Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ice Palace II 1/27/09

Ice Palace 1/27/09
Weather, Wind: Calm

Clear Skies Temp -26C

The visiting Elders, our Elders, and our Sisters went to the Ice Palace today, Wednesday, because it is Preparation Day and tomorrow is Zone Conference and then they will go back to Kemerovo and Novokuznetsk. This is where we went last Saturday for an hour and a half with Sister Olga and froze ourselves severely. They are going there for a longer time and sliding down the ice shoot in their suits.

Here are Elder Gardner, Elder Harper, and three other Elders who have come for Zone Conference.

What you have to picture is ten or so Elders in their shopkas, heavy coats, and suits, taking their whoopee cushions up the spiral stairs to the top of the castle, sitting on their whoopees and sliding down this trough of ice into a snow bank 150 yards down the hill.

They said it got pretty cold, but "it was way fun." For the uninitiated, "way" is used as an adverb that the missionaries habitually use to express some degree of "wow"; "They were way ready to hear the Gospel", or "It was way cold today". I once heard an Elder trying to demonstrate the uses of "way" to his English Club, something like, "way, wayer, wayest". I could hardly contain myself, listening to this description of American slang as if it was standard usage.

That was until I heard Sister Cindy say it was "way cold" on the "way" to the office. I decided at that point that correcting this use of "way" was too deep a well to empty. I had better and more productive windmill to tilt in Siberia.

Here are some of the pictures the Elders gave me of their adventures at the Ice Palace. In this sequence, there are five missionaries, each sitting on their whoopee and locking legs. They said that they got joined one at a time, and with each that was added, the first tipped over the "falls" a little more. When Elder Bradshaw (6'2" and 245 lbs) hooked up at the end, it was like getting shot out of a cannon. Here they are at the botton of the first shoot, heading for the straight-away and the hard left turn that will take them into a snow bank at the end.

Here they whiz past the reviewing stand where the startled "first" guys are realizing that they have 800 lbs of missionary behind them at the moment of impact when they get to the bottom. I'm sure that they are hoping that the "last" guys can somehow stop before lodging themselves in the persons of the front guys and have to be surgically removed. You can see the angle of the hill at this point and they are traveling at high speed, headed for a hard left turn that will threaten to toss them of the right edge of the ramp. You can see that left turn here in the distance.

Here, Elder Gardner is contemplating the snow bank and calculating the gross weight, plus inertia, of the missionaries behind him at the moment of impact. The report was that the five accordioned into a ball of laughing missionaries with no long-lasting injuries. They had a great time and the suits came out without a seam damaged.

Finding fun in a frozen land is a piece of cake for the missionaries. They are an interesting combination of spiritual strength and fearless boys. That is why they survive this place. Everything is an adventure and a challenge.

What fine young men and women. What fun to watch them work and play. What a country.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

200,000 visitors 1/24/-9

200,000 visitors 

Weather: Still overcast (duh)
Temp: -18c
Wind: 3-5 mph

Will the 200,000th visitor to this blog please sing in? That's a take-off from a 1960's TV show called "What's My Line" where a panel tries to guess the occupation of the guest. Point; I have been absolutely blown-away by the number of people who visit this blog, originally intended for family and a few friends, and I would like to acknowledge the 200,000th visitor officially in a dedicated blog posting.

So, keep an eye on the visitor count and if you are the 200,000th visitor, please leave a comment identifying yourself and anything you want me to know about you and I will write something special, featuring you of course.

It is so exciting to think that so many people are interested in what I have to say. Well, maybe some of them dropped in by accident looking for something interesting and got counted even though they exited unenlightened by my writings. I accept that. Nevertheless, most of you have at least read one posting and that is amazing.

I sincerely hope that you, the 200,000th will leave some indication of who you are and let me at least thank you for dropping by.

Some things coming up are a few thoughts on how culture is spread . . . by merchants, pictures of the ice and snow sculptures at Lenin Square in Novo, and why chicken have feet. Stay tuned. Oh, for you non-readers, I have sent another mental blog on why lights flicker. What do you think?

I leave you with this question, who is this man and why is he smiling? If you know, leave your answer as a comment.

What a guy. What a country.

The Crystal Palace 1/24/09

The Crystal Palace 

Weather: Overcast (really?)
Temp: -16c
Wind: 5-7 mph

Today we went to see the ice sculptures down by the river with Sister Olga as our guide. A little geography lesson may be helpful. Our house is located about half way between the main train (Trans-Siberian RR) trestle to the north and the car and Metro Bridge to the south, in back of our "Dom" (apartment building). We are on the east (right bank) about 3 blocks from the Ob River that flows north to the Kara Sea near the Arctic Circle.

Each year they build an ice facility just south of the Metro Bridge on the east (right) bank of the river where artists carve ice sculptures and make ice-block structures, some of which are the entry to slides. Sister Olga invited us to go and see them and today was the day.

At 1:00 pm we walked past our office, got on the Metro going south and west toward the river and the left (west) bank, and met Olga outside the Metro terminal. She had walked to meet us from her apartment which is up river (south) about a mile. We crossed the street by going down into a tunnel that looked like another entry to the Metro, but it just brought us under the street to the other side. We walked south about 200 yards to the Ice Park, I paid 80 Rubles each for the three of us entry and went into a wonderland of ice blocks built or sculpted into remarkable things.

Looking out over the levee we could see the shoreline with many amusement rides, ice creations and other structures as well as across to the left (west) bank of the river. You cannot see it well in this picture, but this is where they have built a ski run from the top of the levee to the shore for beginning skiers and snowboarders. We see a lot of young people with their snow boards on the metro heading for the "slope" on the left bank which is also the location of the university.

Just to Cindy's left in the first picture is this block-castle that is a launch pad for a slide that spins around it once and then goes down the levee to river level, which of course is frozen several feet thick. I'm told it is 3-4 feet thick next to the shore line, but I would not know. This is where they cut the big blocks used for this park. The sliders sit on what looks like a whoopee-cushion with a handle that they hold between the knees.

There are lots of families with children here and it looks like any American winter playground with dads holding smaller children on their laps as they slide down the hill. I was struck again with how much alike we all are, taking our kids out for a fun Saturday at the amusement park, except here it is 15-18 below zero centigrade and the kids look like the Pillsbury Dough-boy in their insulated pants, coats, hats, scarfs, hoods, and mittens with the string up the sleeve. On one of our outings, Sister Gushchina remarked how Siberian parents take much care to be sure that their children are warm. I sure see this as we travel around. Even the babies in the prams are in snow suits.

Here is a young couple demonstrating the slide and their skill in the art of clutching one another, a world-wide pastime activity for twenty-somethings. The man is holding the whoopee handle in one hand and the lady with the other. She in turn is sitting on his leg and has a grip on his left pant leg, holding him like another whoopee cushion handle. They've obviously done this before.

The ice-sculptures were beautiful but hard to photograph because most of them are transparent, but I got a little contrast on this one. There seems to be a tradition of placing 10 kopeck coins (One 10th of a ruble) on these carvings much like you would throw coins in a fountain. Some of them were almost covered with coins as high as a person could reach.

Turning around from this ram, we saw a log house, much like those on the Dachas (one to two acre garden plots in the countryside) made entirely of ice blocks. It is quite detailed with cross-hatch windows, log-shaped blocks crisscrossing at the corners, and a door standing open to invite the weary traveler for a cool visit. Inside it we saw a fireplace, bench, large chair and bed, all made of ice and very detailed. Here we pose by the fireplace while sister Cindy tries to sit on the large chair where other visitors have worn the seat into a slippery cup.

Notice Sister Cindy's hat. We bought it in Tomsk on a visit to the Bowdens several months ago, but she has not worn it since. It is made of Arctic Fox, is very warm, and looks a lot like her hair. Being outside for a long time today, she decided to wear it and that was the only part of her that was not cold on our outing. I think we will see this on her again.

This is the corner of the log cabin showing the detail of the log-shaped blocks and the unique appearance of the almost transparent ice that still makes the eye accept the reality of the log laid on eachother making the cabin. It is almost a sureal experience knowing that you are seeing the ice, but seeing a log cabin.

This is a 3/4 ice model of the white-plastered chapel sitting on the geographic center of Russia in downtown Novosibirsk. It marks the east-west center although it is far south of the north-south axis. The Novosibirskians are very proud of this distinction and this chapel has been rebuilt several times to keep this designation clear to visitors. We visited it in the fall one day on an outing with Lidia, a returned Temple Square missionary.

Although fathers, or at least men, took the major role in sliding with the little children, we saw many children going down the hill alone, launched by, or even in the laps of women, presumably their mothers. The women here don't seem at all reluctant to take the adventure with the kids. Here a young girl gets set to challenge the slide. Here she is (right); there she goes (left).

This slide entry is a 3 meter high Greco-Roman columned building that looks much like turn-of-the-20th-century courthouse in the U.S. They have this style of building here in Siberia as well, but in other cities to the west, nearer the German boarder, they were mostly destroyed in the war.

Here Cindy is walking between the pillars feeling Greco-Roman, or at least wishing she was because it would be a lot warmer in Greece or Rome and her toes are getting numb (but her head is warm).

There is no limit to the creativity of those trying to wring a few more roubles out of parents to satisfy their children's craving for adventure and fun. Here you see a full-size merry-go-round and little train operating down there where grease freezes and motors size. We also saw an ice-skating rink and an oval to run 4-wheelers. Anything to tickle the fancy of the young and grab a few more roubles from parents.

Here I am, sitting on my frozen glass, with my queen by my side. While trying to boost myself up on this ice throne, I almost landed on my derriere in an unkingly pile at the foot of my throne. That would put me bowed before my own throne, wouldn't it? How slippery is the seat of power, how easily are the mighty fallen and how ignominious is their demise. What seems to be a relaxed regality here is actually a desperate clutching for something solid to prevent my slipping into oblivion.

Below are some video clips of children, and adults, enjoying the effects of gravity as the plummet down an ice slide at the Ice Park of Novosibirsk Russia in the heart of Siberia.

What a (frozen) country.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Frozen Nose Hairs 1/21/09

Frozen Nose Hairs

Light snow
Temp -28c
Wind calm

Richard Winkle, the Sacramento Temple President, told the story of his only experience in Novosibirsk and I am living that same experience. He came to Novo some years ago because his lumber company was considering some business here. When he got off the plane and walked to the terminal, a common experience in Russia, his nose hairs froze and he knew this was a cold place.

Several days recently, and today in particular, I experience the same thing. The moisture in your nose actually freezes and the hairs get stiff and feel like they are stuck together like you have a nose full of hardening Elmer's glue, right President Winkle? It is a very strange feeling, but becomes common place during the winter. What a subject for a blog, right? My daughter, Shannon, says that that is not peculiar to Siberia. She had the same experience in Rexburg while going to Ricks College in eastern Idaho.

Living in a cold place needs some getting used to and some special precautions. First, there is the clothing. I am still wearing my regular dress shoes that I got at Larry's Comfort Shoes. I thought I'd lose my lunch when he told me the price. They have stayed comfortable and dry so far but I need to wear an extra pair of socks for the cold. I had never paid $300 for a pair of shoes in my life, but I must say that they have been the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn; hence the name I suppose.

On those shoes I wear Yak Traks. This is a rubber-band lattice work with steel wound around each strand like a spring. The tension of the rubber keeps them on your shoes and the steel springs give you traction on the snow and ice. They are a life-saver. We call them "shoe chains", the pedometric (I'm surprised that spell-check didn't argue with that one) equivalent of tire chains. I can walk on ice with the confidence of a Yak; hence the name I suppose.

Next come the Silks. These are long-johns made of pure sink and they are amazingly warm AND light weight. I forget that I have them on except when I use the restroom or get undressed. The former situation can cause one some anxious delay, but the latter is without incident. (I can't think of a way to use that ending phrase again; pity)

My suits are beginning to show the wear of daily use. Some time ago and I decided to keep the 3-piece for Sunday and alternate the other two. Then during the heavy cold I saw that the cuffs of one pair of pants were showing some wear and decided to sacrifice that one suit to the Siberian gods of winter and replace it at a local "Men's Warehouse" type store called Senar's where they often have suits at loss-leader prices ($25-$50). By now the cuffs are worn through at the heel, probably because my pants are too big now with the 30 lbs. I've lost and they drag on the snow and get worn between the shoe-chains and ice.

I am not the only one to lose weight on this mission. Most of the elders look like they are wearing their fathers' suits, and most can get two fingers in between the shirt collar and the neck. Especially Elder Worthen. They tell me he lost over 80 lbs. and his clothes look like it. I took this picture one day of the gathers around his waist bunched up by his belt. I'll see if I can find that one. I'm not sure if this weight loss is due to lower caloric intake or caloric incineration. Nevertheless, it is pandemic in the mission except for the sisters. I cannot tell if they have lost weight because their clothes are loose to begin with. I'll leave that to others.

Next comes the coat. The heavy, woolen coats are called dublonka or palto. Mine weighs 10-12 lbs and is too warm to wear indoors. I also have a leather one that is totally impervious to wind and it is lined with the wool of the sheep it is made of. It is a little shorter than the wool one and I have yet to wear it in the deep winter.

The scarf is important to wrap around your face and act as a gasket to keep body heat inside the dublonka and the cold air out. When you wrap it high, it also keeps your breath trapped near your face to keep your nose and lip from getting frost-bite; a real hazard here. Two problems are the condensation of moisture from your breath through the scarf' first it makes icicles in the scarf; and second it fogs the glasses, which then freezes and you can't clean them until you get into a warm place.

Finally there is the ushanka, or shopka, that is usually made of some kind of fur. Mine is marmot, a cousin to a squirrel. After my years of defending my almond tree against the local squirrel population, it does my heart good to think that one of them is warming my gray head. The flaps on the hat can be pulled down to cover the ears and it is very effective but not all that attractive as you can see from my picture. Function before fashion. Even women wear the fur hats and the hair styles accommodate the hat. Sister Simmons has an Arctic Fox hat similar to this one, but so far she has refused to wear. I hope Sara will like it.

Speaking of Sister Simmons, she is healing exceptionally fast. All of her cuts were closed and healing within a week and they are undetectable. Her left arm is the only thing still bothering her, but even that is better than 75% now.

She enjoys the office elders and often has a laugh with them. Here, before her dive into the men's room wall, she enjoyed a laugh with Elder Watson. He had given her his phone when someone called with a question that she could answer better than he. After the call, as she tried to hand the phone back, it slipped out of her hand and in a knee-jerk reaction, she extended her foot to keep it from hitting the floor and instead of catching it with that foot she kicked it and it separated into multiple pieces all over the office floor. When they started to laugh semi-hysterically, I came around the corner from my spacious cell and caught these pictures of pure joy at this little misstep. For those of you with deep concerns for all living things, Elder Watson reassembled the phone without incident and all is well with it. No phone was killed in this incident.

We find humor and even joy in the daily little things that occur. In this place filled with grey, it is necessary to fill your corner of it with light and color from within yourself. There is fun to be had. There is joy to be experienced. There is beauty to be found and treasured even in the smoke filled sky with its endless succession of clouds. God gives us beauty to brighten out days and warm our nights.
What a country.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Sister Down 1/6/09

Sister Down 

Clear & sunny
Wind 7-10 mph
Blowing snow
Temp -15c

Taken from the military parlance when a soldier or aircraft goes down, "Sister Down" is definitely applicable to the situation we encountered Tuesday about 2:30 pm.

I was working at my desk when I heard a crash that was a combination of something breaking and something thudding. I jumped up and headed for the Library which is the room just off the main entry where Sister Olga, Brat Pyotr, and Sister Cindy have their desks. Olga and Pyotr are both on the Russian New Year's holiday until January 12th, so Sister Cindy would be alone in that part of the office. I suspected that she had climbed on a chair or something and fallen.

Looking in the library and finding no action, I took the second choice and headed around the corner to the long hall leading to the computer room, restrooms and the kitchen. There in a heap was Sister Cindy up against the men's bathroom wall with the two Office Elders (Olson and Watson) standing over her and Elder Watson asking, "Are you alright?" to which she replied, "No! I'm not alright. I hurt my head." I knelt beside her and began to evaluate the scene.

There was blood on the cuffs of her shirt and dripping from several fingers; she was holding her forehead with a bloody right hand and holding her left arm close to her body. She was obviously in shock and kept saying that she hurt her head. Broken china littered the floor near the wall and there was some blood on the floor. I asked her what happened and she responded that she tripped on the carpet and stumbled into the wall, breaking the cup she was holding and cutting her hand. I asked her to tell me her name and what day it was and she answered appropriately with a little irritation that I would ask such stupid questions at a time like this.

I sent Elder Olson to the front to get my small flashlight from my coat pocket and began examining her for broken bones. Everything looked normal so I helped her lay flat on the carpet and finished checking her joints. This irritated her also and she said, "I hurt my head" emphatically.

As Elder Olson arrived with the flashlight, I sent Elder Watson to find the first aide kit in the black supply cabinet next to the big copier and he brought two kits, both were nearly bereft of any usable supplies. There was an Ace bandage, a gauze roll, a plastic "chemical ice" bag. a few 2x2 gauze pads, a large absorbent gauze compress, a roll of adhesive tape like the football players used in the 60's, a pair of plastic scissors, and a couple of alcohol-impregnated pads. I used the few 2x2 gauze pads to stop the bleeding on her hands and taped some in place while I searched for more wounds.

After stopping the bleeding, I checked her eyes for light response to test for concussion, kept asking her inane questions and generally irritated her until I was satisfied that she had no hidden injuries that I was competent to discover. She still complained about the bump on her head and a goose egg was beginning to rise, so I broke the inside pouch of the cold pack, shook it well and bandaged it to her forehead with the roll of gauze left in the first aide kit.

With the bleeding stopped and her still conscious, I decided she was stable enough to sit up. I used the Ace bandage to make a sling and with the help of the two Office Elders, got her on her feet and into a chair in the computer room she had just left. The arm was the only thing left that I was unsure of, but that could wait for a little observation.

Sister Cindy asked for a blessing and I started down the hall looking for consecrated oil and President Mickelsen who had been in a meeting with the assistants and missed all of the action; about 15 minutes worth.

I opened his door, announced the need and the three of them and myself headed back down the long hall to the computer room. I asked President to anoint and I sealed. The blessing was a strong one of healing with particular attention to increased circulation of blood and lymph to remove the damaged cells and promote the growth of new cells to replace them. It included references to her lungs, liver and kidneys and I was surprised at the specificity of it and thought it very special.

We got Sister Cindy down to the front office, sat her in Brat Pyotr's chair and I closed up my computer and desk, knowing that it would be a while before I would be in the office again. This is how she looked just before President Mickelsen drove us home and helped us get into the building. I couldn't pass up the picture.

When we got in our apartment, I got her undressed and in bed, re-dressed her cuts properly with first aide supplied that I had brought from home including a few butterflies, and tied bags of frozen vegetables on her arm and head to control the swelling. Here you can see the black eye beginning to form.

I do not wish to be indelicate here, but I am making a record of the event and looking for some response from my medical friends so please forgive the detail. Regarding the blessing, I am interested in the comments of you medical types regarding the next 4-5 hours. She must have used the rest room at least 10 times during that period voiding a large amount of liquid at each time. I would not be surprised if she had voided over a gallon or more. Could this be the flushing of damaged cells promised or some other response to this insult?

At her request, I began calling the zone leaders in each city to ask their missionaries to exercise their faith and pray for her swift recovery. She said that if everyone would combine their faith and prayers, she could have a miracle and be healed in the morning. I then called a few of the young adults and our other Russian friends in Novosibirsk and asked them to call others with the same request. After the calls, I sat down at her computer and composed the following email to send to the almost 300 contacts to whom she writes her monthly email.

"Dear Friends
This is Elder Simmons. I am writing on behalf of Sister Simmons who is a little banged up right now and would like you to pray for her speedy recovery from some injuries she suffered today (Tuesday afternoon), of all places, in the main office hallway leading to the kitchen. She stumbled coming out of the computer room, heading for the kitchen and ended up banging her head (above the left eye) into the concrete wall, breaking a cup she was holding and cutting her right hand in several spots.

Her injuries are not life threatening and, all in all, she was very lucky to still have all of her teeth, escaped having her nose broken and, except for a severe bruise to her left forearm, seems to have no broken bones.

Would you please pray for your friend Sister Cindy and add your faith to that of our missionaries for her speedy recovery and return to her assignments in the mission office. She has faith that she can wake up tomorrow and be completely healed with your prayers and faith from all over the world. As she said herself from under the bag of frozen corn on her bruised head, " I AM a faith promoting experience."

Please pray for her when you get up this morning.
Elder Doug
Sister Cindy
Russia Novosibirsk Mission
Office Secretary"

Within minutes, I began to receive responses of support and love, promising to pray for her recovery. It is not possible to express my, our, feelings of being loved and cared for by our wonderful friends and loving family. By the end of the next day I am sure we received almost 100 responses and well-wishes. They have continued throughout the week. It is so comforting to feel the love of family and friends when you are half-way around the world with a serious problem. Thank you for your love, your faith, your prayers, and your willingness to take the time to respond with a supportive email.

It is now Saturday night and I am finishing this posting having witnessed a major miracle brought about by your faith and prayers. We stayed home Wednesday and Cindy rested, but was up several times and could begin to move her arms and head. By Thursday she was back in the office for about 7 hours doing her job; sore, weak, but back in the saddle. By Friday we could fix lunch for the 13 missionaries at district meeting in our apartment and go shopping for 5 hours (with some angel help) for the Super Saturday Seminary activity for which she had accepted the assignment to provide the food for 50+ youth. By tonight (Saturday), she had made and served 8 gallons of taco soup, breakfast and sack dinners for 24, and came home exhausted but successful; fulfilling every duty, every assignment, every obligation in spite of what could have been major injuries and a long convalescence without the prayers, faith and blessings of a mission.

She got her miracle because of her faith, your faith, your prayers, and a personal, loving Heavenly Father who granted the hundreds of petitions that rose like laser beams to heavenly realms carrying a plea for Sister Cindy's recovery to His ears by believing, faith-filled friends, Temple prayer rolls, and children's simple prayers both here and around the world. May God bless you for your service to your friend and your faith in God.

What a family. What friends. What a week. What a country.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

YSA Fireside Tonight 1/5/09

YSA Fireside Tonight 

Clear & sunny
Wind 5-7 mph
Temp -14c

Tonight we again had a fireside at 6:30 pm in our living room. I think we had 19 finally. We are having lessons based on the church's Strengthening Marriage program that's also being used in other missions. I gave the lesson on the importance of traditions in marriage using Ena, a returned missionary, as my interpreter with Lydia's (former Temple Square missionary) help.

I took several chances in speaking about incorrect traditions, starting with the Lamonites, that have caused problems in many lands i.e. blacks in America, Jews in Russia, Croats & Serbians. It went over pretty well and when I used Fiddler on the Roof several had seen it and helped the discussion. I think they got the message that positive traditions bring families together and false traditions hurt everyone.

In the process, I did some research on Father Frost and Santa Clause and found that both are modern constructs based on ancient traditions. I found this about them that shows their common beginnings:

"Among Roman Catholics and conservative Protestants, there is a near universal belief that St. Nicholas of Bari once lived in Asia Minor, and died in either 345 or 352 CE." "He is honored as a Patron Saint in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Russia, Sicily, and Switzerland. 2 He is also considered the patron saint of children and sailors." "Some religious historians and experts in folklore believe that there is no valid evidence to indicate that St. Nicholas ever existed as a human. In fact, there are quite a few indicators that his life story was simply recycled from those of Pagan gods." "When the church created the persona of St. Nicholas, they adopted Poseidon's title "the Sailor." They seem to have picked up his last name from Nickar. Various temples of Poseidon became shrines of St. Nicholas." " St. Nicholas was superseded in much of Europe by Christkindlein, the Christ child, who delivered gifts in secret to the children. He traveled with a dwarf-like helper called Pelznickel (a.k.a. Belsnickle) or with St. Nicholas-like figures. Eventually, all three were combined into the image that we now know as Santa Claus. "Christkindlein" became Kriss Kringle." "Before the communist revolution, large numbers of Russian Orthodox pilgrims came to Bari to visit St Nicholas' tomb. "He and St Andrew the apostle are the patrons of Russia."

For the full history of Santa Clause, his elves and reindeer, I refer you to a website that I found very useful. It is I am a sucker for useless details and I found their history of Santa in the US from 1600 to 1997 most fascinating.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Looking Up 1/3/09

Looking Up 

Sky-sunny, clear skies
Wind 2-3 mph
Temp -14c

I don't know why I want to tell these stories on myself, but I just think they are funny; at least to me. Sometimes I wonder how I get both shoes on in the morning. Maybe it is my link to the rest of humanity in that, from time-to-time, we are all do things that afterwards make us shake our heads.

The last few weeks I have had a pain in my left hip, probably a sciatic nerve pinched, and I have slept with a pillow under my knees, along with the two pillows under my head that Sister Cindy insists I use because she says it helps prevent my snoring. (She is convinced that if my forehead is higher than my chin I snore less.)

Last week when I was folding the wash (remember I am in charge of cleaning everything from the vegetables to the laundry, and world peace) I could not find the third pillowcase. I looked in the sheets, under the bed where the drying rack in sitting, on the floor, under OUR bed, in the cupboards; everywhere, but no pillowcase. In my usual problem-solving manner I decided it would show up sometime, put the extra pillow in the linen cupboard, and did without it.

Today, Saturday, is laundry day (the third this week) and general cleaning day. I had done a couple of loads last night and was folding them by the drying rack and thinking how I was going to hang the sheets today. (Now, for you women, you are asking yourself, why is he deciding this again. He has washed the sheets presumably, hopefully, every week for 6 months. Why does he have to DECIDE how to handle them this time. In answer to that I must confess that routine is not one of my strong suits. For me, every day, every decision, involves every possibility, every time, and I have to sort through them. This drives Sister Cindy absolutely bonkers. She LOVES routine and lives primarily by routines. To change a behavior, she must begin and anchor a new routine while I, on the other hand, I have only to make another choice as I thumb through them in my mind. It is very exciting and enlivening to know that I can choose almost any alternative for every task in my day.)

Where was I, oh yes, I was folding the garments and socks when I looked up where the clothes line passes through the window frame into the "ice house" (formerly the Cabo Room) and there in the corner by the window was the missing pillow case. I had searched everywhere below my head, but had never looked up. (Look-out, I feel a moral coming on.)

Yes indeed, there is a lesson here. When my own skills run short of the mark, where do I turn? The encyclopedia? The internet? My roommate? Why not go to the source, but if you are not a believer you have no source because you will not accept that there is a source. It is like dying of thirst, but not being willing to push down on the pump handle because you know there is no water in the well.

On the other hand, if you are a believer in God, however you define God, you have a source of knowledge beyond your own, greater than the encyclopedia because he inspired the knowledge in it, greater than the internet for the same reason, and even greater than your roommate. The problem is, where is the pump handle?

The pivotal pin of that handle is faith; one must believe. We learned that in Star Wars, right? You have to believe in the Force before you can use it. The handle itself is prayer; earnest, honest, heartfelt prayer. It also helps to know whether you pull-up the handle or push it down and that comes from practice. So, where are we, I got a little lost in the analogy. Oh, of course, look up! When your own strength or resources fail you, look up. Look to the source of all knowledge, and love, and compassion, and look to the source of everything for your strength and for answers.

The final part is to listen. I know of people who say, "I prayed, but God didn't answer." We have to be still and listen for the answer. We have to meditate with prayer, ponder, search, listen. The promise is "Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened to you." With faith, sincere prayer, and meditation (listening) we can and do receive answers to our prayers.

There once was a man who prayed daily for safety, peace, and protection and felt comfort in that prayer. One day he was warned by the local sheriff that a flood was approaching and he should move to higher ground. He responded that he prays daily for protection and God will surely protect him from the flood. As the water began to rise, the fire department came out in their big truck and offered to take him to high ground through the rising water, but he responded the same, "God will protect me". As the water rose past his home's first story, out of his window he greeted the offer of the National Guard rescue team the same way, "God will protect me". As he sat on his roof with the water rising over the eves, he responded to the Coast Guard helicopter pilot the same way, "God will protect me".

The man drowned and came before Saint Peter at the gates of Heaven with a heart-felt question. "What happened? Why did God not answer my prayer and protect me?" St. Peter frowned and replied, "He did, four times. He sent the Sheriff, the firemen, the National Guard, and the Coast Guard, but you refused His help each time. My friend, you were just not listening."

I need to keep reminding myself that lost things are not lost to God, the unsolvable is solvable to God. He knows. He is the source and I can go to him for what I need. If it is good for me, He will give me the answers. I just have to listen for them. If it is not right for me, He will cause me to forget the question. That is what makes this place so dark. The people have forgotten from whom their answers come. They knew it when we all lived together in His world, but their minds have been clouded and they have forgotten. Our task, as missionaries, is to remind them.

What a country.