Thursday, November 17, 2011

Quiet Thankfulness

There are few things that make me more grateful than watching the picture slide show screen saver roll by on my computer.  How grateful I am for all the people who have come into my life at one time or another, and for all the experiences I have enjoyed across the world.  I am ridiculously blessed.

I am grateful that my screen saver pops up when I need to be reminded of those blessings.  Tonight I was just beginning to feel the stirrings of panic in my stomach as I researched for my thesis.  I have sooooooo much more to learn and study and think about before I can even begin writing!  There simply aren't enough hours left in the seven months before my paper is due.  Sounds like a long time, right?  Yep, it so often does to my too-easily distracted self, too.  But I am in LOVE with my topic.  In a moment of pure insanity, I chose a topic on something I knew literally nothing about and have had to begin my research from scratch.  Every time I pick up my books to study a bit more, my sense of wonder increases as I realize that somehow this topic really IS something that seriously fascinates me.  I stumbled across the perfect forum to study the tension  between ceremonialism and spirituality in Christianity.  Corporeal vs. ethereal.  Ritual vs. the inner devotion of the heart.  Awesomely, this all relates directly to Christianity's relationship with its Jewish past.  Fascinating stuff, and who would have guessed the writers of the English Reformation and beyond would have had such interesting things to say about it?  It's all very thrilling, but the panic comes nonetheless (or perhaps because it is so thrilling), and I needed my photos to start sliding by tonight to remind me about how good life has been to me, and how much the Lord has done for me and will continue to do for me.  Peace has settled in again.

The peace is magnified by the atmosphere here in our little home.  I have been asked to teach the young women in my church congregation.  Each Sunday, I meet with the 16 and 17-year-old girls and we talk about everything under the sun, from forgiveness and scripture study to dating decisions, to recognizing our individual worth, to being dependable, preparing for change and choosing a vocation.  The young women also have a personal challenge, to be worked on and completed between the ages of 12 and 18.  It's a program called "personal progress" and is basically a self-improvement plan that helps them work on specific goals and develop particular talents and strengths in eight different areas: faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, integrity and virtue.  The leaders are encouraged to work on the program also, especially since personal growth and progression really shouldn't end at 18!  I've been thinking about the things I can and have been working on in my life.  My thesis is obviously the biggest single commitment to "knowledge" that I have ever made and I undertook the commitment with the keen hope that doing so would bless my life and the life of my family literally forever.  I was thinking about other areas of focus in my life too.  My apartment has been quite the project for me ever since I returned to the States.  I felt this urgent obsession to come back not only to my husband, but to a home.  I loved (LOVED) my flatmates in England, and did not mind sharing a flat with them in the least.  But it was difficult to go from my beautiful first married apartment to a space over which I had little to no control.  I missed being able to create a home.  I was really struck by the words of President Uchtdorf, one of the twelve apostles, given in a women's conference a few years ago.  The passage is fairly long, but so powerful!!:

The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before. 
Everyone can create. You don’t need money, position, or influence in order to create something of substance or beauty. 
Creation brings deep satisfaction and fulfillment. We develop ourselves and others when we take unorganized matter into our hands and mold it into something of beauty [...]
You might say, “I’m not the creative type. When I sing, I’m always half a tone above or below the note. I cannot draw a line without a ruler. And the only practical use for my homemade bread is as a paperweight or as a doorstop.” 
If that is how you feel, think again, and remember that you are spirit daughters of the most creative Being in the universe. Isn’t it remarkable to think that your very spirits are fashioned by an endlessly creative and eternally compassionate God? Think about it—your spirit body is a masterpiece, created with a beauty, function, and capacity beyond imagination. 
But to what end were we created? We were created with the express purpose and potential of experiencing a fulness of joy. Our birthright—and the purpose of our great voyage on this earth—is to seek and experience eternal happiness. One of the ways we find this is by creating things.

I love that.  I have felt driven to create something of beauty and peace as I organize my new apartment into a home.  I have gathered things from Goodwill and the clearance racks of other stores to beautify our shelf and wall spaces.  I have printed out pictures I have taken or found online (specifically the New York library public online archives.  SO COOL - and free!) to put on the walls.  I have found new ways to add light to our otherwise very ill-lit rooms.  I have made a renewed effort to keep things clean and tidy.  My most recent addition to our home?: a new set of couches, for which Dave and I have been saving for months.  I think David, especially, was grateful, since he has been sitting on the floor now for just two weeks less than a year.  It was a big purchase, but we felt they would help to make our home a place of comfort and beauty, where we could invite friends, co-workers, neighbors, missionaries and families interested in the church to meet with us.  This desire to create a peaceful shelter from the world in our little space here in Arizona has been my commitment to grow my testimony of divine nature, and feel the strength that comes from exercising one of God's great gifts to us: the power of creation.

It is evenings like these, when I sit in my living room (on the new sofa!), listening to my soft pre-Christmas music, studying fascinating things about the world by the light of our nearest floor lamp, that I feel perfectly content.  

Monday, November 14, 2011

Christmas Music Rebellion

Tonight I am playing my pre-Christmas music.  Or maybe my "soft" Christmas music (in a soft commitment kind of way).  I sort of consider this playlist a general winter song track.  It's the kind of music that I don't remember exists until around the end of October when there begins to be a chill in the air.  In fact, it's very possible that the desire to listen to this playlist is triggered by the sight of snow.  My current presence in Arizona makes my listening to this music unlikely, then, but there was a bit of snow dusting the mountain tops in Utah when I was there a few weeks ago.  That was probably it.

There are three cds that fit in this category of pre-Christmas.  Two are Windham Hills celtic Christmas cds.  Some of the songs are blatantly Christmasy and lots of others aren't...or at least, they aren't American Christmas songs.  I have a feeling that my dad loved the flute/harp/guitar combos and played these discs a lot when I was growing up - especially in the evenings while we all cozied up in our warm Minnesota house and watched the snow fall on the trees in our backyard.  That's the image that comes to mind every time I hear one of the songs.  It's an incredibly peaceful memory.

The third disc was a newer addition to the playlist.  It's the Little Women soundtrack, which is without doubt my favorite soundtrack of all time.  The music is brilliant, and there is something so very wintry about it too.  Unfortunately, I don't actually own that cd (I purchased the other two over various winters away at college).  I have to hit YouTube each time I want my Little Women pre-Christmas fix.

Having three "soft"-Christmas cds is my little Christmas music rebellion.  It allows me to judiciously uphold the no-Christmas-until-after-Thanksgiving rule.  And it allows an outlet for my post-Christmas sorrow even after the decorations have been packed away.  It's the perfect solution to my heart's desire for an extended Christmas season.

Of course, last year it wasn't necessary to stick strictly to my pre-Christmas music pre-Thanksgiving.  After all, there wasn't actually a Thanksgiving to stand sentinel before the Christmas season.  The rest of England busted out Christmas at the beginning of November.  When in Rome, right? ;)    

Friday, November 4, 2011

Til Death and Beyond!!

I love weddings.  Love them.

It's a fairly recent thing.  I think it happened when my own wedding day was so fabulous.  I've been giddy about weddings ever since, and they are especially good when they are close friends or relatives!  I can't believe my little brother is all grown up and married, but it's true, it happened.  Dave and I spent the. most. perfect. autumn. weekend. ever. in Utah a couple of weeks ago and looooved spending the time with both my family and his.  Saturday was bright, cool (but warm in the sun, so basically perfect) and glorious in every way. The trees were still hanging brilliant colors and everyone had pumpkins and gorgeous fall flowers on their porch steps.  My brother and his new bride could literally not have chosen a more perfect day.  I'm not kidding when I say that I was quite jealous.  I had originally wanted an October wedding, and their day was just the kind of wedding day I had envisioned for myself.  I'm glad someone could enjoy it anyway :)  Weddings are best told in pictures, so here it goes:

This was literally the first of their kisses I ever saw.  It's good to know they like each other!

One happy groom :D

Love these guys!

My beautiful parents!

My sweet sister, growing up fast

My adorable grandparents!

My other adorable grandparents!


Love the smile!

Wedding party - I totally loved the grays!

Awww, my cute brothers

Ah, my bros

HOT - this face is why I married him ;)

...and Derek

Couldn't miss out on the fun

The best place for a marriage!

Love this guy!

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Little Too Happy for the Part...

We were Angry Birds for Halloween.  That's right, we're cool like that.  I can say, too, that we were quite the hit at the church/community trunk-or-treat.  It all began with a big red snuggie that we found at the Goodwill that lives right behind us (a place I frequently haunt).  Thankfully, there was a light blue bathrobe in the same section, so we made off with our goods, picked a few choice colors of acrylic paint and proceeded to speed-paint our costumes before the evening's festivities:

The last two pics were us looking angry?  Okay, so we've been a pretty happy pair lately and we really weren't very angry as angry birds.  Such is life.  Also, you see the gap in the beak on David's bird?  I fixed it later, so that it shows white like the model pic (which I'm sure is copyrighted by someone, so consider them credited):

Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the updated Halloween-ready costume, but I do have lots of pictures of our adorable trick-or-treaters:

Love those two!  Thank you, Jacob and Clarissa, for allowing us "god-children" while we wait for our own!

Happy Halloween, friends.  Life is so good!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Back in the World

Our apartment number is in the 2000s, so we assume that means there are at least 2000 apartments in our complex.  Okay, okay, probably not that many, but it is an exceedingly large complex nonetheless. Somehow, out of all 2000ish apartments, we received the one with the least amount of privacy.  We have three windows in our apartment (thankfully they are all quite large windows), and all of them face the same direction: out to the parking lot.  We realize that as the weather is cooling down and we are starting to keep our windows open permanently, our in-home privacy is basically gone.  Everyone going to or getting out of their cars can see and hear what we are doing inside our home.  To be fair, though, there are many other apartments in that same predicament.  What makes ours especially unique are the apartments directly across from and below us.  There is a nice, single, older man who lives below us.  He likes to keep his front door wide open to get the optimal breeze through his tv-room.  He sits on his couch or laz-e-boy chair all day long (apparently he doesn't work) and all night long (apparently he doesn't sleep) and watches us go in and out of our house.  He is a very friendly fellow, and likes to say hello every time he sees us.  We don't mind too much, but good grief, sometimes I just want to be able to leave my house without someone knowing every single time!  Even worse is the big-haired sullen guy who lives directly across from us.  He doesn't seem to work or sleep either.  He's not content to sit inside his house though.  He sits out on his front porch, smoking and staring directly into our bedroom window.  Throughout the day.  Throughout the night.  It doesn't matter.  He creeps us out.  

We figure that situation is basically unchangeable.  We like our apartment in all other respects and I am just grateful to have a home of my own again.  There is something else, though, on which I would love to receive your advice.  This weekend I am facing an extraordinary dilemma, one I have not encountered since middle-school.  

I came home from work with an R-rated movie in my bag yesterday.  I choose not to watch R-rated movies.  I hate (hate) watching man-to-man violence (the qualifier was added because I never had much trouble watching storm-troopers or orcs fall in battle...) and I really don't like watching other people's intimate moments either.  Before I went to college I could count the number of PG-13 movies I had watched on one hand, and even now I am fairly discriminatory about which movies I watch, regardless of rating.  Somehow, though, my movie choices have never really inhibited friendships.  In high school, my friends somehow knew about my beliefs and choices, and we weren't much of a movie-watching crowd anyway.  In college, I watched far more movies than I probably should have, but no one ever tried to press an R on me.  At Cambridge, my roommate forbade me from watching even the trailers of some of the movies she really enjoyed, automatically appointing herself guard over my movie choices without any prompting from me.  But now I'm living a real life, working a real full-time job for the first time in my life and spending lunch breaks with co-workers who don't know much about me.  I want to be friends with these people and already feel at a slight disadvantage because I don't go partying with them on the weekends.  

On Thursday, they were asking me what I was going to be for Halloween.  I told them I hadn't given it much thought, especially since last Halloween I was in England, where the bigger autumn holiday is Guy Fawkes day.  As soon as I mentioned the British holiday, all three girls lit up and said "V for Vendetta!  That movie is soooooo good!"  I have heard that the movie is good, actually, but I've never had the slightest desire to see it.  When they found out I had never seen it, they insisted that I do so immediately, one of them chiming in that she owned it and I could borrow it from her.  I think I gave a non-committal smile, which ended up not being enough to dispel their enthusiasm.  The next morning, when I walked into the break room for some water, my co-worker held the movie up with excitement.  I somehow made it out of the break room without taking it from her, but about ten minutes later she was laying it on my desk for me.  I didn't know what to say.

I'm sorry to admit that my first desperate response was, "Dave, do you think we can find it edited this weekend??"  My second response was....nothing.  I have no idea what to do now.  How do I explain my choices?  I have a sneaky suspicion that they will be completely aghast.  No drinking they can understand perhaps, even if they don't agree.  But not watching certain movies not because of genre taste, but because of content?  

I think my insecurity derives from self-reflection post-middle school.  When I was younger I was just as confident in my beliefs as I am now, but I wasn't afraid to declare them loudly.  I have thought about this a lot, and I genuinely believe, still, that I did not mean to boast or come across as holier-than-thou.  But I think I did come across that way, and some of my closest friendships suffered as a result (something I still regret).  Now that I know how potentially arrogant it can sound when I say "Sorry, I don't watch those things," I have lost all of my ability to say anything at all.  I'm stuck.  Any ideas?           

Friendly Feedback for President Obama

Dear President Obama,

Healthcare should be a basic human right, available for everyone.  I agree!  We may strongly disagree about the best ways to make health care available to everyone, but the premise is the same.  Please allow me to give some friendly feedback about one facet of your recent health care program:

One Saturday I got very, very sick.  Sicker than I had ever been in my entire life and experiencing more pain than I had ever imagined.  The specialists called it a freak accident.  No one my age, in my general health, with my medical history should have ever developed a blocked intestine like I did.  If I had lived a few hundred years ago, I may very well have died from it.  As it was, I spent a week and a half in and out of various hospitals, suffering multiple CT-scans and seeing multiple specialists in the process.  I have been in perfect health ever since the day I left the hospital (though I did have to follow a careful recovery plan).  I am grateful for the expert care I experienced.

Total bill for that expert care: somewhere around $60,000.  It was a small stress, but we knew that David's work provided him an excellent insurance plan.  We knew that because of that plan our payments would be extremely marginal.  At some point in the process, we also realized that beginning last January, I had also been placed back on my father's family insurance plan.  Part of President Obama's health care program included a bit increasing the age of dependency to 24.  The odd thing about the stipulation was that I would be returned to my father's insurance plan regardless of the fact that I was 1) married and no longer my father's dependent in life situation, despite my age and 2) insured as a non-dependent by my husband's plan.  Thus, at the time I was hospitalized I was double-insured.

For a while we hoped that meant that my father's insurance would pay everything that David's wouldn't, covering any of those lingering fees David and I would have otherwise had to cover ourselves.  That was all a naive dream, we have discovered.  What double-coverage means is that the two insurance companies stand pointing at the other, neither taking responsibility as the primary insurer.  In the end, no one has paid and the $60,000 debt is headed towards collections.  We have called the state insurance commissioner and tried to force David's company to take responsibility.  So far it has not helped, but we currently have David's employers working on it and they promise results by next week.  We're crossing our fingers.

SO, President Obama.  May I make one suggestion?  If you insist on the 24-year-old dependency stipulation, can you please provide exceptions?  Can I please NOT be insured by my father's company if I  am insured as a non-dependent elsewhere?  This would be the case, of course, whether I was insured by my OWN employment or by that of my husband's.  I no longer wish to be double-covered.

Thank you.  

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wonder of Wonders

I have always considered myself a pretty decent cook.  In reality, I'm a pretty decent collector of amazing recipes, since I can readily admit I'm not the best intuitive food inventor.

In that way, I'm envious of say, the rat from Pixar's Ratatouille - who can just smell and add and create something amazing.  But I can manage the techniques required to make something delicious from a well-written recipe, and I'm not intimidated by homemade breads, sauces, pie crusts, or seasonings and marinades for meats.  But there is one thing that intimidates me more than anything:


I realize that most people consider rice one of the easiest things to make.  But whenever I try, the water always boils away before my rice is finished and I'm left with burnt rice singed to the bottom of my pan.  If I try to correct for the boil-away by adding more water, I end up with overly-soggy and soupy rice in water that never seems to evaporate at all.  On those rare occasions when I get it right and end up with something adequate, I'm left to muscle clean a pot that's covered in a goopey, ricey paste.  My rice cooker never fares any better (though to be fair, it's not one of the most expensive rice cookers out there.  I'm sure there are rice cookers that could cure even my penchant for rice woes).  As a result of my intimidation, I have always avoided meals that require rice.  I know it's cheap, healthy, and an easy way to boost many meals, but I've avoided it more than most food items.  No rice for me (or Dave, consequently).

When I returned from England, everything changed.  Dave introduced me to a new invention, a veritable wonder of wonders.  Whole grain Boil-in-Bag brown rice from Uncle Ben's.  Oh. my. goodness.  Boil a medium saucepan of water, add bag of rice, boil 10-12 minutes, remove bag, cut open and pour contents on your plate.  Fluff with fork and serve.  Ridiculously easy to cook and ridiculously easy to clean.  There are two servings in one bag.  I am in LOVE.  Granted, the box of rice is a bit more expensive than normal rice, but I have not ruined a serving of rice since discovery.  That alone makes the extra cents worth it.

Now, we have rice with everything.  Thank you, Uncle Ben's, for changing my life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Life in "Blog" - Continued

As expected, I have returned again less than a week later.  It turns out that once I've written a blog entry, I continue to think in "blog".  So here I am.

I have a new job.  This job took me a solid six weeks to find and it ended up being a job I didn't even apply for.  I guess two weeks in the hospital + a two week extension on a paper + six weeks of job finding = ten weeks longer than I'd originally given myself to start working = a mild form of panicky desperation.  Thus, when  I received two "sorry-no-job-but-on-the-bright-side-you-were-the-runner-up" phone calls on the same day, I did tell one of the two employers that I would take his much-lower-pay call center position instead, just so I would be working at all.

In reality, it didn't go quite like that.  I agreed to come into the office to allow them to persuade me to accept their other position, since they claimed they liked me so much and really wanted me "on board".  They bargained quite well, and when they promised 1) to start me at a higher rate than their other callers, 2) to move me into administration/management in just a couple months as they continued to grow and 3 [and this was the kicker]) to allow me to continue interviewing for other positions even while I was working for them - I did, I agreed to come in and spend my days calling the clients of various State Farm Insurance agents to set up appointments to review their current policies.  [If you have State Farm policies, beware.  I'll probably be calling you tomorrow].  My first pay check was a beautiful sight, as the next one will be. Unfortunately, I have to put up with some fairly stressful tedium to get it.  On the other hand, it comes nowhere near comparing with the tedium of my summer in California when I was doing lonely data entering for a medical machinery company.  And I really like the owners and managers of the company, as well as most of the kids who work there.  It is probably the best environment I could imagine for a call center.

Additionally, I was helping my boss interview other call center candidates
on my first day of work.  That was promising.  Here's hoping to more 
responsibility in the weeks (instead of months) to come!

In other news, tonight I was supposed to go to a "girls' night out" with some of the girls in my church congregation.  They were really sweet to invite me, since I'm still pretty new. They were going to go eat sushi and talk and laugh and get to know each other better. 

I chickened out.

It was a long and early day at work and I was so tired by the time I came home.  I felt far too over-stimulated....something about the ringing of the phone in your ears all day... I have also been feeling out of control at work.  Persuasion has never been my brightest quality, and even though we're just asking well-established clients to meet with their agents about policies they already own, the masses of the world seem to be ridiculously "busy".  A little persuasion is, therefore, helpful.  Part of my problem is that I know in my nagging inner-self that if someone called me, I probably would decline too.  Confidence gone.  

I am usually a very confident person and I usually feel very in control.  In the last few weeks I have discovered that it takes a lot of my energy to survive eight hours of shifting control.  So yes, I was physically tired from my early wake-up call, but honestly, I wasn't prepared emotionally to be social with a dynamic group of strangers.  It just would have been a few more hours of feeling out of control.

Instead, I took a girl's night IN.  Dave was out tutoring this evening, so I came home and made myself a personal pan of German Pancakes.  Heaven.  I laid on the floor and listened to "Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha about five times.  I memorized the words - do you think if I sing it to my children every night of their growing-up years they will actually believe the message?:

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far

To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause

And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage

To reach the unreachable star  

And for your listening pleasure:

I love that.  So much.  

The other thing tonight (and during my lunch and mid-shift breaks)?  A religious book by M. Catherine Thomas.  It was on my shelf, but I'm not sure where I got it.  Possibly as a gift from someone in my mother's congregation, since they threw me a book shower pre-wedding?  Anyway, I decided to explore it, and I have been very impressed.  She has given me so much to think about theologically, which is something I learned to love doing during my Master's program.  Her topics are deeply reverent and profound and have given me much to ponder about my own spiritual life.  In addition, I have been delighted by her writing voice.  Her choice of words astounds me, and I find myself rolling her phrases over and over in my mind, testing the words she uses and falling in love with them.  I have never read an author who could choose so words so surprisingly, yet so descriptively and accurately.  

Some brief examples:

"The power to 'see' is already in us, but may be blocked by our spiritual inexperience and meager trust.

"I could accept what comes with greater trust, quiet, even gratitude."

Speaking of the fore-ordained reasons for the all-encompassing weaknesses of mortal man, she says, "So, if we find that we have a sturdy Natural Man, that is to be expected."  

One of my favorites:

"The fretful Seeker knows that the fallen world is not all there is; his searches make him aware of glories that lie just beyond his perception, and his restiveness drives him on to penetrate the veil. He often finds the path obscure, fraught with conundrums, and the opposition to his transformation insuperable.  Life can seem a hopeless tangle."  

According to one of my very favorite books, Team of Rivals, about the life of Abraham Lincoln and his political peers, Lincoln spent much of his young life listening to long, dramatic tales that his father would tell to the other men in the boarding house.  The young Abe would savor the words spoken and memorize their patterns, discovering for himself which words sounded good together, which words had emotive power and how to assemble those words to best resonate with an audience.  It wasn't by accident that the President Lincoln was such a successful public speaker.  

Thomas's book is becoming my Lincoln story collection.  I feel like I have to read every page four times: three times to ponder the theological significance of Thomas's words, and once to catch every marvelous turn of phrase.  She is a brilliant writer, and I have been inspired by her as I have never been inspired by a writer before.       

In final news, I found out today that my Cambridge college is issuing me a 300 pound check - reimbursement for a deposit that was apparently paid as part of my first payment installation.  I hadn't remembered that any part of that money was to be returned.  I am so grateful for these little tender mercies!      

Sunday, October 9, 2011

[ Title Unknown ]

It's been a while since I've posted, but not from a shortage of ideas.  I wanted to post about adjusting to Arizona and its little unique oddities.  But I always forget a camera before I go driving, so I haven't been able to take a picture of the Arizona driving gem: cars here often stop half a car length or more behind the white line at an intersection, and I really don't know why. I've wanted to post about surprising similarities between Arizona and England, but I never have a camera with me when I see people walking in the sun and 110 degree heat under (often metallic dome) umbrellas.  I have been excited to post about my attempt to develop a new talent, but I've been waiting to complete enough suitable watercolor prints to display for you. I've wanted to post about my new job, but every time I get home from work, I decide that I'm much too weeeeeeary.  So between my absent camera (which is sitting in a lost and found office in London. They want me to verify my identity and pay them money to have it returned, which I haven't been willing to do as of yet) and my sudden level of daily exhaustion, blogging has been put on hold.

However, today I was spurred on by the out-pouring of new autumn blog backgrounds at my favorite free blog design site, so here I am, splurting every random thought that happens to pop into my head.  For example, did you know that Arizona has the most incredible sky in the entire continental US (probably hard to beat the Northern Lights in Alaska...)?  I knew this once when I was much younger and my family and I were driving across the black Arizona desert one night, listening to John Denver and watching the most phenomenal lighting storm dancing along the horizon.  But it's been a while since that happened, and when I moved here I was expecting a boring blue sky, day after day.  Since my arrival, though, I have been  DELIGHTED to discover some of the most gorgeous clouds, sunsets and lightning storms I have ever seen.  Skies have always been one of my favorite of God's creations, so my discovery has increased my willingness to live in Arizona ten-fold, despite the heat.  Speaking of the heat, it has been much cooler here the past week (mid-70s).  GLORRRIOUS! Oh, the return of simple joys!

Other simple joys: 
  • Making homemade crepes and topping with granulated sugar and the juice of half a lemon.  
  • Filling the trouble wall of my kitchen with a shelf and various decor items, all purchased at Goodwill for $6.50 total.  
  • Finding new and exciting ways to use the however-many tons of food storage we just toted 700 miles.  In the past I've only ignored the ten cans of manderin oranges we had sitting on our shelf, but no longer! It's been a delight to see the dent in my stacks of cans growing larger and larger.
  • Receiving my first pay check and seeing a number in the "Deposits" column of my bank account website for the first time in a year.  
  • Having the only dollar theater in the entire Phoenix valley only a couple of miles away from our house.  Dave and I saw HP 7-2 together for the second time yesterday.  Of all the Harry Potter movies, it's the only one I really loved. 
My status on Facebook the other night was about the movie North and South.  I thought I should clarify, I was watching the BBC version of Elizabeth Gaskell's 1855 novel, set in England about the north of England, and not the classic Civil War film.  I discovered North and South during my first semester in Cambridge, and I fell in love instantly, though for more than just the expected reason (let's face it, N&S DOES have possibly the best on-screen kiss ever). 

I loved that the characters were more complex than in most period dramas.  For example, as much as I love Pride and Prejudice, there are the wise characters and the foolish characters.  Not much in between (Charlotte might be the exception).  But in North and South, there aren't any "good" or "bad" characters, or even any "wise" and "foolish" characters.  There are a bunch of people trying to survive and make the best of their separate circumstances and sometimes the ways in which they cope with their situations are not particularly compatible.  I was impressed that the show was able to make me second-guess whichever "side" I had first found myself choosing.  Also, the central culture clash in the movie resonated with me, since I first saw the show at a time when I was dealing with my own surprising and difficult culture clash.  

Like the handshake between Margaret and Mr. Thornton, I was blundering around doing and saying things that were offensive to some of my British friends, but that in America were not only acceptable, but polite!  I felt like the movie picked up an essential truth about well-meaning interactions between different cultures, along with the difficult adjustments that have to be made when one relocates to a place where there is a different code of conduct.  Finally, I thought the movie was a fascinating glimpse into a time period I know very little about.  The industrial age has always been a period that has made me slightly uncomfortable, and I appreciated the way that North and South dealt with the difficulties and challenging decisions of that time.        
Anyway, great movie.  I recommend it. 

My final random thought for the evening is about my new assignment at church.  I have been asked to teach the 16 and 17 year old girls of the congregation.  I am excited about the assignment, though I have to admit, my enthusiasm shrunk substantially when I saw that my first lesson would be about dating standards and chastity.  I looked through the lesson schedule for the year and, sure enough, I was assigned the only chastity lesson in the current manual.  It's not that the subject itself intimidated me much, but I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to be as direct and clear as I needed to be without having first established a relationship of trust with the girls.  Thankfully, the girls are all strong and active young women, which made it easier.  I'm still terrified to think of what the lesson would have been like had the girls already been struggling in that area.  Instead, though, we were able to have a good conversation today about how women so often place their sense of worth and power on their bodies and their ability to attract the attention of the men around them.  We talked about how tragic it is for women to become so dependent on their bodies for feelings of worth and power, and talked about how to seek power through our covenants with God and through obedience to His commandments.  We talked about how to grow a strong sense of self and of individual worth through understanding our relationship to a loving and present Heavenly Father.  Then we talked about furthering our talents and strengths and rounding out our personalities by developing good relationships with both boys and girls, and taking the opportunity to date casually and spend the teen years having fun with friends of both genders.  I'm grateful for siblings who have been such a good example of this!  I think they have all lived their teenage lives to the fullest, and are healthy and happy individuals as a result. I would happily hold them up as models for anyone who believes that the teenage years have to be exploratory, angst-ridden, and passionate - both physically and emotionally.  

Well, I think I've momentarily exhausted my string of unconnected thoughts.  I still don't have a title for this post of random things, and I may never have.  But it's a glimpse into life as it is for me now.  I'm guessing the next post won't be so long in coming.  Cheers, until then....           

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

About How Dave and I Almost Died in Separate Incidents

This morning I was dreaming about teaching Hebrew (while taking the class horseback riding?  Someone explain that one to me), when I woke up suddenly hearing the short, staccato coughs of someone choking/gagging.  David usually wakes up before me to exercise and get ready for work, so when I heard the noise, I sat bolt upright in bed and yelled his name (quite fearfully), thinking he was dying in the other room.  Thankfully, Dave was still sleeping peacefully next to me and wasn't actually turning blue somewhere, but when he heard his name, he, too, sat up and listened.  We both heard the sound several more times and he bolted out of bed to check the other rooms of the house.  We kept our windows open last night, but they were all intact. He found nothing, and the sound had stopped after he got up.  So, our 6:45 am wake-up call this morning will ever remain a mystery.  Perhaps it was a dying bird or cat outside our window, or maybe it was the blinds hitting against each other in a certain way.  Not quite sure...

Speaking of dying, though, I thought I would recount the time a Tempe church leader honestly and literally thought that I had died.  David was attending one congregation when he was living in an apartment near campus.  When I returned to Arizona, we found another apartment complex that we liked much better, and signed a contract.  We thought at the time that the complex was in the boundaries of the same congregation, but when we attended David's normal ward on Sunday and told them our new location, they sadly reported that our building fell just outside the boundaries.  The Bishop took us into his office and circled for us every apartment complex within their ward and assured us (very enthusiastically) that if we decided to cancel our lease, we could live in one of the circled areas.  We didn't decide to cancel our lease, obviously, and happily prepared to move into our new apartment despite the congregation change.  We had three weeks left, though, before we were moving out of Dave's bachelor apartment, so the Bishop asked us to speak together in church on our last Sunday.  On the second to last Sunday, we were supposed to be in Utah enjoying a Pioneer Day celebration with Dave's family. Instead, I was in the University of Utah hospital, as I continued to be the Sunday after, when I was supposed to be speaking.  Dave informed the Bishop of my illness and they found a replacement for me.  But I was also the subject of every prayer said in the ward meetings that day.

I recovered, flew home to Tempe and moved into our new apartment, never returning to David's previous ward.  We filled out the new member information sheet given us in our new congregation, and our records were transferred correctly.  A few weeks after moving into the ward, we came on a Wednesday night to have a "meet the Bishop" interview.  They began the interview by telling us goodbye.  Dave and I were very confused.  Apparently, the Bishopric saw our new member sheet and mistook the previous address as our current address, putting us back in David's old ward.  They had sent our records back to our previous Bishops (mine going back to Cambridge).  We explained the mistake, the interview Bishopric did a dance of joy (they have small wards here...) and everything was sorted.  We thought.

In the meantime, Dave's previous Bishop was in all sorts of confusions.  David's records had gone, and then come back.  Without mine.  Last he'd heard, I'd been very sick in a hospital in Utah.  Since the Bishop could conceive no other reason why David's records would have returned to his ward, he assumed that Dave had canceled his new lease after all and moved into back into his old apartment - alone, without me, since my records hadn't come.  Since he was fairly sure we hadn't gotten divorced suddenly, he could only assume that I had died of my illness.  He called David last week to offer his sincere condolences.

Funny how even humorous misunderstandings can make one extra grateful to be alive...        

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Thoughts on a Thoughtful Book, and Other Things

Last week I started a new book: The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone.  My mom has been trying to get me to read it for ages, telling me I would never understand Italy until I did.  I think I kept waiting for a trip to Italy so that I could legitimately read the book in preparation...

Even without the Italian voyage, though, I did fall in love with the book.  I learned so much about the life of Michelangelo, about the Renaissance, about Italy, about the famous Medici family, about Popes.  It also got my brain turning a lot more than many books have recently, and I love that feeling!  For example, I got hooked on Michelangelo's theology of man.  Michelangelo was one of the first and most influential figures of the Italian renaissance, a movement which broke free from the Medieval theology that man was base and vile, and that human life was a mere shadow of existence always waiting for salvation in the next life.  Michelangelo was influenced by wise priests and philosophers who believed that man was noble, with a free, vigorous and creative mind – “one of God’s most magnificent” creations (195).  One Benedictine Father told him, “We insist that our students remain free to think, inquire, doubt.  We do not fear that Catholicism will suffer from our liberality; our religion is strengthened as the minds of our students grow more mature” (194).  Basing his biography on hundreds of Michelangelo’s letters, Stone writes that as Michelangelo envisioned his impressive David, he wanted to project man as “a glorious creation capable of beauty, strength, courage, wisdom, faith in his own kind, with a brain and will and inner power to fashion a world filled with the fruit of man’s creative intellect” (389).  I love that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that Michelangelo's impression of man and his capacities is correct, especially when we seek to empower our minds and creativity through the power of the Holy Ghost.  

I think this world in which we live is so magnificent!  I am inspired by the words of the Doctrine and Covenants:

“The earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth his light by day, and the moon giveth her light by night, and the stars also give their light, as they roll upon their wings in their glory, in the midst of the power of God.  Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power” (88:45, 47).   

They remind me of a favorite quote by a guy named Carl Sagan, who was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist and author.  He said:

In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe.  How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought!  The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said—grander, more subtle, more elegant.  God must be even greater than we dreamed’?  Instead they say, ‘No, no no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’  A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths” (Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 50).    

Sigh.  Love that!

Another favorite part of The Agony and the Ecstasy regarded Michelangelo's commission to build the tomb for the still-living Pope Julius II.  Julius asked Michelangelo to stop work on the tomb to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling.  Though Michelangelo's most famous work now, Michelangelo had only been a sculptor up to that point and had no desire to paint.  As a free-minded artist, he had little problem arguing openly with the Pope, and Stone depicts the conversation going somewhat as follows:

“Let me carve the Moses, Victors, Captives.  Many would come to see the statues, offering thanks to Your Holiness for making them possible. 
“In short, snapped Julius, "I need your sculptures to assure my place in history. 
“They could help, Holy Father.  There was an audible gasp from those around the throne.  The Pope turned to his cardinals and courtiers. 
“Do you hear that, gentlemen?  I, Julius II, who recovered the long-lost Papal States for the Church and brought stability to Italy, who have cleansed out the scandals of the Borgias, published a constitution abolishing simony and elevated the decorum of the Sacred College, achieved a modern architecture for Rome ... I need Michelangelo Buonarroti to establish my historical position (500).  

The delightful thing about the Pope's protest was how prophetic it turned out to be!  Other than scholars of Italian or Catholic history, who has ever heard of Pope Julius II?  If anyone has, it is because Michelangelo designed his tomb, on top of which sits his famous horned Moses!  And that long list of achievements Julius rattles off to his court? Gone.  Completely irrelevant and forgotten in the annuls of history.  After reading this passage, I allowed my glee for Michelangelo to run its course, then started pondering on the relative obscurity of man.  One thing that I learn every time I read a new biography is that civilization has always meant societal strife of one kind or another.  Over the last few years, I have become increasingly concerned about the polarization between parties and the vicious nature of partisan politics.  In my worry, I start thinking that such polarization is somehow unprecedented or leading to exceptional political consequences.  Paradoxically, I feel refreshed and reassured when I learn how fragmented Washington's congress was during his second term in office, or how consequential the feuds were between leading families and city-states in sixteenth-century Italy.  The problems seem so completely monumental at the time, but so much of it fades throughout the years.  Consequently, it is not only failures that fade, but also achievements.  I suppose such musings are fundamentally cynical, but I prefer to think they are merely perspectivizing.  We can do much good in our capacities and strive continually to “lift where we stand,” brightening the world around us.  If we are caught up too much in our own achievements, we might start sounding a bit like Julius II: prematurely confident in our lasting impact.  

In brief other news, I have three things to share:

  1. Dave and I watched The Pixar Story last night.  Fascinating stuff!  It was such a pleasure listening to a few guys talk about the hectic, blind, trial-and-error start to computer animation, story-finding and Pixar studios.  Those guys had no idea the kind of impact they would have on the world.  The wonderful thing is, they still seem like terribly down-to-earth, fun fellows.  I was reminded of how much I love Disney. May I have the full animated collection one day, please?  
  2. I have picked up watercolor for the first time since 7th or 8th grade...I can't even remember.  I painted a very good picture of a bird once, and thought it would be fun to try again.  My goal is to paint some of the scenes of Cambridge.  I'm a long way off currently, but it's been a delight to try my hand at something new.
  3. Sometime today a new nephew will be born.  Congratulations Laura and Dave!  We wish you all the best in bringing New Baby Boy into the world.  We love you!