November 16, 2012

Happy Birthday Sean!!

November 16th, 1989 will go down in the history of my life as one of my happiest days...EVER!!  It was the end of a difficult trial that I had endured. For those of you who knew me back then you will remember how my arms ached to have another baby.  We had been blessed with a baby girl on October 10th, 1985 and then I just couldn't seem to be able to have another baby.  I  had one miscarriage before Melissa, but after having Melissa, I just seemed to have problem after problem having another baby.  I was able to conceive which was a great blessing, but I just couldn't carry a pregnancy.  I had suffered through three miscarriages and then became pregnant for the 6th time and hoped again for a baby.  About 17 weeks into the pregnancy I started having problems.  I was devastated!!  The other miscarriages I had had were long term miscarriages and things looked very dim.  The doctor could see through ultra-sound that there was a large tear in the placenta.  He gave me a 50/50 chance that I would continue on with my pregnancy.  He put me on total bed rest and told me to come back in 3 weeks for another ultra sound to see if the placenta would heal.  I can remember receiving two tender mercies during that time that helped me sustain my faith.  First, I received a priesthood blessing from my Bishop. In the blessing I was told that I would have this baby and that he would be healthy.  Second, I received a phone call from a member of our stake presidency whom I didn't even know.  He told me that he had heard of my situation and that he had placed my name on the prayer roll.  It touched me more then I can ever explain.  During that time I continued to pray and plead and bargain with the Lord to help me have this baby.  Much of what when on during that period of time has remained in my heart as some of the most sacred experiences of my life.  When I returned to see Dr. Bryner, he told me that all looked well and I could carry on a normal life for the next 8 weeks at which point I would be put back on bed rest to help prevent pre-term labor.  So, again in August I went back to bed-rest.  At this point Melissa was close to turning 4.  It was a difficult time and the medicine I was on to stop labor made me feel terrible. Melissa and I spent our days reading books and watching videos and she went to be cared for by so many people who generously offered.  One particular video that we watched was Mary Poppins over and over again.  She loved it!!  I was told by Dr. Bryner that once I reached 37 weeks I would be able to get out of bed and things would more than likely be safe to have the baby.  I WAS SO HAPPY!!  I was supposed to still take it easy, but I was okay to get off of bed rest. So, on the afternoon of November 16th, I took Melissa's to King's in Bountiful. We were having fun in the toy department when my water broke.  This of course was back in the days of no cell phones.  I grabbed Melissa and we made the 2 minute drive home.  I called Tim and he hurried home.  My labor had hit hard!  I started trying to call to find somewhere to take Melissa.  No one was home.  Finally my nephew Rich answered at their house.  Rich would have only been about 10 at the time.  I knew that my sister never left them for a long time so we decided to drop Melissa there to be tended by her 3 cousins.  I am feeling grateful for cell phones right now.  What I learned later was that the 3 boys had strep throat and Kathy had gone to the store to pick up their medicine.  What a place to leave your child!  We arrived at the University of Utah hospital and I was in a lot of pain.  As a side note,  my Dr. wanted me to deliver at the University hospital because at the time it was the only hospital that use surfactant which is a drug used if needed to help speed up the development of lungs in pre-mature babies. Tim could tell I was in a lot of pain and insistent he get a wheel chair for me.  I was so embarrassed, but thankful when I checked into the hospital and was told I was dilated to a 10 and that my baby had a full head of hair!  Needless to say, Sean was born VERY quickly, without my Dr. there and with a room full of people.  They asked me if it would be okay if about 6 interns observed and I even had a male nurse.    I was rushed into a room and things were done in such a hurry that I remember seeing the blinds open and I could see into the parking lot, but I was in too much pain to let anyone know to close the blinds...I just wanted to have my baby...NOW!! In short order, Sean was born.  I WAS SO HAPPY!!  That night the U of U was lit on the mountain.  I could NOT sleep for hours after he was born.  I have felt different and very strong emotions after each of our children were born.  With Sean it was pure JOY and HAPPINESS!!  I remember laying in bed and wanted to get out and dance around and sing "Let's go fly a kite".  True story.  After all of those weeks of watching Mary Poppins.  That was what came to my mind!!

Sean has been my favorite son!  He is great and both Melissa and Megan have accused me of thinking Sean is my favorite child. For the record, I love all of my children!! I am so grateful for him and for his life.  He truly is a gift to me from my Heavenly Father.

Sean has had great support in his life from his family.  This is a picture of Grandpa Alan and Grandma Bea after Sean was ordained a teacher.

Everyone that meets Sean says he looks like his dad.  Sean shares his middle name with his dad...Timothy!

Melissa adores Sean.  She is a very good big sister and they share many things in common!  She even gave birth to her first born that has blue eyes just like her brother :)  Sean had been the only blue eyed person in our family who I believe he got from his Grandpa Alan and his Grandma Phyllis. When Sean left on his mission, the Stake President called me after he left not to check on me, but to check on his sisters to see if they handled saying good-bye okay.
Megan and Sean have always shared a special relationship.  They are only 22 months apart and have really gone through life together.  They have been in the same EFY group without being planned, the same seminary classed without being planned, they have spent their college years together living across the parking lot from each other.
Best hug of my life.  Seeing Sean for the first time after TWO YEARS.

I love this picture.  Look at how they are standing together without even being asked to pose.

For the past several months this is what I see at my front door when Sean is home.  These are his work shoes.  Every day he walks in the front door and takes them off right there.  He has loved these shoes so much that they now have holes in the soles of the shoes.  As I walk past these shoes each day my heart feels tender knowing that in just a very short time, I will not see these shoes by the front door.  However, I know in my heart that it is time for Sean to move forward and move on.  I love Lindsey. Having Lindsey in Sean's life, just makes my life better. She is not just the girl of Sean's dream, she is the girl of my dreams for Sean.  So, on this special day, I wish a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Sean and I give my thanks to a very loving Heavenly Father for allowing me the privilege to be Sean's mom.  I love you Sean!!

October 2, 2012

Journal of our trip to Russia:  May 24 - June 5th, 2012!!

Leaving both Salt Lake International and JFK on our way to RUSSIA!!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The day had finally arrived!!  Even though it hadn't been too many months we had planned to go visit Megan and Aubree it felt so good to finally have that day here.  The weeks of preparation before, consisted of Tonya getting a passport, and us working out  how to get our visa’s into Russia.  A much more complicated process then we had anticipated.  We also had to figure out how to get an invitation into the country and figure out where we were going to stay.  Fortunately Tonya scored a fabulous Bed and Breakfast for us and we didn't know just how good we had it until we actually got there. We felt watched over by Heavenly Father every step of the process.

We had a great laugh when we showed up at the airport with black workout pants and pink shirts.  We had talked about traveling comfortably but hadn't talked about being twins.  It was especially funny since Megan and Aubree had done pretty much the same thing from their hats, boot and watches.  Tonya and I both had red luggage too.  Tim and Glade dropped us off at the airport and then looked pretty pathetic as we said goodbye.  We are both super lucky to have such amazing supportive husbands even though they would miss us, they were more than willing for us to have this adventure and share this time with our girls.  Our flight was rather uneventful with a layover in New York’s JFK.  We weren't there long before we boarded for Moscow.  We both took Tylenol pm to sleep but I seemed to have better luck at sleeping then Tonya did.  I felt like I was traveling with Tim in many ways and she said the same thing about me being like Glade.  I slept for 5 or 6 hours and I didn't really have any complaints about the travel there.  We arrived in Moscow around 10:00 on Friday morning May 25th.

Friday, May 25, 2012

 I woke about one hour before we landed.  Tonya had been up most of the night but as always she didn't complain and was in good spirits.  As I looked out of the window I was surprised and what a forest I saw.  IT WAS SO BEAUTIFUL!!  The forest was very dense and the pine trees appeared much larger then what we have in Utah too.  I could see parts of the city around the trees and we were both so excited.  Before long we landed at SVO International airport!!  The weather was somewhere in the 70’s and we had laughed together on the way over because Melissa had posted on Facebook that we couldn't fully appreciate Russia because we hadn't seen Russia thaw and bloom like they had.  I was feeling glad I hadn't been there to see the freeze.

We got off the plane and started to make our way to our luggage.  One of the first impressions I had was how difficult it was without any English signs and it didn't appear that anyone spoke English too.  We had to go through customs but it seemed super smooth and much easier than I thought it would be since it was quite a process to get our visa’s.  We probably looked like little kids trying to figure out where we were going.  We found out later that the girls could see us through glass windows as we worked our way to our luggage.  Fortunately both of our suitcases made it there!!  We talked to a girl who had lived in America and played in a softball team.  She was a beautiful Russia girl who did speak English and helped us a bit and even gave us her cell phone number in case we needed her help.  We then headed out the door to look for the girls.  The girls were right there holding signs that said MARSDEN & JONES.

It was great to see them and hug them both.  They both looked great and it was so nice to have them there to “take care” of us.  They grabbed our bags and wheeled them with us following closely behind.  Gulya had done a dry run through with them showing them where to pick us up and where to drop off our luggage.  We went to this building a little ways away and had to go down some stairs and then went to a luggage check in room.  Fortunately the girls knew what to do with their limited Russian language skills and their knowledge of the money system.   I don’t know how we could have done it without them.  It was a beautiful building and I remember a Russian Orthodox church with the familiar golden spires close by.

We then took a metro to a train station and again the girls worked up some sort of deal with a guy that was selling train tickets.  They were both pretty hungry since they hadn't had breakfast and had left to come get us early and traveled about 2 hours to meet us.  They ate the some of the food we had in our backpacks and then we got on the train to head out to their metro stop.  I believe it is called Moldosha.  The train took about one hour to get to their metro stop and we got off there.  It was fun to be there.  Megs had told me about going to the “mall” there just about every weekend.  I could see the KFC that she had talked about and Tonya said it reminded her of a mall in India.  We bought ice cream cones there.  It was delicious with layers of ice cream and kiwi sauce and caramel sauce in a waffle cone.  The girls were frequent visitors of the ice cream spot and it appeared that these American girls were known to the ice-cream vendor.  We also got money out of the ATM there so we would be ready to go.  I don’t think I used my credit card the entire time we were in Russia.  It felt like we were using monopoly money.  The exchange rate was was about 30 rubles to one dollar.  The girls had the system down well though.  We walked out to the bus and it was already there so we got on and had good seats and ate our cones.  It wasn't too long before the bus started to fill up.  We traveled about 30 minutes to where they live.  It could have even taken longer than that because we were caught in traffic a bit too.  It was fun to go along the streets and see the cars and people and take it all in.  The further we got out it looked like a Hansel and Gretel fairy-tale.

The huge trees and winding narrow roads and beautiful forests.  The girls told us when to get off and then we started to walk up the lane.  We did pass by the store that is sort of like their version of Costco and Megs pointed it out to me.  It reminded me a bit of England too.  As we started up the lane they pointed out the road the Putin lived down.  The lane was beautiful and so was their neighborhood.  They girls were supposed to teach that afternoon and it would be our one and only opportunity to go to their school and meet the children and the teachers and staff at the school.  We went straight to the school and put our backpacks in a closet and put on the shoe coverings and went upstairs.  We met some of the school staff that tried to communicate to us how much they cared about the girls.  One beautiful lady held her heart and smiled and pointed to the girls.  It didn't take long for us to see how beautiful the Russian people are.  It was a lot of fun to watch Megan teach.  She did a great job and she said that her class was exceptionally good for her that day.   The children were beautiful and it was fun to see and learn more about their school.  Both Tonya and I received pictures from children.  We were also able to meet Shelby and Chiara and that was great too.  I felt like I knew them because I had seen so many pictures of them and heard so many stories too.  But there is nothing like traveling with others to get to know them better.  We loved them instantly. After school we went to the cafeteria for dinner where we ate two squares of a mashed potato type casserole with shredded beef inside of it.  We also had sliced cucumbers and it was surprisingly good.  The girls said it was one of their better meals.  The portion size was tiny!  We then walked to the girl’s house.  This picture is the main house and they lived in the guest house.

  It was beautiful and I was so glad that they were able to be in such a great situation.  We went on a walk (Shelby stayed back to Skype with Jordan and figure out apartment plans) with them around their neighborhood.  There were amazing homes with beautiful foliage around and the lilacs were in full bloom and so much bigger than anything we see around here.  We talked to a guard at the gate and he tried to practice his English and the girls said he was always very nice to them.  We walked to this store where the girls stopped by buy butter and some chocolate.  The store looked like a  house in a neighborhood only the store was much smaller than the houses.  There was a charming park across the street.  The girls accidentally bought cheese instead of butter because it is tricky to read Russian and know what things are!!  We also got some chocolate and we were able to get the kind that I had read about with the girl and the scarf on their packaging.  We walked around the neighborhood as well and really enjoyed seeing the amazing houses and the large lilacs that smelled so fabulous.  The trees were so tall and it was a charming neighborhood.  We then headed back to the girls apartment and I waxed all four girls (the girls requested I bring my wax all the way to Russia) and we talked and the girls made pasta and painted fingernails and just hung out together.  Aubree and Megan gave up their beds for us and I slept great that night.  My memory is a little fuzzy but it seems to me that Megan got in bed with me in the wee hours of the morning because she was cold.  Just before the girls went to sleep Aubree noticed a bit of a rash on her skin.  They had gone to the Bonya the day before to celebrate Aubree’s 20th birthday.  Then Megan saw a bit of a rash too.  They stressed half the night that they had picked something up at the Bonya.  I don’t blame them, I would have been doing the same thing.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

 I was able to sleep well. Tonya woke up early in the morning.  The birds were singing outside of the window and I LOVED IT!!  The sun also came in shining warm into the room.  IT WAS BEAUTIFUL!!  I felt so happy and blessed to be there.  What a dream to be able to travel across the world to this beautiful country and to be with Megan and Tonya and Aubree and Shelby and Chiara.  I felt so grateful.  Megan and Aubree had bought grapefruit for our breakfast…so thoughtful!!  We had to hurry to meet the group at the Kremlin.  Yes, that is right, THE KREMLIN!!  Gulya had arranged for all of the groups to meet early to buy tickets at the Kremlin.  In retrospect, I don’t know how we could have managed things without the help of Gulya.  I very naively figured it would all work out for us.  Gulya along with the girls mapped out how they would care for us and our luggage and even figuring out how to get around Moscow.  I hadn't realized how much time it took for the girls to get into Moscow.  On Saturday morning we left their house and walked down through the beautiful wooded neighborhood to the bus stop.  The bus then took us to the metro and then we took a few transfers on the metro and in about one hour and then we were there.  We met up with the other groups and a few interns that were there that the girls had met at church.  The interns were guys that had served Russian speaking missions and were studying International Business.  We tried to figure out getting together with them later on in the week, but it never did work out.  Gulya was so good to take us around the Kremlin and explain Russian history etc… We spent most of our time in Cathedral Square and went into The Assumption Cathedral, Archangel’s and the Church of Laying our Ladies Holy Robe.  Of all that I saw I think I will remember the ceilings best and also learning about the cross for the Russian Orthodox Church. We also saw a parade of past military and horses marching through the Kremlin.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning.

We also took pictures at the Tsar’s Bell as we walked through Ivan Square.  It was such a fun morning.  We then went with Gulya to a mall to buy a sim card so we would be able to call and meet up with the girls.  We were sort of in a hurry to get things done because we wanted to get to the market.  The Izmailovsky is a market full of all sorts of Russian souvenirs crafts and other things to buy.  The girls had been there several times and Melissa lived pretty close to the Market and had talked a lot about it too.  Megan was anxious to finish up what shopping she had to do there so we did spend a lot of time shopping for what she needed to buy.  I had fun too, but sort of am wishing right now I could have had more time to shop there.  We did find other fun shopping so that made up for it.  I just like to look at everything before I buy.  I also have found I am so much more about the experiences when I travel, but it is nice to have something to remember about the trip too.  I was able to get some wooden Christmas Santa’s and we also had fun eating kebabs, at a random outdoor grill.  The strange thing about it was we sat at a table with complete strangers.  I was hungry and I had read that the market was famous for their kebabs so I wanted to try it out.  We all had some luck shopping and I did buy some perfume too and a few gifts for others as well.  We got some rings that matched too and I love picking up jewelry while traveling.  It make for fun memories for me too.  After the market we made our way back to where we left our luggage and then headed to find the Vanilla to check in.  We had a bit of trouble finding it at first even though the directions were pretty good (of course they are after you know where you are going).  We were happy to find things clean and in good order.  It’s a good thing Tonya and I are such good friends/family because we ended up having to share a bed.  That was the only surprise there but it was a great situation.  I was super grateful that Tonya and Glade and figured that out for us.  It had been a stress trying to figure out where we were going to stay.  Then, I really don’t know how this happened and how lucky we were, but somehow the girls had heard about a Chinese lantern festival in MOSCOW!!  I don’t even come close to having the writing skills to describe this amazing night.  The girls had met these local Russia guys, Moron and Nikoli.   They were two adorable guys that had become friends with the ILP group and had even traveled to Ukraine with them.  They were the ones that they had found out about this festival and invited us to join.  We made our way towards the part of Moscow it was in and walked for a long time!!  We finally made it there and also found other ILP teachers as well as some of the interns from earlier in the day.  We bought these really big Chinese lanterns and then sort of hung out at this park.  We were getting pretty hungry and decided to walk back and get something to eat.  The rest of the group stayed at the park while Tonya, Aubree and Megan and I walked.  We walked for quite awhile because we had seen a shawarma stand a ways back.  Tonya and I shared our first shawarma and Aubs and Megs had subway.  It was so yummy.  It tasted as authentic I remembered from Israel!!.  We then walked back and we were met by Shelby and one of the Russian guys that had started to worry about us and how long we were taking.  The amazing thing was that even though we were in the huge city, we just kept on meeting up with each other when we separated.  That seemed to happen a lot and easily.  I haven’t even begun to give enough credit to Heavenly Father here.  He was watching over us every step of the way.  We were so protected and watched over.  It seriously felt like we were in this protective bubble not only for our safety but also for our enjoyment.  Once we got to the park we had fun talking with locals and others that were just there.  There was some really fun park equipment that reminded me a ton of the little park equipment by our hotel in London when we went with Megan.  It was sort of like exercise play equipment.  We had fun playing on it.  By this time it was getting dusk (around 9:30 or 10:00 at night) and we started lighting the lanterns.  It was like magic watching the sky light up with Chinese lanterns floating up higher and higher and lighting the night sky with flames of light!  It was so beautiful!!  What a fabulous night and one that I will not forget.  So many nice people to talk to and be around!! It was a night that cannot be repeated.  What an experience.

Since the girls were going to be in Moscow so late and heading to church so early the next morning they had arranged to stay with Robyn and sleep in her floor.  I loved that about the girls.  They were so willing to do what they needed to do so they wouldn't miss out on an experience.  They left late and they were still so careful to watch out for us!  A couple of the girls from another group made sure we got off at the right place.

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

We both slept great Saturday night. We woke up and ate Muesli for breakfast.  It tasted good and we grabbed a few things to take to the girls to eat since we knew they had slept at Robyn’s.  They had explained how to get to the metro stop we needed to meet them at.  It was still sort of stressful, but we made it.  It was taking the girls quite a while to get there and there were so many people that we weren't quite positive where they were.  We climb up on a bench to see up over the crowd to look for the girls and we got in trouble by a Russian man.  We were coming to find out about the dignity the Russian people had.  It helped me to learn that the Russian people felt like a smile was aggressive behavior.  It was just one culture difference that helped a lot to understand.  We were able to call the girls and make sure we were at the right place and that was the only time we were able to use the sim card.  Somehow it ran out all of the way and we wouldn't be able to have communication with them through the cell phone.  Its interesting because a Russian National has to put the money on the sim card so we were out of luck.  Fortunately we were being watched over and all was well.  After meeting up with the girls, they took us on another one or two metro’s until we made it to another place to walk to church.  I’m just now remembering that even though the girls had slept at Robyn’s they still had to get up super early to go back to their home to get dressed for church.  They had already had a long day and it hadn't really even begun for us.  We walked into church and it felt like we walked back into America.  Everyone was speaking English and there was a familiar picture of Jesus on the wall just as we entered.  The chapel had chairs not benches, but it had the same feeling of home.  A black gentleman received the gift of the Holy Ghost and he had a smile that lit up the room.  The meetings were great and we met in the Relief Society room for both Sunday School and Relief Society.    After Sunday School we had stayed for Institute.  Brother and Sister Neagley were on a mission in Moscow.  They were from St. George and Brother Neagley was an institute teacher at Dixie.  They had been very good to the girls throughout their time in Moscow.  They were wonderful.  He gave one final lesson and it was GREAT!!  I t was super interesting to hear having just had Tim called to be a YSA Bishop.  Tonya took great notes that she shared with me here….

Stayed for institute.  
Institute sang "God be with you till we meet again"...tears were shed.

Lesson on relationships by brother Neagley  email:

Head and heart together then hormones.  They are all good.  If hormones are in control, its bad.  

Affection vs. passion   affection before marriage, passion after.  They are both good at the right time.

Passionate kiss not until engagement.  You should not kiss and have an erection. commitment
Potential....explore a commitment
Steady...make a commitment
Courtship...finalize the commitment

1.  Each is responsible for own feelings and actions
2.  Go through the process together
3.  Know where the other person is
Never be more than one step ahead of the other person.  

12 things to ask during courtship:

1.  Do you have a criminal record
2.  Do I have any physical or mental problems?
3.  Has he been involved in pornography?
4.  Any past moral issues?

If you go through this list together you will have a successful marriage.  

Age 16-20 need about 20 casual relationships.  4-6 potential.  2-3  steady
1-2 courtships, 1 engagement.

You are entitled to a personal answer from heavenly father as to who you are to marry.  You BOTH need to get the same answer.  You should feel the spirit and be at peace with the answer.

What is the purpose of passionate kiss?  To arouse passion!  
Its ok to hold hands, hug (vertically), good night kiss (if there is potential)
Making out?  Engaged Petting?  Not before marriage.

It’s possible to go from affection to passion in one kiss.  

Wait, wait, wait, wait, go.  Not no, no, no, go.

Once engaged have a weekly meeting with dad or bishop..ask how are you?  Where is the passion?

Learn from the past, prepare for future, live in present.  Repentance! Satan wants you to live in and focus on past.  Forsake it and move on.

Life is to be lived a day at a time.
You must discuss with them what your goals are, what you are and then ask them who they are and where they want to go. They must have the same potential and goals as you have.

Everyone was sad to leave.  Tears.

The Neagley’s had brought food to share with everyone.  It was nice to visit and our two Russia friends were there investigating as well.  It was a great feeling and pictures were taken.

After church we made our way to Arbat Street.  It was a blast!!  I had no idea that Tonya and I would end up visiting Arbat Street  so many times after as well.  We had fun walking around with the girls and we ended up meeting Jordan from ILP as well as a brother from the ward.  Unfortunately we had to witness the racism that goes on in Russia against black people.  It was sad to watch and really and truly unbelievable as someone stopped to take pictures as though he was an animal not a person.  Very sad.  We then said goodbye to the girls and they headed back to their place.  They were good to write down very specific directions for us how to get back, how to get around and how to meet them on Wed.  We were on our own for both Monday and Tuesday.  I was a little nervous to figure out the metro, but I figured between the two of us we would get it figured out.  I’m pretty sure the girls were a bit nervous for us too, but knew we would get things figured out too.  We actually got a little turned around on the metro when we got off and we were pretty much lost.  We started walking looking for our McDonald’s by our B & B and we walked up to a guy and asked if he spoke English.  He did but he had just been in Moscow one day and didn't really know where he was going either.  He was super nice though and walked around with us.  He was from Philadelphia and was living in Spain.  He was in Moscow on business as an Urban Developer.  He was a great guy.  We ended up walking all around the block when we noticed our McDonald’s and could see what we had done.  We had just basically  come out of the metro in the wrong spot.  We continued to feel so blessed that Heavenly Father was constantly watching out for us!  I had been a great day!! I forgot to mention that even though our friend from Philly didn't know how to get us back  he told us a really great way to get to Red Square from our B & B.  We didn't realize that Red Square was pretty much a straight 10 minute walk from where we were staying.

Monday, May 28th, 2012

We were so happy our B & B ended up being so close to everything.  We decided we would walk to Red Square so we didn't have to ride on the metro.  We first went to the Armory.  We made perfect time and knew we had so much we wanted to get into that day so we better hurry.  We bought out tickets for the Armory ($23) and walked right in.  There were amazing exhibits!!  Megan had told me that we would love the Armory and we did.  We took about two hours to go through even though we could have taken longer there was just so much to do.  We saw clothing, jewelry, carriages and the largest silver collection in the world.  There were also thrones, horse attire, armor, crowns, gold plates and they were all beautiful.  We also listened to an audio tour.  One thing that was frustrating is that in Moscow it was a real disadvantage not to speak Russian.  The displays were in Russia and even though we did have an audio tour, it would have been nice to have a private English speaking tour guide.  We did hear an English speaking guide that a group of dwarfs pulled the children carriages.  Two things that really stood out to us was seeing Peter the Greats boots.  They were HUGE.  The boots resembled what could have been long pants for our short legs.  It was amazing to see Catherine the Great’s coronation dress.  It was amazing and she had such a tiny waist!!  We wanted to stay longer, but we needed to race to the Bolshoi theater to try to get tickets to go on a tour of a dress rehearsal.  We didn't exactly know where we were going but headed in the direction of Red Square.  The Armory is in the Kremlin.  As we were passing through the front of where Red Square is we got stopped by a lion wanting to take pics with us.

 He was very persistent and at first seemed fun, but soon turned obnoxious as he wanted money for us having the privilege of taking pictures with him.  He even picked me right up.  We walked away and he tried to get us to pay him 100 rubles ($3).  We were super surprised to see the Bolshoi Theater so amazingly close to Red Square.  It was basically across the street from the corner of Red Square.  It was interesting crossing several lanes of traffic to get on the other side.  I’m sure we looked like major tourists who didn't really know what they were doing.
Once we were inside the beautiful Bolshoi (I found out the Bolshoi means big... SHELBY)  a very classy gentleman was there to help us.  He was not in a ticket booth, but obviously worked there.  He politely explained to us that people start standing in line two hours before they even open because they only have 15 tickets to sale a day.  All of the tickets were gone for the day.  We took a few pictures outside of the beautiful Bolshoi and headed back to the Kremlin for the diamond exhibit.

 On our way back we stopped and looked at the shops that were set up outside of Red Square.  We tasted some honey that they were sampling and Tonya bought some pine nuts that were really yummy!  We made it back to the diamond exhibit and it was amazing.  I cost about $10.00 to get in and we met a lady from Seattle that was traveling on her own and would met up with a tour group later for St. Petersburg.  She was saying how frustrating it’s been in Russia because no one speaks English and she can't read the signs.  Also how expensive it is.  When she left I said “is it really expensive?"  Tonya replied that I had no idea.  It's all monopoly money.  Time and money mean nothing here.  When we got into the exhibit they sent us back to the coat room to drop off or cameras and umbrellas.  We went back up and Tonya went in and they sent me back because I  had my phone.  Tonya tried to go with and they wouldn't let her.  Tonya  joked with me that they couldn't separate us because she was my woman (this gentleman said that to the guard right in front of us as we were going in and they stopped him from going in with his wife)  We saw the most amazing crown of silver and emerald.  Beautiful!! There were thousands of diamonds – loose and mounted.  The largest was 200 carats.  Gigantic sapphires and emeralds.

We were amazed at the number of guards and soldiers everywhere!  Constantly see them walking down the street.

Next we went to Christ’s church. We had a hard time crossing the road, but went down a different road and under a bridge and ended up in the correct place.  We bought a candle for 20 rubles so we could light and put in the holder.  Beautiful!  We were in the basement and heard angels singing.  We hurried upstairs and there was a group singing.  Their voices filled the gigantic building.  Closed my eyes and felt the music in my bones.  Singing in Latin I think. They sung deep bass to high tenor.  Wow!

Next we went to Arbat street.  So easy to find!  We shared borscht soup and  this sweet girl heard us talking and asked if we needed help with anything.  We said no.  Then went outside to eat.  When we were finishing up she came out to double check if we needed anything.  She told us where to go for shawarma , and blini, and what kind. She was so helpful!  She taught English at the university and translated.  We took her advice and found the street for the shawarma.   We shared a shawarma.   Then went to another restaurant for chocolate banana blini. They were both yummy!!  Next we  found a wonderful store with a wonderful employee.  We bought Christmas Matryoshka dolls and a pendant for a necklace made of amber.  We got 70% off of it all.  Next we went back to the blini place and shared sweetened condensed milk blini.  All of our food desires in Russia were filled today!

It was then time to head home.  We got to the bed and breakfast about 10:30 and had to head to the grocery store close by for more money.  We Skyped Glade, Tim, and Melissa.  We were on such a high we found out later we were keeping up some of the people in the B & B.  It was a father and son from South Africa.  They were really great about it though! What an amazing day!

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

We were awoken at 6:30 am by Aubree calling to check on us since we hadn't had contact for a while:-)   Why worry about us?    We luckily fell back asleep and got up around 9:30.  We were sooooo exhausted.  Between walking probably about 8 miles on Monday and jet lag, we needed to sleep!!

We had breakfast of muesli and spoke to a gal who is Russian and the two gentlemen from South Africa.  We got directions from them for the boat ride.  We took the metro and made it!  At least to somewhere.  We weren't sure where to go.  Didn't know the name of where we were going, etc. We asked a cute lady for directions.  She spoke Russian but called several people over and asked them to help.  After we said thank you and she yelled after telling us her name was Emma.  We started walking and stopped to ask a vendor where to go.  He pointed; we walked, and came to the river.  We looked over and there were the boat docks.  We continued to be blown away how were being looked over.  It was really amazing!!
We bought a ticket, not knowing exactly what we were buying. What boat, how long, etc.  We boarded a boat, and it soon left the dock.  What beautiful sites we saw.  This was the same river they show in all of the movies!  The trees lined the side.  We saw the Kremlin and St. Basil's.  It started to pour on us so we went in under the cover for a bit.  Once it stopped we were back out.  We decided to get off at one of the stops that was close to the Kremlin.  We noted later that week that we had gone by Gorky park because we recognized different stops from the river trip.  It was very beautiful!!

Next, we wanted to catch the metro to Victory Park.  Crossing the street to get to the metro stop was crazy.  The cross walk was perpendicular to the 4 lane road in front of us.  The crosswalk went straight up the middle to a spot in between the two.  So we ran to that and had to stand in the middle of the road while both sides of traffic were speeding past us.  We made it:-)   I've never seen anything quite like that before.
We asked a guy for directions and he said he was getting off at the same stop.  We talked to him for a bit and while I was talking to him another guy came over and said that he heard us speaking English and wanted to see if we needed help.  Tonya talked for a while to the other guy and we both were trying to decide if we were nervous or not with both of them hanging by us.  They were both very helpful.
We arrived at the Victory park station and left the guys.  We followed some guys in white that we heard talking in English about Victory park.  Very gloomy and rainy weather.  Got inside.  Lots of school kids.  Crystals hanging from ceiling represent those who died in war.  Had to go to the bathroom.  Died when we saw they were squatters.  I used handicapped stall because it had a seat.  The smell awful!  Realized they put used toilet paper in trash cans located in each stall, not the toilet! It was pretty gross.

We left and stopped at a vendor for corn on the cob and I got a peach drink.  It was 80 rubles for the corn.  She laughed when I put two 50 pieces in her hand.  It was then I realized that they do have small coins.

I fed a bird some corn and it loved us, even posed for a picture.

Next we went to another church.  Very pretty.  Even had birds in it.

We headed to the folk dance. We had no idea where to go once we got off the metro stop.  We asked a lady if she could help...charades is wonderful. She looked at out tickets, got out her phone and Google it.  She showed us the map on her phone.  Such a sweetheart.  Found where to go, then went to find food.  Found a place and ordered caprese salads.  Hurried back to the show.  Amazing!  Theater was huge!  Lady next to us kept yelling "bravo!"  There was at least one or maybe even two theaters beneath ours-we had great seats. The show was incredible and they looked like they were floating and the floor appeared to be moving but it wasn't.

The costumes were amazing and the men did not disappoint with their amazing Russian kicks and dancing. There were lots of children and women and quite a few men and we saw a Russian orthodox priest too. After the show we left commented on all the people smoking and made our way to the metro. We got turned around in the metro on our way home but we were lucky enough to pass an amazing violinist three times trying to find our way out, we went back to the Vanilla around ten so that we could Skype with the girls and make the plan when to meet the girls. Megan had sent an email with directions and we Skyped with the guys and then went to bed.

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

We woke up got ready and met the girls. On our way to meet them we got caught in rush hour. We could not believe the crowded metro. As quickly as it filled up and got off a new wave a people would come. When we were almost to our stop an announcement came on the intercom in Russian and of course we didn't understand but everyone else did and they got off.  We followed and waited not really knowing what was going on. After a few minutes we were on our way.  We were feeling like we were getting the metro down after riding it a lot on Tuesday.  We were happy to meet up with the girls at the designated metro stop and they took us to Gorky park from there.  It was a little bit of a walk from the metro stop over a huge bridge.  I was glad the girls knew where they were going.  They had been there just a few weeks earlier.  We found a place to rent bikes and the people who we rented them from were super nice.  We noticed that throughout Russia safety was NOT a huge priority.  No helmets were required and off we went.  The girls had to leave by 12:30 to get back to teach. We had such a wonderful time.  The park is beautiful.  Similar to central park.  We rode the bicycles around for an hour singing songs from the "Sound of Music".  There was a beautiful fountain in the middle of the park that had the music of Rachmaninoff.   It was very beautiful and memorable.  When our hour was up a found a Subway to eat at in the park so that the girls could eat before going back.  We walked the girls back to the metro so they could leave, and we went to Arbat street to get a shawarma.  We split another shawarma and ate outside along the sidewalk.  Again we noted the lack of OSHA as we watched window washers dangle of high up above washing windows.  We had heard that the Pushkin was quite a famous art museum in Moscow.  It was hard to determine which museum exactly to go to.  There were a couple of Pushkin museums.   We remembered that we passed by one Pushkin that was over by Christ’s Church.  It was strange how familiar things started to look to us.  We were starting to recognize several different landmarks that we passed by along the Kremlin.  It was awesome because it seemed like Tonya remembered some and I remembered others and we were able to help each other out in finding what we needed to find.  We walked over to the Pushkin museum and enjoyed just walking the streets of Moscow.  We found the Pushkin museum to have a lot of beautiful art and we could have spent more time there if we wanted to.  We still had more we wanted to do in Moscow and we knew we just had about 24 hours left to go before we were to go up and meet the girls to catch the train to St. Pete.  We headed back up the street to Red Square.

This is a Russian Orthodox Priest just inside the gates of Red Square hoping to get some money.

We still needed wanted to check out the Gum Mall and still have plenty of time to spend at Red Square.  We still needed to tour St. Basil s and to see Lenin’s tomb.  We had decided to save time on Thursday morning to go to Lenin’s tomb so we didn't have to wait in a long line.  We knew we didn't have a ton of time left in  to tour St. Basil's so we hurried there first.  It was really different then I thought it would be inside.  Of course St. Basil's seems to be the very icon of Russia.  It is quite small and is made up of several different churches inside of a church.  It is painted everywhere!!  It is a bit of a maze inside and hard to make sense of the building.  It was fun to listen to some men sing inside of St. Basil's   They sounded great.  We also walked all around St. Basil's   I was glad that I felt like we were able to see it up close 3 different times and went inside once.  It is something I will not easily forget.  We then walked over to Gum and went inside the mall.  I was expecting it to be a bit more like Harrods and it was in a way, but instead of one huge store like Harrods’s it is a mall of several different high end stores and shopping.

 It was beautiful and we enjoyed going to the different levels and I really enjoyed going into a grocery store type place where we even found green Tabasco   Had we known the girls would have been set.  We sat down inside for a bit and our feet were feeling all of the walking we had been doing for the past several days.  On our way out of the mall we ran into our first drunk man who tried to talk with us.  We decided to head back to Arbat street where we checked out new Arbat and we ate at My My with the black and white Holstein cow out front.  This time the we went upstairs and just sat and enjoyed our Borscht.  It was enjoyable to just sit and talk and talk about our day.  We also walked down a ways to get another bilini.  When in Moscow you know… It was a fun night walking along and looking at the fountains too.  My memory is not sure if this is the night we also took more pictures in front of St. Basil’s we did a couple of different times.  I know one day we attempted some jumping pictures in front of St. Basil's    We made our way back to the Vanilla and knew we had to figure out how to wash some clothes and get ready to pack to meet the girls on Thursday.   We tried to get a hold of the owner of the Vanilla but we couldn't find him anywhere.  We asked another guest and they tried to help us get some laundry started, but it just washed things and left everything really really wet!!  It was sort of a mess, but we tried to dry things and we just ended up doing what was essential and even at that things weren't dry in the morning.  We spent the evening trying to pack and get ready and we Skyped and talked to the girls too.

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

We still had more to pack and to do and we asked the guy at the Vanilla if we could still leave our things there so we could go out but not have to take everything with us.  He was nice and told us if we had our suitcases all packed up he would let us leave them there.  We headed to Lenin’s tomb.  It was all done very professionally and we had to check in our cameras and bags.  We were told not to talk or draw attention to ourselves or there could be problems with getting arrested.  There wasn't much of a line that we had to deal with and it didn't take a lot of time to do.  The girls had warned us about the smell so I think I was most concerned about holding my breath than anything else.  It felt like we were pretty much in and out and he was smaller than I pictured he would be.  Sort of a weird experience but as Melissa told me, "You can't go to Moscow and not see it".  You cannot take any bags in with you (except a small handbag) and you are not allowed to take in a camera. There is a kiosk where you leave your bag and get a plastic number for collection (no fee). It is pretty dark when moving from bright sunlight to the darkness. Then you are directed around Lenin. You are not allowed to stop, if you do so, the guards click their fingers at you to make you move on. It is all over in a flash.  Strange but worth seeing.  It is rumored that Lenin will be moved so I’m glad we did it. There is a separate queue back at the kiosk on the left hand side to collect your bag again which makes it efficient.   We took more pictures around Red Square and then walked back to Arbat street and this time we both got a full shawarma.  I think that was when we both felt like we had finally had our feel of shawarma while in Russia.  It was pretty funny because we basically figured that we had seen everything we had set out to do in Moscow but we didn't want to miss out on anything too.  We decided to walk the streets a bit after we ate and we were walking past the Russian State Library and we decided to go in.  We had actually passed the library about 4 times in our walks along the streets of Moscow.  It has an impressive status outside of the library that had caught my eye each time we passed.  It was also very large building.  It was probably the most random thing we did with our time in Moscow and I doubt many tourists have done it.  It was totally different then I thought it would be.  Tonya was a super good sport about it even though she probably thought I was crazy!!  Having gone to the British Library I was sort of expecting a similar experience.  It was NOT!  First of all, it was definitely the most security we have been through in Russia.  We had to show our passport our invitation and fill out pages of information of ourselves.  Then we had to go through a full body scan thing as well.  I looked online about the library after we came home only to find it is the 3rd largest library in collection of books in the world!!  The thing that surprised us was the old fashion catalog cards.  Rows and rows of them.  It was THE most unique library I had ever seen.  We were dying to get pictures inside and Tonya did get some.  We made our way up to the top floor and found this amazing study room.  It was large with old fashion wooden desks and individual lamps.  On one wall of the top floor of the room it was totally windows. We walked over to the windows and could see it overlooked the Kremlin!!  It was a tremendous view of Moscow.  I hope I never forget that view in my mind.  I could picture a winter down being inside a warm library overlooking a frozen Moscow.  It was a really fun memory and Tonya and I have laughed about it since.  After the library we headed back to the Vanilla to pick up our suitcases so that we could meet up with the girls.  It was going to be tricky and a little difficult to be on our own with our luggage and making our way to the girls.  By this time we were feeling pretty confident with our abilities to make our way on the metro.  We followed the instructions the girls had given us and made it to Moldoshia (spelling ?).  We got out with our suitcases and backpacks that were packed and ready to live out of for almost 4 days.  The plan was to meet the girls and then drop off our luggage at Robyn’s apartment.  We got out of the metro to walk over to the mall where we had been before and NOTHING looked familiar.  I was sure we were at the right metro, but I was starting to really doubt myself when we couldn't see a mall there.  We walked around for a bit and then decided to go back into the metro and walk out the other way.  I know it sounds crazy, but it can make all of the difference in the world getting out on the right side.  Fortunately we recognized where we were.  We were at the right place.  We were there a bit early and decided to sit and wait and Tonya took the time to update the journal and I had an ice-cream.  I don’t  think Tonya got one but I’m not sure.  We were back at the place we had started the week earlier.  Tonya waited with the suitcases while I went looking for a place to wait.  I found a place in a bottom corner downstairs and we sat on some steps.  Not too much time passed until some mall security guys told us to move.  Of course we couldn't speak Russian but we knew what they were talking about.  They did help us move to a little cafe place in the mall and we sat at the table there.  We were getting close to when the girls were to meet us and so we went back up to the ice-cream place and they came.  They had smiles and tears as they had said goodbye to their kids.  They had smiles because they had been treated so well and Megan came up with a bottle of Vodka that they had been given by their bus driver.  They had all received some nice gifts from the school, the guard, bus driver, teachers, and others.  It was a good experience.  They looked adorable and ready to travel to St. Pete.  They also had their big backpacks ready to travel.

 Time was running short!!  We had to catch our train.  We still needed to go to subway, drop off our luggage and made our way to the train station.  We had to wait and meet up with Guyla too.  She was running a bit behind.  She had gone to one of the schools to try to go to their program.  She had gifts for the girls too.  She was so kind and had done so much for the girls.  I don’t know if the girls can fully appreciate the important roll that Guyla had in making things happen for them and for us.  We said our goodbyes to Guyla and headed to Robyn’s house to drop off our luggage.  It wasn't too far from the metro, but far enough that our luggage was difficult to drag along  with a super heavy backpack that was packed for four days of travel.  It was so cool though.  It kind of made me feel like I was 20 again backpacking through Europe on an adventure.

Robyn’s place was more typical “Soviet Union” apartment complex than where our girls had lived.  It was old, run down and one of the elevators had a small capacity for weight and the other was a little larger.  We hurried up and dropped our things off and then headed back to buy subway and get out the sleeper train. We had to take another metro stop or two and tried to meet up with some of the other ILP people and we were off.  We were all hungry  We knew we were running late, but thankfully one of our Russia guy friends Nikoli showed up to help us get on the train.  Thinking back it was sort of a Dr. Zhivago moment of trying to catch the train with the Russian military around checking our papers, tickets etc…I kissed the Russian boy that came to help us.  We were in a super big hurry to get on the train and we were stressed making sure we got on the right car etc.  The train was sort of a rush for me.  Totally out of the ordinary of any traveling I had done since Israel and even that it was still different.  The train was a bit better then I had anticipated.  It was so nice to be with our girls and each other.  A drunk Russian tried to befriend us and I didn't have a good feeling about it.  Tim has pretty much had to teach me over the years not to befriend people while drunk.  A good rule of thumb.  The girls had the system down and helped us with everything.  The only part about the train that was difficult for me was the bathroom!!  It was gross.  The hold opened to the outside and yes, it didn't smell good either.  My stomach just turned over writing about it.  Poor Tonya froze on the train until she got up during the night to go to the bathroom and realized there were blankets.  We had also packed our sheet that I ended up being grateful for!  They gave bedding, but how could you be sure if it had been washed…I’m sure the wool blankets hadn't been either.  It was just nice to know we were sleeping with our own sheets.  We loved eating our Subway and it tasted so good!!  Both Tonya and I were sure we had lost weight!  Our pants were getting loose and we hadn't eaten like one usually would on a trip.  But hey, who can complain about losing weight.  I slept pretty well all things considering.  I’m really lucky that way that I can sleep!!

Friday, June 1st 2012

We arrived in St. Petersburg and hung out for a bit at the train station.  We played cards and went to this bathroom in the train station that we had to show our train ticket to get in and out of.  We tried to freshen up a bit too.  We headed down the street to find our hostel.  It was pretty miraculous that Tonya spotted our hostel.  I wish I had a picture of it, maybe Tonya does of this tiny little sign marking our hostel. The reason we were delayed a bit is that they had over booked our hostel and so we had to first go to the hostel and hang out a bit to figure things out.  We ended up eating breakfast there and poor Shelby had an allergic reaction to the cereal.  We were trying to get some more sleep there but poor Shelby was having her throat being restricted and she had hives.  She thought it was raisins in the cereal but they were cranberries.  She drank a bunch of water and we had a prayer and she got better pretty quickly.  They let us leave our backpacks there and we headed off to site see. It was easy to fall in love with St. Pete quickly.  It is very beautiful!!  It is called the Venus of the North.
 There is a beautiful canal that runs through the middle of it.

 Sarah Swain from one of the ILP groups had lived the year before during another ILP in St. Pete.  She had given Shelby a list of must sees in St. Pete.  We first stopped and met up with some other people in a group at a gorgeous church.  I wish I could remember the name of it, but it was quite different from what we had seen in Moscow.  It had beautiful pillars outside and beautiful foliage in front!  It was beautiful inside as well.  I LOVED IT.  We next walked down the canal street next to the canal and stopped for pictures on our way to The Church of Our Saviors on the Spilt Blood.  It was similar to St. Basil’s on the outside, but a softer look to it.  The architecture was just a little bit the same.  It was way different on the inside though.  It was fun going inside and seeing the difference.  I’m glad we did.  We then did a bit of shopping at the market that was close  by and started to check out prices for a canal  ride down the Neva River.  We were glad we checked out the prices and found a much better deal a little ways down the canal.  We then took a one hour canal ride.  It was stunning!!  It was one of the main times I really wished I could speak Russian as our tour was in Russian and I was frustrated not being able to understand what I was seeing.  It was super beautiful though and we all loved it.  We then met up with the group at a cheep hamburger joint.  Yes, that is right.  The girls loved cheep and the loved finding familiar American food.  It was most important to be with them so that is what we did too.  The ordering was funny and the lettuce on the hamburger was super tiny and I tried to ask for more lettuce, but the communication was just NOT there.  After lunch we made our way to the Hermitage.

 The funny thing is that it was just after lunch and we had already gotten so much done. The  next stop was one of my main priorities.  The Hermitage!!  Don Lampson had sent a Facebook message to me as he has gone to Russia the year earlier.  He told me NOT to miss the Hermitage.  It was more than I could imagine.  It was like the Louvre,  the British Museum and The Vanderbilt house all in one.  It exceeded my  expectations.  BIG TIME.  I really could spend an afternoon there once a week throughout a year and enjoy myself.  The collection of the State Hermitage includes more than three million works of art and artifacts of the world culture. Among them are paintings, graphic works, sculptures and works of applied art, archaeological finds and numismatic material.
The main architectural ensemble of the Hermitage situated in the center of St Petersburg consists of the Winter Palace, the former state residence of the Russian emperors, the buildings of the Small, Old (Great) and New Hermitages, the Hermitage Theatre and the Auxiliary House. The whole area was massive.  We took some fun jumping pictures right out front of the Heritage itself.  I LOVED IT!!  After the Hermitage we made out way back to pick up our things from our hostel and look for our new hostel.  We had a bit of a problem finding our new one, but once we found it we were extremely pleased.  It was awesome!!  The girls teased and said it was like taking the “s” out of hostel and making it a hotel.  It really was.

  We were the first guest ever to stay there so they were hurrying to get the bathrooms finished and we had brand new bedding from IKEA.  It was awesome.  We fixed up our beds with our duvet covers and bedding and we walked to a grocery store that was close by and we had some fun shopping and buying food for a picnic for the next do to Peterhoft.  I can’t remember what we did for food that night.  I’m thinking we just ate from the grocery store but I can’t remember for sure.  It was fun shopping around at the store.  Actually now that I think about it, I think Shelby and Chiara went and got McDonald's for everyone.  I don’t think I ate.  Back at the hostel and group of school children from another area of Russia were there on a school visit.  They were really cute and fun to talk to.  Aubs and Chiara and Tonya spent the evening with them.  I talked with Shelby and Megs and my phone was working so I sent off some messages and took a shower.  The showers were really nice too.  It was so great to get clean because we pretty much didn't think we could do that.  Then off to bed.  We all got to sleep together in the same room.

Saturday June 2nd, 2012

IT RAINED TODAY!!  What a fun memories this day was.  We slept in a bit and got ready.  We had gathered our picnic stuff together….bread, cheese, fruit, chocolate and water and distributed them in different backpacks.  We were meeting the other groups to figure out how to get to Peterhoft since Sarah knew.  We caught a small bus and headed out towards the coast to Peterhoft.  It was about a 45 minute drive.  It was starting to drizzle a bit on the bus drive and when we first got there we had fun taking pictures on the amazing grounds of Peterhoft.  There was this beautiful leaf covered area that extended down a long walk way to the Palace.  It was beautiful!!  We tried more jumping pictures and then left because a bridal party was coming in.  Below is a bit of information about Peterhof

Everybody knows a lot about Versailles in France, but have you ever heard of the Russian Versailles? It is no less famous and even more fantastic. The place is known as Peterhof (modern name is Petrodvorets) and it was founded as early as 1714 by Peter the Great. Peter saw Versailles when he traveled to France and was quite impressed. But he conceived his own fountain complex on a much grander scale. As I have already mentioned, the Northern War with Sweden was going on from 1700 till 1721. In 1709 there was a decisive battle near Poltava in Ukraine which was our brilliant victory and the turning point of the whole war. Peter wanted to commemorate this victory for ages and ages and he dedicated the whole complex of Peterhof to the victory over Karl XII. A lot of talented architects were working in Peterhof (which means "Peter's court" in Dutch). They created a magnificent ensemble that includes several palaces and three parks. The main attraction in Peterhof is its beautiful Lower Park with 150 fountains and four cascades. The main and the most amazing cascade called the Great Cascade is situated in front of the Great Imperial Palace which was the gala summer imperial residence for 200 years - from 1714 up until the October Revolution when the whole estate was nationalized by a special decree issued by Vladimir Lenin.
The Great Cascade consists of several fountains. The central and the most luxuriant one is "Samson, tearing apart the jaws of the lion". The whole composition of the fountain complex is devoted to the victory over Sweden. Samson symbolizes Russia defeating Sweden - the lion. The Great Cascade is decorated with gilded statues of ancient Greek and Roman gods and heroes, which all are allegories of different events of the Northern War. When the sun is shining, visitors are astonished at the site of the Great Cascade with its gilded figures glistening in the sun, springs of sparkling water and the whole glamour that is felt in everything. This you will not be able to find anywhere in the world, not even in Versailles.

It was really amazing!!  We decided not to tour inside but spend the time we had on the grounds.  It was INCREDIBLE!!  Once we got into the grounds it started to rain.  It poured.  It was spectacular.  Our clothes were wet to the skin and I worried about Chiara with her sandals and red cold feet.  We looked over the upper fountains for a bit and just writing about all of this makes me want to go back. We found this marble arch way below the steps of the fountains and went under for cover and for our picnic.  We ate sitting on the ground and it was so much fun.  We took some fun pictures there too.  We then walked along the cascades and long stretch of beautiful grounds towards the ocean.  We could see Finland across the ocean and thought it was pretty cool.  We kept taking more pictures and couldn't get enough.  The rain made everything a brilliant green…as if it wasn't enough…really.  We used some random out houses at the end and headed back along the way talking and picture taking. I LOVED PETERHOF.

 We then caught a bus again but this time there weren't any seats in the back and I had to sit up front with the driver and a random girl.  When we got off the bus I asked the others why they never asked for my money.  My bad…they had, I just didn't know or understand I just rode up front.  We headed back to the hostel and spent the afternoon resting and slept a little and Megs and I walked up to the grocery store for a bit to and sat and ate a pastry together.  We then just stayed in and talked because we were leaving at midnight to go see the “White lights” and the raising of the bridge in St. Pete.  It was fun talking and hearing so many stories of the girls adventures and I will never forget hearing about the guys on the bus that were negotiating on the phone about the girls.  Also, I laughed so hard when Chiara did her scared chi Wawa.  They are great and I love those girls.  We were lucky enough to be in St. Pete during the short time of “white nights” when it never really goes dark.  It was dark from about 1:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. and so we felt super lucky.  It was a fun night walking the streets seeing the bridge raise and being with crowds of people.  We walked quite a bit too.  We  saw someone crash on their motorcycle and then get up and ride away and we stopped by McDonald's on the way home.  We ended our night at 2:30 or 3:00 a.m and then went to sleep.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

We ended up having two birthday girls with us.  It was Shelby’s birthday on the 3rd and Chiara’s on the 6th.  We slept in and talked to some interesting people at the hostel again.  We showered and got ready and packed up our things, but still asked if we could leave our backpacks while we had the day site seeing.   We had wanted to see where Anastasia was buried.  It was inside an interesting compound of buildings that was frankly confusion to make sense of for us.  Even though there was a lot more English in St. Petersburg it was still hard to make sense of things at times.  We went in and saw the graves of many famous Russian Tsars.  We talked about the Disney version of Anastasia Romanova and also Rasputin.  I liked Disney’s version a lot better.  It just made me want to be better at my Russian history for sure.  One of these days I am going to dig in and do some research!!  We also went to a prison that was in the compound and walked around a bit more too.  We ended up eating lunch at the same hamburger place we had eaten at earlier and walked the streets of St. Pete.  The girls were just content to hang a bit.  I would have liked to do more, but I was happy to be with them too.  We walked through a couple of really cool parks and along the canal like we had been able to do at 1:00 that morning.  We didn't want to miss out on some birthday blini so we found a favorite place and went in and ate.  Tonya and I didn't want to have to get more money out so we were combining all of our resources to buy and share blini.  The girls were always so gracious with us!!  It was a really fun memory.  We need to go back to our hostel to pick up our things and again go to subway and get back on the train.  The metro stations were quite modern in St. Pete and they didn’t have the beauty of the Moscow metro stations either.  The girls were quite protective of loving “their Moscow” and I don’t blame them.  St. Pete was such a different kind of beauty, but both were fabulous.  I’m so glad we were able to do both!! We made it back to the train station and we were a little stressed because Tonya’s ticket had been torn in half and even though she had the ticket, it wasn't connected.  There was this very stern “witchy” really lady that gave Tonya a hard time and it gave us a bit of a scare.  But in the end we got back on the train feeling a bit more expert at overnight train rides.  We ate our subway and ate a delicious bit of Russian Kit Kat bar that we had fallen in love with too.  We slept okay on the train and if I am remembering correctly the bathroom was even worse on this train.  I failed to mention that both times we woke up in both cities the Russian women were up early doing their makeup and things were quite dignified about them.  They were good to fold their bedding up and make things really nice around them.  We were disappointed in a few of the ILP girls who didn't seem to have that same respect.  Thankfully we kept on saying how great our 4 girls were in respect and every other way too.   Once we arrived in Moscow we had to wait at the train station there for the Metro to open.

Monday June 4th, 2012

While we were waiting in the metro we had a lady come up to us getting after us in Russian.  She was made because we were sitting on the floor.  The girls knew exactly what she was saying, they just responded…net Ruski…or in other words…No Russian.  We were all feeling tired.  Once the metro opened we headed to Robyn’s to get our luggage to head to the airport.  A funny thing happened as we were going up the escalator.  A man grabbed by leg.  A drunk man might I add.  I said right out loud to Megan who was in front of me…”that man just grabbed my leg.”  Megan whipped around and gave him a sign that looked like the okay sign to me, but her face didn't look pleased.  When we got to the top and told everyone I was told that she flipped him off in Russian.  My baby girl had grown up.  It has made for a great story and one I won’t forget.  The girls went to Robyn’s house with us and we said goodbye to Shelby and Chiara.  We got our things and they helped take us to the train station.    So sad to leave the girls without being able to talk more.  The girls had to head home and shower and finish packing.  It was so sweet of them to take us to the train after arriving back from St. Petersburg.  They were tired and had lots to do. When we arrived at the train station the train was leaving in 3 minutes.  We raced to get on the train and barely made it!!  It made it get to the airport with plenty of time.  We ended up eating at a little restaurant at the airport.  We both watched movies and slept a lot of the plane home.

It was fun to watch parts of Mission Impossible and see Moscow that we now knew and loved.  They fed us chicken with a brown sauce, green beans and potatoes for lunch.  That's how they described it.  It was very good.  Snack was a roll with tomatoes, lettuce and cheese but the best was a Russian Kit Kat bar.  They are so good I wish I had one right now.  We landed in JFK and had to RACE to catch our connecting flight.  We were pretty motivated to get on the flight and anxious to see Tim and Glade who had made it clear to us that they were pretty desperate to see us too.  We met a couple from Utah that had been in Russia looking to adopt.  Their plane was scheduled a few hours after ours and they tried to get on ours with no luck.  They told us because our plane came in late we had missed making our flight by 3 minutes.  I was pretty aggressive with Delta to get us on that plane.  We ran through the airport and luckily we made it.  Tim, Glade, Baylee, Ethan and Camden were all there at the airport and it was nice to be together again.  We loved this experience so much.  I loved being with Tonya and her positive and beautiful nature.  I loved being with all of the girls too.  Shelby was so responsible and good at watching out for all of us. Chiara was always so cheerful and positive too.  I always love being around Aubree and her laugh and fun. It was awesome to share this experience with Megs and one that I will always treasure that time with her.  I love my Megs! Even though we didn't get to see Moscow thaw and bloom it was a real treat to experience what we did.  It really was a dream come true and a once in a lifetime opportunity as well.  I’m so glad the girls were able to do what they did and I hope they will always think of Russia with love…From Russia with love…