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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

10 Day Vacation

Dear Family & Friends,
                                Okay I am sorry that I didn’t email you guys the moment I got home, but it has been so much to process I could hardly even think straight. Now that I have slept a night on it, I feel like I can think a little better to tell you all about it. First, you should know that I have never had a better trip in my life. I had so much fun, I laughed so much, and I wish I could go do it all over again. I wish you guys could have been there for everything. I can’t even explain the beauty or the closeness that our group experienced. We have so many inside jokes now! Bailee, Jake & Em and I are so close now. We hung out the entire time. Being back in Moscow and not seeing them 24/7 is oddly strange. Funny how you don’t see all that coming. Okay I will just go through and start at the beginning! Sorry, but this will be very long. Mainly because I know that Mom will want to know every detail.
Day 1: We left Moscow at 1 am Friday night got on a sleeper train and went to St. Petes. We arrived there at 8 am. The sleeper train was an entirely new experience. First of all, it was in the open. Like the compartments were open so you had random Russians everywhere. Second of all the size of the pull down beds were for miniature children. I had to sleep on my side to be actually comfortable so I was sore the next morning. Jake slept on the other top bunk and literally he was like a foot and a half away from me. Pretty much this is where Jake and I’s awkward relationship that you can see in all our pictures started. I love that kid so much.
Day 2: Our first day in St. Petersburg. Okay let me just tell you that the reason St. Petes is cool is because it’s the only thing Russia has. It’s lame guys. It’s a big city with some cool buildings, but pretty much its not that great. The first time there we didn’t even get to see the White Lights at night which is the coolest part. The weather was yucky too! So rainy and freezing cold. I thought we would die! Well not really, but it was hard to walk around in it all day. It is better than Moscow in the way that they know more English, but we were still ostracized as the Americans. I did get to see some cool places though. I went to the Romanov’s palace the Winter Palace. That was where Anastasia’s story starts. It was cool to see the palace that such a big movie was set on. The Church of Spilt Blood was an amazing church as well. The coolest thing about it was the section of the building that wasn’t restored where you can see the bullet holes from the German army. It was as far as the German army got to inside St. Petes. If you guys remember what Germany did to the city was instead of just killing them they created a barricade around the city and let them all starve to death. The population went from about 5 million to about 1. Russia has a dark dark past which is why it’s still a pretty dark country, but more of that later.
That night we slept in a hostel. Hostel’s are large rooms where you sleep on bunkbeds with people that you don’t know. It can be awkward, but its really cheap. We didn’t have to sleep with any strangers because we had such a large group. They usually are about 10 to 20$ a night. If any of you ever travel to Europe I would suggest going the hostel route. That night we had 5 to a room. It was Em, Bay, Jake, Carry this older girl in our ward, and me. When it was time for lights out we all crowded on my and Jake’s bed and talked way into the night. Carry was not happy and then never slept with us again! Hahaha. I got no sleep on this trip.
Day 3: The next day was Sunday and we all decided to sleep in. We couldn’t find a ward to go to, so we just had a lazy day. None of us were really impressed with the city so instead of more sight seeing we decided to just walk around the streets and look at little shops. It was so much fun. We went to H&M and tried tons of ridiculous clothes on. Total blast! We met up back at the hostel at 4, grabbed our things, and trekked across the city to get on a bus to Estonia. The bus ride was about 5 hours. Little did we know that we would be spending our lives on the bus.
Passing into Estonia was fun. We all got our passports stamped and our new currency was Euros. Man I changed currencies, time, and language so much I feel confused. It took us about 2 hours to figure out that Estonians to indeed speak Estonian. Of course it was weird because we don’t know anything in Estonian, but guess what? EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH! AND THERE ARE ENGLISH SIGNS EVERYWHERE! It was amazing!
I want to talk about crossing the boarder a little bit. I wish I could explain the difference you feel. It’s completely emotional. Before this trip I loved everything about Russia. I loved the culture, the people, and the society. Now after the trip I realize that I had just forgotten what it feels like to be in a country where you are allowed to be who you are. Russians hate America. You are forced to blend in and become Russian. I know this sounds normal, but we learned in other countries this isn’t so. They love that we are who we are. They love that we are young and crazy and do stupid things. In other countries when we come in the store they say hello and smile and ask us about our lives. We see people on the street and they smile and sometimes wave. In Russia, no one smiles. No one laughs or acts stupid. That is all done behind closed doors. It’s so sad guys. I can’t believe I forgot what it was like. We loved leaving Russia because we felt love in everyone around us just because they were so different. All the shopkeepers we talked to in other countries all looked so shocked when we said that we lived in Russia. They would complain about them and how grumpy they are and how they never smile or talk. All the Sweds that I met when I said I lived and taught in Russia they said “Holy shit! Do they actually really want to learn? Do they even have McDonald’s there?” It was crazy. It was like I had completely forgotten what life could actually be like. Coming back was really hard. As soon as I crossed the boarder I could feel the change. Now that I am back I love Russia for Russia, but I wouldn’t live here long term. Carry the girl that came with us served her mission here. She put it this way “There will always be a special place for Russia in my heart, but it’s a hard place to live and I don’t like it.” It’s true. It’s hard here. Living here isn’t for the weak. People as a whole don’t like you. You really have to learn to buck up and just accept it. Of course we revolt in our own way, but people always give us dirty looks. We talked to a lot of the missionaries in Sweden and they were all shocked to hear what its like to be in Russia. They were all like “Hailey you need to come to Sweden! I will teach you Swedish right now! You can put that you know it on your papers!!” It was cute. I’m not sure if he is trying to save me or he wants to date me… Anywho back to the trip
We arrived in Tallinn, Estonia late at night. We found our way to the hostel with only getting lost like 4 times. The hostel we stayed at was called the Monk’s Bunk. Next to that hostel was the Sex Max a strip club. I laughed forever. The hostel was so sweet! The floors in the bathroom were heated and the shower was a rain shower. It was like a dream.  We were in one huge room on bunk beds. It was so much fun. We just talked about boys and played with hair and made fun of Jake. Poor Jake he is around girls all the time, but I think he secretly loves the attention.
Day 4: Day four was spent in Tallin just walking around. In the morning we went to the boat docks and bought tickets for the following day to get to Helsinki, Finland. Then we split up and just did whatever we wanted. I loved it. I loved just being able to roam and do whatever I wanted. We could stay out as late as we wanted and go anywhere. We headed to Old Tallin. It is the part that still remains of the old fortress that was there. The buildings are very European looking. The streets were all cobblestone and uneven. We spent the entire day exploring it. There were so many cool shops. Everything was so expensive though! The more North we went the more expensive everything got. We went to an Estonian restaurant for lunch. We all had pizza and salad which was pretty good. We were all really happy. Russians don’t really have salad and if they do it doesn’t have salad dressing, and their pizza has ketchup on it. It’s sick.
The cool thing about Old Tallin is that you would be walking and then you would come to a corner and there would be a huge cathedral there. It was beautiful. It’s like an Easter Egg hunt! Linsey, name that movie. It was still pretty rainy, but less cold. It’s hard to travel and explore in the rain. We came home around 10 o’clock and just hung out at the hostel. The hostel workers were really cool. They were from all over. Australia, America, Europe. It was neat. They just wanted an adventure so they came to Estonia. Kinda crazy. We stayed up pretty late that night which sucked because the next morning we had to get up at like 5 am.
Day 5: We woke up super early, got all our crap together and trekked down to the port to get on our ferry. The ferry ride as about 2 hours and the boat just looks like a cruise ship expect no cabins. We were all so exhausted that we just sat on one of the main floors by a coffee shop and watched a movie on Jake’s ipad. Coming into the harbor in Helsinki was gorgeous. It was kinda rainy and there were all these small islands and light houses. It was gorgeous. If only the rest of what we saw in Finland would have been like that.
First impressions of Finland? I hate it. Okay not really, but the part that we saw was super lame. Helsinki is the capital of Finland and guess what? it’s just like a mini Moscow except for the fact that people are actually nice. We talked to a missionary from Finland and he said that southern Finland sucks and all the Finns hate it. The city was cool and everything, but it just didn’t have the natural beauty because well it’s a city. We only had about a total of 5 hours before we met.
The first thing we did was looked at some shops and then met up with Gulya our coordinator. She didn’t come on the first part of our trip, so we met her at the train station. From this point on we were with a Russian tour group which was great. Our tour guide spoke some English too so he would translate the history and what we were seeing. We mostly used a bus and a few ferries where the bus would go down on the bottom floor of the ship. We decided that we would go on the tour of the city with the rest of the group. Our tour guide is Sasha (of course because it ends in an a like every other name in Russia). He is the funniest person ever and my favorite Russian. He was always like “TEAM SPIRIT!” and he always talked to Jake. He said the funniest things and we about died. Of course our laughing was not appreciated because the Russians hate loud happy people. We got yelled at so much! It was super awkward.
Anywho, the tour of Helsinki was cool, but really it’s not that great of a city so nothing sticks out in my mind. After the tour we had a few hours before we got back on the bus to go to the old capital of Finland, Turku. We just got some lunch and looked at a few shops. I’m trying to find purple rain boots, but all the ones I looked at on the trip were like 200$. Its insane! We jumped on the bus around 3 and headed to Turku. In Turku we had a short bus tour and then went to the port to board our ferry.
So the ferries are basically big cruise ships. The only difference is the cabins have less room, its cheaper, and the food ins’t free. There were four to a room and the beds folded down to become bunk beds. It was fun. We had Em, Jake, Bay, and me in a room. Later on we had to make it where Bay and Jake couldn’t be in the same room because they were making other girls uncomfortable. But for a few nights we had a blast and laughed so much. It was fun. We just explored the ship and hung out in our cabins. The food was so expensive! But most of us didn’t get much food on it. Our ferry was headed to Stockholm, Sweden. Never been more excited in my life.
Day 6: Okay this is where the fun actually begins.. Scandinavian States are amazing! They are so beautiful! And the weather was so great! It was chilly, but it wasn’t deathly chilly and there wasn’t tons of rain. We would get light showers, but that would be it. It was great. Stockholm needs to be on everyone’s list to visit. It is one of my favorite places in the world. The city is gorgeous and it’s right by the sea! We arrived there about 7 am. We had a bus tour for a few hours. We saw the royal palace and went to an old part of Stockholm that has the old buildings and the old miniature streets. We also went to the overlook of Stockholm. It was gorgeous! The sea is beautiful and seeing all the islands around Sweden was way cool. The bakeries there smelled amazing! And they tasted better! Food actually had a taste again! Yay for being out of Russia!
In Stockholm is when the trolls started popping up. They were everywhere! The exact ones that Mom has, but most weren’t full wooden. They are extremely expensive btw. Like I can’t even tell you how expensive, but every single store had them! And tons of woolen sweaters. That’s another Scandinavian thing. They are so beautiful and warm, but way pricey. After the tour we had a few hours to look around. We knew that we would be coming back and have a full 12 hours there on our way back to Russia so we just walked slowly from store to store. At 12 we met at the Royal Palace to see the changing of guards. It was really cool. I love Sweden! And hearing everything in Swedish was cool too. They changed the guards and had a whole ceremony with different groups of the military there. It was neat. I like looking at each countries military outfits. Oh btw we changed from Euros to Swedish Crowns. So confusing. And the time was now 3 hours behind Moscow’s time. Even so it still starts getting dark around 4 pm. It’s weird.
After the changing of the guards we hoped on the bus to drive to Norway. It was like a 9 hour drive, but it was really cool because we got to see so much of Sweden via driving. Sweden is gorgeous. It has a natural beauty to the scenery that Russia just doesn’t have. It has green rolling hills with little cottages and farms. I loved it! We arrived in Oslo, Norway around 7. Oslo is gorgeous. The ride into the city was so great. The road was up on the mountain with the sea below and these huge mountains below. The mountains were covered with all these cute Scandinavian looking houses. There was so much green and beauty. We all really need to go. If I was asked what trip to take in the whole world I would say go to Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Hands down. We drove through the huge mountains to our hotel where we stayed the night. It was our only hotel stay on the trip. The beds were amazing. I felt like I was sleeping on a cloud. And there was actually space. Not like American space, but space. It was great. I fell asleep pretty early that night because I was so tired! Great night of sleep.
Day 7: Can I just tell you being in Norway was amazing! I felt so connected with our ancestors! It was crazy. We woke up had a complimentary breakfast that included everything you could think of. It had your typical American foods, Scandinavian foods, European foods, and even Russian foods. For the bread you could just grab one of the loaves that was sitting there and cut whatever you wanted. It was yummy. Reminded me of Mom’s homemade bread.
After breakfast we jumped on the bus and started our tour. Probably my favorite thing we did in Norway was going to a park that had over 200 statues in it of people doing “everyday things”. Well that’s what Sasha said they were, but some of those statues were a little too weird. Of course seeing so many statues I had the bright idea that we should recreate them, so we did. It was so funny. We were all holding our stomachs from laughing so hard. Not to mention this was the day that was Daniel’s 17 month mark so I was trying to take 17 month pictures.
After the gorgeous park, which had snow all around, we went on a tour of the rest of the city. Then we were let out in downtown to do shopping. I’m going to be honest the city wasn’t my favorite place ever. I wish we could have gone and spent time in the outside parts of it because Norway is so beautiful. Being stuck in downtown wasn’t really what I wanted, but I did get some shopping done. I bought a sweatshirt that says Oslo, Norway on it. I feel pretty cool every time I wear it. I also bought a troll fairytale book. I asked one of the ladies at a store why trolls are so big here. Before I came I didn’t realize that they were such a big deal but after seeing them everywhere I realized they were. She told me that every Norwegian knows the story of the Trolls. They are told them as little kids. The story goes that they run around in the mountains and forests and if they are caught in the sun then they become stone. The mountains in Norway also look like trolls that have been turned into stone. It was really interesting because it is such a huge part of their culture. The fairytale book has excerpts from different stories about different trolls. It’s pretty neat.
We spent about 4 hours in Oslo before we had to leave. I wish I had time to just explore more of Norway, but everything I did see was beautiful. After we got on the bus we headed to the port to get on our night ferry. Our night ferry was pretty interesting. It was less cool than the first one we were on, but we have better stories from this one. So pretty much you guys know how girls get when they get together. Sometimes things just happen and you look back and think what was I thinking? Well this night was one of those… But it was so much fun and I regret nothing!
Day 8: Denmark. Okay so Denmark was all of our favorite places. I want to move there. It is amazing and beautiful and has the coolest history. We arrived in Denmark around 10 am and had a tour of the city. Copenhagen is gorgeous. Everything was so green and it was still fall there. The weather was perfect! We didn’t even need our heavy jackets. Everyone rides bikes in Copenhagen. You can rent them for 40 Kronos (Danish Crowns, Norway had Norwegian crowns) and then when you return them you get the 40 kronos back. There were bikes everywhere and the city was perfect to ride them. They had baskets on them so you could put your stuff in it. Our first stop was the Little Mermaid statue. The LM came from a Danish author that wrote many fairytales. I got a book of his complete fairytale set. He wrote so many! Anywho, it was a neat statue. It is on a rock and overlooks the sea. Its beautiful.
After that we went and saw the Royal Palace of Copenhagen. The Royal family doesn’t reside there at this time, because they like to stay on the outside cities of Denmark. We had a tour around looking at the main buildings of Copenhagen, which is huge btw. There is so much to do there. I think I could spend a full week. I love Denmark! Around 12 we dropped off some of the group that didn’t want to pay extra to go to see the castles. Then we headed to the Kronenburg Castle which is famous as Hamlet’s Castle. It’s the castle that Hamlet is set off of. It is beautiful. Look at my pictures right now.
The castle was so cool. I got to see every part of it. They had the inside set up like it would have been when the King came. We heard a tour guide speaking English and we secretly joined the group. The history was so interesting! 1 piece of advice: If you have a tour guide or go on a tour make sure its in the language you speak. Anywho, the King of Denmark moved around a lot. He essentially had 1 castle but it moved all over Denmark. By that I mean that each castle was set up just like the last. They took the same servants, food, clothes, furniture, and even the same people. The same people sat next to him at each castle. The same servant served the same food from the same place. Over 500 people traveled with him. The castles were extremely cold, so they had professional sleepers. The professional sleepers were to lay in the bed for 2 hours to get the bed warm through body heat. Then they were switched out. Crazy right?
Probably my favorite part of the castle was the dungeon. Okay you know you would think that you go into a dungeon and they would have lights and fire to show you your way…. Nyet. They did not. First of all it starts just in a room with low lights. There is a wall that was left from the actual castle. So here we are in this low light room looking at this wall and what happens? A creepy child starts to sing…. What the what? And it was in this like high pitch Danish voice and I was not happy. I left that room just follow a hallway that went further down. It was creepy. There were these tiny candles that offered not light at all. I was holding Emily’s hand like my life depended on it. There were a few rooms that we had to flash our cameras just to see what was in the room we were currently standing in. Luckily the creepy child did not start singing again. One time we came around the corner and there was this manikin that was there and it was pretty shocking because it looked like a person just standing there. And as we were getting over that all the sudden this crow cawed and we flipped. It was terrifying but so much fun. When we finally saw light again I almost cried I was so excited! Oh btw every August the Denmark theater puts on Hamlet in the courtyard of the castle. That would be so cool to see! We were also able to go down to the sea sore. There were so many sea shells and rocks. It was gorgeous! And it smelled so great! People were fishing. It was pretty cool!
After the Kronenburg castle we headed to the Fredericksburg castle. Wow guys, this is the most amazing place ever. The castle is gorgeous and the grounds are amazing. There is a huge garden behind the castle. We got there really late so we weren’t able to see the grounds for long, but everything was amazing. It was like what you imagine as a little girl. You have this gorgeous castle that is surrounded by a lake and then these huge rolling hills of gardens. The hedges were shaped into things and there were fountains and statues. It was gorgeous. People were doing their daily runs there. How would you like to go on a run to that every morning? I wish that was my life! I want to be proposed to and married there. Of course Kneader’s French toast would be involved.
We had a little time in the small sleepy town of Fredericksburg. We looked at a few shops and then got on the bus and headed back to Copenhagen. In Copenhagen we had about 5 hours to just hang out. We went to a long street with tons of shops and people walking, dancing, and singing. Lots of people were on bikes too. We wanted to rent them, but we were going to so many shops that we didn’t want to get on and off them and we didn’t want them to steal them. We had some really great pizza and we had these churros that were covered in milk chocolate. Yeah, it was probably the best thing ever. America needs to jump on that!
After spending time in the city (which I love. Have I mention Denmark is the best?), we got on a bus and took a 20 minute ferry from Copenhagen to Sweden. Once back to Sweden we drove ALL night to get back to Stockholm. I can’t even tell you how awful it was. I got like 2 hours of sleep. The bus had no room and I could never get comfortable. We were all pretty grumpy the next day.
Day 9: We arrived back in Stockholm around 7 am and we were turned lose to spend the day doing whatever we wanted. We had a full 10 hours in the city before we had to leave. It was Saturday and me, Em, Connie, Alicia, and April decided we wanted to go to the temple. We found our way to the train station. We bought our day pass and headed to try to find the train. We really had no idea where it was. We entered the platform looking for the right train and who do we run into? We run into our friends from a Russian ward back in Moscow! How crazy is that?! And guess where they were going? To the Temple! They helped us get there and they went through and did baptisms with us. Man it was so cool. The whole thing was in Swedish. It was so cool. I did work for a girl born in 1550 in Sweden. Such a neat thing! I also met so many Swedish and German girls. There was an area YSA activity that weekend so people from the whole region including Sweden and Germany were there at the Temple. It was neat. In Sweden they are taught English starting at the age of 10, so they are all fluent and speak English mostly without accents. They told me that they picked up the American accents from the missionaries. It was pretty neat, and the Stockholm Temple is beautiful.
After doing baptisms we headed back to town. We saw so many sets of missionaries that day. Most were from America, but one was from Finland. A few were about to come home. They all told me that they hope I get called to Sweden and not Russia. It was pretty funny. We told them about Russia and the culture and they were just shocked. They were just like no! One missionary asked Emily and I our names and when we told him and smiled really big and was like “Man, those are good American names!” It was cute.
Once back in town we just shopped around and then ate at an Italian restaurant. The restaurant was pretty good. Not as good as Shawn’s Italian food, but it was good. We only had a few minutes before we had to get on the bus so I grabbed some ice cream. Let’s be real Sweden knows how to do ice cream. It was great. Made me happy. We jumped on the bus and headed to the port and got on our last over night ferry. Because of the way our numbers were each night 2 girls had to sleep with  2 Russian ladies that actually hated us because we were so loud on the bus/are just old raunchy women. I decided that I should take a turn because well someone had to. So I didn’t really have much of an adventure that night. I talked to Bailee for a long time and then we met up with Jake, Em, and Connie. Oh I forgot, there was so craziness.
Okay, so I don’t know why but on this ferry everyone was wasted. I got invited to two parties, got cussed out, and got hit on by every guy I made eye contact with. THAT’S how drunk they were. They were all Sweds and so wasted. It was disgusting. The first party was just a group of guys. The guy inviting us was actually getting married soon. Slightly weird that an engaged guy wants two girls to come to a party with like 5 guys. No thanks. The second one didn’t end as well. It started off as the guy flirting with us. He was so wasted and his eyes were crossed eyed. It was freaky. So he came out and asked us if we were communist. He said we looked like effing communist. We were like no we are not, we are American. And later it came out we taught in Russia and he was just in shock. He asked us about Obama and if we were happy that he was in office. (P.S. Found out he was president by a Swedish newspaper. Oh and every single person that talked to us about it thought that America was stupid for electing him again. The Russians are happy because they believe they can push him around. Just saying their words, not mine.) Anywho we said no we aren’t for Obama and he was like “That’s because you are effing Christian idiots. It’s better to have an effing Nigger in office than an effing Christian idiot. You guys are effing Christian idiots!” Of course replace the effing with the real word. So then he starts towards Bailee. See I have this problem I am just starting to realize… I have a temper. And I don’t react like I should. When he started saying this instead of wanting to run I was almost thinking please push me a little further so I can lose it. Do it, I dare you. Honestly this is a retarded thought because I’m not Linsey, but still I think it. When he started to reach for Bailee I looked at her and she looked terrified and so I snapped out of it. I grabbed her arm and was like let’s go, and we went and found Jake. It was kinda scary on that ship that night. It was disgusting how drunk everyone was. Not my favorite moment in life ever, that’s for sure.
Day 10 and 11: Day 10 and 11 filled with traveling back. We arrived by ferry to Helsinki, Finland. We had about 4 hours in the city which we ended up going to a McDonald’s and watching Tangled on Jake’s ipad. We were tired and no one really liked Helsinki that much. When I say we I mean my group. Everyone was always breaking off into groups, but me, em, bay, and jake stayed together. After that we got on a bus and drove all the way to back to Russia. We crossed the border about 7 pm and I wanted to cry. I could totally feel being back in Russia right away. It was nice to be away for a bit. After crossing the border we drove a few more hours to St. Petersburg. That’s where we got off and left the tour. We had about 2 hours in St. Petes. We just got some food and then went to the train station. From there we got on a sleeper train and we all fell asleep so fast. We were exhausted. We arrived in Moscow at 10 am and had to go straight home to get ready to teach. April wasn’t feeling well so Emily and I taught my class. It was so hard because everything that happened we wanted to laugh about. We had an inside joke about everything, and we say Nyet to a lot of things which is no in Russian. The kids would d things and I would start to say Nyet and then I would remember I am not allowed to speak Russian to them. So so so funny. I am definitely going to have  to get back into the mode of teaching and not being a crazy traveler anymore. So sad. But in about 2 ½ weeks I am headed to Ukraine for the weekend, so it won’t be long till my next trip. And then the weekend after that I have the LMAFO concert, and then a week and a half later I come home! Crazy! I feel like its practically already over!
One last story before I sign this thing off. So I jumped in a Moscow lake before I left. April and I were nasty and had tons of paint on our faces from the Halloween party and somehow we decided to talk to the lake and jump in. We jumped in in our sports bra and underwear. We brought extra clothes to change into so when we got out we wouldn’t die. It was -1 degrees C outside! So freaking cold. We jumped in and I was like okay this isn’t too bad. And so we went back in and swam around for a few minutes. After that I had to get out. I had the worst headache ever. It was like a brain freeze, but all over my body. After I got dressed again I felt much better, but when I got home and for some reason the water wasn’t on I just couldn’t get warm. April and I had to cuddle all night because I didn’t feel super well. Do I regret this? Nyet. Fabulous moment.
I hope that all is well back in the states!!
Until Next Time,
Muah!




Thursday, November 1, 2012

Yep, I'm going on a mission!


My decision to serve:
                Most of you, if you are reading this, are FREAKING out. You didn’t see this coming. You can’t believe it! You thought I had a plan, and that I would always follow it! Most of you, if you are reading this, are thinking quite a few things. Mainly:
1.       WHEN?
2.       How did this happen?
3.       I thought she had a missionary?!!
4.       Does Daniel know?
5.       What did her family say?
6.       WHHHHHAAAAAAATTTTTTT HAILEY?! NO!
I understand you thinking all these things. Heck, I thought them myself! Some of you are hurt you didn’t get a personal email or skype session about it. I understand that, but know it isn’t because you weren’t important. I had so many people to tell, and being in Russia makes it so hard. Besides my family, I decided that this would be the easiest way to tell everyone at once. It’s been coming for awhile, so luckily I have the ENTIRE story for you right here to read.
I will start in order so that we can answer all your MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS THAT YOU ARE DYING TO HAVE ANSWERED right away.
This post is pretty dang long, so I would suggest if you are crunching on time to scroll down to the question you need answered! Or just be really awesome and read the whole thing!
#1. WHEN? My availability date is January 20, 2012. My call can be anywhere around that time or much later.
#2. How did this happen? Or in other words, how did I decide to go on a mission?
                For those of you that are not Mormon, it is probably a surprise to find out that girls can go on missions. You have probably heard of LDS boys leaving at the age of 19, but you have probably heard very little of girls going. The way that the LDS church has always approached missions for girls is like this: If you feel that you need to go, then go but marriage is always the first choice. Girls were allowed to leave on missions at the age of 21. At this age it was hard for girls to choose to go or not. Marriage is common around this age and even before, and no one wanted to give up the opportunity to get married. Many times the decision was looked at as a choice between marriage or a mission.
                Every 6 months we have a special event which we call conference. At conference the leaders of our church speak to us about following God’s commandments and give us advice on becoming better Disciples of Christ. Many times they also make special announcements about new temples being built or different things regarding our church.  This Oct. at conference they made a huge announcement regarding missions. Our church leaders decided to change the ages for missionaries. Boys were changed from serving at 19 to now serving at 18. Girls were changed from serving at 21 to now serving at 19. This was a HUGE announcement! Everyone is so excited and it is now opening up the mission field for so many new comers! But I guess I should get back to how this personally affects me.
                I was at a singles adult activity with all the Russians when I heard about the announcement of the new missionary ages. Because we are 10 hours ahead of Salt Lake we weren’t watching conference, so we heard about it through a text from one of our group members, Jake. As soon as I heard the announcement I freaked out. I was so excited about the change and how it would affect generations to come. I began to cry and felt overwhelmed with excitement. My entire group was so excited and happy, so I thought nothing extra special about it. I had never wanted to go on a mission, and that wasn’t changing now.          
                As the night wore on the excitement continued except that it shifted from being excited for future generations to being excited for me. I was confused. I didn’t just not plan on serving a mission, I was completely against it. I had a missionary! I had a life plan! I didn’t want to give up 18 months of MY LIFE to serve a mission! No way! But I couldn’t get the thought out of my head. At this point I didn’t feel a push to go, instead I felt a push that I needed to do some serious pondering to see if it was what the Lord wanted me to do. I tried to push the thought out. I went out that night with some friends and I laughed and had a good time, but it kept coming to my mind that I needed to do some serious praying. By the time I got home the feeling had grown to knowing that if I didn’t ask the Lord about a mission that it would be not only something I would regret, but it would be betraying myself. I was terrified to ask. I thought, “Why would the Lord have me ask if he was just going to tell me no?” I couldn’t even imagine giving up all my plans. For heaven’s sake, Daniel only had 8 months left of his mission!         
                I decided to start working on figuring out my answer that night. I have always had a hard time with prayer. It’s not that I felt like the Lord didn’t have a hand in my life, but I never really had the “Ah-ha!” moment that I hear so many people talk about, except when I asked I if the Book of Mormon was true. Because of my history with prayer I decided two things #1. That I would not stop asking until I got a clear answer. I knew that serving a mission was hard, and that I needed to clear moment in my mind to hold to when things got tough that would remind me that I made the right decision. And #2. That if I got a yes then I would go without questions and without doubt. That I would start my mission papers immediately, and that I would never turn back.
                It was fast Sunday the next day for my ward so I decided to fast and pray about going on a mission. Sunday came and went. Nothing remarkable happened. I had a few promptings in church, but nothing that was undoubtedly a yes or no. Sunday night I began to feel relaxed. I subconsciously thought that since I didn’t get a big answer than maybe I wouldn’t have to serve, but I decided I had to stick with it until I knew. I began to study it out in my mind. I made a pros and cons list. I realized that the only real con I had was that Daniel would be home in 8 months, everything else went into the pro list. Thinking of adding over a year onto the time Daniel and I would be apart made me want to cry. I’m not a dumb girl. I know that the possibility of us working out was already slim to none with just his mission, but with adding my mission into the equation it pretty much made it impossible. I was so worried and I wasn’t sure how to make the decision not knowing what might become of us.
                I started to look over some different documents in my computer. I was looking at a few things I had written this last year in school and I stumbled across an email I never sent to Daniel. It was about serving a mission and I had written it about 1 year ago. At that time I had met several girls that had served a mission or were serving a mission. It was random meetings and we talked about missions a lot. Sometimes the fact that we were talking about missions was odd. It was almost out of the blue and they would bring up their mission. I remember feeling a big push to go on a mission, but I ultimately decided that since I couldn’t go until I was 21 that I didn’t need to decide if I was going or not.
As I read through this email I felt overwhelmed. This was a year ago! And why did I even have this saved on my computer? I didn’t even send it to Daniel. As I talked to my roommate April she mentioned that maybe I had already made my decision, but that I need my mind to catch up with my heart. I didn’t say anything back to her, because I still couldn’t imagine making such a big decision. I fell asleep that night with many things on my mind.
The next day I continued to think about serving a mission, but I felt more at ease about it. I started to really give serving a mission a thought. I thought about what the steps would have to be, when I could leave, and what that would mean for Daniel and I. As the day went on I realized that I felt at ease about the future. I felt that if I decided to serve a mission that it was going to be okay. I felt that if it meant that Daniel and I wouldn’t work out, than that is what the Lord had planned. I felt that I could now make a decision without the price of him on my shoulders. I went home and began to watch different speakers at conference. I decided to watch Jeffery R. Holland’s talk The First Great Commandment. If you haven’t seen/read that talk you can do so here: LINK TO HOLLANDS TALK.
As I listened to the talk not only did I feel an overwhelming amount of peace, but I felt the spirit so strong. I felt like Elder Holland was speaking directly to me. I felt that when he said that the Savior said to Peter “Peter, do you love me more than all this?” that it was a direct answer to my prayer. Like Peter, the Lord was now asking me “Hailey, do you love me more than all this? Do you love me enough to serve me for 18 months? Do you love me enough to leave your life behind? Do you love me enough to accept the fact that you and Daniel might not work out? Do you love me?”
There are times in my life that I have felt far from the Lord. There are times that I might have done things that I shouldn’t have. There were even times that I questioned if it was all worth it, but as I listened to Elder Holland’s talk I knew without a doubt my answer to that question. Yes Lord, I love thee. I love you more than all of this. I love you enough to serve you for 18 months. I love you enough to leave my friends, school, and my family. I love you enough to put Daniel second, and accept that it probably won’t work out. I love thee.
With that, I made my decision. I got my yes from the Lord, and like I promised I have not doubted it. There have been times that worries about Daniel have crept into my mind, but as I have taken the steps towards serving a mission I continue to be reminded that I am making the right decision. I called my Bishop 2 days after I received my answer, and 3 days after the experience I started my mission papers. Because I am not in the U.S. all mission papers are done by hand. I had run into issues with finding an English speaking doctor and dentist that was cheap because western medicine is pretty expensive in Russia, but the Lord delivered. He found ways for me to get everything that I needed done for my papers accomplished. I found an English speaking doctor and dentist in a matter of a few days. I was able to set up 2 appointments to get 3 fillings done. I was able to accomplish all my medical exams in just one week. It was a great blessing! I finished up my paperwork with my Bishop last Tuesday, and Sunday I was able to meet with the Stake President for my final interview. I can’t believe how quickly everything went! I can’t believe that now my papers are on their way to the U.S. and I will soon have a call!
Now that my papers have been submitted it is just a waiting game. My availability date is January 20, 2013. I am hoping to be called right away, but it is up to the mission office when and where I go. Mail takes quite a few weeks here, so it will be a bit before the mission office gets my paperwork, and once they do it might be a few weeks or even months before I hear back. My mission papers will be sent to my house in Texas. If I get my call while I am in Russia then my mom will open the paperwork, not looking, and hold it up on skype so I can read it off. I am not sure if it will be while I am in Russia or not. The sooner I get the call the more likely that I will be leaving near my availability date, but I am perfectly fine with whatever is decided. As for where I want to go that’s easy. Many missionaries will tell you that they don’t care where they get sent even if it is some place like Provo, Utah. Although I know that I will be sent to where the Lord wants/needs me to go, I really hope that he wants me to go OUTSIDE of the U.S. Of course I will serve where I am needed, but I want a foreign mission badly! We will see though! Any place will be an adventure! Many have told me that they think I will be called to Russia. I would have no problem with this! I would be sad that I would be without peanut butter for so long, but I love Russia! And speaking Russian would be amazing! It will be so great to see where I will be living for 18 months!!!
Now for the next questions #3 & #4: Doesn’t she have a missionary and does Daniel know?
                For question 2, YES I have a missionary! And for question 3, Yes Daniel knows! I told him about 2 weeks after I started papers. For ONCE in my life I kept a secret and told family and friends slowly. I wanted things to be more set in stone before I spouted off about it. Daniel has been out on his mission for almost 17 months now! And he is scheduled to come home in June of next year! Yes, having him and planning on spending all of next summer with him made making this decision hard. VERY HARD. But I knew it was one I needed to make.
                When Daniel left we had one rule: No rules. We would write each other as long as we wanted. We would stay best friends if that’s what we still felt like we were. I would date. I would have fun. And if when he got back I was still single we would see how things were. We might give it a try or we might not. Now, as his mission progressed our relationship leaned towards giving it a try, but we both have always been very aware that that could change once he got home. I love him. That will never change. He is still my best friend and everything I want in a future husband, but if he has taught me anything it’s that putting the Lord first is a necessity in life. For the last 17 months Daniel has done nothing but put the Lord first. No matter how annoyed I got, how upset I was with him not having time to write or not giving me enough attention, he always put our relationship and his calling into perspective. That’s why when I knew that I was going on a mission that Daniel would understand that this was something I had to do because it was the same thing he told me over 2 years ago when we first met.
                The amazing thing about Daniel and I is that we have been through so much together. With all the ups and downs and experiences I feel like I have known him a life time already, but that probably has a lot to do with the fact that I felt like my life didn’t really start until he was in it. Everything about my life has been better since Daniel and I met, even while he has been away and on a mission. We met almost a year before he left on his mission. We tired really hard to do this weird best friend/dating thing because he didn’t want a girlfriend before his mission. Of course with the way we felt about each other that was VERY hard. It was hard to always just be “best friends”. We usually ended up somewhere in the middle trying to straddle the lines between friends and dating. We fought about it a lot. I pushed us towards dating, he pushed us towards dating and then back to friends. But our relationship allowed me to watch him go through the mission process. I was there when he started his papers, and when he FINALLY finished them after me asking every day. I was there when he got his call. I was there for his farewell. I was the last person other than his family to talk to him before he got set apart. We sat on skype and cried, switched to the phone and tried to tell each other what we meant to one another through tears, and texted until he was an Elder. I wrote him every day in the MTC and every week until I left for Russia. We emailed every week too. I got to hear about all his stories, his feelings, and his struggles as he has served. I have been able to see him grow and change. I have seen his love for the Lord in everything he has done. I have gotten to see how his service has changed the lives of his investigators. I have even become best friends with one of the families he helped on their way to baptism.
                Through this all I have gained a testimony of missions and the service that it offers to those that every missionary comes in contact with. Many people joke about our missionaries. Many are offended or think that what we have to share is wrong. I understand that. I understand that not everyone gets it or respects it, but don’t ever doubt our missionaries intent. They decided to leave everything they had behind to go and serve the people in a distant land for 2 years. They don’t go out with friends to hang out. They don’t date. They don’t get on facebook, and they only talk to their families twice a year. They might not always tell you what you want to hear or what you are ready to hear, but they are good people trying to do good things.
                I have often been jealous of all the things that Daniel gets to do. Actually if you ask him I have many times complained to him that he “gets to go off and do all the fun things while I am stuck here going to school and pretending to care about boys I go on dates with!” He has always laughed at this, because I have my own set of adventures and what he is doing isn’t a walk in the park either. Now that I have decided to go on a mission I get to go off and do “all the fun things” for myself. I will have a completely different set of adventures, but we will still have so much to share.
                I am not sure what the future will bring for us. I am not sure if it will bring us together or if we will be taking different paths, but I know that whatever happens will be for the best. Daniel and I will continue to keep our one rule. We will figure things out as we go. Our relationship has changed so much since he left, but it has been so wonderful to be able to share our lives with each other. I expect Daniel to live life to the fullest while I am gone. I hope that he dates and goes out and does all kinds of crazy things. I don’t want to hear about girls he dates or kisses, but I do hope that he has a blast because heaven’s knows I did while he was away. If when I get back we both feel something is there than we will go from there, but it’s not something I can count on. So, like many times before Daniel and I have chosen to live in the present and worry about the future when it comes knocking on our door.
Of course many of you want to know what Daniel said or how he reacted. This is what he said when he found out:
Woah! Way to rock my world. Haha reading your email I was like...yep
she is done. She found a Russian boy and she is going to settle down
in Moscow. First impressions on your sweet choice? I don't know why
but it feels super right. Like I have no doubt that you have received
legit revelation that this is God's will. It clicks. You will change
lives. Do you wanna know something? Honestly, as I have met the sister
missionaries out here the best ones remind me of you. And just a few
weeks ago I was thinking, "Wouldn't it be awesome if Hailey served a
mission?" and then brushed it off. Oh man I am so pumped for you.
Yeah, I probably won't see you for eons, but we didn't meet by chance,
God's will will happen, and you are doing what is right. I really love
you for that. Where are you going to go? I hope Idaho...haha no I
wouldn't wish that on anyone. Maybe Spanish speaking? Or Russian? I
kinda hope you go to Iowa or something so your mission is lots like
mine. IDK! maybe New York City? That would be splendid! But wherever,
you will tear it up. You have a legit testimony. You know what is
right. You understand the doctrine. And your personality will spark
something in people. And best thing! I can give you tips! I love
teaching people. Do you have a preach my gospel? Its online if you
need it. Chapter 3 is where it is at. And Chapter 4. Get the lessons
down, learn the language of the Spirit and you will be miles ahead of
everyone. (Everything is a competition.) I am so happy for you. I
don't even know what is going on right now, but I am almost tearing up
in a public library. (Super ritzy public library. Richest small town
in America). I love you. You have the opportunity to serve the Lord
and change people's eternities. What sweet people you will get to
meet. Ah man. You are the best. As for us? Well, our story just gets
better, whatever happy ending it may have. What are you going to put
for your availability date?

        No worries here. life is good. We picked up a sister missionary
from Temple Square last week. She is serving here for 3 months before
she heads back. We picked her up at the airport. Brought back
memories! :) loved it. You will love the mission. It will be tough.
The MTC is kinda lame, but the field is the best.

Quick story: Do you remember Debbie Shoemaker? She was baptized when I
was in Warsaw. Well, she is in Methodist Hospital down here. 2 years
ago she got a lung transplant and is facing mild rejection right now.
She called me. I don't know how she got my number. But she called and
was crying and was like I just need to see somebody right now. We
drove there and she just held onto me. She is such a great lady. We
laughed and cried and remembered. She said I was an angel. And I will
be forever grateful I met Debbie. And that is what you get to do. You
get to serve the Lord, not to receive blessings, but to be a blessing.
Not to get answers to prayer but be an answer to prayer. Not to have
help from angels but to be an angel. I know that Christ is the Savior
of the world. He is my best friend. As you serve Him, as you are on
His team, you cannot fail despite our human imperfections. I love
Ether 12:27. You will get closer to the Savior on your mission, and as
we come closer to the Light of the World our imperfections are
glaringly obvious. But you have His promise. His grace is sufficient.
I testify that that is true. God our Father lives. You are his
beautiful (inside and out) daughter. He loves you. and i do too!

Hurrah for Israel!

Love,

Elder Wood
                How lucky am I to have someone who loves me so much be so supportive? How lucky am I to have a best friend that knows it will mean that we will be apart, but told me that I should go anyways. How lucky am I to have Daniel in my life? I feel blessed that we get to experience so much with each other. I am so excited that he is so excited for me, and that he gets to share so many tips and thoughts to help me. He really is the best.
Moving right along to question #5. What did her family say?
                My family has been incredibly supportive! I was a little worried when telling them because I knew that my decision was unexpected and pretty shocking. I told most of my family over skype and man was it kinda great to watch their faces! I caught up with them about their lives and finally I just had to tell them. Everyone (except my mom and dad) had this beat in between me finishing my sentence and reacting. Then they did this awkward overreacting thing where they were like “YAAAAAYYYY!!!!” but it was more like a “Yay? Is that what I am supposed to be saying?” and then it moved into a “Wait what?” as it sunk in a little bit. It was great. Wish I could have filmed each one. They asked me how I had come to this decision and when I was planning on going. They were excited for me, and that made me that much more excited. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for a supportive family. They have had my back every step of the way, and it never ceases to amaze me.
                As I told each sibling and we continued to talk about it they would just keep saying “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe you are really going!” Well family, I can’t believe it either!! I did have a bit of a crying moment with Heather, she always gets me going. I started talking about how it was so hard to make the decision and how I am still very sad that I will be missing out of 18 months of my nieces and nephews? lives. Skyping and watching my niece and nephew made it that much harder to talk about. They will be so old when I get back! I will miss pregnancies, births, and Millie won’t even know me although she will be 2. I know that they will become comfortable with me and get the chance to know me when I get back, but it is not the same as being there from the get-go.
                Although, it will be tough I am blessed to have a family that makes leaving so hard. They are completely supportive. They were very shocked, but as it sunk in to them it seemed to make sense. Almost as they saw it as “Well why wouldn’t Hailey serve a mission?” I am glad that at least they have some faith in me. Sometimes I wish I could have just as much! My parents were overjoyed. I’m pretty sure my mom is already planning package ideas. Having a missionary and sending more packages than I can count I’m kind of really excited to be on the other end of the equation.
                Many have asked what my parents in particular said. I wanted to answer that as well, so that this is as complete as it can be. I think my mom and dad both knew that I was going to be going on a mission before I did. I had talked to them about it before I started to pray and they both seemed that their minds were already made up. I’m grateful for that. My parents didn’t miss a beat. I told them I was thinking about going, and my mom said well let’s get on it. She told me that they would be more than willing to support me financially, and that there was no reason for me to get a job or go back to school and then leave. Her exact words were “If you are going then why prolong it?” Because of them and their support it made getting papers in quickly possible. They talked to me about it a lot. For awhile they were the only ones that knew (well beside Kate & Corbs), and my mom and I emailed back and forth daily on the progress. We both were amazed at how well things have worked out. But we are all still a little in shock.
                It’s one thing to say you want to go on a mission. It’s another to get papers started and completed in 18 days. It’s another thing to talk about opening my mission call, or where I will be serving, or when I will be leaving. It’s another thing to talk about going to the temple to get my Endowments out. It’s another thing to be talking about leaving again. I think when we think about all the things that these next few months will bring we are so excited and overwhelmed. So much will be changing! When we started talking about these plans it started to sink in. This is real. This is happening. I’m going to serve a mission, and SOON!
                I love my family. Being in Russia has taught me how much I really need and appreciate them. I have loved getting to know them in new ways as we mostly have emails to correspond, but man do I miss them. I miss calling my mom like 7 times a day. I miss texting Linsey every 30 seconds (literally we text all day), and talking to Angelman. I miss calling Heather and talking for at least 3 hours, and hating Shawn from even afar. I miss Brent’s humor and awkward phone calls or texts, and Lori’s goodness and the way she says “No, flag, bag, and wagon”. I miss Corby telling me inspirational stories that change my life, and Kate’s side comments that no one hears. I miss Darrin’s smile and chicken tacos, and talking with Annie into all hours of the night about everything. I miss my mom’s cooking (can you believe that), and I miss watching my Dad walk in from workout every morning or the way he calls me “Princess or Honey” I miss the random calls from Kyle. I miss making up games with Gavin, holding Millie, watching movies with Tommye, letting Brylee play with my hair, and trying to convince Jaders to like me. I could go on and on about each person, but we would be here all day.
                Being away is going to be tough, but I know that we will all be blessed from it. If there is one thing that my family is good at, it would be sticking together. We’ve been through a lot as a family. Corby’s die-a-betis, Mom’s illnesses, Brent’s grape allergy, and some would say my cancer was tough. I think that 18 months compared to all that will be a piece of cake, right? I’m excited for this adventure and I am extremely excited to be able to share it with my family! I love them :)
Last Question: #6. WHHHHHAAAAAAATTTTTTT HAILEY?! NO!
                Okay guys… this isn’t even a question… But I will answer it anyways. Yes, I didn’t set out in life planning on going on a mission. You have probably heard “It’s not for me” out of my mouth many times. I planned not too too far in advance, but I did plan on being here when my missionary came home, but plans sometimes have to change.
                Right now, I would love to be getting married and thinking about when I wanted to start a family. I would love to be decorating a house and telling girls that married life is just so great, but right now it’s not what the Lord needs from me. Right now I have to put all my other desires on hold and do exactly what I was prompted to do.
                I still get sad sometimes about leaving. I get sad that I will be gone from my family and friends for so long. I cry a lot about the fact that I won’t be here for Daniel’s homecoming. Just because I have decided to go doesn’t mean I am just leaving care free. It is a sacrifice, but it’s one I’m willing to make.
                I wish I could say that I have a complete faith in the fact that everything is going to work out, but I am still learning that. I have days where I worry a lot, but a blessing I have had given to me is that I have not doubted if serving a mission is right. I know with all my heart it’s what I need to do with my life. I am putting my faith in the prompting I had to serve. I am holding on to that and hoping that the understanding and acceptance I need will come along with it. I am praying that one day it will be clear exactly why I needed to go.
                At this point we have about 54,000 missionaries out in the field working to “harvest the crop”. With the age changes the Church is expecting the number of missionaries to cap at 90,000. It is so wonderful to be living in this time and watching so many answer the call to serve a mission. It is so wonderful to be one of the many that is standing up and saying “Yes, I will go!” I am excited for this next chapter and all the adventures it will bring!
                I hope that I answered all of your questions! If you have any more just let me know! I would love to hear from all of you. Thanks for reading and for all the love and support! You guys are the best! I hope this blog post finds you well, as always.
Until Next Time,
Muah!
-Sister Hodgkiss