Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hello Dear Readers,

Greetings from the Prague Mission Home! This is Laurel's sister, Teresa, here for a visit with my husband, Taylor. The McConkies have graciously allowed me the privilege of writing this week's entry in what my Arizona family calls the 'Prague Blague.'

Friday, October 11th, Laurel and James both were at the Prague airport to greet us.   I was so excited to see them and hug them and talk to them in person again!  Laurel had bought us yummy pastries and fruit and yogurt drinks to eat in the car. It was so thoughtful of her.  

We stayed awake after we got here until bed time, which was easy to do if we were moving. We took a walk to a huge metronome, which is right by their house. Incredible view of the city. 

Laurel took us to the mission office, where we got to see James in his element and meet the wonderful office Elders and Sisters.  What an amazing crew!

James took us to an Indian restaurant lunch buffet while Laurel picked up the kids from school.  He and Laurel go there for dinner or lunch almost every week.  It’s very close, has delicious food, and super-nice Indian servers.  We met lots of missionaries on the main floor of the church, toured the church and house, opened our suitcase full of presents, and hung out with kids. Two Sister Missionaries ate dinner with us because Laurel invited them up as she bumped into them on their way to the store.  We ate bread and cheese and a lovely salad made by President McConkie. 

Goodies from the States - This is George & Hyrum's room.

Saturday McConkies walked us to the castle, then went back to watch Conference with their branch and missionaries (a week after it aired in the U.S.).

Laurel and James drove us to a big grocery store called Billa, where they go every Saturday night. They stocked up for the week. My, it's fascinating to see all the foreign stuff!  There is lots of chocolate – even in their granola and yogurt.  The Diet Coke is called Coca Cola Light and tastes like Pepsi.  There is a wide variety of juices that we don't see at home. A McConkie favorite is Multivitamin, which is a mix of lots of fruits and some vegetables. We Arizonans were surprised to come halfway around the world and find prickly pear cactus juice in the supermarket here.   

James and the boys got up in the night to watch the Utah football game against Stanford.  To make the streaming video work, we had Taylor’s [Windows] laptop connected through a VPN in California, then logged into Jens’ Comcast account in SLC.  They were excited to tell us about the win the next morning.  They were amazingly cheerful all day for how sleepy they must have felt.  This photo shows the BYU and Utah nutcrackers sent by Grandmother and Granddad.

 Sunday Taylor and I took a walk to the metronome park again Sunday morning while McConkies and their branch watched General Conference. The kids opened a fun package from their home ward.  It was full of treats and lots of love notes.  The kids were especially excited about the Frosted Flakes!

We had a super-delicious dinner made by James, then I went on a walk with Laurel and the 3 boys while they threw the football around. We mostly walked by a bunch of embassies. I love how they all are so different. I took a photo of Laurel in front of the Argentina embassy. She had never seen it before.

We met some Sister Missionaries at the front door of the church who were there trying to see Conference. They had missed all of Saturday. They were from out of town and were in Prague to renew their visas. They seemed so happy to be here at the mission home. Laurel invited them and two Elders upstairs to watch Conference on her cozy sofas with Evie who also had missed the Saturday sessions. They were so grateful and polite. I asked Evie if she ever feels like a lot of her privacy is gone because missionaries are in her home so much, and she said she always has her bedroom to go to if she really wants to, but she usually just loves being with the missionaries because they are so nice.

Monday there were workers here trying to fix the jack-and-jill bathroom that stinks to all heck. They tore it up big-time and it was loud. Poor Laurel had no idea what one worker was saying to her in Czech.  Luckily they found the problem – the vent was hooked up to a sewer pipe in the attic.  Ewww.

Laurel took the kids to school, then  did a 7-minute exercise routine with me before she went to weekly meeting at the office across the street. She meets with James and the APs and all the office missionaries to mainly talk logistics and mission needs. I went on a very long walk during her meeting.

Laurel came home and she and I walked lots of big bags down the street to the recycling bins, where we sorted them into paper, plastic, and cartons.

Then we walked down streets full of beautiful buildings (mostly apartments, with shops on the main level) and picked up James' dry cleaning. We saw an especially cool building with tall spires near some statues of horses and a fountain. Then we had yummy Vietnamese lunch near the subway. It was so great to sit there and chat with my sis

Laurel went to pick up Hyrum for his violin lesson. Evie stayed after school for play practice, then took a bus to dance. Wilson and George will came home from school via bus, then train. Those two had guitar lessons here at the house with a teacher who grew up in Chicago.  After dark, Laurel and I hopped on the subway and then walked through cobblestone alleyways in the city to get to Evie’s dance lesson.  Everything we walked through looked like it was from a movie set.  We found Evie, who said she had a good lesson.  She does modern dance on a second-floor studio with only one other student.  On our way home, a branch member came jogging by and said hello.  We bought Trdelnik, which is kinda like a cinnamon roll but in a hollow cylindrical shape.

The Mendenhalls are a senior couple who work with the Young Single adults. Every Monday, they make dinner for the YSA, and fill the whole church with amazing smells all day. They told me they really like to cook. Good thing! James gave a lesson at the church for Young Single Adult FHE. 

For Family Home Evening, Hyrum asked us each to tell a favorite part of General Conference.  We did a good job helping each other remember some great highlights.  I need to read it again soon.  Our activity was watching the first part of Mission: Impossible, where they are running through the streets of Prague and it also shows a scene on Charles Bridge.  So cool to know I have been to those places now.  I hear that last week’s FHE activity was dancing in the kitchen to Michael Jackson.  Oh yeah.  Can’t you just picture it?

Tuesday I got up early enough (6:30) to read scriptures with the very sleepy family on the couches.  I went with Laurel and kids in the car to school at 7:30, and Laurel gave me a tour of the International School of Prague.  Wow, is it beautiful!  She showed me the cafeteria and market where anyone can buy food to eat there or take home.  There were Moms hanging out there in the lunch room to have PTA meetings or socialize.  Laurel bought a snack of pears and butter cookies to put in Hyrum’s and George's backpacks which hung near their classroom doors.

This is the cafeteria and market.

Some things I learned:  The older kids have a schedule that changes every day in attempt to not have the same class be first hour every day.  They all have inside shoes that they keep at school for PE.  I love how the McConkie kids attend school with students from several different countries, and they are constantly learning about each other's cultures.

The drive to and from school is pretty, and Laurel says it reminds her of Millcreek Canyon.  She's a great driver on these narrow windy roads!

Laurel and I took an exploratory walk by the castle and down into the former moat.  It is so lush and green.  We ended up in town and we crossed a couple bridges. 

 I liked hearing about the American embassy and their fruit orchard on the hill, and Laurel’s own story about how on one of the bridges in 1999 she told James she was pregnant with Wilson. She took me down Charles Bridge stairs that Tom Cruise ran up at the beginning of Mission Impossible.  :-)

Back at the mission home, James was there and he made us a lovely lunch.  Seriously, who makes weekday lunch at home look like this?  President McConkie, that’s who.


Wednesday as we were walking in town, Laurel got a phone call from Elder Swenson, her Area mission doctor. It was his last day of his mission, and he was calling to say good-bye. Laurel was so glad to talk with him, and she cried as she thanked him for all he and Sister Swenson had done for her family. I am grateful for people like the Swensons who help my Sis with her duty as mission nurse and who are supportive in many other ways as well.

For lunch we bought something at a gyro stand that they called “kebab” that was so-ho yummy, especially the bread it was in.  We sat and ate and froze on a bench.  Some French guys asked Laurel directions to the subway, and she happily led them to where they were supposed to go.


On Tuesdays and Wednesdays after school, George and Hyrum have sports classes, and George also has bookmaking. Evie often has play practice. She's in Beauty and the Beast musical at school. And guess what her part is? Beauty. Yep. And on her vocal teacher's recommendation, she also auditioned for a choir that will perform in London with students from several countries.  I hope she makes it!  How cool would that be?

This week Evie worked hard on a speech for a speech contest at school.  She practiced it for us, and did great job teaching us what she has learned about extroverts and introverts. She did well on it at school and her speech made it into the semifinals!  Evie also locked herself in a room for hours to do a practice PSAT. She took the real test the next morning.

Wilson often has his laptop out on the dining room table, and is supposed to submit most of his assignments online. He likes his art class and playing basketball at school.  At basketball, he is one of the tallest ones, and some of the other students call him “Mr. Fantastic.”

Hyrum read us an essay that is surprisingly long for 4th grade. It was all about 'The Miracle of the Rugby Ball' that happened on one of the family Sun Valley trips. Nicely written! We also saw Hyrum cutting up grid paper to help him with times tables. I thought it was a cool way to visually learn multiplication and division.

George likes to show us what new books he gets from the school and 2nd grade libraries. He has read some to me, and he has become a really good reader! He also likes having The Harry Potter series read to him at night.

 James left town for five days, in the family car, to visit missionaries in various other towns. He studied with a couple different companionships, taught six lessons with six different sets of missionaries, attended a missionary district meeting, and spoke in church in a town called Uherske Hradiste.  He also was headed to a Genealogy Conference.  He stayed up until the wee hours of the morning one night this week, before leaving town, writing a talk for that.  He had to get it to the translator the next day.

Laurel normally drives the kids home from school, but sometimes they take a bus and a train. They each have a card that is good for all the transport around town. Laurel adds money to it every once in a while. Here is Evie waiting for the bus to get to school. 

 Thursday Laurel, in the big mission van, drove the kids to school, then took Taylor and me to the airport to pick up a rental car (we went to Austria for a couple of days).  Later in the day, she joined some missionaries and members for street contacting. They sang together first, then some split off to talk to people while the others continued singing Czech hymns. She had prayed hard to be able to speak with those she needed to, and had a great experience. I think she is so brave and amazing!

Friday Laurel got to help teach an investigator, and is hoping he comes to church next Sunday.  She went to “Polar Bear” – a Czech lesson with other missionaries.  She said it got its name from the bear who adapts to its environment as the missionaries are trying to adapt to the Czech Republic.

Friday nights are game night for YSA at the church.  This Friday the activity was carving pumpkins.  George was the judge of the best ones.

Saturday was full of regular grocery shopping and Saturday chores for Laurel and the kids.  Laurel blasted songs like “Boogie Fever” while they did their jobs around the house.  I have also seen her help kids with homework, sit at the piano for Hyrum’s violin practice, make dinners, go shopping, drive to school and lessons, do laundry, listen to the kids talk about their days, play games, and read to kids at bedtime. She is such a good mom and is amazing at switching from mommy to missionary (and vice versa) whenever she needs to. 

Saturday afternoons are sports nights with missionaries and investigators at the park.  This weekend, Elder Osterloh, a former AP, is back in the Czech Republic for a visit along with his parents and his U of U basketball team-member brother. The whole McConkie family had been looking forward to their visit, and the boys especially couldn’t wait to play basketball together!   They had a blast with the Osterlohs at sports night.

Last night (Saturday) Laurel invited local Sister Missionaries over to watch the General Relief Society Broadcast.  Two Sisters were from senior couples, and four Sisters were 20-ish.  Evie and Laurel made them wassail and hot chocolate and served it in tea cups on the table near the TV.  The Sisters loved being together like that, and Laurel wishes all the Sister missionaries lived close enough to participate.  After the Broadcast, I joined them and went across the street to the Indian Restaurant.  What a great group of women.  They are strong in the Gospel and so dedicated even though a lot of their days are pretty darn tough.  I liked hearing about their highs this week and about the different pre-mission experiences that helped prepare them to come here.  I felt lucky to get to spend some time with them, and I am glad that Evie gets to have such amazing examples in her daily life.  They treat Evie like a sister and they love her and Laurel so much.


Sunday we had our first Prague Church experience today, and discovered they have an awesome branch.  That chapel was packed.  Taylor and I used headphones so we could listen to a translator.  McConkies didn’t use any, and just sat and listened.  James is still out of town, but when he is here, he is up on the stand because he is the presiding church leader in both countries.  Taylor and Laurel and Wilson and I went to Gospel Essentials with the missionaries, investigators, and new members.  That was quite full as well.  We had a great lesson on the importance of families.  Relief Society was in the kitchen, and a sweet return missionary (London mission) translated for us through our headphones.  I sat next to a new member named Isabel who is from Angola.  She has the brightest, most gorgeous smile.  She is a student here.  Her native language is Portuguese, and she knows English well and now Czech.  Wow.

Tonight the McConkies hosted a dinner for lots of people in honor of Elder Osterloh’s visit. He was here with his parents and brother.  The Munros and Isabel and Elders Knapp and Sewell were here, so it was quite the big group.  Laurel set a beautiful table, and James made delicious tomato soup.  Sis. Munro made a killer salad.  Evie made super-good chocolate cookies that we ate with ice cream.  It was so fun to see President and Sister McConkie doing what they do most Sundays – hosting a big dinner and interacting with their missionaries.  They and their missionaries are in awe of each other, and it is obvious they have a lot of love and respect between them.  Laurel asked that everyone at the table share something about the visiting Elder Osterloh, and it was nice to hear about their experiences and what a blessing a good missionary can be to the McConkies, other missionaries, and investigators.  His own parents and brother also spoke about him and the blessing his missionary service was to them.  I am grateful to him for being that first face the McConkies saw upon their arrival, and for immediately taking good care of them and helping so much in their transition.  I felt lucky to be included in the evening.

 Real Utah basketball jerseys from the Osterlohs.

Other Observations:

The mission home is beautiful and spacious, with very high ceilings.  It is decorated with a mix of Church art and McConkie art and photos.  This week, Laurel bought pumpkins and a Fall decoration for her entryway, and she and the boys and I set up a new Ikea coat rack and shoe rack. Laurel is loving it all every time she goes through her door.

To get upstairs from back of the house, you must ring the doorbell and wait for someone in the house to buzz you in upstairs In the house, there is a phone-like thing on the wall for talking to the person at the door.

In the hallway and around the family room and dining room, Laurel has fresh flowers in cute vases. 

There are many McConkie family photo books. They even have James' mission album out, as well as all their letters from their 1999 internship in Prague.  There is a binder with photos and info about all the missionaries.  The McConkie boys thought of questions to ask all the missionaries, and they hand-wrote them on a paper that Laurel copied for each missionary to fill out.  When each missionary goes home, he or she writes their testimony on the back of their paper.  After 3 years, that book will be mighty full of missionaries and great testimonies.

When all is quiet in the house, some sounds we hear are cars driving by, electric trams, and sometimes the bells warning that a train is coming on the tracks run right along that same road. The wood family room floor shakes as the tram rumbles by.  Around the corner by the front door of both the church and the mission office, the street is all torn up, and we can hear construction equipment throughout the day.  We hear sirens a lot, too, and they sound like…. like the ones in movies filmed in Europe.  
McConkies are so used to them that they don’t remember what US sirens sound like.

McConkies have small and interesting laundry machines. Rather than having a vent that goes to the outside of the house, the dryer condenses the water into a container that needs to be emptied out after each load. The dryer takes a long time to dry a load, and McConkies usually hang dry their clothes.

The McConkie boys are very into the old Star Trek lately, and look forward to a new movie each weekend. George loves to tell me about what he has seen. I brought Napoleon Dynamite with me, and George and Hyrum were glad to finally see what it is all about.  They also get to check out DVDs from their school each weekend.  This weekend they watched The Truman Show.

Evie, as you know, is quite the baker. We have been fortunate partakers of red velvet cupcakes, a gingerbread-ish dessert, and some chocolate crinkle cookies. Her advisory class at school has a goal to bring more treats to school so Evie is trying to help with that effort.

I've never seen so many cobblestones. Streets, train tracks, sidewalks, landmarks, town squares--just about anywhere. Evie loves taking photos of the ground, and has quite the collection now. When her family is out site-seeing, they all look up while Evie is looking at the ground taking a picture.

Evie's awesome feet collage above.  Our cobblestone collage below.

There is uneven ground everywhere in Prague. Not just the cobblestones, but all the pavement all over has buckled from tree roots and years of weather. I have to watch the ground as I walk. When I want to look up because I see something amazing (which is about every 10 seconds), I have to stop so I don't trip.  Nearly everything I see is photo-worthy.  Even the inside of the post office is full of amazing murals on the walls.  We got in trouble for taking a photo in there.  Whoops.

You often need to pay a few crowns to use the restroom in town.  Sometimes you put it in a slot which opens the stall door, sometimes you pay a person, and sometimes you put money into a gate that opens and gives you access to the restroom area.  And sometimes you get lucky and find a free one.  Here's one in the Central Train Station where you put in coins to open a gate.

Crosswalks have beeping sounds -- slow ticks for stop, and really fast ticks to indicate that it's time to cross.

Most people in the touristy areas speak English and I am so grateful. I seriously feel so spoiled that they can answer my questions and sell me stuff in my own language even though I feel like I should be speaking theirs.

Laurel has been working on learning the Mission Purpose in Czech. She recites it with the other missionaries in a meeting each week, and wants to have it memorized. She practiced it several times while I checked her words. Not that I would know if she is pronouncing them right! But she now knows it by heart. Czech is such a hard language and I am so proud of her!  I'm so impressed with Laurel when we are out in shops and she speaks Czech to the cashiers.  Even when she doesn't know the words to use, she is very good at cheerfully communicating what she needs. The other day in a little flower shop, the cashier spoke no English, but the cashier and some customers were very complimentary of Laurel’s Czech. Another time, a cashier was crying elephant tears, and Laurel wasn’t quite sure what to say but she put a reassuring hand on the lady’s arm and let her know she was concerned.  So sweet.

The kids are out of school for Fall break this week, and we get to play with them around the city tomorrow before we skip town again.  I will always remember this fantastic trip that I got to take with my True Love.  And I will be forever grateful for the experiences I have had here in Prague with my awesome sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephews.  Thank you for your support of this wonderful family on this unique, difficult, rewarding adventure.  They send their love to you all.

Teresa Anderson

P.S.:  Here are a few more photos that Laurel asked me to post from a while ago:
The Christensens from Imperial 2nd  came to visit last month!  McConkies love them. 
Also, Evie celebrated her 16th birthday last week.  Her family, friends and young women from the U.S. sent wonderful cards and gifts, and the missionaries all joined her for cake and ice cream. 


  1. So happy to see you sisters together! The pic of Evie in black and white waiting for the bus is my favorite, it melted my heart. To know all the kids are doing their best, trying, and thriving in such a different place and culture is astounding. Heavenly Father knows us all and I'm so grateful he's taking are of you!

  2. Prague Blague, I love it! It's fun to see an 'outside' view of what's happening with this wonderful family--thanks for writing! I loved the pictures of all the cobblestones and Evie's ground pictures.

  3. Thanks for sharing your visit -- My son, Seth Taylor is in the MTC, heading out to Czech on Dec. 2. I am so thankful that he will be reporting to Pres. McConkie (I had prayed for the best mission president) Love the family photos -- such a comfort to know my son will be in such good hands.

  4. Teresa, you have a gift! I loved reading about the little details like the laundry machines and the outside street noises. Fantastic post!