Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bumming It In Russia and Russian Museum

Back in the states the kids love Top Ramon noodles and we as parents are closet eaters. HaHa.  While in Russia we thought we had hit a gold mine because they had them in styrofoam containers that you just added hot water. 

One day at work I was carrying one to the kitchen to add the hot water and one of the office workers stopped me. He said that was bum food and was concerned that it would make me sick. 

Understanding he was speaking in broken Russian I asked him to repeat again and he said all the homeless eat that food and I laughed. Needless to say we have been buying a lot of candy and used all our money (haha), so we added the hot water, went back to our desk and enjoyed our noodles. :-)

As many of you already saw on Facebook, we had a lot of fun for Kathy's birthday. 

We went shopping in the Galleria, found a TGI Friday's for dinner and got her several shirts and a couple skirts.  We surprised her at work with some balloons, a real birthday cake from the bakery and a bunch of missionaries singing Happy Birthday. In our family you get a birthday week so I have been spoiling her all week.  
We decided that on Saturday we would head out early for an adventure. 

We met another senior couple who are great friends and headed up Nevsky Prospect for a day of fun.  

On the way to the Russian Museum we stopped by an amazing candy store. The building is shown above and to the right and you should zoom in to see the detail. It is amazing with animated figures and amazing treats. We bought Kathy a couple of cookies that are different than anything we get in the states and they were amazing.  

After we indulged ourselves with the delights of Russia we headed off to the museum. On the way we passed a great statue and stopped for a quick picture opportunity. The Russian Museum is in the background and the pigeons are real. 

I included below a picture of the Fontanka river that we crossed over on the way to the museum.

 It is a beautiful river and the tour boats are just getting ready to start up for the season. We are supposed to have some snow on Monday, but is shouldn't freeze the river again.  When we first got to the museum, our landlord was waiting there, as shown in the next picture, making sure we paid our dues before we entered the museum. :-) 

Kathy just gave him a smile and commented on his amazing knife and handsome beard and he quickly let us pass. As we made our way through the museum over the next 3 hours we were continually amazed at the talent in Russia. There were paintings, sculptures, hand woven fabrics, etc., dating back to the early 1000 a.d.  There are nice ladies positioned in each room who take great pride in the art of their country and will tell you all about the art, in Russian of course:) They also make sure you don't touch or sneak a bite of a granola bar out of your bag. Ha ha

We wanted to go into this room with the large painting, but the gaurd didn't think it was a good idea. We thought he drew his knife and then realized it was just a statue and he wanted to do a birthday dance for Kathy.  The quality of the art is amazing and it is so large. 

This next piece has amazing 3D effects that make you feel like you are actually standing there observing the meeting taking place in the palace. All of these museums and buildings are old palaces and are so ornate.  It still amazes us to picture back into the time of the Tsars and see the parties and activities that went on in the palaces. They must have been so grand and yet there were also so many people without anything at that time. 

We finished the day with a real Russian buffet. That was awesome because we could taste all the different Russian food and it was really good. After lunch/dinner we walked to the Gostinyy Dyor mall, as shown below, which is one of many amazing malls. For all you amazing people who love shopping and have money, St. Petersburg could provide you weeks of amazing shopping in the various malls. They are typically located right off the subway stops and are either new or converted buildings. 

After shopping we walked another hour home and then decided to walk another half hour to the store to get some groceries and then walk home.  After 12 hours straight on our feet walking around St. Petersburg on our day off, we collapsed into bed with some candy, a water and a bag of chips to watch the animation of Anastasia.  We love serving the people of Russia on our church mission and having days off like today to explore the amazing city.  We continue to see many miracles in the mission and are able to testify often of the truthfulness of the gospel and our love of our Heavenly Father.  We hope this blog finds you all well and hope you enjoyed spending the day with Kathy on her birthday week. Love Bob and Kathy.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Running Trails in Russia

Kathy and I were able to get out for a long run this morning and it was beautiful. It has snowed and been cold most of the week.  So other than a good run on Monday, our exercise consisted of push ups, situps, resistance bands, running stairs and a lot of walking each day.  Today we actually slept in until 7:30 and were able to get out into the sunshine and a balmy 29 degree day. We ran across the bridge and along the Neva River for about 3 miles. We passed Smolny Cathedral, that we wrote about when we first got here.  Smolny is an amazing place and always a beautiful site sitting right on the river as seen in the picture. . The river is about ¼ mile wide and had ice flowing down with the current.

The wind was light at our backs and the water in the river was so smooth Kathy yelled, "Throw me a water ski!" J  We didn’t see one other person along the 3 mile stretch, except for some birds following us along our run to a beautiful park in the middle of the city. As we ran along the river, the birds would fly about 50 feet in front of us and wait for us to get next to them and then fly another 50 feet. They were obviously having a good time like we were and enjoying the beautiful morning. 

Once we finished the 3 miles along the river we ran about 1 more mile into the city to a beautiful park called Tavricheskiy Sad Таврический Сад (You can enter this into google maps and see the location and fun summer pictures of the park). You can see the many pictures of the park, as Kathy and I ran through the various parts. Once we were finished running the park we ran about 2 miles back to our apartment. 

Wet took a wrong turn and went a little farther than expected, but that is always part of the adventure. Ha Ha.  I hope you enjoyed some of the pictures and sharing our journey
because this week was another wild ride. It was awesome because we had three more baptisms in our mission and two were the girls that we had taught with the missionaries!  We had to go to the US Consulate to conduct some business for the mission. One positive was that we found a Papa John's Pizza Parlor along the way and treated ourselves. We also had the sad opportunity to take one of our missionaries to the airport, and it feels like one of our kids is leaving. 

Looking Back Across Neva River at Our Apartment
It is always sad to say goodbye to the wonderful missionaries and this was the first time Kathy and I had to take one to the airport. Needless to say that outside of saying goodbye, it was a difficult time navigating the airport speaking very little Russian. We actually had a little more time in the evenings this week to study Russian and get caught up at work. One morning we had an early morning teaching opportunity with the missionaries. We left the house by 7:30 am and were ½ hour into the metro journey when we got a call that the investigator got called into work early. Oh well, Sister Carter and I just got off the metro and had a good long walk back to our apartment. We just laughed and said we needed some good exercise anyway. 

As with every week it is exciting and a journey. These young missionaries are amazing in their diligence to the rules, dedication to the Lord and love of the people of Russia. They set examples for us and allow us to share in their journey. The gospel is true, Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and restored our Heavenly Father's true church on the earth today. We are led today by a modern day prophet , Thomas S. Monson and there is no greater gift we can give to our family, friends and the people of Russia than the light of the gospel. We know that families can be together forever and when we die our journey continues to the other side. This knowledge truly changes peoples lives and we know it can change each of yours as it has changed ours.  Thanks for sharing in this journey with us and know that we love all of you and keep our friends and family in our prayers. Love Bob and Kathy. 

P.S. From Kathy:  I have a big office, two computer monitors at my desk, a cleaning lady, my own two office elders (my assistants), a good-looking financial secretary (Bob) in the office next to mine, I don't have to clock-in, can't get fired, can take more than an hour lunch if I want, and have a stash of candy in my office drawer.  If I make a mistake, all I have to say is, "I'm not a professional!"  Who says work isn't all it's cracked up to be!!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Fun and Interesting Things about St. Petersburg Russia –

We have had some beautiful weather the past two weeks, which got us excited for spring. We took our first full day off in 8 weeks and went to the famous Hermitage museum on Friday and it was amazing. The museum is in a palace. I will post some pictures below. They say if you spent a minute at each exhibit in the museum it would take you months to see everything. We are sad to report that the weather just turned back to winter yesterday and snowed all day. The nice thing is that we should only have 3-4 more weeks of cold before a true spring arrives.  Kathy and I were talking on the metro about the fun and different things of Russia and so Kathy put a list together that we thought would be fun to share on our blog this week along with the pictures.

Fun and Different Things about St. Petersburg:

People love their pets here and keep them in their small apartments. 

Each apartment has a guard/worker who cleans and maintains the building…. They also have to clean up the poop, as nobody cleans up after their dogs!

The kids look like marshmallows and are bundled up like they are going skiing all winter.  They can barely walk.

There are SO many tall, skinny women here!  And they love to wear high heel boots and miniskirts.  Yes, they have attitude and look at you like they wish you would cease to exist. 

They love flowers!  Everyone is always carrying a bouquet home.

They love PDA and are always hugging, kissing and sometimes more in public.

The women will tell you exactly how they feel - even in church – usually not a good thing. Ha ha

No one will smile or talk to you on the streets unless you do it first.  Then, maybe, they will smile or talk.

When you make a Russian friend, they are a GOOD friend and wonderful people!

Probably 75% of the people smoke and 90% of people use mass transit like the metro and bus.

The city is clean, but you can never find a garbage can and there is nowhere to throw your trash.

The metros here are gorgeous!  There are mosaics and paintings on the walls or they are just very ornate.  The escalators to the metro are the longest things you have ever seen!  Think of ours times 20.  They go deep underground because the metros go under the rivers. 

There is no graffiti in the metros and the  Russians stand there in the train reading books as if it wasn't moving.... we hold on for dear life or sit down. 

I have never seen so many expensive cars!  Think Bentleys, Mercedes, Lexus, Jaguars and we just saw a Ferrari. 

They say there is a very small middle class in Russia, and St. Petersburg is a higher end community.

The drivers aren’t patient and would love to run over you in the crosswalks.

There is wonderful chocolate everywhere, but you can’t find chocolate chips.

Heaven forbid if you want to make a cake or a meal out of a mix or box on the shelf.  There are none, as everyone cooks from scratch.

There are tons of Italian restaurants here – but you can hardly find Russian food.

Sushi and Pizza Restaurant Combined– who would have thought they go together!  Oh, ya, the awesome people of Russia. 

They have Burger King, KFC, Carl’s Jr. and McDonald"s.  But we can’t find vitamins. :)

Taking a shower is like a hot and cold roller coaster.

The side streets are filled with pot holes, some large enough that people and dogs never return :-).

They have 1000 kinds of sausages and devote a whole store section for them.

There’s a holiday about every week.  They take lots of vacations too.

There are strange things in the meat department and no diet coke on the shelves. (Not that we drink it....) :)

We love the people of Russia and were able to teach a lot this week and meet a ton of wonderful people. We had our area conference and had the privilege of being taught by Elder Malm (a general authority of the church). We have 5 people scheduled for baptism next week and two the following.  It is amazing to work with the missionaries and bear witness to their investigators of the truthfulness of the gospel.  We love all of you and hope your lives are moving forward in a positive direction.  Always remember it isn't the toys in the garage that are important, it is the people we touch each day and the positive influence we can have on those that we love that really matters.  Love Bob and Kathy 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Reflecting On The Journey With The Arrival of Spring

 The ice on the Neva River near our apartment finally broke up and started flowing yesterday and the temperatures have been in the 40’s during the day. Kathy and I have been crazy busy this week, but got out last night for a walk along the river.  It is great that we love to exercise and walk together holding hands and enjoying Russia. We get to talk and meet so many new people.   Many times we look at each other and say “Can you believe we are in Russia serving a mission?”  We have been out for almost 2 months now and when we reflect back it was an amazing journey to get to this point in our lives and have the opportunity to serve.  Our lives have been filled with opportunity and challenges.  Kathy and I wanted to share this journey with our friends and family, because each of you have played a key role in our lives.

Our marriage started in a very humble setting in my backyard with a few close friends of my family and Kathy’s parents. We didn’t have anything but a love for each other and a determination to succeed.   I was working two jobs and going to school, so Kathy decided to quit school and work full time so I could finish my education. This allowed me to work one job during school the next two years and summers.

I still had 4 years of college left to get my engineering degree and we found out Kathy was pregnant with Brandon. Understanding the phrase we keep near to our hearts “Adversity Brings Greatness”, Brandon was delivered 3 months early and weighed two pounds four ounces and was in intensive care for 3 months. It is amazing now that he is healthy and has a beautiful family of his own and our daughter Krista is a nurse in the newborn intensive care unit. Shawn is starting his education and all our kids are married. 
Kathy and I didn't have a true conversion to the gospel  and become active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints until we got married. This personal decision allows us to relate to the people we teach in Russia and their path to conversion.   At that point in time 30 years ago, Kathy and I set a goal that someday we would go on a mission for the Lord.  We also wanted to serve when we were young and hoped my career would provide for an early retirement.  

I had a great career with a lot of excitement and the lord decided to test us again. The last company I had started and self-funded didn’t make a full transition and we had to shut it down. We lost everything we had built over the last 25 years except for our wonderful family and our mortgage on our house J.  I remember kneeling down and saying a prayer to the Lord asking for help in understanding how this adversity would help our lives and promised him that if we could get back on our feet we would heed his call someday in the future to serve.

A few days after this whole transition with shutting down the video production company and focusing on my engineering company, a friend and colleague of mine went to work for a company called Preferred Sands. They were growing very rapidly and asked if my engineering company could help with their expansion efforts.  After about 7 months as a contractor I was given the amazing opportunity to manage all their mining operations in the US and Canada.  What a blessing that opportunity was in our life to join such and awesome group of people and it also allowed me to get back on my feet financially. Little did we know then that this would be the final preparation we needed to begin our Journey in Russia.

When Kathy and I received a call to serve a mission in Russia it required us to leave the country and live in Russia for 18 months.  Kathy and I had just been blessed with two wonderful grandchildren and our youngest son was getting married.  My mother had passed away the previous year and we spent a lot of time with my father. We both loved my job and Preferred Sands was at a critical stage in their growth and transition in the industry.  It was very hard to leave all of them, but the management team at Preferred supported this decision, my wonderful sister and brother said they would watch over my father and our family understood the need to follow our Heavenly Father.  It is an amazing time in your life when you turn the affairs of the family over to your children, follow their examples of mission service and know that all will be well in their hands. 

I hope you didn’t mind taking this flash back journey with us and allowing us to reflect on our life. We have so many memories with each of you reading this blog. Kathy and I love the e-mails we receive from our dear friends about their families and the good and the bad times.  In closing we wanted to give a funny shout out to Facebook and all our friends who share moments of their lives. It is fun to be able to log in for a few minutes and keep up with your lives and the lives of your families. We love you all and hope you enjoyed some additional pictures of Russia.  Elder and Sister Carter.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Rushing in Russia :-)

This was an extremely busy week and we were able to get a lot of pictures. The only problem is that it is impossible to put all the pictures up on this short blog each week.  I thought it would be fun to give you a weekly journal of our travels and then some links and several pictures of the areas. This way you can share in the week of a missionary. Sunday before church we met with a wonderful couple to discuss Russian and the gospel.  After meeting with the couple, we both taught lessons in church and then after church we made dinner for a couple missionaries. After dinner we took a bus about an hour outside of town to meet with an investigator.  It was a great night, but we didn’t get in bed until around 11:30.

We started off Monday with a good run around the city and then straight into the office. It was a crazy day with some preparation for transfer week and coordination of some audit training that I participated in later in the week. One of our mission responsibilities is to chair the audit committee for all the Branches. Bob had to be trained on how to ensure each branch or ward keeps accurate records. We worked late this evening in preparation for taking a half day off on Tuesday to do some touring of the town. After work Monday evening Kathy got her hair colored and I went on visits with the missionaries for about 3 hours.  When I returned they were still working on Kathy’s hair, because it didn’t go very well and was reddish-brown.  Needless to say there were a few tears and we didn’t get to bed until around midnight again.  

Tuesday morning we got up early to get everything done so we could take a half day off. The adversary was working on us and everything went wrong. We hadn’t had a chance to take an afternoon off in the 5 weeks we have been here and he didn’t want us to take one this day. It was also supposed to be sunny this day and it was cloudy, cold and windy.  We were faced with the temptation to just bag our plans and fix the things that had gone wrong or bundle up and take on the elements.  You guessed it correctly, we wiped away the tears, put on the coats, hats, gloves and thermal underwear and headed out.  I know the Lord must have known how much we needed an afternoon together because when we got off the subway and started to walk around, the sun came out and it was a beautiful afternoon.  

We made a big tourist loop starting on Nevsky prospect and the Cathedral of our Lady Kazan. Then we moved on to Church on Spilled Blood Cathedral and, wow, that was amazing . All the pictures you see are mosaic and made of small tiles. Every inch of the cathedral was covered in pictures about the Savior’s life, angels, Christ’s resurrection, etc., It was incredible. Then we walked through the parks that were near to the cathedral and headed over to the Souvenir fair. This area has a lot of street vendors selling various souvenirs. 
Kathy really likes the hand carved wooden Santas, but they are really proud of these items and price them very high.  Once we realized we couldn’t afford any of these items J we moved onto the Hermitage and Admiralty government office areas. We didn’t go into the Hermitage today because it takes a week to see everything and we will go back some other days when we have a full day to dedicate. After this we moved on to the St. Isaac’s Cathedral. This was also amazing to see and you can actually take a tour and go up on the roof of the structure, but we didn’t find out until we got back.  We were able to see lots of statues of Peter and Catherine who had some major influence into the building of the city.  We had about 1.5 hour walk back to our home and on the way we found a salon who had one open spot to color Kathy’s hair again. It turned out very nice this time. The sun, walking, holding hands and getting her hair done put a skip and a smile back into both our lives. We finally hit our beds around midnight again and were totally exhausted. This day was truly a tender mercy from the Lord and a testament that sometimes we need to put our day in the Lord’s hands and go out and experience life, even when everything around you might be going bad or you feel like you just can’t pull away.
Wednesday didn’t slow down, as we rose early to get caught up at the office and fix all the things that went wrong on Tuesday morning before we left J.  It was a good day, because we were refreshed mentally.   The day went quickly and then we caught a subway that evening to a language conversation group about 40 minutes across town. This was a great evening and we were able to help with the class and then stayed after to talk with a couple people who came to our class. One had just separated from his family and needed the gospel in his life. We spent a lot of time talking with him and sharing the power of prayer in his life. He hadn’t ever prayed so we taught him and invited him to read the Book of Mormon to help find answers. The other just lost his house and didn’t have anywhere to sleep that night. We arranged for him to stay in a local hotel for a couple nights so he could find a path forward.  It is amazing the variety of people we meet who have been prepared and humbled in some way to hear about the gospel. The first person was very well established and successful in life, but had sacrificed his family to gain that success and the second had lost everything and didn’t know where to turn. All are children of our Heavenly Father and it is an honor to be here to teach people of God’s plan of salvation. We finished late and walked out and noticed that they had shut our subway station down and it was late. Luckily we found another one that was still open, so we returned home and went to bed again around midnight.
As a side note for all our friends, the other great thing that I have been sharing with people is the link to the Mormon messages.  Each of these videos are short and deal with a specific topic that people may be struggling with. The latest movie was on bullying in schools and how it impacts others. The videos portrait real life situations that are easy to relate to and hopefully provide answers to how we should act. There is a Russian link, but the English link is below.  You should take some time to watch and share with your family, whether you are a member of our church or not.  They will provide answers and direction.              

On Thursday we again woke early and did our sit-ups and pushups and then hit the office early. We had the auditors from Moscow into our office for some training and then we boarded a train for Petrasavodsk. It is our northern most area and took us 6 hours by train.  We got there about midnight and took a taxi to the hotel. We woke early and met with the branch leadership to complete the audit of their branch. Once this was completed we grabbed some lunch and then took a three hour walk around the town. It sits on the second largest lake in Eastern Europe and is beautiful. There was still a lot of ice and snow.  In the summer they run hydrofoils out to the islands for tours of some old wooden churches that were built without nails.  Hopefully we will get another chance to come up in the summer.  That evening we caught another train back to St. Petersburg and arrived home around midnight. We had the audit couple traveling with us and they were awesome!  We had a lot of fun with them and shared lots of stories and laughs.  

We got up early on Saturday morning and fixed them some breakfast and then headed off to the office to help the missionaries get ready for a talent show the church was putting on. The missionaries had a skit and Kathy coordinated a dance and we helped and participated. It was a ton of fun and the missionaries were awesome. (We sure wish we could send pictures of these awesome missionaries and members, but we aren't allowed to do this on a blog. We will have a party when we get back and share pictures of our missionary family). Then we got to attend two baptisms that were in our ward and also sit in on a lesson.  (There were actually four baptisms in the mission on Saturday!!) 

Then after all that we walked to the store to get some food for Sunday (today). We are making dinner for one of the locals and some of the missionaries. We are teaching some investigators before church so I better get going. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is true, we see it impact the lives of the Russian people each day and we know it can also benefit each of your lives. Thanks for your friendship and prayers. Please keep the people of Russia and our missionaries in your prayers as the world continues to change.  They are wonderful people. Love Elder and Sister Carter