Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Came - Christmas Went!!

Another week has passed by so quickly and it was pretty full of activity.  Okay, maybe not the whole week but at least the last few days with Christmas and all.  We received an email update from the young man I took home a few weeks ago and he is doing so much better.  It was great to hear from him and wonderful to hear he is getting better.  We then spent the week preparing for the weekend and the festivities of Christmas.   We went to lunch on Friday at the James Fennimore Cooper Restaurant with the office staff.  There was the typical Christmas flair to it all with a White Elephant gift exchange, etc.  We also celebrated the birthday of one of the staff so that added to the fun of it all.  The restaurant itself was quite interesting (we have included a couple of pictures), it was a page right out of the old west.  When we walked in I thought I was in Montana for a moment; wood boardwalks in front, hitching rail for the horses, a few saddles and miscellaneous tack out front.  The inside was all done in frontier décor.  There was a teepee set up, bear skin rugs (head on), mounted Elk, Moose, etc. and lots of Indian artifacts everywhere.  We ate Moose shashlik (ka- bobs) and venison steak for lunch.  It was really fun and we thought for a moment we must be back at home, really interesting to have the frontier America setting for lunch.
After lunch we hurried home for our district meeting with the elders and sisters of our district.  This happens every Friday at our apartment.  We found some real live sesame seed hamburger buns (a first) so we fixed hamburgers for them which was a tremendous hit.  After our meeting we all hustled downtown to the opera house where we went to see the Nutcracker performed.  It was amazing.  Words simply cannot describe the splendor of the performance.  It was definitely a different interpretation than we are used to seeing but simply magnificent.
Saturday it was more baking and Christmas preparation.  We also attended a baptism in the afternoon then came home and did a little more baking.  And then it was Christmas.  Our first Christmas without our family!  We hardly had time to miss them tho’ with everything going on during the day.  Our Christmas started with missionaries showing up at the apartment at 7am to use our computers so they could skype and face time with their parents.  They each had 30-40 minutes, we fed them breakfast while they were waiting for their turn and then as the last one finished up we were out the door to church (only a few minutes late).  Then it was off to the Mission Home where all the missionaries in the city gathered for dinner, gift exchange, and socializing.  We stayed until around 8:30 then came home and crashed.  Today – the day after – we are simply resting and catching up on a few things that need some attention.
Christmas in Russia is not the big deal we make of it back home, primarily because the culture is not based in Christianity and a belief in Christ.  The people our age tell us they were taught in school that there was no God. The main holiday here instead is Jan 7th the old Russian New Year and “Father Frost” comes by on the eve before to deliver presents.  So we have a whole week of celebrating to look forward too, which we will tell you all about next time.
We are so thankful for our belief Jesus Christ.  We testify that he lives.  He was born the Son of God of a mortal mother Mary, He walked the earth in the meridian of time, teaching the truths of His gospel, healing and comforting all he met.  He gave his life willingly and took it up again in the miraculous atonement that we each may live again with him.  We cherish this testimony and give special thanks this time of year when we celebrate His birth and life.  We wish each of you a joyous Christmas and pray His choicest blessing to accompany you in this New Year.
All our Love
Randy and Sue

A couple of the staff at the Teepee

Elder Webb with the Office "Chief"
Elder Webb and the Mission President
Right Bank District
After the Ballet

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!!

What a crazy week.  “Let me explain – too much – let me summarize.”   Five new missionaries came in and five went home.  Very hard to say goodbye to those leaving, they have all touched our hearts in one way or another, and all were just excellent hard working elders.  Two of them are going to BYU-Idaho so we told them to look up our granddaughter, Brenna! 
One of our new missionaries is a sister from St. Petersburg, and one is an elder from Ukraine.  So our training for them in the office was interesting, with the AP's helping us translate.  We also had four visa trips going on during this time, so elders and sisters were constantly on the move through the office and our apartment.  Luggage was everywhere down the long hall at the office, and packing and repacking as they did their last minute shopping.
Last night we had a district Christmas program.  It was so amazing.  They did the nativity and had built a stage, and had wonderful scenery, costumes, scripture reading and the choir!  No treats, which was a surprise to us, because everything we go to has food.  So this was very nice, oh, they did have candy for the little kids, but not Santa!  We liked the comment by one of the Dad’s who helped with the scenery.  “We spent 4 hours building a little stage and backdrop scenery for a program that lasted 45 minutes tops.”  We thought – obviously this was his first experience of bringing a performance to fruition.  Some things just never change no matter where in the world you happen to be.
We also squeezed in a little trip to the local IKEA and the mall yesterday and the decorations there were just like a Mall at Christmas at home, and even around town there are lots of festive lights.  On the hill by the river they are building all kinds of ice sculptures, getting ready for the New Year festivities which will begin on New Year’s Eve and go on for seven days.  So we are anxious to see all of the ice castles and other sculptures when they are done.  The park where all of these are being sculpted and will be on display is only about 3 blocks from our doma (home).  We know that all of the decorations around are for the New Year’s events, not Christmas, but we are enjoying them as part of our Christmas anyway.  We love it here more and more everyday.  The elders love Randy, and he keeps their finances straight for them and of course the love Sue and her tender mothering over them (and probably because she keeps the candy dish full on her desk).  Next event - we will have our district over here on Monday for P-day (preparation day) to make Christmas cookies.  Should be interesting!!
We gave a book of Mormon to our taxi driver the other day.  He was so nice and has a family.  He drove us Friday night, dropped us at the Huffaker’s apt across the river, came back and picked us up a couple of hours later and then picked us up again Saturday morning for the IKEA run and came back to IKEA about 3 hours later and took us home.  Anyway, by Saturday morning we knew we should give the BOM to him--we will see what happens. 
Well, we know you will all have a wonderful Christmas with all of your family and/or friends, but we will wish you Merry Christmas anyway.  Thank you for your ongoing love and support, we love you all so very much.     Randy n Sue

Who's been sitting in my Chair?!

Christmas at the Mall

Christmas Program 

The Peanut Gallery

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's the LITTLE Things!

Every Friday our missionary district holds a meeting to encourage and review the work being done by the 10 missionaries in our district, the right bank of the city.  This meeting is held in our apartment.  Sister Webb goes to great efforts to prepare a meal for the elders and sisters.  I know they like to hold the meeting here because they are guaranteed a great home cooked meal each time they come.  We have included a picture of the very best missionaries in Russia – the members of our district.  Each week they share inspirational events of the past week, challenge each of us to do better with our various assignments, improve in our language skills and generally just remind us to be better people.  It is a highlight of every week for us and a great way to be reminded of the things in life that matter most. 
We are learning more and more each day to appreciate the many blessing of family, friends, freedoms, and the abundance of life we have been privileged to have throughout our lives.  Each evening as we review the events of the day together it amazes at the little things that we notice and that bring us a chuckle or offer us something which we can look forward to happening.  Here is just one example:
The building across the street which we have mentioned before has a new tenant.  About 3 or 4 weeks ago they began to build out the inside of half of the street level of the building.  We watched with anticipation trying to guess what would go in, hoping beyond hope that it might be a neighborhood market.  Well, turns out that that is exactly what it is!!!!  The sign went up with the name and then a few days later another sign that said opening soon (only it was in Russian and we had to look it up).  Next we watched as fixtures, shopping carts, signage and finally product was delivered to the store.  Then Friday a sign went up that said opening at noon tomorrow.  EXCITEMENT ran wild in our apartment.  At noon we were ready to walk across the street to check it out and noticed that the opening at noon sign was down and it was back to opening soon??  Disappointment fell like a pall over our apartment but we held out hope that it was just a minor glitch and they would, as their sign said, open soon.  Well this afternoon there were ballons on the door which were swinging open with every passing pedestrian – they were open.  EXCITEMENT filled the air once more.  What a yo-yo of emotion it has been this weekend!!  We are so glad it is open – but what are we going to do for entertainment now.  Oh, well we will check out the store tomorrow and then start guessing at what comes next.  There is always an afternoon stroll through one of the many parks (provided you are dressed for it), or people watching (even interacting with them if you are brave enough to try), or just curling up and reading a good book (if you can find the time).
Tomorrow begins a new week which promises to be a busy one.  We have two missionaries stuck in Moscow from their visa trip which was to bring them back to Novosibirsk yesterday, another visa trip leaving in the morning, 5 missionaries going home on Tuesday, transfers across the mission Wednesday and 5 new missionaries – 3 from the U.S. and 2 native Russians – arriving on Thursday.  Hope it all goes well.
Our little District

The new store across the street

Which way is home?

Just a walk in the Park
Hope everyone is healthy and doing well.  We love you all and like you we are getting ready for Christmas.  Remember in all the hustle to take time for a breath and remember God’s greatest gift to all mankind – his son Jesus Christ.  Have a wonderful holiday.  We will be thinking of all of you.         With love – Randy n Sue.   

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Finlandia !!!

Visa Trip 1 of 5
Helsinki was fantastic!  We walked along the waterfront Sunday after church and we felt like we were back in Seattle, very rejuvenating.  The young missionaries call Finland fairyland and the Finnish language they call the elf language.  After careful study we believe this is because we don’t think you can speak Finnish unless you are smiling and they say that if you are smiling when you speak Russian you are pronouncing it wrong.  Anyway, we found the people to be very warm and helpful and very proud of their country; and when they hear you speak English they immediately change to English also.  They all start learning English in school at age 9.
  The airline magazine rated Finland the number one country in the world in which to live.  This was of course the FinnAir inflight magazine so might have been a little biased.  Helsinki was very interesting and loaded with things to see and do.  We were only here for a couple of days so couldn’t do it all but we have 4 more trips to make so we’ll do a little more next time.
We arrived Friday evening, spent Saturday attending the temple and doing a little exploring, (rode the tram around the city), went to church Sunday and did a little more exploring, walked around the city a little more on Monday am and then flew back to Novosibirsk on Monday evening, arriving early Tuesday morning.  This time of year it is dark in Helsinki by 3:30pm and doesn’t get light out until about 9:30am.  I am sure before winter is over it will be even worse.  I thought Siberia had short days but these are even shorter.
We met a couple at church who are serving a mission in Helsinki.  They are from Tigard, Ore and have been in Finnland for only 3 weeks.  A lot of what they are experiencing we could identify with and some we could not, i.e. they have a car and a view of the Ocean (Gulf of Finland) from their apartment.  That was a little beyond our imagination even.  They were very nice and we will probably see them next time we visit, 90 days from now.  
One evening we walked down a main pedestrian/tram only street which was all lit up for Christmas.  Their big department store is “Stockmans” which had the windows decorated with animated Christmas scenes.  They are all very into Christmas in Finland.  Also they celebrate their independence day on Dec 5 so that just adds to the festive air.  FYI they gained their independence from Russia in 1917.  A couple of the current pics are from our evening stroll.  The one of the H&M store window is especially for our granddaughter Brenna.
On Sunday when we rode the tram to church we unfortuantely caught the second tram which took us around the city in the wrong direction, returned to the pick-up spot in front of our hotel and then headed off in the right direction.  Then while in route, about 1 stop from where we were to get off, it had to shut down.  The tram was unable to round the corner of the street as there was a nice new BMW parked too close to the corner for the tram to clear the car.  We got off, walked the rest of the way, and needless to say were a little late for church.  We were only about 15 minutes late but what a ride!
 We so enjoyed everything about Finland and will look forward to our next trips, with long days and “white nights” and the opportunity of attending the temple.  As our time in Finaland came to a close we looked at each other and realized we were both thinking the same thing - we couln't wait to get back to Russia and the people we had left behind.  We couldn't believe we were thinking that way but Siberia is a beautiful place and the country and the people have become a part of our live already in this very short time.
Our love to everyone and our prayers for each of you for health and happiness and a blessed holiday.
Randy n Sue
Street Performers
Native Finnish Indians?

More Street Performers
singing Jingle Bells in Finnish?

Christmas Lights!!

Just for Brenna!!

Along the WaterFront
An old Cathedral

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Left to right-Sis.Webb, Sis.Gibbons, Olga, Yulia, Sis.Huffaker, Sis.Gushina, Pres.Gushin


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Russian Party

Last Friday, Yulia, who works in our office and is Russian, had a birthday. She is also getting married this weekend, so we had a little party for her. Russians love parties, and Yulia is pretty special to everyone here. I was planning it, but I had help from Sister Huffaker and Sister Gibbons. So we planned a little lunch, and Sister Huffaker and I had tied a quilt for a wedding gift. We invited Olga at the office and Sister Gushina from the office, and thought it would be just the six of us. We bought salads at the deli, and a small cake, and Sister Gibbons brought rolls left over from Thanksgiving dinner. We got flowers and candy, and then we all helped decorate the Mission Presidents office with balloons, banners, etc. for the party. Then, as it turned out, the husbands, the office elders, and several friends all came too. I was worried about having enough food, but Olga dished up the salads and just gave everyone a bit, and Yulia cut the cake into small servings, so it turned out fine. She was thrilled and it was quite fun! She was leaving that night for Omsk, where her family lives, the groom lives, and where the wedding will take place. Her husband to be is the Branch President in Omsk, and they will have a big party there. Here are a couple of pictures from the happy event!

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Monday, November 28, 2011


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Produkti Hooray!

We are just a little excited because since the time we arrived at our apartment, we have watched as the building across the street developed a little retail space. We hoped it might be a grocery store, or produkti
as they call it here. Then just yesterday a sign went up that read, opening soon, supermarket. This will be so handy, especially this time of the year, if we run out of something we can just pop in there. We are really getting spoiled! The picture was taken a few weeks ago.

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Catching Up

Things were pretty hectic around here the last couple of weeks so here is a little flavor of what’s happening in our world – First of all I had to make a quick trip to Utah to escort a missionary who was sick and unable to travel alone.  Left Novosibirsk on Friday (before Thanksgiving) arrived Las Vegas Friday night.  We flew to Las Vegas as there was a big snow storm forecast for Salt Lake on Friday evening and they didn’t want to take a chance on the plane getting diverted some place strange.  His parents picked him up at the airport and I spent the night there and flew out early Sat am to Salt Lake and spent Saturday and Sunday with Sarah, Jennifer & Steve & family, and Tyler & Harrison, who drove down from Idaho Falls.  We went straight to Wal-Mart and picked up several things I had on “The List”, ate some American Fast Food, some good Mexican and some Salmon over the weekend and then hit the Salt Lake airport early Monday am for the flight back to Novosibirsk arriving here Wednesday morning at 6 am.  What a trip.  It was fun to see the kids for a few minutes and to touch down in the “good ol’ USA” for a moment.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the two young sister missionaries serving in Novosibirsk moved in with Sister Webb for the 4 days/5 nights I was gone.  They had a great time.  The Mission President didn’t want Sister Webb to be alone but I am not really sure who took care of whom.  Well, I think we all know the answer to that.  Those two sisters could hardly say goodbye as they packed to head back to their apartment.  They held on tight to Sister Webb and each took their turn at a little cry.  They really fell in love with her which I know we can all understand.  All of this happening right before Thanksgiving.
We spent Wednesday (day before) cooking pies, making stuffing, and getting things prepared for Thanksgiving Dinner.  We had dinner at the Mission Home with 23 people, President and Sister Gibbons, the Huffakers, whom we have mentioned before, us and 17 young missionaries (4 sisters and 13 elders).  For those of you who know there should be an even number – refer to the above – so we are left with one “threesome”.  The day started out with me sleeping in (recovering from the jet lag) and Sister Webb putting in our two turkeys to cook.  Turkeys are great here.  We got both of them into one (yes one) 9x13 pan.  I think they were about 6 pounds each, maybe.  They biggest we could find anywhere.  Pres. Gibbons called and told us their water was off so we may have to move dinner somewhere else.  A few hours later he called back, the water was back on and so was dinner.  He came to pick us up and everyone began converging on the Mission Home.  Dinner was wonderful, we visited, washed a lot of dishes, and watched a couple of movies (Bing Crosby in “Holiday Inn” and Disney’s Tangled).  A great time was had by all!!!  The missionaries had never before seen “Holiday Inn” so it was fun for them and they laughed all the way through the movie.
We are now back to our “normal routine” for a few days and will get ready for our visa renewal trip to Helsinki, Finland next Friday.  We are looking forward to that and will let you know about our experience there.  We hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and took the time to reflect on all we are blessed with in our lives.  We love you and miss you.  May God continue to bless each of you in all you do.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Road Rage in Russia??

We live on a two lane street about as busy traffic wise as Cottage Ave back home.  In fact if you cut down the trees, removed the sidewalks and turned all the houses into high rise apartment houses you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.  Walking home one night this past week we came to our little street which seemed a little busier than usual and had to wait for a minute to get across.   Actually, there were so many cars that night they got backed up from a red light about three or four blocks down.  As we stepped out between the stopped cars here came a car driving down the wrong side of the street passing all the stopped cars.  Apparently, this seemed like a good idea and immediately there followed about a dozen others bent on “improving” their place in line.  For a moment you would have thought this was a two lane, one way street.  Then the light changed and it became quite a circus.  People were cutting in trying to get out of the way of the oncoming traffic. It reminded me of when one of you (no name) cut me off when turning around in Toppenish one evening.  Anyway, we entertained ourselves for several minutes watching while all these drivers tried to get back in line.  Everyone got along fine though, very little honking, no shooting, I mean shouting and we commented that back in America someone would have been hurt from road rage in a situation such as this.
One of the young couples in our “Prehoda” (Branch for those of you familiar with church speak aka congregation) whom we have grown quite close to had their first baby this past week.  As mom approaches delivery time it’s off to the hospital which I know sounds quite like a normal procedure.  Here in Russia however, approaching delivery is like a week to ten days before the actual event and mom stays in the hospital all that time.  The baby was delivered Wednesday eve and Dad is hoping to be able to bring them home tomorrow (Monday am).  No complications everything went fine – it is just the Russian (free medical) way.  Yesterday, Sister Webb and Sister Huffaker (the other Senior couple in the city) did a quilt for an upcoming wedding while Elder Huffaker and I went with two of the young missionaries to teach a lesson on Heavenly Father’s Plan for us, answering the age old questions – where did we come from?, – why are we here?, – and where do we go when we leave this life?, to a young Buddhist girl who is studying to come to America and be a doctor.  It was an interesting and very uplifting discussion.  On our return to the Huffaker’s apartment Elder Huffaker suggested we take a “shorter” route.  This involved riding a bus and a short walk (normally we ride the Metro and take a long walk) to their apt.  Well, after a 45 minute wait in the cold for the “1150” bus our trip began.  Had we taken the normal way we would have been back at the apartment before the bus picked us up.  We climbed on the bus which was packed with mostly 4th or 5th grade kids, I presume returning home from a field trip of some kind all, wound up and having a great time.  We of course had to stand.  After picking our way through a traffic jam, stopping several times to pick up and let off (always picking up more than letting off), we finally arrived at our drop.  We clawed our way out of the overstuffed bus and made the short walk back to their apt.  Total time elapsed – 2 hours 10 minutes. - shorter??  You be the judge.  It was really fun though and another “cultural experience.”   
We want to send out a BIG thank you to Terry McCauley who called us this past week.  Thanks Terry and we are so glad you are doing well.  You remain in our prayers.  We miss you all and love to read your comments.  Have a wonderful winter.  We will share what we can of the cold Siberian winter with you.  Love you all.

Sister Webb relaxing on the NEW furniture

Monday, November 7, 2011

Browsing at the Reenick

 We have mentioned the Renick before but this week we have included a couple of pictures.  This is really an amazing place.  They have many such places throughout the city but most of them are much smaller that the “Central Renick” where I managed to sneak a couple of photos.  This really is quite the array of shops.  At times it reminds one a little of Pike Street Market in Seattle and yet parts of it are like Harrods in London (not as upscale tho) and there is still a little touch of Flea Market atmosphere about it all.  You can find anything you might be looking for from soup to nuts, kitchen sink to light bulbs, and even inexpensive furniture to extravagantly expensive fur coats, hats, etc.  They really do have it all.  Our fun thing was trying to buy a pumpkin.  Once we had figured out the Russian word for pumpkin and we could see large pumpkin looking thing to point to, we went to work trying to communicate.  They wanted 660r or about $23.00!!!  for their “pumpkin”.  By the time we got down to $3.00 or 100r we ended up with something that was about the size of a small cantaloupe, shaped like a pumpkin but looked and felt more like a gourd.  We took it home, cooked and cleaned it and made it into pumpkin bread.  On the inside in looked like a pumpkin and with enough cinnamon and nutmeg it even tasted like pumpkin.  Turned out great.  We also bought Sister Webb a shopka (hat) and a scarf and then just walked around taking it all in.  Good thing we bought the hat and scarf as it has now turned cold, low 20’s when the sun is out, and with the wind, which blows mostly all the time, the temp always feels about 10 degrees colder.
5 new Elders arrived last week and in that group there is a concert pianist and a professional violinist.  Pres Gibbons kept them both in the city for their first transfer as I believe he wants them to perform at Christmas time.  Sister Webb is working with the choir (a real experience).  We sang for a mission wide conference on Sunday – I don’t think I have ever heard anyone sing so badly as a couple of the people who sign with the choir. (Come to think of it – maybe I have).  We had others in the choir ask these people not to sing with us (but how do you not include everyone who wants to try to sing in a church choir?).  It is a volunteer thing you know!  Anyway, as a group it didn’t sound too bad so maybe the Christmas time thing will come off okay, especially if we have some professional musicians filling in the gaps.
Once again this week has made us both so thankful to have born in America.  I know most of us complain a lot about the system back home and you are all dealing with the “campaign” season right now which just accentuates the frustration but we really are so blessed.  Here we have visited in homes where the people have absolutely nothing and live in a space smaller than most kitchens I have seen back home.  There are very nice homes as well but they are a rare exception. How thankful we are for the rich blessings in our lives: nice homes, family, friends, clean air & water and so many things we just take for granted.  This experience of being in Russia and working with and serving the everyday people has, I know, changed our outlook and attitudes about life forever.
We love you all.  Thank you for your prayers, thoughts, moral support and phone calls and e-mails.

Beef Anyone?


Typical Vendor
Fruits, Nuts, Pumpkins! (upper left)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Who Let the Dogs Out!!

So I don’t think we’ve mentioned this before and if we have it is worth mentioning again.  They have a dog problem in Novosibirsk.  It is kind of funny actually, to observe during the day.  These dogs lie around mostly, sometimes wandering about, in groups of 10 to 20 or so.  If approaching a human these dogs will not look at you and will go out of their way to avoid you.  They are absolutely not aggressive.  At night they are very active – talking to each other all night at the top of their lungs!!!  Did you ever watch the Disney movie 101 Dalmations??  Remember the part where the dogs start a “barking tree” across town to try to find the little puppies??  Well, that was a hushed choir compared to this racket!!  Apparently, this is such a unique phenomenon that Nat Geo did a story on “The Dogs of Novosibirsk” a while back (so we are told).  Anyway, it is an interesting civic problem much less repulsive than a big city rat problem but you do, obviously, have to watch carefully where you walk!
Well, this week has been very busy – mostly with cooking.  We have had a couple of different things to help prepare meals for as well as bake cookies for a couple of other events.  Cooking is really quite an experience in and of itself.  A lot of the things we are used to having are not exactly the same here and of course there is no way you can read the package to tell what it is you are about to open!!  But Sister Webb being the world’s best in the kitchen is quite remarkable at making the necessary, on the spot substitutions, with stuff we are not even quite sure of what it is.  One huge advantage here tho is we don’t have as many pots, pans and utensils so when she works in the kitchen there is a limited number of things for me to clean up – hooray!!
We finally got our first little bit of snow.  Still not super cold yet but the light dusting of snow has made walking a little more treacherous.  So when we went out for choir practice this evening out came the winter coat and the trax for the shoes.
“It's the little things.”  This week has been one of thinking about and being thankful for the little things around us.  I will just mention a few, like riding the bus with one of the young sister missionaries the other day.  The bus was very crowded and asswe got on we got pushed in different directions.  The lady who collects the bus fares came to me first so I just gave her all of my coins.  I didn't know what I had or how much, but I thought it was surely enough.  I couldn't understand what she was saying to me, so I tried to get my friends attention.  Finally she worked her way back to me paid the extra amount I owed.  And we laughed!  I am used to traveling with my husband, and he pays the coins.  I better learn fast!  Then one day when I was with him we were going to ride the metro (subway), he has a metro card that you just swipe when you go through the gate.  He usually swipes it for me and I go through, and then he swipes it for himself and he goes through.  This time, though, he went through first, and then went to swipe it for me and it wouldn't work.  So he handed me the card and I tried it again, then the guard came over, and said to go check and see if there was any money left on the card.  He helped me check and of course I couldn't understand if there was or was not money on the card, so I tried it again, and this time the army guy came over too.  Finally, Elder Webb gave me some money to go get a token.  I was a little perturbed at him because he was sure there was money on the card.    Then coming home one night this week in a downpour, with a strong wind blowing, our umbrella turned itself inside out, and by the time we got to our apartment we were so cold.  But not wet thanks to the great raincoat I brought with me from home, although Elder Webb was quite wet.  And then there was yesterday, when the elevator quit working.  We had some missionaries and members at our apartment and when they went to leave the elevator was not working.  We were going to go out again last night ourselves but changed our plans because we didn't want to walk back up the nine flights of stairs.  This morning, however, the elevator was still not working, so we walked down the flights.  After church we were so thankful to find out that the elevator was fixed and that we didn't have to walk up those flights.  So many little things that make life in Siberia so interesting!  Things I have been thankful for today:
1.      A long, warm raincoat.
2.     A big warm scarf.
3.     Taxis
4.     Sis. Cropper tutoring us again.
5.     Olga helping me with Russian.
6.     Packaged noodle soup for dinner at ten pm.
7.     A helpful husband.
8.     Elevators at the end of the day, even if they smell bad.

Life here is pretty good, all things considered, and the people are becoming more and more a part of our lives each day.  We are making lots of new friends which we know will be hard to leave when that time comes.  We are having some remarkable experiences and some pretty tender moments as we teach and work with the wonderful people of Novosibirsk.  Some of the people we have met live in the most humble of circumstance and we know that all they have is hope for brighter tomorrow.  We just pray that we can bring to them some of that hope as we are able to introduce them to the love our Savior has for them and each of us.  Have a wonderful week – we love you all.

First Snow

WARM !!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Week in Review

It all starts off on Monday morning with our weekly shopping trip.  Generally we will leave around 9am and head to the local MERAC store (pronounced may gus).  The Mission driver picks us up and brings us back home so we at least don’t have our groceries and other items to pack home on the Metro.  This week was a little different, it is always fun to do different stuff, even something so routine as grocery shopping is fun when you are going to a different store and you don’t know where anything is and you can’t read what stuff is even when you think you have found it!!  This week was not an exception.  We went to a BIG store, kind of like a Costco only things came in singles and smaller sizes.  You needed a card to get the discount price and our driver had one so it all worked out.  This store was called RN RAHT.  (The N here is written backwards and you pronounce this Ge Gant which appropriately means Giant).  It was quite a place compared to where we have been going.  We were kind of pressured to hurry so didn’t really get to take it all in but we will definitely be going back.  So we finished our shopping came home, put stuff away and headed out to the office.  Tuesday we generally have a staff meeting and a Mission Presidency meeting.  These meetings began at 11am and finish up around 2:30 but this week President Gibbons (the Mission President) was out of town so we spent the day just doing our thing.  New guidelines for missionary travel have just been issued so we spent the day and most of the rest of the week reworking travel plans for the upcoming migration and visa trips.  We have two Ukrainian sisters who have to leave the country briefly, for a visa renewal (migration) and 21 American missionaries who will be gone for a couple of days (visa).  I think we have mentioned that this is something that each missionary has to do every 90 days.  We have been reworking the schedule so that this will happen only once each month but it will involve around 15 to twenty missionaries depending on the rotation.  Sister Webb and I will have our first trip coming up the first of December.  We of course will let you know how that all goes.
We also put together the travel for all of the local leadership to come to Novosibirsk for a leadership meeting on Saturday.  There were 9 men in District leadership and 12 local unit leaders from all over the mission who came.  We had the other 4 Senior Couples who are serving in the mission come as well.  It was great to finally be able to meet them and spend a little time with each of them too. 
This meeting was really a pretty big deal most of these men had not even meet each other and had never all been together in a meeting like this since the Mission was formed.  The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the reorganization of the Mission and the individual units and to lay the groundwork for the formation of a Stake.  For those who are unfamiliar with Church speak - a Stake is an administrative layer of organization comprised of several individual units.  A president is “called” assigned by church leaders from Salt Lake to direct the affairs of the church members and units in a particular geographical area.  In this case it would be all of Siberia and it would be only the 2nd stake in all of Russia and the largest in geographical area in the world.  Needless to say, the excitement level was high and the significance of such a meeting did not go unappreciated by all who attended.  People here who want to attend a Temple must travel to Kiev in Ukraine which is a couple of days journey from here so of course they would like a temple in Novosibirsk where it would be much closer.  One of the administrative requirements for building a temple in any area is that there must be a stake in existence.  This meeting brings that possibility closer to reality for these people as well.  Anyway, it was very exciting for us to be a part of all of that on Saturday.
Sunday we were off to church during the day, company for dinner (the other Senior couple in the city here) and then back to the church for choir practice and a fireside meeting on Family History.  Choir is pretty fun with Sister Webb directing, young missionaries trying to follow her, interpret for the pianist and the other choir members and then having us all trying to sing in the middle of all that activity.  I don’t know how she does it.  I would be pulling my hair out.  I guess she pretty much does that while we are walking home afterwards.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the evening we walked a 3 mile round trip to have dinner? At Carl’s Jr.  We took a young Russian man about (22) who had interpreted for us last week with us for a treat.  He has lived in the city his whole life and had never been to Carl’s.  He thought it was a blast, LOVED the French fries and we so enjoyed being part of someone else’s first cultural experience!!
Well, there it is – our week in review intermingled in all of that is cleaning, washing clothes, baking treats for the missionaries (including Elder Webb) and cooking for the various meetings we attend.  We are having fun, staying busy and are loving the experience of being here and working with the Russian people.  We are learning so much from them and gaining a new appreciation for life and for the comforts of home and family.  We love you all – have a great week.

A different view

The local train Station

Sunday, October 16, 2011

More Lessons to Learn

Well, after lasts weeks adventure cross country this week has seemed a little bland.  It seemed fairly busy though and passed by quite quickly with everything going on.  First of course we all experienced Friday the 13th.  How was yours?  Our Friday passed pretty uneventful the highlight was attending a baptism at noon.  Very moving and uplifting.  A young man approximately 24 or 25.  He is very remarkable.  It was really striking to see him next to the two missionaries who taught him.  He is about 6’4” and they both are no  taller than 5’6”.  It was a great baptism tho and today he was confirmed a member of the church in our Sacrament meeting.
We are getting from place to place a little better.  Everywhere we go we either walk to the Metro, ride the Metro, then get off the Metro and walk some more – or else we just walk period.  We are seeing a lot of the city, finding a few good restaurants, and exploring lots of city parks.   It is sure beautiful here now, mid to high 60’s (68 today), sunny and very nice, absolutely perfect fall weather.
This week on Saturday morning we had to discuss how a temple marriage has blessed our lives.  This in and of itself doesn‘t seem like it should be too hard for an old married couple of 44 years but try doing it in Russian to a group of over 30 singles and things change just a little.  Thank goodness for missionaries who can translate (pretty well) and can help get our message across.  We each did some on our own in Russian tho’ (pretty rough) but we did it.  Everyone, of course, said we did great but I think they would have said that no matter what come out.  We had fun trying though.
Every day the Russian gets a little better.  We are recognizing more words in conversations that we hear, picking up a word or two each day in our vocabulary, studying and reading a little every day and just this week have picked back up with our tutoring from the MTC (Missionary Training Center) two mornings a week for an hour each.  One morning is with our Russian tutor (different from the tutor we had in the beginning – boo hoo) and the other hour is with a language learning specialist, whose job it is to keep us motivated and on track with our study program.  You know if we had the time we would like to have to do all this we could get to where we might actually be able to carry on a semi intelligent conversation.
I ventured out on my own one night this past week to get a haircut at a little shop just around the corner.  She spoke no English and I spoke “chu chu” Russian but some way we managed to get my hair cut in reasonable fashion so I guess we are getting a little more comfortable.  One phrase which we seem to use quite often is of course “Я хочу купить - pronounced  “Ya hochu kupeet” and means “I want to buy”.  When we are together then it becomes “We want to buy” and is мы хотим купить” – pronounced  “Mwe Hoteam Kupeet”.  Well there you have it – your first Russian lesson.  We should mention that we also had to speak in Sacrament Meeting today as well, mostely just to introduce ourselves but nevertheless it was another chance to butcher their language which I think it actually quite a beautiful language.  Sister Webb also has been asked to direct the choir.  Today was her first day and it was pretty interesting.  We just worked on a couple of familiar hymns and all I had to do was sing in the choir and try to pronounce the words.  She, however, had to try to communicate what she wanted us to do -- in Russian.  She was remarkable at getting her thoughts communicated - as you might all well imagine.  Music really is a universal language.   This week we have included a picture of the outside of our apartment house.  We are on the top floor pretty much in the middle.  Our days stay pretty busy working at the mission office and helping the young missionaries with teaching and other things that come up each day.  The time seems to go by quickly. Thanks so much to all of you who have sent your thoughts along in various e-mails.  We just love to get those emails and read them together.  It really is great to get up in the morning and find that someone has written us a note.  We love and miss you all.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Weekend in Kemepobo

Another fantastic week in Siberia!!  It all started out rather much as normal through most of the week but by Friday things really began to happen.  On Friday afternoon our landlady delivered new furniture to our apartment.  We had asked her if it might be possible to get new living room furniture for the apartment and she had agreed to get some for us (we think she might have been a little nervous that we would move) and then on Friday it showed up – a couch and two big chairs.  We then had to pile up all the old furniture to make room for the new and they weren’t coming until the next day to pick up the old furniture.  You should have seen us.  It was a real comedy, kind of a jigsaw puzzle really, moving and stacking furniture.  In the end we got our new couch and two chairs placed and the old 3 piece sectional and chair, a day bed, and one lounger all piled up in our 13 X 16 living room.  That evening was date nite so we went to left bank and had dinner with the other Senior Couple here in the city and watched a movie – DVD.  The next morning about 10am our landlady showed up with a couple of helpers and hauled away all the old furniture – we hardly could recognize the place.  It looks like a whole different apartment.  Anyway, we were very excited to get a make-over.
Later in the afternoon our Mission President, President Gibbons and his wife, picked us up at our apartment and we drove 5 hours east across the Siberia plain to the next city – Kemepobo (kemerova), a city of over 500,000.  We arrived about 7pm checked in to a hotel and then visited with the small branch of the church in the city.  We spoke at a little gathering of the total membership of 8, which included the two young missionaries and then retired for the evening.  Sunday we spoke in church, taught the Sunday School, had dinner with the local visa registrar who is a member of the branch and drove home, arriving at 8pm. It was a great weekend.
The drive across the country was absolutely amazing.  As far as you could see across the horizon there were forests of white birch trees with beautiful cleared farmland interspersed throughout.  There were no fences and no homes that we could see anywhere.  It was beautiful country.  Apparently everyone lives, if not in the cities then just on the outskirts, very close in.  There was an occasional small town off in the distance.  For the entire 5 hour drive there was nothing along the road except 2 gas stations strategically located along the route.  Just outside each city for approximately 3-5 miles (depending on the city) there are little settlements of Dacha’s.  These are very small cabins, some barley large enough to store garden tools, owned by the city folks where they raise their produce on small plots of land.  It reminds one of a conglomerate of community gardens with little cabins on each plot.  Very interesting!!  Another thing we noticed on the drive was that the cemeteries were mingled in among the white birch stands and each individual gravesite was fenced and each was very beautifully decorated with flowers.  All in all a great week.
Hope this finds everyone well, warm and happy.  We love you all.  We pray for God’s choicest blessing to be with you and your families.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Just a few fall pictures!

Beautiful Fall Weather in Novosibirsk

Enjoying Evening Walks

Lovely Walking Paths Down the Middle of the Busy Streets!

In Russian this says "Singer" and it definitely looks like one!