Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine's Day 2016

i love you quicker than a minute
i love you longer than an hour
i love you like the honeybee
loves buzzing round a flower
i love you stronger than the wind
i love you softer than a cloud
i love when you are quiet
i love when you are loud
i love you closer than your shadow
i love you further than the sun
i love you, too, when raindrops fall
one by one by one
i love you round and round the world
i love you through and through
and when it seems impossible
to love you more
i do.
--theresa trinder

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Why the Philosopher and Latter-Day Saint in me loved Interstellar (Spoilers)

To celebrate Alan's birthday last year, we went to see the movie that Alan had been eagerly awaiting since the very first trailer---


Besides a gigantic love of Christopher Nolan, Alan posesses this inexplicable LOVE FOR MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY. So, of course we went to see this for his birthday. It's the movie Alan's been waiting for his whole life. And I have to admit that the trailers intrigued me, as much as I was dreading watching a movie that was 169 minutes long (the suspense of a movie that long makes me anxious). 

I was careful to stay away from spoilers or other news/opinions before we saw it, because I could just feel it. Interstellar (and just any Nolan film in general) is the kind of movie you have to go into blind. I knew it would be the kind of experience best experienced untainted by pre-conceived notions. And I was right. 

Maybe it's the woman hormones in me (and who cares if it is--that's a real part of my experiences, and I just learn to deal with it), but I sat in the theater as the credits rolled....and cried. 

Here's why: I often find myself locked into stupid things in my life--like sitting in front of my phone or computer--often for fun, often for school. Sitting with my face so close to a soul-sucking device does not give much room for perspective in my mind. But sometimes, when I read a good book, or hear a soulful piece of music, it makes me stop--it's like everything stupid in my life just drops away and I am reminded of what's important in life. I had one of those moments during Interstellar. 



Just a recap:

Cooper is an engineer turned farmer because crops are failing and we need food more than we need NASA (which, unfortunately, I would probably agree with in a situation like theirs--but I'm not a former NASA engineer). He and his brilliant daughter Murphy (I did feel like his son, Tom, got the short end of the stick, relationship-wise) discover the hidden headquarters of NASA, thanks to the gravitational message sent by some unknown person/ghost. Cooper is enlisted to go on a mission to find a new world because the situation on earth is more dire than normal people understand. He goes with a few people (including Anne Hathaway) and things get out of hand--the first world they go to is uninhabitable and near a black hole; by the time they get back, 23 years have passed and his children are grown. The second one is icy and cold, and Matt Damon assures them it's habitable down at the 'surface' and then tries to kill Cooper and leave the rest of them stranded in space so he can escape, but dies. At this point, Coop sends Brand (Hathaway) to the last world by slingshotting their ship around the black hole and sacrificing himself so that the lack of weight can help her get there. He falls into the black hole, but doesn't die. He realizes that inside the black hole is a place where time is a physical dimension, and he sends a series of messages to his daughter Murphy (who has been training with Brand's father to figure out a way to get their space station off the ground so they can save humanity) through her bedroom, telling her how to solve the equation that will help her finish and save the human race. Then he is catapulted out of the black hole and ends up floating near Saturn, where rangers from the Cooper Space Station (named for his daughter) pick him up and bring him to meet his daughter, finally, just before she dies. She tells him to go find Brand, and he leaves. End of movie.

Holy crud that's complicated--and I made that as brief as freaking possible. Anyway, if you're still reading, here's what I think: 1) loved the relativity/non-linear time stuff, 2) loved the last 30 minutes because reasons that I'll explain, 3) loved the idea that science doesn't get you all the way there (die evolution!), 4) I dig the black hole concept and the idea of 5 dimensions for reasons, and 5) I felt like this view of things fit really well with what we believe as Latter-Day Saints.

First, the relativity stuff. I'm not a huge sci-fi watcher, so I'm not entirely sure how this is handled in other movies, but from what I've read, I understand that this movie took it in a different direction than usual. I don't even care about that. I just love it. I'm a firm believer in non-linear time. As Latter-Day Saints, we are taught that we cannot understand time as it is to God, and I firmly believe that. For Christopher Nolan to incorporate that into his story throughout the movie and then more fully at the end was beautiful. The idea that we are 3 Dimensional beings and that there are beings out there who live in 5 dimensions, in which time could possibly manifest itself as a physical remarkably close to what I feel like it might maybe be like later on--though I don't and probably won't know until we get there. Ugh, this sounds really hokey. But I felt it. Bonus: Stephen Colbert asked Christopher Nolan if he really believes that time is like that, and he said yes.

Second, the last 30 minutes. Now this is essentially what I'm arguing in my entire post--the first 2.5 hours don't really matter without the last half hour of the dang movie. Whether or not you saw the ending coming and knew that Cooper was Murphy's's a powerful plot point. As soon as they found out that Matt Damon was screwing them over, I thought: BRAND WAS RIght you SHOULD HAVE GONE TO THE OTHER PLANET. SCIENCE ISN'T ALWAYS RIGHT (that rant will be continued later). But at the end I realized that all of the things they did before hinged on Cooper sending those messages, and he couldn't have sent them if he hadn't fallen into the black hole. Our failures and shortcomings and weaknesses will all work together to be for our good. God promises that. I don't believe it had to happen that way--if they had gone to the other planet first, I think things would have been fine, still. Or maybe not. The thing is, if we're going to treat a movie like a small piece of reality that could have been, wondering 'what if' is not productive (I'm more convincing myself here). It happened the way it did. Some higher being was able to see through time and give them the tools they needed to help themselves. Doesn't that sound like God? Except the beautiful thing is that Cooper realizes that it was him all along--HE had the power to be great and do a wonderful thing. And don't we all believe that we will be powerful, more-knowing beings someday? Eternity is a place where we will grow and progress in knowledge and wisdom and knowing. 

Third, the science thing. If you've ever talked to me about what I study (Psychology) you'll know that I hold unconventional/unpopular opinions about science and the way that we study things. Basically, I think that the scientific method is held up as an idol and as an absolute truth when it's merely a viewpoint we have adopted to help us see the world more clearly. In some cases it does its job. In other cases.....(*ahem* PSYCHOLOGY *ahem*) it does not. I mean, I'm not against laboratories and experiments and going on expeditions to space. I love knowledge. I'm always asking "why?" when other people are content to know "what?" and it agitates my husband a lot. It is precisely this love of knowledge that makes me cautious to accept empirical knowledge as the god of the scientific world. There are types of knowing outside of that--and I feel like Brand's speech in the middle of the movie about how love is the only thing that transcends boundaries of science is one of the beautiful points of this movie. I loved how Cooper started out as a worshiper of science, only to finally come to acknowledge that love is the great motivator of the universe--that love was the part of the equation that brought it all the way there instead of 'almost'. Also death to evolution--it fundamentally sucks everything meaningful out of our lives, but....that rant will not be explored in full today.

Fourth, the black hole concept. I'm not a scientist. I hated Physical Science and Biology, and did well in neither. But I've read (and vaguely understood) gazillions of articles about why people didn't love this part because it was a stark departure from the scientific realism that Nolan tried to stick with throughout the rest of the movie. I will say this, to start: it's sci-fi, remember? Speculative fiction about/with science. So chill. Also: stand up if you've ever seen the inside of a black hole, or if you've ever been near one. That's right. NO ONE HAS. So excuse Nolan for having some fun with the unknown--especially to make such a metaphysically and philosophically relevant point. The 5 dimensions is not something I know a ton about, but I loved that concept. It was a sort-of concrete representation of the way that our lives could possibly be a different experience once we become like God. And if you don't agree, that's cool. But that's why I loved it. If we believe that God is all-knowing, all-seeing, and can be with us at the same time that he is with tons of other people, then why wouldn't it be plausible to say that he lives in a place where more dimensions are happening simultaneously? It might not be gospel truth, but it sure doesn't feel like a stupid idea.

Fifth. I've pretty much explained why I feel that this movie spoke to the religiousness inside of me. There is so much about the universe and even this world and especially about what it means to be that we just don't and maybe can't understand fully. I thought this movie was a beautiful exploration of concepts like that. Do I think Nolan's rendering of the universe is absolutely true? No. But I appreciated the way he wasn't afraid to grapple with ideas that are hard to grasp. I admire the way that he made a movie about science that wasn't all about the omniscience of science. I appreciate the way he handled the parts of being that I hold most dear. 

That is why I sat in the theater after the credits started rolling and cried. Because Interstellar was, to me, a deeply spiritual journey into what the universe could mean if we ever got a chance to see it. It spoke to my heart, to that part of me that remembers what it was like to exist in a place where life was nothing as it is now. 


Monday, July 7, 2014

Miracles and Milan

Our day in the Milan train station was not really even worth mentioning. We arrived and then didn't leave until our train did, six hours later. It was awful.

However, I do wish to use the space I would have used to talk about that awful day, to talk about something else Alan and I have noticed during our trip. It's sometimes hard in every day life when you're stuck in routine and doing the same thing every day--going to classes and cooking dinner and doing the laundry and driving home from work and taking the garbage out, especially when you're trapped behind a phone--it's sometimes hard to notice the ways in which God guides and blesses and watches over your life.

We have noticed. 

In Rome, we got off the flight and had no idea where to go to get a bus or change our money. We followed the flow of people, did both things and found ourselves in the Rome Metro Station. Once there, we were unsure of how to acquire a map, and we didn't have water. We found both things immediately. We were blessed with the strength to continue walking in the direction of our hotel at the end of the day when both of us had clearly blistered feet and tired bodies. Even though we were both pretty much so jet-lagged and tired that we were hallucinating while checking in, we made it and had a place to sleep that night. The next day, we were able to find the right train to leave for Florence in the afternoon. We were blessed with the strength to continue walking so that we could make the most of our trip that we had been so excited about. Even with 20+ lb backpacks each, we managed to walk all over the city of Rome without dying (and I count that as an accomplishment that we can not claim as our own). 

In Florence, we couldn't figure out the bus system and got off 1 km before our hotel. No one spoke English. We whispered prayers and continued to search, and finally found a nice man who spoke enough English to give us clear directions to our hotel for the night. Even more astonishingly, we were able to climb the formidable hill that lay between us and a bed for the night. I didn't think that we would make it (our bodies were tired and hurting--2 days of continuous walking with heavy backpacks? Also, we're kind of pansies). I said a prayer in my head, and as soon as I pled for the strength to make it, I was filled with a sure assurance that we would most surely make it. 

The next day, we were able to find places to fill our water bottles when we needed it and cost effective restaurants when we were hungry. We got off the bus to find that the Piazzale that we so wanted to see was closed, and then had an intensely reverent experience with a church down the road. We were able to walk to our hotel without much water left and find a place to eat again. We also found an employee at the train station who was able to help us find the right train to get on to go to Milan and then on to Switzerland--she gave us information that we wouldn't have gotten on our own. 

In Milan at the train station, we felt really stressed out when we couldn't understand anything or find a train that would take us where we wanted to go. I also had a blister on my foot that had formed deep under many many layers of skin that was inflamed and infected, making it difficult for me to walk. I struggled to find a way to relieve the pressure and bandage it up, so frustrated that I cried, when all of a sudden I looked up at Alan and asked if he could give me a blessing. He did, and my blister is healing--almost as if it was never there now--and we were immediately after able to find train tickets to Spiez, Switzerland, as well as a hotel. We arrived safely, and were given the strength to walk all over that city as well. It turned out to be the best leg of our trip (and it was only with the help of Heavenly Father that we even went to Spiez at all). The pictures we took there are the best, and we enjoyed the town and its beautiful scenery more than we enjoyed anything else we'd seen before then.

We were able to find the right train to take from Spiez to Basel, and a kind train conductor was wise enough to explain all of our connections to us (if he hadn't, we never would have made it there). 

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the things Heavenly Father has done for us while we've been away from home this week. There are probably a million other things that he's done that I forgot to mention and another million that we didn't notice. It is in the quiet moments of our trip that I am able to sit and reflect on what God has done for us each day. 

When Alan and I started this trip, we talked about what we wanted to gain from it. Alan said he wanted to have an adventure (and I think we can all agree it has been one)! I said that I wanted to open my mind to things I wasn't able to be open to before we left. I really meant culturally, but Heavenly Father gave me what I didn't know I wanted and needed and blessed me with an opening of my mind to His hand in my life. I have felt more full with His love and the Spirit here than I have in a long time at home, and it's been exactly what I need. He has shown us His love for us here, in a place where we can't understand or find anything for ourselves, and He has helped us to make the most of this experience for ourselves. He has guided us to people who can be of most help to us, and He has even influenced our seemingly random actions in ways that end up being surprising and delightful (like Spiez--which neither of us would have ever thought to visit on our own). 

While I know this isn't a detailed account of the wonderful sights we've seen or the food we ate, I hope that you know that it is, to me, an important part of my journey thus far. We wouldn't have made it, and it wouldn't be so good and valuable to us if we hadn't had so much help. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Frolicking in Florence

Our second stop was Florence (allow me to just start off with a little bit of a rant here: NO ONE IN ITALY CALLS IT FLORENCE. IT'S FIRENZE. FIRENZE!), Italy. 

This, I will admit, seems a bit random. Why Florence? I found myself asking the same question during most of our stay there. But I will say this--if you want to see what Italy is REALLY like, go to Florence, not to Rome. Florence has more Italian people, and it's less crazy. Not such a huge tourist destination--so most people speak little to no English (which is scary and stressful). The town is sleepier, more subdued, for the most part. In Rome, people assume you're not Italian. In Florence, people assume you are. It makes for a very different experience.

It was in Florence that we discovered that American customs are not the norm. Our first night in Florence, we checked into our hostel and then went to find REAL Italian food. We found a little place and sat down. Alan and I both had delightful pizza and we very much enjoyed the atmosphere (Oh, to hear Iggy Azealia in a teeny Italian restaurant was a treat). The two men next to us got their first course as we sat down (a little bit of bread and butter), then their pizza as we puzzled through the menu. As we ate our pizza, they received their dessert (which was a delicious looking vanilla and chocolate pudding cake or something--I didn't recognize many things that Italians eat). As we finished our pizza, they both ordered a small 'cafe' to finish their dinner off. Then they paid and left, merely five minutes before we did. Alan and I had pizza and water (which weirded the waitress out a lot, but not as much as the next part did), and then we went up to pay. The lady told us our price and we paid. She turned away, but Alan stopped her and asked how we could leave a tip. 

Then ensued the funniest and most embarrassing ten minutes of my life, as every Italian in the restaurant walked around asking "Tip? Tip? What's 'tip?' I don't understand." We tried to gesture to the waitress, saying it was 'for her!' But then they just thought we were somehow displeased with her service, and I think we hurt her feelings. We tried synonyms then, but the only word Alan or I could think of was 'gratuity,' which definitely did not help at all. Finally, our waitress pulled out her phone and googled 'tip significado' and as she read through the definition, realization dawned. She got a huge smile on her face and said 'Ohhhhhh! It's for me!' To which we replied that, yes, it was for her. Everyone laughed and looked puzzled still, and then Alan and I realized. Apparently Italian waitresses don't get their pay from tips, meaning that while our gesture was flattering and kind to the waitress, she was utterly confused and amused. Everyone laughed at us as we walked out of the restaurant. 

Florence was definitely an entirely different world than Rome. Much like Rome, the streets are narrow and the buildings tall, the cars and pedestrians like to play tug-of-war for the street area (sometimes even more than in Rome). However, Florence has a much smaller town feel. Everything is more relaxed. The people walk slower, the air is cooler, and the tourists actually observe the rules inside the churches! (On a side note: one thing I thought was interesting is that the Catholic Church does not allow anyone to enter their churches in shorts above the knee or shirts that don't cover the shoulders--they make you put on this modesty sheet and then you walk around shamed because you weren't modest enough to get into the church without a poncho)

The Duomo is really Florence's crowning glory. It's this massive, old medieval church that stands in the middle of a big piazza and is still in use today! They wouldn't let us go into the front part of it, but we got to walk around the huge main area, and even venture downstairs into the excavations they are doing into the catacombs under the church. I've never seen a building bigger than the Duomo; it's the kind of building that demands respect and awe from all those who stand before it, but facilitates the kind of friendly atmosphere that fosters a little street band playing "The Girl From Ipanema," while a few little girls dance together (it was so adorable). In fact, that almost describes the entire atmosphere of Florence. 

We walked down the via Margherita to singing, loud Italian arguing and laughing, and stepped into 'Dante's Church' where we were immediately enveloped in the kind of reverence that I've only found in few other places besides the temple. A little tour guide whispered to her group in Italian and the soft music played in the background. That, for me, was probably the most reverent experience I had gotten a chance to partake in thus far. But Florence is the kind of place filled with contradictions such as this, so that wasn't the end of it.

One thing we really wanted to see was the Piazzale Michelangelo, this big square with a big statue made by Michelangelo that overlooks the entire city of Florence. It's a hefty walk, so we took the bus, and when we got there, it was CLOSED. Our bus had already left, so we decided to just walk back to our hostel, when a few meters down the road we came upon the Santa Maria Church. It was on top of a big hill, so we climbed it and the few steps at the top, took some pictures, and, because it's Florence, decided to venture inside to see what was going on. It blew our minds. This church was huge, and big, and it had murals on the stone walls that dated back to the medieval times, many of which were faded and peeling (A mural of Christ's Crucifixion had all the paint peeled off on His face, which was a little bit unsettling). Down the little hall and a set of stairs, we found a little chapel, separate from the big, main chapel. We sat down to enjoy the cool and quiet, when all of a sudden, everyone stood, and two priests walked in. Then some sort of ceremony started (Mass, I assume, but I'm not Catholic, or Italian, and I don't speak Latin, so I really don't know), and this little old man in the corner started singing. He had such a beautiful voice, and the reverence in the room was incredible and moving. Standing there, listening to him sing, I felt that same reverence I had felt earlier, in Dante's Church. Even though I'm not a Catholic, and I don't speak Latin, I could feel the dedication of the small group of people in that church. I'm almost glad the Piazzale was closed! There's no way that experience could have compared to the one we had in that church together. Also, there was a huge, actual pipe organ that made my bones and heart melt into my socks.

I couldn't bring myself to take very many pictures inside the church. It felt like too beautiful a moment to waste any of it behind the camera lens.

We walked everywhere (as it was a considerably smaller city than Rome), but my favorite walks were 1) across the Piazza de Vechio (a fantastic bridge with shops and cafes and street vendors and a water fountain! Also, we tried some sort of calzone with a weird cheese and weirder meat in it that tasted delightful, but only if I didn't think too hard about it) and 2) to the train station at 7 am the morning we left. On that walk, the streets were cool and quiet, and the people who were awake weren't in much of a hurry, simply walking their dogs or heading down to get a newspaper or cafe to have with breakfast. Every person we met greeted us with a smile and a 'bongiorno' as they passed us. It was lovely.

Florence is definitely a place I'd love to come back to (whereas Rome....I'd hesitate), but it might be because we were a little more travel-savvy here. We understood how to get around, who to ask for help, and how to manage our time better. Also, we weren't so jet-lagged, so that helped. 


Roaming in Rome

When Alan and I realized we would be going to Cambridge, we were ecstatic (as could be expected). We understood that this was the opportunity of a lifetime; we would never ever get to be able to do anything like this ever again. We decided that to take full advantage of this, we were going to try and travel other places, too (our minds full of dreams about Rome and Paris and Munich and Ireland, you know, the places that everyone talks about). 

Time constraints, however, have limited our travel options, and we haven't been able to go to as many places as we'd like, so we chose three cities that we most wanted to visit before settling in Cambridge finally.

This is how we found ourselves first, in Rome, Italy. 

Alan and I have different ways of thinking about things. Alan comes into every situation with a clear expectation of the proceedings therein. I kinda just go and see how things pan out (after The Sorcerer's Apprentice with Nicholas Cage, I've been careful not to have expectations about anything, lest they be disappointed severely). So if you were one of the people who asked us if we were excited for our trip, most likely, Alan's enthusiasm was due to the grand picture in his head that he had formed of what it would be like, and mine was completely fake, because I had no idea if it was going to be good or bad, and no expectations either way. So just imagine our surprise when both of us turned out to be entirely incorrect. Even me, having no expectations whatsoever!

We landed in the Rome airport, and were astounded to find that we didn't understand anything anyone was saying or anything written on any of the signs. We had not anticipated this. We quickly learned to stumble our way through security (which pretty much consisted of a guy looking at my passport picture, looking at my face, and then just stamping) and customs (where no one was even present to watch us walk through, I mean seriously--we could have brought freaking anything into their country, and they didn't care!) and we got ourselves bus tickets and made friends with other Americans who also had no idea what was going on. 

Once we got off the bus, we acquired a map (through great trial and stumbling, as goes much of our story) and were off to see the sights. We had decided long before coming that we would walk everywhere, and take buses as infrequently as possible (after all, it's by walking the streets of a city that you come to truly understand its heart). There are many things I would like to be able to describe about Rome, but I don't think that any description I ever give will come even a little close to being anything like the actual city. So here are a few things that I loved as well as found exceedingly strange about Rome:

First, nothing is built on any sort of grid. Like, what happened to the Romans who demanded order and organization?! Nope. The streets go every which way and they often meet up in little circle/squares called 'piazza's. This makes it difficult to find anything, even with a map. The street names are engraved on the buildings, which are all at least 5 stories high, sometimes more, so you have to look very carefully and sometimes move out into an intersection before you know which road you're looking at. Thank heavens for the little signs they have pointing to different tourist attractions (also, McDonald's).

Second, Romans don't give a crap about their monuments being set apart from the city. Like, the Trevi Fountain (from the scene in The Lizzie McGuire Movie where we meet Paolo for the first time, yeah, don't lie, that's a big part of the way you imagine Rome, at least, it was for me) is in a teeny, cramped little piazza and the movie doesn't really capture that. The ratio of people to space in the place is ridiculous. If this was America, we'd clear everything out within a mile radius and build parks and drinking fountains and information booths and free bathrooms. None of that in Rome. In Rome, they show respect for their monuments by living around them, making them a part of their every day lives (also if they cleared everything out within a mile they'd clear out four or five other historical monuments as well). It's really cool, actually (except for the part where you have to pay for water and bathrooms--thank goodness for McDonald's, which is a sentence I never thought I'd say in my life). The Colosseum is really the only monument in Rome that's any sort of set apart, and that's just because the thing is so immense (also because it's falling apart and surrounded by a bunch of old structures that are also falling apart and there's excavations going on still). 

Third, because the streets are so narrow and the buildings are so tall, cars and pedestrians often occupy the same space. At first, it freaked me out that people were walking in the middle of these busy piazzas and intersections, or that cars were shoving their way through such little streets, but it's hard to stay freaked out when it happens literally always. Some areas are roped off for pedestrians (and apparently motorcycles count as pedestrians), but most stuff is just free game. Sidewalks are usually single-file only, which is fantastic when you meet someone going the opposite way and there's a car parked next to the sidewalk. 

Fourth, Romans and Italians in general are so nice. No one ever gave us crap about not speaking Italian, and the one time I almost stepped out in front of a motorcycle, he didn't yell--he just pointed to his eyes as if to say 'make sure you watch,' but in a polite way. People in restaurants always were patient with us, especially when we didn't understand the money or the menu choices or the manners we were supposed to be using. We've had people offer to give us directions, offer us English menus when we couldn't read the Italian, and even help us understand what to do at the train station (they are VERY different from any train station I've ever been in). 

Fifth, everything smells like cigarettes and perfume, and the mixture sometimes smells a little like chocolate. The first night, I laid in bed after showering and I still could just smell the overpowering mixture of smells. On the streets--cigarettes and perfume. Everywhere you go--every restaurant, every store, every church. All of it. It was quite a change from Provo, Utah. Also coffee. Everywhere. Coffee is the cheapest thing in Rome, and the smell is ALL OVER.

Sixth, the color palette is extremely bizarre. It's all green (but bottle or olive green, not forest or kelly green) and golds and reds and oranges. So many trees, but not like pine trees or maple trees (though we did see one maple as well as a type of magnolia tree). Every single house/building has shutters. Every single one. And they work. And no one has screens. And everyone hangs their laundry out their windows. And everyone has plants on their balconies and windowsills. It's very fairy-tale-ish. One street we passed had trees all along either side and they grew together, making a green, leafy canopy over the entire street. It was so beautiful.

All of the things we saw were incredible (except the freaking Trevi Fountain, which was dried up and covered in scaffolding for renovation). The Colosseum was enormous and remarkably well-kept for a building that old. The Roman forum was pretty awesome (it satisfied my need for a grid in Rome's set-up) and the Spanish steps were exactly like they look in The Lizzie McGuire movie. Our favorite parts were the churches. The first place we stopped was a church called Santa Maggiore. Because our arrival happened to be on a Sunday, we walked in on an actual Catholic mass, which was pretty cool. The architecture is so different than anything I've ever seen in America, and the paintings are literal masterpieces, just sitting on the walls of a church that's in use every single day, and not just as a tourist attraction. The Pantheon was the same way. It's pretty awe-inspiring actually. I watched "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" on the plane ride over, and something from the movie just plowed me in the face. When Walter is sitting next to the photographer on the mountain, waiting to take a picture of this elusive snow leopard, the photographer says "beautiful things don't ask for attention." I think this is why people still find places like Rome incredible--because neither the structures themselves or the people around them ask for any sort of special attention. They are quiet and reverent and beautiful. And graffitied all over. I mean, seriously. Roman teens are just the worst.

When we arrived, we had no idea where anything was, and when we left, we could have gotten anywhere we wanted without a map. When we arrived, we smelled like soap and excitement, and when we left, we smelled like sweat and exhaustion. Our bodies were sore and tired (because we didn't just walk everywhere, we walked everywhere with backpacks containing our belongings for the next ten weeks in them, and the first day, neither of us thought of putting the straps around our hips as well as our shoulders (though that makes me quite proud of everything we accomplished that day, really). My feet are blistered pretty much everywhere (not because my shoes suck, but because my feet soft and unused to walking three or four miles a day), and Alan and I pretty much limped to our hostels at the end of the day, exhausted and jet-lagged. But you know what? I think it's been more than worth it. If nothing else, seeing a different world than my own has been an immensely enriching experience, worth more than I could ever explain. I've realized a lot of things about my life and myself that I could never have realized if I hadn't found myself in Rome, Italy. Alan's expressed similar thoughts to me, as well. 

If you do find yourself in Rome, ever, here's my advice to you:

FIND AN ITALIAN TRANSLATOR for your phone that doesn't need wifi, because trust me, you are never going to have any wifi, and you are ALWAYS going to need that translator. 
BOOK YOUR HOSTELS IN ADVANCE. Alan and I couldn't do it any other way because we flew standby, but it really really sucked. I think we found the last bed available in the whole city (also because there was a Rolling Stones concert that night, too). 
BRING A MAP. They will do their very best to rip you off at every tourist information booth in the city. If you already have one, either printed out or bought for cheap elsewhere, you won't have to worry about it.
DON'T FORGET WATER. Our first day, we had to buy several bottles because we had forgotten to fill our own up at the airport. That was awful. 


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Our Southern Summer Sojourn

Tennessee is a great place. It's nothing like the place I grew up in. I grew up in Idaho, among other places, and the default color is brown. Like...really brown. 

Tennessee is green. green that I (I'm appropriately ashamed to admit this, let me assure you) I understood exactly what Bella meant when she said that all of the green made her feel weird. The first thing I really noticed about Tennessee is that they have grass growing on the medians on the highway. AND NO ONE PLANTS IT. It's freaky, and it really doesn't happen in Idaho.

Tennessee is also the second stop in our summer trip this summer. Here's how it's been going: 

(the first was Idaho for a few days to visit my family--we had fun playing basketball and sitting in the kitchen dyeing my hair and watching silly movies and I saw my best friend for the last time before her mission. It was really sad to think we won't see them for the whole summer! I'll miss their silly smiles and jokes and hugs) 

We've spent a lot of time in Tennessee enjoying the sun...through the windows...on the couch (seriously, I have seen way too many episodes of "Charmed" and we've watched ALL of the Harry Potter movies, plus we started "New Girl" and watched a fair amount of "Sherlock"). 

Also, in an effort to pack light for Cambridge, I've done a fair amount of experimenting with "rag curls" and they never ever turned out you can see. This is....well, this is the best go of it I had.

We went and saw The Fault in Our Stars and I CRIED SO HARD. This is us post-TFiOS, below. Anyway. That's a whole other post.  

Seriously, though. This is Granny's yard. LOOK AT ALL THE GREEN. Alan chopped up a tree, felt manly, etc. 

And Coley, Sean, Alan and I sang in Stake Conference together...we practiced quite a few times together...but we didn't always practice. And unfortunately, Shadow was the victim. 

This is Mema's house/yard. She lives further out of the city, in the sort of, countryside, in an idyllic southern home with a covered front porch and lots of rocking chairs. 

We're excited to leave for Europe on Friday, but we'll definitely miss this wonderful place and all the lovely people there. 

This morning we started our journey to Europe! We've been sitting in airports all day trying to get out on a flight to Italy! So's looking like we have a better chance of getting to Venice than Rome. 

(Look at all those people trying to steal our spots on the flight!) Because most of Alan's cousins work for Delta airlines, most of Alan's family can get away with flying standby for cheaper than the usual rate, so....I've never flown any other way--it adds a lot of adventure to our trip (like on our way to Tennessee on our honeymoon, we spent the night in the airport because we couldn't get on a flight that night, but we could in the morning)! 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Made of Eternity

I'm not sure how long I've sat here in front of the computer wondering what to write and how to write it.

When Alan got home from his mission in August of 2011, he started volunteering at a local nursing home, making friends with most of the residents there. When I met him, I started going with him periodically. Now that we're married, we go together every time, unless one of us is sick. This is not something I'd ever think of doing myself, but I'm glad that Alan is a good enough man to get outside of himself and then drag me along. I've learned so much, felt God's love so immensely every time we go. I've been blessed every time I set foot inside those halls and get to hug those people. Because of finals and stuff, we've been unable to go as much as we'd like--the last time we went, I was sick and Alan just went by himself.

That was like 2 or 3 weeks ago.

Ina is a woman in her early 80's. She has lived a full life and survived her husband and her pet pig named Elvis. She lived in Alaska and was an airplane pilot! She has lots of stories to tell, and I love to go and sit next to her and listen to them. I love to see her smile and talk about the latest nail polish color she's got on. I love when she teases Alan. I love her long, thick, curly hair--it's incredible. We have tried to visit her every week, if possible. She doesn't really enjoy being at the nursing home, not able to be physically independent or self-reliant but still feeling perfectly healthy in her mind. Over the last few months, she has been getting sicker. She stopped eating a little while ago. When we come, we tell her silly stories and we bring her pictures and once I made banana bread to try and convince her to eat a little.

Yesterday, Alan and I went over to see her. As we walked towards her room, I got a little confused. Her name tag wasn't by the door. I figured they must have moved her rooms, so I started looking down the halls to see if we could see her or someone who would know where she was. Alan grabbed my hand and we stepped into the doorway of her room. The curtains around her bed were pulled closed, and none of her many pictures were on the wall. Her TV was still there, but there were boxes and empty hangers in the closet. I was still confused, a little bit in shock. Alan knew, but I couldn't bring myself to think it. He approached the lady in the bed next to Ina's, and asked if she knew where Ina was. She was honest and kind when she said "Ina passed away." I couldn't listen to anything else she said. My heart clenched tight and I just remember Alan and I walking out of her room silently. We left the nursing home without stopping to see anyone else.

Alan and I made it to the car and sat there for a little while, me wrapping my arms around him as I stared out the window, still a little bit in shock. It's not like I've never had anyone close to me pass away. I have. That doesn't mean it gets any easier. I remember my great-grandmother passing away when I was little. My mom told me and instead of feeling sadness, I felt numb, and then angry. How dare she leave me? I remember when a girl I knew in High School passed away a few years ago. My mom called me and I remember dropping the phone when she hung up, the silence pressing into my ears and my heart. I just sat there in shock. It wasn't until I was at her funeral, faced with her family and friends and my family and friends that I finally cried.

It wasn't until Alan and I got home that I snapped out of my shock and began to feel upset. The same thought ran through my mind over and over again: I should have been there the last time Alan went to see her. I should have been able to say goodbye. But I wasn't, I didn't, and I regret that.

I think life is like that. It's messy and it's unpredictable and we never know when our last chance is. I mean, Ina hadn't been feeling well for a while, so it wasn't really a surprise, but I still am struck by a deep sadness at the unexpectedness. I thought we'd have more time. Unlike Alan, I didn't guess before we came that she wouldn't be there.

Alan and I laid in bed for a little while together, speculating about where she is now. Her husband greeted her, along with all of the loved ones who'd left her behind in this life, we're sure of it. We're sure she's met our little ones and told them about her time with us. We're sure Alan's grandfather met her, too, and thanked her for the time she spent with Alan and the warmth she gave his heart.

The one truth about this life is that we are all born and we will all die. Throughout our lives, we walk the earth, we pass through time, we touch other lives. And then we move on. It's the natural, eternal progression of things. We must live our lives and we must die. But death is not the end. I feel it stronger now than could ever be possible under normal circumstances. Ina's life isn't over, though her time on this earth is. I imagined her at the feet of her Savior and Heavenly Father, feeling more love than she'd felt from anyone at the end of her mortal life. I imagined her in their arms, feeling safe and well and free.

I didn't get to say goodbye to her, but I know that someday I will see her again. She will be there with my loved ones when it's my turn to leave this mortal life. I will get to hug her and tell her that I'm sorry that I wasn't there. Last chances aren't last chances because of the Savior and his Atonement.

I feel the truth of Elder Uchtdorf's words when he said that "we are made of the stuff of eternity. Endings are not our destiny." I am grateful for that.

And I am grateful for Ina.