Monday, December 31, 2012

Home for the Holidays: Part I

It's the 31st of December, and I can't help but reflect on all of the blessings of this past year. Garrick graduated with his MLitt and began his PhD, I got a job at the University of St Andrews, we moved into our flat on the North Sea, we travelled to places near and far, and we are surrounded by a wonderful community of people. To conclude an adventurous year, our family and friends in the USA have welcomed us home with lots of love, laughs, and generosity.  
Our travel day from St Andrews to Snohomish went off without a hitch and was mostly a pleasant experience. True to form, I was randomly selected for a security check in Iceland, but I'm getting used to being searched at airports. Then, after 18+ hours, two of my favorite people greeted us:

First things first: Chipotle! After arriving at my parents and settling in, these two came for a visit:


Exhausted, we fell asleep before our heads hit the pillow. Wide awake at 4am, we showered and drove down to Starbucks and Fred Meyer. Lattes in hand, we strolled up and down the massive aisles, filled our cart, and then had to leave our items at the check out. We forgot the pins to our US debit cards. Once back in the car, Garrick's number came to mind and he ran back in and purchased our goods. Success! My pin is still a mystery.

 Then? Christmas Eve with the Stevens!

And Christmas Day with the Allens!

Garrick met up with his high school crew on the 26th for their annual gift exchange:

Uncle Don and Aunt Julie came for a visit from Spokane!
My grandparents had us over along with my cousins on Friday afternoon:
Photo: Fun dinner with my grandparents and cousins! :)
We spent the weekend with the Owings! Playing and laughing with our nephews was a major highlight, as was attending Stanwood Foursquare, and shopping with my mom and sister.

Last night, the Muchmores invited us over for food and Settlers. Two games of Settlers. Yes, Garrick won both games. And yes, we are still talking. :) Brian performed our wedding we hope to make time to catch up with them every year. We're trying out our culinary skills on my parents this evening and look forward to seeing our good friends, Andrew, Lauren, and baby Simon to ring in the New Year!
More to come.  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Here we go!

After a year and a half, we're making the journey back to Seattle! We've looked forward to and prepared for this trip for a few months now. We're feeling excited, anxious, happy, nervous, and just impatient to walk through Sea-Tac airport and be greeted by our family! Our time will be spent conversing with family and friends, hugging our nephews, eating sushi, shopping, and enjoying the convenience of a Starbucks Drive-Thru.

I've been wondering over the past few weeks if we'll experience elements of culture shock, or if the goodbyes will be more difficult than when we first left, or if we will realise how much we've changed. And, I've wondered if it will hit us that we're there on holiday, not to stay. We're vacationing in a place we once lived.

Above all, we are beyond grateful for everyone's support in getting us home for Christmas. We are humbled by the generosity and love of our family and friends.

So, tomorrow morning at 7am we begin our 18-hour journey! Here's a rundown:

St Andrews - Leuchars: Thanks to Andrew Kaethler for the lift!
Leuchars - Edinburgh: Train
Edinburgh - Glasgow: Train
Glasgow - Glasgow Airport: Taxi
Glasgow Airport - Reykjavik, Iceland: Plane
Reykjavik, Iceland - Sea-Tac Airport: Plane
Sea-Tac Airport - My parents house: THE BEST CAR RIDE EVER!!!!!!!!!!!

See you soon, Seattle!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tis the Season

It's the 15th of December and already we've enjoyed some lovely Christmas celebrations. Our tree was up a week (or two!) before Thanksgiving, so it's been the "Christmas" for quite a while now.

(Please note: The stache was the last remnant of Garrick's winter beard. It was shaved approximately two minutes after this photo.)

Handel's Messiah

Before the Messiah, we gathered at the flat of Jesse and Liana for festive treats and chat, along with the Brewer clan. We entered Holy Trinity Parish Church at 7:15pm and took our seats in the very hard pews. Candles lit, the choir and orchestra shuffled in. Their voices were clear, well-rehearsed, and moving. The "Hallelujah Chorus" was of course a favorite, and Garrick and I will make an effort to go every Christmas season.

 Photo: About to enjoy Handel's Messiah!
An American Christmas Classic!
We cooked an entire Thanksgiving meal from beginning to end. Neither Garrick or I enjoyed reaching our hand into the turkey to retrieve the "bits." We invited some of my Scottish (and one English!) coworkers over for a night of Thanksgiving food, Elf, and a White Elephant gift exchange. Fun was had by all and every plate was clean. As we are always taking in Scottish culture, sharing some our our American traditions was a welcome change.
 Bible Study Christmas Party
What a blessing these women are! We gathered at our usual time of 7:30pm on Tuesday night, everyone bearing a gift and treat to share. We discussed our Christmas plans and hopes. I also participated in my second White Elephant exchange, and may have re-gifted a gift from the first one...
St Mary's Postgrad and Staff Party
What do you get when you combine wine, minced pies, and a room full of academics? A hilariously stimulating and awkward party. Thankfully, I spotted a comfortable yellow char in the corner of the room and was joined by some of my lovely friends. The gathering took place in the St Mary's Senior Common Room, which is quite impressive with blue walls, beautiful draperies, and baby grand piano in the corner.
German Christmas Market

We and the Toomans (Bill, Tricia, Liam, and Cole) caught an early Saturday morning train to Edinburgh. As we walked toward the market along Princes Street, I felt that carnival rides and history were colliding:

We made our way through several outdoor stands selling German goodies of all kinds: fresh sugared donuts, mulled wine, bratwurst, pork sandwiches, candied almonds, apple strudel, pretzels - hungry yet? Along with the amazing food, many hand-made gifts make the market a Christmas shoppers paradise! After a day taking in all the sights and filling our hungry bellies, we napped on the train home to St Andrews. Thanks to the Toomans for a wonderful day!

Merry 15th of December!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Location, Location, Location.

I know I've mentioned that we live in town and on the North Sea, but I thought I should dedicate a post to our "we can't believe we actually live here" location. We live car-free* and about a 5 minute walk to everything we need to survive. Our orange carpet and lack of dishwasher and clothes dryer remind us that we're in student housing, but I think it's a fair trade.

We live on the upper left portion of the map on E Scores. My commute to work is along The Scores and takes approximately 7 minutes. Garrick? He walks about 30 seconds to the Roundel. No more can we depend on our long walk into town to keep in shape!

Although we don't have a private front or back yard, the St Andrews Cathedral ruins and North Sea views suffice just fine:

When living in a place that's as far North as Anchorage, AK, it's nice to be close to local amenities during the frigid winter months. Another bonus of our new place is that it's cheaper than our previous flat! Why? I'll never know. But I'm not going to ask questions. :)
I'm no fortune-teller, but I highly doubt that we'll ever again live in a location such as this. So, hurry up and plan your trip to Scotland!

*Please note: Although I love living car-free, driving a car when home for Christmas is going to be heavenly. :)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Master's Degree on St Andrews Day!

We got what we came for: a Master of Letters in Scripture and Theology! Yes, we're now staying a few more years for a PhD, but this past year is worth celebrating.

The fall graduation ceremony always takes place on St Andrews Day, the 30th of November. This day is dedicated to honor St Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland.

After two days of intensive You-Tube "How to tie a Bow Tie" tutorials, Garrick finally got it down:

At noon, I met our good friend, Chris Brewer, in Younger Hall and we scored second row seats. I snuck up to the snap a few photos before the ceremony:

The organ played and the processional began. Academic dress and Latin combined to make a wonderfully historic ceremony.

The perk of having Allen as a surname? You get to go first. Garrick walked across the stage, knelt in front of the Chancellor, and was touched on the forehead with a piece of John Knox's trousers. Yes, you read that correctly. That's actually just a myth; it's the 300 year-old hat of some other guy, but I'd like to think the first story is true.

I brought the iPad to graduation. I was that person. Thanks to Chris for videoing so I could take photos!


Amazing. After the ceremony, we processed out to St Salvators Quad to take photos and congratulate the graduands! It was zero degrees Celsius.
That evening, we all headed out to join the St Andrews Day festivities! We marched through the town led by pipers and ended at the Old Course Hotel for a fireworks display!

Finally, after dancing the night away in the largest outdoor Ceilidh in Scotland, we headed back home to celebrate with friends. This day will definitely be a favorite of our time in St Andrews. Way to go Master Allen!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Holidays Abroad...

are weird. I don't mean this in a negative way, just in the sense that it takes some extra thought and adjusting. But, as I sit full of Thanksgiving goodness, gratitude is the only emotion I feel. Family is irreplaceable, but good friends to share holidays with are a blessing. In many ways, certain Thanksgiving traditions remain the same regardless of the company: thankful attitudes, games, laughter, prayer, food comas, and the occasional grumpy mood. We will always treasure and remember fondly our American Thanksgivings celebrated on non-American soil. Enough with the gushy stuff and on to the food:

Thanksgiving Round One

The Crew: Chris and Rachel Brewer and their two boys John and Sam, Jesse and Liana Nickel, and us Allen folk.

The Menu: Instead of re-writing what's already been written by our friend, Chris Brewer, I will just refer you to his lovely post recounting the 5 courses of deliciousness: Happy Thanksgiving!

A few highlights: We had a cheese pairing with each course, and pheasant for the main dish. Yes, pheasant. And we loved it! Take a look at some photos from our fun day (sadly, I didn't get a pic of beautiful Rachel!):

Photo: Thankful for bread and great people to share it with.Photo: American Thanksgiving dinner. (Course #3 of 5)
-Pheasant 2 ways (sausage & breast)
- Green bean casserole
- Roasted veg
- Gran Marnier cranberry sauce
- Cheese
- Fougasse (leaf shaped bread)
Team effort of the Brewers Allens and us. Yum yum.

I'm especially thankful for this boy:

Thanksgiving Round Two

We haven't mentioned enough the awesomeness of Garrick's adviser, Dr Tooman, and his equally awesome wife, Tricia. These two have welcomed us and guided us in this journey, and we love them dearly. Another fact about these two? They are amazingly hospitable. We just returned from their home with happy hearts. We enjoyed the company of other St Mary's affiliates and gathered around a very large table! And, I brought my first homemade pumpkin pie:

Well, that's the end of our second Scottish Thanksgiving fest, and it was a good one.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

November News

Soup cravings, early sunsets, and eggnog lattes are here. What does November look like Allen-style? I'll tell you:

Our schedules are in full swing. We have a 9-5 work day and weekly events that include Monday Date Night, Tuesday Night Bible Study, Sunday Brunch, and finally, Sunday Game Night at the Brewers. Saturday? We laze.

We have nerdy hobbies.  I've recently learned to knit thanks to my lovely ladies Rachel and Haley. I am almost done with a scarf for G and have a few other exciting projects! Garrick's hobby is reading, big surprise, with a few rounds of Temple Run to relax his brain.

I'm job searching.  Long, complicated story short, my team is restructuring and my post is ending on the 31st of January. I could possibly stay on longer, we'll see. Finding contentment in uncertainty is a skill I'm learning, like it or not.

The Samsung Galaxy Ace makes me happy. We traded in our go-phones for smart phones and are saving money on our bill. And we have Swype texting. Don't know what that is? Find out here.

Thanksgiving is coming! I'll dedicate an entire post to our second Scottish Thanksgiving, but we're looking forward to a few celebrations, one of which will include pheasant!

Meet Tutor Allen. Garrick has been tutoring for the class entitled, "The History and Religion of Ancient Israel." He leads two small sessions a week on different assigned readings. And he dresses up. :)

And finally, five weeks and four days until...we fly home for Christmas!!! I know this is not November news, but we are talking and planning quite a bit for our long awaited return to the USA. Family and friends, we are coming for you! (And Chipotle...)

All in all, November reminds us to be thankful. And we have much to be thankful for.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Allens & Nickels in Linlithgow!

Day trips are becoming much looked forward to events. Even though the alarm went off early on Saturday morning, seeing historically beautiful sights with good friends makes temporary tiredness worth it.

This time we set off with Jesse and Liana to Linlithgow, the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots.

My new smart phone (believe it or not, it's cheaper than my pay-as-you-go phone) told me it was -1 degree Celsius. Brrrrr! As we meandered up to the palace, Liana and I spotted a knitting shop. This now excites us because we've recently learned to knit! Although I didn't find any yarn that spoke to me, it was still fun to look around. The boys waited patiently because they often benefit from our mad knitting skills. :)

Up a wee lane from the main street in town, we saw the entrance to our destination:

After getting our Historic Scotland Passes stamped, we entered the center of the palace. This is the home of the oldest fountain in the UK.

The palace has four towers and that each have spiraling staircases up to the top. We climbed to the very top of the Queen Margaret's Bower, despite someones fear of heights (GARRICK!).

Back down the stairs, we walked in and out of apartments, hallways, water-closets, and saw some very large fireplaces! They would also put tapestries on the stone walls to provide insulation. Something tells me it was still pretty cold.

Commence jumping photos:

Back outside, we took in the changing leaves and amazing views.

Right beside the palace is St Michael's Parish Church. We had two elderly men kindly give us a tour around the church, sharing interesting facts along the way. The steeple was made to resemble the Crown of Thorns:

Here is the view looking down the center aisle. The stained glass at the front represents the hierarchical structure of the Heavens and the Earth.

This stained glass window was put in recently and symbolizes the tongues of fire and the doors in Revelation. Each window has an intentional fault, to remember that only in Christ are we made perfect and whole.

After lunch at the Four Mary's Pub, we caught the next train to Edinburgh!

After a brief walk from the train station, Liana and I found another knitting shop! I picked up some yarn and double-pointed needles for a new pair of gloves.

Also worth mentioning, Eggnog Lattes in Red Cups:

We shopped, explored, and enjoyed our time with the Nickels, a very fun and lovely couple!

Towards the end of the evening, we stumbled upon some festive lights and decorations, and even had some time to dream in Anthropologie. Then, we ate some terrible Indian food and were back on the train to St Andrews. Here's the Nickel's take on our trip: Stay tuned for more adventures!