Monday, 29 December 2008

Our Second Christmas in Russia

We send Christmas greetings to family & friends
and wish all a Happy New Year.

A year ago, having arrived only a month before, we missed our family and our holiday traditions at Christmas. As we celebrated our second Christmas in Russia, we still missed family; but we felt at home in Moscow among our new family and friends. Here is a review of some of our Christmas activities this month.

Service Center (Photo by Vlad)
Our office is in the left wing not shown in picture.
We finally got snow for a white Christmas.

December 3 - Enrichment night at the home of Janet Rust. Their home was decorated beautifully for Christmas; and the program, music, and refreshments were special. I brought home the Russian nativity I had ordered.

December 5 - Christmas Devotional at the Central building for the employees and volunteers at the Service Center and Meridian building. We were given a nice leather covered hymn book and a card signed by the First Presidency.

December 8 - Combined Mission Senior Couples' Conference at the Central building with President Collins (Moscow West) and President Cranney (Moscow) and their wives.

Senior Couples Conference
(front: Sharon Yorgesen, President & Sister Collins,
President & Sister Pieper, President & Sister Cranney;
back: David Yorgesen, E/S McClelland,
E/S Mason, E/S Monson, E/S Rees, E/S Gregory,
E/S Ireland, Linda Nearon, E/S Shepard)

One of our humanitarian projects was with the largest orphanage in Moscow where the Church had donated exercise and physical therapy equipment. After the things had been delivered and were in use, we went back to take pictures following the Senior Couples Conference. It was sad to see the little ones with no family to love them; but the staff was obviously caring, there were holiday decorations, and the children were enjoying the new equipment.

Orphanage in Moscow where we did a
Humanitarian project.

We were in St. Petersburg December 11 and 12 where we met and trained the new humanitarian couple, Tom & Patti Arave.

We enjoyed seeing the Christmas lights in St. Petersburg.

Family Home Evening was at our apartment on December 10 and at the Nearons on December 16.

FHE at the Nearons with a White Elephant Exchange.
(Greg & Chris Shepard, Sam, Linda Nearon)

December 13 - Went with other senior couples to see the musical, "Beauty and the Beast." It was in Russian, but we knew the story and the music.

"Beauty and the Beast."

December 14 - I brought home from church the matryoshka nesting dolls I had ordered with the faces of the prophets of the latter days.

From Joseph Smith to Thomas S. Monson
in three sets of matryoshka dolls.

December 19 - Moscow Choir Concert. It was a smaller choir than last year, but still very good and enjoyable.

Anna (our interpretor when we do
humanitarian projects)
was on the program playing her flute in
one of the songs sung by the Moscow Choir.

December 21 - Sam gave the Priesthood lesson and I gave the Relief Society lesson.

December 22 - Yugo Zapadanya branch Christmas Family Home Evening.

FHE at Yugo Zapadnaya branch
(Sister Collins provided music for the skit
about the little daughter (Elder Mills) who wanted
to have a Christmas tree, but they were too poor.)

Lydia, Natalia, Lena, and Elder Mills
Yugo Zapadnaya branch

The Curbishleys are assigned to the Tula branch, but they live close to the Mission office where the Yuga Zapadnaya branch meets and so do things with this branch as well.

Beryl & George Curbishley are serving their third
mission in Russia, but they will be going home
to Mesa, Arizona, in February.

December 24 - Moscow Mission Christmas Activity.

Grandfather Frost & Snow Maiden
at the Moscow Mission Christmas Activity.

December 25 - Moscow West Mission Christmas Activity and later a Christmas party with the senior couples at Elder & Sister Rees' apartment.

Elder Ireland & other missionaries playing
"Do you Love Your Neighbor" game
at the Moscow West Mission Christmas party.

President & Sister Collins
(Moscow West Mission)

December 27 - Toured the State Historical Museum on Red Square and walked around Red Square afterward and through GUM department store looking at the Christmas decorations.

Historical Museum on Red Square

Sam & Narene with the Snow Maiden ice sculpture
near Red Square.

Skating rink at Red Square.

Christmas tree inside GUM, an expensive mall.
(Narene & Sam)

December 29 - Elder Armstrong and Elder Westbroek came to our apartment for supper and afterward gave us a message based on President Monson's talk Sunday morning at General Conference, "Finding Joy in the Journey."

December 31 - Went to the "Nutcracker Suite" with the senior couples.

Group photo taken by Greg Shepard before
going to the "Nutcracker Suite."

"Nutcracker Suite." (Photo taken by Greg.)

Sam took the next two photos at the end of the ballet.

The Arab dancers in front taking their bows, and
the Spanish dancers at the left in red and white.

Taking their bows to the applause.
The music and dancing was marvelous.
(The Prince (in red tights) and Clara (in white) standing
by her godfather, Drosselmeyer (black cape)
at the end of the "Nutcracker Suite" ballet

For awhile I didn't know if we were going to see much of the ballet. We went by metro and walking to the theater with the other senior couples and were almost there when Sam remembered that we had not brought our tickets with us. I stayed with the group, but he had to take the metro back to Sokol and then hurry to our apartment and return with the tickets. Hoping to enter the theater with the group of seniors, President Pieper explained in his good Russian that my husband had gone to get the tickets; but the ticket lady would not let me enter. However, after about 15 minutes, she motioned for me to come inside the lobby where it was warm and sit on the bench. I sat there watching the people enter and go through security with two men in black standing near the entrance. It was going to take Sam at least an hour, so I knew the ballet would start before he could get back. When I heard the bell ring to announce that people were to be in their seats for the beginning of the performance, I walked over to the lady taking tickets. Mixing English and Russian, I asked if I might be allowed to stand and watch the ballet until my husband returned with the tickets. She let me go to the second floor where I was able to sit down just before the curtain opened. It was actually a very good seat with a good view of the stage. When Sam came in with two tickets in his hand, the same lady told him, "Wife, second floor." By chance, although in the dark we didn't realize it until the intermission, he found a seat close to where I was. At intermission, we went down to the main floor to our assigned seats where the other senior couples were. When the ballet was over and we were getting our coats, I saw the lady who had been so kind to let me see the first of the ballet even though I didn't have a ticket and who sent Sam to the second floor where I was. I was glad to have another opportunity to thank her for her kindness. We smiled at each other when I told her a sincere "Спасибо" (spa-see-ba) - "Thank you."

Eating at the American Grill after the ballet.
(Yorgesens, Gregorys, Shepards, Masons,
Reeses, Nearons, & Piepers)

The Curbishleys and Irelands sat at the table
with President Gibbons & LaDawn and her relatives
and Yuri, their driver.

That evening, the Shepards, Gregorys, and Masons came to our apartment for snacks and to watch the fireworks from our 16th floor window. We regularly see fireworks year around, but on New Year's Eve there are continual displays seen across the sky everywhere you look. They began in earnest at midnight and were still going strong at 1:30 when we went to bed. I even woke up at 4:10 to some loud bangs and got up after hearing some more, but they quit after three series of these.

There is a web site with an Advent Book and an accompanying picture for each day in December which Ann Richards had sent me last year. I shared these with my family this year, e-mailing each day a written page and a picture focused on Jesus Christ to help me and those I love to focus on the real spirit of Christmas. On Christmas Day, I included my feelings about Christ. Among other things, I wrote that I am grateful that He came to earth to show us how to live, how to pray, and how to have charity and love for each other.

I love this picture of Christ.

I have always loved the Christmas music, the story of the Nativity, the decorations and the Christmas trees, the baking, even the shopping, and especially hearing from friends and loved ones. This Christmas we had two small artificial Christmas trees we inherited with our apartment and the other decorations in our apartment were sparse in comparison to other years, Christmas carols were usually sung in Russian, baking was not extensive, shopping was almost nil, but we had a very memorable Christmas. We are happy to be here in Moscow and are thankful for the love of our Savior and His gift to us of the Atonement. We are grateful for the love and support of family and friends. It has been a good year.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Beauty and the Beast Musical

Saturday afternoon, December 13, we enjoyed the musical "Beauty and the Beast" with other senior missionary couples. Of course, it was in Russian; but we knew the story and music from Disney. It was very well done, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sharon & David Yorgesen, Linda & David Nearon,
Renee Mason (Clark didn't come),
George Curbishley (Beryl was already seated),
LaDawn & President Larry Gibbons (at right, back row),
Narene, Greg & Chris Shepard

One of the scenes from "Beauty and the Beast"
featuring Belle and her father.

The principal characters receiving applause
at the conclusion of "Beauty and the Beast."

The cast of "Beauty and the Beast."

Waiting to get our coats after the musical.

In Moscow, it is expected that you will check your coat before attending a performance or visiting a museum. The service is free. The first time we went to a ballet ("Don Quixote"), Sam didn't get the numbered tag to show when picking up his things at the end of the performance. Since he had not expected to be checking them, he had not removed his passport and camera before checking his coat and briefcase. When he went to get his things, the lady wanted to see his numbered tag which let her know which coat and that he was the owner. Fortunately, she remembered that he had walked away without picking up the tag, and she gave him his things after a short delay.

On another occasion, we were having some difficulty getting the ladies to give us our coats. We had been to the ballet, "Swan Lake." The curtains had opened and the dancers took their bows and received flowers presented to them; thinking the ballet had ended, we went to get our coats. The ladies where we had our coats didn't want to give them to us, because they knew there was another act. We couldn't understand their Russian and were puzzled why they wouldn't give us our coats. We had the numbered tags, and we pointed to our coats. Finally, we got them and left. We had just gotten outside, when Greg Shepard called Sam on the cell phone to tell us to come back in to see the end of the ballet. Fortunately, the Shepards were with friends who had a program and discovered that the flowers we had seen presented were for dancers who would not be returning for the final act. We hurried back in. They didn't even require us to go through the metal detector security check again and were probably getting a good chuckle out of these stupid Americans. With a smile on our faces, we checked our coats once more. We weren't able to return to our front and center seats because the act had already begun, but they let us into a box on the balcony. This event is now referred to as one of our several "senior moments" we laugh about that has taken place by senior missionary couples serving in Moscow.

After the musical, we ate at TGI Friday's.
(starting at the left, going clockwise:
Renee Mason, David Yorgesen, George Curbishley,
Linda & David Nearon, Beryl Curbishley,
Sharon Yorgesen, Sam)

This happened to be the Shepard's anniversary.
(Greg & Chris Shepard,
LaDawn & President Larry Gibbons)

We are fortunate to have the opportunity to share these nice experiences with such great company.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Training in St. Petersburg

We had another opportunity to go to St. Petersburg last week. We left on the train Wednesday evening to do training with the new humanitarian missionary couple there and came back Friday evening. The Araves had invited us to stay with them in their apartment, and it was an easy walk from the train station.

We walked along Nevsky Prospect, which is the
main street in St. Petersburg.

It was dark when we arrived, but Sam remembered the way. The Araves are in the same apartment where we had visited the Eastleys when we were there last spring.

Patti & Tom Arave
are the missionary couple we trained.
They are from Blackfoot, Idaho.

After spending most of the day with training, we went walking while the Araves stayed at their apartment with those who came to get their Internet connected. It was a pleasant evening for walking, and the city was decorated for Christmas.

A mall on Nevsky Prospect.

One of the numerous canals in St. Petersburg.

Our Savior on the Spilt Blood Cathedral,
also known as the Cathedral of the Resurrection.

This cathedral is seen at the end of the canal.

We enjoyed our walk along the canal.

Another pretty night scene.

There was a little snow on some of the walks,
but the air was still and not too cold.

After our walk, we invited the Araves to
eat with us and picked this small cafe.

We spotted this place that looked just like the place in Tver where we had eaten the best blini we have had, so I was looking forward to another delicious blini. Here we ordered blini with chicken and they were good, but not like the ones in Tver where we had ham and cheese blini topped with tomato, cheese, and a cheese sauce. For dessert, the ladies ordered a strawberry blini, and the guys ordered ice cream.

After we ate, the Araves walked with us along Nevsky Prospect. A main attraction is the Kazan Cathedral at the center of this long street.

Kazan Cathedral

The Kazan Cathedral has a curved colonnade of 96 huge columns and is modeled after St. Peter's in Rome, although it is an Orthodox church. The construction began in 1801 and continued for ten years.

A closer look at the columns of the Kazan Cathedral.

Even the big Christmas tree looks small
by comparison to Kazan Cathedral columns.

Standing in front of the statue of Mikhail Kutuzov
in front of the Kazan Cathedral are
Patti & Tom Arave and Narene.

Mikhail Kutuzov was the Russian Field Marshal who is the army leader and hero of the 1812 War against Napoleon and is immortalized in Tolstoy's "War and Peace." He is buried in Kazan Cathedral, and a statue of him is erected in front of the cathedral.

A statue among the columns on the colonnade
of the Kazan Cathedral.

Friday morning, the Araves were still trying to get their Internet connected, so Sam and I toured two important churches in St. Petersburg - The Savior on the Spilt Blood and St. Isaac's Cathedral. In May, with Jeff & Rochelle and Doug & Shannon, we had toured the most famous tourist attractions in St. Petersburg, the Hermitage Museum and Peterhof. I wrote about that trip on my blog in June. (See the blogs posted June 15 and June 22.)

The Savior on the Spilt Blood
showing some of the
mosaics on the exterior
covering 1050 square meters.

Our Savior on the Spilt Blood or Cathedral of the Resurrection was built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was mortally wounded. In order to build the bell tower over the exact spot where the emperor was attacked, the body of the church was extended beyond the line of the embankment and juts into the canal.

Interior of Our Savior on the Spilt Blood Cathedral
where mosaics cover 6,000 square meters.

Our Savior on the Spilt Blood
is decorated throughout with mosaic representations
of Old and New Testament subjects.

St. Isaac's Cathedral
Built between 1818 and 1858

St. Isaac's Cathedral
It's four porticoes have 72 huge granite columns
ranging in weight from 64 to 114 metric tonnes.

Narene standing by one of the pillars
in front of St. Isaac's Cathedral.

St. Isaac's Cathedral showing part of the dome.

The front entrance of St. Isaac's Cathedral.

One of the huge doors at St. Isaac's Cathedral.

Entering St. Isaac's Cathedral

Inside St. Isaac's Cathedral looking toward the
open doorway where the priest can enter
with the iconostasis on both sides.

St. Isaac's Cathedral is decorated with many
mosaics and painted decorations as well
as gems and marble.

See the white dove at the very top of the dome.

Interior of St. Isaac's Cathedral

One of the chandeliers in St. Isaac's Cathedral

We passed by the Admiralty on our way
to St. Isaac's Cathedral.

The Admiralty was founded in 1704 as a fortress and shipyard, but the building standing today was built between 1806 and 1823. It was Russia's Naval Headquarters until 1917 and now is a naval college.

The Hermitage Museum
We enjoyed our tour of the Hermitage in May; and
although it would take weeks to see it all, we opted
to see other sites on this visit to St. Petersburg.

We enjoyed seeing the variety of architectural styles.

This is a unique building,
but I don't know anything about it.

St. Petersburg is an interesting place to visit,
and we could walk everywhere we went.

The train was comfortable, and we got back
to Moscow about 10:00 p.m.