Thursday, December 11, 2008

Healthy Websites!

Since beginning two weeks ago at the Utah Department of Health (UDOH), I have been exposed to quite a lot of health information :) There are two sites that I love love love and wanted to share with anyone who feels like checking out some fun and beneficial reads.

The first is called: Check Your Health and its fabulous. Check Your Health's layout it simple and easy to understand. That's my type of website. Topics cover healthy eating, being active, health for kids, and necessary screenings. As you look through the site, it is great because a lot of the information is practical and not overwhelming! Love that.

The second is CDC's Physical Activity site. Here again, the layout is pretty easy to understand and the information available is pretty clear. CDC offers physical activity guidelines for children, adults and older adults and helps individuals know how each should determine what is best for him or herself based on various needs.

These might not leave you excited for hours, but hopefully they can give you a couple of ideas if you're looking for a few reminders on how to be healthy. Hope you enjoy. There are also quite a few blogs out there with health themes and with great ideas on ways to maintain good overall health. They aren't all credible, but those that are can be great educators and motivators.

This week, I've been reminded of how much I absolutely loooove to run...especially outdoors. During my longer breaks at work, I've run outside and man, there isn't much quite like having the wind whip your face with fresh air, having time to think or to not have to think, and to be moving with the earth. Its probably the time I feel the most at peace and at one within myself. We all need to find whatever does that for us - when I forget or get "too busy," it seems my psyche suffers :).

Monday, December 1, 2008

From Boston to the Utah Department of Health

White Rabbit! Congratulations to everyone who remembered to say this today! It felt like my birthday, receiving so many texts from folks claiming
good luck for the month. Today also marked a huge change in my life: a transition from Boston to my new job at the Utah Department of Health in Salt Lake City.

Though I have not posted much about my experiences in Boston, living there with Ben, Emily, Denison, Annielle and little Brigham was a blessed experience that gave to me in many ways. Being around them taught me a great deal. It was especially nice to be with them at Thanksgiving.

While staying there, a good friend visited me, we watched the Celtics play, visited many historical sites, I met fabulous folks, staffed at Harvard's Business School (...just saying :), and even received "specialized" training workouts and went on fun adventures throughout both Boston and Cambridge with Boston's very own VIP, Rob Leahey! It doesn't feel like I was there very long, but somehow I became very attached to that lovely old historic part of our country and to the people living there as well. Being downtown, around those old buildings, made me feel I'd stepped inside a history book...and I kind of was just too cool. It would be wonderful to live there again in the future...a little more long-term-like.

Feeling a bit torn, but also quite hopeful, I moved back to Utah last weekend. And, as of today, I have begun my "career"...or actually, just my job, but I really like thinking of it as my career because the word is so "adult-like" and mature-sounding...oh, yes...the a Health Program Specialist in the Utah Arthritis Program. This opportunity will train me in several areas and will help me for future experiences as well. The program is intimate though it connects with others in several areas throughout the Department of Health. A number of BYU Public Health grads who I know are working at the Department too, so this will be quite nice to spend time and learn from their experiences. What a blessing to have a job in my field, with such good people, and in such a good area. I have moved in with Liz and her family in Salt Lake City and its already proved to not only be a huge blessing, but also a load of laughs.

Happy start to this holiday season one and all :)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Second Door: Another Beginning

As I sat in my chair reading tonight, I had reason to recall the lines I've included below. Feelings came to me so strongly, I thought I'd include a few here. This year, I've been reminded several times that there are two doors to our mortal existence, and both are miracles. Because I believe in the Savior, I believe that death is not the end. Saying this does not deny the pain, that it still hurts. This comes because we love. And as we try to make sense of our feelings, we look forward with hope, with a touch more wisdom, and with added compassion due to the stretching and tugging our hearts' have been given. I know its okay. It is. Its just that it comes, and sits with me a while, reminding me...

What is this thing that men call death,
This quiet passing in the night?
’Tis not the end, but genesis
Of better worlds and greater light.

O God, touch Thou my aching heart,
And calm my troubled, haunting fears.
Let hope and faith, transcendent, pure,
Give strength and peace beyond my tears.

There is no death, but only change
With recompense for victory won;
The gift of Him who loved all men,
The Son of God, the Holy One.
Gordon B. Hinckley
(In a great talk he gave, May 1988)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Megan O'Hanlon Marries Alejandro Solis!

One of the dearest people in my life, my partner in both roadside cleanups and in classical sing offs, the one who taught me pretty much all I know about jazz and introduced me to the "greats," the one who has spent at least a gazillion hours on crazy road trips with me, choir trips, hikes, midnight Denny's study parties, and numerous other adventures, one who has largely influenced who I am today...well, she, Megan O'Hanlon of Irish descent, got married, October 25th, 2008, at a lovely Unitarian Church in Mt. Vernon, right outside of Washington, D.C.

It has been difficult for me to put down in words my thoughts; its hard to know where to begin when talking about something so important happening to someone you love so much. At one point, Megs asked me how I felt, and honestly, I just felt so happy for her and to be with her. There is no where else I would have been. The entire experience was a ton of fun, full of memories, and a very action packed blurr in my mind :). That week leading up to the wedding was full of activities and little details to help everyone feel special and feel apart of this most important day for Megs. I was so impressed with the great attention Megs gave to even the smallest of details. Not only was her wedding a wonderful and a very special occasion, but also an event that gave to all who participated; it was like a sincere thank you to all those Megs loves.

During the week, Megs and Alejandro threw a sweet bachelor and bachelorette party at an 80's club where we danced the evening away, all decked out in 80's garb. As bridesmaids, we spent part of the week with Megs in an antique-like, history-filled hotel in D.C., and then she took as many guests as wanted to go, on a dinner cruise out on the Patomic River the night before she was married. It was such a blessing to see so many people we have loved through the years, to hear how they're doing and to catch up on their lives. We all had such a great time - its just too hard to describe all the feelings I experienced.

During her ceremony, Megs used an Irish folk group to play the processional and recessional music. They were fabulous! This group also accompanied Joe and I as we sang "Be Thou My Vision," one of Meg's favorite hymns. As we sang that piece, I felt something unique and really special. The ceremony was performed by a wonderful man dear to both Megan and Alejandro, who did a lovely job. Everything with the wedding party also seemed to go smoothly which was a great relief since it had been rather funny and crazy trying to pull everyone together before hand! The night ended in a amazing dinner and dancing. Ben, Emily, and their kids came as well as James and Joe. It was too much fun partying it up with these folks. This last picture was near the end of the night. I just love my brothers - it was so nice to be with them! Thank you Megan for everything and for blessing my life and making me a part of this memory. I love you.

A Tradition I Love

Since my first year in Provo, I have visited Zion National Park on numerous occasions to camp and hike through the Narrows, the Emerald Pools, to Weeping Rock, etc. My mom is from the desert. As a little girl, mom's favorite hike was up Angel's Landing, which she and her two siblings would do practically running, as little kids do :). For some reason, it was not until last year that I actually hiked Angel's Landing for the first time. It was a really special and sacred experience for me as every step made me think of my angel mother. She is the reason for soooo much good in my life and one of the most important reasons I have the beliefs I have. As I reached the top that first time, I felt a very real connection to her that I hope to never forget.

This all said, Liz and I decided later last year that it was time she and I hike it together, and so, posing as foreigners that only speak Thai...which we addition to English :), we hiked Angel's Landing. Doing so was healing, actually invigorating, a ton of fun and beautiful beyond words! Before I left Utah for "next stop is anywhere I get a job" a few weeks ago, she and I hiked it again. We decided it's a tradition :)...a new one, but one at that and I hope we continue it. Look at these amazing views. There's not much quite like it. You have to hike it if you haven't already.
The day after the hike, we visited my feisty and hilarious grandmother McCain in Cedar City at this great rehabilitation center where she is relearning how to walk(!) because of complications. She was too good to us and I was so grateful to see her. It has come to me that she has blessed my life more than I will ever really understand. Thank you Grandma. Enjoy the pictures all :). Cheers!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween & How About that Immune System!

Well, its Halloween! Even in Boston, kids of all ages dress up and pretend to be something or someone else, and then ask you to give them candy for their efforts. Love that. This year, Den is Dracula...and a very scary one, if I do say so myself. Annie is a bumble bee...even though she was going to be ghost for pretty much this entire week and only changed her mind at the last minute. Got to love that too. Em dressed up as a scary witch and I respect that :) And of course, Ben was himself as he carried little Brigham around.

Yesterday, we went on a hay ride at Wilson Farms, and it was the first Halloween thing I have done in a long time that I actually enjoyed. The whole scary holiday thing doesn't really suit me since I get scared so easily! The sun was out and it was so much fun being with Em, Den, Annie, Brigham, and Duncan (Den's friend) as we passed the hay rolls that were decorated as funny spiders and drove through the tunnel with all its decor of spooky bats, ghosts, spiders, etc.

The air smelled so fresh and fallish as we drove and I couldn't help wishing that fall would never pass onto winter. It's amazing to me that leaves never seem to bore me. Every step on a pile of leaves, comes with so much pleasure as I hear the crunching sound of the red, yellow, orange, and brown little ones beneath my feet. And though I know I should feel bad, even as an adult I just love to run through a pile of leaves and scatter them everywhere. Leaves aren't meant to be in a pile...they are meant cover the earth!

Yesterday and today have also reminded me to be grateful for good health. Don't feel sorry for me because I've been sick. I certainly don't feel sorry for myself. The experience has forced me to be still and to ponder several things that I haven't allowed myself the time to think about lately. Somewhere between 2 and 6am this morning, as I alternated between blowing my nose, drinking water, climbing the stairs to the washroom from the basement, and then hitting the bed again, laying on my back and looking up at the ceiling, ...I had a pretty neat experience. Well first, I thought something very funny. My independent self thought, "I just want someone to take care of me and go get me some hot lentil soup and make my headache go away!" And yes, I did feel kind of woozy crazy, but after my headache left, I felt a wonderful that invited me to review my life for the last bit.

Quite clearly to my thoughts came the many simple and small things I am grateful for: a bed, a closet to finally hang my clothes in, a wonderful family that puts up with me, holidays, tissue paper, blankets, my eyes, heaters, my sister Emily, my brother Ben, the opportunity to think, and the ability to smile. As this happened, I was reminded of things I should make amends, and I was filled with a repentant spirit. Gratitude for the Savior and for the Atonement came next and then peace again came over me.

It wasn't a huge experience or one I feel is too special to share. It just reminded me that I need to take time to be still, to express gratitude, to make right the things I may have done wrong. As I was laying there, I started thinking about the immune system...I told those little white blood cells to han
g on and bring me through :) and then I realized how crazy I am! Oh, how I love the human Halloween time or another time for that matter. Thanks for allowing me to share!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Today I Feel...

It's no secret that I love my family...and it's definitely no secret that I am crazy about each one of my sibs individually... With that said, I thought I'd share what my friend Liz and I made my bro Joe last week as a "house warming" gift for his new pad in Columbus. He's just started a grad program there at Ohio State. This "mood magnet perfecto" makes me smile everytime I look at it because I just love the millions of faces Joe makes everytime anyone tries to click the camera. Here it is folks. Enjoy a few of the many faces of Joseph Castleton.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Good Hair Day

Liz and I had a wonderful time going to church this morning. The sky and the mountains really shone and their beauty made us smile. At church, we listened to a wonderful musical program by the U's Institute Singers. It seems that music speaks most directly to me and a few of their numbers did just that. Later, we were asked to introduce ourselves by naming our favorite flower. We found out that lots of lovely folks favor orchids and lilies. Who knew?!

To top things off, Liz and I discovered that we were both having really good hair days today! This is definitely an accomplishment worth documenting, and here is the picture to prove it. Don't you just love that face of Liz? She is so darn cute and so much fun.

Hope you had a good hair day too!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Because I Remember Them

Anyone reading this will most likely already know about their passing, but I'm keeping this blog just as much for myself as for anyone else who would like to read it. Although my dear friend Allison Walther and her dad, Craig, died in the car crash reported in the news July 19th of this year, it has taken me a while to be able to write about it formally. My journal contains my thoughts, but I wanted to post a tribute to both Craig and Allison - two wonderful people who have both played major roles in my life.

Ali was probably wearing one of her over sized sweatshirts (as we all did in those days:), with her beautiful straight blond hair flowing behind her, that first time I met her. We were going into 6th grade, I think, and I remember liking her from the start. She was happy, had a fun laugh that made you laugh right along with her, and beautiful eyes that always seemed to be smiling while they sparkled. Throughout the years, we sang in choirs together, went to church together, took math, English and history together, ran together, and laughed and talked together about funny things at school, our friends, and yes, even boys. Everyone who knew Ali, liked being around her. She, in turn, seemed to like everyone too.

The summer before our senior year at Rogers High School, Craig let Ali and I work at American Linen, where he had a senior position. Since we often worked different shifts, we'd leave each other love notes on yellow lined paper before or after most shifts. It was such a fun time and I treasure all our funny notes to each other. She seemed to always be full of so much happiness, love and good times. Though I kept it to myself, I often felt that I wanted to be like her.

Ali's sealing
to Jeremy Van Gieson in the Seattle, Washington Temple was the first that I ever attended. While there, I had a powerful witness that what she was doing was not only beautiful, but wonderfully right and the goal I should always maintain. Since my mission, I have seen Ali off and on as her family increased from two to five. As a mother, Ali always impressed me, especially because she seemed to continue to maintain that happy laugh and smile despite craziness :) and ups and downs. Yes, I'm aware she wasn't perfect, but she was so good.

Ali and I attended our high school reunion a few months ago. On our way home, we both had parents ask us to pick something up from the store, so what did we do? We caravaned to good ol' Top Foods, and ran through the store looking for the goods. It was a simple thing, but I am now so grateful for the mercy given to me; one more fun time with her, talking and laughing about the many adventures we've experienced.

Craig is Ali's dad. In many ways, he represents what a good father and husband should be like. Since I first met the Walther family, I remember Craig referring to his wife, Kathy, in church or in conversation, as his better half, as the reason he was who he was at that point. Throughout the years, he continued to praise Kathy and as I listened to him, I made a silent promise to myself that I wanted to find someone who respected women and would view me in that way too.

The Walther house is visible from the windows in the Castleton house :). On many afternoons, I would look out and see Craig and Ali practicing volleyball hits and serves on their lawn. Ali told me once that she knew she could talk to her dad about anything and that she felt he always loved her. Once again, I hoped I would find someone who would be that way for my girls someday.

I still remember coming to my family ward for church one Sunday while I was studying at Pacific Lutheran University. As I ran into Craig and stuck out my hand to give him a shake, he said something like, "Ah, Becky, you don't have to keep giving me handshakes - you're like my daughter. You have to give me hugs from now on!" And, I always did. Everytime I came home, I looked forward to running into Craig, giving him a hug and catching up on life for a moment. It was always very obvious to me how much he cared about me and about all of us "kids"...friends of his kids.

As I have thought about honoring Ali and Craig, I have decided to try and reach out a little more, be a better friend, smile a little more, and laugh a little truer. Ali and Craig did that for me; they lifted me and their memory continues to lift me still. I miss them both, but because they loved me and because I love them, I will be a better person to the rest of my siblings on this earth. Thank you to both of you.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

When it Rains

This week was wonderful. It was also difficult - kind of a bummer for a couple people I love. Nothing terrible happened in their lives, just difficult things, disappointments, hopes not met. Why do I include this in my Celebrate Your Life blog? :) Well, because I felt the desire to do so tonight as I listened to a great speaker discuss how sometimes, the hardships we experience, as terrible as they can be, are what push us forward in life, and are the experiences that bring us closer to an understanding with God and with ourselves. It can be beautifully sobering. Though the process almost feels physically or emotionally debilitating at times, we need to struggle, to feel disappointment and sorrow. Through this, the Lord blesses us, enlarges our hearts, and can give us eye-opening, revelatory experiences.

My life has been beautiful. As I reflect on the situations and circumstances I've been given, I realize again and again what a gift it is to experience pain, loss, sadness, and disappointment. Struggling, climbing, fighting to run, to breathe and to sing is a purifying and perspective-giving process. And then, when you smile, your eyes not only carry brightness and light, but an increased measure of depth. They not only feel happy because of something positive, but because they know how much sweeter the good is from the unpleasant, how much more wonderful the beautiful is than the unattractive, and how much more enjoyable it is to laugh than to cry. But, this appreciation still respects the unpleasant, the less than beautiful, and especially the tears. These strengthen its inner joy, light and peace.

I wish you sunshine from the rain, but while it is yet raining, remember
that you can still hold your head up through the storm, wet as you'll be. The rain will stop eventually, your rough days will always come to an end. Things will get better. I can not take away your pain, but I can love you and can hope for patience while we experience this refining process. Sunshine is right around the next corner.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Promise of More Posts!

It has been brought to my attention that I have been neglecting my blog reading fans by not posting anything for far too long...I must apologize! Truth be told...I have at least three more blogs I wanted to finish on my experience in say nothing of my numerous unwritten blogs about my experience in El Salvador with Mary this summer. The short is, there are too many blessings I've been given this summer..."my cup runneth over," if you know what I mean. But, my excuses are at an end and I commit (to all those who care :), to get back to blogging...within the next 10 days :).
Love flows!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

My Last Day in Russia

Russian Beauties

I never tire from looking at the Russian Orthodox churches. I’ve made Scott and Justin and whoever else is with us, enter so many of them, much to their dismay at times. They said once you see inside ten, you've usually seen the same thing, but somehow entering these places of worship still interests me and helps me get a little better feel for the structure of these people's faith. Many say that the churches are more beautiful on the outside than the inside…and I’d have to agree with many of them.

Here is Christ’s Church which is pretty incredible on both the outside and the inside. When you walk inside most Russia Orthodox churches, you can usually see icons of the Holy Mother Mary or other Saints lining the walls or in clumps in parts of the church. Pictures of Saints and more recent church leaders, which might also be considered icons, decorate the inner walls of the churches too. Candles and incense are lit and fill the churches with an old, musty sort of smell. Some churches we visited seemed more in touch with the stories found in the Bible than others. I loved it when they were.

A few times, as I was passing one of the churches, I would hear beautiful singing and so, of course, had to go inside and check it out. The music consisted of singing/chanting by one of the priests and a chorus. It was really quite lovely sometimes. I may have mentioned it before, but when a woman enters these churches she must cover her head. It was really neat to enter the churches during a service as I did a few times. Either way, the believers do a series of bowing and crossing themselves at different points in the service or as they approach various icons.

St. Petersburg’s Finest

I was able to go to St. Petersburg for three days, and visit a part of my brother Joe’s mission. Not having him with me was sad, but being where he’d served and loved the Russians for two

years was priceless. Scott, Merilee (Scott’s mom who came to visit his mission and travel with us for the last 10 days of our trip :), and myself were able to visit the Hermitage, the Cathedral of Spilled Blood, Peterhof, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, as well as many other sites. We even attended a night of folk singing and dancing called, “Feel yourself Russian.” So amazing and beautiful! St. Petersburg is such a lovely city – Merilee and I were impressed with the cleanliness and the beautiful architecture. Peter the Great built this beauty with the hope of making it look much more like the cities of Europe because he didn’t like the older and less refined look of Moscow. And, there is a definite difference. Personally, I still also love the more communist and possibly rougher look and feel to Moscow.

While in St. Petersburg, Lena (Joe and Rachel’s friend) did a lot of the sight seeing and

research with us. She’s absolutely pure gold! Lena had me at her place, about an hour from St. Petes by metro and mashrutka. She was soooo kind and nice, and she even helped me on our project, going on all the metro lines, counting beer advertisements and alcohol

brands, as well as counting advertisements and alcohol and cigarette sales on the streets. Meeting Lena, was very special for me because of her connection to Joe and Rach. She introduced me to others that knew Joe as he served his mission in St. Petersburg which was a blessing for me. But, getting to know and becoming friends with Lena was even more zdorava (wonderful)! I was so impressed with her great dedication and pure goodness. Many of the Russians who share the same faith with me have also been such good examples of this to me and it has touched me

deeply to witness their faith in action.

Russian Buildings

As I mentioned in my first post in Russia, I love the Russian buildings. They speak of the communist era and are lined with character! Here is a picture of a typical apartment door with two major locks on it. As soon as you open that door, you shod your shoes and usually put on some type of indoor slipper. Most apartments I’ve been to consist of a small kitchen area, bathroom, and one to three bedrooms (usually one or two).

As if your front apartment door wasn’t secure enough, the front door of your apartment building also has a security set up in order to get in. There are some of the most interesting and cool elevators in the Russian buildings too! Usually they are covered in graffiti or other messages and they are often quite small :). When you arrive at your floor, you have to wait a second while the elevator actually decides to stop and then eventually the doors open, and you’re off! One elevator I used was so completely not new! A wooden box traveled up and down the floors in what looked like a wire encasement with a metal door.

Living in one of these apartments has really helped me realize how little space I need to live in…makes me want to get rid of anything I don’t need :). Millions of people throughout the world (the amount floors me every time I think of it) live in apartments like the ones I’ve described, and yet I’ve always imagined living in a house. Really though, you can live in much less than a house – its just that many Americans are able to choose the house and therefore think that’s the way it is for most folks.

The Most Amazing Moskva Metro

Moscow has just about the most amazing and largest metro system in the world and you believe it when you use it. Besides the fact that there are over 11 lines with stops being created all the time, and the fact that 8 million people use the metro everyday in Moscow, and that it connects the center of Moscow to the far reaches of the city boundaries (traveling about an hour or more to the end of each line from the center)… All that, and Moscow’s metro is incredibly decorated too! Statues of Lenin, other leaders, great writers and poets, etc. decorate the halls of various metro stops. Mosaics of Russian victories, the communist people and important symbols decorate the halls and ceilings of the metro stations. Gorgeous carvings of the same also line the walls and ceilings. Great history lessons could be taught by bringing students on field trips to these stops! I feel I learned something about the Russians or their past every time I traveled through those halls. I loved looking up and also seeing the beautiful chandeliers hang from the ceilings of many metro stops.

Living in Moscow this past month has really made me re-think transportation in the US! Not only is the metro an atleeshna (excellent) way to travel, but when you walk outside, you have available any form of transportation you’d like to your next destination; there are mashrutkas, buses, electric buses, taxis and of course, walking!

When people travel outside of Moscow, as I have done several times now, they choose one of the many types of trains for travel. I’ve taken the night train a few times and let me tell you, we seriously need to invest in something like that in the US! You turn your bench into a bed and rest while you get to your next destination…and it doesn’t cost too much either! I loved it. You can also meet all kinds of people while traveling on the train...and maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll even sing few songs with them too.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mother Russia and Becky Meet

First Impressions
I am in Russia now...yes, it's true! So much has happened since my plane hit the runway; I feel I've learned so much, seen so much, met so many wonderful people, and well, used the metro so much! Later on, I'll include a picture of a metro map because it is something you have to see! The buildings here have become one of my obsessions :). These first two pictures are of buildings outside my building, in a really nice part of southern Moscow. As I include other buildings that are less new and nice, realize that those represent the majority of Russian apartment buildings...very worn down, cement blocks, with all apartments looking the same though different. Each has a set of run down elevators, walls that look live they've seen better days, sometimes with stairs that are falling apart, and then in front of most individual apartments, a fancy door with multiple locks acts as the entry way into the Russian's homes. I can't get enough of the buildings. Many whisper of days when the country was run by communism. The history begs me to become educated and everywhere I go, I ask Scott to ask people about how it was "then" and how they feel about Russia "now." It has been fascinating listening to Russians' opinions and stories. Somehow, I seem to love them already.

Who is Scott? This strapping young man is a student at BYU, studying Exercise Science. We met last fall as we both wrote our ORCA Grant proposals, and ever since we've gotten along great and he's been a wonderful help. He is hilarious, a member of BYU's Divine Comedy group, a returned missionary from the Moscow Mission and therefore speaks terrific Russian :). When I first met Scott, I also met Justin, who is it just happens, is awesome too and is assisting in our research here. The two guys are roommates at BYU and served in one of the same areas on their missions. They have been so good to me and have also introduced some of the best people to me. It has been really neat to see how much they love and care about the Russian people. Being around them has made me laugh a ton! - and it has also really made me want to be better in so many ways. The picture above shows Justin on the left, his lady love Ksenia in the middle, and Scott looking at something really important on the right.

That first day that I arrived, I met my first friends, Ksenia (Russian) and Anya (Ukranian), who served with Scott and Justin, and we had my first meal in this lovely Russian restaurant. During my first week, I was also able to visit my very kind and loving Uncle Craig McCune. Uncle Craig and Aunt Lorna are missionaries in the Moscow/all of Russia Mission because Uncle Craig is one of two medical missionaries called to meet the needs of the missionaries in Russia and nearby countries. He invited Scott and I over for good times with pizza and icecream and a touch of swing music on the side.

The Research
After getting used to the schedule a little, I was able to meet with the research organization (Levada Center) who Justin and I have been communicating with in Moscow to contract with them the addition of my survey questions to their already existing Nationwide survey. Our meeting was long but successful and we have most things ironed out. The survey will be conducted face to face, among 1600 people in Russia. Levada Center is one of the more respected organizations in Moscow's research world. Alexei (pronounced Alexay in English), the man we are working with, reminds me a lot of an older history or chemistry professor who is always working and researching. He is tall, has lots of fun hair, big glasses, and is fortunately very kind. Now, I wait until the results come back to analyze the data. In the meantime, I have a couple of side projects; video tapping Scott or Justin asking random people on the streets questions about both cultural and alcohol/tobacco industry questions. Doing this in Tver was both fun and surprising. The people usually knew all the answers to our Russian cultural questions and more were stumped on the tobacco and alcohol brand questions.

Scott's projects have to do with alcohol advertising, pricing and the availability to purchase alcohol on the streets within one kilometer measurements. I've helped him with that and have also documenting the number of Kiosks in the kilometer that sell cigarettes, noting the cheapest priced cigarettes and the hours these are available. Its alarming how cheap you can buy 20 smokes for in Russia...and just as terrible is the cheap alcohol that is so readily available for anyone to buy. I can't tell you how many people I've already run into who are drunk on the side of the street at all hours of the day or evening, those that nearly walk into me drunk (don't worry mom, Justin and Scott have warned me so I move out of the way:), and how many look like they don't have much left in them to keep going as they hold their bottle and sit on the cement stairs that lead to some market. Yes, I'm well aware that this exists all over the world - but I'm not anywhere but here in Russia, and so that's what I'm talking about. These folks smell strongly of cigarette smoke - but I guess that isn't saying much since all my clothes now smell like that too because people have been smoking almost everywhere I've been. I want to give these people I see on the street a warm bath, lots of bread and soup, and help them figure out how to get out of the terrible cycle they find themselves in - going pretty much no where. It is much more complicated than that - and this reality saddens me while it also strengthens my determination to see if I can find and be some small part of the answer for improvement.

After the first several days, Justin, Scott and I headed to Tver with some of their friends. Tver was founded in the 1100s and is about 2-3 hours north of Moscow on train. While there, we visited friends, made new friends, researched and enjoyed
the city. At night, Justin, Scott and I would laugh for hours - mostly because they are both so darn funny and had the greatest stories to tell. It often feels like I'm with my brothers when I'm with them, and that has made this trip so awesome for me.

Since much of this experience in Russia is visiting Scott's and Justin's mission, I have been blessed to meet a few of those they taught and worked with. Doing so has humbled me because of their great sincerity. Their committed faith inspires me and I feel increased desire to live better and to be a more pure disciple of the Lord. Here is a pictures of Mickel and his family who Scott really loves. They were wonderful and fed us the meal in the picture. Mickel is super poor (four of them living in one very narrow room) but somehow is so committed to the gospel...and not in some flimsy sort of way. It was beautiful to spend time with them.

While Scott, Justin and I were interviewing people, we met these two guys (Andray and Roman) who were about 20 years old. They were awesome to spend time with and turned out to be great tour guides. Here they are with us infront of a statue. There are soooo many statues and memorials here in Russia - pretty much on every block - honoring Russia's triump in the Great Patriotic War (World War II) or great poets, writers or others in Russia's recent history. As Scott and I scoped kilometer stretches on the road, we past by this church and went inside. Russian Orthodox priests were chanting and a choir above our heads were singing beautiful lines in response to the priests. It must of been a service hour because there were many baabushkas (older women), other men and younger Russians who were, with heads covered, bowing at times and crossing themselves several times. It all still doesn't make sense to far as the substance in their faith and religion. But it was neat to witness and since then, I've talked with Russians to better understand that faith better. The churches are beautiful here in Russia - its just interesting how things are run and attending that service let me in a bit into the Russian's Our last day in Tver, not much made me want to leave. The place felt interestly like my first area on the mission I served in Thailand and I'll admit, I fell in love with the city, the people, the cars (they look like there from the 80's), the churches, the buildings, etc. :)

Back in Moscow
During the past few days, we were able to see a concert of professional musicians who are also members of the church in this area, perform beautiful piano, violin and other peices. I did my first souvenior shopping Saturday at a huge beautiful market. There were so many wonderful things, it was hard to decide on anything! Not that should surprise anyone who knows me :). Needless to say, I'll be back.

It was a rather rainy, cold Saturday, as it has been most days :), and so Scott, our friend Anya, and I went and saw Prince Caspian in Russian! Seeing it in Russian with them was so cool...except that the movie was pretty much one big fight..but besides that it was sweet and Scott was good enough to translate for me. After that, we walked around and met this man playing his lovely instrument on the street. It was sooo fun listening to him that I'm posting this for you to enjoy ...and mostly for my brother Seth since he loves and plays this instrument too! (Be prepared for low quality videoing - still learning how to hold a camera :)

Red Square was the grand finale, and as Scott and I turned the corner and saw the lighten building and beautiful structures we were both quite impressed! Pictures don't do it justice but I'll include them at any rate because it was all so beautiful. In my mind, I kept invisioning soldiers and people filling the square with Stalin or Lenin address the croud. It just felt like the spirits of the people who had fulfilled whatever duty in that spot, were somehow still quite close. Well, one individual was definitely still there...Lenin. His body lies in a large fort-like shiny structure next to the Kremlin. I'm definitely coming back during the day to take a looksee inside all of the buildings on Red Square. I was most definitely amazed by it. As we headed into the metro area, Scott pointed out a man sitting playing a saw with a violin bow! I couldn't believe it! How awesome - one of his selections was Strangers in the Night...and it sounded just like it! This post is mainly for Rach since I knew she'd love it so much!