25 December 2011

Happy Sunday: Christmas Past

The following is a letter I wrote home during my mission right after Christmas.  I still look back at that humble Christmas in Moldova as one of the most poignant and memorable of my life.  Enjoy this walk with me down memory lane.  And Merry Christmas!  God bless you all. 

Downtown Chisinau with a bunch of the youth from Church on Christmas Eve

Craciun fericit from Chisinau, where the sludge piles are big and the fur hats are bigger.  I haven't given in yet, but a number of my colleagues have purchased the stereotypical Russian furry hat.  The kind that looks like a giant raccoon is just sleeping on your head.  They're quite urban and hip here, but I doubt they'll ever catch on to western fashion.  And by "I doubt," I mean, "I hope they never do in a million gazillion years."

Hat Party on Christmas day at the mall
Moldovan Public Transportation Spotlight:  Maxi Taxis.  Maxi Taxis are about the size of the big white YMCA vans we used to take on field trips. There are 15 seats on a Maxi Taxi but anywhere between 30 and 800 passengers.  I have spent a fair share of time traveling across Chisinau literally smashed up against a window or smothered in the cavity of a large Moldovan man's armpit.  During moments like these I am particularly grateful that it's not summer.  There are no Maxi Taxi stops---you can get on or off wherever you want.  But the drivers are maniacs and hardly slow down enough to let you get through the door.  A ticket is 3 lei (about 20 cents) and you just pass your money up through the hoards of people until it makes it to the driver, then he passes back your change and it eventually makes it into your hands.  A couple weeks ago, on an extra crowded ride, someone had the nerve to fart.  I won't even bother to describe how joyful the rest of the ride was. 

Elder Goodwin celebrating the only way he knows how
Christmas: On Christmas morning, I decided the best thing I could do to feel the Christmas spirit would be to read the story of Christ's birth in Luke chapter 2.  As I read, I was overwhelmed with the simplicity of it all.  A simple young woman, a simple carpenter, a simple manger, some simple animals and simple shepherds, and a simple holy infant.  Despite such a humble setting and circumstances, the birth of our Savior was nothing short of the most glorious event in the history of the world. I thought about what we have turned Christmas into.  A big, expensive, flashy, materialistic disaster.  Why do we have to make things so complicated?  Every Miss America, presidential candidate, and grocery store produce stocker has longed for world peace.  But do they really?  Do we even know where to start to attain such an ambition?  Reading Luke 2 was a sobering reminder that true peace is in the simplest of forms.  Never have I felt so peaceful---never have I felt the love of my Heavenly Father so strongly---than when I was reflecting on the simple birth of Jesus Christ, who came into the world to redeem the world because of a simple, pure love.  My challenge to all of you is to read Luke 2, in a quiet place, free from distraction, and ponder on the implications of the Nativity and how it directly affects your life---how it was indeed a personal, individual Christmas gift to you from a Father in Heaven who loves you.

My sweet, CRAZY Ukrainian companion, Sora V.

Sora Holden

23 December 2011

Progression Into Adulthood

How do I know I am becoming an adult?  Well, there are certain milestones by which I can measure my progress.  I hit one of them a couple days ago at our annual O'Brien Family Christmas Cookie Decorating Extravaganza:  I was the cookie maker.  The one who is stuck in the kitchen rolling out the dough, meticulously selecting cookie cutters based on this year's popular demand, and pumping out sugar cookies by the hundreds to keep the decorators satisfied.  I've never been on this end before.  All my life, it has been my mom.  But since she had to work a little late, I was appointed to fill her post.  I felt like a real adult.  Like I was going through some rite into O'Brien womanhood.  Like when you graduate from the Kid's Table and get to sit with the Grown Ups.  And then I just felt old and exhausted and longed to go back to the Kid's Table and do the decorating, which is obviously the funnest part.  

A toast to never growing up!

In the Spirit of Christmas

As Christmas Day approaches, my thoughts have been more and more drawn to the Savior, particularly his miraculous coming into this world. I cannot say the same every Christmas. It seems that my appreciation for the true meaning of this sacred holiday has only surfaced within the last few years. I have fond childhood memories of organizing and reorganizing all the presents under our tree. One could say it was my OCD, but I would argue it was my vanity speaking. I remember waking up at some ungodly hour in the morning to rip open the contents of my stocking, some times being disappointed that the quantity of socks out-numbered that of candy.

And how abruptly it all ends. All the anticipation and preparation of Christmas climaxes at a room piled high with new things and strewn with crumpled up balls of wrapping paper. Suddenly, holiday music seams out of season. Sure, we have our new toys to try out in the driveway, but nothing new to look forward to. The post-Christmas blues. You know what I'm talking about. So long as materialistic objects are the source of our Christmas spirit, that is how it will always be. Never completely satisfying.
My Christmas list has gotten increasingly shorter as my testimony of Jesus Christ has grown. And I've noticed how the season tends to be drawn out even past December 25th as He as been the source of my Christmas spirit. I feel so much more fulfilled. Joyful. A lasting joy. Perhaps this is a symptom of maturing. I also find myself tearing up at even the most rote Christmas song. That's probably just a symptom of woman-ness, though I'd like to think spirituality has something to do with it.

What is it that puts you in the Christmas mood? And more importantly, how do you make that mood endure into the new year?

11 December 2011

Happy Sunday: A Christmas Message

This is the Christmas devotional given by the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Watch it with an open heart and mind, and remember the Reason for the season.

10 December 2011

The Racial Slurs I am Allowed to Say

So I'm wrapping up with a sociology class on racial minorities.  I'd venture to say it's the most diverse class on BYU campus, which isn't saying much.  But the 5 black students, the 2 Mexicans, the Kiwi girl, and a smattering of Tongans keep it flavorful and applicable.  When we watch Civil Rights documentaries we can all awkwardly stare at the black kids and see how they react.  And when we read a book called "Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds" about Mexican immigration to the U.S., we have living representatives of Mexican-American assimilation right there in the classroom.  Sadly, however, class is never as spicy as I'd expect it to be, considering the controversial topics we discuss.  I'm always secretly hoping one of the minority students will get worked up into a sort of "I Have a Dream" speech, or share some crazy personal soap-box story about how they were born in the back of a car that was speeding away from Border Patrol.  Gosh dang it, why are you all so satisfied and content to be living in Provo (which is basically Narnia, after being cursed by the White Witch)????

The first video was shared with me by my former roommate and long-time Japanese friend, Katie.  So now I'm totally allowed to say this. (Warning: language)

The second is in honor of the O'Brien side of my family, so I'm allowed to say this as well.  

09 December 2011

Lila Bieber

My roommate has the voice of an angel.  It's like a thousand caged butterflies being released into the sky.  It's like sugary, cream cheese-based frosting that spreads and melts over a hot cinnamon roll.  It's like someone delicately stroking your back during church.

I want her to go the way of The Bieb and become famous over YouTube.  So, for my readers who aren't active on Facebook, I present to you: Lila Debenham!

05 December 2011

The iPod Experiment

Last Christmas my sweet mother gifted me with an iPod.  I didn't ask for one (shoot, I hadn't even listened to normal music yet, since I had been home from my mission for only 9 days).  In fact, I never had any desire to have one.  I figure that she probably thought I was some weird girl who had trouble picking up on social cues.  "Earth to Sarah, it's 2010 and you don't own an iPod.  Most people are on their third or fourth one by now.  Get with it."  And thus, the iPod that I had been adamantly avoiding for so many years was thrust upon me.

Why be an iPod hater?  I really have only one reason.  But it's a solid one.  I find it indescribably annoying when peoples' ears are constantly jammed with head phones or ear buds or any sort of listening device that--intentionally or not--screams to the world: "Don't talk to me!."

And that is what they are saying.  That is exactly what they are saying.  "Don't bother saying hi because I am in the Josh Groban zone."  Or Celtic Woman.  Or Coldplay.  Or Fictionist.  I have a sneaking suspicion that those are the top 4 artists listened to on BYU campus.

So I'm a friendly person!  Sue me!  Is friendliness a crime???  I've never been embarrassed by my social assertiveness until the iPod phenomenon made it so that I can't yell out your name from afar and expect you to answer.  Instead, nothing but pathetic stares from other passers-by who are certainly thinking, "Poor girl, she's so desperate for friends she pretends she knows people on campus."

Also, what's wrong with silence?  It's those times when I'm walking, letting my mind wander, brooding over decisions, making life plans, etc. that I receive some of the very best inspiration.  I'm listening to myself.  And I'm listening to God.  And they are what ultimately motivate and inspire me.  Not Weezer.  But if I didn't leave those moments free of musical distraction, no one else would be able to get a word in edgewise.  Not me, not God, not you.  (Yeah yeah yeah, I know Yo-Yo Ma can ease and enlighten the soul.  I'll let that one slide.)

So, what am I to do with this new iPod?  Well, it was great for my car since it doesn't have a CD player.  And there it remained.  For 10 months. I loaded music on to it once and never charged it again since the car battery kept it juiced.  Then one day, my roommate asked if I had an iPod I could borrow while she went running.  I almost said no because I forgot I even owned one.  This got my wheels turning.  What would it be like to run with an iPod?  Who am I kidding, I don't run.  What would it be like to walk around all day with an iPod?  What would it be like to do what everyone else is doing?

I decided to carry out an experiment...

Day 1:  Purse, books, jacket, and Arcade Fire in my ears.  Ready to go.  I felt like I had entered some virtual music video.  And I was the star of it.  For the first time in my life I had my own background music.  I experienced symptoms of dizziness and confusion...and retardation, as I nearly walked straight into a telephone pole.

Day 2: Can people hear this?  Do they even KNOW how awesome my music taste is?  They'd all want to hang out with me if they did.  Am I wearing this right?  Can they tell I'm a first-timer?

Day 3: I...am...in...a...daze.

Day 4:  Why are less people smiling at me when I walk past them?  Oh, it's because I'm not smiling at them first.  Crap.  Recognition of problem.

Day 5:  I ignored someone.  I IGNORED someone!  I am a terrible person!  I failed to notice someone waving at me and saying my name.  Who does that?!  Me.  Because I was in the iZone.  It was Ben Folds!  Blame him!

I had created a monster.  In no more than 5 days I had gone from hater to addict.  Life was magical with background music!  It was edgy.  Fortunately, because I caught the problem early on, I didn't give it time to fester and spread like the mold I found in the butter tub last night.  Seriously, it was gross.

With strict self-discipline, I limit myself to the iZone on my morning walk to campus as a sort of wake-up method.  You should not find me with the buds in the ears at any other time (except for studying).  If you do, you have permission to punch me in the face.

04 December 2011

Happy Sunday: In the service of our God

Oh, the MTC.  Dropping my brother Matt off the other week was a surreal experience.  I felt like I was dropping off myself.  As we drove through the entrance with the car windows rolled down, at least 3 people yelled "Holden!"  I thought that they were trying to get my attention, but then I remembered that Matt has the same last name as I do.  Popular guy.  He looked so sharp in his suit and skinny black tie that I sent him from Romania.   

I didn't feel sad watching him wheel his luggage away as he was whisked off by the other missionaries.  Mostly, I was overcome with pride and excitement.  I'm so proud of Matt and the decision he's chosen to dedicate 2 years of his life to serving the Lord and His children in Atlanta.  And I'm excited for all the experiences--spiritual and crazy--that he is going to have in the Bible Belt (yeah, my mom forced him to study up hardcore on the New Testament in preparation...).

Within the same week, my best friend and roommate Lani Poppleton received her mission call to serve in the Kirtland Temple Visitor's Center in the Cleveland, OH mission.  Once again, I felt like it was I who was getting the call.  I had such a huge urge to put in my papers again and get a second call--to relive all the memorable moments I had in Romania.  

Missionary work is a truly incredible thing.  Focusing on nothing but teaching the gospel and helping others come closer to Christ.  No bills or grades or boyfriends to worry about.  Just peoples' happiness and salvation.  Never have I had a greater purpose than that.  Now that I have been home for nearly a year, I can see the stark contrast.  Here, it's easy to lose sight of what's truly important in life.  Sometimes that clear perspective I had on my mission is clouded by school and work stress.  This is why I love seeing friends and family open mission calls, watching them prepare to leave, and volunteering with the missionaries at the MTC.  It's refreshing, and it reminds me what really matters.

Happy Sunday,

03 December 2011

This is not a mommy blog....I swear!

Ask my roommates and they will tell you that I've been sulking around our apartment this past week because we don't have a Christmas tree.  You see, I have this thing.  I collect ornaments from all the different countries and areas of the world I travel to.  And HOW am I supposed to show my collection off without a Christmas tree upon which to display them?!  I pulled out my darling Romanian nativity set, which definitely helped, but it ain't no tree.  

Like a British street urchin from the Industrial Revolution gazes dreamily at the window display of a candy store, I would longingly look through all the living room windows in my neighborhood and get a Grinch-like urge to steal their perfectly decorated, twinkling trees. 

Today, I couldn't stand it any longer.  I was overcome with the Christmas spirit and drove to Tai Pan Trading Co., intending to solve the tree void in my life.  But...holy frick fake trees are expensive!  So, I let the creative and frugal beast inside of me take charge.  And this is what I came up with:

So yeah it's a little Charlie Brown-esque, but I really like it.  The red cube ceramic vase was $8 and six faux pine branches were $1 each.  And since the vase is trying to look like a present anyway, I went ahead and helped it out by wrapping a bow around it. And voila!

How was THAT for a DIY, Pinterest-loving, mommy blog post?  I am a little ashamed... 

01 December 2011

Giving Thanks in Gonzaga Bay

Being the bona fide American patriot that I am, I celebrated the coming together of the pilgrims and the Native Americans (factoid: my ancestor Myles Standish, the captain of the Mayflower, was present at the first Thanksgiving feast.  I'm basically as American as it gets.)...in MEXICO!

We dined on tryptophan-free carne asada, mastered the tumultuous sea with a 2-man open-air kayak, and took the quads on a joy ride through the desert.  Barely another soul could be spotted.  Mostly because the drug cartels have killed tourism.  But it worked for us, because we basically got our own private beach.  You win some, you lose some.  

Anyway, happy belated Thanksgiving. 

Sometimes I dress like i'm in 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'

I actually wore this yesterday.  I was Rainbow Brite reincarnate.  A co-worker asked if I had just come from Rio.  I am not even ashamed to admit that the scarf started out as turquoise, but after my roommates gave me questioning looks, I swapped it for a hot pink one, you know, to tone things down a bit.  

A toast to fashion!  Cheers. 

For some reason in cartoon form, this looks perfectly normal. 

Best Metaphors and Similes Ever Written

I kifed this list from this blog.  For reader-friendliness, I highlighted my favs, but you should read them ALL.  Seriously. My mind hurts from laughing so hard...in my head...because I'm in the library and I don't want to be one of those kids.

  1. Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center.
  2. He was as tall as a 6′3″ tree.
  3. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
  4. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.
  5. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
  6. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
  7. The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
  8. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
  9. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
  10. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.
  11. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.
  12. The lamp just sat there, like an inanimate object.
  13. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.
  14. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
  15. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at asolar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
  16. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.
  17. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.
  18. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.
  19. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.
  20. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.
  21. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.
  22. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.
  23. Even in his last years, Grand pappy had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it hadrusted shut.
  24. He felt like he was being hunted down like a dog, in a place that hunts dogs, I suppose.
  25. She was as easy as the TV Guide crossword.
  26. She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.
  27. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
  28. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
  29. “Oh, Jason, take me!” she panted, her breasts heaving like a college freshman on $1-a-beer night.
  30. It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.
  31. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.
  32. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.
  33. The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can.
  34. Her eyes were like limpid pools, only they had forgotten to put in any pH cleanser.
  35. Her date was pleasant enough, but she knew that if her life was a movie this guy would be buried in the credits as something like “Second Tall Man.”
  36. The thunder was ominous-sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.
  37. The red brick wall was the color of a brick-red Crayola crayon.
  38. She caught your eye like one of those pointy hook latches that used to dangle from screen doors and would fly up whenever you banged the door open again.
  39. Her pants fit her like a glove, well, maybe more like a mitten, actually.
  40. Fishing is like waiting for something that does not happen very often.
  41. They were as good friends as the people on “Friends.”
  42. Oooo, he smells bad, she thought, as bad as Calvin Klein’s Obsession would smell if it were called Enema and was made from spoiled Spamburgers instead of natural floral fragrances.
  43. The knife was as sharp as the tone used by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) in her first several points of parliamentary procedure made to Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) in the House Judiciary Committee hearings on the impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton.
  44. He was as bald as one of the Three Stooges, either Curly or Larry, you know, the one who goes woo woo woo.
  45. The sardines were packed as tight as the coach section of a 747.
  46. Her eyes were shining like two marbles that someone dropped in mucus and then held up to catch the light.
  47. The baseball player stepped out of the box and spit like a fountain statue of a Greek god that scratches itself a lot and spits brown, rusty tobacco water and refuses to sign autographs for all the little Greek kids unless they pay him lots of drachmas.
  48. I felt a nameless dread. Well, there probably is a long German name for it, like Geschpooklichkeit or something, but I don’t speak German. Anyway, it’s a dread that nobody knows the name for, like those little square plastic gizmos that close your bread bags. I don’t know the name for those either.
  49. She was as unhappy as when someone puts your cake out in the rain, and all the sweet green icing flows down and then you lose the recipe, and on top of that you can’t sing worth a damn.
  50. Her artistic sense was exquisitely refined, like someone who can tell butter from I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.
  51. It came down the stairs looking very much like something no one had ever seen before.
  52. Bob was as perplexed as a hacker who means to access T:flw.quid55328.com\aaakk/ch@ung but gets T:\flw.quidaaakk/ch@ung by mistake.
  53. You know how in “Rocky” he prepares for the fight by punching sides of raw beef? Well, yesterday it was as cold as that meat locker he was in.
  54. The dandelion swayed in the gentle breeze like an oscillating electric fan set on medium.
  55. Her lips were red and full, like tubes of blood drawn by an inattentive phlebotomist.
  56. The sunset displayed rich, spectacular hues like a .jpeg file at 10 percent cyan, 10 percent magenta, 60 percent yellow and 10 percent black.