Sunday, 26 April 2009

Our Final Days in Moscow - Saying Our Goodbyes

Saying goodbyes to people and places we have come to love is not easy. Knowing we would be leaving Russia on the 29th of April made every event shared with friends this month seem more significant and memorable.

April 4 - We went to Ismaly Park with the Masons and Reeses to get our last gifts and souvenirs.

The metro stop where we get off to go to Ismaly Park.
(Sam & Narene by the war memorial.)

I was pleased when my favorite vendor
at Ismaly Park
offered this special girl to me at her cost.

I always enjoyed seeing the new art work Natalia Nikitina (pictured above) had for sale. Her selection was the best quality, and she always remembered me from the first time when we bought our Grandfather Frost from her.

Sam modeling one of the racoon hats we
bought at Ismaly Park.

Here it is with the flaps down.
Many of the hats available were more fashionable,
but the racoon and wolf hats appeal to the young.

April 6 - A farewell get together was held at the Service Center for Valentina Demina, who was retiring from the Finance department and moving to Utah where her married daughter lives. We enjoyed our association with Valentina. She has become a dear friend, and we look forward to seeing her again in the U.S.

Valentina Demina and Narene

Part of the group at Valentina's farewell.
(Sofia's brother in white shirt & suspenders,
Dmitry - Finance department, Sofia - receptionist,
Ray Whitesides - Area Controller,
and Valentina in the back.)

April 13 - We had supper with the other senior couples at the Metro Market before going to see the entertainers from BYU-Idaho perform in a concert hall located near the tall T.V. tower by Exhibition Center.

Senior couples frequently met at Metro Market
for a meal before leaving on the metro from Sokal
for our current destination.
(Sam, David Nearon, Clark & Renee Mason,
Sharon & David Yorgesen, Darvel & Kathy Gregory,
and Linda Nearon (Narene took the picture).

This used to be KFC, but in April it changed to FFC.
We often ordered a twister here at the Metro Market.
The new sign advertises the Fresh Fried Chicken
with the words transliterated beneath
(using Russian letters but not the words translated).

For our last meal here, we ordered the
kartoshkas (baked potatoes) served with our
choice of toppings. I liked having one scoop of
cream cheese with dill and one of sour cream
with cheese. Sam tried different toppings.

On our way to see the BYU-Idaho musical show,
we changed from the metro and got on the monorail.
This is where we saw this colorful cathedral.

We enjoyed the performance of the
BYU-Idaho dancers.

The dancers had a lot of enthusiasm and were well received by the audience. It wasn't the professional talent of a Russian ballet, but they were impressive for college students. The theme of the show was a journey through life. I think the younger ones in the audience related better to the teen years segment when the music got quite loud. One segment, on the other hand, was void of any music. They had several costume changes to go with the type of music they were dancing. The narration was in Russian, but the vocals were in English except for a special duet at the end. After the show, the performers mingled with the audience and were personable and friendly.

We walked by the T.V. tower on
our way to the concert hall.
We can see this tower from our
apartment window. It is the
tallest free standing tower in the world.

The Exhibition Center is in this area. I took
this photo from the platform of the monorail.

This is the first time we had ridden the monorail.

April 14 - This was our "farewell" Family Home Evening with the Moscow senior missionary couples. It was held at the Rees's. We had a delicious potluck dinner, and the seniors signed a card for us that Linda Nearon had made with photos of memorable things we have done as senior missionaries in Moscow. Each one took a turn sharing a thought special to them from an April General Conference talk, and Sam and I were also asked to share something about our missionary service and our testimonies.

FHE at the Rees's apartment.
(Andria Cranney, Kathy Gregory, Renee Mason,
Sandy Rasmussen, Narene, Sharon Yorgesen,
Nancy Hall, Linda Nearon, and Linda Rees.)

We appreciated having President & Sister Cranney
come to the FHE (Charles & Andria Cranney).
When the missions in Moscow were changed
and we were assigned to the Moscow Mission,
President Cranney became our mission president.

We were formerly in the Moscow West Mission, and President Collins was our mission president for most of our mission (Philip & Trisha Collins). Since most of the other senior couples were in the Moscow Mission, we had been invited to their mission's special activities and knew and enjoyed the Cranneys and the Collins. We were better acquainted with more of the young missionaries in the Moscow West Mission, however, since we were there much longer.

Elder & Sister Rees (Linda & Steve)
They hosted our FHE this particular evening.
Steve is the Area doctor, and Linda works in the
Meridian building having
related to recording patriarchal blessings.

Elder & Sister Mason (Clark & Renee)
They are the other senior missionary couple
who work in the Service Center with us. Clark is
the Area Auditor, and Renne has the assignment
to help with branch and family histories.

Elder & Sister Gregory (Darvel & Kathy)
Upon our departure, they are the couple
having served in Moscow longer than any of the
remaining couples. They will be going home in June.
The Gregorys live in an apartment building near ours,
but their schedule kept them from being with
our senior couple group most FHEs. As the CES couple,
they are free in the daytime when the rest of us
are busy; and their evenings are scheduled.

Elder & Sister Yorgesen (David & Sharon)
They are the office couple for the mission
president in the Moscow Mission. They also
will be completing their mission in June.

Elder & Sister Nearon (Linda & David)
They are volunteers working in the legal department
in the Meridian building. Their apartment is next
door to the Halls, which was formerly the Shepard's
apartment. We all miss Greg & Chris Shepard
whose farewell FHE was a month before ours.

Elder & Sister Rasmussen (Dennis & Sandy)
They are the office couple for the Mowcow West
Mission. Currently, they are the only senior couple
in that mission living in Moscow except for the
mission president and his wife.
The other senior couples are in the Moscow Mission.

Elder & Sister Hall (Hyrum & Nancy)
At the time of our farewell FHE activity, they
were the newest senior missionary couple in Moscow.
However, that distinction would soon be taken over
by the Holmes and then the Burtons.
The Halls followed the Shepards as executive
secretary to the Area Presidency, and they also
moved into the apartment vacated by the Shepards.

It was hard saying goodbye to these special friends we have made in Moscow, just as it was difficult saying goodbye to those who completed their missions before us. Each has a special place in our hearts, and we hope we can keep in touch and meet again.

We shared one last activity with this senior group on April 17 when we went to the circus together. The Russian circus has a history and tradition that ranks right up there with the ballet. A year ago, we had been to both the traditional circus and what is referred to as the new circus; and this year we saw the new circus twice, once with Scott & Kristine and again with Nactya and Anna. We enjoyed both circuses. The new circus has more flair with lighting and costumes reminding one of a Las Vegas show, but both have talent and are professionally produced. It's hard to say which we preferred. With the senior couples we went to the traditional circus, and all were favorably impressed with the atmosphere and the performances.

Another photo op in the metro on the way
to the circus.

It's difficult to see in the photo, but one fellow has
been flung high in the air and is about to land
in the chair held high by a guy on stilts standing on
a narrow piece being balanced by two other guys.

It was amazing she could go extremely high and land
gracefully on the narrow surface. We had
seen a similar act at the new circus.

This girl could juggle all sorts of shapes and sizes
using both feet and hands, and she kept numerous
hoops going on legs and arms at the same time.

Of course, there were animals at the circus.
During the intermission, people could pay to have
their picture taken with different animals,
even a leopard.

The performers were given appreciative applause
at the end of the show. They represented
various countries and some wore ethnic costumes.

I recommend going to the Russian circus if you get an opportunity. You will enjoy it.

Saying goodbye to Sofia, the receptionist and
friend at the Service Center. She was
going on vacation to Spain to visit her parents.

We knew the final two weeks of our mission would be extremely busy. Following the Area Humanitarian Conference in Armenia, there would be only three days to attend our branch one last time, finalize things at the office, finish packing, leave our apartment ready for the Burtons to move in, and say final goodbyes. These two weeks, including our time in Armenia, will be on the next blog.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Easter Sunday in Russia

Last Sunday was Easter in the U.S.; but today is Easter in Russia, and it is their major religious celebration of the year.

On Easter, Orthodox Russians go to church and bring Easter bread and eggs to be blessed. Saturday night they enter a dark church that symbolizes the gloomy world without the light of faith, and the Mass goes until morning. There are no benches in Orthodox churches so they stand all this time. At midnight, church bells ring to announce the resurrection of Jesus. Priests come to the alter with a crucifix and candles, and everyone lights their candles and follows the priests in a procession with lighted candles and singing. Bells ring as the service ends early in the morning. People gladly hug and kiss one another and accept the priest's admonition to forgive everybody. The traditional Easter greeting is part of celebrating Easter: "Christ is risen," and the answer is given, "He is truly risen."

Except for the language being in Russian, our church service here in Moscow is similar to other Latter-day Saint church meetings throughout the world. We have the same manuals and hymnbooks, we hear similar inspirational talks, we partake of the sacrament, we study the scriptures, and our testimonies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are strengthened. Today, four young missionaries sang a special musical number with such nice harmony.

We will be in Moscow one more Sunday before going home, but today was the last Sunday for me to teach the Relief Society lesson. Although it has been somewhat of a challenge to teach Russian speakers via a translator, it has been rewarding. The sisters have been so kind and responsive. The questions I ask during the lesson always get good responses from these dedicated, faithful members. We love these Russian saints and will miss them.

This was the second Sunday meeting in the newly remodeled building at Universitet, as last weekend the Russian translation of General Conference was broadcast for the members here. There was a change in classroom assignments today, and Primary met in the upstairs room where Relief Society was held on our first Sunday in this building. The stairs going up to this classroom are better suited for children, as the steps are narrow and steep and make an abrupt turn going into the room. I was surprised when I first saw these stairs and thought they definitely are not handicap friendly.

Unusual stairs in the newly remodeled branch building.
A sharp turn leads to the classroom where
Relief Society met first, but now will be Primary.

Candy and chocolate eggs were passed out after
church on Easter Sunday
at our recently combined Universitet branch.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Spring Returns to Moscow

It was nice walking to church today (April 12) in the sunshine wearing a light coat and regular shoes. Spring has arrived in Moscow and hopefully is here to stay for the duration of our mission. I started this blog a year ago with my first entry posted on 12 April 2008 entitled "Spring Weather is Welcome." After the cold, ice, and slush of winter, spring certainly is welcome.

Today is Palm Sunday in Russia and Easter Sunday in the United States. Just as Russian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7 instead of on December 25, their Easter comes later than ours because of using the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar we use.

A Russian Orthodox tradition on Palm Sunday is to take pussy willows to church instead of palm leaves, and on the street and near the metros ladies were busy selling small bunches of pussy willows.

Selling pussy willows for Palm Sunday.

Even the Church's General Conference comes a week later to Moscow in order to receive the broadcast translated in Russian. Of course, we watched conference last weekend on our laptop in our apartment and had excellent reception. We watched the morning sessions live in the evening, but we watched the afternoon sessions the following day instead of staying up until midnight because of the time change between countries. Even though we had already watched the Sunday morning session, we went to the Central building where it was being broadcast in both Russian and in English. Of course, we watched the English broadcast and enjoyed it again the second time. It is such a blessing to be able to hear the prophet and the General Authorities give their messages and bear their testimonies. It is a very rewarding opportunity that I didn't have growing up without the technology available today.

Walking back from the metro, we noticed signs of spring in addition to seeing buds on the trees. The work crews are starting the annual spring painting of fences and buildings. No preparations are done prior to the painting. Rather, the paint is brushed on over cement, dirt, and whatever else is on the fence. No concern is given to drips either, and rarely are "Fresh Paint" signs put up to alert one to be careful to not rub against the fresh paint.

Here are a couple of pictures I took on the way home from church today.

Sam on our way home from the metro.
The tall apartment building has been
built during our stay here.

Since we came to Moscow, we have watched from our apartment window crews building this new apartment building, working 24/7 no matter what the weather. The only time they weren't working was on New Year's Day. We wonder how good the cement can be when poured with below zero temperatures.

Only in Russia would a fence extend around the tree.

One of the numerous stray dogs in Moscow.
Stray dogs are typically well fed and cared for by the
babushkas selling wares on the street.
This one is lucky enough to be given a "bed."
(Photo taken last week coming home from church.)

Today we said "goodbye" to Elder Aiken who is being transferred from our branch to Lipetsk. We knew this transfer was coming, so we were pleased that President Collins gave Elder Aiken and Elder Blatter permission to come to our apartment yesterday after the Priesthood broadcast and eat with us. We love the young missionaries and have gotten close to those we have known in Tver and Yugo Zapadnaya branches. Hopefully, we will see them again one day. They are great young men.

Elder Blatter (left) and Elder Aiken
from the Yugo Zapadnaya branch when they
came for supper Saturday after the
Priesthood General Conference broadcast.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Happy Birthday

Special times enjoyed in Moscow are the Family Home Evenings shared with the other senior couples each week. On my birthday this past month, it was our turn to host FHE. Instead of the usual spiritual discussion, we decided to have more of a party and invited the couples to supper first. Chris brought a cake, and everyone sang "Happy Birthday" and gave me a nice card. After eating, we played the "Couch Game," which Doug told us about and none of us had ever played. Instead of using four chairs, we thought it would be hard enough for "seniors" to play using three chairs. Our teams were men vs. women, and one of the three chairs was empty at the start of the game. I had previously written down everyone's name on slips of paper. For the game, we assumed the name of the person whose name we drew out of a dish. The person sitting on the left hand side of the empty chair called out a name, and the person assuming that name exchanged their seat for the empty seat. They then were designated to call out a name. The goal is for your team to get all three chairs filled with three of your team members. It turned out to be a fun game, and we laughed as we tried to remember whose name to call to bring a team member to the empty chair, especially when a man might have a woman's name and vice versa. I reluctantly admit that the men won both rounds we played - but not easily.

Our apartment - FHE - Narene's Birthday
Clark Mason, Narene & Sam, Steve & Linda Rees,
Dennis Rasmussen, Renee Mason, Sandy Rasmussen,
Chris Shepard, Sharon & David Jorgensen
(Greg Shepard took the picture.)

We had observed that when someone at the Service Center had a birthday, they brought a cake or treats to work and shared them, so I made peanut butter balls and took around to share a birthday treat on my birthday with our friends at the Service Center. Later in the day, I got a little embarrassed when people started bringing me flowers and candy. Of course, I really appreciated their thoughtfulness; but I hadn't realized before that this was the other part of the birthday tradition. I hadn't expected anyone to give me anything and didn't want them to think I gave out the treat so I would get gifts. Well, anyway, I loved the flowers and enjoyed the candy, so it did make my birthday special sharing in a Russian tradition. Nactya and Anna also came to the office and brought me flowers, and I added them to the bouquet Vlad brought me. I do feel very fortunate to know these special friends we have come to love in Russia.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Moscow Circus

We had asked Scott & Kristine what event they would like to see while they were visiting us in Moscow, and they picked seeing the circus. This is a good choice, as the circus is definitely part of the Moscow experience.

Between 1926 and 1971, there was only one circus in Moscow. Today, there are two circuses in Moscow. The original one on Tsvetnoi Boulevard is referred to sometimes as the "traditional" circus, and the Moscow State Circus on Vernadsky Prospekt, which opened in 1971, is referred to as the "new" circus.

We went to the "traditional" and to the "new" circus with the Browns our first winter in Moscow and enjoyed both. They are different from the circuses I remember going to years ago in the U.S. The ones in Moscow have only one ring instead of being a "three-ring circus." They have a theme, a variety of talented performers, and elaborate costumes and sets that remind one of a Las Vegas show. Since we saw the first two circuses during the Christmas season, they had a "Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden" story theme.

For Christmas this year, we wanted to take Nactya and Anna, our interpreters, to an event of their choosing. They chose to go to a circus, but it was March 9 before we found a time when we all could go. Greg & Chris Shepard went with us, and our tickets were for the "new" circus. We enjoyed it so well, we decided it would be a good choice for Scott & Kristine to see; so we saw the same acts a second time and enjoyed it both times.

Coming home from the circus on the metro -
Anna, Nactya, Narene, Chris, and Sam.
(Greg took the picture.)

This aerial act was one of my
favorite acts.

Of course, this aerial act was impressive.
It appeared as though they were astronauts
in the sky flying through space.

No circus would be complete without animals,
and these lions and tigers were well trained.

The lions clapped along with the audience at the
end of their performance.

The horses seemed to respond to the
trainer's whip as he moved it across the floor
without touching the animals.

The performers came from
several countries. These
acrobats are Ethiopians.

These acrobats were from Mongolia.

One motorcycle rider was later joined by another
and then by a third rider speeding up and around
inside this cage. You hated to think what would
happen if the timing wasn't perfect. Pretty girls
in colorful costumes accompanied many of the
acts, and a young lady held the hand of one
rider as he spun around and around.

How could she stand on one foot
on the small pedestal and spin
numerous hoops on her arms, legs,
and body without falling?

This was amazing. She would
be thrown high in the air and
come down and land on one foot
on the bar. We wonder if she might
have gotten hurt, as this act was
omitted the second time we went.

These three Asian girls could make their
bodies do things that seem impossible.
The circus ring was filled with water
for the final acts.

The "new" circus has five arenas (equestrian, water, illusionist, ice rink, and light-effect). These are located 18 meters below the rink and can be swapped during the performance. It takes only 5-7 minutes to substitute one arena for another, and that's usually when the clowns perform their routine frequently interacting with the audience. One arena is pulled down, set aside, and another is pulled up. There is even a sixth arena where the performers practice. The circular building seats 3,450 spectators.

This aerial performer also danced gracefully
on the wet platform like a
ballet dancer on her toes.

The performers receive enthusiastic applause
at the end of the performance.

When Russians really like something, we have noticed that instead of clapping faster and louder, they often clap together slower and in rhythm. They liked this circus, and so did we.