apartment and that was a definite "E" ticket ride. These guys drive 120 kilometers per hour (I looked at the speedometer) down city streets with 4 lanes of traffic, cars turning left at intersections, and very narrow streets. When the driver strapped on his seat belt, that was my clue to do the same. I kept asking advice from the back seat as to whether I should take off my glasses (or close my eyes) when the air-bag deployed. I didn't want them a permanent part of my face.

We had a bite to eat and then went to English Club at the church.With one companionship missing from town (visa trips) they needed our help because the Elders cannot split up into different rooms; the sight and sound rule. I was temporary "companion" to Elder Bowden (young elder, pronounced Boden as opposed to senior Elder Bowden pronounced Bauwden) and Sister Simmons went with Elder Pettit. The Bowdens had the third group that was the most advanced; conversational English.

These meetings cannot be called "classes" because in Russia one cannot "teach" anything unless one is licensed as a teacher. We have been challenged in several cities about these clubs and so far the distinction has held. We hold club meetings where people can come and practice their English. We do not "Teach" English.

Saturday we went on a tour of the city using the public transportation system that was very effective. Most of the passengers were young people, probably students, and they readily gave up their seats for the "Babushki". We found them to be friendly, respectful, and curious. Sister Cindy got a lot of smiles with her "I Love Novosibirsk" tote bag. We started up conversations with many of them, but the older passengers just ignored us.

The system of paying is interesting. You pay when you exit. The fare is usually 9 rubles, which calls for a ruble in change on each trip. You can ride all day as long as you don't get off, but you must pay to exit. When the bus is crowded, you pass your money up via the passengers and your change gets returned the same route. On one bus, a girl about 9 was the money taker. I suspect that her papa was the drive.

A word about higher education as explained by a member student. If you pass the entry examination, you are set on a track depending on your performance on the exams. The universities are for those who score highest in math, science, language, and economics. The others who pass, but with lower scores, are assigned to colleges which are separate from the universities. These are technical schools, much like our vocational schools where one learns specific skills like medical assistant, computer programming, and aircraft mechanic. The universities are for more theoretical studies and advanced training such as medicine, physics, chemistry, mathematics, language, etc. The state universities are free, the state colleges are also free, but the private schools have tuition with some scholarships available.

This (above) is the gate to the Tomsk State University. It shows a date of 1883 which I presume is its founding. There are many buildings that we pass in town belonging to the various Universities. This is one of the doors to the Engineering school. It is quite impressive.

The Church's Seminary and Institute (CES) department has what they call the Outreach Center located just off campus where member students can come to study, bring investigators, or just hangout. It is in a building with rooms that other organizations also rent and is actually quite nice. This is the TV area set off by partitions in the 40 by 60 foot room that can also be used as an Institute facility. President Mickelsen says the S&I department will likely close it after the first of the year because they have no senior missionaries to operate an institute program. Fred & Jacque, any interest?

We traveled all over town in the buses and walked a good deal too. One of our first stops was a big Renek where we shopped for hats and gloves. Here I talked to a man about a shopka and he explained that there are many styles and firs for shopkas, but I was not interested in a 7,000 ruble mink "hat". They say that most of the fir shopkas have the same warmth, but the fir choice is a matter of style. I have to admit that the mink hats are better looking, and the fox one the stall-keeper was wearing was tempting, but this guy sold me a marmot hat that matched my collar for 1,500 rubles (with a 400 ruble discount) and I couldn't pass up the bargain.

I have to admit that I love hats, but I look absolutely comical in a hat of any kind and I just shun them. Everyone here wears a hat for warmth, not just style. This is proven by the number of Russian men who also should go bare-headed, but still wear the headgear for warmth. My hat served me well during the day, but everyone KNEW that I was not Russian. How did they guess?

We also got Sister Cindy a winter hat. As you may know, Barbara Bush was known as the Gray Fox. Sister Cindy is now known as the "Snow Fox" because that is what her hat is made of. It has two white balls tied to white ribbons on the top that swing and bob as she walks. She's not sure she's going to wear it, but I think when the temperature gets below freezing, that hat is going to get some use. She says she looks like a snow ball, not an Arctic Snow Fox. Well, maybe so, but she looks good to me.

Around noon we ate at a food court (4 stalls) above a basement market, shopped at their version of Home Depot, and finally ended up at the Tomsk Branch about 5 pm just before Game Night that they hold each Saturday night at 6 pm. This is one of two buildings that the Church has build from scratch rather than remodel a rental. It is a functional, modern building that still fits into the general architecture of the city. I want to stop here and continue a discussion about the buildings and living conditions in another posting.

To close, I'll mention that we went to Sacrament meeting on Sunday and caught the bus at 12:10 pm back to Novo. The Bowdens made sure we got on the right bus and generally took very good care of us. We are not adventurers by nature (at least one of us is not) so it was nice to have the escort while we were there. The missionaries also served as our translators and did a great job. The Bowdens are a happy couple that with whom we enjoy spending time. Too bad we are not in the same city, but President Mickelsen is spreading the senior couples around to support the missionaries, not to socialize with each other; as it should be.

Our trip home followed the same road and was pretty uneventful, but we had a larger bus and the ride was more comfortable. It was snowing when we left Tomsk and it got more intense as we traveled. The countryside is looking like winter, but I know this is just fall because there are still cabbages in the Dacha gardens, but the rest of the harvest is all in and it looks like people are settled in for the duration.

It is a bleak scene out the window as we pass the empty fields with their hay stacks looking like snow-dusted woolly mammoths and thick patches of White Birch forest. I can't help but wonder how the people in the villages get along in the Siberian winter. I remember "A Train To Potevka" and the scene he painted in that book. I think that we are going to live it to a certain extent.

What a country.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sister Olga's Licensed -- New ISP 10/14/08

Sister Olga's Licensed -- New ISP 

Weather Report:
Heavy clouds, rain at times, Low 5c Hi 15c

First a welcome to new followers Larry from New Castle, Nancy from Sacramento and Kathy from Albuquerque. Thanks for joining the GrampaDoug clan.

Getting a driver's license has been a real challenge for Sister Olga, our visa clerk and general fix-it person. She has been taking driving lessons for some time and passed the written test weeks ago. Now she had to do the "behind the wheel" test with an instructor in the front seat and a policeman in the back seat; intimidation!

Olga is a great friend of everyone in the office and is very responsive to any needs we lay on her desk. As a result, we were all praying for her to pass her driving test; EACH TIME.

Yep. She had to take the driving portion three times and each time she did not pass; she, and we, were very disappointed. Those were dark days with Olga looking very sad and all of us in the office trying to cheer her up.

The process is difficult because one gets no driving experience unless one is paying an instructor to drive around with one. One ends up paying through one's nose at multiple hundreds of rubles per hour and one cannot practice otherwise. When one finally decides to take the practicum, one must be prepared to withstand the pressure of a policeman at one's back giving instructions as to where to drive and one's instructor's hand periodically grasping for one's steering wheel when one makes a false move like when Olga didn't stop for a LOL (little old lady) who was standing at the cross-walk waiting to cross and she didn't stop to let her cross.

That one, the one that failed one, got a real laugh at the office. NO ONE EVER stops to let one cross the street even if one has a green "walk" light. If one does not watch carefully, one can be a hood ornament the rest of one's life. To fail Olga for not stopping is like failing her for starting the car.

Well, anyway, after three tries, Olga came into the office looking like the cat that ate the canary. When asked how she did, she shouted, "I passed" and we all congratulated her. She accompanied us shopping that afternoon and I bought some celebratory ice cream and we had a party on Friday when she brought in her license to show us.

This was a little touchy because Yulia, the 20-something accountant is also taking her driving test and is also not passing for a variety of reasons, but she joined in the fun and we all celebrated. Here, Elder Worthen is trying to decide which scoop of ice cream is the largest. It took him a considerable time, but he finally settled on one in the mid-size range.

We also had day-old New York Pizza left over from the Zone Conference the day before so our party had a variety to choose from. There is nothing like cold (or nuked) mushroom and sausage pizza washed down with pineapple juice followed by a scoop of Russian strawberry ice cream.

Actually, Russian ice cream is some of the best I've eaten. It has no preservatives, no propylene glycol, and containing real fruit. It is a real temptation for an ice cream lover; right Trisha? Russia has some wonderful things to experience. They do without a lot and what they have often does not work. Our task is to forget what's not here and enjoy what is. We will be going to the ballet twice in November which will make three times in this trip. I haven't been to the ballet three times in my life. Bloom where you are planted. Stand close together and lift.

What a country.