The Call

The Call

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Big Brother Was Listening
The Sokos Viru Hotel in Tallinn, was a marvel in its day.  Built in 1972, it was the first high-rise building in Estonia. Wanting a piece of the "millions" circulating in the tourist industry, The Soviet Union planned a modern hotel that would attract foreigners, especially from the West.  They hired a Finnish company and it was built in 36 months (the Finns are known for quality work). It had every modern convenience that westerners were accustomed to and attracted many famous people as well.  To keep it a "pearl", doormen were hired to keep the locals out so as not to give a false impression to would-be guests (you have to remember, this is during Soviet times).

The hotel claimed to have 22 floors.  Looking at the hotel from the outside, one could easily count and see what they believed was a 23rd floor. When guests asked about the 23rd floor,  they were told that it was only filled with technical equipment and would be of no interest to anyone or the existence of such a floor was flatly denied.  Since this was part of the Soviet Union then, every floor had a floor  guard who sat a desk on every floor.  They took note of anyone coming and going on each floor, what time they left and what time they returned and with whom.  These were usually married women with children.  The Soviets knew that a married woman with children would not take off with a foreigner and skip the country, and therefore were considered a low risk.  This was the most coveted job in the hotel.  Floor guards had access to all the guests and could easily buy anything "western" from them (anything western was very coveted).  However, a westerner could not leave the country carrying Rubles.  Someone selling things to the floor guards for Rubles would have to find a way to use the currency before leaving and many would just end up giving them back to the floor guards.  It was a very nice job to have.

Fast forward to August, 1991 when Estonia won back its independence.  The Soviets began to move their operations and troops back to Russia.  In 1994, when control of the hotel was no longer under Soviet rule, secret rooms were discovered on the 23rd floor.  Found in these rooms were several electronic systems designed to listen and eavesdrop on unsuspecting guests.  For many years it was suspected that Soviet KGB agents were operating out of the 23rd floor, and now they had the evidence to prove it.  Apparently, they left in such a rush that they left much of the equipment behind, purposely damaged and broken.  Upon further investigation, many listening devices were found in various places throughout the hotel.  Certain tables at the restaurant had serving plates or ash trays that were "bugged".  In the ceiling above, pipes were found with antenna wires running through them to capture conversations emitting from the plates below.  These wires went straight to, you guessed it, the 23rd floor.

Although there was money to be made in the tourist industry, there was much more to be gained politically by having a "listening" ear.

Listening Room

KGB Office

Thought I'd listen in too

Great views from the 23rd - looking Southeast

Looking Northwest over Old Town

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Situated along the Russian-Estonian border, lies Lake Peipsi (sounds alot like Pepsi).   Over the centuries the border has changed a few times and so it is not uncommon to find many Russians mingled with Estonians in the lake villages.  Along the western shore, is a small fishing village called Lohusuu.  It's one of the oldest communities along the lake and has a rich culture that goes back at least 500 years.
Last week, we had the privilege of serving a family in Lohusuu and becoming acquainted with the people there.  We received a tour of the village along with a narration of who lived there and who was related to who and what people did there.  We saw The Church of the Epiphany, a Russian Orthodox church that was built there in 1898 and has since been designated as an architectural heritage site.  

We had some young missionaries with us and together we helped the family stack their winter firewood [Note: most Estonian country houses are still heated with wood] and repair a muddy and slippery road with sand and rocks.  We were fed a hearty meal that was cooked in the outdoor kitchen.  Somethings must really be experienced firsthand to appreciate.

The Church of the Epiphany

Sister Allred learning to stack

Wood Stacker level: Expert!

Young missionaries at work

Fixin' the road

Outdoor Kitchen with wood stove/oven

The house in the woods

Sponge Bob! Who knew he was an Estonian?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A 10,000 mile wedding trip

It seems that our youngest child decided that he was homesick to see us and so he scheduled a wedding for himself so we would come home and visit.  In reality, we knew before we left home over a year ago, that this could be a possibility, so we aren't too surprised.  As the months rolled by on our mission, we witnessed this slow but steady romance unfolding in Provo.  Later on we watched a video of a stunning and musical proposal (and a bit funny) in front of the Iguazu Falls in Brazil while touring with BYU's Young Ambassadors.  And so a deal was made and the date was set and so we made our plans to attend the wedding of our last unmarried child in the temple.  With approval from the area president to attend, we counted down the days with anticipation, not just for the wedding, but for the opportunity to see our other children and grandchildren as well.

We made this long trip before when we first reported to our mission in Estonia.  The thought of sitting in one place for the majority of a 24 hour experience was not looked at with relish.  But we were smart this time and took our melatonin to help offset the jet lag that would be our companion for a day or two.  We were happily surprised to find that flying westward has less of a sleep pattern problem.  This was enhanced by some very hearty meals that were served aboard SAS airlines from Stockholm to New York.

When we arrived, we braced ourselves for the 40 degree temperature change from where we live to Utah's summer heat (please, can we go back to Tallinn soon, I'm melting).

We were hosted by two of our sons that live in the SLC/Provo area and between them and a rental house, we were well taken care of.  All of our children came except for one.  His excuse: his wife was 8 3/4 months pregnant at the time.  I say "was", because three days ago, she gave us grandchild #23. That makes for 3 babies that have been born while we have been gone.  The Lord does truly love us.

The wedding was at the Payson temple.  It is a newer one and we had never seen it before.  It is beautiful and the inside reminds us a lot of the Gilbert, AZ temple.  Many guests had been invited and so the sealing room was very large.  The bride's grandfather, who is a sealer in the Halifax Nova Scotia Temple, received permission to administer the sealing ordinances for them.  We sensed that some relatives, who have passed long ago, dropped in to witness the event.  It was a sweet time.  

Afterwards, we met outside for pictures and then off to prepare for the luncheon.  I had been asked to make the dessert.  I made three pans of brownies and 3 pans of carmelitas - sugar overload I'm sure.  The main meal was catered and boy was it good.  After the meal, there was a program that included activities that helped the audience get to know the newly wedded couple a little better.  It helps to have friends who know some very interesting things.

That evening was the reception and it was quite the party.  Many of their friends and several Utah relatives came to celebrate.  There was the usual cake cutting event that went rather nicely and the bouquet toss and a few other customary things as well as the dancing and musical renditions from friends.  The final salute was a sparkler tunnel as they raced for the get-a-way car.  Wow, I needed a taco after all that.  It turns out, I wasn't the only one.  We found a 24 hour Mexican food joint and filled up.  It was very satisfying after a 15 month drought from some serious Mexican food.

While the kids honeymooned in Florida (near a hurricane), we spent a few more days helping them move into a new apartment and getting the car repaired.  I'm tired already from the travel and now we move very heavy stuff up a flight of stairs! The brides father, Mark, is much younger than I and I let him prove it.  He carried most of the load.

The remaining time was spent with family and doing a little shopping for friends back in Estonia.  I was able to get 40 male initiatories completed for a friend in Tallinn who had given us some temple cards. 

The flight home was uneventful and quite nice.  I actually slept on the plane for a couple of hours (very unusual for me).  After another 5,000 miles, we stepped out of the airport in Tallinn, and experienced that 40 degree drop in the temperature.  Home at last.

New York City skyline

Enjoying a pre-nuptial picnic at the church pavilion

Those eyes!

Fun times with grandkids

One of the three that were born while we've been gone

Always has a smile for Papa

This little Nutter Butter was my shadow

Our good friend Tyler Hill who interned this summer in Tallinn

Mom, Dad and siblings (minus one)

Siblings shot

Apparently, this is a brotherly tradition

With adoring sisters

The luncheon line begins

Wonderful lasagna with some special treats

Wedded bliss

Good friends from Mesa

A smattering of some of the best kids on earth

Finishing temple work at Oquirrh Mountain

The morning we left SLC.  Fire in the sky!

It's been a busy Summer

Looking at all that has happened since the last post, I realize that it has been a very busy time for us.  I will put these activities in chronological order for your viewing pleasure. Caution: This will be a long post.

1. Right after YW Camp, we had a photo scavenger hunt that was organized by two of our YSA women.  We broke into 3 teams and tried to find certain things in Old Town and take a picture of it.  Afterwards, we compared pictures and had a treat.  Here are a few pics of that event:

Matryoshka Dolls, they're everywhere

A man wearing armor . . . not so hard

A dragon head

A selfie with a seagull

Can you pick out the Russian, Estonian, English and Spanish speakers?

2. Our mission president has asked the young missionaries to organize some kind of community sports activity two times a week.  Here in Tallinn, they play floorball (like street hockey) in the church parking lot.  Here are a few pics:

3. In the spirit of getting some exercise, the district planned a volleyball activity at Pirita Beach on a preparation day recently (back when there was hope for some summer weather).  That hope has been soundly squashed here over the last 2 months. Already, the leaves are turning yellow and falling to the earth. Oi!

4. As you know, we have a Break-the-Fast with the Young Single Adults on Fast Sunday.  In August, we invited our friend from Spain to cook some Spanish paella for us.  A paella is a rice dish that usually includes chicken and/or seafood or rabbit and a cast of certain spices and vegetables.  It is really good.  She is not a member, but likes to be with our YSAs.  She has since returned to Spain and went to church in Oviedo last week - on her own.  She has been reading The Book of Mormon and is almost done.

Someones in the kitchen with Aida . . . oh, it's Mom

Usually cooked in a large skillet.  Mmmm, shrimp! 

The table is set for a tasty meal
A farewell selfie with all my daughters

5. Having FHE here is a big deal and this summer, we always had a full house with all the interns from BYU.  They have since returned and now a small cluster remains.  That does not stop us from making the best of what we have.  Our activity this night was making greeting cards using dried flowers.  These girls are very artistic.

6. This deserves it own post, but in the interest of my fading memory, I'll put it in with all the others.  We have decided that our calling here is to be a resource for whoever and whenever it is needed.  We were asked to create an activity for the branch campout.  Our thought was to examine Lehi's trail from Jerusalem and discover important truths for life. The campout was in a place we had never been to before.  It was fairly remote and far from any town of significant size.  Simisalu-Matsimäe is a government sponsored preserve where one can become acquainted with nature and the flora and fauna of Estonia.  There was a lodge there with rooms that the branch had rented for some of the members to use.  Everyone else slept in tents.  As we don't have a tent, we were assigned our own room.  For our activity, we designed a course that had them "crossing the desert" and becoming dizzy from the heat (spin around with your forehead on a baseball bat and then try to run). That was certainly a lot of fun to watch.  The next activity was carrying a water balloon on a spoon (carrying Lehi's money and precious things to Laban).  This was followed by a relay of putting on several items of clothing (Laban's armor) and running a relay. Then came the "Iron rod" by walking a course of rope through the trees while blindfolded.  After the vision, Nephi talked about quenching the fiery darts to his brethren.  Here, they must put out a candle flame with a squirt gun.  Unfortunately, the wind was so strong and kept blowing out the candles.  We had to skip that one. Next came the Liahona exercise where each team had a page with encoded letters and they had to use a decoder ring that we made for the occasion.

Liahona decoder ring

 Our next activity was to make a bow and arrow to replace Nephi's broken bow.   It involved shooting toy animals with a rubber band and pencils.  The last activity was to build a boat and then sail it on a string by blowing on the sail.  We actually ran out of time for the last two, but here is a video of the boats when we did it for Super Saturday.

After all of that, we met in the lodge and had a great feast that was catered by the local caretakers.  Below are some pics and videos of our adventure.

An observation tower

We were listening to know what the fox says

Morning exercises for everyone

Typical Estonian breakfast

The children making the cake for lunch

One of the participants wearing "Laban's armor"

Lining up for the "armor" relay

Holding to the rod

Being very cautious

Using a decoder ring (modern day Liahona)

Estonia, I love you

After the activities and rain:  The feast

Enjoying the "child made" cake

Love these people
It just so happened that nearby was the ancestral home of Anton Tammsarre, one of Estonia's most influential writers.  He wrote about life in Estonia, especially out on the farms since most people lived on one.  We took a tour of his home and farm.

Thatched roof.  Very typical.

Our tour guide explaining life in the 1800's

Some very old tools

A loom for weaving cloth

The children try stilts

7. So, our Spanish senorita had a birthday and so we celebrated at FHE one night.  It's what we do.  We celebrate everyone's life here.

8.  Zone Conference.  Everyone love zone conference because we get to see other missionary friends that work in other cities and we get a catered meal and we get some valuable instruction from mission leaders.  Here is the latest picture.  In this picture is our new mission president and wife as well as Elder Golden (he's from South Africa) who is now serving in the Europe East Area Presidency.

9.  Stuff seen in Old Town

10.  So, we had a lesson on the Bread of Life one night for FHE.  Our activity was making bread dough and everyone got to make their own creation.  

I made cinnamon rolls so we could at least have a treat 

That thing in the middle?  It's a chicken

11. So every quarter, we have a Super Saturday for the seminary and institute kids.  Again, the theme was about Lehi's trail and so we used the activity that we didn't get to do at the branch campout.  See the pics.

Building the boats

And decorating too

And the race is on