Monday, December 29, 2014

The Best Christmas Ever

I hope everyone else had a wonderful Christmas. I know I certainly did. This was definitely one of the best weeks of my mission.

It started on Christmas Eve day when I found myself on an exchange in Kyiv. I'd pulled a few strings and gotten permission to go back to my old area instead of just being in the area where we were supposed to be on the exchange. As I was sitting on the bus riding into Troyeshina (the area of Kyiv where I lived), I was just thrilled. The area itself is remarkably ugly - old concrete apartment buildings one after another - yet to me it's one of my favorite places in the world. It's holy to me. 

First stop was the ever fabulous IRA. My how I love her. It was so fun to see her and just spend an hour talking with her. She gave me super awesome wool socks her mother-in-law had made. Next stop was Eva (remember her, my little 9 year old?). I didn't tell her I was coming, so she opened the door with a smile on her face, had this fabulous moment of recognition, gave me a HUGE hug, and burst into tears. I don't know if I've ever felt more loved. Once she composed herself, I told her "Eva, we have an hour, what do you want to do?" "Sit and hug each other." That's my girl. And then I got to see Angela, who is just as completely darling as ever. Basically, it was a perfect day seeing all my recent converts in Kyiv. They're all just thriving and I am so proud of them.

So then Christmas day we come back to Chernigov for our DOUBLE CHRISTMAS BAPTISM, which clearly made this the best Christmas ever. Seriously, it was just an incredible day. Both of them are such miracles. Katya is 22, and has just blossomed with the gospel in her life. Seriously, when I first met her she never smiled or laughed or almost even talked. Now she's just an incredibly darling young lady. Tanya is older, has sat in prison, and is definitely rougher around the edges. When I first met her, she just wanted to argue all the time. And now she's simply thrilled to be the newest member of the church. I repeat: best Christmas ever.

Friday I got to skype home! The entire family is currently gathered at Hawaii, so I got to say hi to every single member of my family. How cool is that? It was funny though, because I hung up and felt not a single tinge of regret from being here instead of there. Missions are like 12,000 times better than trips to Hawaii. (Don't think that's going to keep me from going to HI as soon as possible after taking this nametag off (are RMs allowed to swim?)).

Saturday, we had another surprise trip to Kyiv. WHAT. Two trips to Kyiv in one week. I wish you could appreciate how much things like this don't just happen. I am SO blessed. Our official reason for being there was a Stake music night at which a missionary choir sang. But it was just a perfect night. I saw almost ALL my lovelies from my Kyiv ward. I honestly felt like it was just a gathering of all my favorite people. I am so fortunate to have made so many incredible friends on my mission and to have had the chance to see them.

So that was the best week of my life. I feel like I failed kinda miserably at describing how much joy I felt this week. It was simply incredible.

Since it was Christmas this week, I spent quite a bit of time in the New Testament. I thought a lot about the Savior's invitation, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you... and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." We call Him Savior because He saved us from death and sin. But we also call Him Savior because He, in His mercy and grace, delivers us from trials and bondage and burden. As I thought about this scripture, I remembered what Judy always says of the time after the accident (paraphrasing, of course) "it was the worst of times, because the pain was so great, but it was the best of times, because of the intensity and strength of the Spirit that attended all of us. The veil has never been so thin nor heaven so close." I guess that's what grace is. It makes the worst of times somehow also the best of times. The Savior never promised to remove or even change our burdens, but He promised to lighten them. That's what a Savior does. It is such a privilege to be a missionary and watch that process work in people's lives. I love Him and am so grateful to be one of His missionaries for a little while longer.

All the love,

Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas!

The time I have to email today is very, very small. It's a hectic week, but it is going to be incredible. So, for now, enjoy the district Christmas card I made so we could give it out to our members (evidence #319 that my mission has made me way too domestic). And have a wonderful Christmas everyone. I love you all!

Monday, December 15, 2014

The best week

GUYS. It was such a week. I don't even know where to start.

Saturday Ludmila got baptized! She's almost 70, and is one spunky babushka. She's just a riot. She was so happy to finally get baptized. When she came into the room after getting redressed, she was like "I just want to thank you all so much for coming to my birthday. This isn't my second birthday, I was born today. I'm so happy to be baptized and to be one of you and I will do all I can do be good and be an active church member." It was adorable. Rock on babuska Ludmila.

I went to my very first Ukrainian wedding this week. Our MCL got married. It was pretty awesome they invited us, although it was kinda anti-climactic. The literally just signed a document. Still, though, ligit.

Spring came.Not literally, but it was super warm this weekend and most of the snow is melted. I'm choosing to assume this means winter is over. Here is a picture of me and a snowman from earlier this week, when it was still winter. One of the fun parts of living next to a school is that the kids build snowmen sometimes. I am impressed. ​

Oh. WE SAW PRESIDENT KLEBINGAT THIS WEEK. He came on official area presidency business, sort of. The seventy who was supposed to come couldn't last minute, so back he came (which is kinda a miracle since he was told he wouldn't get to come back for at least 2 years). It was so good to see him. He gave us all hugs and took pictures and called us "my сёстрыs". I think he might have been even more excited than we were. He definitely made us all feel very loved. He quoted his own conference talk when he spoke, obviously. And he ended his talk like this: эта церкрвь истинна и I want my dear missionaries to know that I love you во имя Иисуса Христа аминь. So here is a picture of me and both my mission presidents in Kyiv.

While at that conference, I got to see tons of my favorite people from my Kyiv ward, which was also such a huge miracle. I love them because I feel like we're genuine friends. Sometimes, it's hard to be yourself as a missionary, but all my friendships in that ward are so real. I just love them so much!

On war front news, we did in fact lose power every day this week for a few hours each day. It's fine though. We just have lessons with people by candlelight. It's kinda nice, really. There's something just simple and quiet about it. I like it. Though there may have been a few moments when I've missed our good old Cummins generator.  Here is a picture I took of my dear companion studying by candlelight.

One really funny incident that happened due to electricity shortages was last Monday. We went ice skating Monday evening with some youth and investigators and the elders. It was the most Ukrainian ice rink of my life. They build walls around a basketball court, covered it with water, and let it freeze. We rented skates in the school next door. Except it was on the third floor. Which meant you had to go down 3 flights of stairs in your ice skates to get to the rink and then get back up to get your shoes back. OK. There was no Zamboni, but they had a couple of kids pushing snow shovels across the ice, so that kinda was something. Anyway, it was all great and such, until ALL THE LIGHTS WENT OUT like 10 minutes after we started skating. So it was pretty much completely dark, but all and all very fun. No one was injured, which was good.

Speaking of injuries, I almost got hit by a car yesterday. We had a green crosswalk, and I was running for a bus, because we really needed this bus in order to get home on time. Some car comes hurtling down the road through a red light and totally would have smashed me had the elders not been there to yell at me to stop. It seems to hold true that I am the most likely person I know to be hit by a car. I think I picked up that trait in Vienna 5 years ago, and haven't seemed to outgrow it. So there's that.

We had lunch on Wednesday at an Italian place that let's you get half-priced pasta if you draw a moustache on your face. Obviously worth it. First time I've had salmon in over a year.

We went to the National Ukrainian Choir concert this week with our branch. It was so good and so Ukrainian. Did anyone know that "carol of the bells" is actually a traditional Ukrainian folk song? Now you do! They sang that song among others. There was a guy playing on a bandura, which is a 68 string guitar, and it was so cool. Very talented. They all wore Ukrainian clothes and it was just the most Ukrainian evening of my life. I loved it. Search "Український національний хор" on youtube and enjoy a little piece of my life.

I spoke in church again yesterday. We walked in and were told "well, no one prepared their talk today, so missionaries are up." So with all of 7 minutes to prepare, I pulled off a pretty good talk just sharing what I'd learned during personal study that morning. It was really neat to see I could do that, since I definitely would not have been able to do that 6 months ago. But that's just how missions are. You get to grow and change and so many amazing things come out of it.

​All the love,

Monday, December 8, 2014

Winter is enchanting

It is just the most lovely winter wonderland here in Chernigov. There's a river near/in the town which causes lots of fog at night. Which means that every morning all the trees all over the city are covered in the most beautiful frost. It's unreal how lovely this city is. Maybe winter isn't so bad after all.

In news on the war front... the country is trying to save energy this winter, since there just isn't enough to go around due to the oil situation with Russia. Thankfully, hot water has not been cut off! But, electricity has. They've been doing a two hours on, two hours off thing this week for half the city, and then the other half goes without electricity this week, and so on. Luckily, we had electricity this past week, but probably we'll be going without the upcoming one. Good thing I have a headlamp! Haha we'll survive just fine, but it's always sad to call up a babushka "how are you?" "It's dark!"

I lost more friends this week. One of my skirts got a fairly large hole in it and that totaled it. And then my FAVORITE boots died. The boots that I brought on my mission and have worn pretty much every day since then. That are so darn comfortable and walkable. That I already got the zipper replaced on once. This week, the zipper like tore off, and I'm pretty sure it's not fixable. So that was a great loss. They broke in the middle of the day, so I walked down the street with rubber bands on my boot keeping it together and ran into the first thrift store I found and got a replacement pair of boots for $4. As if anything could replace those boots.

I also got a hole in my winter coat (it really wasn't a good week for my clothing). We were at a members house and she was like "oh, I'll fix that right up for you." So we drank tea and talked while she sewed it up for me. And I was very grateful for that. Sometimes, the things that mean the most to me are the quiet kind things people do for me. The small moments of "here, let me take care of you" are the best.

We had a cowboy party this week, and it renewed my resolve to be a cowboy if nothing else in my life works out. I also wrote a poem this week for the first time on my mission. It felt good to write again. Whenever I tell people I wrote poems before my mission, they're like "do you write poems in Russian?" And the answer to that is no, because while I have basic communication skills down in Russian, I definitely don't have command of the texture of the language, which is what makes poems fun to write. Maybe someday.

We had a real life pioneer adventure on Saturday (not really). We got up at 3am to get to the bus stop by 4 so that we could go to the temple! IT WAS SO COLD. Seriously, an unholy temperature. The bus was also very, very cold. It did not know my feet could be so frozen. So being tired and cold in order to get to the temple made me feel like a pioneer.

We went to the temple with the branch and it was SUCH a wonderful day. President let us go because we had a couple less-actives and recent converts that came with us. So we did mostly baptisms all day. You know how they have a little spiritual thought before the baptismal session starts? The temple matron asked me to translate for her, so that was pretty neat. And then we were in the temple until like 4:30. It was just a wonderful day. I love the Kyiv temple.

Anyway, in the evening we went with those who could only do baptisms to center Kyiv, because the rest were staying for a 5:00 session. We walked around center Kyiv in the winter and it was just beautiful. Snow and cold and old buildings. I loved it. I love where I'm at. Christmas season is the best.

All the love,

Monday, December 1, 2014

All my friends have died

I have vague memories of my great grandma (Judy's mom) complaining in her old age that all her friends had died and there was no one to talk to or play bridge with any more. I never appreciated how sad that must feel until last Wednesday when the remainder of my mission friends died (went home). We had Thanksgiving mission conference the next day and it was like the saddest thing. All my friends had died. I miss them. The conference was good though. The senior couples went above and beyond putting together a real American Thanksgiving for everyone, and that was awesome. Some of them even used their precious American ingredients, which we were all very grateful for. Brown sugar becomes a very dear commodity when you live in Ukraine.

On the way back from conference, I sat by a babushka on the bus. We got to talking, and she told me about how she's already been traveling 12 hours from Western Ukraine, returning home after burying her 31-year-old son. She talked and cried and it was so sad. I love being a missionary, because you get to talk to strangers about real life.

We did family history like crazy this week, because we have lots of recent converts who've never done it before. It's pretty neat and daunting to start a family tree from scratch. I showed them my family tree and they couldn't believe it. One line we traced back to King Arthur and Uther Pendragon, so that was cool. Haha I'm so lucky that all my relatives did my family history work for me.

Yesterday, the branch president showed me his photo album from his years in the Soviet army. It was epic. I also spoke in church yesterday. It was less epic. I kinda just wrote up a few points and a few scriptures and hoped it'd be fine. It turned out pretty well, so that was lovely, because I was pretty nervous. I still get nervous sometimes and my Russian is not so pretty then. Or ever, really. Russian is probably not my strong suit as a missionary.

Oh, and the first snow fell this week! It's definitely getting colder, but don't worry, my bed is right next to the heater so I snuggle up warm at night. The snow really is lovely. I love walking down the street at night when it's dark and the snow is quietly falling. It's just so peaceful.

Since it's December today, I'd say the Christmas season is officially kicked off! Something fun we did this week was buy tea for some recent converts/less actives who struggle to read the scriptures regularly. Everyone here drinks tea in the morning, we we wrote a different Book of Mormon scripture that talked about Christ on each tea bag and gave them out yesterday. 25 tea bags and 25 days until Christmas makes for a nice way to start every day in December. Sometimes, I can be creative.

All the love,

Monday, November 24, 2014

Teen girl squad.

At English class, I made everyone read poems, because I wanted a real English class. Let me tell you, there are few things funnier than "Double double toil and trouble" or "O Captain, my Captain" read in a thick Ukrainian/Russian accent. Gotta love it.

Since our branch is small and not always super functional, the missionaries end up cleaning the church most Saturday nights. This week, the "teen girl squad" from English helped us clean. It's just a group of like seven 14-year-old girls that aren't members but come to English and like being around us. It was awesome that they helped because it got the job done quick. Way to go teen girl squad!

Remember babushka Ludmila who was supposed to get baptized Saturday? Well, she got sick (I think maybe bronchitis? Medical terms are kinda hard in Russian) and ended up in the hospital, and obviously didn't get baptized, but wants to once she's better. She got sick because she takes care of her 104-year old mother and spent too much time in the cold washing clothes by hand or something like that. Anyway, it's kinda awesome that her mother is that old, because it means she lived through both world wars and the entire soviet regime. She's pretty tough.

It's come to my attention that I write a LOT about babushkas. I hope you all know that I do in fact do other things with my mission. It's just that they have the best stories to tell. Probably because they're all slightly nuts. Sister McInnes and I were talking this week about how when the day of reckoning comes for our mission there are going to be a lot of babushkas there saying either "I know I was nuts but why weren't you nicer to me?" or "thanks for being so kind even though I was nuts." We're obviously hoping for the latter.

Last night we went over to the branch president's house, like we do pretty much every Sunday night. As we walked in his wife, the RS president, yelled "who wants to come help me with some messy work?" We come into the kitchen to find her gutting 4 very large and not entierly dead fish. And it was awesome, because there are really few things tougher in the world than a Ukrainian woman. Once she finished gutting the fish (it wasn't for us) we made tacos, but not too spicy, because as a general rule, Ukrainians hate spicy food. It's adorable.

Oh, Friday I was on an exchange with the one and only Sister Farnsworth. She's going home Wednesday, served like 10.5 months here, and baptized like half the ward, so she came up for the baptism (before it was cancelled) and to say goodbye to everyone. It was way cool to get to be her escort on all the visits and just see how big an impact she's made here. I think sometimes as missionaries (and as people in general, perhaps) we can't see quite how big an impact we're having, but it's real. And it is the greatest.

All the love,

Judy emailed me today that my homecoming has officially been scheduled for February 22, so see you all then I guess? I think I'm going to throw up.

Monday, November 17, 2014

4AM campfires, Celo-hoping, and other adventures

Well, since we last spoke:

We woke up at 3:30 this morning to meet the elders at 4. We went hiking through the woods to a place overlooking a reservoir and made a campfire and ate breakfast. It was awesome. Probably the best part was taking a nap in front of the campfire. Here's a picture of all of us when we headed home around 7:30. By then the sun had come up. As you can see, it was a little bit of a chilly morning.

Have we talked about the hymn books? My entire mission I've sung in Ukrainian. Except here they sometimes sing in Russian. And I HATE it. Seriously, Ukrainian is so much better for singing. Yesterday, I finally got the Ukrainian hymn books out and we sang in Ukrainian and that was fabulous. What would I do without this little country of mine?

We went to Kyiv this past week for interviews with President. It was great. I love President.

We had another Zhytomyr throw-back because we went celo-hopping this week! We have two awesome members who live in a little city about 2 hours away called Nizhyn. They've been sick for a while and haven't made it to church, so we went to visit them. It was so fun to meet them and we had a great visit. They told us about how they found the church:

They met because they were both Jehovah's Witnesses. But JWs believe only a certain number of people can go to heaven, and one of them was told they'd make it, but the other was told she wouldn't. So they didn't like that and left. For 10+ years they studied the Bible together. One of them worked for Utah-based company, Agel. In one of her business packages, she found a Book of Mormon in Russian. She snagged it, they studied together, and now they're awesome members. How's that for a conversion story?

Getting back from Nizhyn was an adventure. The train was way too late, so we tried to take a bus back. But then we missed one bus, the next one was cancelled, and we spend 2.5 hours waiting at the bus station. Definitely felt like Zhytomyr. Sometimes, things in Ukraine aren't so organized. But it was fine. I had time so I called most of my favorite people in Ukraine. I talked to my cute RS president from Kyiv and she was like "I was just in the temple and put your name in there and I came out and saw that you'd called!" So that was way sweet. It's lovely to be supported.

The bus ride back home was through the Ukrainian countryside and it was consequently just lovely. Lots of little houses, babuskas carrying heavy loads along the side of the roads, horse-drawn carts, many cows, and lots and lots of fields. They were all harvested and had giant piles of grain in the middle. I felt like I was back in time a century. It was nice.

Yesterday at church, this little girl who's become my good friend came in all upset. I was like "Erika, what's wrong?" She looked at me and immediately burst into tears and gave me a hug as she said, "my parrot flew away." I love being a missionary because you get to be the one to comfort little girls whose parrots take off.

We were at a babuska's house this week (obviously). She was inactive for a long, long time, but recently came back and is really passionate about the gospel right now. We were talking about the church and the whole point of the deal and she said something I just love. She said, "I love God and I love Jesus and I want to be just a little bit more like them. At least just a little bit." Isn't that a lovely and concise summery of conversion?

All the love,

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fever Medicine and Cat Food

This is going to have to be a quick one... so many letters and so little time.

First of all, I found out this week that a billion in English is not the same thing as a billion in Russian. In English, a billion is a thousand million. In Russian, it's a million million. So that's confusing. And possibly worse than the metric system, because that I've gotten used to. Actually, not sure I know how to tell the weather in farenheit anymore. Speaking of weather, it's been way warm here and that is fabulous. It got up to like 15 degrees yesterday.

We went to a restaurant this week that I'm pretty sure is straight out of America. It was so classy and I felt like I was a trio. We got steak and that was the first steak I've eaten in over a year and it was incredible. Plus, it was only like 7 dollars! One good thing about the war is crazy inflation that makes everything cheap. When I got here it was 8grn per dollar and now it's like 13 or something. Anyway, that was fun.

Remember our babushka who wouldn't stop drinking coffee? She stopped drinking coffee! One of the best members in this branch, Mama Gorbach, came on a lesson with her and bore testimony/threw down a little bit on here. Yesterday we saw here and she was like "I haven't even wanted to drink coffee since I talked to her. It's like she has an extra sense or something!" So that was awesome and she's excited to be baptized on the 22nd.

Another Mama Gorbach story. Last night we were at her house but I got sick (as happens). She gave me a big hug and was like "now do you feel better?" I was like "a little" and then she gave me another enormous hug and was like "how about now?" And I love her for that.

Tuesday night, one of our members called and asked if we could bring her fever medicine and cat food, because she was sick and her cat starving. I love being a missionary because it means I get those calls. Getting to help people with the little things is the best.

All the love,

Monday, November 3, 2014


Maybe you noticed that it was Halloween this week. We certainly did here in Chernigov and celebrated by having ourselves a big Halloween Party! At first all the babushkas in the branch were way offended because "Halloween is a dark holiday of devil worship and it has no place in our church," but we explained a little bit more about our plans and they accepted it. I'm pretty sure that during the Soviet times part of Anti-American propaganda was our devil-worshipping on Halloween, but I haven't actually had that confirmed. Anyway, the party was awesome because we had over 40 people show up, the majority of which weren't members! We played all kind of fun games: pumpkin painting (because not really an incredible idea to give tons of knives out), bobbing for apples, stick pull, eating the donut on the string, and the one where you put M&Ms in a pie tin, fill the tin with whipped cream and find the M&Ms without the use of hands. Also I made like 60 pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and that was obviously a hit. In short, it was a great party, and not just because all the missionaries dressed up like super heroes (I was Thor).

Remember my wedding ring prank? I got pranked back. They called me on Tuesday and were like "when do you leave?" "February" "So you'll come to our wedding in December?" Then I freaked out for about 15 seconds until I was like "No! You're joking. Not even funny." And then we had a good laugh.

I got an awesome package from Judy this week with The Best Two Years soundtrack (I'm so lucky to be in a mission where "any spiritually uplifting music" is kosher). Is it weird that that is my favorite CD in the world right now? I think that's when you know you've been on a mission for a long time. I literally had the sentence come out of my mouth this week "I don't care so much about hearing the new Coldplay CD because this one is probably better."

I learned this week why Ukraine isn't quite as pretty and doesn't have the old historical centers of Western Europe. The answer is two-fold. First, Hitler, Stalin, and WWII. Second, because of the abundances of forests here, they built most of their buildings out of wood for centuries. Hence, they didn't last.

Anyway, I'm really happy here in Chernigov, because the people are wonderful. We met with the cutest recent convert this week, and talked about what she's been reading in the Book of Mormon. I got to show her how to use footnotes and the guide to the scriptures (It's in the back of the Russian BoM and is kinda like Bible Dictionary + Topical Guide). She was so excited about it and it was adorable. We also had a lesson with a babushka investigator yesterday. She said she wants to get baptized by the end of this month, and she knows she had to give up coffee until them to get baptized, but she can't make any promises after baptism. So we're working on that haha. She's a good one.

Definitely the highlight of the week was that we went to Kyiv for conference and I got to have lunch with Ira! I miss her a lot and it was awesome to see her. And then we had mission conference with Tad R. Callister. That was incredibly cool. I was way excited because his book, The Infinite Atonement is one of the best things I read before my mission. My favorite thing that he said was "what good is the gospel of Jesus Christ if it doesn't bring us joy?" Lovely. I feel like something I've definitely seen on my mission is that you can tell how deeply someone is converted by how much joy they find in the gospel - it's true for investigators, members, and even missionaries. Anyway, we got home from Kyiv about 12:30AM (with permission from President, obviously) so that was an adventure. Turns out that at that hour on Halloween night, the only people on the street are not sober and the only cars are taxis driving them home. But what else is new. I love Ukraine.

All the love,

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fall is Beautiful

It was such a good week here in lovely Chernigov! It is fall and that is wonderful. To celebrate it being fall I have a new addiction to making sugar-free applesauce with lots of cinnamon and all good things fall spice. Did we talk about how I quit eating sugar a while ago? That happened. Here it's sunny if not a little bit chilly, see picture of me standing in leaves and trees. I'm definitely not in the Kyiv concrete jungle anymore.

I also made the best pot of borscht of my life this past week. Hurrah! Oh, and in other food news, this is a picture of me and Sister McInnes and several kilograms of salo, commonly known as raw pig fat that people eat for appetizers. I can't wait to be a vegetarian again.

I love living in this small town again because I feel like I'm right back in Zhytomyr! We spent some time with some babushkas this week, and they were having a sergic (mix of Ukrainian and Russian) conversations and I felt like I was right back in old times. Except I understand a whole lot better than I did last time, so that's fun. 

One of the babushkas, Vera, told us the cutest story. She's 70-something and told us about her childhood in a little village. She said that she has always believed in God, because as soon as she learned to read, her illiterate grandmother (born 1890) would have her read the Bible to her aloud, so that she could hear it. Isn't that darling? 

Yesterday as we were walking into Sunday school the teacher turned to us and was like "so, who's got the lesson?" Uhhhhhh... not you? So this week it was my turn to on-the-spot throw together a Sunday school lesson in Russian. Mission calls should come with a subtitle. Serving a mission: doing a vast variety of things in your second language on the fly. Anyway, the lesson was alright. Better than when I improv taught in Zhytomyr, so that was cool.

I learned how to sew a button this week! There are some way cute members here who are designers/seamstresses. I asked if they'd sew a button back onto my coat for me. I was told, "why give a man a fish if you can teach him how to fish." So we had a "master class" on button sewing and now I am capable of sewing buttons with nobs, two holes, and four holes. #domesticity

Daylight savings time was yesterday which is the best thing ever as a missionary because it's the only time you get an extra hour of sleep without breaking the rules!

Also, yesterday was the election! We went with the branch president and his family to vote  (the word for vote in Russian is literally to voice, isn't that neat?) before we had dinner at his house. The best part was that there was a star wars party, with Darth Vader running for Parliment. I would have voted for them. It was cool to see the elections, with real paper ballots! Yay for democracy. I hope things work out well and good people get put in charge of this little country of ours. We're all praying for Ukraine.

Oh. The most exciting moment of the week was when we woke up at 5AM to get to a girl in the branch's house by 6 to surprise her for her birthday. (I know, when they first told me we were doing that I was like "are you nuts? I would hate getting woken up at 6 on my birthday.") Anyway, she LOVED it and was so thrilled that we came to suprirse her and had a great birthday. So that was fun.

Okay, that is all I can write because the place where we are emailing is FREEZING and my hands are numb.

All the love,

Monday, October 20, 2014

Polka Dot Chameleon

We're sitting at the bishop's house for FHE. The 12-year old daughter is having me fill out one of those kids year book things where you tell everything about yourself. She's like tell me a secret. I point at one of the elders who was there with us about to say, "his first name is..." when she changes the quetion to "who do you love?" I was still pointing. And that is how I spent one of the most awkward FHE of my life getting teased by the entire family for liking the elder. 

In order to wrap up our companionship the right way, we impulsively dyed Sister Grandy's hair last week! I've never dyed anyone's hair. It turned out nice. 

Tuesday we went to the temple with one of Sister Grandy's best friends while she got her endownment and then was sealed. The whole temple ceremony was in Russian and for the first time I did it without earphones and totally understood it! It was awesome. Like I said last week, I love the Kyiv temple. 

Let's see.... Wednesday was one of the most terrible, odd days of my mission. I basically just visited all my favorite people and then stayed up until slightly after midnight packing. First stop was Katya, my favorite Relief Society president. How I love that woman. As I left she gave me a hug and was like "dress warm when it gets cold, okay?" And that's why I love her. Next we went to Ira's, who's one of my best friends in Ukraine. We had a good time with her then she gave the best letter anyone's sent me since I came on my mission. Then we went to Eva and her family's. Eva cried and I died a little bit inside, because she's basically family. We went to Tiam and her family, and I was kinda just distraught that I'll not get to see them, because they're some of the most incredible people I've met. And then we met with Angela, who I am so, so proud of. She told me she wants to serve a mini-mission once school's not going! So I basically said goodbye to all my favorite people in Ukraine in an 8 hour period. I'm pretty sure I couldn't even process it. 

And now I'm in Chernigov! I'm having funny deja vu with Zhytomyr. It's the same time of the year, the same weather, I don't know where anything is, and I'm in a beautiful, quiet litttle city with fall leaves all over the place. It's a little chilly, but life is good. The people are all characters and I love them already. Small branch life is so funny. Yesterday, during Sacrament Meeting someone refused to give their talk from the audience, the Sunday school teacher didn't show so my companion improv taught and RS was a full hour of argument intermingled with reading from the manual. There's something wonderful about baby branches. You've just gotta love them. They're just full of good, honest, striving people. Our branch president is a recent convert of March and he and his family are incredible. More about that next week.

Anyway, it's a time of adjustment for this little missionary. You know how you see funny cartoons of a polka dot chameleon against a striped background? I feel a little bit like that right now. But I'm adjusting and I'll be just fine in a little while. I always seem to end up in good places with good people. 

All the love,

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hot water and transfers

OUR HOT WATER CAME BACK ON THIS WEEK. The 3 month nightmare has ended. Ira leaned over to me yesterday in church and whispered "you endured to the end of not having hot water. Congrats." Okay, so I probably whined tons more than the whole situation merited to everyone who would listen, but, well, we all know I'm fairly high-maintenance. 

Not that it matters that much that we have hot water because on Thursday I'm shipping out for my transfer to Chernigov, and that apartment has a boiler! Anyway, while I'm super bummed to be leaving, I'm so excited to Chernigov. It's this tiny little pretty city. Basically, it's like Zhytomyr round two and I'm so excited about it. It's close to Russia and Chernobyl, too! Hahaha not that that actually matters. Anyway, it'll be great.

We had mission conference this week and Sister Welling came back and stayed with me the night before. best.thing.ever. I missed that fool and it was so good to see her. And at conference I saw my awesome trainer Sister Clark. She's going home in T-48 hours. Craziness. I will miss her. I've been so lucky to have incredible companions who I love so much. Lucky lucky lucky. 

After conference we went to the temple with Ira and Angela and Natasha (Eva's aunt). It was just awesome. I love the Kyiv temple! It was great to be there with them, because I just love them so much. They were so happy to be there and enjoyed it and want to go back. But who doesn't want to go back to the temple?

My favorite Relief Society President has agreed to adopt me. Just thought that was good news to pass on. 

We had the police called on us this week! The elders came to bring us a heater (because there's not a whole lot of heat due to the gas shortage) and brought one of the young men with them. While we were assembling it, he was playing with things in the hallway, including the electricity box. We were like "hey, don't do that!" but because we always joke with him, he kinda ignored us. Next thing I know our neighbors are out yelling at him. Turned out he'd flipped some switch he wasn't supposed to and they were not pleased with it. Anyway, the one neighbor overreacted and called the police over it. They showed up, slightly inebriated, and calmed everyone down and escorted the elders out after checking all our documents. Our neighbors asked us to please not invite such guests over any more. So that happened. 

I acquired the best souvenir ever this week. It's a Russian house wife manual from the 60s. "The book for every home for every day." So now I'll know how to be a Soviet house wife.

Anyway, church yesterday was so sad. Saying goodbye is just the worst thing ever. How about we never say goodbye?  KK. I've really loved my time in this ward and made some wonderful friends. How grateful I am for facebook and skype and email so that it's not a goodbye forever. I really do love these people and will miss them terribly. Transfers bite.

All the love,

Monday, October 6, 2014

72 hour kids

Well, like every other Kyiv missionary, I have to start my email by geeking out about the fact that our mission president spoke in General Conference on Saturday. If you missed it, click this. It was funny to watch because a HUGE majority of the things he said were verbatim things he told us in conferences and weekly letters. We were all like "well, good to know President hasn't changed." 

I passed my YEAR MARK in country on Thursday. Is that insane or what? It's nuts. I can't even believe I've been here this long. Especially because a handful of times we thought we were going to get sent home with the war and what not. 

At leadership council this week, President showed the Dustland Fairytale music video by the Killers and it was awesome. You know your mission president is kinda young when you're listening to rock music with him. That also happens to be my favorite Killers song, so it made me awfully happy. 

My branch president from Житомир has gone on a few dates with a girl in my ward and I played a good little joke on him. He gave us a present he bought on his vacation in Bulgaria so we could give it to her. I had the genius idea to buy a fake wedding ring and put it in the bag. But then I was like "no, that's too much." But I told her about it when I gave her the present. She started dying and was like "let's do it!" So she called him and was like "thanks for the present. I like the candy and the lotion, but I can't figure out, what's with the ring?" "......What ring?" "There's a really nice big ring here." ".....I didn't put a ring in there" "well, there's definitely a ring here. Usually when a boy gives a girl a ring he does it a little bit nicer." "I didn't give you a ring. Only Sister Pugh could have done this" "I doubt it, but I'll give you the ring tomorrow and we'll figure it out." She told him about it the next day and he pretty promptly called me, "I was up all night worrying about where the ring come from! I'm going to kill you!" But really he was way amused. 

I feel like that was not a very good recounting of the story, but just trust me that it was hilarious. I love them.

I was sick again this week. Ukraine is not agreeing with me this time of year.

There's a way cute little boy in our ward named Roham. His family is from Iran, and his parents don't speak Russian, so he learns it exclusively from his older sister (who incredibly has learned fluent Russian in 3 years.) Consequently, he always messes up the genders of words. Yesterday, we were teasing him that we were going to take his sister home with us and he grabbed her leg and yelled, "no, leave him!" We all died. Sometimes making tons of Russian mistakes is adorable. 

We just got a text that they're doing flu shots at zone conference this week. I HATE SHOTS. I didn't get one last year and was fine... probably fine this year, too? I hate being an adult and having the pressure to make responsible decisions. Can't I just not?

Also, remember how my apartment was inhabited exclusively by elders for over a year? We found this lovely pile of odd preservatives on a windowsill...

All the love,

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ira gets baptized and a new apartment

Our landlord called last Monday night - "I need to come tomorrow morning with a photographer to photograph the apartment so that I can post it online." "Can't you come another day? It's pretty messy right now because we're packing." "No, it must be tomorrow." So we spent all of Tuesday morning cleaning. He shows up and his "photographer" is a woman with an iPhone. Ummmm. Okay. Anyway, he was really snarky about the whole moving thing. "You're going to be so cold in your apartment. I hope that you have bought new warm clothes and that when you're freezing you think of me fondly" Then he called like 15 minutes after he left and was like "you're new house is going to be so loud too, since it's a new dom, there are continually going to be remonts going on. If you want to change your mind, I'll wait for your call." We did not change our mind, but we did spend like 6 hours straight this week cleaning the stupid apartment. It is so darn clean. SO CLEAN. I did not like cleaning. But we have a way nice new apartment, so that's so good!

In the process of cleaning we realized we needed to clean the oven. And we were like "I have no idea how to clean an oven." So, of course, we called our bishop's wife and were like "Tanya! How do we clean an oven?" She explained it all to us and was like "hey, just come over and you can borrow my oven cleaner." It was just a way nice moment of being taken care of. Sometimes, missionaries need moms, too. I love that there are people I can rely on for help everywhere, even in my little Voskresensky ward in Kyiv.

At English class, we just had story time last week and it was so fun! One of our members who works at the international school Kindergarten brought in some English story books and we just read them for English practice. I felt like a teacher, but in an okay way. 

We have the world's best Relief Society president in this ward. I seriously love the woman so much. She's just a rockstar and gets it all done. Anyway, we called her this week to talk about something and I was like "how are you Katya?" She was like "I'm really tired." So we made cookies and ran over to her house. We ate borscht and cookies and just hung out for a few minutes. It was nice, because you're always slightly terrified when you drop by someone's house that they're going to be annoyed that you swung by unannounced. But she wasn't. Anyway, the short of it is that I love my Relief Society president so much.

So remember the awesome Ira who came to church the first time to a super intense discussion of the necessity of a temple sealing for an inheritance in the celestial kingdom? She got baptized this week! We went over to her house on Monday and talked and she was like "so when am I going to get baptized?" So we set it up for Friday. Remember how there's no hot water in Kyiv. It was a really really cold baptism, but she was a trooper about it. It was a way nice baptism and I am just so excited for her!

In Russian news, I finished reading the Book of Mormon in Russian this week! It was kinda a major accomplishment of sorts. I love reading Книга Мормона. I also had a way cool little experience this week where I had to write a talk for the baptism and was a little bit worried about it. Writing talks is just hard/frustrating for me in Russian because I never can say what I want to say in the way I want to say it. So I was way nervous about writing this talk, but I sat down and the talk just sort of wrote itself. It was one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had with Russian. Things just flowed and it was such a gift. I was so grateful.

Grateful. I've been really, really grateful this week. It's funny how gratitude really does make one happier (maybe the apostles are onto something.) I don't know, I've just felt really grateful for everything this week. Things are so, so, so good here and it is so lovely.

All the love,

Monday, September 22, 2014

Maria and the Pitbull

You know how sometimes teenagers love to teach little kids things that just sound funny and odd coming out of a kid's mouth? Example: give me all your money, sucker. Members here love to do that with us and Ukrainian. Not like terrible things, just things that are super amusing coming out of the mouth of an American who doesn't really know the language. This week's phrase was "дякую боже що я не москаль" or, in other words, "thank goodness I am not a Moscvite (Russian)." I'm like a puppy they teach to do funny tricks.

Does anyone remember how my last 6 months of high school I went through a phrase where I had baby dreams all the time? Like there were just lots of babies in my dreams, of whom I often had to take care? I've started having trunky dreams! I had a dream this week that I was frantically buying all the food for my homecoming. And then another dream that I was at Nordstrom trying on jeans then I bought an iPad instead. So that's super weird. I'm not actually trunky. I'm just the kind of person who's always about 18 steps ahead of myself and so I have to keep myself from  planning 6 months ahead this time, which is hard. 

We visited the funniest little babushka named Maria. She's 80 something and always manages to come to church. She kinda looks homeless - her clothes are kinda raggy and her hair's kinda stringy and she's like four and a half feet tall. Anyway, we went over to her house and she had the funniest dog. It was a 15-year old pit bull. The poor thing was crawling with arthritis and could barely walk. And she just loved it so much. She spent the first 10 minutes of our visit just talking about/to him. They were just a funny and adorable broken down old pair. 

I got sick this week. And I got to sleep a lot because of it. I know sometimes people are like "why does God let missionaries get sick if they're doing his work?" Let me tell you, He lets missionaries get sick so we do not collapse from exhaustion. I literally feel better than I have in like a month or two because for the first time in a while I'm not completely worn out. Sometimes, even getting sick is a blessing. 

Our landlord came over this week and told us he wants more money. Like way more than the apartment is worth. So we have to move out by the 30th. I've never been kicked out of an apartment before and I don't think I like it very much at all. We're just moving into the elders' apartment and they're moving in together. So at least there's no apartment hunting involved. Still no hot water, if you were wondering. 

I'm addicted to pancakes? Also, we ate 3 bars of white chocolate on an exchange this week. White chocolate is inexplicably really really good in Ukraine.

We had FHE with Eva and co. again this week. We made a gratitude box. While cutting some paper for the gratitude box, I accidentally cut myself with scissors. It was surprisingly deep and it bled a lot. They still invited us over for FHE tonight though! We also had a way fun day with Eva on Thursday. We came over and colored a Plan of Salvation map with her. Then took her to a  babushka's house to teach her the plan of salvation. We'd planned parts, but when we got there, Eva got really into teaching and taught the whole thing herself! She did it so well and it was so awesome. The babushka loved it, most importantly.

We were on a lesson with  Ira this week and I said something about "this is one of my favorite verses in the Book of Mormon." Apparently I say that a lot because she was like, "Pugh, half of the Book of Mormon is your favorite and the other half is too." It's true, I just love it. 

All the love,

Monday, September 15, 2014

Being an awkward pedestrian and other adventures in a very fun week

Remember how we made Eva's mom a birthday cake last week? Well, for my birthday Judy put some candles in the package so I brought them along and stuck them in the cake. We sang Happy Birthday (in English, because inexplicably all Ukrainians know that song even if they don't know anything else in English). Then her mom blew out the candles. Which immediately re-lit. They were all so shocked and baffled and amused. They blew them out again and again and they re-lit again and again. Turns out Judy sent me trick candles! Hahaha it made for a great surprise for everyone. It was a good birthday.

Yesterday, a family in our ward invited us over to their house after church. They live a little outside of Kyiv in the nicest house I've seen in Ukraine. This house is seriously straight out of Pepperwood. It was awesome. We played with the kids and jumped on the tramp with them. We even did flips! (In a skirt, but I kept it classy, don't worry). Granted, today we're both so sore from doing flips, and feel like babushkas over it, but whatever it was worth it. The really cool part of the afternoon was that they invited their friend and her son over. We had a first lesson with her sitting on blankets outside in the shade eating apples off their tree and it made my life complete. She's coming to church next week. 

It was actually just a way fun week. Saturday we had a picnic in the forest! We played American football and volleyball and ate sausages. And dressed in our street clothes! I was in jeans all day on Saturday and basically didn't know how to handle it. Here's a picture of me being an awkward pedestrian:

Our favorite investigator Ira got a puppy! It's a six week old German Shepard and it's the cutest darn thing in the whole world. It walks all awkwardly and I love it. It's definitely not trained at all though; we were at her house for an hour and there were two accidents in that span of time. So I'm glad it's not my puppy but that I can just enjoy playing with it on a weekly basis. Perfect set-up. 

Angela's doing awesome. She told us this week how she stood up in her university religion class and talked about the church for 15 minutes when the professor asked some question about it. She definitely wouldn't have done that when we first met her. It's so cool to see how much she's growing and changing and becoming a Mormon. I think I came on my mission thinking that people should be Mormons and then they can get baptized. But it's really not like that at all. There's so much growth and figuring things out that happens after baptism. 

I found John Freida conditioner this week in a store somewhere! So now my hair always smells like America. (I know that America does not actually smell like John Freida conditioner, but my hair now smells like it smelled in America and that's kinda insane). 

All the love,

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Dentist Visit and Other Ongoings

So I notoriously hate the dentist and hate feeling pain at the dentist. More than a few times in high school, I would run to the dentist during math and come back looking like a stroke victim because I asked the dentist to use a little extra Novocaine. I'm just really not a fan of tooth pain. Well, remember how I had a massive cavity? I went to the dentist this week. Obviously, I was pretty nervous, because I'm not a fan of American dentists, much less Ukrainian ones. But I was a big girl and didn't cry or anything. We get to the dentist and it's this way nice woman who doesn't speak a word of English. So with some pointing and creative explanations, I explained to her that I had a cavity and needed help. She looked at it and said she'd fix it. Then she pulled out a little vile of clear liquid and was like "have you ever used this before?" "I don't know, what is it?" "the shots dentists give so you can't feel anything" "oh, of course I've used that. We always use that in America." "Yeah, well, we're going to try not to use is. I'm going to be really careful and it'll be a little painful, but just endure." "Can we please use it?" "No." And that is the story of how I got two cavities filled without any Novocaine. It was terrible. I wait without patience my first visit to an American dentist. 

The dentist was in a cute little mall place. So afterwards I did what I do best and rewarded myself by shopping. Which is the story of how I bought Brave, Tangled, and Cinderella in Russian. After the mission, folks are going to be like "where's Hannah?" and the answer is going to be, "she's addicted to Disney cartoons in Russian."

Our landlord came this week. He promised that if we go to mid-October and they don't turn the hot water back on he'll buy us a boiler. And I'm like "oh great, transfers are October 14 and I'm probably leaving." I guess I can't complain too much if my worst war story from Ukraine is 3 months without hot water, seeing as other people have actual war stories. 

Speaking of Ukraine, there's been this funny thing happening where groups of teenagers/young adults have been paining all the fenced blue and yellow like the Ukrainian flag. Literally all over Kyiv, all the park fences, guard rails on the street, etc. have turned blue and yellow. It's kinda funny and awesome. I love Ukrainian pride.

We went on a mini-exchange in Brovary this week because one of the sisters there has a slightly broken back and her companion had some things she needed to do outside the apartment. So we got hot showers there (the lucky fools have a boiler!). Plus we had a way fun lesson. We met at the church in the morning and ate pancakes and watched a church movie with their investigator. It was one of the chillest but most spiritual little lessons I've been on. Sometimes, it's good to let things be easy.

There's this home-bound paralytic in our ward named Ghinadi who got baptized last year. How do you baptize a home-bound paralytic? The elders built a font in his living room, but that's a different story. Anyway, we try to visit him every once in a while and bring cookies or something. So we called and set up, but then when we showed up, he didn't answer the phone or and the door was locked and everything. I've been dogged a lot on my mission, but that was my first time being dogged by someone who can't leave their bed. (Don't worry, we went back a few hours later and found him home and gave him cookies and everything was fine.)

Eva was obsessed with these little 2 cent toys at the grocery store this week. It's all the rage among Ukrainian school children. And that was the moment when I realized I will be an absurdly indulgent parent. Because Sister Grandy spoke first and was like "Eva, be happy with what you have, you don't need more." But inside I was like "oh, it's less that two dollars. I'll buy you everything." And it ligit kinda killed me not to buy the stupid things for her. So I guess I need to work on that. Good thing I've got plenty of years before I have to cross that bridge. Eva's like my favorite. I legitimately feel like she's family. On Tuesday we sat in the kitchen and shared yogurt for dinner while she told me about her first day of school and it was just like "yep, this definitely feels like hanging out with Shayna and Lizzy." We're making cake with her for her mom's birthday today in an hour. She's the best.

All the love,

Monday, September 1, 2014

Return to Житомир

So it was pretty much one of the best weeks of my mission. Why? Because this fool got to go back to Житомир! Does anyone remember my favorite 7-year old, Masha, from there? The one I love with my whole darn heart. Well, now she's my favorite 8-year old and her mom gave her permission to get baptized. Her grandma, Yulia, called me and was like "Is there any way you can come, Masha would really love it if you did." So I called President and made some pleas and next thing I knew I was on my way to that favorite little town of mine. And it was wonderful. Yulia didn't tell Masha I was coming so when she walked in and saw me she was so surprised and so excited! She pretty much gave me the biggest hug anyone has ever given me in my life. And then she pretty much didn't let go of me the whole time I was there (except to get baptized, obviously). It kinda felt like coming home, honestly, to just be with her for a few hours. I really do love that city and those people so much. There was just something so rewarding about getting to be there and see them. Missions are the best. 

On the way back, I realized that it was maybe the last time in my life I will get to see Masha and  Житомир and there may or may not have been a few tears. Not sure why, but it made me realize that my mission will actually end in a day not to far hence and it kinda killed me inside. We listened to The Best Two Years soundtrack this morning and I was just like "No, No, I can't handle it. Missions don't end. I will never have to take my tag off and go home." Basically I'm terrible at letting things end. So I'm trying to just not think about it at all and we'll just cross that bridge when we come to it. 

In other news, we had a kinda awesome random act of kindness. On Monday we were late and our bus came and we ran after it and the bus driver clearly saw us but decided not to wait. Next thing I know, this car has stopped and the driver was like "girls, get in, I'll drive you to the next stop ahead of the bus." So we hopped in and that is what happened. It was kinda super awesome. I want to be more like that when I grow up. 

A man walking a chow chow told me this week that Utah legalized polygamy? Someone give me an update on that. Having strangers speaking Ukrainian to me on the bus as my news source kills me. 

In food news, it was a good week. Monday we made sushi with the youth, who are awesome. Tuesday we had Dominoes with some members. Have we talked about Dominoes Tuesday? Tuesday is buy one get one free at Dominoes so naturally we have to take advantage of that every once in a while. Wednesday we had lunch with some missionaries and some senior couples - it was American themed including some incredible BBQ sauce the elders made. Thursday we had district meeting and one set of elders made cookies and the others made lemon bars, so that was obviously awesome. And on Saturday I found pumpkin at the grocery store so I made pumpkin chocolate chip cookies which were obviously a hit because I used Katy's recipe. Then this morning we met at the church early and had district lunch of pancakes! Which was just way fun and tasty. Basically, I love it when the elders cook for me. 

I think this is a thing in America, but our ward has been all about the "ice bucket challenge" this weekend. You fill a bucked with ice water and dump it over your head and then challenge other people to do the same within 24 hours. Saturday we filmed our MCL while he did it. And then he challenged the elders, who did it this morning before pancakes. I'm not really sure why it's such a big deal, because we basically dump a bucket of ice water over our heads every morning when we shower. (Yes there is still no hot water and I swear the water gets colder every single day). The elders said the bucket was actually warmer than there showers, but I'm not totally sure I believe that. 

Remember that scene in Harry Potter where Hermione's like "it's Levioca not levioca." If I could, I would insert the link here. Anyway, that's how Russian is. The placement of the stress literally differentiates all words. And if you get the word stress wrong, people don't understand you at all. Which is just something that has been driving me nuts lately. 

Anyway, summer is officially over and that's always a terrible feeling. We made brownies and had a lesson with Angela and co. and it made me so sad that our fun summer of going over there all the time and teaching her and baptizing her is over. It really has been a wonderful summer here in Kyiv. School started today, so all the kids put on their vyshyvankas and got all decked up. It was adorable. Here's a picture of me with mine. 

All the love,

OH. PS. We got transfo this week and I'm staying in Kyiv with Sister Grandy until at least October 15. #prayforhotwater

Monday, August 25, 2014

Independence Day

I HAVE A MASSIVE CAVITY. It is terrifying. I do not like the dentist, not one bit. When I first discovered the cavity I was like "I can wait six months! I'll just stop eating sugar." Which I did successfully. But then every time someone offered me sugar and I was like "I can't I have a massive cavity." They were like, "you fool, if you wait six months you'll lose your tooth." So finally I cowboyed up and called the doctor, who promised they do in fact have great dentists here in Kyiv. Which means I have a visit to the dentist in my near future. So there's that.

It finally cooled off! Including our not-heated water. Is it possible to get hypothermia from a shower? What are the symptoms of hypothermia? Will someone send that to me?

Remember my cutest little 9-year-old Eva? She got baptized Saturday. Tons of people came and it was a way cute little baptismal service. Eva spoke at the end about how excited she was that she was able to get baptized and that she didn't have to wait. I love that little girl with all my heart. 

Yesterday was Ukrainian Independence day! Which felt a little funny to be celebrating considering the war and what not. Anyway, everyone (including us, obviously) wore vyshyvankas to church and it was just darling. I learned how to say "happy independence day" in Ukrainian, so that made me a pretty popular little missionary. We had a HUGE ward lunch and ate Ukrainian food until we couldn't walk. Plus some American pancakes made by the missionaries. I think we literally made 85+ chocolate chip pancakes. They were pretty darn good if I do say so myself. I did all the dishes afterward. Is it weird that I'm pretty sure doing the dishes is how I relieve stress as a missionary? #haven'tseenadishwasherinoverayear

All the love,

Monday, August 18, 2014

Okroska and soap

I COME HOME SIX MONTHS FROM TODAY, AUGUST 18. Not sure how to feel about it. Part of me's like "wow, I'm going to be home in a flash" and the other part's like "I am going to die in Ukraine." Mostly it's just super weird. I'm still not sure what I'm going to do once I come home, but we'll just let that work itself out. If anyone wants to find me some awesome job for a few months, I'd be awfully grateful. 

This week at district meeting we sang hymns accompanied by one of our elders on the ukulele. Best church meeting I've ever been to. 

I was fed okroska this week. Okroska is a cold soup. Here are the ingredients of okroska: raw cucumbers, radishes, spring onions, boiled potatoes, eggs, and lunch meat with kvass, the fake beer made from fermented rye bread, and sour cream. Think about it. Just think about it.

But it's okay because we had some lovely things in our life, too! We spent pretty much all day Saturday making soap with our investigator Ira. It was SO MUCH FUN. We got to pick the color and the scent and the shape. It wasn't even that hard just lots and lots of fun. Maybe I'll be a soap maker when I grow up. Most of mine turned out just kinda alright, because arts and crafts haven't ever been my forte, but I made one big flower one that turned out pretty nice. Not sure why, but I was just kinda in a pink mood that day. Anyway, this is my soap:

It smells better than it looks, I promise.

Oh remember my cute Eva girl from last week (two weeks ago?)? She's getting baptized on Saturday! We had a sit down with her mom and were like "listen, she's 12,000 times ready. We're gonna hold a baptismal service on the 23rd. Can she get baptized?" Her mom was like, "пусть она крестится," which really doesn't translate the way I want to, but kinda means "let her be baptized" (but let means let as in "let them eat cake") ANYWAY, it was just a very cool moment and Eva started jumping around and screaming and kissed her mom like 18 times on the cheek. It was adorable. Watching and getting to take part in a kid's dreams come true definitely qualifies as the fun part of missionary work. 

This week we went to visit a member at her work in center Kyiv, which is across the river from us. But then we ended up staying to late and would have gotten home WAY too late if we'd taken the metro and a bus. So we called a taxi. And sang along to the radio playing American music. And felt a little bit spoiled for an evening. How I miss driving.

Last but not least, we went to the little town of Chernigov this week for exchanges. It was a dream. Seriously, that town is so pretty. I love it there. It was a seriously seriously unholy temperature (I think it was pushing 40 degrees with like 800% humidity), but it was still so wonderful. We went on a picnic for lunch with their investigator! We hiked up this little hill overlooking a lake and ate PB&J and ate watermelon and it was so perfect. I love picnics. I saw one of the elders from my MTC district and we had a conversation for pretty much the first time in a year. Before I left he was like "Sister Pugh, don't take this the wrong way, but it's funny how docile you've become." I still haven't decided if I like that or not, or if it's true or not, but I'm definitely different. Maybe we can use the word gentle instead. Or pleasant. I like to think I've still got some fight in me. 

All the love,

Monday, August 11, 2014

"Is there going to be a fight?"

Well, I got new Nikes this week. Fun fact, in Russian (or Ukrainian, maybe?) Nike rhymes with bike. As in, they don't know how to say Nike correct, so they just start the word bike with the letter n. I guess it makes sense. Anyway, there's a nike outlet around here, so I got them super cheap and I am so very pleased with myself. We run a couple miles every morning and it's now just so much better. 

We went on a eating really healthy kick last week (we refused to call it a diet). Anyway, basically all we ate was vegetables and fruit for like 10 days. I very quickly got very grumpy, but it took me over a week to put two and two together. I was like "maybe I just miss Sister Welling?" or "maybe I need to go to bed earlier" or "maybe I need to speak English more" because we pretty much never speak English these days. FINALLY, I was like "oh, I've been hungry for a week! That's what's wrong!" So we bought some bread and my mood instantly improved 1000%. And that was the end of eating like a rabbit. 

On the topic of food, it is watermelon season in Ukraine! Literally every block or less there is a giant watermelon stand. Watermelon kinda makes me miss Whimzy. She's so darn cute when she eats watermelon! For FHE last week, dessert was watermelon with brown bread (the really good kind that's like almost black and is pretty much entirely made up of every kind of grain). It was surprisingly good. I brought babushka Valentina watermelon this week and she pretty much died. She was like "I keep wanting to buy watermelon, but I can't carry it!" So that was funny and adorable. Poor babushkas are suffering in the heat. We visited one this week and she was like "it's so hot I walk like a drunk and we have no hot water so I'm afraid to shower." So sad. I promise not to complain about anything for the next 50 years. 

We had a water balloon volleyball activity and it was so much fun! Somehow, it turned out to be the one day in the past 2 weeks that wasn't blazing hot, and we actually had to end early because of rain, but it was still super awesome. Eva (remember her from last week) came and had way too much fun pelting water balloons at her older brother and the elders. Sometimes, it's just a lot of fun to play on a Saturday afternoon. 

We had kinda a treat this week. Do you remember Zoya from my first few weeks here - recap: Judy's age, speaks English perfectly, translated all the scriptures into Ukrainian, AWESOME. Anyway, we had some stuff we needed to translate from Ukrainian and so we went over to their house. We ate chocolate ice cream and they told us ALL THE NEWS. But they told us in ENGLISH. So we understood PERFECTLY. It was ligit like watching the news for a while. Unfortunately, the news wasn't too good. I think I like it better when I don't really know what's going on in Ukraine and when I don't know what Putin's up to. Because then it's just kinda funny and absurd that there's a "war". The more I know the more serious and real it gets and I'm not sure I like it. Before long I'm going to turn into a "give peace a chance" hippie hanging out in the East. Anyway, Putin scares me. Pray for Ukraine. I'm pretty sure the only reason any of us are still here is that the Kyiv stake's been fasting for 7 months. 

Yesterday our awesome investigator Ira came to church. Relief Society was all in Ukrainian, and it must have been a gift of tongues moment, because unfortunately I understood all of it. Turned out to be a very heated discussion on the doctrine of the necessity of temple marriage for a place in the celestial kingdom. Lots of single women in our ward didn't like that and the married ones were being kinda bratty. Not awesome. Ira was so funny about it though. At one absurd point she smiled and whispered to me ""how do you say борьба in English?' "Fight" "Is there going to be one?" and then at the end stood up and laughed and said, "well, I'm going to go home and tell my husband our marriage isn't a real marriage." She's funny and quirky and I adore her. She's set to be baptized in September, and is doing beautifully. 

I went on an exchange with the one and only Sister Ford this week. We had so much fun! I love Sister Ford! Except we stayed up way too late talking, so the next day I had to sleep through lunch so I could keep going. Anyway, we did English class and talked about similes and metaphors, which was obviously a highlight of my week. We talked to a man who really liked us and invited us to his infant son's baptism on the 21st. So that was cool. "President, we set a date but it's an infant and he's not getting baptized in our church!" (Don't worry, we didn't actually make that phone call). Lots of people we talked to on the street gave us free food. In the course of 2 hours we got: 6 tomatoes, 4 pears, and two loaves of bread. It was awesome. Everything is awesome.

All the love,

Monday, August 4, 2014

Year mark что??

Just another ordinary week on my mission. OH WAIT. This week I passed my year mark! July 31, 2013 I put on my very first tag. Isn't it crazy that it's already been a year? I'm pretty sure it's closer to 4 maybe 5 months. Maybe. A year sounds so long, but in reality it feels so short. I pulled out my old journal and read what I wrote on day 1. The entry ended I'm pretty sure being sister pugh is going to be the best thing that's ever happened to me. So darn true. The past year really had just been the best. I could write a love letter to my mission. I pretty much do every night in my journal. Where would I be if not on the mission? I don't know, but it wouldn't be nearly as good in any way. A mission is just the best. I literally haven't the words for it. I'm just happy and I'm growing and I'm learning and it's so good.

Now that I've established how much I love it here, let me just say IT IS AN UNHOLY TEMPERATURE OUTSIDE. Luckily, we have lots of awesome people we're meeting with and we're not on the street all that often. Also lucky, I found sandals this week with closed toe and heel that don't look like something you'd find in the free box at a retirement center! Hurrah! (I started saying hurrah in Russian (ура!) and it's apparently made its way into my English vocabulary too). Anyway, I'm drinking between 3-4 liters of water a day and it's just great. Remember when I got called to Ukraine and everyone was like "you're going to be so cold!"? The heat is like 1000 times worse than the cold. (Someone remind me I said that when it's January, okay?)

Also, I know everyone's super interested in the hot water situation, which continues to develop. As of this past week, there will be no hot water anywhere in Kyiv until at least October 15. Death. It comes as a result of the war with Russia. (Sidenote: is it known as "the war" in American newsmedia? Like do people call it the war in Ukraine? If so, is it seen as being between Ukraine and Russia or Ukraine and rebel groups? I never know, because everyone here just calls it "the war".) ANYWAY, apparently Russia's been jacking up prices on our oil and gas and cutting it off immensely, so Kyiv government was like "well, we all have boilers in our houses, so let's just let the commoners suffer for a few months." Not sure that's a verbatim quote, but you get the jist. Hurrah. 

We had testimony meeting at church yesterday, but it kinda turned into a political rally. Basically all our testimony meetings turn into political rallies. We've got a few die-hard patriots in this ward, and an open mic is a chance to proclaim their politics, regardless of the situation. The patriots refuse to speak Russian (even to us) and only speak Ukrainian, so I never really understand what's being said (I've learned Ukrainian enough to get like 45-50% of it), but I did understand yesterday the call for us all to put our Christian words to the test by collectively buying support kits for the troops in the East. Pretty ligit use of sacrament meeting. (Not.)

After that, one 18-year old kid (my favorite one, actually) stood up and read in the bible dictionary what a testimony is. Such a punk. But kinda a rock star one.

We had a fun excursion in center this week. We had an investigator who wanted to go visit a cool spot and we were like "okay!" so we went to this way awesome terrace area in center Kyiv. Kyiv is so interesting because in the very center of the city you can find beautiful places that are super quite and peaceful. Anyway, the area had  a beautiful view of the city, some fairly decent street musicians (I love when they play American music because the accent is so funny and fabulous) and a ton of way cool contemporary statues and tiles. It was just magnificent. After that, we went to this Lviv chocolate place where they don't give you hot chocolate, they literally give you a cup with straight melted chocolate in it. And it is way good chocolate. So that was kinda super awesome. I like center Kyiv. Someday, I'm going to come back and be a tourist here. 

We're teaching my new favorite little girl in this entire country. Her name is Eva and she's 9. She's from Lugansk (where the war is) so she and her family came here to be safe. Her parents aren't members but her older brother and aunt are and she's been going to church with them for a few years. Anyway, her mom gave her permission to meet with missionaries so we've been teaching her and she is the sunshine of my world. She's so bright and just good. She's like the most loving little girl I've ever met, and we have so much fun playing and talking with her. She's amazing and I adore her. 

Anyway, that's about all for me. Things are good, aside from the absurdity of living in a country kinda at war. Whatever, I love Ukraine.

All the love,

PS. We work hard. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Vyshyvanka Sunday

Sister Welling and I had some awesome last few days together. 

We went to this street called Andriyivskyy spusk (Russian is so funny in English letters). It's a tourist kind of spot in Kyiv. It was crazy to come out of the metro and see that place, because it was not like being in Ukraine. It felt like Europe. It was probably the first time in my 10 months in Ukraine that I've felt like I was legitimately in Europe (albeit Eastern). Sister Welling and I, both fairly well traveled, were in amazement and got all kinds of travel trunky. We're going to be travel buddies in some sort of after-mission life. Anyway, we bought all kinds of souvenirs, since pretty much neither of us have ever bought souvenirs in Ukraine. I bought a vyshyvanka, which is a traditional Ukrainian blouse, and some nesting dolls, among other things. So now I have souvenirs to prove this Ukraine thing was ligit. 

We also went to the temple with Angela, our cute recent convert from two weeks ago, to do baptisms! It was just pretty awesome to be there with her together. I love the Kyiv temple. Also, the temple showers had hot water, which was wonderful, because we're currently on day 19 without hot water and I'm kinda over it. Then again, I live in an apartment with a shower, and not all missionaries can say that, so I probably shouldn't be complaining. 

Our last night we stayed up way too late writing notes in each other's journals and whining about having to break up (again!) and just not really wanting it to be over. She's really one of my best friends. I miss her. Transfers are the worst.

Okay, they're not really the worst because I have this awesome new companion named Sister Grandy. We've been working really well together. We're both pretty diligent and have a really good rhythm in getting stuff done together. It's great because one of us will be like "let's do this!" and the other one is like "yeah, okay! Let's do it!" It's just a lot of fun to try a lot of things and work hard. I taught her to make borsht yesterday because she didn't know how and that is pretty much a sin. Too hot to eat borscht in the summer? Not when you have air conditioning in your apartment!

Yesterday was one of the funnest days I've had at church in Ukraine. We decided to wear our vyshyvankas (that traditional Ukrainian blouse I bought Monday) and see what would happen. Turns out what happened is that we instantly became everyone's favorites! Literally just walking down the street people would give us thumbs up or say how cool it was that we were wearing vyshyvankas. The members LOVED it. I've literally never gotten so much positive feedback from members. EVERYONE said we were beautiful and awesome and gave us hugs. One took pictures of us. It was great. Every once in a while, it's just good fun to be showered with positive attention and be told by 100 people how beautiful you are. After all, isn't that why we even have wedding receptions?

All the love,

Monday, July 21, 2014

Transfers #abandonmentissues

It was a great week for the babushkas of this area. With each babushka we visited we read from D&C 121 and 122. They totally ate it up. I've discovered the secret of babuskas: they love suffering. They love talking about suffering and trials. It was awesome. Yesterday, we brought cute Tiam (Iranian recent convert) with us. When Tiam said she was from Iran, the babushka started crying - "I'm just so glad the church is all over the world." She LOVED Tiam and it was just brilliant. 

Found out this week that Lorin SOLD MY CAR (that wasn't really mine). So that happened. Am I still mourning it? Maybe. Next time you see Lorin, give him a gentle punch from me and my car.

I was on exchanges with the lovely Sister Hunt this week. Where is Sister Hunt from? Sandy, Utah of course. She went to Alta and we have a mutual friend or two, so that's cool. Also, we served together in Житомир during the revolution so that obviously bonded us. Anyway, I love Sister Hunt. She's probably the boldest missionary I know and it was so fun to serve with her for a day. She's just a wonderful missionary. It was a great day, a great exchange.

I saw a lot of President Packer this week. We did interviews on Thursday then had leadership council on Friday. I'm super impressed with him. He's very insightful into the needs of the mission and how to fix things. It's also funny because every time I see him and his wife it's amazing how completely opposite of the Klebingats they are. Both excellent leaders, but impossibly different from one another. Go figure. 

Sad news. Transfers are this week and Sister Welling is leaving me. Heart.broken. She's just one of my favorite friends and companions and I'm going to miss her dearly. The good news is that I'm staying here (despite my best attempts to get a transfer to Kharkiv (part of Donesk mission they shut down then made part of our mission but still won't let missionaries in)). I'mma be gettin a new companion named Sister Grandy this week. From what I've heard, she's just great and has amazing Russian, so I'm excited to learn from her. 

Angela is continuing to be a rock star. She got a calling and a temple recommend yesterday (we're going to the temple Wednesday before Sister Welling leaves). She told us a way cool little story. She said that Friday night she came home late to an entirely dark house. She went into her room to see her mom sitting there reading the Book of Mormon. Her mom was like, "well, you've changed pretty much your whole like in a month and a half, and I wanted to know why, so I'm going to read this book." Very neat. We'll see what happens with that. 

A new family from Luganask (Luhansk?) just moved into our ward. Lugansk is the Ukrainian city closest to Russia, and since there's a war there, they came up to Kyiv. Anyway, they are the most darling family and I'm so excited to have them here. They're just really, really good people. We were over at their house Saturday night and it made this whole "war in Ukraine" thing so much more real. I've been pretty casual (occasionally frivolous perhaps) about it, since I have no news and only hear bits and pieces. But talking with them and seeing how hard it was for them and how much they feared made it infinitely more real. I'm worried about this little country. I hope things will be alright here. 

All the love,

Monday, July 14, 2014

It was a great week, including the worst day ever.

It was just an awesome week. 

We went on a picnic last Monday night for Ivanna's birthday. We were close to the riverbank in this lovely little spot. It was out of the city and quiet. I don't think I'd realized just how loud Kyiv is until I was not in it. Anyway, it was a great picnic. We built a fire and cooked hot dogs (sort of, they're more like sausages). We played ultimate frisbee, which I surprisingly greatly enjoyed. It was great. 

Unrelated. Remember the drunk guy from last week? He came to church yesterday. Way awesome. The elders are working with him.

We did language study this week with a woman in our ward named Natasha who is incredible. She lived in Provo for 6 years and got a Master's at BYU and worked at the MTC. So she literally speaks English perfectly, but also knows how to teach Russian/Ukrainian to American missionaries. Anyway, we spent an hour with her and it was seriously so incredibly helpful. Probably the best language study I've had in months. It's funny how much better I learn when I'm taught. Like I can figure things out on my own, but when someone teaches me I just learn things better. I guess I just miss school a lot lately. 

We went on exchanges this week. The sister I was on exchanges with was sick, so I stayed inside all day with her. We had a good time talking for a few hours. Then while she slept I read about 50 pages of the Book of Mormon in Russian. It was awesome. I love reading in Russian. Sister Welling went out to work and had the worst day ever, but she was smiling at the end so it was funny. She had to get up early so we could get to the sisters on time (she hates getting up early). Took a shower but there was no hot water (still isn't by the way). It was raining, but she had a suitcase for exchanges so she didn't have a hand for an umbrella and got soaking wet. When the bus came, I got on, but it didn't wait for her so she got left (we met up  a few minutes later). Went out on the exchange and somehow got her foot cut by the bus's door. The exchange wasn't really planned at all, so they kinda just wandered around all day trying to talk to people in the rain. The one lady that did talk to them asked them to carry a giant bag of cherries for her across this muddy rain river that had formed in the middle of the street. And getting on the bus to come home, some guy put her hand in her purse to steal her money (but she caught him, so all is well). It was the worst day ever. I made her cookie dough, which we ate as we laughed about how it couldn't have been much worse. 

We made literally ridiculous amounts of brownies this week. We had to provide food for 3 parties, so 3 days in a row we brought our giant pan full of brownies. The recipe for one batch includes a KG of sugar, 9 eggs, and 2.5 cups of butter if that's any indicator of how absurd it was. 

We had a talent show on Friday! It was so awesome because tons of people came and participated. I wasn't necessarily expecting that, since I feel like in America people don't really like talent shows unless they're incredibly talented. This one was great though. A woman in our ward who's an actress did a scene and it definitely made me miss my best friend. One of the elders is weirdly flexible and he did a limbo contest with all the kids that he won and people ate it up. A darling woman in our ward sang hymns while one of the elders played the ukulele and it was SO COOL. All of our brownies disappeared quickly, and the brownies were our "talent" so I think that means we were a hit, too. 

We had a baptism this week! Her name in Angela and we've been working with her for about 2 months. She's 18 (has the same birthday as me) and loves literature (1984 is her favorite), so she's obviously one of my favorites. She started dating a boy in our ward (who's going to a mission in L'viv in 2.5 months) and he invited her to church. She kept coming and started meeting with us and reading the Book of Mormon. It was a beautiful, super smooth teaching process. She was just ready for all of it. And she got baptized on Saturday. Anyway, the baptismal service was small and just lovely. The best part for me was when she was in the bathroom getting ready after and I asked through the stall door, "well, how do you feel?" She answered, "peace. I feel peace. It's like peace of my soul." It was so honest and simple and sweet. I really do love that girl. 

One thing I love about this area is that we have  youth. The teenagers are seriously my favorite people. Maybe because it's summer and they have nothing better to do than hang out with and help the missionaries. Anyway, we spend lots of time with them. Probably the highlight of my week (maybe even more-so than the baptism?) was when the mom of one of the girls came up to me and said, "Vika already wants to serve a mission when she's older thanks to you." It was one of the most rewarding moments of my mission.

All the love,