Sunday, January 30, 2011

Phone Camera Dump #1

I oughta make this a habit more often, but this is part 1 of the photos that were taken with my phone in the last 18 months or so.

Ada and Kate rocking at Cracker Barrel.
SLC Farmer's Market
Me and Coach Boylen
Kate and her cousin Grace
Ada at Applebee's
Kate at Applebee's
Alison with some random dragonl
Our cruise ship from 2009

Ada and Kate - Halloween 2009
Utes Blackout 2009
Model of Station Park in Farmington, UT
Utah State/Boise State game
Celebrating Real Salt Lake's national championship
Ada - Christmas morning 2009
Having a good time at Lowe's
Ice cream at Baskin Robbins
Our living room wall
NCAA basketball tournament 2010 in Salt Lake City at EnergySolutions Arena
Ada stuck in the kindergarten playground toy

Don't fret, there are more to come.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

10 Years Ago...

December 25, 2000 - January 3, 2001 (Warning - Looooooong Post about an eye problem)

This is when things started to get very interesting... I woke up on Christmas Day and my eye was still killing me. I couldn't see anything out of my right eye and it hurt to keep it open. Light was especially painful. As early as we could Christmas morning, my companion and I went to an eye clinic to get my eye checked out. The doctors took a look at it and decided that I had bacterial keratitis as well as some sort of infection in the back of my eye or in the fluid in the eye.

We returned back to our apartment and called the President Romney to find out what we should do. He suggested to us to get a second opinion and to then call him back. We went to the nicest hospital in Smolensk and had my eye checked again. They came to the same conclusions and gave us a list of medicines that we should buy from the pharmacy. We returned to another apartment in our district (where the rest of the district was celebrating Christmas) and called President Romney. He told us to wait while he contacted the church doctor (a missionary stationed in Frankfurt, Germany). The doctor finally called us directly and we spoke on the phone about my condition. He advised us to sit tight until we heard back from President Romney.

When President Romney called us back, he was crying and having a hard time composing himself. He advised us to get the shot that the Russian doctors had advised and that the Church would be air evacuating me from Smolensk to Germany. We sent some other elders to my apartment to pack my bags while I went to get a shot (we had to bring our own needles and drugs to the hospital. That's the only way that you know that you're getting sterilized equipment). We returned to the nicest hospital in Smolensk for the shot. My companion had to stand behind me as the eye doctor injected me right into the eye by going through the fleshy spot right in the outside corner of my eye. This was about as painful as anything I have ever experienced. After the shot, I was quite woozy and tried to lay down, but a nurse walking by freaked out and made me sit up and was slapping my cheeks and waving smelling salts under my nose. I was close to passing out but I just had to get out of there. The place stunk like pee, rotting wood, and everything else (remember, this was the nicest hospital in the city), but there were still people walking through the halls moaning, with dripping, infected sores stinking up the place. It has never felt so good to get out into the cold, fresh air of the December evening.

It turned out that the medical evacuation company was unable to evacuate me from Smolensk (in breach of their contract with the Church; I heard the Church was going to sue...), so we had to take a taxi from Smolensk to Moscow. My companion and I left Smolensk at 7:30 PM and took the most frightening drive of my life. It was snowing, it was a two-lane road and our driver was not pleased to be driving to Moscow. We arrived right at 1:00 AM and slept on the floor of the office elders' apartment. After two hours of sleep we were back up and on our way to the Moscow International Airport at 4:00 AM. My Lufthansa plane ticket to Germany had inadvertently been purchased for January 26th instead of December 26th so President Romney had to come along to approve paying whatever the cost to have the ticket changed to the first flight this morning. The whole time I was in a daze, because I just couldn't imagine that my condition was as bad as everybody was saying it was.

The flight was uneventful but when I finally landed in Frankfurt, Germany, I was unable to find the mission doctor or his wife. The only phone number I knew was my parents, but I didn't even have any money with which I could call home. The only thing that I could do was stand and wait, which I did for 90 minutes before the doctor's wife finally found me. It turns out that they were only used to picking up people who had flown in from within the EU and did not have to go through customs like I did. We went straight to the eye doctor.

The mission doctor was angry when he found out that I had had a shot in my eye. Apparently it was supposed to go in my thigh, but that information wasn't passed on to me. He also said that if I had what the Russians had diagnosed me with I would be the first known case in the modern world to have whatever it was I had been diagnosed with (unless my eye had ever previously been punctured, not including the Russian shot). I was diagnosed by the German eye-doctor and given some topical antibiotics and other creams that had to be put on my eye every couple of hours. For the next 4-5 days, I just spent time with the mission doctor and his wife.

As soon as we got back to the mission doctor's apartment, his wife advised me to call home to let my parents know that I was ok. I was a little hesitant as it wasn't Christmas anymore and I had missed my chance to call home. My parents and family had been waiting for me to call home on Christmas Day at around 7:00 AM Utah time. I was somewhat preoccupied at this time (getting a shot in my eye) so my mission president called my family at about 10 minutes to 7:00 and let them know that I was being medically evacuated to Germany. I can only imagine what was going through their minds at the time. Anyways, I called home and was glad that I did because my mom had stayed home from work waiting for my call and my family was fasting and diligently praying for my speedy recovery.

Staying with the doctor and his wife was easily the most difficult part of my mission up to that point. I was bored, I was lonely, I was homesick (for the first and probably last time) and I felt like I was wasting my time for a little eye problem. While in Germany, though, I was able to have a bunch of great experiences. We spent a lot of time with the Area Presidency because they lived on the same street and in the apartment above us. We were able to do a session at the Frankfurt Temple and visit McDonald's. Best of all, for three days I was able to join a couple of Frankfurt elders and go tracting (for the only time on my mission) and go to a New Year's Eve party at the Frankfurt, Germany's Mission President's house. We had to spend most of New Year's Day indoors as the streets were full of celebrating drunkards, but later in the afternoon we went caroling with the district and met people from Kazakhstan, Africa, Afghanistan, China, Great Britain, Turkey, etc. On Sunday we went to the International Ward and met people from Sweden, France, United States, Germany, Poland, etc. It was amazing how diverse the place was.

I originally thought that I would be going back after I had only been there for about 4 days, but my eye wasn't healing as well as they wanted it to so I was forced to stay the weekend. After my visit on the Tuesday following the weekend, the doctors recommended surgery which meant that I would probably have to return home to have it done. I was devastated. I'm not sure that I've ever prayed so hard as I did then. I wanted nothing more than to be able to return to my mission in Russia. Not too long after I had finished pouring my desperate heart out I went out and heard the doctor talking on the phone to Salt Lake City. I thought that they were making flight plans for me to return home, but instead he asked if I was ready to return to Moscow.

I flew Aeroflot back to Moscow and was very excited when the turbulent flight touched down. My heart was in my throat most of the flight from the turbulence and as soon as we were safely on the snowy ground in Moscow, the whole plane erupted into cheers. It's a European thing, but it still made me laugh. I was thrilled to be back in Russia and late that night I was alone back on the overnight train to my home in Smolensk. It's hard to explain how relieved I was for the opportunity to complete my mission as planned. I'd like to think that from that day on I was an especially diligent missionary, because I knew just how quickly the tides could turn.

I also made it a point to always carry a temple recommend with me throughout my mission (and the rest of my life...) even though I was nowhere near a temple. Without it I would not have been able to attend the session in Frankfurt which was something that I sorely needed at the time.

I wore glasses for the rest of my mission and for a time once I was home and after I had gotten new contacts, I would take out my contacts every night just as I was supposed to My eye problem may have been caused or at least exacerbated by me sleeping in my contacts for days on end. Now, I'm back to my old self and tend to leave my contacts in for 2-6 months without taking them out at all. the next step is to save up for Lasik and I won't need contacts at all.

Me and two elders from Armenia (one with a tumor and one with a kidney stone) at the Frankfurt Temple.
At McDonald's in Germany. If you look closely, my right eye is half full of blood from the misplaced shot into my eye.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

10 Years Ago...

December 14, 2000 - December 24, 2000

We continued to teach my first investigator, Lilia (our landlady) and she continued to progress in the gospel. We were able to teach first discussions to her daughters and many of their friends. I compared one of the girls to my younger sister Rachelle, until she started smoking (at 16 or 17). We often saw kids of 10 or 11 years old smoking. During our 2nd discussion with Lilia, we were able to commit her to be baptized on January 6th, for which I was very excited. She was a fantastic first investigator for a green missionary. She was always encouraging me in my Russian and never faulting me for my inability to speak.

About every two weeks I would wash my clothes in the bathtub. Some of the apartments that we would live in would have small washing buckets, but because we were in a new missionary apartment, many of those types of conveniences were not yet available.

I was still new enough in the mission field to make a big deal about every piece of mail that I received. To those that ever wrote me while I was on my mission I am very grateful, but by the end of the mission, the letters from home just remind you that your time there will someday have to end.

We also continued to get to know the members in the small Smolensk branch. One of the young men, Max, was in the hospital and we visited him there. From my journal: "This morning we visited Max at the hospital. I am not sure why he's there but he looks fine. He'll be there for two weeks or something. I don't ever want to go to a Russian Hospital. We brought him some fruit and juice. (Emphasis added)"

A couple of days later (12/18) my companion decided to go to the doctor's office because he had been sick for quite a while. Another entry from my journal: "This morning we went to the doctor's office. (Elder Rudenko) has been sick lately. He's got bronchitis. They took x-rays and just checked his breathing. The clinics here are horrible. Russia never was America's equal." We continued to go to the hospital for him to get checked every day for about the next week. One day we went to 8 pharmacy's trying to find one that had the drugs he had been prescribed, but we never found them.

A journal entry from another one of our visits to the hospital for my companion: "Hello. Today was a really good day. It was a little strange though too though. This morning we went to the doctor's office so my companion could do "inhalations." When we got there they couldn't do them because the hospital didn't have any water - hot or cold. It was all turned off. --> Only in Russia...

On Christmas Eve, Sunday December 24, 2000, we had our regular Sabbath meetings and were lucky to have President and Sister Romney in attendance. From my journal: "This morning after my shower my eye really started hurting. I washed it under filtered water but it still really hurts. All day long it has really bothered me." I wore my contacts to church, but had to leave right before sacrament meeting to run home and take them out. We came back to church and I was able to play the piano for all of the meetings. That night we had a discussion with Yuri, another one of our investigators: "The whole time there [at the discussion] my eye was hurting so bad. Tonight I called Sister Romney and we think that it's pink-eye. I even went to bed early."

I was excited to call home to my family the next day (Christmas) at 7:00 AM their time, which would have been around 5:00 PM Smolensk time. Sometimes, things don't go as planned.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

AM Radio

I'm sitting here in a hotel room in Riverton, Wyoming having just completed the 5.25 hour drive from Salt Lake City. Most of the drive was done in the dark and the skies were cloudy but not snowing. This all changed when I crossed the continental divide and began climbing up to South Pass (interestingly enough, you cross the continental divide long before the summit because there is a bit of a basin where the water flows neither to the Atlantic (Gulf of Mexico) or the Pacific (Gulf of California)). I didn't expect the weather to be any different at the mountain pass, but the wind kicked up, it was snowing and it must have been well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (considering it is 1 degree here and I'm a few thousand feet lower in elevation).

As soon as the blowing snow started coming, I immediately couldn't see anything, not from the whiteout conditions, but because my car couldn't keep my windshield warm enough to keep the blowing snow from turning into ice on my windshield as soon as it hit. Luckily, the roads were generally pretty empty and I was able to find a place to pull over and defrost my window before continuing, although the problem never completely disappeared with the blowing snow.

I've always wondered why I-80 and other roads in Wyoming are often closed during snowstorms, because there never seems to be that much snow on the ground. Instead, what happens is that the snow blows so hard that you simply cannot see the road. I had no trouble seeing the marker posts on the side of the road, but the blowing snow made it virtually impossible to see the lines on the road. It was a beautiful sight, because the snow appears to just be flowing from one side of the road to the other. There is nothing that a snowplow can do in conditions like those. Luckily, as soon as I came down the mountain into Lander, the snow stopped and it was back to the beautiful, cold evening that it had been before.

I passed most of the time in the car listening to a biography of Albert Einstein, but I also passed the time trying to find the Jazz game on the AM radio. Instead, while driving on the plains of Wyoming, I was able to listen to radio broadcasts from Wisconsin x2, Illinois x3, Indiana, Texas, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado x4, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Southern California.

I was able to listen to the Spurs-Bucks game from Milwaukee or San Antonio, the Lobo game from Albuquerque, the Husker game in Lincoln, Northern Illinois, DePaul, Kansas State, Colorado State or Wyoming basketball games but not the Jazz. Go figure.

Back in the day, many AM radio stations were Clear Channel Stations where nobody else in the country was allowed to license the same frequency, which allowed the stations to increase their power after dark and thus reach audiences far away (Many stations still are clear channel stations, but radio stations further than 750 miles away are allowed to broadcast on the same frequency). Most of the stations that I was able to pick up from locations afar is because during the nighttime, the AM radio waves reflect off the ionosphere rather than dissipating out into outer space. The reflected wave can then be picked up much farther away than the daytime signal. Couple that with an increased transmission power and you can hear news from San Antonio, Los Angeles and Chicago in the middle of Wyoming during the early winter nights.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

10 Years Ago...

November 14, 2000 - December 13, 2000

As you may recall from the last installment, I was just leaving the MTC and flying out to Russia. We made one stop in New York City before landing in Moscow, trudging through customs and meeting President and Sister Romney. There was a bit of culture shock, one of the things that I remember most was how cold it was, but that all of the girls and ladies were still wearing these short skirts.

I spent two days in Moscow before taking an 8-hour overnight train ride to Smokensk, Russia near the border with Belarus. We took a Taxi from the mission office to the train station late that night and the Taxi driver gave me a taste of Moscow driving by driving up on a sidewalk and honking at the pedestrians to get them out of the way. We made it to our train with plenty of time to spare... Smolensk is an ancient city (first mentioned in 863 AD) with about 325,000 inhabitants. The city is surrounded by a very old wall that is still standing in many places. It's a very interesting mix of old and new (new being built in the last 80 years). The city was opened to missionaries in 1998 and had 16 members when I arrived, including 2 temple-endowed and 1 holder of the Melchezidek Priesthood.

My first companion was Elder Rudenko from Kiev, Ukraine. He spoke Russian and Ukrainian and was learning English (but luckily spoke quite well). We spent a lot of the first few weeks trying to get me registered with the government and looking for an apartment. When we first arrived in Smolensk, we didn't have an apartment because we were opening a new area in the city (and increasing the number of missionaries from 6 to 8). We entered the apartment on Lenin Street that we would be sharing until we found our own and the first thing I saw was a huge poster of Britney Spears on the wall. I wasn't sure where I was.

We finally found an apartment right next to the Smolensk wall but it was on the first floor of the building and it didn't have a steel door so we had to wait for the door to be installed as well as bars on the windows. Our new landlord was our first investigator. I was very excited to be unpacking my suitcases 3-weeks after I had packed them.

The first couple weeks were cold and snowy or drizzly, which I would soon become quite accustomed to. The first time that I saw the sun in Russia was 11 days after I arrived. I remember that when we would be walking somewhere early during the winter, it wasn't uncommon to see stray cats and dogs frozen stiff next to the sidewalk.

We were able to receive mail and/or packages from home about once a month when we (the entire district) would travel to Moscow for Zone Conference. I was very grateful for the opportunity to send and receive emails to my family. We also loved going to Moscow because you could often find decent American food.

Thanksgiving morning we got up at 6:00 AM and met in a turret of the Smolensk wall. We would have watched the sun come up if it hadn't been so cloudy but we took a few minutes to think about the things that we were grateful for and to have a little Thanksgiving devotional as a district. It made the Thanksgiving very spiritual.

In Smolensk our main methods of finding were by teaching English classes, street contacting and sports nights (where we rented out a High School gym each week to play games). One week I was teaching shapes to my intermediate English class and we covered squares, pentagons, sexagons, heptagons and octagons. It wasn't until a few days later that I realized that there was no such thing as a sexagon. No wonder the class was laughing so hard.

Smolensk also has a very large, beautiful Russian Orthodox cathedral, the Cathedral of the Assumption. We visited it one day to take some pictures and I found it interesting that baptism was 100 rubles (about $3.35), marriage was 200 rubles (about $7.70) and repentance and forgiveness for 1 year of sins was on sale for 90 rubles (about $3).

The Smolensk Wall
The Smolensk Wall
My first companion and I visiting the wall on my first day in Smolensk
Those first days in Russia were long days...

Saturday, January 01, 2011

2010 Books in Review

In 2010 I read 53 books that I reviewed on my book review blog and I just completed a quick rundown of the genres I read and my favorite books. Read it here.