Sunday, February 21, 2021

Giant Snowy Owls and Crazy Pandemic Times

It's been a crazy month.  In non-pandemic times, missionaries arrive and depart every 6 weeks.  It's what we call the transfer cycle.  Every 6 weeks, missionaries are moved to different places within Sweden as new ones arrive and old ones depart.  But this month, due to the pandemic, missionaries have come in at three different times -- 9 one week, then 11 the next, then another 9 this coming Friday.  Three missionaries finished their missions and returned home.  All of these events give LeRon and me a lot of work and it can be somewhat stressful.  All of the missionaries in one group were stranded overnight in Frankfurt as they awaited further Covid testing, and all of their bags were delayed a few days.  So important to bring a change of clothes in your carry-on bag!  But they were all excited to be in Sweden as missionaries.

I received a phone call this past week that brightened my day.  A Swedish woman who had LDS friends, and who had been to Salt Lake City (our church's headquarters) a couple of years ago on a business trip, wanted to meet with missionaries to learn more about what we believe.  That was a happy call; I've never had one quite like that before.  

And then yesterday, LeRon and I went bed shopping.  (My hips can't take this old mattress anymore).  We found a wonderful bed (hopefully!) and we were able to share the gospel with Diana, a beautiful Syrian/Swedish girl who is engaged to be married later this year.  We were able to witness to her that we knew families can be together even after death.  Her fiancé sounds like a good man.  He told her that he knows that "a happy wife means a happy life!"  Smart man!

Now for the giant snowy owl . . . (and be sure to look at the very last two pictures) . . .

Aldste Torrie and I were out for our daily evening walk and we came upon the most amazing thing!!  A heroic size snowy owl made of . . . snow!  Its creator was in the yard and he welcomed us in.  (Be sure to click on the pictures to enlarge). He said he made it with layers of snow and ice so that it is a solid mass.  It took him a long time to build.

Its nose is made from a tree root.  The tree, which stood right where the owl is now, blew down in a wind last year.  Trees here have very shallow roots because of the bedrock that is everywhere.  We're amazed that so many trees actually grow in this rocky land.

Children (and grownups too) climb up the ladder and sit on the head.

And then they slide down the back of the owl!

Of course I had to climb the ladder!!  But I wasn't dressed to slide down the back, so this is as far as I went.  I was afraid that if I got up on the head, I wouldn't be able to get back down without having to slide down.  And like I said, I didn't have any snow pants on.  In fact, I never even brought snow pants to Sweden.

You can just barely see me if you click on the picture.  But this shows the size of the owl in comparison to 5' 3" me.

Per, (pronounced pair), the creator of this amazing bird, was surprised when I climbed up the ladder, seeing that I am almost 70.  (Hard to believe it as I see it in writing -- in two weeks I turn 69, and that's definitely almost 70).  He said that others my age had come to see the owl but they just walked around it; they never considered climbing it.  I never considered not climbing it!

Here's a happy view of the snowy owl, the owl's creator, Per, and his Christmas pole lights.  Normally he flies the Swedish flag but in the dark days of winter, he helps light the world with the pole lights and the flickering gas lights.

We couldn't get enough of this amazing creation.

You can see the delicate filagree of the owl's wings.  Per made it by making icy spikes and clumping snow onto each spike.  The whole thing has also been covered with water, which of course, froze, giving it a shiny surface.

See you tomorrow night, little owl . . . I mean, big owl.

At first I thought these were lawn decorations.  But no, they are real, live, deer.  I don't think these are reindeer; we saw reindeer on our trip to Norway.  They didn't look like these little deer, even though reindeer are also very small.
There were 4 little deer.  So cute!  The deer at home in Alberta are cute too but they eat my trees, so I'm not so enamored with them there.

And then we were driving here in the city and saw lovely waterfalls frozen as they cascaded down the bedrock.  The temperatures have warmed above freezing and soon the frozen water will no longer be frozen.  We drove around this round-about three or four times to allow me to snap this picture out the window.  This is the first time we've been honked at.  I guess we didn't take the round-about fast enough for the other car that snuck up on us.

We said goodbye to three wonderful missionaries -- Syster Locher, Aldste Barney, and Aldste Kent.  Syster Locher is from Switzerland, actually near the little town that LeRon's great-great-grandfather came from (Bassersdorf).  My great-grandparents also came from Switzerland, but closer to Zurich.

Aldste Deshler was one of the two missionaries that took over for us in the office when we were sent home back in March 2020 due to Covid.  I had about two days to train him, and then he did my job for several months before Aldste Ward took over, and then on October 1, 2020, I was back at my job.  So we have a connection with Aldste Deshler, that's for sure.  Such a good thing that LeRon helped me develop all the spreadsheets to track everything we have to do in the office.  If not for that, I wouldn't have been able to train Aldste Deshler so quickly.  Spreadsheets are an amazing tool!  LeRon has used them in our farm business for 45 years so he's pretty expert at it.

The Lead Syster Training Leaders stopped by for a visit.  Next to me is Syster Jackson, and she reminds me of my niece Elizabeth.  Maybe you can't see it in this picture, but if you were around her, you would agree.  Next to her is Syster Locher, who has now returned home to Switzerland.  And on the right is Syster Hall, who is a dear friend of LeRon's cousin, Robyn Brown (Aunt Barbara MacPhee's daughter).  Small world.

We get close to these missionaries and it's hard to say goodbye when it's time for them to go.  How do you like LeRon's Scandinavian sweater?  He bought it here in Sweden but it was made in Norway.  It keeps him toasty warm.  Warmer than I want to be.

We took Syster Locher to the airport for her trip home.  We waited in the check-in line for 1 hour and 10 minutes!!!  Hardly any agents were working.  While I waited with Syster Locher, Aldste Torrie went to try and locate the missing bags of the 9 missionaries who had arrived yesterday.  He finally discovered that they were still in Frankfurt and would be coming to Stockholm later that afternoon.  Too late for the missionaries who were going to other parts of Sweden.

We helped with the transferring of new missionaries.  And here is my cousin, Aldste Muhlestein, who is being transferred from the far north to warmer Stockholm!  So fun that we got to meet on this mission.  For sure he looks like he could fit in with my dad's family.  My dad and my Aunt Ethel and Aunt Elaine all had very brown eyes.  And my dad had such dark hair that I once thought he was a native Indian.

A Saturday afternoon walk through the forest.  The snow looks like huge marshmallows on the branches of this bush.  Or like snowballs.

These John Deere tractors regularly plow the streets.  Fun for farmer-boy LeRon to see.

Now for our favorite time of the week.  Sunday night, 9 p.m.  Singing with the missionaries who live above us and work regularly in the office with us.  Then visiting and eating till past 10.  L-R: Elder Torrie on the piano, Elder Ronndahl, Elder Olson, Elder Rantaniemi, and the elephant on the wall.

Missionaries can really sing!  They sing the hymns with gusto on a Sunday evening.  At Christmas time, we had fun singing all the Christmas songs too, not just the hymns.  Elder Rantaniemi, Elder Austin, Elder Nordgren, Elder Wrangell (with the wowy socks), and Elder Longman.

The mission song really brings the spirit of brotherhood.  So fun to hear these missionaries sing it.  I love the song too but it's in Swedish and I can't spit out the words fast enough to join in.  Swedish is a very difficult language.

Mission business took us into downtown Stockholm via the tunnelbana (the underground).  We love the designs and the light and the colors in many of the stations.

LeRon and I were reminded of how much we loved to ride the escalators in Eatons in Lethbridge when we were kids.  My family went to Lethbridge about twice a year -- once to go to the dentist, and once at Christmas time to go Christmas shopping.  LeRon's family went more often because they took piano lessons there.  These escalators, taking you out of the tunnelbana, make the Eatons' elevators seem very puny (which they were).  But we've ridden on much longer and steeper escalators in the tube in London.

Here's another tunnelbana station.  Sometime we'll have to explore all the stations just to see the artwork.  When we have free time.  Ha ha.

It's been raining for two days and the temperature is well above 0 C.  So sad that our owl is melting.  Per is trying to fix it but it may be a losing battle.  We also love his 100-year old house.  In Alberta we would just tear down a 100-year old house and build a new one.  We like the old homes here.  They are classy and elegant with lots of balconies and windows.

Close-up of our weeping, dying owl.  Maybe Per can save it.  We hope so . . . and yet, we are getting tired of winter!

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Can you compare Sweden to Kenya? And more fun pictures!

People sometimes ask us how this Sweden mission compares with our Kenya mission.  Well, it's so very different that it's hard to compare.  In fact, it's best NOT to compare.  We loved our Kenya mission, and we are loving our Sweden mission.  

One very different thing about Sweden, though, is that there are not groups from the west continually coming to "help" the people of Sweden.  (We as missionaries are helping by bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and helping with Family History too. But not monetary aid.)  In Africa, groups often come to help by giving things or by building buildings, and though it may help short-term, it is not a long-term, nor even a good solution to the pressing needs of the more than 52 countries of Africa.  

I read an article recently that led to my thinking on this subject.  It took place not in Africa, but in India.  An American woman named Becky, who was trying to heal from her daughter's suicide, started a non-profit organization to help orphans who suffered from leprosy in India.  She hired an Indian doctor to help, but he became discouraged because the patients would not follow his instructions.  She asked Padma, the Indian woman who was helping with the non-profit, what was wrong.

This was Padma's reply:  "You Americans.  You come to India, and you just give things away.  I know it probably makes you feel good, but the truth is, nothing given free has any [lasting] value.  Anytime you give something to someone, you diminish that person, because in essence, all you're doing is making them beggars to you.  If you truly want to lift people, [help them be] responsible for their own well-being.  You can't just give away medical treatment."

Becky was stunned by this reply, saying that the people had no money.  "But they can pay 2 rupees and they will feel like they're paying for their medical treatment," Padma said.  (Two rupees equals about 3 cents).  Padma continued, "If you want to lift them, give them the power to lift themselves."  They started charging two rupees and the people started following doctor's instructions, which led to healing.

I remember that when I taught ESL classes in Grassy Lake, the women took things more seriously when we asked them to pay what they could for their books instead of just giving them the books.  I would think that that concept could help the groups that come to Africa too.  

I just did a search of my many blog posts from our Kenya mission and found what I had written in April 2017.  It was called "Humanitarian Work in Mombasa: How to Help People to Help Themselves."  I think it's very interesting, if I do say so myself!  I encourage you to read it.  You can find it here:

I found another post written in August 2016, and which was titled, "You Ask . . . How Can we Help?" It is found here:   It basically says what Padma said. In other words, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

That's my rant for the day!!  Becky's story can be found here:  From that page you can click on a link to listen to the podcast, or on a link to read the transcript of the podcast.  The whole story is quite incredible.

Now on to some pictures of Sweden!

We've had snow for about three weeks.  Our junior missionaries have been loving it!  Look at the height of that snowman!  Elder Torrie is 5'9" tall.  Lots of people stopped to take a picture.

Even here in the city, you can see the moon and the stars.  We love our evening walks.

The homes are so . . . Swedish here!  No curtains.  Just lovely light shining forth.

Mr. Snowman was listing quite seriously to his left.  So Elder Rantaniemi, Elder McGill, Elder Olson, and Elder Longman spent their lunch hour making him straight again.  It was quite an undertaking.

Now they are admiring their work.  It's pretty straight and tall.  I wasn't quick enough to snap a picture of them climbing on the fence to straighten the snowman out.

Now Mr. Snowman is leaning to his right.  His buttons are made of kiwi fruit.  The missionaries gave their New Zealand companion a whole case of kiwi for Christmas.  Too much to eat so they stuck them in the freezer, but that didn't help the kiwis, as you can imagine, so they used them for snowman buttons.

Allen and Shannon and their son Joseph came over for Sunday dinner.  They are fun people.  Notice the Carl Larsson picture on the wall to Allen's right.  LeRon and I love this picture of farmers back in the day.  I'm starting to really love Carl Larsson's paintings.

Now we're in Uppsala at the gorgeous cathedral.  (Uppsala is about an hour's drive north of Stockholm). The missionaries are doing some musical recordings here.  The rector was happy to have us record here.  All you have to do is book a time.  Elder Snow (on the left) is a companion to Elder Safsten (on the right) who is a wonderful opera-type singer.  Elder Stinson (in the middle) is one of the Smoes (our Social Media Office Elders).

We were awed by the beautiful dancing of Syster Olsen.  I felt very klutzy next to her; she is so incredibly graceful.  The video of her dancing will be posted sometime in March.  The three Smoes (social media office elders)-- Elder Stinson, Elder Nordgren, and Elder Ronndahl -- are doing the recording.

I so love the architecture in these old buildings.  The Church of Sweden is an Evangelical Lutheran Church.  We visited with the rector, who explained the history of the church, and he showed us the oldest parts from the 1200's.  LeRon also met with one of the organists who said that LeRon could book a time and come and play the beautiful pipe organ.  He's looking forward to doing that when we can find the time to get away.

Still a lot of Christmas lights up but fewer than there were in December and January.  Click on this picture to enlarge.  It's gorgeous.  We are still doing our nightly walks even though it's getting colder and colder.  The humidity also makes it feel colder.  Tonight it is -12 C.  I know that's not as cold as the -30 that it is in southern Alberta right now, but it feels cold to walk for 30 minutes.

I'm trying to get used to my new phone.  Here's three of our office elders -- Elder Stinson, Elder Olson, and Elder Longman.  I don't think Elder Torrie's going to like this picture.  He looks like a little old man!  Oh my.  Is that the man I married almost 46 years ago?  I wonder what I look like when I'm caught unawares.

Here's a house that LeRon thinks is gorgeous.  And it is.  We love the gables and it looks so gorgeous with snow on the roof.

Elder McGill (on left) has been an Assistant to the President for 6 months now and he will be transferred soon.  We will miss him.  We've known him for more than 4 months, and you couldn't ask for a better grandson!  Yes, these young men are our adopted grandsons.  We love Elder Rantaniemi (on right) too.  His name rolls over our tongues very easily now!

Every Sunday evening at 9 p.m., the 7 office elders come downstairs to our tiny apartment and we have an evening of singing, eating, and visiting.  They are all wearing the ties we gave them for Christmas.  Fun!

I need a red rose or something so I can match!  Back row: Elder Longman, Elder Nordgren, Elder Ronndahl, Elder Rantaniemi; Front row: Elder Torrie, Elder Stinson, Elder McGill, Syster Torrie, with Elder Olson holding the camera.

We love all our missionaries and we will certainly miss these two.  They have both been in the office for about 6 months and are being transferred to other areas.  The mission is full of hellos and goodbyes.  

Fun with the missionaries.  They keep us young.

Last meeting at the mission home for Elder Stinson and Elder McGill.  Yes, they have been happy together.  They all get along so well.  It's actually quite amazing.

Our mission office meetings are definitely counseling together meetings.  It's amazing what good ideas are generated when people share and counsel together.  A plate of snickerdoodles helps too.

The Syster Training Leaders counsel with the Assistants to the President and with President & Syster Davis.  They bring that feminine point-of-view that is very helpful.  So interesting that young men and young women ages 18-22 can be so insightful, responsible, and mature, while still being enthusiastic and fun.  Syster Locher (on left) is finished her 18-month mission and is going home to Switzerland soon.  She lives in the same area that Elder Torrie's ancestors come from.  I also have Swiss ancestors, and it has been fun to get to know Syster Locher.  Syster Jackson (middle) is the new Lead Syster Training Leader, along with Syster Hall, who knows LeRon's cousin, Robyn (MacPhee) Brown in Arizona.  Small world.

A sweet woman from the US asked us to buy flowers for the Davis's, who have had a death in the family.  So we went to the florist at the Taby Mall and learned that things are different here in Sweden.  There's no vases in this flower shop.  You just buy the flowers and take them home.  This florist talked to me about what I wanted, picked the flowers and greenery, and handed me a beautiful bouquet in about 5 minutes and for about 1/4 the cost it would be at home!  Flowers here are much cheaper in the west because they have less far to travel.  These flowers come from the Royal FloraHolland in Aalsmeer near Amsterdam.  They fly them in three times a week and even the roses last for 5-7 days.  And if any of you have the chance to visit this flower market in Aalsmeer, do it.  It's an auction and is in the 4th largest building by footprint in the world.  It is truly amazing.  Google for pictures of it.  I talked LeRon and our son Craig and daughter Heather into seeing it when we were in the Netherlands one year and they thought it would be tacky but it was absolutely amazing.

Flowers for President & Syster Davis from a friend in Utah.  It was a happy surprise for them.  Thanks, RoEen, for your love and thoughtfulness.