Thursday, 19 February 2009

Missionaries in the Family

We now have five missionaries from our family serving around the world. Our oldest granddaughter, Brittney, is serving in Houston, Texas. Her brother and our oldest grandson, Judd, is serving in Guatemala. Their cousin, Kyle, went into the MTC (Mission Training Center in Provo, Utah) yesterday and will be serving in Indiana. We are their grandparents and are serving in the Europe East Area living in Moscow, Russia. Another grandson, Trevor, will be going to Uruguay in May. We think this is great and hope they enjoy their mission service as much as we are enjoying ours.

Of course, their missions will be special as they will be offering the Plan of Happiness to those they find who are wanting to listen to the Gospel message and come unto Christ. There is no greater gift to offer. Our mission has been rewarding, too; as we have been involved in helping organizations devoted to helping the poor and less fortunate and bringing some happiness into their lives.

Five current missionaries, one going in May, and
twenty-three potentials.
(Our newest granddaughter was born after
this picture was taken and after we came to Russia.)

Serving a mission is voluntary, but it is certainly an opportunity to look forward to and one that brings blessings both to the missionary and to those they serve and meet. We will enjoy hearing from Brittney, Judd, Kyle, and Trevor as they share things from their missions.

It has been such a great experience for Sam and me to serve together as a senior missionary couple. I highly recommend it as the best way to spend your Golden Years, as it is often referred to for those our age. The time has gone by so fast, and it's hard to believe that our eighteen-month mission will be finished at the end of April.

How grateful I am that we have been able to serve in Russia. True, our mission is somewhat unique because there have been other senior couples in Moscow to meet together for Family Home Evenings, for struggling with the Russian language, and for exploring the city and culture on our P-days. Plus, having to leave the country every 90 days to renew our visas has taken us to interesting places that are outside of our mission. But take those benefits away, and we still have the blessing of sharing this time together as companions, being involved in humanitarian service, and associating with the members in our branch and the young Elders and Sister missionaries. It's been a wonderful opportunity.

How grateful I am for my testimony of the Savior and His atonement. I am grateful for my husband and eternal companion, for our children and their husbands and wives, and for our 29 grandchildren. I am grateful for our extended family members who bring joy into our lives. I am grateful for our friends both old and new (the new feel like we have known them for years!). I am grateful for the health we have that allows us to be here and to deal with the ice and snow. I am reminded of the hymn, "Count your blessings; - Name them one by one. - Count your many blessings; - See what God hath done."

Two daughters & husbands, five sons and wives,
eternal companions:

Counting our blessings!

Monday, 16 February 2009

Now We're in the Moscow Mission

The ground is covered with snow, and Sunday coming home from church through the park we saw several snowmen. We actually like it better for walking when there is some new snow cover over the ice, but it usually doesn't stay that way for long as it gets packed down from people walking or gets shoveled away to expose the ice again.

Snowmen in the Park

While we were in Madrid getting our visa renewed, we received a call from President Collins, our mission president for the Moscow West Mission. He called to let us know that we are now part of the Moscow Mission. Boundaries have been changed so that all of Moscow and the nearby suburb areas are part of the Moscow Mission, and the cities further out that had been part of the Moscow Mission as well as Kazakhstan and Belarus are now Moscow West Mission. We have enjoyed our association with President & Sister Collins and the young Elders and Sisters in the Moscow West Mission, so we will miss that relationship; but we also know President & Sister Cranny and like them very much. Before this change, the Curbishleys and Irelands were the only senior couples living in Moscow in the Moscow West Mission. Now we are in the same mission with the other senior couples in Moscow.

Yugo Zapadnaya, our assigned branch and formerly in the Moscow West Mission, is now in the Moscow Mission. However, we will still see the office Elders for the Moscow West Mission as long as the branch continues to meet in the Moscow West Mission office. The branch will be moving to another building when the remodeling is finished, and this should happen this month. Both missions are scheduled to move to a building nearer Rosinka this summer when that building has the remodeling completed.

Saturday and Sunday, February 7 & 8, we attended the Moscow District conference. The district presidency was reorganized and the outgoing district presidency spoke as well as the new district presidency. President Paul, first counselor in the Area Presidency, was also a speaker; and Sister Cranny spoke at the Saturday meeting and President Cranny spoke in Russian at the Sunday meeting. Vlad Nechiporov (our supervisor over humanitarian activities in the area) conducted one of the meetings. He was a counselor in the former district presidency. Vlad has been called to serve as a mission president, although it has not yet been announced to which mission.

There are now two districts in the Moscow Mission. The Moscow West District was reorganized the week before when we were in Armenia. Right now, it looks as if we will continue attending the Yugo Zapadnaya Branch and will be part of the Moscow West District.

On Tuesday, February 10th, our new mission had a zone conference with all missionaries (both young and old) in the mission attending. President Pieper (EEA President), Moscow Mission President Cranny and the two district presidents spoke to us. We had pizza afterward and then headed back to work. That evening, the Shepards had us over for supper and visiting (both were wonderful). Usually we have family night on Tuesdays; but since the senior couples had been to zone conference, it was canceled for the week.

We called Elder & Sister Rasmussen, the new office couple for the Moscow West Mission, and invited them to the Valentine party with the senior couples being hosted by the Nearons on Saturday afternoon, February 14. We made arrangements to meet the Rasmussens that morning to show them the best place to buy souvenirs (Ismaly) and also the Asian market where all kinds of merchandise is for sale at negotiable prices. Elder Aiken and Elder Bladder wanted to look for some things; and since it was their P-day, they went with us. Sam showed them where the young Elders buy their silk ties for as low as $3.00 a tie. Elder Rasmussen bought a shopka (Russian fur hat), and Elder Bladder bought one with wolf fur. Sam and the Elders bought some Russian ties; and I bought a scarf, gloves, and purse to go with my black coat I had gotten the week before. We had gotten such a good deal on the coat and were actually surprised when the vendor accepted what rubles we had with us when we counted it out to show him that all we had was about 6350 rubles, which was a long way from the 21,000 rubles he first wanted.

Elder Rasmussen, Elder Bladder, and the hat vendor at Ismaly

Linda Nearon had made a savory stew served over a pie shell, and the rest of us brought other food for the dinner. Linda Rees brought a yummy three-layered chocolate cake for dessert. The meal was delicious. Linda Nearon had printed some poems about love she had people read and then each couple told about how they met and got engaged. It was a nice Valentine's party. Greg & Chris Shepard were the honored couple, as their mission ends March 28. They both shared some of their thoughts about their mission and bore their testimony. It was a special occasion.

Chris & Greg Shepard
(Will be greatly missed
when their Mission is completed March 28.)

Linda & David Nearon and Sam
in matching shirts for Valentine's Day.

Sandi & Dennis Rasmussen,
the new office couple in the Moscow West Mission.

Linda & Steve Rees, the "junior couple"
until the Rasmussens arrived.
(He is the Area doctor.)

Renee & Clark Mason,
serving a 23-month mission with another winter.

Darvel & Kathy Gregory,
who came a month after us
and will be the next to leave after us.

Sharon & David Yorgesen
will complete their mission around the first of June.

We really enjoy all of the senior couples, and we're glad to have the Rasmussens with us. George & Byrle Curbishley completed their third mission in Russia the first week in February, and we miss them.

Beryl & George Curbishley
(originally from England) are now at home in California.

I gave the lesson in Relief Society Sunday. It was on "Missionary Service: A Holy Calling, a Glorious Work." That should be an easy lesson for a missionary to give, but it's always a challenge to give a lesson to Russian speakers when you have to have it translated from English. The pages in the Russian manual don't correspond to the pages in the English manual, so that complicates the process when you have someone read something from the manual. I print the lessons out in both languages and then go through and mark the page numbers and paragraphs.

The Shepards came to visit our branch Sunday, and they came to our apartment for dinner after church. We always enjoy our time spent with the Shepards and are going to really miss them. They have become dear friends, and we hope we will be able to get together again after our missions.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Armenia by Way of Turkey

Eating Armenian food in Yerevan (very good)
(Sam & Narene)

With our visas renewed for another 90 days, we flew from Madrid on our way to Yerevan, Armenia, where we had scheduled training meetings with Elder & Sister Blotter, the recently arrived humanitarian missionary couple. Our flight seemed on time to arrive in Yerevan about 4:10 a.m., but we kept circling in air. Finally, the captain announced that because of the fog we would be going to Trabzon, Turkey.

Airport - Trabzon, Turkey

After landing, we sat in the terminal for about two hours before it was decided to take all the passengers in two buses to a hotel; but first we boarded the plane to get our carry-on luggage.

Czech Air - Madrid to Trabzon, Turkey
(and eventually to Yerevan)

This picture was taken from the bus
on our way to the hotel.

Novotel Hotel in Trabzon, Turkey

This was a five-star hotel opened only six months earlier. We were handed a key upon entering the lobby and shown to our nice room with a king size bed. After a nap and a shower, we joined the other passengers for the delicious buffet luncheon with all the varieties of things to choose, much like being on a cruise ship. This was not seeming like a hardship for us!

The beach side of the hotel by the Black Sea.

The Black Sea behind the hotel.
Notice the dark colored sand.

Another view of the sea and part of Trabzon.

The Black Sea behind us.

The walkway leading from the hotel to the beach.

We walked on the beach and picked up some seashells and then we went out the front door of the hotel to get a view of Trabzon.

We walked about a block toward the city
and took this picture.

The hotel served another buffet banquet for our evening meal. At 10:15 p.m. we boarded the buses again to return to the airport for our flight to Armenia.

They were very organized in returning our passports
at the airport and getting us airborne.

We arrived in Yerevan, Armenia
at 3:20 a.m. on Friday, February 30, and
got to the Congress Hotel
about 4:30 a.m.
Our room was nice,
nothing like what we had left in Turkey.

Elder Tom & Sister Jill Blotter
Humanitarian Missionaries in Armenia

Igor from Finance in Moscow picked us up at our hotel and took us to the Mission office where we met Elder & Sister Blotter. After about two hours, Igor left to return to Moscow; and we remained to provide training for the Blotters. That evening we ate at a restaurant around the corner from our hotel with a sign out front letting us know the food was from a real Armenian kitchen. It was a small restaurant with very friendly service. I ordered something wrapped in grape vine leaves, and Sam's was wrapped in cabbage leaves. Both were very tasty. The man brought a pitcher to our table of red Armenian wine as a gift, and we had to thank him but let him know we don't drink wine. Pretty soon, he came smiling and exchanged it for some juice. I definitely would recommend this little cafe.

Real Armenian kitchen - good food and service.

We met the next morning at 9:30 at the Mission office to continue the training. For lunch, we ordered some cheese filled bread and a salad and were served in a quaint private room (shown in the photo at the beginning of this blog).

This table was set for a birthday party,
but we had our lunch in a small room at the back.

We finished with the training about 5:00 p.m. and went with the Blotters to a grocery store and then returned to our hotel. After eating a snack in our room, we went to Republic Square to take some pictures.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Republic Square

Mariott Hotel in Republic Square

Another view of Republic Square at night

Sunday morning we attended church in this
building with the spire. Inside the
building is nice and clean
in contrast to the neighborhood.

The sign on the building lets those who read
Aremenian know it is the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This little girl was one of the first to greet us
at church Sunday morning.

This picture was taken before the meeting started.
Many Armenian men have beards.

A monument in Yerevan taken Sunday morning
before we left for the airport.

We were supposed to fly out of Yerevan about 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, but the flight was delayed a couple of hours. With all the flight delays and changes in schedules, I finished three books on this trip.

Going through passport control in Moscow went the quickest yet, and we were back in our apartment by 10:00 that night. I did have a moment of confusion when the security personnel at passport control asked me how long I was staying in Moscow, and I replied with the expiration date on my visa - April 30. He was puzzled and kept asking me the same question. I finally realized the source of the confusion was caused by my ticket indicating I had a round-trip with a return to Yerevan in four days. They had issued me a round trip because it was cheaper than a one-way, but I wasn't using the return portion.

We will be returning to Yerevan in April for the Area Humanitarian Conference April 23 & 24.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Revisiting Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain
View of the Tagus River and Alcantara Bridge

On January 26, it took about 35 minutes on the AVE high speed train for our second trip to Toledo south of Madrid, a distance of about 40 miles. Our first trip on August 7 took a couple of hours on a tour bus from our hotel. This time we did a self-guided tour with three other missionary couples - the Shepards, Reeses, and Perrys (from Samara); and for the most part we saw different things this time.

Our group visiting Toledo:
Steve & Linda Reese, Narene (Sam
took the picture), Greg & Chris,
and the Perrys from Samara Mission

We left from this train station in Madrid for Toledo
on an AVE high-speed train.

We were greeted by this statue outside the city wall.

Part of the city wall.

Puerta del Sol Gate

One of several city gates

Narene, Chris & Greg walking up the
broad steps

Narrow, cobbled streets

Window in a small market.
No, we didn't buy anything here,
but Chris and I did each buy
small Talavera pitcher in another shop.

Iglesia de Los Jesuitas
(standing in front: Perrys, Narene, and Linda)

Iglesia de Los Jesuitas

A closer look

We climbed the several flights of stairs to the top of Iglesia de Los Jesuitas for a great view of the city of Toledo. The stairs were not as steep and narrow as some of the cathedral towers we have climbed, such as in Prague. The following six photos are taken from this vantage point.

View of the Alcazar with its four corner towers.
This castle fortress is now a museum.
It was closed for restoration
in August and maybe still is.

A view of the tile roof tops nearby.

A view of the countryside and Tagus River

Narene & Sam on top of Iglesia de Los Jesuitas

In the bell tower of Iglesia de Los Jesuitas

A good view of the Cathedral of Toledo

On our previous visit with a guided tour, we went inside this cathedral. It is probably the most impressive attraction in Toledo, but on this second visit we only took a quick peek inside and admired the exterior architecture.

Cathedral of Toledo

Close-up above an entrance to the Cathedral

Looking back at Iglesia de Los Jesuitas

Museo de Santa Cruz

The Museo de Santa Cruz is a free museum in a 16th-century building that was a hospital. The collection is divided into three sections: Archaeology (devoted to the Roman, Visigothic, Moorish, and Mudejar cultures), Fine Arts (16th and 17th-century paintings from Toledo and works by such artists as El Greco), and Industrial Arts (with examples of traditional local crafts of ceramic, glass, fabric, wrought iron, and metalwork).

Courtyard of the Museo de Santa Cruz

Carriage in the Museo de Santa Cruz

Vase in the Museo de Santa Cruz

Another narrow street on our walking tour

Narene & Sam pose with Cervantes

Chris & Greg had their turn with Cervantes

Alcantara Bridge over the Tagus River
(Sam took this picture on our way back to the
train station.)

Toledo train station

Back in Madrid

An unusal statue in the Madrid train station

We had tapas here in Madrid
when we returned from Toledo.
(Steve, Chris, Greg, & Narene in photo)

In Spain, it is common to have dinner between 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., even as late as midnight; and tapas are considered a snack often eaten between work and dinner. Ours were filling and served for our dinner. Mine was a chicken dish.

Earlier, I only posted two photos
from our first visit to Toledo.
Since we saw other interesting attractions then,
I am adding some more pictures
from our August visit.

Our small tour group in August.
The guide has her back to the camera.
She gave information in English and in Spanish;
as our group had two Spanish ladies, two from Japan,
two from Egypt, and Sam and me.

We toured inside the huge Cathedral of Toledo,
the city's major tourist attraction.
(Narene & Sam)

Cathedral of Toledo

We also toured inside the impressive
San Juan de Los Reyes Church.

San Juan de Los Reyes Church

San Juan de Los Reyes Church

We went inside El Greco's Home & Museum.

We visited Mezquita del Cristo de las Luz.
(Mosque of Christ of the Light)

The Mosque of Christ of the Light dates back to 999 and is intact today and is the only surviving mosque out of ten that once stood throughout Toledo. Through the horseshoe arches there is a glimpse of Christian murals.

Rock walls in Toledo
(Narene walking up the cobbled street.)

Parroquia de Santa Leocadia
(Church of Santa Leocadia)
by the Convent of San Domingo - 13th Century

Archbishop's Palace

Many narrow streets and walkways

Occasionally we had to hug the wall for a car to pass.

Wider streets in the shopping area

Cambron Gate

Valmardon Gate

San Martin Bridge & Eastern Tower

"Kings from all parts of the world have had swords and tabers forged from Toledo," as Toledo is known for the quality of its swords. We stopped at a factory where steel swords and also unique jewelry were made. I bought a damascene necklace with matching bracelet and earrings.

"Damascening is the application of gold or silver on iron or steel to produce a decorative pattern. The procedure used by the artisans is to cover the surface of the object lengthwise and across with fine, narrow grooves, by means of sharp steel cutting tools. Then gold threads or fine wires are taken and the decorative pattern drawn, the wire being pressed into grooves by means of a steel punch. In order that the gold is perfectly retained it is hammered in with a small punch and a hammer. Afterwards the part is blued using the same procedure as employed for blueing firearms," which gives it a protective blue-black finish.

Bullfighting Stadium

Toledo city wall

Tagus River & Alcantara Bridge

Saying goodbye to Toledo

On our return from Toledo in August, we spent the evening visiting the Prado art museum. We have happy memories of both visits to Toledo.