Sunday, May 25, 2014

Kathy Volunteered at the Cat House in Russia

Kathy was sad to report this week that she volunteered 3 hours in a Russian Cat House and didn't make a dime. ;-) Ha Ha.  The missionaries that are stationed in St. Petersburg all volunteer several hours each week at the Hermitage Museum. They help people who visit the museum to find their way and translate where necessary in various languages.   

Each year the Hermitage has an annual Cat Day to honor the cats that all live in the basement of the museum. Cats have lived there since the original construction of the palace to keep the mice out of the palace and now out of the museum. As you can see from the pictures that follow, the basement of the Hermitage Summer Palace is extensive and they have set up a historical record of the cats living in that area.  

The people of Russia are very appreciative of the cats because they help preserve this precious record of their time and talents. The Russian Tsars were very fond of their art and would decorate their palaces with ornate decorations. The people of St. Petersburg are very proud of this art because they fought off the German armies and buried many of the artifacts in order to preserve them from the destruction of WWII. After the war they have spend 40 years preserving the buildings and art to represent the treasure of their country and share it with the world. As you have seen through many of our posts, most of the palaces are open for tours and used to teach the children of Russia traditions.

We posted previously on the Hermitage museum itself, noting that it is a world famous museum with priceless art, sculptures, architecture and relics of the times.  A definite must see if visiting St. Petersburg

This particular day Kathy was stationed in one of the rooms to help with a scavenger hunt they had for the children. They gave each child a list of paintings, sculptures, etc., that they were to find in the museum. Kathy was stationed by the painting of Adam and Eve. When the kids found the painting she then gave them the next clue to find in the museum. It was a lot of fun for the kids and provided Kathy another opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the Hermitage. Several of the pictures are from the room where Kathy was stationed.

After their time to volunteer, they were allowed to go down into the basement and see the area where the cats lived. As you can see from the pictures it is a normal basement area of a large building, with the exception of all the home areas where the cats live. 

They have pictures of the various cats that have lived there and have a keeper of the cat house who is responsible for the welfare of all the cats. Kathy and the other volunteers were allowed to see and pet the cats. She said the cats were actually very appreciative of the attention and it was another rare opportunity to share the culture of Russia with the Russian People.

Kathy and I were extremely busy this week with work and teaching. We also celebrated my birthday last Sunday and served several meals and hosted several teaching visits at our house this week.  With our exercise and travels I think we must have walked/run over 30 miles this week and our bodies felt it by today.  Kathy and I were both exhausted, as we didn't get home last night until 11:30 from the Metro. 

We had a lesson that finished around 9:00 and then we had to take the metro to the other side of town to the store to get groceries for the dinner we were hosting tonight.  Then we had to go to another store on the way home that was closer to our apartment to get the heavier groceries because we can't carry everything that far.  Tonight (Sunday) after dinner we have another teaching opportunity about 1 hour away from our house at 8:00 pm, so we won't get home until after 10:00 again this evening.  We like to use the phrase - we can sleep when we get home from our mission :-).  

The picture to the left is amazing because it was taken at 11:00 P.M. In another month we will only have 1 hour of darkness per night. We had an amazing opportunity yesterday to have an area training from Elder Bednar, seven of the area seventies and one of the church presiding bishopric. It was a 4-hour meeting that was amazing to experience. It is fun to be taught by the apostles in these types of settings because you see that they are human just like us and like to joke and laugh as they teach and bare testimony.  

The focus is on unity within our church and within our homes and removing all contention. They spoke how the world will continue to see contention across borders, but that we need to stay united with our faith and brotherhood and sisterhood within the gospel. They shared many examples in the Book of Mormon and the Bible where contention was high among families or nations, and it was the leaders and prophets who united the people and then received some of the greatest revelations. We need to stay united in our faith and support of each other throughout the world, regardless of where we live or what political disruption is occuring around our lives. We need to start this unity within our own homes and remove any contention we have within our family members and forgive those who might have wronged us.  Then we can move forward in the gospel.

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We send our love to each of you and close with a picture of the small home Kathy picked out for us here in Russia. It is near a small park with some lakes, row boats and long trails to take the dogs walking. We think we will just build one of these when we return home to remember our wonderful trip to Russia. Love Bob and Kathy. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bob's Birthday Blog - Celebration in Russia

I wanted to start this blog with a special thanks to Kathy for a wonderful birthday week and standing by my side through this life and making it so special. I am also sooooo grateful to all of our family and friends who reached out this week to let us know they care and made my birthday and the passing of Kathy's father very special.  It was awesome to hear from all of you and all the missionaries through e-mail, facebook, phone and prayer. 

We had a wonderful week in the mission and I had the honor of  baptizing one of the young ladies we have been teaching for a couple months.  I was so excited when she asked if I would baptize her and we couldn't believe it would be on my actual birthday. I wish we could post some pictures, but we aren't allowed to share baptismal events through pictures. Hopefully the greatness of the day comes through in words.

One picture I did want to share was a painting my little granddaughter Mya made for Kathy on Mothers Day. Our daughter Krista put some paint on a canvas and let Mya get on it in her diaper and paint the picture.  We screen captured these through skype.

I am going to share pictures with you of the Monplaisir palace in Peterhof, Russia as I talk about my birthday week and a tribute to Kathy's father who passed away this week. 

The Monplaisir palace is an amazing place and all the fountains are driven through natural pressure without pumps. It was an architectural wonder for the 1700's. I have attached a link for those of you who want to learn more about the palace.

The days in St. Petersburg are getting longer with the sunrise about 4:30 am and the sunset about 10:30 pm. The days are getting longer by about 30 minutes each week and eventually we will only have about 1.5 hours of darkness. 

 Understanding we are getting older and have to get up several times in the night because we drink so much water, it is weird to have it light that early in the morning.  

Right now I am sitting on our deck and it is about 70F and absolutely beautiful.  The picture to the left shows the view off our deck where I am sitting. 

We are getting sad because we only have about a month and a half left with our current mission president and his wife and they are amazing. We have had a lot of fun serving with them and learning from their example of love, service and leadership. 

I got to have three nice dinners this week for my birthday and Kathy worked very hard to make my birthday week special. The mission president and I have a birthday only a couple days apart so we celebrated together Wednesday evening. 

 Then on Saturday we walked up Nevsky and ate dinner on the river, and tonight (Sunday) Kathy is making me a wonderful dinner and having an investigator and four missionaries over for dinner.  Our dear friends the Tehini's sent us a box of cake mixes and gravy and we have put those to great use. We always bake something for the baptisms and the missionaries love cakes and cupcakes. Kathy didn't realize that serving a mission with me would require a whole week of spoiling on my birthday and spoiling all these missionaries HaHa. I am usually traveling so I have put her to the test being with me 24/7.  

The emotionally difficult side of this week for all of us was the passing of her father Robert (Bob) Milton Cottam. He lived in St. George and we were able to visit with him many times before we left. He was 86 and lived a good life. He and his wife, Alice, were sealed in the temple, so his passing will only be for time and we will be together again in eternity. 

We send our love to the family as they gather together in St. George for the funeral services. All of our kids and Kathy's brothers and sisters were able to attend the funeral services. We plan to skype into the funeral and share in the love of the family. We know her father is in a better place. Even with that knowledge, it is hard for his wife that he left behind and all of us who will truly miss him. 

It is weird sometimes to realize that we are living in Russia, as it just becomes the norm in our lives. I am finally starting to get a grasp of the language and basic communication, and it gives me hope as I continue to expand my vocabulary and continue to talk in the Russian language. It helps to feel more comfortable in my ability to share thoughts and ask questions. It is fun because the missionaries get excited as I progress and they try to help me as much as possible. 

The hardest part of the mission is watching the missionaries we love complete their mission and head home. We are excited for them to go home, but will truly miss them, as they have become family. 

We laugh and cry together daily as we experience the journey of this mission. It isn't easy to be a missionary and it helps to do it with the ones you share a common love and belief. We have been blessed with some awesome young men and women to carry this work forward. The Lord prepares people to hear the gospel and we are here to be his hands and mouth in teaching the way to return and live with him. Kathy and I send our love and appreciation for all of you! Love Bob and Kathy 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Humble and Proud Week in Russia

First and Most Important!  Happy Mothers Day to all the wonderful women reading this blog who have shared in our journey and contributed to our lives in so many ways!!!  We had an amazing honor this week to be in Russia and experience the true passion that exists within the people of Russia. Their honor and devotion to their ancestors and country were displayed in two separate events that we were able to experience. The pictures we share in this blog are much greater than the buildings, architecture and stories of the past blogs, because they honor the true heart of Russia .... The PEOPLE.

Russia experienced many wars in their past while fighting or transitioning between various rulers, but WWII and the 900-day siege they went through in St. Petersburg was all about survival. On Thursday we had the honor of representing our church in paying tribute to all 
the people who died during the siege. We took a large display of flowers to the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery to honor the 650,000+ people who died of starvation and cold during the siege from Sept 4, 1941 to January 22, 1944. 

There were 107,158 air bombs dropped on the city and 148,478 shells fired into the city.  16,744 citizens died from the bombs, 33,782 were wounded and 641,803 died of starvation.

The Memorial complex, shown above, is designed around an eternal flame to honor and remember all the people buried in these mass graves. 

There are 186 mass graves where about 420,000 civilians and 50,000 soldiers from the Leningrad front were buried. I have added a link for those of you who want to learn more about the history. 

The day was full of rain, but that didn't dampen the spirit of the thousands of people who came from various organizations to pay tribute this day. As you can see from the pictures, there is an eternal flame near the museum and then a 480-meter long walk way up to the bronze monument symbolizing Mother Motherland. 

There was a reverence as the military marched in procession and the band played tribute to those being remembered. Everyone wore ribbons symbolizing the bravery and heart of those who fought the war and held off the siege during this difficult time. 

The memorial museum showed a video of the city after the bombing and then the beauty that was rebuilt into today's spectacular St. Petersburg. Kathy and I were proud to be there to support the people of Russia and to learn about what all their ancestors had fought for and to understand the strength behind their culture.

The next day, Friday May 9th was a huge celebration for the victory of WWII and the end of the siege. There had to be several hundred thousand people who gathered on the streets to celebrate the victory and honor the ancestors who had died during the war or during the siege. I have attached below a good article explaining the significance of the day and the events that took place. 

Kathy and I left our house early Saturday morning. It was still raining and we decided to honor Russia by attending regardless of the weather. We took the metro and it was absolutely packed, as you can see, with all the people headed for the day's celebration.  The streets were no different and the excitement was fun to see on all the faces of the people.  

We worked our way down to the main square where all the events were taking place - across from the Hermitage Museum and other very famous architectural buildings.  I put Kathy on my shoulders and stood at the edge of the crowds so she could cheer and see the events. 

After the marches were complete and crowds started to disperse we headed across the bridge next to the Hermitage and spent the day walking the town. We went to the zoo, walked through the park, ate a french dog (hot dog in a roll) along the way and stopped for a lot of pictures. They have an amazing park set up with bronze statues of several of the main architecutral beauties within the city. You can see by the pictures that they are amazing.

We then worked our way past the Peter and Paul fortress that we shared pictures of earlier in our blog, across the river and back onto Nevsky.  We walked back past the Savior on the Spilt Blood Cathedral and through the park. It was amazing to see the spirit of Russia everywhere we went. The little boy in the picture was typical of the celebration honoring their country and patriotism that is felt within the country.

Savior on the Spilled Blood 

Later in the day we did a little shopping and got Kathy a couple of scarfs for Mother's Day, and then we stopped by some friends' house and waited for the second parade to start. 

The second parade was one filled with all the remaining survivors of the siege. There were military marches, bands and people carrying signs of their ancestors who had fallen during the siege. The rain again poured, but it didn't dampen the spirit of the people of Russia. They cheered and shouted as their ancestors were remembered for the brave war they fought and the ability to survive under such an awful siege.  Again we were humbled and honored to be part of such a great day.

We finished the week by attending two wonderful baptisms and helping all the missionaries skype with their parents on Mother's Day. The missionaries are only able to call home or skype twice per year on Christmas and Mother's day.  Needless to say there was great excitement as these wonderful kids reached out and shared their love with their families. I reflected back on how important those calls were to our family when each of our kids served a mission. We are also truly honored to watch the strength of these young missionaries who give up 18 months or two years of their lives to come to Russia and share the gospel.  I know the Lord was smiling from heaven as he saw the love and spirit that was present in the office that evening.  The mission president and his wife came down and shared the moment with many of the missionaries and it was a night to remember. Well, we have better run. We know the gospel is true and that there is a special reason we were called to serve the people of Russia. We were also able to skype with our family which is always the highlight of our mission. They are such great examples to us and we are so proud of all of them.  Love Bob and Kathy 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Travel Back in Time in Russia

Russia has been celebrating several holidays this week and next, so it has been slower in the office and in the field. As you can see from the picture I rented a local tank to take you on several journeys through the towns of Vyborg and Pushkin this week. Our missionaries are working very hard to meet new people and increase the pool of people they teach. Please keep them in your prayers as we take this journey together. 

First Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Church  in Russia, Vyborg, Russia
The church employees in St. Petersburg had Thursday and Friday off so it was very quiet in the office and we didn't receive any mail.  Kathy has been active setting up the Mother's Day calls with the office elders so all the missionaries can talk with their mothers on this special day!  
Kathy and I remember how awesome it was to talk with our missionaries on Mother's Dayand I know the missionaries in St. Petersburg are excited to talk with their families. They get to e-mail once a week, but only get to call home twice per year on Mother's Day and Christmas. The weather in St. Petersburg was colder and even snowed a little this week. 

The weather didn't dampen our enthusiasm and we were still able to slip out and visit Vyborg on Wednesday and then Pushkin on Saturday. As you can see from the pictures it was an amazing couple of days that we look foward to sharing this amazing country with you this week in our blog!

Vyborg is one of the older areas within Russia and was involved in many battles between Finland and Russia for this prime piece of property. It was a two-hour drive from St. Petersburg, so we hired a local member of the church to drive us, and the other senior couple went with us there for the day. It would be fun for you to visit the history of Vyborg, so I have provided a link. . 

We show you a lot of palaces around St. Petersburg, but the pictures in Vyborg are of an old castle. The difference between a palace and castle center around war and defense. A castle was used to provide shelter and living for the people and help them to fight off people trying to take control of their country.  This castle is located in the center of the town and has a tower that we climbed to to take some magnificent pictures of the city. You can see the city has rivers and waterways surrounding it and it provides majestic settings. 

As we were driving we noticed a bridge with hundreds of locks attached, and the driver told us that when people get married they take a lock to the bridge, put it on the railing and then throw the key in the river. This shows their commitment to marriage and staying together in the bond of marriage. Vyborg is also rich in history for our Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The church built the first church house in Russia in Vyborg and we included a picture of the building at the beginning of the blog.   

Before we left the city to return home we stopped by the market to pick up some dinner. We snapped a quick picture because we couldn't decide between the heart, tongue or liver, shown in the picture, so we just settled for some more chocolate for the drive home. HaHa.  

After a long day journey through the city Kathy and I stopped for a quick rest next to this old wall and door dating back to the 1400's. It was an amazing journey and felt like home being near the water, trees and even some small neighborhoods with houses instead of apartments. 

On Saturday we got up early and decided to take the metro and bus ride out to Pushkin to see Catherine's Palace. I have also provided a link to information on the palace for those of you who enjoy history. It is always an adventure to travel without your own car, but it always adds to the experience. 

It took us about an hour and fifteen minutes to get from our home to the palace.  It was a combination of metro ride on the blue line and then catching a small bus to Pushkin. Since we have never been there before you always hope you got on the right bus and can figure out the stop. At least my Russian is getting better so I can ask for help with directions. 

After arriving at the palace we realized we were in trouble when we looked at the line to get into the courtyard. Understanding there are 5 million people in Russia and this was a holiday weekend, everyone decided to go to the palace. 

We had to wait over an hour just to get through the gates, then another hour to get in line for the next line to get tickets. Needless to say, I quickly ordered up a carriage ride for my Queen Kathy and three hours later we started to enjoy the beauty. 

While we waited in line, we bought a painting from one of the local street vendors and Kathy went and looked at all the little shops next to the entrance. 

Kathy purchased a new dining room set in the palace and a dinner dress from the queen for  when you all decide to come visit us and have a dinner party :-). 

As you look at these pictures imagine you lived in the mid 1700's and this was your summer palace. I like to think of the grandeure of parties in the palace and nightly strolls along the garden and ponds. 

The grounds were absolutely amazing with bridges, statues, a boat house to access the house on the island, several bath houses and swimming areas, meeting house, etc., distributed throughout the land on top of the palace itself. 

They were renovating the palace so the outside was covered in certain areas and we couldn't go into several sections of the palace. The rooms we were able to see were amazing, as you can see from the pictures.  

On our way home in the bus we passed by a local church building in Pushkin and snapped a quick picture of its beauty. We are truly blessed to be here at this time serving the people of Russia and sharing the journey with all these wonderful missionaries. We have an amazing gift to bring the people of Russia through our simple testimonies that God lives. We know where we came from, why we are here and where we are going when we die. God sent his son Jesus to the earth and he died for our sins. Through this atonement we can seek forgivenss and return to our Heavenly Father. Joseph Smith did see the father and the son through revelation and restored Christ's true church and the priesthood on the earth today. This plan of salvation gives me comfort to know that I can be with my mother again and tell her how much I love her. I have missed her since her passing 1.5 years ago and look forward to being together as a family again. Russia is amazing and beautiful and we are excited to share this message of the restoration with all the people we serve. Love Bob and Kathy