Friday, November 26, 2010

Table for 9?

We had a delightful Thanksgiving! It was a small gathering, which was odd for us, but still nice. We all fit around one table - is it a real Thanksgiving celebration if you can fit around one table? No small kids around which made it peaceful but not nearly as interesting. Kristy & Trevor headed to Utah to spend it with the Lacey's and Jon & Kacey & kids headed to Gridley. So we had Brad, Courtney and Kylie here who drove up together from BYU. They left Tuesday at 1:00 p.m. and arrived Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. after having to turn around at the Idaho border and spend the night in Brigham City waiting for the road to open up again. Long drive but I'm grateful they did it because I loved having them home!

I usually forget to pull out the camera at times like these but luckily I remembered. I set up to take a nice shot of everyone around the table and I was greeted with these hands. Whose idea was that and how did they orchestrate it so quickly!

Then I made them put their hands down and took some shots of our group.

Bryan (15), David (49) & Brad (23)

Kylie (almost 19), Kendall (17) & Courtney (21)

Grandma Earl (84 years young - isn't she amazing!)

This is Dan Heldt (19ish?) who is a friend from 7th ward. We had to invite at least one non-Earl to keep us all in line. (Question: How do you keep a Mormon from drinking all your beer? Answer: Bring more than one! Ha ha. )

David, Peggy (also 49) & Brad

And that's when Kylie took over my camera...

Kylie decided she could help best with cleaning up by photographing our efforts!

Apparently she found the sweet potatoes picture worthy! (Not that anyone would eat them! Haven't people discovered yet that sweet potatoes are nature's candy? Who doesn't love a vegetable with marshmallows on top!)

Kendall's idea of cleaning up:

Then the kids opened up their Christmas ornaments from Grandma:

This is my Aunt Dee Dee who is up visiting my dad and helping to take care of him after his knee surgery. She's a gem and I just love her. I'm proud to be named after her (Peggy Dee.)

We played games and put a couple of puzzles together. This one was our most challenging. Luckily, Courtney is kind of a puzzle whiz. She see has a gift!

My BYU kids with grandma.

One of the highlights of our Thanksgiving Day was playing WII's Let's Dance 2 with the fam. Even grandma got in on the fun! We have some great video but it wouldn't upload to blogger so checkout my Facebook if you want to put a smile on your face!

I would love to say that our next adventure is our Christmas cruise that we planned 6 months ago but, alas, it has been canceled. Major bummer! We were scheduled to take a cruise on that same Carnival ship that caught fire a few weeks ago and they canceled all sailings on that ship through through the middle of January. We are so bummed because we were really looking forward to that family adventure. They are giving us a refund plus 25% off of a future cruise (not nearly enough compensation for canceling our Christmas if you ask me... but no one did.) Instead, we are going to be staying in California because we were all headed there anyway. We are going to be staying a few days in Newport Beach and a few days in Palm Springs. We still get to be together so it will be fun. We will just be so sad to do our own cooking and cleaning - ha ha!

So grateful for our many, many blessings!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Happy Birthday Brad! Czech it out...

In honor of Brad's 23rd birthday, I am finally going to blog about our trip to Prague to pick him up from his mission. I really wanted to blog about it right after we got back but it takes so long to get through the hundreds of pictures I took and whittle them down to the best ones. So here is my Prague blog post which is long overdue. (Anyone who is following my blog posts will see a common theme that I am trying desperately to make up for being such a slacker mom to my kids!)

Brad served in the Czech, Prague mission which includes both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. He was originally called to serve in Czech and to speak Czech but a few weeks afer opening his original call we got a letter changing his call to serve in Slovakia and to speak Slovak. The reason for that change is known as the Slovakian Miracle. (Click on link to read more about that.) Brad had the privilege of being one of the first full-time missionaries in Slovakia. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who was born in what is now the Czech Republic, dedicated Slovakia on May 12, 2006.

First - a little history/geography lesson. (Those with ADD feel free to skip ahead to the pictures - except you, David - you have to read it all!)

Most of us are more familiar with the sovereign state in Central Europe known as Czechoslovakia because that is what we learned in school, but on Januar
y 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Many different reasons are given for the split of Czechoslovakia, but debates around the reason for the dissolution of Czechoslovakia centers around inevitability versus events that occurred between the velvet revolution of 1989 and the end of the joined state in 1992. The people who argue inevitability point to the stereotypes between the two nations, problems with the shared state during communism, the failure of the communist state in Czech lands and its success in the Slovak lands, and the 1968 constitution that had a minority veto. The people who argue events between 1989 and 1992 point to international factors such as the situation the breakaway of the Soviet satellite nations, the lack of unified media between the Czech and Slovak republic, and most importantly the actions of the political leaders of the two nations. (According to Wikipedia - Brad may have a different story.)

The Slovak Republic (short form: Slovakia) has a population of over five million and an area of about 19,000 sq mi. Slovakia is a landlocked country bordered by the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary to the south.

The Czech Republic has one of the least religious populations in the world. Historically, the Czech people have been characterized as "tolerant and even indifferent towards religion". According to the 2001 census, 59% of the country is agnostic or atheist, 26.8% is Roman Catholic and 2.5% is Protestant. In contrast, Slovakia is 68.9% Roman Catholic.

David and I arrived in Prague about 3 days before Brad's release. (We were flying on frequent flyer miles so you pretty much go whenever they say you can.) So we tooled around Prague on our own just following guidebook recommendations. It was fairly easy to get around the city and there were lots of people who spoke English. Ordering in restaurants was another story. We didn't have a clue what anything was so we stuck with familiar American chains like Fridays and Hard Rock Cafe until we were with Brad. We stayed at the Marriott and it was very nice. We felt right at home. European hotels are starting to provide the sort of comforts that Americans have become accustomed to - even American outlets. It's great!

Prague is a BEAUTIFUL city. Here are some different views of the city:

When you get up to higher ground, the roofs are all oranges and rusts and browns and it looks so beautifully color coordinated.

We picked up Brad at the mission home on Thursday. I was so nervous and excited. We left our hotel early to allow time to get lost because we weren't sure where we were going and (I know you'll be surprised) no one seemed to know where the mission home was. So we allowed some getting lost time and low and behold we stepped out of the subway and the mission home was right in front of us. We thought we were going to have to walk a couple of miles so that was a nice little surprise.

Mission home:

Close up of the name:

Brad's mission president was Pres. and Sister Slovacek. They have a Czech name and Czech roots but are from Florida and do not speak Czech or Slovak! Wow, that would be a challenge. Brad really liked them. He didn't get to spend too much time with them since it's quite a ways from Slovakia to Prague but he really admired them. We did too after meeting them and were so glad we had that opportunity.

Brother & Sister Slovacek and Brad

I guess he's our problem again!

Leaving the mission home for good.

Brad served all of his mission in Slovakia but had to go to Prague to the mission home to be released. Our original plan was to spend our time in Slovakia seeing his mission haunts. Brad told us that there really wasn't much to see in Slovakia and it was such a long ways away. Here is a map to give you some perspective. You can see on this first map how far Prague is from Slovakia.

This map of Slovakia I found on Google just happens to show only the 3 cities that Brad served in. Weird - but very handy for me. He was in Bystrica for a year, Kosice for 6 months and Bratislava for 4 months.

Note: While in Bratislava, Brad was just 15 minutes from Austria but the missionaries were not allowed to cross over into that country. David was aghast that Brad and his companions had actually kept that rule with the mission president all the way over in Prague. Cross over to Austria for P-day, who would know? When I elbowed him, he said he was just kidding. Hmm...

So, after looking at all of our options and with Brad's recommendation, we decided that we would not go into Slovakia at all and stay in Prague and tour around there together since Brad had not gotten to see much of that city except the mission home (and that was only twice I think!) Normally when parents pick up missionaries they go to meet the member families who helped take care of their missionary son and maybe some of the people they had baptized or reactivated. There weren't a lot of either of those in Slovakia!

You see, in Bystrica, where Brad served for over a year there were two single members and neither one of them lived in the city. On Sundays, they were lucky if both their members came and so generally there were 2 missionaries and 2 members at church unless they had some investigators (which was not a common occurence.) I think they generally held a 40 min. sacrament mtg. and a 20 min. Sunday School mtg. and that was it. No primary. No mutual. No Relief Society. No Elder's quorum. No ward parties. No members to feed them. We are talking "pioneers" here! Brad and the other Slovakian missionaries basically knocked on doors and gave street presentations all day long, every day. There is no doubt that the church will grow in that area and amazing things will happen, but it's a slow process.

Brad's mission was so different than David's in Brazil where he was teaching people all day long and never had to knock on doors because they just got referral after referral. I really admire Brad and the other missionaries who served in Slovakia because I can't imagine how hard that must have been. Yet, he always seemed to be positive and obedient and just did his best to lay the foundation for a great work to come forth some day. There have already been great strides made and impressive things are happening but definitely at a more European pace than a South American pace.

Brad learned to love the people and he learned the language well which was no easy feat. They didn't even have the Book of Mormon in Slovak to teach from. I haven't heard if the translation is finished yet or not. It is in Czech which is similar but not the same. Bottom line is - missionary work was not easy in Slovakia and I am so proud of Brad and his fellow missionaries in Slovakia who represented the church so well. They were strong enough to be far away from the supervision of the mission president and still work hard day after day after day getting the message of the restored gospel out to as many as would listen. It must have been so tempting to slack off or goof off, but it doesn't sound like Brad did nor any of the other missionaries he worked with. Brad often commented that he felt that they had very strong missionaries in Slovakia. It sounds to me like they had to be and I was so proud that Heavenly Father knew that Brad was one of the strong ones who could handle that type of mission.

So, we stayed in Prague with Brad and basically vacationed together. I guess it wasn't your typical pick up a missionary experience but it was awesome and I loved that undivided time we had with him. As we saw the sights of Prague, he would describe to us the things that were similar to Slovakia and he would share his experiences there.

The people in Czech seemed very nice. They are generally very good looking people. Brad says the Slovaks are known for being even more good looking. You rarely see an overweight person there and Brad says when you do they always turn out to be American. Part of that reason is that they eat a little healthier than we do and another reason is that a lot of people smoke. I would have been hard pressed to tell a Slovak from an American. We had a waitress from Slovakia at Hard Rock Cafe and her and Brad were speaking Slovak together. She and Brad could have been plotting our murders for all we knew because it's impossible to pick out anything that sounds familiar. She was a cute, blonde girl and if she had said she was from California we wouldn't have known any different judging by her looks.

Enough dialogue - now mostly pictures. One thing we were struck by is the beauty of the architecture in Prague. Nearly every building is a work of art. I think I must have been an architect in a previous life because I feel like I have a real appreciation for it. I don't love it enough to want to become one or anything (that sounds like a lot of homework) - I just find myself oohing and ahhing over buildings and wanting to congratulate whoever designed it. Is that normal?

Here are some pictures of building in Prague:

The guards love it when you take pictures with them. It makes all of that military training so worth it I'm sure!

Old Town Square:

Same square at night:

So not all of the buildings are old, beautiful and classic. This modern building is known as somewhat of a monstrosity. Interesting...

We got around on the subway okay, though it was alot easier once we had Brad with us. London still gets our vote for easiest subway system to understand.

We rented a car and David and Brad got to play a round of golf at Karlstejn Castle. It is a private course and the concierge at the hotel had arranged for David to play there. Well, apparently they don't allow beginners on the course so when they saw David's and Brad's rented clubs, the pro decided to come out and watch them tee off to see if they were good enough to play the course. Well, David makes Brad go first who hasn't swung a golf club in over two years! The pro and a few other guys from the pro shop are standing there watching them (that's not nerve wracking!) David said Brad hit a beautiful drive 280 yards with a slight draw. Whew! David stepped up and didn't embarrass himself so they allowed them to play the course.

There was not enough time to play a round of golf and tour Karlstejn Castle so I decided to go off and tour the castle by myself but... I had to drive there. Yikes! We had not been drivng before this and we had a very tough time finding our way to the course with 3 adults and Brad sort of knowing the language (remember it's Czech not Slovak!) So I can see the castle off in the distance but I still need to find my way there and it's not a straight shot. I seriously considered just hanging around and waiting for them to finish golf but that wasn't very appealing. So I faced my fears head on and took off alone to find the castle. They do drive on the right hand side of the road there but still the street signs and everything are just so different. I can't understand any warning signs or information signs (and I had no cell phone.) I managed to find my way to the castle and took a tour and got myself back to the golf course - yay! I was so so relieved when I was back with the guys.

Karlstejn Castle:

That is David putting as Brad looks on.

The view of the castle from the lowly townsfolk who live below it (probably servants in the old days.)

View of the countryside on the opposite side of the golf course as the castle:

I have come to realize after visiting Prague (and other European cities), that our country is seriously lacking in statues. Where have all the sculptors gone? (Probably budget cuts - the arts are the first to go!) Statues are everywhere in Europe.

I couldn't talk Brad into posing with David for this pic pretending to drink when he's really nowhere near it and look how sweet it turned out! I bet he's regretting that decision.

How about a few statues to adorn your entry way?

The Loreto - some statues are on the buildings:

Closer veiw of the Loreto:

And more statues on the Loreto:

And some buildings have statues on top of the building. Maybe for people who just happen to be flying by in helicopters?

More elevated statues:

There are statues on bridges apparently for passing boats (why should the helicopters have all the fun?)

There are lots of very old statues:

And some more modern:

And some crazy modern statues:

These crawling babies were about 8' tall! Those crazy Czechs!!

Brad was always a very picky eater and I wondered how he would do with foreign food. It turns out that the food there was actually very good. Lots of meat and potatoes and things that Brad liked. He ordered some local favorites for us and we enjoyed what we ate. Still don't think we could have done it without him, though.

Subway in Prague? David had to get some chocolate chip cookies and they did taste pretty darn good. There really aren't as many American chain restaurants as I expected to see. They have McDonalds, of course, but the TGI Fridays and the Hardrock Cafe that we ate at had just opened. In fact, it was Hardrocks very first week!

Me and Brad. I will absolutely treasure that time we had with him. Even though we didn't go into Slovakia, I still feel I have a good sense of what it is like. There is nothing that makes a parent more proud than sending out a missionary. But it sure is nice to get them back!

Happy Birthday, Brad. I love you!