Friday, December 26, 2008

Two subjects: my haircut and my white elephant gift

After receiving many requests to see my haircut, here it is! Although you really don't see the full effect, as it has grown in nearly 2 weeks. So imagine what it might have looked like 2 weeks ago. You can see some of the Christmas letters and cards I received, on the white board above my desk. I really appreciated them and the e-cards and e-mail messages I received from family and friends.
I told some of you about the white elephant gift exchange with the missionaries on Christmas eve. This gift was opened and then ignored as everyone chose other gifts. I finally traded another gift for this one. It was part curiosity as to what on earth they could be, and partly because the candy bar that went with it had a lovely picture of Riga on it, and that's what I really wanted. When we were through exchanging gifts, I opened the package and passed them around for everyone to see. They looked like very large styrofoam Cheetos, only pale yellow. Imagine my surprise when we all realized they were white chocolate covered something like Cheetos, only not orange and not as good. But, they are gone because they were such a novelty and they actually tasted kind of good.
I hope you all had a lovely Christmas. I was able to talk with each of my children and grandchildren and that made it a great Christmas for me.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Another restaurant experience--and chocolate!

The 8 of us senior missionaries went to dinner to a nice restaurant in Old Towne Thursday evening. I ordered lasagne which was very good, but on one side of the plate was a dollop of a ranch-type dressing and on the outer edge of it was chocolate! I really don't know what the obsession with chocolate on an entree' is.

This was a more upscale restaurant so they did have water on the table. We trusted that it was filtered, but who knows. You usually have to order water--either plain/simple or with gas (carbonated) and there is a charge for either. This restaurant also had a basket with very tasty bread slices (I think there was just one slice each for the 8 of us) and they don't refill--water or the bread. It's not like Olive Garden, for sure. The lasagne was good and was a fair sized piece (European, not American). There was no salad or soup or veggies or anything served with it and it cost 3.8 lats (approximately $7 USD).

chlorinating produce and filtering water

I have failed to share with you the process we go through in order to eat and drink water. The water is not safe for drinking, so each apartment occupied by missionaries, as well as the mission office, has a filtering system. We can only run cold water through that system. It's not difficult once you get in the habit of not just turning on the faucet for a drink of water. There are 3 filters and they have to be changed, each one at a different period of time.

The more challenging thing for me is that all produce (except bananas and oranges or anything else you remove a thick peeling from) have to be soaked in filtered water to which has been added a few drops of bleach. They are soaked and rinsed and drained. That has, on more than one occasion, kept me from buying apples here. (The apples don't look all that good anyway.) The bananas and oranges have been excellent so I'm eating a lot of them.

We bought potatoes and sweet potatoes to cook up for a Christmas eve dinner we will have here at the office with the 10 young missionaries serving in our area. Sis. Harper washed and scrubbed them and set them out to dry off. We have to do that even though we will peel the regular potatoes before cooking them.

We also are advised not to eat fish here. There is a high rate of mercury in the rivers.

A Christmas reading

Sister Dance read from the Book of Mormon about the Savior. I will give you the scriptures with which she began each portion. Sometimes it was just that single verse, and sometimes she went a few verses. So, I encourage each of you, this Christmas week, to look these scriptures up and continue reading each portion until that thought about the Savior ends.
Ether 3:14
1 Nephi 11:13; 19:7
2 Nephi 2:26; 25:19
Mosiah 3:5; 15:1
Alma 5:48; 7:7; 9:26; 19:13
Helaman 8:22; 14:2
3 Nephi 1:12; 9:15

We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and read of it in the Bible. It was wonderful to realize how the Book of Mormon celebrates not only His birth, but His purpose in coming to this earth, and how he fulfilled that purpose, out of His pure love for God's children. Truly the Book of Mormon is another witness of Jesus Christ, together with the Holy Bible.

Have a blessed Christmas and may you feel the love the Lord has for each of you.

Christmas Zone Conference

Late Friday morning we boarded a bus to downtown Riga for my first Latvian zone conference. We got off the bus and walked 3-4 blocks and then into a building and up a flight of stairs to the meetinghouse for the members of the Church in that part of Riga. It occupies an entire floor of the building and has a chapel, kitchen, and classrooms, etc.

Unlike in America and other places where the Church is well-established, the two chapels I have been in here are large open rooms with hardwood floors and chairs, as opposed to benches. The chairs had been arranged in the back half of the room and tables, festively decorated for Christmas, were set up in the front half of the room. There are between 40-50 missionaries (including 3 senior couples and Sister Harper and me). We began with musical numbers from very talented young missionaries, and sang Christmas hymns.

We were then treated to a delicious catered dinner: pork loin roast, delicious whipped potatoes, mushroom gravy, and a yummy green salad. The senior missionaries had brought desserts. It was the first whipped potatoes I've had in Latvia and the potatoes I've seen in the stores are not Idaho spuds!! They are very small, very dirty, and just not that appealing. However, after tasting them cooked and whipped, I decided it doesn't matter what they look like in the stores.

Following the dinner, we gathered again for wonderful training by President and Sister Dance and the Assistants to the President. I was so impressed with the young missionaries and their knowledge of the scriptures and their commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. President and Sister Dance are very loving and caring people and are great leaders--building and teaching as the Savior did.

That was the most Christmas-y thing I've done this Christmas, other than my own study and pondering in the New Testament. As we left the Conference, it had begun to snow. That seemed perfect.

Looks like we might have a White Christmas

Yesterday (12/20) it snowed most of the day. It was beautiful and made everything look clean and fresh. I didn't even mind that we had to make 3 trips to grocery stores in it. It was much warmer than in Utah, I understand.
Anyway, our apartment windows look out on a park-like setting with lots of trees and grass. It seems like a lot of the people who live in the apartments have dogs and, no matter what the weather, they take them out for exercise each day. This scene is common. People come together and visit while the dogs run around and take care of business.
We probably had 2-3 inches of snow but it's warmed up and is slushy today. We'll see what the week brings.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Departure dinner for 14 young missionaries

Every month or so we receive new missionaries and lose some. On Tuesday we had two new young elders come, both Russian-speaking, begin their missions here, after 3 weeks in the MTC to learn the language.

On Thursday evening, Sister Harper and I rode a bus to the mission home. It's a lovely apartment, but nothing in Riga looks on the outside like it would in America. We had 10 young sister missionaries who finished their missions here and 4 young Elders. We had a delicious dinner of lasagne and salads (Sister Harper and I made a jello fruit salad and a green salad, which we transported on the bus).

It was so fun to see these great young people, full of enthusiasm for the experiences they had had, and excited to be going home to their families. Following the dinner, we sang a Christmas hymn and each of us had the opportunity to share our testimonies of the work in which we are involved. The young people each expressed love for the people they had served here and especially of the increased love they have gained for our Savior Jesus Christ.

It was a wonderful evening. This was my first real opportunity to get acquainted with Pres. & Sis. Dance. They are very warm and loving people. They are excited that their 3 grown children will be coming for Christmas.

My Mission haircut

Well, I waited an extra week for a haircut and was desperate to find someone who could speak English and cut my hair. I found a receptionist who spoke fair English and she asked how I wanted my hair cut and then told the hairdresser. Communication!!! I told her I wanted it just trimmed about 1/4", holding up my fingers to show her. I think she thought I meant I wanted it cut 1/4" all over. Well, at least on the sides I don't think it's any longer than that. And I don't have to worry about my perm--it's gone!

Actually I think she gave me a good haircut, but too short on the sides on the bangs. Oh, that was another communication problem. I pulled my hair back to reveal my very receding hairline and I guess she thought I was showing her how I wanted it cut--like a man, combed back. She had it cut and blow dried when I realized she was not going to give me any kind of bang. I reached up and pulled some hair forward and she got the message, but it is soooo short.

The good news is I won't need another haircut for a long time. Thankfully, a bad hair cut does grow out. Not sure what I will do next time, but I will find a way to better express what I want.

7 flights of 8 steps each

Our apartment is on the 4th floor of a large apartment building (called a dome). It is a very old building but seems substantial. We enter through a steel door with a push button combination lock. It looks like a door to a factory or something old and commercial. The first 8 steps lead to a landing with 4 doors, spaced a foot or so apart, each leading to an apartment. Then two more flights to another landing with 4 more doors, and so on. A friend of Sis. Harper's made a lot of little cut out hearts with sayings on them and stuck them top our door, so I'm always happy to see those little hearts as I head up the 7th flight of stairs. The doors to the apartments are also steel and are securely locked. It doesn't seem possible, having doors so close together, that the apartments could be very large, but ours is, and I assume the others are, also.
As you can imagine, we limit how much we buy at the store at any given trip. But between the two of us, we are able to stock up on what we need. We go shopping on Saturdays and Wednesday after work. Our fridge is an apartment-size with a tiny freezer space that determines what we fix for dinner at times--whatever is thawed is what we fix.
At the top of this post are pictures of the apartment (more will follow another time). On the left is our bedroom, taken from the window area with my bed in the foreground and Sis. Harper's on the right. The other picture is our living room, taken facing the window. I should have cleared off the table first.
The 3rd picture is the office Sis. Harper and I share (that's her at her desk). That's not a good picture of her. She's always very pleasant and smiling.

T.G.I.F in Riga

Last evening we met the office couple (the Gublers from Cedar City UT) and went to T.G.I.F. for dinner. It was great to see a menu in English and to recognize the food items. I ordered chicken fajitas. You'd think that would be a safe item for me to choose. Well, in Latvia they drizzle chocolate on the plate and over the top of the fajitas. For those who may read this and don't know, I do not eat chocolate period. Fortunately, Sister Gubler offered to trade me. She had considered ordered the fajitas so I didn't feel bad about trading. She had ordered tomato basil soup which was delicious and she said the fajitas were good but that the chocolate didn't add anything to them.

So, if I go again, I will have to stipulate that they not add chocolate to anything I order.

The office missionaries at the MTC

This is the group of missionaries with whom I learned the computer programs at the MTC. One couple went to Africa, one to Argentina, one to Louisiana, one to Texas, and one to Tennessee. The single sisters went to Indiana, California, Nebraska and me to Latvia. They are a great group of men and woman. Two of the women had little or no experience on the computer but in four days learned enough to go forward.

Here's some mission pictures

Sunday, December 7, 2008

I finally used the cash box (ATM)

Cash boxes are located all over (maybe no more than ATMs in America) and I used my missionary debit card to get some cash. It's so strange to live in a cash society. There are no checks and, although I'm told some business establishments will accept credit or debit cards, I haven't seen one used yet. You can choose which language in which you want to communicate, so that's very helpful.

I have been told that you never hand money to a clerk. There is a plate and that's what you put your money on, and that's what the clerk puts your change and receipt on. I didn't know that until after I had handed the clerk money yesterday. Then, the 2nd store we went to, I forgot and handed her money. They did accept it, but it is not the way things are done here.

Living in a strange land

It was a beautiful day yesterday--well, overcast, but not cold. We went to Rimi's Hypermarket for groceries. We walked to the office (about 4 short blocks) and then to the bus stop, a long block away. Another couple of blocks from the bus stop to the market but only a block back to the bus stop home.

Anyway, we wanted to buy crackers and Sis. Harper knew where they were the last time she bought them, but they were not there this time. We walked all over the store but couldn't find them anywhere. Finally, I asked a young clerk if she spoke English and she said a little. I asked where we would find crackers. She thought I meant cookies and my explanation for crackers--with soup, salty, didn't help. We finally found some in the bread department, but they weren't the kind we were looking for.

Today at Church, we again had the young missionaries serve as translators for us. They are very good and I'm thankful for their language skills, but it seems to me that Latvians must say about 5 words for every English word. I can pick out certain words, but can't put them into a context.

As I have mentioned before, the people are quite dour. No smiles as you pass them--in fact, most of them don't acknowledge you are even there. On the bus yesterday, I had my first "friendly" experience with a Latvian (or was she Russian?) woman. It was standing room only, and then a woman got up from her seat and exited the bus. The woman she had been sitting next to, motioned for me to come and sit down. I did so, and said "paldies."

Then, this morning, as we neared the train stop, we could see our train coming and no one was at the stop to get on, but the train "driver" (he's not the conductor, I don't think, but don't know what you call the one who drives the train), stopped and waited for us to run to the stop.

Small things, but nice.

Public Transportation and The Inspector!!!

There are four modes of public transportation here in Riga: bus, auto-bus, trolley and train. I've ridden all but the auto-bus, which is a van that you can take more directly to your destination, as opposed to getting on at a bus/trolley/train stop and getting off at a bus/train/trolley stop. Each time you get on one of these conveyances, you have to have a ticket punched in a "time-clock" machine. Twice now an inspector has come on board. Both times have been a woman. She boards, puts a ticket in the time-clock, and then flips out her badge and begins checking everyone's tickets to make sure they have punched them.

So far I haven't seen anyone confronted who did not have a ticket punched, but once I saw a young woman punch her ticket just as she got off. I asked Sister Harper about that and she said the woman thought the inspector was getting off at the same stop (and hadn't gotten to her to check her ticket) and didn't want to be stopped outside the bus with an unpunched ticket.

Another time a young man had been on the bus and hadn't punched his ticket. He saw the inspector boarding (perhaps noticed her badge under her jacket somehow, or maybe just thought she looked like an inspector. Anyway, he came and punched his ticket just ahead of the inspector and got by with it. Apparently, some take a chance that there won't be an inspector board the bus while they are on, and they don't punch their ticket.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Opera House in Riga

The mission office

Each person in the office has a computer and the Church programs are amazing and very user-friendly. The first couple of days I just assisted Sister Gubler in whatever things needed to be done. On Friday afternoon, President Dance gave me a couple of assignments for which I will be responsible.

The office is very spacious and has hardwood floors throughout. There is a nice kitchen, a conference room, a study room where the missionaries can bring investigators to teach them. President Dance has his office in his home so we don't see him every day.

Sister Harper and I share a large office and each of us have our own desk and computer, and our own responsibilities.

Living in a foreign land

Even though I knew that I would be coming to a land where English was not commonly spoken, it's still a new experience for me to not be able to understand anything that anyone is saying around me.

I am feeling a little more comfortable about speaking the very limited Latvian words I know. I say "Labrit" (good morning) as I pass people on the street and "Paldies" (thanks or thank you) when appropriate. I can introduce myself as Masa (Sister) Klundta (they add a vowel to everyone's name). There are people who speak English for which I am very thankful. The young missionaries interpret or translate for Sister Harper and me at Church. I'm amazed at their language skills.

Tomorrow I will have to begin the process of obtaining a visa. I understand it's quite a complex procedure, beginning with a chest x-ray. I will have to travel to the Latvian embassy in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. That seems rather silly to me, but that's the way it is.

We have gone to a small grocery store and to a large "hypermarket" which I suspect is a poor translation of American "Supermarket." It's difficult to go shopping for food when you can't read labels. Yesterday we bought some cranberries. I was so excited. When we opened the package they were raw cranberries alright, but they were coated with sugar. The label said that, but we couldn't read it. I will take my dictionary with me next time we go.

The hypermarket doesn't come even close to our supermarkets. The selection of breads is great but with other things there is not much selection. They don't use preservatives in their breads so they dry out and don't last very long, but they taste good.

Translating cost from Lattes to dollars is another challenge, as is figuring out how many kilograms in a pound.

One of the saddest things I've noticed is that the people don't every make eye contact and always look sad or depressed, or just unfriendly. I wonder how much is because of their environment. Everyone in the city lives in apartment buildings that are very old. The sky is always grey. In 4+ days I haven't seen the sun at all. It seems to be a safe place. People walk everywhere.

Another thing I've been very surprised at is the amount of graffiti--all over the buildings and fences. It doesn't seem to be painted over anywhere.

Smoking is another thing I'm seeing everywhere. I have lived in a protective bubble the past 19 years. It isn't allowed on the public transportation nor in the public buildings, I believe, but is on the streets everywhere.

Old Town in Riga, on Thanksgiving evening

The office couple, another couple who are here with Church Education, President and Sister Dance, Sister Harper and I celebrated Thanksgiving evening at a Mongolian BBQ for dinner, then walked to a little bakery for dessert. We walked through Old Town which is quaint, with cobblestone streets and very old buildings with wonderful architecture. The streets weave in and out of buildings and cars drive through where it looks impossible for them to go.

We had tickets to the opera, a Christmas gift from the Gublers, so walked to the opera house. What a magnificent old building. If you have ever seen a movie with a scene in an old opera house, that's what this looks like. The ceiling has intricate paintings, with gold leaf throughout. The seats and curtain are rich red velvet. Really beautiful. I'm told they have an opera every night and the seats are filled each night.

The seats we had were on the top level to the side and cost 5 Lats, which is about equivalent to $10. We had a very good view of stage left and the center, but couldn't see stage right. The singers were outstanding--every one of them. The staging was simple and clever. The opera was Handel's "Alcina." It was sung in Italian and there was Latvian translation on the reader board above the stage. So we couldn't understand any of it, but we had a program that had a summary in English.

Life in Riga

The apartment Sister Harper and I share is spacious and comfortable. There is a large bedroom with a double bed and a single bed. Sister Harper insisted that I take the double bed. There is sufficient closet and drawer space. The living room is large, and has a couch, two straight chairs, a coffee table, two end tables, and an entertainment center. The kitchen is small but adequate and is well stocked. The bathroom is small but has a bathtub with with a good shower.

The bedroom, living room and kitchen each have large, vinyl clad windows. The apartment and office are both heated with hot water radiators. Both are kept very comfortable. The heat in the apartment is turned on October 15 and turned off April 15, no matter what the weather is.

We walk up 4 flights of concrete steps to our apartment--good exercise. We also walk to the office--about 10-15 minutes, and walk to bus or train stops to go to Church or to the big market, called a hypermarket. I wonder if that's their translation of "supermarket" from America.

The public transportation is very good. There are buses, trains and trolleys. I've now ridden on each. We take a train to Church. The Church has built a very nice new building, which stands out in a city of very, very old buildings.

The city has trees everywhere so Spring should be beautiful. At this time, however, the skies are grey everyday. It is light about the same length of time as in Utah right now--just no sunshine.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I arrived in Riga!!!

Well, I wasn't successful in adding photos to my blog and received an e-mail from Kevin this morning that I left my flash drive on my key chain. I do have them in my camera so hopefully will still get them downloaded.

On Tuesday morning Kevin and I drove to the airport and had a very nice ticket agent come and help us with my luggage. I was thrilled to learn that my luggage would be checked through to Riga and that Delta honors the rules of the carrier who flies over the water. In other words, I only had to pay $50 for my overweight suitcase, rather than the $150 Delta charges.

On the plane I was in the aisle seat and a nice young man went to the window seat. As he sat down he said that he will soon have a badge of his own. He is a student at BYU, going home to Virginia for Thanksgiving, but plans to serve a mission in the Spring.

The flight to Dulles Airport in Washington DC was uneventful but once we landed, the fun began. I had deplaned at gate 75 and learned that I needed to check in with Austrian Air at Gate 26. There were no luggage carts or "golf carts" to be seen anywhere. I had plenty of time and wouldn't have minded the walk, but for the 10+ lbs of books in my carry-on. Next time I will be sure to have a carry-on with wheels.

I arrived at the Austrian Airlines gate and the agent asked for my baggage claim checks, so they could transfer my bags to their plane. Inasmuch as I have never had to use baggage claim checks (at least not for several years), I hadn't even paid attention to the fact that the agent in SLC had stapled them to my boarding pass. I couldn't find them and couldn't remember even receiving them. The agent said I would have to go back to the Delta gate and talk to them. So, back I went. The Delta agent was busy finishing up with a flight so I sat down and went through my purse, without success. Then it occurred to me that the claim checks were on the boarding pass, which I located in the pocket of my carry-on!

Back to Austrian Airlines Gate 26 I trudged. A line had formed there but fortunately I was able to go to the same agent as earlier and she quickly printed off my boarding pass. I had not had lunch and had about 40 minutes until boarding time, so I walked back to the nearest eating place, a little cafe. I ordered a Oriental chicken salad, ate it, and back to board the plane.

As I sat waiting to be called to board, another passenger stood up, flung her bags over her shoulder and I thought one of the bags dropped. There was a woman sitting right across from her and I thought she would say something and when she didn't, I thought perhaps I hadn't seen correctly. After a minute I decided I needed to tell the woman I thought she had dropped a bag. I caught up to her just as she passed the boarding agent. I told her I thought she had dropped a bag. She looked at her things for a moment and said she hadn't. A minute or so later, she came back and thanked me--she had dropped it.

As I waited in line to board, a young man asked me if I was going to be in Vienna on Sunday. I told him I would be in Latvia. It turns out he had served a mission in Poland, is now a professor in Lawrence, Kansas, and was traveling to Vienna to present a paper. He planned to be in Vienna for Church on Sunday. We chatted until I found my seat on the plane.

The plane was a Boeing 747 (I think) with 3 seats in the middle and 2 on either side. My seat was in the middle of the 3 middle seats. As I was getting seated, a nice gentleman asked if he could help me with something. I told him I needed to be my coat in the overhead, and he did it for me. He then sat down to my right. Shortly thereafter, a German-speaking woman sat down in the seat to my left.

I was impressed with the service on Austrian Air. They must have had at least 6 women and 1 man stewards and they were very efficient and friendly. There were 3 young mothers each with a baby less than a year old. The front seats of the section in which I was seated were for mothers with babies. One mother and baby were in the 3 seats in front of me, and a mother and baby in the two seats on either side. The stewards brought out beds for the babies which attached to the wall in front of them. I imagine those mothers paid premium prices but what nice service for them.

I was also impressed with the food served on the plane. For dinner we had a choice of chicken with rice and veggies or a pasta dish. I chose the chicken and it was actually quite tasty. It had a tomatoe sauce of some kind and I didn't quite get the first piece of chicken securely on the fork before I brought it to my mouth. It fell off, on to my shirt and then, fortunately, on to the napkin in my lap. I tried to wipe the stain off with water, but may have ruined it.

I was able to sleep off and on all through the night. It wasn't terribly comfortable in that middle seat, but I did move my legs and feet around. At one point the man on my right got up to go to the bathroom, and I got up and walked around a bit.

For breakfast, they served meat and cheeses (Julie, I tried the brie because you had mentioned that you liked it, and it was good. Must have been a bad batch I ate in Connecticut), and some yogurt and orange juice. Oh, they also passed around a basket of wonderful, warm, hard rolls at each meal.

Another challenge once I arrived in Vienna. I found the departure board quickly and headed for Gate C56. On the way, I spotted a W/C sign and remembered the story of the W/C I read many years ago. But for that story I might not have realized what the W/C is. Anyway, after using that facility I came to a service desk. The clerk there told me that my gate had been changed to A2, which was where I had deplaned.

I went back to A2 and was told I needed to get in the line to the service desk there, which I did. The line wasn't too long, but those in front of me, and those who joined the line behind me, were all going to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. The women had their heads covered and were in somewhat traditional clothing. Some of the men were also dressed in traditional clothing. Right in front of me in line were two middle-aged men, a black man and a French-speaking man. The French man was very friendly. I noticed he looked at my missionary badge and then struck up a conversation. I think he thought I was affiliated with the Catholic Church as he told me that a friend of his wife's was a Nun and was over the finances at the Vatican. We had a pleasant conversation. The line was slow-moving and I was almost to the desk when a clerk who was off to the side of the others asked if there was anyone in line not going to Jeddah. I was the only one and I went to her. She checked my papers, made a phone call, and then told me I had to go to gate C56. She said I needed to go down the hall, down some stairs, to the passport desk, and then upstairs to the gate. Remember, I'm still having to lug my 10+ lb. bag and time was running out.

I got to the passport clerk and she said I had to go to A2. I explained that I had just been there and was told to go to C56. She stamped the passport and let me through. I found C56 and the passengers were loading their things to go through Security, but I still didn't have a boarding pass. I stopped two Austrian Airline agents who happened to be walking by at the time and one of them kindly checked things out and told me I could get the boarding pass after I go through Security. I placed my bags on the belt and the screener found something she couldn't identify, so back through the machine, and she still couldn't identify it. So, another agent looked through my purse and found a metal hair pick, which the screener checked and determined it wasn't a weapon. I hurried to the desk just as they began boarding, received my boarding pass and boarded the plane for Riga.

I was thankful to see President and Sister Dance waiting for me inside the terminal in Riga. They greeted me warmly and we got to the car and drove to the mission office where I met my companion, Sister Harper, and the office couple, Elder and Sister Gubler. All three greeted me warmly and Sister Harper and I were driven to our apartment by the Dances.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

tuesday is the day!

It's almost here! After two wonderful weeks in the MTC, I will board a Delta airplane on Tuesday morning. I met such wonderful people at the MTC I'm excited and anxious to arrive in Latvia and begin this great adventure.

I'm going to try to attach some pictures from the MTC. I've never done it so we'll see how successful I am. I wasn't successful!

Monday, November 17, 2008

What a great week! With things being as they are in the world, it was wonderful to be "out of the world" for the week. We were kept very busy, from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (with a break for lunch and breaks every hour or so to walk or visit, etc. We didn't hear any news of the world and were in an environment of peace.

Week two at the MTC

The first week at the Provo Missionary Training Center was phenomenal!!! It was a spiritual feast and we met so many great people, couples and senior sisters. My companion is Sister Kingsley, from Kentucky. She's almost young enough to be my daughter but we've hit it off really well.

There are couples from many different places, going to a variety of places. One couple left last Friday, going to serve in Trinidad. Another couple also left last Friday, called to serve among the Navajo people in northern Arizona.

Sister Kingsley is going to Indianapolis, Indiana, also to serve in the office so this week we are learning the computer programs we will be using in the mission. This morning was great. Technology continues to amaze me.

Elder F. Enzio Busche and his wife spoke at our devotional last Tuesday evening. We sang in the choir that evening, a beautiful hymn about the Savior: "Behold the Wounds in Jesus' Hands." I'm so thankful for my Savior and Redeemer.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Just two weeks to go--Will I ever learn Latvian!!!

Well, I have now been taking Latvian language lessons from Sister Howden for a few weeks. She is a very good teacher and is patient and encouraging to me. I can tell that my pronunciation is improving but, compared to her, I sound terrible. Perhaps once I'm in the MTC full time (two weeks from tomorrow!), I will have more time to focus and practice.

This will be my last week serving in the Temple (I'll be back in the Spring of 2010) and it will be hard to say goodbye to so many dear sisters with whom I serve. I have been serving on Thursday and Friday 1st shift since June of 2004 and it has been a great blessing in my life. I recommend it to everyone.

I think I now have nearly everything I need to take with me to Latvia. I haven't tried putting it into a suitcase yet, but am thinking I might be able to get by with just two suitcases, including the carry-on.

So far, this blog hasn't been too interesting or inspiring, I don't imagine, but once I'm in Latvia, I will have so many new experiences and, hopefully, pictures, to share.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I have now had 5 lessons in Latvian, with Sister Howden as my personal instructor. I'm so thankful for the one-on-one lessons. She is patient and kind and says I'm doing labi (good). She is from Latvia, a young married woman who speaks, in addition to Latvian, Russian and English.

I now have my flight plans: I finish at the MTC on Friday, November 21; leave from Salt Lake International Airport on Tuesday at 9:35 a.m. I arrive in D.C. at Dulles at 3:34 p.m. and board an Austrian airline at 6:05 p.m. I arrive in Vienna at 9:00 a.m. and leave for Riga, Latvia at 10:00 a.m. This may be the only opportunity I ever have to be in Vienna so I hope the airport is in an area where I can see the city. I arrive in Riga at 1:00 p.m. (they are on military time, so it will be 1300 hours. I'm not sure which day that will be, but I think it will be Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. I will be traveling alone--no other missionaries.

I have now had 3 of the 4 typhoid capsules, with no side effects, thankfully. I will receive my last two immunizations this week, for the flu and for meningitis. So far the only reaction I've had is to the pneumonia shot and it was bad enough I'm thankful I won't ever have to have another one.

I have been in communication with Sister Harper who will be my companion, until March when her mission will be completed. She is my age and is from Burley, Idaho. We will share a one-bedroom apartment that is walking distance (on cobblestone streets) to the office. It's 4 flights up with no elevator, so I will get some exercise. I will be assisting Sister Gubler who is the secretary to the president, I believe. Sister Harper assists Brother Gubler with the finances. Neither the Gublers nor Sister Harper studied Latvian and Sister Harper wishes she had.

I know I won't be fluent in Latvian (even after 18 months, I'm sure) but I hope to be able to have the ability to communicate on some level.

I enter the MTC one four weeks from tomorrow! And then the adventure really begins.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Going back to the beginning

I want to share with any who read this how this adventure came to be. Just 6 months ago today, minutes after the closing session of General Conference, the Spirit let me know I was to go on a mission. I immediately rejected the idea: I'm living a good life, serving in the Temple and at the Humanitarian Room, and I don't need to do that, I said to myself. The family was coming for dinner and, as I finished preparations, the phone rang. A counselor in the Bishopric, Ken Peck, asked if I would speak in sacrament meeting in two weeks. I asked what the subject would be and he said, "Isaiah 40:31, with an emphasis on 'waiting on the Lord'." The Spirit then confirmed that I was to go on a mission.

I didn't tell anyone until the next Friday, when I was visiting in California. I told my sisters and my Dad. But the days prior to that, I battled with myself. "I thought, no one knows that I am to do this so I don't have to do it." And then, "but the Lord knows and I know." I had wonderful experiences as I studied that single verse in Isaiah. And Dad and my sisters were supportive.

I met with my Bishop the Sunday following my talk in sacrament meeting and he told me he would get the necessary information to me so that I could apply, since the application process is done online now.

I discovered a inguinal hernia the first of July, as I was preparing to go to McCall for a family reunion. That resulted in my having surgery to correct it on July 17. I had indicated I would be available for my mission on July 1 so that had to be changed.

I healed well and quickly from the surgery and then the waiting game to receive my call. The letter arrived on Thursday, August 28--my sister Judy's 70th birthday! And I was leaving for California the next afternoon, after my Temple shift. So, it was a wild night.

My local family gathered at my home for pizza and "the opening." Scott and Julie joined us via telephone. The first response as I read that my call was to the Baltic Mission was: "Where's that?" Julie looked it up on the computer and I found the map included with my call packet. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were not countries I had ever thought of visiting. But I felt excited about my call.

It was late when everyone left the house and then I realized I had to send in my acceptance letter, and it had to be signed by the bishop. Fortunately, Bishop Tilley lives right across the street.

I talked with my grandson, Jake and his new bride, Amy, and they consented to live in my home and care for it while I'm gone. That will be a great blessing for me.

I have been thankful for the two months plus that I've had to prepare. I try to do a few things each day to prepare. There is so much to do.

I have now had 3 lessons in the Latvian language. I travel to the MTC and meet with my instructor, Sister Howden. She is a young married woman from Latvia. She is so patient and kind with me. I don't expect to be fluent, even after living there 18 months, but the Lord is blessing me to understand and learn.

I have now received e-mails from Sister Dance, the wife of my mission president, and Sister Gubler who, with her husband, are the mission couple. And this week, my companion, Sister Harper, has been writing with such helpful information.

Through all of this, as in all of my life, I see the Hand of the Lord in my life. I know, nothing doubting, that this is what the Lord wants me to do at this time in my life. I love the Lord and that is the reason I am going to serve this mission.

Monday, September 15, 2008

My call to serve in the Baltic Mission

On the evening of August 28, 2008, much of my family gathered, in person or by phone, for the "reading of the letter." The first response from everyone, after hearing the words "Baltic Mission" was, "Where's that?" I reached for an Encyclopedia, and before I could locate anything, Julie had found it on the computer: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania! Not countries I had ever thought of traveling to, but I felt great excitement. This will be quite an adventure for a 71 year old grandma.

My assignment is to the mission office so I'm thankful I have continued to use the computer these nine years since retirement. The letter didn't indicate whether I will need to learn a language. As I have learned more about these countries, I decided I want to at least try to learn Latvian, as I will be serving in Latvia. I want to be able to understand at least a little when I attend Church meetings.

After a few attempts to connect with the Language Training Center at the MTC, I talked this morning with Maria Thompson who will arrange for me to work with a teacher beginning next week. She told me I will have two hours of homework each day. That will certainly be a challenge!