Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Next Adventure!!

Hello all!!

I haven't updated my Lithuania blog in a while - I've been home for a few months now, and how life has changed!! Recently, I made the decision to share the greatest gift I have - the true gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After submitting my mission papers, the inspired modern prophets of the LDS church called me to serve in Rosario, Argentina for the next 18 months!!

For the duration of my LDS mission, I'll be emailing home weekly emails to update on the work there - if you'd like to read about my NEXT adventure, you are welcome to check it out here:

Truly, I love this gospel and the joy that the true message of Christ's love has brought to my life. Truly, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest gift I have, and the message the world needs to hear!!

And on that happy note, off I go!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Last hours in Lithuania

I could try to be all artistic and come up with some wordy/vague/inspirational quote to describe how I feel, but I think that would just embarrass the both of us :) Truth is, I don't even know how I feel right now.  I thought I was halfway torn between my life in America and Vilnius, up until this morning when I was riding the bus through Old Town, and realized I never wanted to leave.  Strange how that works, isn't it? Something you originally dread happening is often the same thing you dread leaving behind - this seems to happen even more when you allow the Lord to guide your life :)  I wish there was some way I could package up a little handful of Lithuania, and bring it home with me - that way, I can explain to others why I would ever come to love a little reject country no one's ever heard of that smells like cigarette smoke and Soviet cement.  I know that the past 4 months of been spent documenting the daily scene, but my life here has been so much more than that.  Here, let me try to explain:

One thing I love about Lithuania is the older generation.  Since basically anyone over 50 knew nothing but Russian occupations for the first 4 decades of their life, there's definitely a certain amount of "oomph" gone from these people.  Many go through their lives with a mundane spirit, just trying to make it through one more day.  Every once in a while though, you'll see a little bit of fire left in them, and you recognize the spirit of the Lithuanian people that allowed them to rise up and break away from the Soviet's. 

To explain this, let me tell you about my friend Viva - a couple of days ago, I was walking back from Norfa with Areil when I walked past an older lady on the sidewalk. She looked kind of distressed, but there's nothing I can ever do without being able to speak the language, so I compromised by simply calling out "Laba diena" from where I stood. She perked up when I said hello, and responded by calling out to me in Lithuanian. I apologized in English, explaining that I didn't speak Lithuanian, and continued walking. I didn't make it very far before she called back in perfect English "Oh, that's okay.  I asked if you would kindly help me up this hill".  I was startled that she spoke so perfectly, since I'd never heard an older Lithuanian speak English in all the time I've been here. Of course I agreed, and began to help her up the hill, making conversation on the way.  Turns out, her name is Viva, and she simply taught herself English while living in Lithuania. She was born here, and is determined that she will die here as well.  After we got to the top of the hill, she stopped on a bench to rest, and thanked me for my help. I walked away, amazed at the life and spirit that was still left in Viva. 

Another time, I was in a wonderful mood, and simply walking around Justiniškės street, nearby where I lived.  While walking, I was being a completely obnoxious American, breaking the invisible "bubble" all Lithuanians seem content to live in, and greeting the strangers on the sidewalk.  As I walked past one such older woman, she was bent near in half with a hump on her back, and hobbling along with a crane while dragging a bag behind her.  As I approached, I cheerfully called out "Laba Diena" to her, without thinking much of it.  She on the other hand, looked up stunned at me, and immediately broke out in one of the biggest smiles I've seen. I actually stopped walking just to look at her, because that smile was the most genuine joy I've seen while being here in Lithuania.  She then put down her bag, reached over to touch my hand, and said "Laba Diena" back to me before picking up her cane and walking away.  I watched her hobble away, wondering if she was one of the hundreds of widowed people in Lithuania, and when the last time was someone had really given her a real greeting. 

This is part of the reason why I love Lithuania so - because no matter how dirty, smelly, lonely or introverted this country is, there are occasions like that which make me realize I can never give up on these people.

I think I'll always remember Lithuania in the rain - not only does it happen about 4 days a week, but that's when it seems most like home.

I'll even miss getting blinded by those strange reflector bands everyone wears on their purses (men included, m-urse and all) since it gets so dark here in the winter.

I remember when I first got here to Lithuania, and finding the "wishing stone" outside Vilnius Cathedral.  As a nervous American out of her country for the first time, I remember spinning on it three times and wishing that I could do a good job teaching and enjoy my time in Lithuania. I walked past it again today, and smiled at myself 4 months ago, wondering how I could have ever doubted how much I'd come to love this place.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Sunday at Trakai

Last night was a pretty late night, courtesy of catching up on blog posts whilst finishing the Lion King.  However, I slept AMAZING and was ready and rested for my last day at church. Sort of.

In case I haven't made it ridiculously clear the previous 34 times I've talked about my Lithuanian branch, I love them.  I love them all.  Consequently, today had some of the harder good-bye's I've had to hand out since our time in Lithuania has been getting into single digits.  Despite that though, it was also one of the best church meetings we've had yet.

The first talk was given by Marina, a recently returned missionary who was serving in Latvia and Estonia - Russian speaking.  In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our dedication to missionary work is probably one of our best known characteristics.  However, the Lord's church has always been a missionary church - Jesus Christ's life was the perfect example of this.  During His ministry on earth, he taught the gospel at all times, in all places, and to all kinds of people.  He also called apostles and other disciples to preach the gospel so more people could hear about the blessings of His gospel.  In our church, youth and older couples alike volunteer to serve across the world to share the message of the restored gospel - Marina was one such missionary, and spoke of the growth and love she developed while serving.  It was amazing to hear the testimony of such a strong woman, and the love she had for her Heavenly Father.
This is Marina - aka, Sister Grineviciute. Clearly, she's awesome.
For more on LDS missionaries, see HERE

After Sacrament meeting, I headed into the Primary room to help out and start playing prelude music for the kiddos. Every week, I hope that playing hymns or primary songs before class will help calm them all down, and every week I'm left disappointed. Least I try, right? :)
Little Sofie, the youngest daughter of the Miles (American embassy) family
Sofie stealing my camera and documenting Onita braiding my hair, 5 year old style.
The kids in Primary
The cover of the Lithuanian hymn book
Eli, the oldest son of the Miles family
Glori, the middle Miles daughter (are you starting to catch on to the fact that I love this family? :)
Marta and I
One of my favorite pictures of all time - all us ILP girls and our Vilnius missionaries :) From left: Areil, Janese, Elder Sherman, Elise, Elder Pekam, Elder Davies, Elder Kezley, Elder Reynolds, Bailey, Elder Erikson and I.  (Also, as a hilarious side note, doesn't this picture look like we're in 4th grade all over again? 11 people all jammed into one photo, and not a single boy/girl physical contact. hehe)
After church was over, I quickly jumped on a bus to head back home and get some stuff done before starting out on our next plan. While I was on the bus, a quirky little Lithuanian grandma came and sat next to me. Before I knew it, I was engaged in the most intense one sided conversation of my life - she was monologuing about something important sounding, and obviously I had no idea what. It sounded pretty intense though, and I just sat there pretending I was getting the greatest life advice of all time from the secret wisdom sage of Lithuania.  At one point, she looked at me expectantly, as if waiting for me to respond to these nuggets of wisdom - so, I explained that I was American, and spoke English. She nodded understandably, was silent for about 4.6 seconds, then launched off again in another stream of Lithuanian until she got off the bus.  I walked away laughing to myself, and reviewing all the tidbits of wisdom I made up in my head whilst she was speaking gibberish to me. I love the Lithuanian babushkas :)

After I made it back to my apartment alive, I packed up everything I needed for the adventure and set off with Elise to catch a bus to the train station. We had plans to meet up with Vika there, and made the trip down to see Trakai castle!  After a brief setback involving grumpy ticket ladies and flirtatious/super nice male ticket collectors, we got an awesome discount on our train tickets and were on our way to the lakes.

The view of Totoriskiu lake as we got off the Trakai train station. We had to walk a ways to get to the peninsula castle - about 30 to 40 min - but it sure was a great view!

The bridge connecting Trakai castle to the mainland

Inside the castle courtyard - this thing was BIG

Nothing puts a damper on your day like having your appendages locked in wood.

Or getting locked in a giant metal chicken coop.

Again, the Trakai castle courtyard

Inside the inner castle courtyard and looking up through all the levels of staircases.

Staircase maze, anyone?

Did I mention some of the stairs from afore mentioned stair maze was ridiculously steep?  No? Well, then I just did.

Vika and Elise blinding me with their Lithuanian love

The view with the rain clouds. One thing I will miss about Lithuania - they sure known how to make rain clouds here.

Once it warmed up and I took off my jacket, Vika was SO excited about my sweater! Apparently, it matched the castle and therefore was worthy of a picture. Little does she know, I got it at a Lithuanian thrift store.

The sunshiney lake.

After it stopped raining (for the 3 seconds it actually stopped), we looked out the window to discover a beautifully bright rainbow! Vike had her 4th freak out of the day and dragged us all out for a picture :)
 Elise also had a little culture and tried some Kibinas -

Kibinas are little Lithuanian rolls stuffed with meat. Basically, they're good.
Funny story - on the bus ride home, Vika, Elise and I ended up getting jammed in the back seat next to a Spanish family reunion party.  Holy smokes - I haven't heard Spanish in months!  I just giggled to myself every time I heard the word "bonita" and "iglesia" - which was a lot :)

All in all, a full day.  If anything else, I'm going to be quite the mess when I get home from this adventuring/sleep deprivation/jet lag. Look out family - I'm going to be a monster.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Eating spree, and dinner with the Konikov's!

A couple of days ago, Areil got an email from the ILP office, apologizing that they had never made it out to our school for mid-semester visits or sent our package out in time.  While that was the bad news, the good news was that they had decided to make it up to us and wire $100 to Areil's account for us to spend on getting something for ourselves!!

Pretty much, that was our plan for the day. Good plan, right? :)

We started out by getting up early and getting started on cleaning up the apartment. We're fairly sure that the previous teachers didn't clean anything all semester long, and things were building up and getting pretty gross.  We decided to work on that and spent a good 3 hours sweeping, scrubbing, soaking, and even scrapping every inch of our apartment. Including getting the dozens of digimon stickers off our fridge.  That was a bitter-sweet goodbye :)
Imagine 30 of these guys stuck to your fridge. Strangely enough though, you get a little attached to the things.  Like I said - bittersweet :)
Once we had finished scrubbing down the apartment, we got cleaned up and headed into Old Town for some breakfast at Gusto's blini.
This was one of the first restaurants we went to in Vilnius, and it seemed fitting that it should be our last. Also, I got some spicy beef blini, and that's hard to beat :)
Elise, loving on her hot cocoa
We even all sat in the EXACT same spots as the first time we got here. You can't actually tell from this picture, but that means I got the reject chair pulled up to the end of the table twice.
 After we'd finished gorging ourselves with Lithuanian pancakes, we started exploring old town and following the ILP commands to get ourselves some souvenirs. I walked away with a cozy pair of sage green mittens, which I proceeded to cuddle with/wear at random points of the day, I loved them that much. Since we still had some money left over, we decided to go get ice cream at Dione, a yummy place in Old Town.
Not only do they have the BEST caramel ice cream and waffle cones of my life, you get to eat that scrumptious while sitting in plush armchairs.  Yet again, what's not to like?
 Whilst downing our ice cream, we even entertained ourselves with the children's menu coloring pages! The good news is, it even came with an awesome crossword puzzle, which when completed, revelealed a secret word! The bad news is, the crossword puzzle was in Lithuanian, and therefore we had no idea what the blank words were. So, we improvised and made up our own words to fit the spaces! Turns out, our secret word was "Leias", which I'm convinced is this girl's Lithuanian name:
I can see it now - Leias and Lukas, the Lithuanian twin galactic heroes!
After ice cream, we even wandered by our favorite sweater tree.
On a side note, every Lithuanian I've asked about this sweater tree has absolutely no idea why it's there.  Combine that mystery with the knitted polka dots, and you've got quite an exciting tree on your hands!
Also, since I've seen this last, someone knitted another scarf for a nearby lamppost. Some babushka is going wild!
 Our day in town was super fun, and it was good to spoil ourselves.  We made the trip home again, took a brief 20 minute power nap, then headed out the door again to go to Dima's house for dinner!!
Bailey, Janese and I sitting in the gutter. You know, it was a striped kind of day.
The bus got us to Dima's house really early, so we decided to kill some time and enjoy the swing set in their apartment complex.
You know when your legs are really long and take up half the picture frame? No? Oh, maybe that's just me :)

Whilst we enjoyed the swings, Bailey got in touch with her inner hobo and crashed on a nearby park bench.  Can't blame her - this girl was surviving off of 2 hours sleep.  She was a trooper :)
 Once we actually headed up to Dima's apartment, we spent some time playing with the girls, helping Dima format the recording of the spectacle, and goofing off. I eventually wandered into the kitchen to help Natasha with dinner, and we all sat down to eat.
Natasha made an AWESOME dinner with chicken, mashed potatoes and tomato salad.  Top that with strawberry-kiwi Fanta, and we had all sorts of fancy going on in that meal!
Now, I'm not sure if the girls were all hyped up on Fanta sugar or just excited that the teachers were there, but they were CRAZY! Sofia especially - this girl was bouncing for 2 hours straight, and still seemed to have energy to spare. Also, she loves doing fish faces, as you can see.

Alysa was showing me her Ju Jit Su skills. I assure you, she is deadly. Dima is so proud :)
For desert, we had watermelon! The best part was, it came with a show as we watched the girls dig around the seeds and make a general mess of themselves.
Dima with all us ILP teachers. See that guy there? He's wonderfully fantastic :)
Did I mention he's silly?
From left: Hillary (me), Natasha, Sofia, Dima and Alysa
Did I mention I LOVE this family?
Also, the girls were in such a cray-cray mood, and we had all sorts of hilarious going-ons.  At this point, I'm just going to post videos of the craziness of the day, and admit that I really have no explanation for alot of what happened that day. Sofia was just nuts.
Let me just state that when Sofia gets this hyper, I end up with some SERIOUS leg workouts!
Also, Alysa is a hardcore Jujutsu chick.  She won a big ol' competition when she was 5, and frequently enjoys putting us in headlocks. Dima is so proud.
I just had to record this, because I never want to forget the way the kids say my name - "Teacher Hallawry"
This one's just hilarious since Sofia kept posing every 3 seconds, since she thought I was taking a picture. Also, it's mildly funny to watch her mummify Areil. Mildly.

Sofia also went through this strange morbid mummifying mood and started wrapping my scarf all over everyone's face.  It was pretty strange...
It was such an exhausting, wonderful day :) It was so good to spend some time with Dima and his family - I LOVE those people, and spending time with them. The konikov's are definitely one of the things I'll miss the most about Lithuania.