Sunday, December 20, 2009

A EUROPEAN CHRISTMAS

"Like snowflakes, my Christmas memories gather and dance--each beautiful, unique, and too soon gone."
- Deborah Whipp

One of our more memorable family Christmases was spent in Europe in 2000. Rachael was just finishing up a study abroad program in Paris and my mother was going to Germany for the holidays, so we decided to take the boys to pick up Rachael, explore Germany with Mom, and travel through France with Rachael as tour guide.

Several of our most beloved Christmas decorations were purchased in Germany and Austria on that trip. With Mom gone now, they mean even more to me. Every year when I get them out, I will remember the wonderful week we shared with her in her homeland.

The first two were purchased in Rothenburg, an absolutely gorgeous medieval walled city in Bavaria.

Fisherman smoker/incense burner

Appliqued tablecloth

The others were purchased in Salzburg, Austria, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, especially during the Christmas season when all the Christmas Market stalls are set up in the city square and the air is filled with the heady aroma of the hot Christmas wine everyone (well, almost everyone) drinks and the scent of roasting chestnuts, which my mom loved and we consumed several times on the trip.Polish Christmas tree votive (I loved Polish pottery even then, three years before Sam's mission):

50 or so gold straw stars for our Christmas tree

Two Christmas fairies
We had many, many memorable experiences on that trip with Mom, a subject for another post.

After about a week with Mom, we went on to France and she stayed in Germany with friends. December 24, 2000, found us first in Chartres, visiting the massive cathedral with its famous blue stained glass window.
Later that morning we attended sacrament meeting in Rachael's ward in Versailles. A sweet man slipped unbidden onto the bench next to Bob and whispered an English translation of the meeting to us. The humble simplicity of the sacrament meeting, chapel, and members contrasted sharply with the massive splendor of what we had just seen at Chartres and what we would see later that day. It was kind of like the contrast between the humble shepherds and the wealthy kings who visited the Christ child--both wonderful, just different. After church we visited Rachael's host family (I wish I had a picture!) and were touched by their love for her.

We spent the afternoon walking around the Palace of Versailles with its wonderful assortment of "rainbow rooms" (each a different bold color and decorating scheme) and its exquisite grounds. We ate very little all day to prime our appetites for what we anticipated would be a delicious Christmas Eve dinner in a nice restaurant. Much to our dismay, we discovered that NO restaurants were open anywhere in Versailles on Christmas Eve. Unlike in the United States, everyone was home with family and friends and the streets were silent. We ended up eating incredibly disgusting cold Chinese take-out from a nearby Asian "deli," the only place we could find that was doing business.

We went to Midnight Mass in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Versailles (not to be confused with THE Notre Dame in Paris) and reveled in the pomp and pageantry of the ceremony, but the most memorable thing about the mass was that the magnificent, bellowing organ behind us in the organ loft had a key that kept sticking, causing almost uncontrolled giggles from our bench. Still, it was a beautiful (and very educational) service, full of fervor and devotion.

On Christmas morning we opened a few small gifts in our hotel room, then spent the day wandering up and down the Champs Elysee in Paris.
In the end, being together
was the best gift of all.

Friday, October 23, 2009

MOANING LISA, THOUGHTS ON MCDONALD'S AROUND THE WORLD

I just couldn't resist posting this cartoon. Bob and I just watched the movie Super-Size Me, the anti-McDonald's, anti-ALL fast food movie made by Morgan Spurlock in 2004. In spite of its VERY inflammatory approach, it definitely will make me think twice before I eat fast food.

Aside from the connection the cartoonist is making between obesity and fast food, this cartoon also reminded me of being in the Forbidden City in Beijing and not seeing any food vendors--except a Starbucks. Yep. However, after seven years of outrage, Starbucks was finally kicked out. Apparently the Chinese did not think it was conducive to highlighting their culture. I also remember a McDonald's across from the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, so this newest Paris location should not be much of a surprise. Maybe they can come up with new menu items. The Bernini Burger might be a big seller. Any other ideas?

I know all the arguments about Mickey D's (and Wal-mart, and Disney) taking over the world, and the negative things about that, and for the most part, I would agree.

However, to be totally truthful, if we see a McDonald's in a foreign country, we stop in to see what is unique. We've decided the french fries are best in France (ALL food is better in France), although we like the way they serve them with cider vinegar in Vancouver, Canada. Japan makes a mean hamburger with a fried egg on top of the patty, and Japan also has the best sundaes--mango ice cream with chopped mangoes on top. Even domestic McD's get into it. My sister Angie has had a McLobster burger (she called it a "Lobsta roll") at McDonald's in Rhode Island during lobster season. I'd love one of those!
There's an interesting article about McDonald's adaptation to various cultures and foods here.
Quite honestly, I think it is a bit of marketing and public relations genius on McDonald's part. Have any of you tried any of these regional dishes? Are there other McDonald's specialties out there that Bob and I need to try?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

COLORADO: GETTING HIGH WITH MY HUBBY

There's just something about Colorado that makes me want to buy a John Denver CD. Seriously. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that almost everywhere you go in Colorado, from the airport to the grocery store, you see his music for sale and hear his mellow voice crooning songs that you're embarrassed to admit you know most of the words to.

Like all couples who have been married for thirty years, Bob and I celebrated by climbing a rather large mountain for our anniversary. In tribute to Bob and John Denver, I offer the following (You might want to listen to Johnny Boy himself while you're viewing):


"Thank God I'm a Country Boy"Bob in Georgetown, a scenic little town nestled in the mountains.

Leadville, Colorado, the epitome of a country town.
Beautiful flowers everywhere, in spite of near-freezing temperatures at night.

"Quaint" does not even begin to describe our bed and breakfast in Twin Lakes.
This rock was protruding from our bedroom wall. Apparently it was in the way when the basement addition was built, so they just left it and decorated it with mining miniatures. It's about the size of a big screen TV, but not quite as interesting. Didn't I tell ya it was quaint?
Snakes seem to follow Bob around. This dead one was on the Mt. Elbert trail.

Bob loves to be out in the mountains.

"Sunshine on My Shoulder"
The scenery around Leadville and Twin Lakes and on our Mt. Elbert hike was indescribable (but I'll try). The aspen had made the transition to a shimmering, fiery gold. The crisp, autumn air seemed to deepen the rosy pinks of dawn and the deep blues of evening. Rich red ground maples contrasted beautifully with the aspen, creating an unusual luminescence. It was Eden at its most mature.
"The morning breaks, the shadows flee."
This is the glorious dawn we experienced on our drive to the trailhead.

"Country Roads"
"Rocky Mountain High"
Bob and I agreed that Colorado in autumn is one of the most beautiful places we have ever been.
Heading up Mt. Elbert
Spectacular views
At about this point in our hike, we were wishing we had a magic pill that would give us that "Rocky Mountain High" 'cause all we were feeling was intense pain.
It's quite a feeling to be higher than anything you can see. Okay, we had the "Rocky Mountain High"--drug free! (Well, except for significant overdoses of Advil.) In fact, we thought we could hear John singing at this point, and we were humming along. Or were we moaning? I'm not sure. Come to think of it, perhaps it was oxygen deprivation rather than a Rocky Mountain high.

"[I'd Like to Be] Leaving On a Jet Plane"
Near the top of Mt. Elbert, we started to experience some hail, sleet and snow flurries. Here is a picture of some rock-hard hail. Not fun.
The summit marker. Each of the Fourteeners (53 in Colorado, 12 in California, and 2 in Washington State) have one of these U.S. Geological Survey markers pounded into the rock. They are about the diameter of a tennis ball. I think they should be about three feet across! Why didn't they ask me?

On top of Mt. Elbert, the tallest mountain in Colorado (14,443 feet) and the second tallest mountain in the contiguous United States (behind Mt. Whitney, 14,496 feet). Storm clouds were rollling in and we didn't want to be on top when the thunder and lightning began, so we only stayed up there for about 15 minutes. The only thing worse than going up a steep mountain is the descent. About half-way down, I was pretty sure both my knees were about to blow out and we would be paying for helicopter rescue. Bob never took my pleas for rescue seriously, and miraculously, I made it down, even though my knees felt like this:

Luckily, just a few days later I had recovered enough to negotiate these intense switchbacks leading up to Denver's Hammond Candy Factory:

Life with you is one adventure after another, Bob. Happy anniversary. Perhaps I could plan our next one?
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