Thursday, June 29, 2017

Bye bye Toberlone, Cadbury, Gherardelli, and Lindt...

We found it.  In Riga Latvia.  The perfect chocolate at the Liama Chocolate Factory.

Could it be because when you walk in they give you a little cup of heaven.  They call it a drink of chocolate.  We call in smooth, warm, rich, comforting, deliciousness.

‘Laima’ is the biggest and most well-known producer of chocolate and sweets in the Baltic, where chocolate is made with cocoa beans without using semi-prepared products.  It has survived a communist takeover and is going strong.  Sorry America.  I think you can only buy it in South Carolina, but try Amazon.  It is worth it.

A fun thing that you can do at the museum is personalize a label for your very own chocolate bar.  Look what we wrote without either one knowing it.  Ahhhhh......

I don't know.  Our new love might be Laima chocolate!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Midsummer Eve in Latvia

Jāņi was originally a festival for pagan farmers that existed long before the arrival of Christianity and the traditions of the festival remain immensely popular to this day.  It is held every year on the summer solstice.  The sun sets around 10:30 pm and rises at 3:30 am.  Staying up all night to celebrate is part of the grand party. We were told this holiday is bigger than Christmas.

Other rituals include gathering wildflowers to make garlands to wear on your head. Since we celebrated in the city, the wildflowers were brought in from the markets.
The men wear what Paul calls a "lettuce wreath".  The ladies a simple garland of flowers.  Since Paul refused to wear a lettuce wreath, I thought I would try my hand at weaving a flower wreath for him.  

This table was set up with wildflowers and women were happily going at it.  Looks simple enough I thought.  "I can do this" ha, ha.

I grab my posies and begin.  What is the saying.."More easily said than done".  I started out pretty well but when I went to bend it in to a wreath....well....

I think I will stick to quilting.

We settled for a lovely spray of baby's breath in the rim of his hat.  

Most Latvians head to the country for the Summer Solstice where they celebrate with family.  One of the hallmarks of Jāņi is leaping over the bonfire which is meant to rid people of their burdens. Couples leap holding hands, so that the magical force of the flames binds them together.

In the city they do things in a bigger way.  

There was a lot of liquor flowing during this celebration, but I don't think anyone dared to jump over this bad boy.

A fun thing for us was to see the children's games.  Milking the cow Latvian style reminded me of the Clark County Fair.

My favorite part was the dancing.  European countries have an abundance of meaningful traditions passed down from their ancestors.  I loved participating in the happy and cheerful renditions of the custom of dance.  BYU Folkdancers...look out!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

KGB Cornerhouse

The "occupation" of Latvia and it's surrounding countries Estonia and Lithuania lasted for 51 years.  It was an unprovoked occupation by a major super-power (Russia).  The Latvian government had to chose between a hopeless bloody resistence or the reluctant acceptance to an ultimatum of the threat of overwhelming military force.  They chose the latter.  The regime change was then directed from Moscow under the pretention of legality. 

The psychological and  actual terror of this regime exacted a heavy human toll-destroyed relationships, destroyed lives, and destroyed trust.  At the end of WWII about 1/3 of Latvia's population was destroyed.  

I will not write more on what I experienced there.  I cried.  Wordless pictures tell it all.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Branch Picnic Moscow Style...

Bitsevsky Park was the site for our Branch Picnic on June 17, 2017.
They said to meet at the cemetery.  Well that is not what we expected, but cemetery's are one of my favorite places to go, so we began our adventure.  It was by all standards of cemeterys on of the most beautiful we have seen.

However, we were very happy to have Branch President Denise meet us and take us to this lovely picnic area.  We felt like we were on the Alpine loop. 

 A forrest of quaking aspen trees in the background while Vasi (1st Counselor) and President Denise get the grill going.  Chicken and pork kabobs wrapped in tortillas with an array of fresh vegetables.  

Who can let a little mud stop you from learning to crawl?

The Feast!

The fun and games!

I helped the little girls make a leaf princess.  We named her Una.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Hark all ye nations, hear heaven's voice, thru every land that all may rejoice...

Attending the Tbilisi, Georgia branch was an honor.  There are around 200 members with about 50% activity.  Much of the reason for this is that travel to the building comes at a great cost and many are 90 minutes away from the building one way.  There are eight Elders that serve in the branch and six sisters.  They have the same proselyting privileges as American missionaries.  They do not have the restrictions that our mission has.  

Entrance to the branch building.
The Georgian Saints do not yet have the Book of Mormon translated in their language. The process is underway, and we all are praying that it will happen soon.  

There are two young women in the branch.  One of them was there on Sunday.  She is in the middle.  She is flanked by two sister missionaries.  The sister on the right is the Young Women's President.  I asked her if when she was a Laurel getting her YW medallion if she ever thought she would be a YW President at the tender age of twenty.  You can guess the answer.  In our mission in Moscow, we have three Elder's (volunteers) who are serving as branch presidents.  My message to all YW, and YM leaders; "train them well".  They are needed to build the Kingdom.

 The hymns are sung in Georgian, Russian, and English.

I think the Georgian written language is beautiful. 

Sunday was branch conference.  The mission president was there, Allen B. Bostrom, to present this group of saints with their certificates for completing the self-reliance program.

 Tbilisi Georgia Branch
On the front row, far left, was our interpreter.  She is one of the saints responsible for the ongoing process of translating of the Book of Mormon in to their native language.  We were able to do an oral interview with her.  

We loved visiting with these two converts of just two years.  They are from Nigeria and found the gospel in Georgia where they are attending University.  It was great to hear that African accent. 

Put your shoulder to the wheel...

I love the movie (both of them) called National Treasure.  Who doesn't love a great Treasure Hunt.  Today we found the greatest tresure hidden in the basement of the branch building in Tbilisi, Georgia.  One large box filled with mission records, branch records, handwritten testimonies of the pioneers of Georgia.  Oh my heart!  

 It started like this.... 

We found a room in the building and went to work, sorting, categorizing, and documenting.

While James was doing oral history interviews, we were trained one on one by Matt Heiss.  Matt has been with the church history department for 30 years.  His knowledge is vast.  He and James are over all of Africa, all of Europe, and a small portion of North America.    So much of our training in SLC was solidified as we had hands-on experience.

These are now ready to be cataloged and preserved in an RPC Center in the Ukraine.

Tbilisi, Day two...

Wow.  What a surprise.  We were under the impression that we were in Georgia for a Humanitarian Project Friday.  Wednesday and Thursday were training days for the Humanitarian couples.  We caught the FUN Friday, and it was that and more. This day turned out to be a cultural experience.

Our first stop was to the Jvari Monastery or Monastery of the cross built around 590 BC.  It stands on the rocky mountaintop at the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers overlooking the town of Mtskheta.  

Just consider hauling the stones up that mountain to build this amazing structure.

Paul lit a candle for you there.   We introduced ourselves to Ray Huntington and his wife who are serving as humanitarian missionaries in Turkey.  I recognized him as one of the panel members from BYU Discussions on the Book of Mormon and remembered that he is a professor of ancient scriptures at BYU.  We say by them at lunch and found out that he is actually from Springville and was raised one street over from Paul on “C” street in Brookside.  We had a great time reminiscing with him.  

A female Evangelist erected a large wooden cross on the site.  the cross was reportedly able to work miracles and therefore drew pilgrims fraom all over Caucasus.  The women always had to cover their heads in the cathedrals.  Good thing I had my rain coat. 

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral was out next destination.  According to Georgian legend, in the 1st century AD a Georgian Jew from Mtskheta names Elias was in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified.  Elias bought Jesus' robe from a Roman soldier at Golgotha and brought it back to Georgia.  Returning to his native city, he was met by his sister Sidonia who upon touching the robe immediately died from the emotions engendered by the sacred object.  The robe could not be removed from her grasp, so she was buried with it.  Later, from her grave grew an enormous cedar tree.  Ordering the cedar chopped down to build the church, St. Nino had seven columns made from it for the church's foundation.  The seventh column, however, had magical properties and rose by itself into the air.  It returned to earth after St. Nino prayed the whole night.  It was further said that from the magical seventh column a sacred liquid flowed that cured people of all diseases. 

Monument under which the robe of Jesus is said to be buried. 

Now comes the fun part.  After a VERY enjoyable authentic Georgian luncheon (more later). We visited the "Music Therapy Center" for mentally challenged children.  LDS Charities in Georgia has worked with this organization and donated the instruments for the students.  They appeared on "Georgia Has Talent" and stole the hearts of the audience.  For sure, they stole our hearts. 

  Favorite Georgian foods:  


Walnuts wrapped in fruit leather.  A sweet treat.


Hot deliousness wrapped in a dumpling.  You pick it up by the little stub and bite in to a juicy meat filling seasoned to perfection and smile.


O.K.  I am danish, and I love bread.  This delightful bread baked in a brick oven filled with cheese just brings a tear to my eye.