Sunday, November 30, 2008

More Ballet 11/30/08

More Ballet 

Wind: 15-20 mph
Temp: -2.5c

Last Friday night we attended the ballet; again. I am feeling a little like those in the 17th century who, without radio, television, or movies, found their only entertainment in the ballet, opera, and concerts. What I wouldn't give for a concert. I am full-up with men in tights.

This time it was Don Quixote, an interesting production using the eccentric Spanish "knight" as a foil to wonder through the various scenes of, of course, dancing in various circumstances. I love the first scene where he and Sancho Panza discussing the romantic old days of knights, maidens in distress, and jousting with the enemy in his rustic library. As he strides off the stage with his lance and Sancho in tow, sans toe-shoes, I'm thinking, this is more like a play and I can handle this. Whereupon, the next scene falls back on the dancing and I am dashed upon the shoals of despair, well, it wasn't all that bad, but I was hoping for a little less twirling and a little more jousting. The short video below gives an idea on the setting and costuming. The sets were far more elaborate and the costuming was lovely.

As it turned out, the costumes were a little more concealing and the dances a little more varied, beinset in a royal court, a gypsy camp, a country scene where the Don does his thing with the windmill, and back to the ballroom for the final scenes. The introduction of farce; the heroin's father and the fop, his choice of suitor for her; Sancho and the Don; the and the heavier costuming actually made it very colorful and quite enjoyable. I could still use a good Handel concert, or maybe some Tchaikovsky.

The Mickelsens and the Patriarch (sounds like a sit-com) were to go with us, but sister Mickelsen's tooth was worked on again by a second dentist and she gave their tickets up to the Nikoliachevs who escorted the Patriarch and we met in the theater. The Patriarch Rogers is of course quite well founded in Russian theater as a professor of Russian literature, so he had many anecdotes and stories about all facets of Russian theater as well as his own dabbling in play-writing and production. A very excellent guest at any event involving Russian anything.

Here he is with Brat Pyotr and his wife at the theater. I caught the Patriarch in an awkward expression, but he looks more composed in the other picture with us and Brat Pyotr. Maybe Pyotr's wife is just a better photographer. Regardless, he is an interesting person full of information he would gladly share with anyone interested enough to listen. I enjoyed him very much.

The ballet was in four acts with a finale that last 10 minutes and a curtain call that acknowledged everyone except the ushers. Boy do these folks know how to draw out the applause. Two of our friends from Second Branch, Anna and her mother Vira, were also at the performance and Anna gave me two of her clandestine pictures of the performers, a strict no-no, but appreciated. Another case where the rules are not the rules.

Here is a portion of that extended curtain call. This is only a minute or so, but it shows the enthusiasm of the audience. The heroin character was played by a marvelous balerina and she deserved all the applause the audience could muster. In the video below, she goes off to the right and pulls the orchestra conductor out on the stage and he gets an increased applause and then at the end he is seen at the far right in a suit.

With all of the ballet in this town, I was a little surprised at the casualness of the attendees. I saw them dressed in everything from jeans to diamonds (I didn't get out my loupe) and a lot of 9-11 year olds with their mothers and young adults (20-somethings) eager to be seen. The applause was also a little surprising. Most audiences know that you applause the director as he/she approaches the stand and turns to acknowledge the audience. These folks applauded the lights being dimmed, the spotlight being turned on, and finally the director whose head finally appeared above the orchestra pit railing. There was also several incidents of clapping with the tempo of the music. That was new to me.

The people here are an interesting blend of apparent grumpiness, dogged determination, and youthful exuberance one would expect at a high school athletic game. Lots of energy, lots of emotion, and lots of pathos. No doubt, they can be as they wish; it's their city. I am just constantly surprised and entertained by the contrasts.

What a country.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Borsht Day at Sister Simmons' 11/28/08

Borsht Day at Sister Simmons' 

Still snowing
Wind 3-5 mph
Temp -2c

Today the sisters of the Second Branch came to our home again for a cooking lesson. This time it was Borscht. I locked myself in the bedroom and tried not to disturb their event, but I was asked for some computer assistance and they made several trips into my lair, the final one with a bowl of the final product.

The new Sister from America has become a focal point of some cultural activities around traditional cooking that has both unified them and brought social contact to a tentative Sister Cindy. The sisters of Second Branch have been very friendly and seem to be happy coming to our home.
This came about in a Relief Society meeting a month or more ago, when there was an animated discussion that Sister Cindy wanted translated. One of the young adults who spoke some English said that the Relief Society president wanted to have this class about preserving cabbage and carrots, but they couldn't decide where to hold it. One person declined because she had relatives living with her, one said she had other problems, and on, and on. After the class, Sister Cindy offered her home for the class, and we were off to the races, so to speak.

Today, they made the Borscht in the kitchen and decorations for a local orphanage in the parlor. It was a good group and they did both projects from 1 PM to 4 PM today. I got to have a bowl and it was quite good, served with sour cream and dill. The URL below is a site with several recipes, but they don't sound like what I ate because mine had beef in it.

Sister Cindy has so much to give to these sisters and I am so happy that she has felt accepted and appreciated by them. She has made a couple of mis-steps with them, like the time she was trying to explain the Bishop's Cannery to them and how we canned tomatoes etc. there and decided to show them a can to get the translation right. As she opened her can cupboard to get the can out, the group of sister gave a collective gasp at the amount of food she had in the cupboard. These sisters don't have storage like that and it was a shock. She explained that we feed the elders weekly and she has to have that amount of food on hand. For them, being prepared and hoarding are close cousins and hoarding is a cultural no-no from long years of having nothing during the Soviet period. However, she has moved past that and they all seem to be enjoying one another.

I was brought out of my hiding place to help Sister Cindy with her computer as she wanted to show several of the younger sisters how to get BYU-TV on their computers. We had another one of our mis-communications about what was needed to bring with the computer and mouse into the kitchen and I ended up doing the demo, probably not gaining points with Cindy.

Anyway, they were thrilled to know that they could get streaming programs from BYU and especially the music. None of them are fluent in English, but the music is always a hit.

We are getting to know the people better and hopefully this will start a new round of social contacts for us and the chance to do some serious fellowshipping and strengthening of the members. Baby steps.

What a country

The importance of Recycling 11/29/08

The importance of Recycling 

Wind 5-7 mph from the north
Temp -1c

We think long and hard before we throw anything away. Everything is hard to get and some things just are not available either because the stores don't have them, the stores are out of them, the stores don't ever carry them, or we don't know where to find them. Things that we would discard thoughtlessly at home become useful, or even treasures, here. A box, a jar with a good lid, a piece of wood, needles, pins, rubber bands, those wire twisties you get on anything with a cord, broken fans, a dead space heater, assorted screws & nails, or anything that won't rot or stink.

Case in point; the vertical wardrobes in our bedroom, on each side of the windows out to the street, were both leaning away from the wall, more each day. An inch gap at the baseboard translated into a 6 inch gap at the ceiling, making the doors fly open and the shelves not sit right. I decided to shim the bottoms and thus push the wardrobe back against the wall and possibly straighten the whole thing. I made wedges out of a shattered piece of wood from a stool that was broken some time ago and pushed the units back upright. now the doors stay shut and the shelves are straight.

Don't worry Carl, I will cut the wedge to size when I am sure I have the unit stable. It may take some adjusting to get it square. The point is that you never know when you will need a piece of wood or a nail. Here I made a shelf in the Cabo room for Sister Cindy on which to put her food that won't fit in the new fridge. Can you imagine that, a refrigerator over 7 feet tall that cannot hold all of our food?

Here my broken stool supports one end of a piece of plywood I found (the other end is on the landlady's milk can full of powdered milk). The bags are of bread dough you can buy, ready to raise and cook. The glass jug has the cabbage and carrots the RS preserved in brine a few weeks ago, and the pots hold ingredients for the RS "Borsht" project today.

Our friends and family have sent us many boxes of goodies from the states. Those boxes were saved and this week were cut down into smaller boxes and used to send Christmas gifts to young missionaries from the Novosibirsk mission area who are serving elsewhere in the world this Christmas time.

This project came out of a need to do some things with the returned missionaries who live in our city. They come home from 18 months or 2 years of highly regimented, focused work under the daily influence of the Holy Ghost and good companions back into their families, old friends, and old situations. This is difficult for any missionary, but for those who return to the harsh reality of life in Russia it can be more than doubly difficult. We want to bring them together and provide opportunities to forge friendships and a support group to help keep them happy and strong in the Gospel.

We produced twelve Christmas boxes that will bring a smile to those missionaries and a memory of service to our RM's. It is projects like this that we hope to do to bring light into everyone's life. A harsh place needs some softening and these former missionaries have lots to give when they have the chance.

What a country.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

interthought answer 11/25/08

interthought answer 

OK, go ahead and google it. My kids should know this. It is like "two all-beef paddies, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun". It is part of our lives. It is us. It is A-33. OK Emily is saying, "What's A-33?. It was the cornerstone of our income when I sold industrial chemicals for Airkem. It is the quaternary disinfectant ingredient in the best disinfecting cleaner in used in hospitals. Remember?


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dinner With Olga & the Drachyov family, 11/23/08

Dinner With Olga

Clear skies
Wind 5-7 mph
Temp a tropical +0.5c. The Siberians are wondering where winter is in Novosibirsk. It was -20 in Angarsk and -11 in Krasnoyarsk earlier this week.

I LOVE THIS INTERCHANGE. Wow, are you people sharp. First, Emily, you are 50% correct, but I give you the other 50% for creativity, and no, you can't say that on a missionary's blog, but I will give you absolution on that because of your general good nature.

Trisha, I should have guessed that your answer would have something to do with country music. Have you given up on Mozart? Anyway, that was not my message, so you missed the mark, but you get 50% for thinking that I could write music for ANYONE.

Marilyn, I see that your loyalties as a wife have overcome your participation in the inter-thought. OK, but try to get back into it when you feel stronger. Give Grant my love.

OK, let's put it together. Antebellum can have either of two meanings; before the war or against war. The term is often used in relation to events or buildings before the Civil War. That's why Emily scored. That also relates to Trisha's country group as a pre-war lady.

Antimony is an element in the periodic table and is usually in the form of a salt or a metal. It's early uses were as part of a flame-proofing material because it is a poor conductor of heat and electricity. Its current use is in the making of electronic parts like LED's (light emitting diodes), you know, those little points of light in the traffic lights and some new flashlights.

Antebellum Antimony could be a type of fire extinguisher that puts out war or a pre-civil war LED. That was fun.

Let's try one more before we all loose interest. This one I know intimately. It is, n-alkyl-dimethyl-benzel-ammonium chloride. See what you feel about this; no googling now.

Sunday night we had Sister Olga and the missionaries for dinner and a lesson after the patriarch's fireside for the members. He is Patriarch Rogers, a professor of Russian literature and language at BYU who is going to each of the regions in the mission, giving blessings. The process for selecting who would get the blessings was tricky.

Anyway, we had a nice dinner and gospel discussion with Olga, Elder Robertson, and Elder Watson. Each of them have a companion on the current Visa trip so they are companions for the week. Everyone loves Sister Olga and it is a sort of contest as to who gets to fellowship her, but we end up being the home base for these events.

We had a family in for Family Home Evening last night and it was a treat. I do have to say that we did not "kid-proof" the apartment very well and had to rescue the candles and the plant on the coffee table, but all in all, it was a great evening.

This is the family of Alexander (Sasha) Drachyov, the first counselor in the Novosibirsk Mission presidency. He is also the CES Director for the eastern side of the Eastern European Area. Here are three of his four children; Sasha (3 1/2), Paulina (11), and Anna (8). They also have a year old girl whose name I forget. The momma is Yulia. They are a lively, delightful family, full of energy and willing to do anything fun.

I conducted the family night and the missionaries gave the lesson.
Sasha insisted on giving the prayer and did a creditable job; except I couldn't understand his Russian any more than I understand the missionaries when they pray. After the welcome and announcements, typical of Family Night, the missionaries taught a lesson about service and told a story about a fireman who rescued an entire family because he was thinking of them more than about himself.

The girls sang a familiar Primary song for us. Maybe you know the words in English and can sing along.

Our activity was centered on snowmen and to start off, the missionaries taught the children the snowman song. The video is their third try through it. Notice their English. President Drachyov has encouraged them to learn English and they have a good ear for it.

Sister Cindy then took them into the kitchen to make snowman cookies with sugar-cookie dough cut with different size glasses and decorated with real icing made with real powdered sugar from the US. They then decorated with coconut, sprinkles, and candy corn. Some were a little bizarre, but they had fun. While the cookies baked I had an activity.

My part was to show them an internet site where we could dress a snowman with various hats, scarves, eyes, noses, mouths, and arms. Lots of fun for the kids. Then I gave them paper and cotton balls to make snowmen with Q-Tips for arms and yarn for scarves. Some were very creative. Yulia enjoyed this too.

The evening ended with Sacha again giving the prayer, followed by his father; Boy is he insistent. We then sent them out into the Siberian winter night armed with cookies, a new song, and a closer relationship with the missionaries and the American бабушка (babushka) and дед (Dyed).

This is a lovely family, full of love for one another and for the Gospel. They are part of the generation that will "Reverse the Curse". This is the phrase used by the patriarch to describe the roll of the missionaries, to do what is necessary to get light and truth into Russia and get rid of the darkness that has cursed the land for so long. Each of us is lighting one little candle and handing it to the members who are holding them high.

What a country.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Interthought on the move 11/23/08

Interthought on the move 

Scattered snow showers
wind calm

OK, It looks like we have a few thinkers in the audience, but I think that generally your feet are planted firmly on the ground. Yes Emily, you have permission to indulge in the Rocket Rocky Road. Actually, that was very creative. I like your style.

Trisha, you don't need to worry about the chores. Cobwebs be quiet, dust go to sleep, I've children to love, and lovin' won't keep. Do you remember that picture in the bedroom hall?

Shannon, you are right. The freeze-dried ice cream IS dry and not too tasty. How was the cholcolate ice cream?

Marilyn,you turned this into an anti-protest event and I'm a big supporter of Dave Leatherby. He's got my support, but how was the ice cream? Let's keep the focus on you.

And Larry, you are really ahead of me. So that's where those thoughts come from. You are really a colorful thinker. Some of those images are stupefying. Thanks so much for the ongoing thought transfer. Much appreciated.

By the way, have any of you looked at the visitor count, just above the National Geographic picture?

That was pretty good for a start. Let's try this one, I have been thinking of this phrase all day and I don't know what it means; antebellum antimony. What do you get out of this?

For the rest of you not linked up on the interthought, I would like to discuss snowmen. In Novosibirsk, they have winter sculptures and ice carving, but there is no record of the general use of snowmen by children. In most of the world where snow is common, snowmen are the province of children. I did find a reference to snowmen in Omsk, a city west of Novosibirsk and here is an excerpt from a web site discussing their use of snowmen.

(Omsk, The M. Vrubel ORAM, 2004-2005)
The exhibition «Snowy tender white people» is timed to coincide with the arrival of winter and the beginning of the new year. As it follows from the name, the main characters of this project are snowmen. Remember, this is a literal translation from Russian. It is a little stiff.

The snowman is
a sign figure. It’s from the childhood. It’s from the first snow, still warm. It’s from the fairy-tale: The Snow Maiden is a little «snowwoman». It’s from the mystery: the snowman – the snow man(!). (Or the Russian «snowwoman» is an English snowman?)
The snowmen connect us to the beliefs of our distant ancestors – they are direct relatives of stone women.

The snowmen entered in the history of the Christianity: saint Francis, fighting a demon, made snowmen and named them his wife and children.

We are having a family, the Drachhov family, in for family night tomorrow and we will teach them the Snow man. They do not know the song and don't know about snowmen. As much snow and cold weather there is here, it is hard to imagine no snowmen. These ice sculptures are part of the winter festival in January and they are impressive. This set is across the street, in the park, from the opera house where we see the ballets. Still, no snow men.

What a country.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

My First Interthought Posting 11/22/08

My First Interthought Posting 

Wind from the west 8-10 mph

It is later, 10 AM, Saturday morning and I am thinking my first attempt at an interthought posting. (see last night's-earlier this morning's-posting) The subject is inter-galactic ice cream. Tune in your thoughts and let's see if this works. Leave your "reception" as a comment on the blog or write an email to with what you received. This can work!

What a thought

New Style Blog 11/22/08

Same as an hour ago.

It's 1:30 AM Saturday morning, after the ballet, and Cindy is still reading her emails. It is going to be a short night.

As I was turning down the bed (one of my duties along with cleaning and world peace) I was thinking about the "visitor counter" I had Elder Worthen put on the blog. I don't know if it is accurate, he says it is, but according to the counter, a lot of people have "hit" this blog. Many of you have said that you enjoy reading my ramblings and I really do appreciate your comments. I guess it's not unusual to like praise.

As I said, while turning down the bed, I got to thinking about the many people reading this and thought, "You know, I really don't like writing. It is slow, laborious, and very inefficient." I have no trouble thinking of things to write about; our life here is full of writable events. Like today when I took an elder with me over to the bank and spent over an hour trying to find out why the ATM that has been giving me cash regularly for 5 months suddenly decided I was persona nongrata. After over an hour waiting in various lines, asked for my passport and if I had an account there, only to be sent to another line and told, "I don't have a card reader, go to the next window, and told there, "Why don't you just go use the ATM" and ultimately to be told by a third teller, "Your card doesn't work" which I knew in the first place.

There's lot of stuff to write about here, but I don't like to write. Once I pick a topic, then I have to choose the words that transmit meaning to my readers. That's tedious. Does this word work here. Does that word mean the same in Sacramento as it does in Orem or Novosibirsk? Will I offend someone with that phrase? It takes too long. It would be so much more efficient to talk this blog. Do they have such a thing; a talking blog? That's such a great idea. Where's Al Gore when you need him?

Actually, even talking is a little inefficient. The most efficient and fool-proof blog would be a thought blog. Now there's a concept. I would just think of something and start working it in my head. You readers would now become thinkers and we would think out this thing together. What a revolution; a blog that turns the public into thinkers. There is a nugget of an idea there. I think that I will think more about that. Would you be thinking it with me? Could we work this thing together?

I am going to work the bugs out of this with your help and the next posting you see will just be the title. You will then think about that title and get my ideas over the interthought (no not internet, interthought) you could laugh at my double antandre, appreciate my alliteration, and bask in my depth of thought without having to read a word. Boy, we have really got something here. Stand by for the next posting. You'll love it.

What a thought!

Swan Lake 11/21/08

Swan Lake 

Clear & cold
Wind 1-15 mph

We went to see Swan Lake tonight with Olga & Natalia and the Mickelsen's. We had front row seats, right behind the orchestra. We could hear them breathing.

The story of Swan Lake is taken from several places, the most popular version is that it was taken from a Russian folk legend about a wicked sorcerer who turned the village maidens into swans who could become human only at night. The spell could be broken only by love's true devotion. The main characters are Odette, the swan queen, Siegfried, the dreamer prince, the prince's mother and father, the court jester, and the sorcerer. Siegfried finally breaks the spell by showing his devotion and love for Odette, kills the sorcerer, and they live happily ever after.

Another version of the story has the swan dieing and Siegfried going off broken hearted. Sister Mickelsen said that this was the Russian version that has everything turning out positive; mandated by the Soviet censors. "You WILL have a good time."

Here is Sister Cindy and Elder Dougie enjoying the front row seats and waiting for the second (of 4) acts to begin. My you're looking slim. Have you lost weight?

I am still not fond of men in tights; especially the modern ones here in Russia that show the posterior cleavage so dramatically. They look like they were spray-painted on or it is simply a naked bum with body makeup. I can just do without that. Where are the Union Suits that used to suffice as men's tights. This modern version is simply giving me too much information. With the tutus, the female dancers were much more modest than the men.

While waiting for Sister Cindy and she stands in line at the lady's room I saw a little girl pretending to be a ballerina. After half a minute or so I decided to take a picture. I tried to get her on video without her knowing, but when she saw me she exited into the pillar to her right. I should have acted sooner.

I also saw a display with pictures of the theater with various luminaries, in this case Putin visited here last year. I also loved the fresco on the end of the wall showing dancers in costume. This is a remarkable theater to have been built in the Soviet period. It is said to have been build during Stalin's time and ended up being several square feet larger than the one in Leningrad. When this was discovered, he went to Leningrad and killed the Leningrad theater's architect. Apocryphal I'm sure.

What a country


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Dogs of Winter 11/19/08

The Dogs of Winter 

Weather Report:
A balmy +.3 (33f)
Wind 3-10 mph

We have counted over twenty dogs in our neighborhood, not counting the two litters of puppies (2 and 4). At right are 3 of the 4 puppies in one litter that lives next to the generator used in a construction area on our way to the office. They get home under the concrete fence seen in the background of the picture at left. We have seen them often and note that the two adults with them are both females. The males seem to have other things to do.

It occurs to me that if a dog is more than a year old, it has survived a Siberian winter; brilliant don't you think? That being the case, I then reflected on how they do this. I have observed several things that contribute to their survival.

First, the garbage. There is an extraordinary amount of garbage available on the streets. In addition to the ambient refuse, most housing units don't have enough dumpsters to hold the household garbage generated daily. Our unit is an exception to this, probably because our dumpsters are located right on the street while those in the clustered housing areas are well off the main thoroughfares. We have walked to the 3rd branch building, where the baptistery is located and observed piles of plastic garbage bags as high as my head. I don't know if they get collected when the garbage truck comes by with it's hydraulic arms to grab the 1-meter by 1-meter dumpsters and dump them into a modern truck. Ours are located just to the right of the tree in this picture.

Well, not to get carried away with the garbage, but just to say that there is plenty of food for a creative canine. Many's the morning that I go to the dumpster to drop my load and discover one of the locals sitting in it having breakfast.

In addition, we have the "dog man" and "dog lady" that I see frequently dropping what I suppose is table scraps in the same place each day to the joy of the local street population. The wag their tails and prance around like any other pet about to be fed. I have seen the flock of dogs grow to 15 or more, waiting for "dog man" to empty his little bag.

OK, food is not a problem; how about the cold? Yesterday we noticed that the center of our "forest" (between our driveway and the street), where this tree stands snow-clad, there is no snow on the ground. None! Looking up and down the block in a line there is no snow as far as you can see. That means HEAT. Then I saw a dog curled up on a "man-hole-cover" and it flashed on me. The hot water that heats our building comes from a central heating unit and travels underground to our building, among others. There is a well of heated ground over those pipes and it heats the utility covers; a nice warm place to sleep.

I asked a local where these dogs come from and the answer was simple. All of these new apartment buildings are standing on ground previously occupied by small homes, each with pets. The birds could fly away, but the dogs became feral and have reproduced themselves into large packs that roam the streets at night, barking, and keeping the likes of me plotting how to demise them. Of course it is an idle thought, but satisfying at times.

Novosibirsk, at least in my neighborhood, could use a spay and neuter program. Otherwise, these creative and stubborn dogs will outnumber the people in not too many years.

What a country.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Investigators 11/16/08


Wind 5 mph from the northwest

The last three nights we have entertained missionaries, some with investigators. Friday noon, of course, Sister Cindy fed the District's 12 missionaries plus one native Russian missionary on his way home from the Rostov Mission.

That night we had the sisters, Cropper & Tymochko, and two investigators, Nastia and Lienna. Saturday night we hosted three returned sister missionaries and Sunday night we had elders Bradshaw and Olson with them a 23 year old yong man named Vitali.

Nastia has been investigating the church for two years after being introduced to the church at (about) age 15 by a Latvian sister, Sister Landik, in Nastia's home town of Ulan-Ude. Sister Cropper met her there during her training as a Greenie and remembered that she was going to go to the university in Novosibirsk. Nastia was looking for the church here at the same time Sister Cropper was looking for her and they hooked up in Third Branch. She is seventeen now, a first year university student, and is planning to ask her parents permission to be baptized.

Lienna is a 19 year old fellow student who was invited to church by Nastia and has been discussing the Gospel with the sister missionaries for several weeks. She has a baptismal date set for December. Both Nastia and Lienna are bright, charming young women who have been touched by the Spirit as they listen to the truths of the Gospel.

Ilya is an investigator who was baptized last week. He was in our home during the early stages of his introduction to the Gospel. He is bright, inquisitive, and searching for the true church. Even with the limiting factor of working in the office 6-8 hours a day, the office elders found him and have helped him progress to the point that he was ready for baptism and a lifetime commitment to the Gospel and Jesus Christ.

As most of them are, Ilya's baptism was part party and part Sacrament Meeting. The pictures show the joy and fellowship of the members and the missionaries. The talks and actual baptism were spiritual events that cap a finding, teaching, fellowshipping effort that must now continue to keep him in the Church physically and spiritually.

We don't have much opportunity to do personal missionary contacting or finding, but we have been actively involved in the teaching and fellowshipping. Several people who where recently baptized have been taught in our home after one of Sister Cindy's great dinners. We are in the thick of it, but mostly as supporters.

What a Church. What a country.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ballet 11/15/08


Weather Report:
Wind 2 mph

Recently we went to the ballet to see the Nutcracker. This was in the same theater where we saw the first ballet a month ago. It was good, but the Nutcracker is the Nutcracker. Actually, for me ballet is ballet and I could not tell you if it was good or bad except one of the sugarplum fairies stumbled and I guess that's a no-no.

We invited Olga and her friend, Natasha to attend with and they were both delightful. The friend teaches English and speaks quite well.

After the show there was a recognition given to a retired Prima Ballerina, now a teacher, who achieved the highest rank of her art. There were plaques, flowers, speeches, and appropriate audience applause that went on for at least 30 minutes. It was a great opportunity to be there on the night she was honored. I didn't understand much of what was said of course, but they honored her most highly.

We also bought the tickets for President & Sister Mickelsen, but you can see that the Pres didn't escape duty even at the ballet.

This is a rather dark picture of the theater's front with my ladies for the evening. We had a good time and will do it again for Swan Lake next week and Don Quixote later.

What a country.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cindy's Email to Aunt Louise 11/12/08

Light snow. some sun
calm wind

This is Sister Cindy's email to Aunt Louise and her girls after reading my blog.

Louise, Linda, Shirley, and all the rest of your Wonderful family,

As I was reading Doug's special memories and wonderful tribute to Uncle Don, I was touched by my own sweet memories of your loving family and of how you not only loved each other, but how you loved us, too.

You have always been so important to us and such a good example in so many ways. I always looked forward to visiting your home. We felt loved and welcomed. The good company-----I never wanted to leave, the great activities-----that I never wanted to end, the yummy food-----I never wanted to leave it either, the fun conversations-----I never wanted them to stop, all the people-----I loved sitting in the middle of those relationships, it was always so warm and loving.

We're not talking a Perfect family since that probably doesn't exist here on the earth, but we are talking about your filling a need that we had at that time and you filled it with an extra measure of LOVE and CONCERN for us, and we felt it.

It wasn't that our parents didn't fill that need, too. But yours was special. You weren't our parents. You didn't have to love us, but you did. I, especially as a new convert to the church, needed a good example of a righteous, active, loving, "normal" church family. And you did that for me. I'll never be able to thank you enough for that. It effected everything I did. My live was better because of you all.

And then there were those special Uncle Don caramels!!!!!!! I can taste them now. Yum, yum. I don't know if I have the recipe or not, but if you share it, I'd love it.

Well, there's much more to say-----the telescope on the deck, the fire flies, the home-made ice cream, the family celebrations, the home canned produce, the outdoor breakfast in the gazebo, the big hugs, the happy smiles, etc., etc., etc.,------I don't want to stop reliving those wonderful times. Truly the gospel in action.

Thanks for loving us and for being that extra great example in our lives.

We've always loved you and always will. I'm so thankful we're part of an eternal family.

Love to you all from Novosibirsk,
Sister Cindy Simmons

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Snow Tires 11/11/08

Snow Tires 

Wind 5-7 mph

This post was finished on 11/17/08. Last week (11/11/08) we tried out our snow tires. The Van Wagenens gave Cindy some of these things you strap on your shoes and I later bought some at REI. The framework is rubber and it is wound with wire, like a spring wound around the rubber that is on the bottom of the shoe. The outside rubber straps go around the edge of the sole.

I really felt more in control with these on. Sister Cindy also said she liked them, but it takes a bit of getting-used-to. On hard surfaces like the stairs in our building, it is awkward and a little slippery, but outside where they can bite into the snow and ice, they are a big help.

Sister Cindy is still wearing some low-cut shoes and is getting snow into the shoes when we walk in unpacked powder. I suspected that we would be buying boots in the near future, and Cindy got hers last Saturday(11/14/08) at a boot specialty store in the Ikea mall. I also will probably be getting some winter shoes, but I want to do a little looking to see what the "other boys" are wearing before making the plunge.

One of the Second Branch members wears black Nike running shoes. At first I thought that was odd, but after walking in the snow and ice a while, I'm not so sure. They have a definite tread and may be better than normal shoes in the snow. However, they do present an unusual picture with his tuxedo coat, white shirt, orange tie, and charcoal slacks.

I have observed that matching, or fashion at all, is not the deciding factor in winter attair. Functionality is the core of any wardrobe and availability/price certainly come into play. The Branch members do not bother changing footwear upon arrival at church. They wear what they came in with and are definitely not critical of one another's ensemble of the day. If it works, it's correct.

There is still the requisite white shirt for the brethren. I've noticed that the style of shirt can vary even in this rather conservative dress shirt. Collar shape, buttons, pleats, pockets, pocket flaps, and even white on white stripes are seen among the brethren. As long as it is white and has a collar, it seems to be within range of acceptable.

Hats are a must, and I am behind the curve on that. I have a fur shopka that will serve me well in the cold, but a leather kepka, or cap, is the thing for fall and I assume spring. Most of them are in the style of 1900 American caps that button to the bill in the front. They can be corduroy or leather, but they all have an ear flap that folds inside the cap when not used. There are also baseball-style caps with ear-flaps that are visible on the sides, but they are seen less than the Kepkas.

I found a kepka in the apartment when we arrived, but it was too small for me so I gave it to Elder Kravchenko (a Ukrainian) and he was thrilled. I now understand why. First, it was a nice hat, made of wool, and in good shape. Second, it fit him. Third, it was free. I tried to buy one the other day at the Ikea mall and they wanted 4,700 roubles for the exact hat in leather. That's $147 American dollars.

Tomorrow, Pres Gushchin is taking us shopping and the first stop is the Renik, the "farmer's market" type place where they sell absolutely everything. I've been told that I can buy a leather kepka for about 2-300 roubles which is about $10-12 American dollars. That's more my speed.

Right now, I am looking forward to the winter experience. Maybe in February I won't think it is so good, but I'm here to have an experience as well as to serve and I look forward to every day. Even the things that I would otherwise think are "bad" or negative I want to experience because they all teach me something about these people and why they are what they are. As the Lord told Joseph in the Liberty Jail, all things are for our experience and I don't want to waste any experience by not living it completely.

What a country

Monday, November 10, 2008

Snow in Cabo 11/10/08

Snow in Cabo 

Snow, lots of it
Temp -5.5 and falling
Wind 10-15 mph (makes for cold cheeks)

First, thank you Emily. That was so sweet to ask your sister to write my uncle's name in the sand. I am just blown-away by the imagery of that simple act. For those of you who want to know what this is about, go to and see. Emily is a soft, gentle soul with a sensitivity to people's personal loss. I love you Emily. Thank you.

There is snow in Cabo. For the uninitiated, Cabo is our storage room. It is attached to the extra bedroom and is an enclosed balcony that was filled with junk when we first moved it. During the summer, It faces south and could get in the high 90's in there with the sun coming in most summer mornings. We decided to make it into a "sun-room" and set up a chair facing the windows to get a tan. We called it the Cabo Room in honor of our time-share in Cabo San Lucas, at the tip of Baja California, because when I hung the clothes to dry in there, the humidity got close to 100% and with the temperature, well, it was like Cabo.

Well, several weeks ago we "closed Cabo" because of the frost. (See the earlier blog) Over the weekend, it snowed pretty steadily and there was snow on the windowsill giving it a winter coat. Now that winter is settling in, we will not be visiting Cabo again unless it is to get the shredded cabbage & carrot mixture in the two jars recently placed there after Cindy got the cabbage preservation lesson from the 2nd Branch Relief Society sisters last week.

This is going to be our world for the next 6 months. They say it starts to get really cold in mid November and hits its peak around February. Then it gradually gets warmer (less below zero) until spring; around late April.

We walked home in the falling snow for the first time tonight. We had to stay late (7:45) and it was pretty dark so we took the long way down Kirova Street to the right (south) from the office, then right again (west) down Sacco & Vanzetti to our house. It was slippery, windy, and cold. My cheeks were burning when I finally got inside our building. I see why people wrap their scarves around their faces. We will learn how to deal with the cold.

Thursday we will go shopping (Fri's District Meeting). I am going to look for some "skid-pads" for my shoes. Elder Worthen showed his to me and I think that is the ticket. It is like the non-slip strips you put in the tub. We'll see.

This is us just after coming into the apartment tonight. That is the hall leading to the kitchen. You can't see the snow that was covering our coats because it melted on the way up in the stinky elevator. Do I look Russian yet?

We had the Young Singles in on Sunday night. At church, I asked one of them if the weather would stop some of them from coming. She looked at me like I had just said the earth was flat and retorted, "This is Siberia. We'll be there"; and they were.

There are a lot of things that people do without here and there are a lot of things that just don't work. However, the people have a tremendous capacity to suffer through and cold, while not their friend, is not feared. They are like a severly abused child looking at a teacher who has just swatted it on the bottom, with a look like "is that the best you've got?" They will live and work through the Siberian Winter and be glad for the spring, but having not feared the cold.

What a country.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

My Uncle Don Died Tuesday 11/7/08

My Uncle Don Died Tuesday 

My uncle Don died Tuesday. It seems a little strange at 66 years old to be talking about my uncle, but there it is. He was the last sibling of my father, the last Simmons of that generation, and aunt Louise is now the "last man standing".

When I think of Don, I see a big, blond, mountain of a man. At least he seemed that way to me as I visited him and Louise in Utah from time to time as a child. My first trip was on the Greyhound bus wearing my Cub Scout uniform because my dad said people would take care of me if I was dressed that way; and they did.

I remember the white dog with the brown spots, the sabers, the cherry tree branch that broke because me, John, and Larry were all sitting on it, picking cherries and didn't consider the strain of that one branch. I remember shooting firecrackers wrapped in mud with a slingshot over the street and irrigation ditch toward the old stone church the night of the 4th of July. I remember Don trying to teach me to water ski on Flathead Lake, shoot the 22 in the back pasture, and play the potato. I remember the nights laying on the grass, watching the stars and listening to his stories; watching Louise walking on his back to relieve pain; and watching him pick up concrete blocks like they were donuts. I remember hand-cranked ice cream and him eating a mixing bowl of it. I remember listening to his stories about he and my dad, about his time in the service, and about his family.

I remember a lot about Don, but the thing I remember the most is how he loved his family. He teased, he taught, and he loved. When the teasing got too much Louise would get on him and he'd chuckle. Oh how he loved him family. He also loved working in the Temple. He told me many times how much he enjoyed the people on his crew and his time working there. Now I am (was) a temple worker and he is not. What irony.

I remember Don as a good man. A real man. A really good man. He was a child in a man's body and he loved life. I never felt that he had any other interest but me when I was with him. He had a joy for life and found pleasure in even the small things. I have never met anyone who could be as excited about so little. He is just fun to be around.

Thank you Uncle Don for trying to help those Simmons boys get back into the church. Thank you for your efforts with my dad. He was a hard nut. Thank you for your example of never giving up. Thank you for our love for me and my family. I know you are still there, but I will be a little sad knowing that Louise is alone now (except for her kids, etc.) and you are not physically there at the other end of the phone when I can call. Give my love to Grampa and Gramdma Simmons and keep working on my dad. He's a good person who just lost his way.

Thank you Don. I love you. I don't know why I am crying. I know you are now free of that limiting body, to do anything you want to do. I am happy for you in that condition. It is just sad, knowing that you aren't there anymore. You have gone on another assignment in another place. I hope you can come and visit some time. I'd like that, and I could use some of your humor right now.

Elder R Douglas Simmons,
Russia, Novosibirsk Mission
Financial Secretary

Friday, November 7, 2008

Here it Comes 11/7/08

Here it Comes 

Rainy. Winds to 15 mph

If you haven' seen it on the news or heard it on TV, the axis of evil has targeted the Church and one article calls for outlawing the Mormon Church.

These are the peaceful homosexuals who just want to get along, protesting in front of the Los Angeles Temple and the Salt Lake Temple. Fasten your seat belts folks. Satan is gearing up for another run at us.

What a world.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

ZLC and a Birthday 11 6/08

ZLC and a Birthday 
11 6/08

Weather Report
Rain-wind 20-30 mph
It's a yucky day in the neighborhood.

Yesterday and today was Zone Leader Council, a meeting of all of the Zone Leaders from each city. Ten cities and 20 Zone Leaders gathered to receive instruction and motivation for the next 6 weeks. These pictures are taken in a circle around the room.

These are the finest of the best. They are seasoned missionaries, experienced leaders, and strong in the Gospel. As we see them and hear them, we are impressed with their maturity, with their judgment, and with their desire to take the Gospel to the elect.

The Assistants to the President (AP's) Elder West and Elder Robertson are strong, capable leaders with a major responsibility to instruct and motivate the missionaries. We love them and admire their determination to move the mission to new heights.

The Zone Leaders are responsible for the welfare, safety, and success of the missionaries in their cities. In some other missions where the member population is higher and the distance smaller, you can have several districts in a zone. Here Zone and District are synonymous except for the city of Angarsk which is part of the Irkutsk Zone because it is very close.

The evening started off with a dinner at 5pm. Some of these Elders have traveled overnight by train, some by a 6 hour plane ride, some 4-5 hours on the bus. They arrive through out the day and stay busy with other missionaries until dinner. There is no sitting around.

Sister Cindy and I went to the Tuesday evening general meeting so we had to leave the office about 4:30 to go by electric bus to the mission home. Out the front door, we go down into the Metro, pass by the usual entry and go out the other stairway that puts us on the other side of Kirova street, a 4 lane road with 6-7 lanes of traffic bent on destroying anything in the road not made of steel. We found that the Metro is a better way of crossing the street than running in the dark across a wet, pot-holed thoroughfare full of aggressive Russian drivers.

Once up on street level, we walked half a block to the bus stop. Several marshutkas (8-15 passenger vans) pull up and depart again before our electric bus arrived. It is like any other bus except it runs on electricity taken from overhead wires by two booms on the roof. There is a money taker, usually a woman, who takes each of our 10 ruble notes, gives us each a ruble coin change and a thin paper (like adding machine tape) ticket from a roll suspended around her neck on a string; all without looking at us or changing expression.

At the first stop, which is about 1 1/2 miles from where we got on, we get off, cross the street back to the other side, cross another street to the right, walk to the left a block to the Mickelsen's street, turn right past the police cars parked helter-skelter in mid block by the police station,and across the street again to enter their building's iron-gated courtyard. We call it the blue building because of the blue tinted glass facade on the upper stories.

Half way back into the courtyard, we enter a security door into a glass cubicle where there is telephone keypad. we punch in 12 and the # sign, the second door opens and we are admitted into the elevator corridor. Up to the 4th floor, we ring the doorbell of number 12. Apartments here are numbered sequentially from bottom to top. You don't know what floor the apartment is on by the number because there is no floor reference.

We are the last two arrivals and we take our place at the 15 foot long dining table. The dinner is not very surprising, being selected by the AP's. It is eithr New York Pizza, Rosticks chichen sandwich and marely warm fries, or Kentucky Fried Chicken, always supplimented with something by Sister Mickelsen followed by a dessert that has to include ice cream.

This meal was the fried chicken, 4 pieces each. I got through three pieces and then contributed to the "extras" bowl that was passed to the really hungry. This is a great choice in my book. Barely warm pizza or cold fries can't hold a candle to warm Kentucky Fried Chicken, with all that grease and MSG, it is to die for. (or maybe a cause of death, not sure) We also enjoyed rice and green beans, an attempt at neutrition by Sister Mickelsen, followed by cake & a slice of ice cream. (remember the ice cream somes in a log, wrapped in a plastic bag)

After the meal we remove the chairs from the wall-side of the table and move it against said wall, enlarging the room and giving enough chairs for the ZL's. Each picture above was of a different section of the room after the Kentucky Fried Chicken, beans. rice, and rolls were consumed. We are now in President Mickelsen's home with its large living room/dining room that could easily hold 75 to 100 chairs set in rows, but we have 26 at this meeting.

The AP's conduct the meeting and give time to each of the leadership for their part. Sister Cindy and I had 10 minutes. The office elders had 30. That shows who has the most to say. Here is a little contrast between Sister Cindy's shoes and elder Worthen's.

Our big message was about the new cell phones that would give each companionship a phone. Lots of cautions and conditions to having a cell phone, but I believe it will make or elders safer (the sisters already have phones) and more efficient. It remains to be seen.

After the meeting (9:00) we all head for home and bed. The next day they meet again from 9 am until 3:30pm. This is mostly instructions and inspiration. Afterwward, we had invited the AP's and office elders to our home for birthday dinner for Elder West. As it turned out we had 18 Elders for dinner. We gave us using the table and just fed them in the parlor. We had to put a little water in the soup, so to speak, but sister Cindy came up with a great meal.

If you can't tell from the picture, Elder West is blowing out the stub of a candle that has burned down into the cake ( it is a recycle candle). The fideo below is of the happy birthday song in Russian.
What a group of great Elders. What a country.