Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmases in Estonia

What is Christmas like in Estonia? This blog is your answer! First of all Christmas is a three day holiday (24-26) and in the Estonian language is always in plural (jõulud).  The main day of celebration is the 24th and they have an awesome Estonian feast.  Here is an update of our Estonian Christmases this year!

 We tried to do a little holiday cooking this year, inspired by my sister Jill's top 9 Christmas treats blog post

Our first attempt was caramels.  We had to use some dark syrup that the store had, it said it was used for breads.  At first there was a funny black bread after taste, but after being in the fridge for a day it went away.  The problem is that they never got hard.  I'm not sure if I didn't cook them long enough but they stayed runny even after being in the fridge for a few days.  They tasted great though!

 The next batch was a great success, peanut butter Hershey kiss cookies.  We didn't have Hershey's kisses but we did have Fazer chocolate which worked just as good.

We didn't have the time or ingredients for all 9 of the treats but our last treat from the list was coconut bon bons, they were great!

 We decided to open up our presents early on the 21st because our car is small and it is a bit awkward opening up all our presents in someone else's place.  It was really great to see the excitement of a child opening up presents.  Child number one got a large box of Legos. 

 Child number two got her US citizenship and passport! We hope she likes it, if not she'll have to wait until she is 18 and pay over 2,300 to take it back.

 It wouldn't be Christmas without a Reese's Christmas tree

 For the real Christmas festivities we went down south to Tõrva.  A big feast is the most important part.  This dish is raw salted Herring with sour cream and onion on top. 

 While most think that the national beverage would be beer or vodka, what Estonians actually drink the most is morss.  A tangy-sweet syrup based beverage, think watered down berry flavored tang. This stuff is mandatory at every large gathering.

 The most famous dish of course is blood sausage.  It is quite tasty.

 Sourkraut is another must.

Potato salad is another classic at all major gatherings and events.

 This is sült which is best described as meat jello. I've been in Estonia for at least 7 Christmases but I have never had the courage to try it.  Next year I'm really going to do it. I'm told it is pretty good.

The feast was mostly done by Merle, suur tänu sulle!

 It has been a very warm December, no snow in Estonia.  We are very glad, when it gets too cold the doors on our Polo freeze shut.  We are also not excited about the ice that builds on the sidewalks in the winter time.

 This is a classic Estonian Christmas decoration that is in most people's window.  The last Estonian tradition is what's on TV.  Every year for Christmas they show Home Alone and Die Hard.  Everyone is sick of them but they end up watching them anyway.  This year I saw advertisements for home alone 4 and 5! Who knew they even made a fifth home alone. 

We hope all your Christmases were merry!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas!

The darkest time of the year was yesterday, and in Estonia that means short days and long nights.  Take time to let the light in this Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Before I dropped my new camera...

Yes, I dropped my new camera, well, bough used, but still. It is being repaired at the moment.
 I wanted to share some of my favorites that I have taken lately. If you are OK with things like praying for lost car keys and stuff then please pray for my camera to survive!

This is taken on the beach 15 minutes away from where we live. A few days before this there was a bigger storm and the beach was a mess.

Here is one of the most awesome cloud formations I have ever seen, same beach:

This is Keila-Joa waterfalls in December, very close by:

My favorite beach again. The water is very high this time of year. Usually these rocks are not in the water.

I basically missed the sunset here. The glow was just very humble and disappeared fast. This is the beach in  Laulasmaa - Ann and Monte stayed in the hotel there this summer.

Lake Klooga, very close by (I mean, I cannot drive far with two little kids, BUT it makes me appreciate things close by much more:). It is one of my favorite sunset photos so far.

Paldiski (Pakri) cliff at sunset. It was stormy that day and it felt like I will be blown off the cliff. So I stayed close and down on the viewing platform.  Look at the layers!

One of the colder days last week. It has been super warm here. I kind of like it because when it is cold it means we mat not be able to open the doors of our little 1999 Volkswagen Polo. So... warm is cool. :D

This is taken in October and I love it! It is Southern Estonia, a very foggy day. It is Taagepera, a place where my grandmother used to live.

I like the mood of this one:

And the last one, sunset in Klooga. 

I post most of my photos here, if you are interested:

Thank you, Kadi!

Thank you, Kadi, for giving us this awesome little gift! We ate all the Raffaellos, of course, half of the ginger bread cookies and put the little ornaments up on our tiny Christmas tree. They barely fit. The pine tree branch in there was real! I had to bite it to settle the discussion about if it is real or not. 

Thank you so much, Kadi, and Tommaso too, of course!

Thursday, December 10, 2015


This week I went to visit NATO headquarters in Brussels on a study trip with 17 of our IR students.  It was a great trip and a lot of fun.  The NATO speakers did a nice job briefing us on many of NATO's activities.Camera's were not allowed in NATO and it was a very short trip, so I didn't get any pictures.  Below is a tweet from the Estonian delegation to NATO. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Birthday Party in the USA

By small and simple things great things will come to pass.  About two months ago a student of mine told me how she almost went back home to Africa for her Grandma's 75th birthday party.  She ultimately decided against it because the very long and expensive trip would have been too short, just a few weeks.  I concurred that it was a wise choice, probably better to save the trip for a later time when she could go for longer.

Less than a month ago I found out that all of my siblings were going to my Grandma's 90th birthday party. This was largely spurred by my brother in New York who decided to go.  If he can come from New York then others could come as well right?  With these two events I initially was tempted at the idea to go to the birthday party but then decided against it.  It would be expensive and not fair to Maris who would be staying home with the kids.  In addition there wasn't a Jazz home game that would fit into the travel plans.  After giving it some thought and after having my Dad offer to pay for the ticket it became an easy decision.  It was time to party in the USA.

Fall is my favorite season in the US and my least favorite season in Estonia.  In Estonia the weather is wet, cold, and dark.  There are no holidays to break up the monotony. In the US there are months and months of colors, crisp weather, clear skies, football, basketball, Halloween, and Thanksgiving.  It doesn't get much better. This fall the weather has been great, I have an NFL game pass, and my Grandma's 90th birthday party make it one of the best Falls I have ever had!

 It was good to be back in the United States.  Wide streets, good eats, and drinking fountains! The crazy amount of pickup trucks gets me every time as well.

I loved going shopping at Harmon's, I brought back a 50 lbs suit case but wish I had another 50lbs for more candy. I flew threw Paris just a day before the terrorist attacks, got into Salt Lake city before anyone else. I realized that I forgot my plug adapter!  Luckily for me there was a Radio Shack near by.  Also a curry fried chicken restaurant.  With Jet Lag I went to sleep early.

This was the view from the hotel room.  It was nice to see mountains again! Seeing leaves, the blue sky, and the sun were also nice.

 I got to go to the Bountiful temple with my sister Lynne (she's taking the picture).  Even though there is a temple in Espoo Finland, it still takes a lot of time and money to plan a trip.  With little kids it is very difficult.  Much easier to go when I am in the US.  This was on Friday one day before the mass resignation from the Church.  I felt peace in the temple and again felt the confirmation that temple covenants can help us become better people and come closer to Christ.  I still feel saddened when people are excluded from those blessings and when people distance themselves from them.

Salt Lake is one of my favorite cities.  Only 40% of Salt Lake is Mormon despite it being the headquarters of the LDS church.  The result is somewhat of a love-hate relationship.  This is a statue of two Mormon missionaries, one is an alien, both are in a space ship.  I'm not sure what it symbolizes but I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the planet Kolob!

 The birthday party was awesome, it was held in the same room where my Grandma got married about 65 years ago in the Joseph Smith Memorial building.

 Grandma seemed very happy and looked great, 90 years old!

There were over 100 people there.  Living in Estonia makes it hard to see the uncles, aunts, great uncles, great aunts, cousins, and other extended family members.  I really enjoyed seeing and talking with everyone.  My Grandma did a great job raising her family, a lot of wonderful people were there.

Random fact, I excused myself to go to the bathroom and saw a lady taking a picture with two sister missionaries. Mormons love sister missionaries so I didn't think anything of it but the lady looked familiar, then I realized that it was the sister missionaries who were taking pictures with the lady who turned out to be Sister Wixom.  She was just in Estonia for a fireside a few weeks ago.  I said hi and we both noted that we live in a small world.  Sister Wixom is one of the nicest people I know!

I stole this picture from my sister Jill's blog, my camera wasn't working properly.  Shout out to Lynne who also emailed me some pictures for the blog entry.  This was the first time in 5 years that all 5 siblings were together.  I love them all and wish I could see them more.

Jill and her oldest Emily! The kids grow up so fast.

 We went to music and the spoken word in the tabernacle on temple square.  We sat on the 2nd row, it was fantastic.

 Temple square is a beautiful place, too bad there wasn't more time to explore.  The Church history museum has a new exhibit and I think the visitor center has been redone since the last time I was there.

 This is another borrowed picture from my sister Jill.  We ate brunch at the Grand America, it was the grandest brunch I have ever had!  This plate is the one from the kids' table with macaroni and cheese burgers, and mini corn dogs.  That sounds foolish to waste space on that type of food but some of those we don't have in Estonia!  It was really really good.

I got to see my some family on my Mom's side on the way back home via Pocatello.  Spending the night home was great.  I also had pumpkin flavored ice cream for the first time.  I'm not a huge pumpkin fan but I loved that ice cream!  Estonian ice cream is a bit bland, so I was eating up the pumpkin.  My Mom had up some Thanksgiving and fall decorations.  Europeans don't decorate their homes according to the holidays outside of a few things for Christmas. 

 This was a mural of the Twin Falls region at the Magic Valley Regional airport. What a beautiful place, it will always be home.

This is the bugger than gave me bad heart burn on the very long plane ride back to Estonia!  It was my last meal before leaving the US.  The plane has tons of food too, so by the time I ate that I was stuffed and not feeling well.  I was planning on being productive but this killed all motivation to do anything.  But if I could do it again I'd still eat it.  Cafe Rio's famous shredded beef burrito and a large horchata.  Nothing beats it. It was a tough choice because there was a McDonalds in the airport right next to it.  Just two weeks ago I almost missed my tram because I was day dreaming about eating double quarter pounders with cheese.

Now I'm back in Estonia hard at work with an extra fat roll to hold me over for the winter, or at least until Thanksgiving :) Estonia is a great place and while it might not be as pleasurable, the lifestyle of less gluttony is a better one. I flew through Paris and noticed the soldiers with machine guns patrolling the airport.  This Thanksgiving I will be thankful to have grown up in a peaceful place and thankful to be living in a peaceful place.

Little bit of love

It has been some weeks since the Church came out with its new policy that excludes children of  LGBT couples from membership.  The Church has already tweaked/clarified the policy once.  At the same time Salt Lake City has elected the first LGBT mayor and another protest is scheduled for Salt Lake on top of the vigil, protest, and mass resignation that have already happened.  I suspect that things will calm down pretty soon, but the pain shunning, and suffering that families will be feeling is only beginning.  There has been an explosion of media articles on the subject but here are some links to some of the best ones I have read.

1. This article sums up why the policy is controversial, the impact of the policy on children
2. This article discuses the difference between doctrine and policy.
3. This article gives the experience of someone who was excluded from the Church because of his polygamous background.  The situation was unfortunately less then positive.

When seeking guidance on the subject the thoughts and impressions that I have felt is that the shunning, pain, isolation, and other negative experiences that are surely the indirect outcome of such a policy are not of God.  No matter our opinion on the policy we all can do our best to limit the negative impact towards those that will feel the impact of this policy.  We don't have the ability to change policy but with a little bit of love we can limit the impact of the policy on the lives of those we come in contact with.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Standing for something

While it has only bee a few days since the public became aware of the Church's updated policy towards gay members and their children, a lot has happened.  Elder Christofferson gave a 10 min interview to clarify the context of the new policy.  Though I love and respect Elder Christofferson, the interview was underwhelming on several fronts.  First, the comparison of gay marriage to polygamous marriage is one that does not go very far.  Second, it relies on dubious logic that claims this policy will in some way help children who otherwise would be torn between a family and church that taught different things.  The pains of exclusion, stigmatization, and the false choice that these children would have to then make at the age of 18 were not addressed.  Children are often baptized into the Church who come from family settings that differ from church standards.  In many ways these are the children who need the church the most.  Some thoughts on the interview can be seen here.

The goal of the policy is to strengthen the institution of traditional marriage by excluding the institution of gay marriage.  While the need to strengthen the institution of marriage is a divine charge and badly needed in this fallen world, the flaw of the new policy is two fold.  First, it attempts to strengthen the institution of marriage in a negative by manor.  Instead of preaching to the 97% of people who are heterosexual  on topics of commitment, love, fidelity, and honesty the Church has instead focused on the 3% and why their attempts to gain access to the institution are damaging.  This type of negative campaign has significant consequences for the LGBT minority.  The second problematic aspect of this policy is it places the burden of this policy largely on the children of LGBT couples.

When I was sealed to my wife almost 6 years ago I looked into the mirrors in the Helsinki Temple sealing room and saw a glimpse into eternity.  One thought that I have had is that at some point there will be a LGBT member of my posterity.  3% of the population is gay, the question is not if but when and how many.  Whether among my children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren there will be LGBT members.  If they choose to marry or live with someone of their same gender (the natural path in their pursuit of happiness in this life) it would mean the exclusion of their children from the Church I love.  This is a policy that will have a significant and negative impact on families.    The family a proclamation to the world states that as the father of my family, I am responsible for the protection of my family.  This may seem outdated to some but it is a duty that I will not shirk from. 

In light of recent church teachings to speak up for Children and to speak out on subjects of religious freedom I have decided that it is time to stand for something.  I have started a petition condemning this misguided policy and asking the Church to reverse the policy.  Someone needs to stand for the religious freedom of the children of LGBT couples.  For those interested in standing with me you can sign the petition at 

In clarification I should say that I am not against Church leadership or Church doctrine and teaching.  I am specifically targeting this policy.  I love the Church, the leaders of this church and the beautiful teachings of the restored gospel.  I am against this policy because it is against those very teachings that I hold so dear. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Such is the kingdom of heaven

"Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven". 

Matthew 19:14 is one of the most beautiful teachings that Jesus ever taught.  Its a teaching that resonates with those of all faiths.  The beauty, innocence, and divine potential that radiates from every child is easy to recognize by all.  Unfortunately, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has adopted a new policy that unfairly treats a group of children. The new policy states that adopted and biological children of homosexual couples cannot be blessed in Church or baptized.  They are allowed to be baptized only when they reach the legal age of adulthood and disavow the practice of same gender marriage and are no longer living with their parents. 

This new policy violates Church doctrine and goes against the core tenants of the Gospel of Christ.  This is a policy that I full heartedly condemn.  This policy will be a stain on the Church perhaps to an even greater extent than the policy of banning blacks from holding the priesthood. 

One of the key doctrines of the restoration is that men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam's transgressions.  This teaching is  beautiful and clearly rejects the false teaching that man is born in a fallen state, already condemned to hell.  Children are innocent and are not stained by their humanity or parents.  They will grow up, they will sin and be in need of the saviors atonement, but it will be worked out individually.  They will pick up bad traditions and habits from their parents, but if parents fail to teach their children correctly they will be held accountable for not teaching their children.  The policy to deny saving ordinances to the purest of the pure based on the gender of their parents is a violation of this teaching.  In the last days the hearts of the fathers are supposed to be turned to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers.  What a beautiful teaching.  This policy will instead drive a wedge between children and their parents, in essence forcing them to choose between membership in the Church and a relationship with their parents.  In excluding children from the Church the new policy is doing exactly the opposite of what Christ taught. 

Openly condemning this misguided policy is a bold step for a faithful practicing Mormon, but what other step can I take?  In a 2013 General Conference address Elder Oaks taught that we need to speak up and speak on behalf of children because they do not have a voice to do so themselves.  I'm speaking up on behalf of the children who will feel the pain of exclusion and the pain of rejection that this new policy is forcing upon them.   I call on the Church to reverse this policy and to let the little children come unto Christ: for such is the kingdom of heaven.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Peppa Pig!

So our 2-year old loves Peppa Pig. For her birthday people gave some awesome toys, Peppa Pig themed. Here is hand made Peppa Pig by my friend Katrin. She actually spent all that time to make this for our daughter. She is the nicest!

Here is a Peppa from Mark and Hillary, I think:

Here is one from Ann and Monte, I think. This one talks! And oinks and laughs:

And a Peppa house from my sister and my dad and other relatives:

Thank you so much! Our daughter loves Peppa Pig!