Sunday, December 27, 2009

The day before Boxing Day

Last Friday Kristen and I celebrated our first Christmas together. This was the first year that we have spent away from home and family outside of our missions. Our packages from home didn't arrive in time to put anything under the tree and there was no mug exchange or Middle Eastern meal on Christmas Eve. However, I think that this year will go down in the history books as the most memorable for me. I think the following quote says it better than I can:

Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we're here for something else besides ourselves." ~ Eric Sevareid (1912-1992)

Christmas this year wasn't about us. It wasn't about the presents under the tree, or worrying about how we were going to get to all of the family gatherings on time. We just got to give of our time and received a different kind of gift, the true spirit of the holiday.

The Edinburgh Ward choir was asked to put together a Christmas eve program for the community. I have never performed on Christmas eve before, probably because I was too busy thinking about what I was getting for Christmas or trying to buy last minute gifts. But as we had the chance to sing the traditional carols of Christmas, the spirit of Christmas started to come alive. I didn't get emotional, but it made me grateful that I had a place to go on Christmas eve. It allowed me to give of myself in a way I never had before. Sure, I have performed in concerts midway through December, served less fortunate members of the community around the 20th, and caroled on the 23rd, but I've always held the 24th of December a little more selfishly in my heart. But being able to do something for those outside my immediate family really put me in the right mood for Christmas. The right mood turned out to be quite important because after the performance Kristen and I went home and started preparations for the next day.

You see, Kristen and I decided a little while back that we were going to have our missionaries, Elders Brophy and Baumann, over for Christmas brunch. Because our families couldn't fly over for the holidays and it is our first Christmas together we opted to celebrate it with more than just the two of us. Since the missionaries are away from family too, we thought getting together would be ideal. So we talked to our missionaries back in November and reserved the date. Then a few weeks ago Elder Brophy showed up to a dinner appointment with another elder on exchanges. We proceeded to invite him and his companion over as well, as they work with the Chinese people who don't really celebrate Christmas. Transfer calls came two weeks ago and a sister missionary companionship was doubled into our ward. Elder Brophy said the sisters had nowhere to go for Christmas and asked if they could come too. Then last Tuesday Elder Brophy asked if the Zone Leaders, Elders Kelly and Bohling, could join us. We thought, "why not, the more the merrier." At that point we decided that we might as well invite the Assistants, Elders Bonin and Peterson, to join us so none of the missionaries would feel left out. Here are a few photos from the day:

We ended up playing games, eating and talking. Really just having a good time together. But serving on Christmas day made all the difference this year. After Christmas was over, I could still carry on the Christmas spirit because I gave what I could to those who really needed it. Not sure that next Christmas will be quite as memorable. How many wards have 10 missionaries within the boundaries?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

the Dark Ages

Most people look forward to December 25th as their favorite day of the year. I totally understand that. However, I realized after having a conversation with my dad the other day that I am pretty excited about December 22nd - it may not beat Christmas, but it's right near the top. December 22nd. What's so special about December 22nd? Here's a list of important events that occurred on this day (thanks, Wiki!):

1937 - Lincoln Tunnel (NYC) opens to traffic
1941 - Winston Churchill arrives to Washington for a wartime conference
1958 - Chipmunk song reaches #1 on the billboards
1962 - 1,000,000th NBA point scored
1965 - "Dr. Zhivago" premieres
1971 - U.S.S.R performs underground nuclear test
1989 - Chad adopts a constitution
1994 - "Christmas Carol" opens at the Rodgers Theater (NYC) for 18 performances

As you can see, this day is pretty important. The reason why I LOVE December 22nd is because Scotland is officially stepping out of the Dark Ages today! That's right folks, now that December 21st - the shortest day of the year - is behind us, we're that much closer to persuading the sun to come back from vacation! I took it upon myself to document its travels from East to West yesterday, so hopefully you'll understand why we're so excited to be past December 21st. That's the real reason why the 22nd is so cool - the dark ages are coming to an end.
I followed the sun from 8:00am to 5:00pm - a normal workday for humans as well as a really, really, REALLY old star. =)

8:00am - First signs of movement from the Sun

9:00am - Taking it slow - the sun wouldn't want to move too fast and do any damage

10:00am - Let's call this a turf war between the sun and the clouds. As is usually the case in confrontations of this nature, the bully always wins!

11:00am - Behold! The sun! Insert "Hallelujah Chorus" here! WOO-HOO!!!

12:00pm - Whatever you do, don't move. If you move at this point, you'll miss the last drops of the sun's rays...

I missed the 1 o'clock picture - but it looked the same as the 12 o'clock picture - I promise.

2:00pm - The sun is not one to linger. People to see (not us), places to go (away from here), things to do (va-cay in Hawaii perhaps?).

3:00pm - If we have to experience an early sunset/dusk at least it's pretty...really pretty.

4:00pm - Sayonara, Sun! Helloooooooooo, Moon!

5:00pm - By far the most depressing hour of the day. My internal clock is ready to stage a revolt if something doesn't change here pretty quick.

Thank heaven for December 22nd. I even woke up earlier to enjoy the four or so extra minutes of sunshine I'll be granted today! Steve and I wish you all the very merriest of Christmases this year - rain or shine, sleet or snow. We hope it's wonderful for you. This post isn't intended as a Christmas card (how depressing would that be?!?!), but Christmas is upon us and we are thinking of you all and hoping your season - not necessarily the weather - is merry and bright!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Zug fährt ab!

Welcome to Vienna! Not Italy people, AUSTRIA!!! When I told people I went on a study abroad to Vienna in 2005, a great many of them replied, "How fun! I've always wanted to visit Italy!" I'm guessing they got Vienna mixed up with Venice. =)
This post is mainly about the pictures, so I won't write much except to describe what's going on, but, I do want to dedicate this post to my darling friend, Else Endecott. When you read this, Else, I hope it brings back many great memories! Enjoy.

Our adventure actually began in Bratislava, Slovakia. Steve was pretty excited to visit three countries in one day.

Apparently Santa doesn't come down the chimney in Austria - he prefers to enter through the window. Kinda hilarious.

I was really excited to be back in Vienna - I still consider it my second home, even more than I do Scotland, and I'll be living in the latter nearly three times longer.

Stefansdom! CLEAN Stefansdom! I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it coming off of the Ubahn at Stefansplatz. There's still a lot to finish, but when I was there in 2005, the entire cathedral was completely black. It looks AMAZING now!

Weird things happen on Kärntner Straße - it's the main shopping street downtown

Best. Yogurt. Ever. It's not schnitzel that I crave, it's Landliebe yogurt.

Steve standing in front of the Albertina Museum in downtown Wien

This is my old school - 4 Operngasse. Apparently it's under renovation.

Staatsoper! The beautiful opera house in the heart of downtown. I miss the days when I could see some of the world's best opera for $5.00 - those were the days.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Opera Toilet. It's located in the subway station below the Staatsoper. I've never actually been in it, but I've heard Strauss's "Blue Danube" many times as I passed through this station on my way to school. Cracked me up every time.

We think this is what the men's room looks like on the inside - Steve snapped this picture of the billboard in the foyer of the opera toilet. Very.....colorful.

Joe Green! A favorite composer in the Irvine household. This is Vienna's version of Hollywood's Walk of Fame

Of the many fabulous museums in Vienna, Haus der Musik is definitely one of my faves. This is Steve enjoying sounds of the world. It's rather interactive, as you can see. =)

I really want to see someone pull off this hairdo, or perhaps I should say, coiffure. This is Mozart and his sister, Maria from the back - she was a musical prodigy as well.

This lady was a little freaked out by Steve's strange 21st century appearance and contraption

Unfortunately, we have come to the conclusion that Steve will never be the conductor for the world-famous Vienna Philharmonic. To understand why, please see the video below.

He may, however, end up playing the drums for some hot new up-and-coming UK band

A picture is worth a thousand words...we'll just leave it at that. =)

Pretty lights decorating the streets of the city

Entrance to the Kristkindlmarkt at the Rathaus - the biggest and best Christmas market in Vienna

Rathaus (city council building) decorated for the holidays - they turn it into one huge advent calendar

Steve's first experience tasting marzipan - he has decided it's an acquired taste. I agree.

Volksoper Wien! The people's opera. While we were here I insisted that Steve watch the quintessential Viennese opera - Die Fledermaus! And the good news - he really enjoyed it!

This is a terrible picture, but it's the only one that shows the LDS church I attended in Vienna. We spotted the sister missionaries in the subway station on our way to the meetinghouse - small world!

This is the Hundertwasserhaus. Way cool building - totally eclectic. Notice the "tree tenants" climbing out some of the windows.

This is one of the stalls at the Christmas market - pretty cool.

By far my very favorite place in Vienna - Schönbrunn Palace. This is a view of the Gloriette Tower behind the actual palace. The surrounding gardens are amazing - right up there with those at Versailles.

This person scared me. I was making a really weird face, and she caught me in the middle of it, which made us both start laughing really hard. More dangerous for her considering she was on stilts...

My handsome husband. This is in front of the fountain at the bottom of the hill leading up to the Gloriette tower.

This is the view of the tower from the top of the hill. And when you turn around, you can see Vienna in its entirety.

Schönbrunn at Christmastime. Home of another popular Christmas market in the city, set up in front of the palace surrounding a beautiful Christmas tree.

My only regret from study abroad 2005 is that I NEVER went inside the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Hello! I'm studying art history. It's one of the great art museums in Europe. Ridiculous, I know. I made sure to see it this time around. Steve snapped this picture of one of my favorite paintings - "The Art of Painting" by Vermeer. Pretty cool to see a live painter in the background too!

I freaked out a little bit when I saw this painting by Breugel. How many times have I studied this or referenced this in my classes? Countless. I heart this museum!

Another view of Stefansdom - wanted to make sure you could see the sweet tiled roof.

Why on earth would we get ice-cream in freezing cold temperatures?!?! Oh wait - for sentimental reasons, of course! This is where I opened my mission call in November 2005 with my dear friends surrounding me since my family couldn't be there. And one more reason - it's the best ice-cream ever.

View of the Rathaus in daylight. Sooooo pretty.

"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose..."
I'm addicted to the roasted chestnuts in Vienna - they make them just right.

Schnitzelwirt!!! One of the best restaurants in Vienna. Steve tasted schnitzel for the first time, and enjoyed it, if I recall correctly. This place serves humongous portions - Steve has a half portion, which could probably feed two adults, a child, and a billy goat. It was scrumptious.

Mariahilferstraße - famous shopping street in Vienna with the lights lit up for Christmas

So there's a summary of our fantastic trip to the wonderful land of Vienna. Who knows if we'll make it back there again, but we'll always have great memories and fun pictures to remind us of the good times we had this past weekend...