Monday, January 25, 2010

A little Housekeeping, Wisdom from the Couples, & Tailpipes 1/24/10

A little Housekeeping, Wisdom from the Couples, & Tailpipes 
Clear & not so cold Temp 0F
Wind 4 mph NNW

Answer to a comment:
Yes Carol, the Galbraiths were the second mission president here in Novosibirsk. It is interesting how much in our lives connect to others isn't it. The grandson of some friends who formerly lived in Sacramento served here during the early part of our mission. One of our missionaries grandmother is in the same ward as the son of our new office couple (replacing us) and responded to their mention of Novosibirsk. It's fun. You live in my mother's birthplace. She was an Anderson, her mother was a Harris. Know any of them?

More wisdom from the Senior Couples

At our Senior Missionary Couples Conference we exchanged a lot of stories and some introspection. Among the latter was a list of reasons for seniors to go on a mission. These were contributed by our missionaries, two of which have served prior missions.
  1. Get to do things you can't do at home.
  2. Put yourself where good things will happen.
  3. Just show up, the Lord will do the rest. If you don't come, you will miss the blessings.
  4. Go and find out what you are. A Greeny (first time missionary) is either a moth or a butterfly.
  5. Become more aware of spiritual influences.
  6. It is not a sacrifice. The only real sacrifice was made by Christ.
  7. God grows you up while you grow the Church.
Here are a few pictures of our senior couples putting themselves where good things happen. First is the Holmes in Barnaul. It became known that they were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and the Branch members put on a Russian wedding for them. Here is Sister Holmes in full costume for the party.

Here are the two "newly weds" ready for the traditional bread, salt, and dance.

Another of our fun-loving seniors on the ice slide in Irkutsk. You can't say that we older folks don't know how to have fun.

Sister Southam is the one on the right in missionary attire going down the slide. Rumor is that she went twice.

Fun observation

An interesting thing I have seen on the way to the office and elsewhere is cones of ice in parking lots. Some may be 8-10 inches high. I saw one that looked to be a foot high. At first I was mystified, but soon it became clear; car exhaust. It is quite simple when you think about it. Here is a quote from a web site about water coming from a car exhaust.

"Gasoline does not contain water, as has been claimed in some other answers. However, water is a by-product of the combustion of gasoline. Gasoline does contain hydrogen, and when gasoline is burned, some of that hydrogen combines with the oxygen being used to burn it, producing water."

"Most of the time, the exhaust is hot enough that the water remains in the form of invisible water vapor. When the engine is cold, the exhaust pipe is cold, or the outside air is cold, this water may condense and become visible as 'steam' or as liquid water dripping from the tailpipe."

Well, sure enough, that is what I was seeing. Here in Siberia, the drivers run their engines for anywhere from minutes to almost an hour to warm up the engine before driving. I don't know if it is necessary, but almost everyone does it. Some of the newer cars even have remote starting features so that you can start your car while eating breakfast and have it warmed up by the time you hit the parking lot. This would cause water to condense on the cold exhaust pipe and produce lots of water until the catalytic converter gets hot enough to prevent it.

From our window I often see cars parked below with the hazards blinking randomly as if someone was clicking the electronic locks. I think this is related to that remote starting feature. Someone told me that even some of them have clocks that cause the car to start periodically during the night to prevent cold damage. I'm not really sure of that.

I tried to find some cool (pardon the pun) pictures of these water cones on the internet and came up empty. I will try and get some over the next few mornings.

You just never know what you will see next here in Siberia.

What a country.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I'm Back 1/23/10 & The Couples Conference 1/19-21/10

I'm Back 1/23/10 & The Couples Conference
Weather--clear and warming Temp--minus 10F Wind--calm

Thank you for the inquiries into my condition. I have been absent from the cyber-scene due to some back problems that made it difficult to sit a long time at the computer. A couple of days ago I had considered paying someone to shoot me, but got a blessing and a message to be patient. I am doing better with a few days' rest. I would have preferred a healing blessing, but Heavenly Father had other ideas. I'm working on patience.

Twice a year, if we are lucky, the mission president organizes a Couples Conference where the senior couples gather in one spot to be instructed, to share information, and to laugh. The laughing part is the best and I will touch that in a minute.

We have seven senior couples in the mission plus the mission president. They are:
The Moleffs in Ulan-Ude
The Southams in Irkutsk
The Royers in Krasnoyarsk
The Simmons in Novosibirsk
The Millers in Novosibirsk
The Trejos in Novosibirsk (Mission President)
The Holmes in Barnaul
The Nickoliasens in Omsk

These couples serve as the eyes and ears of the mission president as well as his arms and hands. He travels to each city every 6 weeks, interviews the missionaries, conducts a training conference, and interviews the branch leadership. He is the highest ecclesiastical authority in the mission and acts as a "stake president" relating to certain church matters. The men in this group are the only High Priests in the mission.  To those of you not LDS, the significance of this is that the High Priests are those who have been called and ordained to administrative positions in Church government and those callings are generated after a Stake is created. The high priests are the ones charged with ministering and administering in the Lord's church relating to its policies and organization.

 They also serve as surrogate grandparents to the missionaries, not as parents because they are not invested in, or critical of, their every behavior or decision, but as grandparents who love them in spite of everything, listen to their woes and celebrations with equal interest, and give them a little advice when asked. Most of all, they love them, they feed them, they love them, they support and encourage them, they love them, they try to guide them away from danger, and they love them. That's why grandparents and grandchildren get along so well; they share a common problem.

We are no exception. We do all this and work in the office as well. It is a real balancing act to be available whenever they want to use our apartment, have a meal with an investigator, or just need a hug, but sister Simmons is committed to doing whatever they seem to need and I am in a supporting role, even when they call mid afternoon asking if they can meet in our home with this GREAT investigator they just met.

The best part of a couples conference is that you laugh a lot. You can sit around a table and share experiences that no one in the world would appreciate except one another because we have all had similar ones.  We are each going to go home and try to tell our friends about our missions and they are going to look at us stoney-faced and have no appreciation for the humor in it.

Sister Simmons' four rules in Russia (and my corollary) are (1) It doesn't have to make sense; (2) It doesn't have to match; (3) If you see it and you want it, buy it NOW; (4) It really doesn't matter. My corollary is if it is physically possible, someone will try it regardless of the consequences.

Now, to this group of senior missionaries, these not only make sense, but they elicit their own examples of each rule and we all understand and laugh. The one group we will not tell these stories to is the couple who have just been called on a 23 month mission to Russia. We made the mistake of going to lunch with two couples who had served in Russia and by the time lunch was over, I was about one inch from calling the missionary department and asking for a reassignment to Florence, Nebraska.

On day two of the conference we invited Brat Pyotr to come and recount the history of the mission and his experiences with the establishment of the Church in Siberia. It was not only most interesting, but also enlightening to hear about the struggles to open each of the cities and the sacrifice of the missionaries and members, which we now could more fully appreciate.

Later that afternoon, we all geared up (-29F) and walked several blocks past the park to the city museum where we saw very good exhibits about Siberia's history and how things came to be. The picture above was on our way as we passed a grove of trees covered with hoarfrost. During that visit, we were invited to see a fashion show and dance demonstration on the second floor. 

Without understanding the language, it was my understanding that the costumes and "fashions" were original and several awards were presented before the show.  The children were cute as usual, but I couldn't get a good picture with my little Sony, same with the "faeshions" except this one I named the "moth". It was certainly unique, but was way beyond my understanding of fashion.

In the basement coat room I caught this picture of a dad getting his daughter ready for the trip outside. No matter where you go in Russia you see parents taking special pains to protect children from the cold. She was so patient and he was so careful. I loved the scene.

After the museum we inspected the snow sculptures. These are done by artists from different cities in competition. They begin with a big, bottomless box into which they pack snow, watering down each laer. The box is removed and the artist forms the block of snow/ice into the desired design. Here are some of the entries. The frozen folks at the top are yours truly and sister truly. Hard to see in all that fluff,  huh.

Are we having fun yet?

From the snow sculptures, we headed to the restaurant called Mexico. The food is fair but it is close to downtown and walking distance to the mission home. We all had salad and chicken Fajitas and lots of salsa & chips. Fun time.

After dinner we returned to the mission home where I showed some pictures of the Holy Land and gave some explanation of them. Sometimes I relay more than I know, but in this group there is too much experience to go very far astray.

Finally we were entertained by the office elders, Elder Byers and Elder Ahuna. Elder Byers sang a lovely and touching rendition of I Know Heavenly Father Loves Me. He was formerly with the BYU Men's Chorus and has written and recorded his own music; quite a talent.

The final event was an unlikely combination; a Hawaiian doing the Navaho Hoop Dance. He uses twenty-three hoops and it is very entertaining.

This was a great event for us, mostly for the camaraderie and the laughing. It is so therapeutic to be with people who understand what your life is like and what you experience. It is too bad that we all live so far apart, but it is not about us; it's about the missionaries and the Lord's work.

We love our mission and our missionaries. This was just a rest from life as we know it.

What a fun event. What a country.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The View from the 9th Floor of Bits of Siberian Domesticity 1/3/10

The View from the 9th Floor of Bits of Siberian Domesticity 
Weather Clear and Cold
Temp--minus 20F (132C) Wind--Calm

From our 9th floor apartment windows we see a lot of Siberian Domesticity and daily life. As I am shaving or getting dressed, I like to look out of our bedroom window and observe life below. Sometimes looking out is a little difficult with Jack Frost's artwork on the window, but I can usually make out what's going on.

One thing that I have noticed about mothers year round is that they often take their babies out for a ride in a pram (baby buggy) during the afternoons or mornings. It is sort of like walking the dog. I presume that this is for fresh air, although with the amount of blankets and snow suites they put on these kids, it is unlikely they get much air at all. Nevertheless, these moms, or the occasional babushka, are dedicated to this practice. I have seen them out for "air" when it is -25F. That's dedication.

Another scene of domesticity was seen one Saturday as I was doing the wash. I heard some muffled thumps out in the back of our building.
Thinking that there was some building project in progress, I looked out the window and "what did I see . . .", there was a heavy metal frame embedded upright in the ground, over which a man had draped a carpet for beating the dirt out of it. This scene could have occurred in any Russian city at any time during the year, but at -20F it seems a little incongruous, but there it is, with the man, presumably the husband, beating a rug under the supervision of a woman, presumably his wife, who occasionally moved closer to say something to him when his ardor for rug beating waned. Most of the time she stayed out of range in case he missed the rug.

A couple of days ago I heard some fireworks in the back and tried to look out those same windows in the "Cabo" room (for you newbies, that is our enclosed porch that gets very hot in the summer like Cabo San Lucas) and as I came into the porch from the extra bedroom where the wash was hanging, the window instantly iced up to the extent that I could not wipe it off. After using my Metro card to scrape off the ice, my breath and body heat created more ice and I never could see out of the window. I took this picture the next day and it was OK until I got close to the window and then the same thing happened.

Even in the cold, life just has to go on. If you live where it is winter 6 months of the year, the people just cannot afford to let it impact what they are doing. Garbage gets picked up, weddings take place, the puppies get fed, the dog gets walked, shopping gets done, little girls dress up with sparklers in the hair, and people have to walk from place to place because most people don't have wheels. I watched what looked like an older (50) lady turn the corner from our street onto the side street and slip on the ice. She scrambled to her feet and just kept walking.

Speaking of walking, Russians rush. I have made a very scientific observation about Russian walking and have found that most walk at about 100 to 120 steps per minute, whereas a good hiking walk is 60-70 steps per minute. I am not sure if they are just in a hurry or if there is some other motive, but they move fast, they move hard, and they move without interest in others. It's like the one with the most energy gets the right-of-way.

I watched a woman in the store, who was ahead of us at the cashier, take her change, pick up her two bags, whirl around and charge off at almost a dead run without even noticing the people around her who gave way so as not to be crushed. If we are leaving the building and I hear the outside door open, I step aside of the interior door (there are three doors, the outside steel one and two interior wooden ones to keep out the cold) and avoid being trampled by whomever is coming through the entry. They don't look, they don't hesitate, and they don't apologize. Get out of the way or pay the consequences.

These are a tough people for a tough place and they don't apologize for it, although, I am often asked what I think of Siberia. Even on New Year's day, as we came into our building we were met by a man coming out of the outside door in a T-shirt and shorts. He welcomed us into the building, wished us a "S Novim Godam" (Happy New Year) and then wanted to talk. He was obviously very drunk, but he wanted to try out his English on us and we conversed for a couple of minutes that ended in, "How do you like Siberia", to which we always answer that we love Siberia.

Every day is an adventure and every day it seems colder than the last, even though the thermometer may read the same or a little higher. It is just plain cold. Any exposed flesh is subject to frost bite and you learn to protect yourself. We are grateful to be here to serve the missionaries and the Lord in this frozen land.

What a country.

The Missing Nine 1/3/10

The Missing Nine
Weather--Clear and Cold Temp--minus 20F (-32C)

The puppies have been missing for the past week. I have been looking for them and for the babushka who has been feeding them. There are no tracks through the newly fallen show and no sign of their usual traffic.

The adult black dogs have been seen, but I have not seen the mother. The males are chasing cars and barking at night in the usual fashion, but the whole thing seems to say that the family is split up if they are still alive.

As I said in a prior blog, I was never sure how I felt about nine more dogs in the neighborhood, but since they WERE there and I am a softy for babies, I have been concerned about their absence. Maybe someone has taken them in or maybe they just found a warmer place to winter than this construction sight.

Nevertheless, I wanted to memorialize the fact that they are missing and that I am concerned for them, even though I was not sure I wanted them to grow up to be a nuisance this spring. Ambivalence is not one of my favorite emotions so this whole thing is a little unsettling. More to come.

What a quandary. What a winter. What a country.

Christmas #2 in Siberia 12/25/09

Christmas #2 in Siberia
Weather cold and clear Temp -22F (-30C)
Wind calm

Our second Christmas in Siberia has been most unremarkable on the one hand, but very rewarding on the other. It is interesting how things that were so impressive the first year are so routine the second year.

A week or so before Christmas we had stuffed American candy, Cool aide, and stick candy into a thick warm sock, followed by its mate to plug the hole and tied with a ribbon, for each missionary and made sure they were in the various cities for Christmas day. These had to be sent in the mail pouches carried by the incoming seven missionaries who arrived on the 23rd. I even forgot to take a picture of our project so this one below from last year will have to do.

Christmas eve we had the zone over for a one-hour dinner before they all headed for English Club. It was brief, but good with turkey, mashed potatoes & gravy, corn, muffins, and salad. Sister Simmons even gave her beautiful gardenia plant a haircut to provide some greenery for the table. What a sacrifice. 

Everyone enjoyed the meal and we even had time to give them their stockings from us. Most had the candy eaten before the meal was over; that's what it's for, right?

Even earlier in the month we hosted an evening of filling homemade boxes (out of those US Mail flat rate boxes) destined for missionaries who lived in our mission, but were currently serving in other missions. It was organized by Yulia, our office accountant and a former missionary, because she remembered how lonesome it was serving away from home and wanted them to get something from "home".

Remember, our cities are spread out from L.A. to Chicago so getting something from "home" is a bit of a stretch. It was really something from friends who remembered you. It is remarkable how close the Young Single Adult community is in the mission, considering the distance between cities, but they know one another and certainly have a bond, making this time of year special.
After the missionaries left for English Club, we cleaned up and watched; "It's a Wonderful Life" starring Jimmy Stewart. I do pretty well until he is returned to his current life and his friends bring the money to replace the money that his uncle Billy loses. I cannot help crying during that ending scene. It is so touching when his friends come to save his business and reputation. Why can't we make pictures like this anymore? Maybe it is because there are no more Jimmy Stewarts.

The final Christmas activity was the day at the mission home with the Trejos. We ate, played games, exchanged "white elephant" gifts, and watched the musical "Scrooge". The gifts were to be something in your apartment that you wanted to get rid of. Above you see the elders from the "Palace", a large apartment where we store all of the extra stuff we don't know what to do with. Their presents look alarmingly similar. To the right you see why. They all had microwave ovens with something inside. Here Sister Simmons finds a stuffed turkey inside her microwave. President Trejo made them take the microwaves back, but maybe we can find a home for one or two.

The mission gift was t-shirts with the Siberian Battalion logo. I proved that in spite of the 35 pounds I lost, Russian XL's are still undersized. I also proved that I can still move fast enough to set the camera timer and get in the picture myself.

Christmas is a time for the missionaries to relax and have a bit of home in the midst of the harshness of Siberia. We are grateful to be with them and share these experiences and this time of renewal and peace.  God gives us these valiant spirits for the work here and it is our privilege to serve them and share these times with them.

What a time. What a country.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Annual Mission President's Dinner 12/17/09

The Annual Mission President's Dinner
Weather--Clear, blue sky Temp 23F -2.3C
Wind 3-5 MPH

Each year the Mission President hosts a dinner in the Mission Home for the Novosibirsk District presidency, the branch presidents, and their wives. The mission president's wife traditionally makes the dinner with some additions by senior couples. This year there were 10 Russian adults, two children, 4 senior missionaries, and President and sister Trejo.

This year Sister Trejo made a wonderful meal for 50 (18 attending) and we all ate well. She did a great job and the appetizers table would have fed us all.

The value here is to bring the local leadership into closer contact with the mission leadership and create a closer bond of trust and love. As you might expect, with the language barrier, it is difficult to get really close to someone with whom you cannot talk effectively. The seating ended up pretty much divided by language preference, but we did have some exchanges and the sisters always have a bond. Here, Sasha Ozherelev (an English speaker) chats with President Nikoliachev and his wife, neither of whom speak English. 

President Shadran, Novo First Branch president, had to bring his two children (no sitter) and President Gushchin is watching him play on the floor before dinner. They did very well until about 8:00PM when things began to get a little chaotic.

Here, Elder Miller is approaching the appetizers with a purposeful gait. In the background, Lena Ozherelev and the Shadrans inspect the mission library.
Prior to the eating, Elder Byers, Elder Miller and Elder Simmons team up for a half-dozen Christmas Carols as a warm-up. Sister Simmons joined Elder Byers and I in a couple of Carols as part of the "program" after dinner.

All-in-all, it was a nice evening and time well spent. Christmas for the members is sort of a mixed bag. Their Orthodox relatives celebrate Christmas on January 7th, their atheist friends celebrate only New Years, and their LDS friends celebrate the traditional American Christmas on the 25th. These good people stand at the crossroads of three very different approaches to the December holidays and often end up celebrating everything, sort of like Cindy and I eating two Thanksgiving dinners (her family & then mine) for several years until we finally insisted that the families formalize some sort of compromise. It's a challenge.

What a country

Friday, January 1, 2010

Sister Cindy Conquers 12/18/09

Sister Cindy Conquers 12/18/09

Sister Cindy is overcoming so many of her "I won't" issues that she is running out of challenges here in Novosibirsk.

She sent this email to her family recently announcing her triumph over pain, fear, distance, and inconvenience in going to the dentist to get a tooth repaired.

From: Cindy Simmons
December 18, 2009 07:29:05 AM PST
To: R Douglas Simmons, Brian Simmons, Shannon Simmons, Scott Simmons, Trisha Youell

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers. I conquered my fear and survived my visit to the Russian dentist. 

Love ya,
Sister Cindy Simmons
Russia Novosibirsk Mission
Office Secretary

This may not seem all that monumental to those of you in the US, but it was a HUGE mountain that she climbed and conquered.

First of all, you must understand that her greatest fear on this mission, after my slipping on the ice and becoming a quadriplegic or having to transport my dead body back to the US, was to get any kind of medical treatment in Russia. I have to admit that I was right there with her because medical treatment here is not what we have come to expect in the US. However, it sounds like you and I may get to experience that level of care soon at home. Sanitation, equipment, technique, training, and patient comfort are all many years in arrears.

Well, there comes a time when necessity overcomes all else and you just have to go for it. In this case, she had the unnerving experience of finding either her zirconium filling or the top half of her left back molar in a refrigerator storage container after she had tasted its contents. At first she thought it was a piece of bone, but discovered the hole in her mouth and knew the horrible truth. She tried to endure the pain and loss of chewing surface, but finally had to just bite the bullet, so to speak, and get it fixed.

First, she had Olga make an appointment for an examination and evaluation by the dentist she recommended, who also had done work for Sister Mickelsen. When we arrived, we found that it was a very modern-looking office setup with elevator music playing and a receptionist who did the initial welcome and registration. Here Olga is making out the initial paperwork in Russian to get her registered.

I went in with her initially to be some support, and of course to get some pictures for the blog. It was modern, clean, and very professional. There were three office-cubicle type of enclosures in this large room and each was similarly equipped. In this picture, the dentist is the one with the red hair on the left.

After they got her in the chair and she began to explain the problem and they began to ask questions, with Olga interpreting both sides of course, I could see that I was not needed and slipped out.

As I came out of the door, I noticed the pictures on the wall and realized that these were of the staff. Her dentist was the one in the lower-left. She looked to be about in her late 30's in person, but much younger in the picture.

All in all, I was impressed with the place, the staff, and the young-lady dentist and felt quite confident that Cindy would be well cared for.

After the initial examination which took about half an hour, Cindy came out with an X-ray and a complete idea of the health of her teeth. Interesting enough, they did not charge for the examination.

Armed with that information and the X-ray, she used SKYPE to contact the former mission president, Hal Mickelsen (a dentist), and his wife who had the root canal done last year. She also SKYPED her regular dentist, Brian Hull, to find out just how serious this could be. Being satisfied that it could wait, she endured the pain until it became constant and was obviously not going away. Fortunately, Sister Mickelsen had found this dentist in Novosibirsk to be very satisfactory, so Sister Cindy had Olga make an appointment and she had the work done.

I went along for moral support for the second visit to have the root-canal, but she really didn't need me. I'm proud of her for her bravery and determination. She has even made several other appointments with this dentist to get other problems fixed.  Before we get home, I'm sure that she will have had several teeth repaired and will be quite comfortable with the whole process.

What a brave soldier. What a country.