Sunday, March 29, 2009

Highland Cathedral 3/28/09

Highland Cathedral 

Bagpipe music is unique in all the world. It is something that you either hate or love without reason and without excuse. For me, bagpipe music is a direct link to my inner-self, to my most primitive being. It reaches into my chest and grabs my very soul, bringing a familiar burning to my nose which is a prelude to the tears running down my face.

This is a totally irrational response to a noise that can drive normal people out of the neighborhood when a piper is practicing. I have no excuse for this behavior nor any apology. Somewhere in my DNA there is a Scottish gene that was introduced to, or reminded about, this music. It is that gene that controls this response and I thank God for it.

When I was young, my grandfather told me that our name was not always Simmons. He claimed that it was McSimonds and that we were descendants from a family who escaped into southern Scotland, fleeing the taxation and tyranny of Edward Longshanks, King of England. They became septs of the Fraser Clan. The Frasers later joined in the rebellion against England and were instrumental in driving the English out of Scotland.

Edward I (17 June 1239 – 7 July 1307), popularly known as Longshanks, the English Justinian, and the Hammer of the Scots was a Plantagenet King of England who achieved historical fame by conquering large parts of Wales and almost succeeding in doing the same to Scotland but failed, partly due to William Wallace's uniting the clans against the English invasion.

Whether or not Grandpa Simmons was right, I cannot tell from the records we have at present, but the signs are there. The last relative I can track in America was born in Ireland and that matches the history of the Frasers who migrated to Northern Ireland during the time that England offered cheap land to the Scots to colonize Northern Ireland and make it a Protestant enclave. The pictures here are of the red "dress" tartan and the green "hunting" tartan of the Frasers and the ruins of the ancestral home and abbey. The coat of arms uses the six strawberry blossoms and crowns of Simon Fraser, the most famous clan chief of the Frasers.

For LDS people, they owe one of their most sung hymns to a Scottish tune, "Scotland the Brave". That hymn is "Praise to the Man" dedicated to Joseph Smith, his life and martyrdom. It is a stirring melody, especially when played by passed pipes and orchestra. It is also the Scottish National Anthem. The link to that is here. 

However, my favorite is the final link. The link below will take you to a 4 minute version of "Highland Cathedral". I once tried to write new words to this melody, but they never came. Maybe another time. The link below takes you to a performance of this beautiful song by the massed pipes and orchestra of South Australia Police Band, German Army Band,

Owl Town Pipe & Drum Band (Germany), Koninklijke Militaire Kapel, Upper Austria Army Band, Portuguese Navy Band, Royal Swedish Army Drum Corps, The Vanda Miss Joaquim Pipe Band Singapore, The South African Navy Band (bet you didn't know South Africa even had a navy), US Army Europe Band, and the Belarus Army Band.

The fact that all of these bands are massed to play this tune is a tribute to it's popularity. Interestingly enough, Highland Cathedral was written by German musicians Ulrich Roever and Michael Korb. In this performance the Conductor is Captain Lutz Bammler, director of the German Navy Band "North Sea" and the 10 year old drummer boy is Kes Kunze from the Owl Town P&D Band.

Now you are asking yourself, "Why in the world did this guy write this blog?" I'll tell you, I have been trying to convince the young adults who come to a Fireside at our home each Sunday how music is all around them, how it influences them, and that music can transport them to a new place. I have been showing and playing for them different forms and strengths of music. Tonight I played some Handle and "Scotland the Brave" because they chose "Praise to the Man" as the opening song tonight. After playing that one bagpipe song, I was hooked for the whole night on bagpipe music.

Sorry for the diversion.

This is the link

Job among us 3-24-09

Job among us 3-24-09

Yesterday we received an email that reminded me how much parents are tied to their children as much as children are to their parents. Sometimes that bond is one of anger and hostility, but in healthy relationships that bond is based on love and sacrifice.

In the beginning it is the parents who make the sacrifices. Babies and even toddlers absorb all that you can give them and think they fully deserve it. Being the center of their universe they can easily dismiss any offering and rebel at any counsel.

In those children's middle age,they seem to move in their own orbit and consider their parents as pleasant planets whose orbit occasionally crosses theirs, but think there is little gravitational effect. Oh there are the birthdays and holidays, but grown children have their own little worlds to tend to and the grandparents just swish in and swish out from occasion to occasion, and it should be so, but they are so used to the gravity that they don't feel it.

This time of your children raising their children is a gift from God, a time for the grandparents to rest from their labors and enjoy the fruits. Occasionally that rest is short lived or even denied them altogether. We know one couple who have had to raise several of their grandchildren into the couple's 90's. We all know of such situations and some will claim that it is a blessing, but I believe that it is also a great burden for people beyond the normal child rearing age. Physical and emotional strength in one's 60's are not what they were in one's 30's .

This brings me to one couple that we know who are dear friends. They are examples of parents who have reared healthy, productive children and who allow them to spin in their own orbits. However, they are also examples to me of how closely and how quietly parents are bound to their children and grandchildren, enjoying their successes and grieving with their sorrows. Grown children cannot, and should not, know how their lives can and often do impact their parents. If they did, it would intimidate them and cause them to have unhealthy second guessing about every move and yet, it is still true that we as gray-haired parents are still emotionally and spiritually bound to these spirits that we nurtured and sent into their orbits.

I have been especially touched by the string of heartaches and disappointments of this couple whose children have run a string of missteps and bad luck that have caused both of these good people to groan mightily under the load. The husband is surely suffering with the emotional burden of his children's difficulties, but few men suffer like a mother when her children cry out for solace and relief.

This dear woman is a well of empathy and compassion that knows no limits. Her children have suffered some of the greatest challenges of our times and great personal tragedy. As they have done so they have come to this mother for the same comfort and solace that she has always given them. She is for the thirsty, a well of pure water from which they drink and drain the source before they go their way refreshed. How much can she give? Where does it come from? How can she continue to give?

Her well is dug deep into the rock of Jesus Christ. That is the source of her strength and the source of the water that she freely gives. Her faith in Him and our Heavenly Father are the anchors for her in the current storm and she it tied to them without question, much like Job of the Old Testament. She has given of her water until the well seems to be dry and then finds that it is filled again by her faith from the Rock of her Salvation. Surely she is as Job, a righteous and dear daughter of Heavenly Father who will endure to the end without blaming Her God for her burden.

She recently had an opportunity to receive care and love from those same children as she was injured far away from home. That care and that service by children who love and respect their mother were an opportunity to selflessly show that love, and they all performed admirably. Dear sister, that was just a small sign of their great love for you and I know that you recognize God's tender mercies in giving them that opportunity to care for you, giving you that small glimpse of their devotion to you.

I know her. We know and love her. She will endure to the end and will receive that most precious accolade from the Savior, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of thy Lord." God bless you dear friend and get well soon.

What a woman. What a mother. What a friend.

Friday, March 27, 2009

When Will We Ever Be Real Missionaries 4/3/09

When Will We Ever Be Real Missionaries 
Temp 58F
Wind 9 mph
Clear & sunny

Because we work in the office 6-12 hours a day, I have sometimes wondered aloud, when will we be real missionaries? When will we teach the discussions? When will we have the thrill of seeing an investigator (someone learning about the Church and God) suddenly have that "Aha" look and see them realize it is all true. When will we baptize someone?

Finally, I have come to the conclusion that we have been doing "real" missionary work without realizing it. A typical week goes like this for example. We averaged 7-8 hours a day in the office, not counting the shopping for food to feed the missionaries and their investigators, then we have two families and the Elders over for Family Night to teach them about the Family Enrichment Program (Family Night),

Tuesday night we have another companionship over with their investigator, Wednesday we shop and I spend 3 hours washing produce so we can feed everyone. Thursday we feed two companionships and try to give them a little comfort, a home-cooked meal, and friendly faces to balance with the rejection they face all day. Friday we serve 14-16 missionaries at District Meeting at 12pm and get to the office by 3 and home around 7 pm or later.

We sometimes have an evening alone at home to soak our feet and relax. Saturday I clean the apartment and do the laundry while Cindy cooks stuff for the weekend or early next week. If there is a convert baptism, we will attend, usually at 1 or 2pm. Then we go home to finish our projects and prepare for Sunday when we will attend one or two branches and have 20+ Young Single Adults for a fireside where I teach the lesson and Cindy provides food (of course). After they all go home we get ready for Monday and start again.

So when do we do the real missionary work? In all reality, we are doing it every day. All of these things we do are the real missionary work for senior couples. When talking to other couples, we found that we have less time than any of them to do the basics, prayer, language study, gospel study, and inviting people to listen to the gospel message.

I'm feeling more and more that we really ARE doing real missionary work and I'm so proud of Cindy for getting out of her comfort zone with people she cannot talk to. She just smiles and gives them a hug. The ladies in the two branches we go to most often seem to really like her and the Relief Society has been to our house for classes a couple of times. She is a real inspiration.

We are grateful to be here doing real missionary work and supporting the missionaries. We love them and want to do all we can to help them find the elect and the lost tribes in this frozen land.

What a work. What a country

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why Siberians Hate Spring 3/26/09

Why Siberians Hate Spring

Temp 39.9 F
Wind 1 mph from the west
High overcast but clear horizontally

I don't know every Siberian, but the ones I know make no bones about hating spring. At first I thought that peculiar, but as spring creeps up on us, I have become a believer--hater as well. Spring is to be avoided if at all possible.

This video was taken slightly more than two weeks ago and we thought winter was going to stay around for a while. We couldn't have been more wrong. This storm only provided more snow to melt now that the temperature is above freezing 24 hours a day.

The end of February when we returned to Novo, I went with the Elders to get a hair cut and we saw the first signs of "pre-spring" There were crews of men, and women, clearing the snow off roofs and chipping the ice from walkways. The Elders said that they clear the roofs because during the early melt the icicles get very big and are a serious hazard to pedestrians. The chippers are hired by businesses and apartment buildings to clear the walks in their front.

I decided to make a bit of a study of that and here are some pictures of various ice removal efforts. The one on the left was on the drive along our building's south side. The piles of broken ice were sometimes serious navigation hazards on our way to the office. You can see the strata of ice, sand, and other debris as these piles begin to melt.

More and more piles of broken ice appear while the temperature is cold, but the roads now become covered with dust; yes dust. Clouds of dust follow each car from the dirt that was used to give traction on the ice during the season and now is dried and swirling around the city. Now we have ice piles, dust in the air, and cars with studded tires chewing up the road and throwing gravel at following cars.

Eventually the mechanical snow and ice removal reached our office area and we watched as they broke and scrapped the ice from the driveway on our south side and piled it in the roadway, allowing just enough room for a small car to pass. During this time, while shaving one morning and looking out our ninth floor window. I watched a guy on a roof across the street shovel snow from one part of the roof onto another part of the roof. I finally decided that he rented only one portion of the building and was shoveling the snow off HIS portion to prevent leaking from the melt and wasn't too concerned about his neighbor's problems.

This week the temperature has climbed into the mid 30's, people are commenting on how warm it is, and the melt is in full bloom. Now I understand why Siberians hate spring. Imagine what all of the refuse that has been dropped, both man made and animal produced, has been saved by some cosmic force and dumped in one spot on a particular day; that is spring. Combine this with the mud, the slush, the running water, and the puddles (sometimes lakes) in streets with serious potholes of unknown depth.

We were the recipients of some of that melt yesterday when we were waiting to cross the street headed to our house. A courteous, cautious driver came down our street and veered slightly to the right, just enough to hit the pothole in front of us and give us a bit of a bath. It was our own fault I guess. If we had not been waiting for traffic to clear out, we might have been across the street before this bozo showered us with last November's snow and dirt.

So here is the refuse beginning to really make an appearance. I decided to not show you all of the pictures of the junk and trash beginning to appear in the melting snow. Not that I have all that much good taste, I just don't want to have to absorb the abuse from Cindy for my lack of it in showing some pretty distasteful pictures I've taken. Suffice it to say that the junk, trash, dead bodies, droppings, muck, and some as yet unidentified things I've photographed are absolute proof that spring in Siberia is worthy of the darkest, deepest, most hateful words Russian can produce.

Even in spring the dogs can make a silk purse out of this sow's ear. Here one of the neighborhood's nocturnal singers has found a home amidst plenty of food. You all know how dogs love to get on the couch. This one has his own couch, but since it is up-side-down, he has a man's red jacket for extra padding and warmth. It's a dog's life in the spring.

The Siberian spring is like a young girl impatiently waiting for her body to catch up with her mind so that she can get on with the business of being a woman. The blossoms are buds, still not ready for the bees, but Siberia has to endure this awkward time with only the promise of summer to make it all worth the enduring.

What a season. What a country

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Stress 3/21/09

Weather at 9:30 PM
Temp -4.8 c (26F)
Wind westerly 1-2 mph
Clear Skies

What is stress? For me, it is not being busy so much as it is having more to do than you can possibly do and lacking the skills or resources to even do what you could do. Stress is a state of mind, not the size of your "To Do" list. Stress is having barriers to your success that seem insurmountable.

Stress cannot be laid on you from without. It is created within. Our mission is a case in point. First, we had the reality that we were going to a place we didn't understand. We had been in Russia before, but that was as a tourist for a few weeks. Even with that little experience, we knew that our way of living would be greatly changed and much of it would be out of our control. We were full of anxieties about the living conditions, the controls, the jobs we were assigned, the hostility of the people toward Americans, and the language. Most of those anxieties turned out to be well founded.

We had heard from every senior couple who reported on their mission what a great experience it was and what a spiritual high it was. Well, for the first two months here we were buried in the muck of our own making, trying to learn the jobs we had not the native skills for nor training for and were completely unprepared for, feeling the isolation of the language barrier, feeling the depravity of the housing situation compared to the home we had left behind, cleaning the accumulated grime from our apartment, sewing up the couch so we could sit on it without getting batting all over, and generally coming to grips with the entire situation physically.

In the next two months we began to deal with the spiritual issues. Church was a challenge because we didn't know what was going on most of the time and without a missionary or native translator church was a total loss except for the Sacrament. For me, I suffered from lack of reputation, lack of identity. These people didn't know who I was and once more, they had no reason to care. I was coming into THEIR lives, not the other way around. I was the "stranger in a strange land" and I felt that they had no interest or need for me. At home, when I walked into a meeting or even another ward in another stake, I had status, I had a reputation, I was known and as such, I was respected. Here, the people were nice enough, but I was nothing to them.

Humility is not always something you willingly put on yourself and in this mission, it was slammed down on me and I didn't like it. Now I had to decide what to do about it, and I took Ammon's example to heart; to be a servant. I prayed for opportunities to serve. I asked for advice of the native Russians in our office, I offered to teach the YSA fireside lessons, I worked with several of the Branch Presidents to help them with their finances, I did the local unit audits myself with a member of the District Presidency. I kept a low profile in classes where the discussion was elementary and made only rare and circumspect comments. I attended whatever class the missionaries directed us.

By the beginning of the 5th month, we were both beginning to feel some Spiritual awakenings and I was becoming aware that I was being asked to do things; to pray, to speak, to sing. I realized that I was beginning to earn the members' trust in ways that would allow me to serve them better and would in turn begin to define me in their eyes. Once more, I had lost the need to be known for who I was in Sacramento and just focused on serving in Novosibirsk.

By the end of that month we began to celebrate the American holiday of Thanksgiving and making preparations for Christmas. Making the stockings for all 60 missionaries was a stroke of genius by Cindy. It gave us a real feeling of being needed and that we had contributed something meaningful to our missionaries. Spiritual feelings became stronger and I wrote about several things that had touched me. Finally, the muck was beginning to clear and I was able to look to the heavens.

After Cindy's "Fall in the hall", my hernia repair in the states, and our Kazakhstan trip, we have again settled into our roles as servants to the people in whatever way we can be. Our stress level is much reduced and we have begun to feel more of the spirit and less of the stress. I am beginning to dream dreams again. Last night I had a dream about how to present the FEP to people. At the District Conference meeting the Young Singles sang and I had a vision of a choir that would touch hearts at Christmas, and tonight we had a powerful lesson on music and I think they are ready for that choir.

The Spirit is now dominant and the stress is much less. I pray that this trend will continue. I no longer see the setting sun over the coal-fired generation plant and think of the pollution; only of the beauty. I love the young people of our District. They are the hope of the future. They ARE the Church of the future. They are strong, spiritually sensitive, and they love each other. I hope to be accepted by them to the point that I can teach them how to love music and to use it to introduce people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to serve them and pray for the chance to do so.

What a mission. What a country.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Dog Chorus 3/14/09

The Dog Chorus 
Weather: Snowing heavily
Temp 32.2 F
Wind 2-3 MPH
Our neighborhood has a lot of feral dogs. For those of you from Rio Linda, that means they are wild and have no human master or home. We counted over twenty of them last fall and then found two new litters, one of two and another of three.

I don't mind the dogs during the day and they are just part of the general scenery for me. They go about their business of foraging in the garbage and running from place to place in small groups or sometimes in packs of 10 or 15. Occasionally in the morning I see them gathering on the next block, seemingly greeting other dogs as they are let out by their masters for short times before presumably being shut-up for the day. It actually seems to me that the feral dogs have a better life than the kept ones as they seem to be free to do dog stuff and are not confined.

Then one day last week I saw a group of the dogs gathering and greeting across the street as a man with a medium size schnauzer came along. The feral dogs barked a greeting to the leashed dog and I saw that dog straighten up, stretch its head and tail up, strike a dominant pose and walk away near the knee of the human. That was a clear message that "I belong to someone and I'm better then you street dogs." If I had not seen that I would not have believed it.

I get irritated at the dogs when they roam around the area just barking. First one or two will start and then the whole group will take up the chorus for anywhere from a couple of minutes to almost an hour. That gets old fast. I sometimes mutter aloud about them and Cindy takes the dogs' side, telling me that they are just doing their job and I should be able to ignore them. Generally I do, but at night when I am awakened by this constant barking through our opened window (remember the air flow) I get very annoyed. It is like trying to ignore a jet aircraft landing on the street below.

Last night I gave in to muttering again about the dogs as we were settling into bed, post fluff, and Cindy again told me to ignore them. Sometime during the night I became aware of a different kind of bark. Maybe it was the snow fall. Maybe it was the temperature. Maybe it was the exact place they had gathered. Maybe it was just me trying to make the noise bearable. I don't know, but it was different.

At first I was aware of several dogs at some distance that began to bark. One with a very high pitched bark and the others lower as if the older ones were teaching the young ones a song. Then some dogs nearer picked up the bark and moved away toward the group and joined them. Then others to the right of our building also began to bark and moved toward the distant group. I lay there thinking, there is a gathering of these dogs and they are all coming together at some point just a ways off. Then more came, and more.

After what seemed a very long time, the barking took on a hollow kind of sound. Like they were performing in a theater, and the numbers had grown far beyond anything I have heard before, and the voicing had various pitches and timbres like sopranos, tenors and basses. Several were very high and seemed a little shrill, but most blended. I'm not talking about the Hurley Ward choir of 30, I'm talking about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It sounded like hundreds of dogs barking in some kind of rhythm with almost a melody. It was so fascinating I was working up the strength to get my camera out and make a video of it to record the sound when it began to die off and finally stopped.

The Book of Mormon contains a story about a group of people (the people of King Lamoni) who are converted to Christianity, but are forced to live under the burden of subjugation to their former Lamonite friends because of their beliefs. When they pray for deliverance, the Lord does not immediately remove their burdens, but makes them seem light to them. In a small way, this is what has happened to me with these dogs. Now, instead of dreading to be awakened by their barking again tonight, I am looking forward to it. My little burden has been made light and even sweet to me.

If it happens again tonight, I will be prepared. I'll leave my camera on the window ledge and get it "on tape". Maybe I was dreaming. Maybe I'm just trying to make a silk purse out of a very irritating sow's ear. Nonetheless, it was a startling experience that I hope to capture on something with a better playback than my poor memory.

What a country.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fluffing 3/12/09


Weather Report
Cloudy-snow by tomorrow
Wind 3-5 mph
Temp -8C

I imagine every couple has some sort of "going-to-bed" ritual that may seem a little strange to the rest of the civilized world. We have had one for some time, but it has become a little more of a dominant theme to our repose here in Russia. I digress.

At home in Sacramento we have (had) a California King bed for many years. Here, son Brian and I try out the new bed when we first got it. Cindy and I sleep with the windows open year round and after some experimentation, we settled on a light thermal blanket for summer and a feather (down) comforter that we use all winter; It is really toasty. Well, among the assorted comfort foods and a few articles of clothing that we brought on this mission last May, Cindy insisted that we take the comforter and I will have to admit to all the world, THAT WAS A GREAT IDEA! We have used it every winter night since we arrived and even took it in our small carry-on luggage, using one of those space-saver ziplock bags from which you suck out the air with the vacuum, on two visa-renewal trips.

Further background. Our current bed is a queen size one of questionable vintage that we inherited from the mission president and wife when they bought a king some time before we arrived. During our initial orientation meeting with the Mickelsens (mission president and wife) Sister Mickelsen gave us a set of "slightly worn" sheets that fit the bed, for which we were grateful since the former occupants of this apartment apparently took the sheets with them when they left several weeks before we arrived.

That being said, let me give one more piece of background; we have found NO STANDARD SIZES IN RUSSIA. That was very upsetting. It may be our ignorance or reality, but we are zero for our efforts. In our western mentality and total ignorance we went to IKEA to get new sheets for this bed a few weeks after our arrival. Having not thought to measure the actual mattress, we just bought queen size sheets. WRONG! When we got them home they were far too large for the mattress and IKEA would not take back an opened package of sheets.

For our next trip to IKEA a month or so later I measured the mattress length, width, and thickness to get the right size. We bought the closest thing to those measurements and found that the fitted sheet was still about 4 inches too long, but I just tuck that excess in at the foot and we live with it; something you learn to do here. With the oversized sheets, Cindy has decided to expand her part of the "going-to-bed" ritual to accommodate the on-going problem of the top sheet also being a bit over-sized.

Oh, one more background piece; Cindy calls herself the "Princess and the Pea", that is, she is the princess. You know the story about the test of a true princess. If she is so sensitive that she can feel a pea under fifty mattresses she is a true princess; I married a true princess. Each night I stretch the sheets so that there are no wrinkles to bruise the princess. Sometimes I'm not thorough enough and we have to get out of bed and re-stretch the sheets to get rid of the "pea" so the princess can repose in total comfort. It's all part of the package and she is definitely worth whatever I can do to make her snooze painless. OK, here we go.

Now to the ritual. Since we purchased the feather comforter, the Princess decided that it needed to be fluffed each night before either of us got into bed and even then we needed to be careful not to "crush the fluff" as we got between the sheets, but the ritual goes further than that.
It is my job to monitor and adjust the air flow into the room so that the princess is getting just the right amount of air. I am known as the commissar of fresh air, and the princess may ask me to get out of bed to adjust the windows several times until just the right amount of fresh air is flowing. It's still OK.

Now in Novosibirsk the ritual has come to full blossom. Each night, as we prepare to get into our "queen-size" bed, we now have a combination of air-flow calibration, "pea removal", "fluff", and now sheet measurement that goes on each night. Some nights I have gotten ahead of the process, completely losing my focus, and have opened the window slightly, allowing the -25 C night air to begin to fill the room, or I'm just standing by waiting to do so in our little bedroom where there is only about two feet between the bed and the surrounding walls, in my abbreviated sleeping costume, while the princess is still making sure that the sheet is exactly the same length as the comforter on each side of the bed and the comforter is fluffed properly. In that small space, I have to keep dodging the fluffing princess as she moves from one side of the bed to the other, measuring and fluffing and being sure all is ready.

Sometimes I just have to leave the room entirely and stand in the doorway because when the princess gets into fluff mode, it is a whirl of activity and on occasion I have gotten fluffed in the process. you know, it's like the riot police not being too particular who they club while restoring order. One night I got both fluffed and measured and was in the process of having my wrinkles stretched when I escaped to the safety of the water-closet.

The final scene of our "going-to-bed" ritual is for the princess to ask the commissar of fresh air what side he is going to sleep on tonight. Now, this is a courtesy afforded me because of a pulled muscle in my left shoulder (obtained lifting a 6" binder of payment-file receipts off the window sill next to my desk last December) and a slight case of bursitis in my right shoulder, not to mention my hernia repair that occasionally needed extra consideration.

After being informed of my selection, the princess places my two pillows (to keep me upright thus reducing my snore) on MY 1/3 of the bed so as to mark the space she will occupy for the night. She then places an extra "neutral" pillow next to my two to prevent me from rolling over on her during the night and crushing her or landing an elbow to her head in my efforts to find a painless position. Finally, she places her small pillow in the center of her 2/3's and we are ready to pray.

By this time I am semi-comatose because I have mentally gone to bed some time ago. All I need now is to kneel and close my eyes and I'm gone. On occasion I have missed the prayer and that's a problem when I'm the one who prayed.

Well, now we are ALMOST ready to get under the fluffed-and-measured-comforter except for the last application of lotion to the princess' feet and Mentholatum to her lips which is my signal that we are going to sleep.

I invite you to examine your "going-to-bed" ritual and see how you match up. We all have one and if you analyze it there are definite messages and symbols there that are worthy of a few minutes consideration. Actually, the princess and I use this time to laugh and tease about our personal little rituals and how silly the whole thing is. We have a lot of laughter in our marriage and going-to-bed includes a good measure of it. In fact, when Shannon was still living at home, she would sometimes come into our room and ask us to hold it down so she could sleep.

I love my life with the princess and look forward to each night that I can join her under the fluff for a moment of intimacy and laughter.

What a girl. What a country.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Kazakh Observations 3/4/09

Kazakh Observations 
Before the memory of Almaty and the Kazakhs totally fades from my consciousness, I'd like to make some observations. I am fully aware that you cannot judge a country by one city, a city by one family, or a family by one child. Nonetheless, I have some impressions I'd like to memorialize.

I presume Almaty is at least representative of the Kazakh nation and people, and if that is not so I beg your pardon. We found the people generally to be pleasant, helpful, confident, and not afraid of strangers. People stopped on the street to give us directions. A woman on the bus offered her 16 year old daughter as a guide and translator for us. Restaurant and hotel workers were friendly and helpful. People on the bus were curious, open, and happy to talk to us, even if we did not share a common language. A bride and groom, taking their pictures at the independence monument, freezing in the 12F temperature, took time to smile and wave at us (tourists) as we watched and waved at them. They even let Elder Hughes stand in the picture. Based on the people alone, I could return to Kazakhstan.

The city was as tidy and clean as you'd expect of any modern city of 1.5 million people. There was a general lack of trash, things generally worked, and there was a positive spirit in the air. It was obvious that the majority of the older buildings were built under the Central Committee's direction, but the newer ones have a freedom of lines and imagination of design that speaks of independence.
We learned that Kazakhstan was the first of the Soviet Republics to demand and gain independence in the mid 1980's. We saw the monument to the demonstrations of 1987 and the panels behind it depicting the various struggles for independence and freedom over the centuries from rebellion against Genghis Khan to the demonstrations against Soviet control.

We visited the main mosque where men and women were praying,

the main Orthodox church where people were praying, the main renick where people prayed for business, the mountain where locals enjoyed the solitude, and in a gondola up a hill to where Elder Nelson prayed for the country to receive the Gospel.

We met with Pat and Craig Vincent, the local Humanitarian Senior Couple and learned about their months in Almaty. Every day was an adventure for them

We worshipped with the local branch in a rented hall and felt the Spirit witnessing that these were truly saints.

I don't know how the government really feels about us, but the people felt warm and genuine. Yes, I'd go back to Almaty, Kazakhstan.

What a country.