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 d├ęcor.  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