Saturday, November 20, 2010

Moscow in November

This is Bob again:

I'm sorry it's been so long since I've posted anything. The past couple of months have been a little crazy. After our trip to Madrid in September, KLynn flew to the U.S. to visit some of our children and I returned to Moscow for a week to work. After that I joined KLynn in Utah, where we helped to host a group of Ukrainian judges who were visiting with the "Open World" program, and I worked at a spare office in the Church Office Building in Salt Lake. Fortunately, while I was in Salt Lake I was able to meet with a young man from Turkey (a former professional basketball player) who was visiting there for a week or so. He has agreed to work as translator for me in dealing with a Turkish attorney we have just retained to help with some pending matters. He is a huge help. After a few days in Salt Lake we attended the J. Reuben Clark Law Society Leadership Conference at Aspen Grove, and following that we went to Provo for the annual symposium of the BYU International Center for Law and Religious Studies. That was intense. I then had a day of training with the other ALC's (Area Legal Counsels) in Salt Lake, spent a few days in Phoenix visiting our son, Rick, and his family, and then I returned to Moscow. KLynn stayed in the U.S. for another ten days visiting more children and then finally returned to Moscow as well.

It was nice to visit family and friends while we were in Utah, but at the same time it felt strange. When I'm in Moscow, Utah seems like a haze, but while I was in Utah Moscow seemed equally hazy. It's like we're trying to live with one foot on either side of the Atlantic.

Shortly after KLynn's return to Moscow we traveled to Kyiv for a day, where I gave a brief report on legal matters as part of the annual Area Mission Presidents' Seminar. We enjoyed getting acquainted with the fourteen mission presidents and their wives. They are uniformly wonderful people. We were also able to attend a performance of the "Swan Lake" ballet at the Kyiv Opera House, which was beautiful beyond words. KLynn and I have attended a couple of ballets in Moscow, and it is quickly becoming one of our favorite art forms. It has the advantage of not requiring an understanding of the language, and the beauty of the dancing is nothing short of magnificent.

Unfortunately, KLynn hadn't been in Moscow for two weeks when we learned that our daughter, Cindy, was experiencing pregnancy complications, and so KLynn returned to Pittsburgh for nearly three weeks to care for Cindy and her three children. KLynn returned yesterday (and there was much rejoicing). Cindy's condition is now stabilized, and our two daughters who live in Northern Virginia are going to help care for her for the next while, so I think she is out of the woods.

As a consequence of all this, KLynn and I have been separated over the last couple of months more than at any other time in our marriage. It's good to have her back now and return to something like normalcy.

It didn't take long after KLynn's return yesterday for us to be back in the thick of things. I got a phone call last evening from a young man in our LDS branch from Tanzania. He has been studying civil engineering here in Moscow by day for the last two years and working at night. The grueling schedule was threatening his health, and so he decided to ask the university for a leave of absence to give him a chance to work and save money. What he didn't count on was that the school would require him to leave his university student hostel where he has been living. Last night he found himself literally on the street with nowhere to go and no money. He hadn't eaten anything all day, and he was in a very bad situation emotionally as well as physically. He came to our house and KLynn fixed him a hot meal. We were able to contact our branch president, Henry Kozak, an outstanding man from Germany who is the Church Education System Coordinator for Eastern Europe. By that time it was ten o'clock at night. Henry had just walked in the door of his house following a business trip, but he dropped everything and came to our house to help our young Tanzanian friend. The Tanzanian fellow taught high school math and physics before coming to Moscow, and supported his mother and five sisters after their father abandoned the family. He is very bright, ambitious, and hard-working, but he has only limited understanding of the Russian language, which has made it extremely difficult for him to study here. I would like to find a way to help him get to the United States so he can complete his education in English. He spent the rest of the night with the branch president, and I think starting tonight we'll find a place for him with one of the other African branch members. Moscow is not a safe place for Africans, especially at night. KLynn and I feel quite protective of our young Tanzanian friend. He is small in stature, shy, and very vulnerable.

This Wednesday KLynn and I are planning to go to Kyiv again. I am delivering a very modest paper at a legal conference at Taras Shevchenko University on the U.S. Federal Rules of Evidence. (They must have been really desperate for English speaking participants.) I am told that legal scholars from Ukraine, Poland and Russia will be at the conference, and I think this will be a good opportunity to build some good-will for the Church. We've been invited to have Thanksgiving dinner Thursday afternoon with David and Chelom Leavitt, who run the Leavitt Institute that KLynn and I participated in last spring, teaching Ukrainian law students the fundamentals of jury trial practice. Chelom is working this year on a Fulbright Scholarship studying the effects of Communism on Ukrainian family life. They are very nice and interesting people. I'll also do some Church-related work while we're in Kyiv with Robert Kempton, the new Associate Area Legal Counsel there. Robert is a retired attorney from Phoenix who previously did an OGC (Office of General Counsel) mission in South Africa. Robert is a former stake president, and he is doing a great job handling most of the Church's legal affairs in Ukraine. He and Jim Tadje, the Associate Area Legal Counsel in Moscow, are extremely valuable members of the legal team here. I don't know how I would survive without them.

Work continues to be interesting and demanding. There is a never-ending stream of legal issues arising in Russia and Ukraine, and I'm also working on active matters in Turkey, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The Area Presidency continue to be an inspiration. They, like KLynn, make me want to be a better person.

I've been meeting recently with real estate attorneys at some of the large international law firms here. I met the other day with a group of attorneys from the Moscow office of White & Case, a New York based firm where I clerked after my second year of law school. I had an offer to join them after graduation, which would have led to a very different life. It's like I've now come full circle. We use White & Case for some matters in Turkey. It still seems a little strange to be a law firm client instead of a partner.

I hope this blog finds all of you well and happy.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Visit to Madrid

(This is Bob)
KLynn and I are spending a few days in Madrid, switching our Russian business visas, which were about to expire, for work visas good for a year. The Russian embassy in Madrid gives faster turnaround on these than in other countries, which is why we are here. Madrid is beautiful, and we are enjoying our visit. Yesterday we visited the Prado Art Museum, which was wonderful, and last night we attended a flamenco dance performance. It's a nice break. I will take the red-eye back to Moscow Tuesday night, and KLynn will fly from here to the U.S. to visit family. I go to Utah a week from Friday for meetings.

We met some church people Friday at the LDS Temple and Missionary Training Center here, and it turns out some of their family are coming to visit for the next few days, including a Utah Bankruptcy Court judge whom I have known for years. We are planning to go with them to Toledo on Monday. I haven't taken any vacation time for a few months, and it will be good to take a day off. This new job has been interesting on multiple levels. I worked long hours in private law practice, but I'm working longer hours now. For some reason, though, the days don't seem to be as long. I am still on a fairly steep learning curve learning how to deal with the wide variety of legal problems here, and the email stream is relentless -- even on "vacation."

I don't remember if I wrote much about the activities surrounding the dedication of the Kyiv Temple two weeks ago. At the risk of repitition I'll share a few observations. The "Cultural Event" Saturday evening before the dedication was outstanding. KLynn and I watched it by closed circuit TV in Moscow. The Church rented a large auditorium in Kyiv that was packed, and young adults from the various counties in the temple district performed folk dances, ballet, singing, etc. I was proud of our kids. They did a great job. I especially enjoyed the group from Kazakhstan. There is just one small branch of the Church there, in Al-Maty. I visited it in June. Nine young people from that little branch performed a beautiful folk dance number in exquisite costumes. I was told that one of the young people in the branch has a friend who is a professional dancer, and she helped with the choreography. It was very well done. There were large groups from Russia and Ukraine, and smaller groups from Armenia, Belarus, the Baltics, Bulgaria, and Moldova. There was a large Ukrainian choir dressed in traditional embroidered shirts. KLynn and I felt privileged to be able to witness it.

Meanwhile, KLynn is growing increasingly comfortable navigating the Moscow metro system, which gives her a feeling of independence. It's good not to be dependent on a driver to take her around. I'm legal to drive in Russia, but KLynn isn't and probably won't be. I drive to and from work every day, and a driver is available -- in theory at least -- to help KLynn get around while I'm at work. We have some American friends in Moscow who work for oil companies, and they are forbidden by their employers to drive at all. One couple has lived in Moscow for over ten years and never driven.

It's Sunday morning now, and KLynn and I are going to hop on the subway and attend Church meetings.
Love to all,

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Our townhouse

Here are a couple of pictures of our place--it is very nice and yes!! we did get our shipment. It was funny though--we realized we brought too much. After you live out of basically a suitcase full of stuff--you realize you really don't need very much to be happy. We are very grateful for such a nice place though--it is very comfortable--with 2 extra bedrooms for company (hint-hint).

Some of you may have gotten a spam email about us being stranded in UK--I guess my hot mail got hacked into--in fact I am blocked out of it==so I can't respond yet. I am sorry about that--but we are doing just fine here in Moscow. We had the dedication of the Kyiv Temple Sunday which was wonderful. I will write more later.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

It has been an interesting and full couple of weeks since my last post. KLynn and I spent a few days in Kyiv again last week. I had meetings with lawyers and accountants on Thursday afternoon relating to the legal structure for the patron housing at the Temple. KLynn flew in and joined me on Friday. (We had a visit from Galina Hyde for a few days that week, which is why KLynn didn't fly out on Thursday. Galina is originally from St. Petersburg, and we became friends at the Russian Branch in SLC. It was nice to see her here. Galina went with KLynn to the market and explained some Russian things to her, which was helpful, and we had pleasant visits in the evenings.)

Moving right along, on Friday we met with some humanitarian aid volunteers and later met Michael and Dawn Sorokine at the Temple (Michael was our Branch President in SLC). We were joined by some Ukrainians who had visited Salt Lake with Open World. "Judge Natalia" left her family vacation early in Crimea to come see us, which was very touching. She brought KLynn and Dawn some beautiful flowers. We took the Temple tour, had a catered dinner at the patron housing facility, and had a good visit. Judge Natalia has invited us to visit her at her home sometime, and we want to do that.

Saturday morning I met with more lawyers to talk about some Church legal matters, and that afternoon KLynn and I did some Christmas shopping and exploring. Kyiv is really a charming city! Saturday evening we had dinner with Steve and Lorraine Swift, who are some of our favorite people. They leave for home in a few weeks and we will miss them. Steve is a senior U.S. Tax Judge, and he will start hearing cases again when they return home. KLynn and I returned to Moscow early Sunday.

Work has been busy this week, and it feels good to relax today. This evening we will watch the televised "Cultural Event" celebration for the Kyiv Temple dedication, and Sunday we will attend a televised dedicatory session here in Moscow. We would have gone to Kyiv for the dedication, but we had already been there twice this month, and anyway we didn't want to occupy a seat in the Temple for the dedication. Those seats are for the local members.

KLynn has set up a cushioned chair in a corner of our bedroom, and from there you can look out through big picture windows at a beautiful birch forest. We live in a very pretty place, and we have much to be thankful for.


A Hug and a Blessing

My day at the market yesterday. But first--I forgot to mention that our shipment finally came this week--it has been like Christmas unpacking our clothes-music-kitchen, and BED! It is too soft and squshy for Bob now that he has gotten used to a harder bed. I wasn't feeling too great this week --so it was nice to stay home most of the time and unpack.

Back to market--it has been in the 5o's and 60's--so nice cool weather--with rain off and on. When I was almost to the market--pulling my cart, there was quite an older couple --now you don't see older couples very often here at all. They had set up on the street a few boxes and were selling some vegtables that I found out they had grown in their garden. I stopped to buy some stuff--but it takes me a while (language issues). Anyway another little older man--wearing a tweed jacket and cap stopped to buy some cucumbers--so I let him go ahead of me. He was so grateful and almost jolly--you don't see too many jolly Russians--who are not drinking. He then was trying to help me understand the woman --he was just so cute and jolly and gave me a side hug as he left. Then I finished buying cucumbers, beautiful beets, some greens? and I think turnips and something else--some kind of root vegtable that she showed me she had dug from the ground. So I ended up buying quite a bit--it was a little over 5 dollars worth. She was so grateful--she touched my shoulder and then make the sign of the cross and touched my shoulder again--saying something--and I felt she had blessed me for buying so much from her. It brought tears to my eyes and as I walked away--I was so grateful for these two humble acts of kindness. . These are the people I love to meet and when I most feel God's love for me and for the wonderful people of Russia.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Week in Moscow

It's Sunday morning and already the middle of August. This week the weather finally cooled off and the wind shifted, blowing away the smoke from the wild fires, and life is good! Over the past few weeks KLynn has attended some activities with an international women's group here in Moscow, and she is becoming good friends with a small group of women who seem to have gravitated to each other. One is from France, and the others are from Honduras, Poland and the Netherlands. They have gotten together a few times to see some of the sites around town and are having a nice time together. I haven't met any of them yet, but KLynn speaks highly of them and she is enjoying their company. They sound like interesting women. KLynn is the only one of the group who speaks no Russian, and they are very protective of her. KLynn is now regularly taking the shuttle bus from our home at Pokrovsky Hills to a metro station and then getting around the city by subway. I'm glad she's comfortable doing that. It is important for her to be able to get out and about without having to rely on our "driver" who is on vacation for the rest of the month. The Moscow subway system is amazing. Trains come every two minutes like clockwork, and many of the stations are works of art. It is so nice to have the weather a little closer to normal. People who have lived here for a long time tell me that summers in Moscow are usually beautiful, and now I am beginning to understand what they mean. KLynn and I went out to dinner Friday night at a grand old hotel, the Metropol, across the street from the Bolshoi Theater next to the Kremlin. It used to be Lenin's headquarters I'm told. It was beautiful but pricey. Saturday we did some Christmas shopping and got some craft items for the house, which was fun. We also found a really good and moderately priced Uzbeki restaurant not far from our home that I think will become a favorite. We bought some of the Russian "nesting dolls" and two wood carving figures for our house that we like a lot. They are hand painted and are quite pretty. The young man, Ivan, who operated the booth selling the nesting dolls explained their traditional meaning, which helped me have a greater appreciation for them. I guess that's how it is with a lot of things. Ivan learned to speak English from Mormon missionaries, which is kind of fun. He is a nice fellow. Driving in Moscow has been a little daunting, but we are gradually getting more comfortable with it, which helps us to feel more at home. Work continues to be interesting. I especially enjoy being able to work closely with the Area Presidency. They are outstanding men and make me want to be a better person. We are supposed to receive our shipment from the U.S. sometime this week -- and this time they really mean it -- which will mean we will no longer be living out of suitcases. That will be nice if it happens. This has been a little rambling, for which I apologize. We'll check in again next week.

Monday, August 9, 2010

This is our good friend, Julia and her son from Kyiv--we are walking to lunch along a GREAT open shopping street--one of the oldest streets in Kyiv.
"I need to get a better shot of the temple--our photography cut off the top. It is beautiful and the grounds are wonderful. This really is the first"western grass" I have seen since coming over here. It is more weeds and grass and I have yet seen a lawn mower. The Kyiv Temple is really beautiful. These are the Swifts--good friends and couple legal missionaries here.
This is one of the underground metro stations in Moscow--as you can see-really quite beautiful.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Back from Kyiv

This is Bob. KLynn and I returned this morning from a two-day trip to Kyiv, where we participated in the LDS Temple open house. The Temple and grounds are beautiful and impressive, especially considering how small the Church is in this part of the world. The Temple is situated on a major highway that circles the city of Kyiv and is highly visible. The Temple grounds include a stake center and patron housing to accommodate people traveling long distances. The interior of Temple uses a lot of beautiful marble that was imported from a number of countries. It widely uses a "stalks of wheat" motif, which is appropriate for Ukraine. It also utilizes the colors of the Ukraine flag (sky blue and gold) and has other Ukrainian touches. The local members are justly proud of their new Temple. On Friday KLynn and I met the Church's Ukraine attorneys and some other friends from the legal community. We plan to return in two weeks to meet with a group of Ukrainian judges who have visited Utah in the past few years and who have been especially invited to the open house. This has been, and continues to be, a rare opportunity for KLynn and me to become acquainted with interesting and wonderful people.

Kyiv literally felt like a breath of fresh air, especially since Moscow has been suffocating for weeks under heavy smoke and smog from hundreds of wild fires burning in western Russia. Kyiv is a beautiful European capital, and we have enjoyed our visits there. We stayed at the Hotel Gintama, a little 23 room hotel we found last spring that is located on the ground level of an apartment building in a quiet residential neighborhood across the street from a park that looks out over the Dneiper (sp?) River and is just a short walk from the St. Sophia and St. Michael's cathedrals and the center of the "old city" of Kyiv. The room was tiny and not fancy, but it was clean and the staff are friendly. We plan to stay there when we return.

Friday evening after the open house we had dinner with Steve Swift, a federal tax judge who is serving for 18 months as the Associate Area Legal Counsel in Kyiv, and his wife Lorraine. The Swifts are great people and have become good friends. They have given tremendous service to the Church in Ukraine. We were joined by President Lawrence, the new first counselor in the area presidency, and his wife. The Lawrences and Swifts have children who are married to each other, and it was fun for KLynn and me to join them for dinner.

Saturday we met our friend, Julia Sedyk, who works with the Ukraine Rule of Law Project, and her son Severyn, for lunch, and then did some Christmas shopping near the old St. Andrews Church, an area where local artists and craftsmen sell their wares. We stopped periodically to go inside little restaurants for a glass of fruit juice to escape the heat. Saturday evening we walked along the main commercial street in Kyiv, which was blocked off to allow only pedestrian traffic. There were a lot of street entertainers and large throngs of people enjoying the warm Saturday evening. We walked through Independence Square, which was the principal site of the massive public demonstrations of the Orange Revolution a few years ago.

This morning we returned to a very smoky Moscow and went right to church. We only held one meeting, because the chapel is the only room that is air conditioned and the rest of the facilities were too hot and smoky to hold meetings. The sacrament meeting was outstanding. The speakers included a young teenage boy from Central Africa, who spoke in French through an interpreter. He and other members of his family were recently baptized. His father is a high ranking official with the Central African Embassy and is a very impressive man. The young speaker, Christopher Jamba, delivered his first talk in Church and did a fine job. Christopher helped to bless the sacrament, and his father passed it to the congregation. There was also a profound talk by a young Filipino woman who works in Moscow cleaning apartments. These people are humble but deep thinkers. We also heard excellent talks from Geri and Scott Conlin, who have become good friends, and the concluding speaker was Elder Lawrence. It seemed ironic to me that in that little International Branch meeting in a very modest facility in Moscow we would attend one of the best sacrament meetings I can remember.

After church we gave a ride home to JB and Vlada, a young married couple, and one of their friends, a young African man, whom I don't know. JB (John Bull?) is a handsome and engaging young man from Africa -- Nigeria I think -- and Vlada is a lovely young Russian woman. Vlada gave premature birth to a baby earlier this week and was just released from the hospital yesterday. The baby is still in intensive care. KLynn didn't want Vlada to have to take a long hot bus ride home from church. JB and Vlada live in a one room apartment (without air conditioning) and share a kitchen and bathroom with several others. Vlada has "connected" with KLynn, who is quickly becoming the surrogate mother for several people in our branch.

KLynn is also becoming involved in the American Women's Group and the International Women's Club here in Moscow. They have activities every week, and she is becoming acquainted with interesting women from a number of countries.

Tomorrow there are lots of projects demanding attention, and we'll be back in the thick of things.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Old wood houses

They paint them such great colors. These are out in the town of St Sergei--but even in the city they paint some of the BIG buildings in similar colors--or pale shades but still with the white trim. These houses are well over 100 years old or older.

Heat and Smog Wave!!

Here is the view from the bridge I walk over on my way to the market--It has locks on this river to allow big tug boats and such--it's beautiful isn't it. The sad thing is that over 1,000 people have drowned in the rivers around Moscow this summer trying to escape the heat. It is a combination of not knowing how to swim and drunkenness.

As some of you may have read in the news--Moscow has had a record breaking hot summer--hotter than any before in history--go figure. We were told before we came that last summer it rarely got over the 80s--that it was in the 60s and 70s a lot. July is also one of the wettest months--so when we packed our suitcases we didn't quite plan on this weather!! We still haven't got our shipment(though we found out it arrived in Moscow last Friday!!--so maybe in
a week or two we may have it) --anyway--we don't have a lot of "summer wear". Last week Bob read that the air quality was 10 times the dangerous level. Not so great to go out in--but last Thursday night the wind blew and it helped blow a lot of it out, but this morning it smelled of smoke again. I guess there are a lot of forest and peat fires outside of Moscow--so the smell and smog is from them. We are out of milk and food--so I will need to walk to the market still.

The top picture is from a cathedral in St Sergei Pasaud--the next of Bob and I at the July 4th celebration at the American Ambassador's residence in Moscow.

Last Saturday night we went to a ballet--Gazel(sp?). The Bolshoi is closed for renovation--so it was at another theater by there and with a second tier dancing group. They had a live orchestra and the 2 leads were very good--the only problem was that there was no air conditioning--every one was fanning themselves vigorously and I felt so bad for the dancers---wow--it was so--so hot! I am embarrassed to say that we left at intermission--we --in our less than "summer wear" couldn't take it. Shopping isn't that great here--it is very expensive--so we keep on waiting for our shipment.

Most the time the way to get around Moscow is the Metro. It is a bit out of date and loud--but some of the stations are really beautiful. They have murals and carvings, chandeliers and such. There still is a lot of walking done here--but the metro is usually the fastest way to get around.
The traffic can be pretty horrendous and the drivers--I can't compare to any that I have seen--maybe 10 times worse than NY taxi drivers!! If traffic is going slow--motorbikes and cars will speed up in between the lanes, off on the sides--over on the sidewalks--wherever they can find a hole--and I mean hole!! Very aggressive drivers.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hello From Moscow

This is Bob. KLynn asked me to write a little bit explaining what we are doing here. Since June 1, 2010, I have been employed by the Office of General Counsel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka "Mormon Church"). My job title is Area Legal Counsel for the Europe East Area. The Europe East Area comprises the nations of the former Soviet Union, including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan and several other "stans,"as well as Bulgaria and Turkey. My job is to manage the legal affairs of the Church within those countries, and to advise the Area Presidency and other church leaders on legal matters. Technically I'm not practicing law, but serve as "in house counsel" for the Church. I work heavily with local counsel in the various countries and oversee their work. Among other things, my office is responsible for maintaining the legal status of the Church, reviewing and approving contracts, handling legal issues pertaining to real estate acquisition and construction, visas and immigration, import and export, dispute resolution, missionaries, employment and (together with the public affairs department) government relations. The work is varied, challenging, and interesting. At times it can also be very rewarding. The legal environment here is very different from what I was accustomed to as an attorney in private practice in Salt Lake City for thirty years, and I am still in the process of growing into the assignment. For that matter, I think I will continue to grow into the assignment for as long as we will be here.

The Church has been in this part of the world for about twenty years, and the membership is still relatively small. There is one "stake" of the Church, in Kyiv, and the Church is planning to dedicate its first temple here at the end of August, also in Kyiv. I work with two Associate Area Legal Counsels, who are senior attorneys who serve as volunteers without pay for eighteen months. One is in Moscow and the other in Kyiv. There are also two legal coordinators and an office manager who work in our Moscow Office. There are, I think, thirteen missions in the Europe East Area, and roughly a thousand missionaries. There are eleven Area Legal Counsels who are located in various cities throughout the world.

KLynn and I feel very fortunate to be here, and so far it has been a positive experience.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dear Friends and Family,

We have been here for a month, and with the help of a son-in-law-Scott, we have this new blog. Now the trick is figuring out how to use it. I will start small at first and see if I can make this work.
We have had a very interesting few weeks. Bob is loving his work--it is so varied and sooo different than what he did in Salt Lake as a lawyer. He has been working very hard on trying to work out all the legal bugs to make sure the Kyiv Temple will be ready to open the end of August. It has been a bit of a headache for him--so we continue to pray that it will all come together. We still have not got our shipment--Russia upped their tariff prices--but unfortunately the word did not get back to Salt Lake--then once it did there is a backup and everyone is behind. We are living in a partially furnished townhouse, so we are doing fine. We did buy a knife but other than that we're doing okay. We may throw our clothes out when our shipment arrives--but you do start realizing how much you can live without though. I walk to a market a couple of times a week to get food--though the heat here lately has made it harder. Yesterday it broke the all time high temperature ever! And they are not really equipped for this--a lot of buildings are not air conditioned. Our townhouse bedrooms are--thank goodness--but the main floor and kitchen are not--and the hot water pipes run through the floors. So cooking in the kitchen on hot floors will be wonderful in the winter--but it's a bit warm for now. I was called as Relief Society president a day and a half after we arrived here--but after the shock wore off--I realize it has been so good for me to help me get involved and meet people and keep busy. Here are some pictures from our first few weeks in Moscow!! Sorry--I can't seem to get more than the one picture of me at our market. I will have to consult my technical support--ie--my "kids"!