15 October 2013

All about France

Here are portions of my story from my time in France...

Once I believed that a picture is worth a thousand words. The reason for this is that I made a life changing decision as a result of old photographs of my father’s. Glimpses of France, frozen into slides, inspired me to venture to Paris. Upon wandering the streets, I discovered that Paris tugged at my soul, not because of my father’s priceless images, nor the beautiful buildings adorning the streets. France kindled a desire in me to find out who my Dad really was. What I mean is that I felt my father’s time in France, captured in his slides as it was, not only revealed him, but defined him as well, For instance, his romanticism surely started as he wandered the fairy-tale castles of ancient France. Yet as I became more deeply connected with my father, I discovered that my motivation to understand him was only a yearning to truly understand myself.

As a result, I snappped pictures everywhere I went, trying to uncover my soul in the buildings and art around me, as I believed my father had done. Although I felt pictures would be worth more than words, the words I poured into my journals, describing the whimsical surrounding of Paris, have more importance over the photographs I shot. My writing about France is a tribute to my father, and as such it is a confession of the impact that his life had on mine. It exposes how much I felt connected to him as I walked the Parisian streets. The pictures I took in France are worthwhile to me but they cannot capture who I am. Those words, on the other hand, bare my soul.

I have always had a special bond with Dad. He has been my idol as long as I can remember. As a kid, late at night Dad would slip into my bed, lie there next to me and we would have whole conversations without saying a single word. Our already strong relationship grew even more when I was about 12 and Dad pulled out his mission boxes. Because of our unique bond, I felt drawn to these boxes that contained two years of my father’s life that I knew nothing about. Dad explained to me his goal of organizing everything and it soon became ‘our project.’

The biggest obstacle to conquer was the massive amount of pictures. He had taken hundreds of pictures; instead of developing and printing all of his pictures, he had them printed on slides so that he could project them ten times the size of a photograph. We borrowed a forgotten projector collecting dust on the back shelf of the church library and carted the old machine home for a week or two.

At home, the best place to project the films onto a white surface was in the corner room upstairs that I shared with my older sister. We squeezed into the minuscule space between two beds, a dresser, and a desk, propped the machine up with books from my shelf, flipped off the lights and pointed the projector at the blank door of my closet. with a click and a whir, Dad flipped on the projector and inserted the first slide. From the moment that the chateau Azay-le-Rideau popped into focus on my closet door, something in my soul stirred and France left its first imprint on my little almost-teenage heart. The farther into the stacks of slides that we got, the more and more enthralled I was with the images of France flipping in front of my eyes.

Night upon night, Dad and I stayed up late, spending hours going through his pictures. We sat on the bedroom floor with the ceiling fan on full blast to stir the air in the roasting heat while he clicked the slides and I attempted to label his images in a language I didn’t know. The two of us crammed into that upstairs room in the middle of the summer in Vegas with a machine going. But the stifling bedroom and the heat pouring out of the projector didn’t flush my cheeks-- I burned with the growing desire to visit the places that kept appearing in my bedroom. Click. Champs-Elysees. Click. Eiffel Tower. Click. Notre-Dame. Flickering images burned into me.

As the slides ticked by, one at a time, Dad began to talk. With every slide there was a story. They were not the typical walking to school uphill in the snow stories that usually come from parents’ pasts. These stories started with ‘When I was living in Tours, France...’ which is enough to make any young girl’s head spin. I was captivated all the way until the climax of the the stories-- ‘And that is when the French man opened the door in his underwear and swore us away.’ I listened and laughed and learned from my Father. I loved the light that was beginning to reflect from his eyes to mine when he spoke of the Loire Valley and the castles. And through the heat and the stories, there were always the images, shimmering unreal shadows dancing across the closet-- lines from cars spinning in a circle around the Arc de Triomphe, a doorstep in a narrow street in a small town in France, castle torrents scraping the sky, bridges stretching over foreign rivers. I knew I had to go to France.

When I finally arrived in Paris at the beginning of 2006, I ventured out into the city with several girls in an attempt to prevent major jet lag. The other girls anxiously searched for food to quiet their grumbling stomachs while I tagged along behind them in a daze. I still do not know if the fog hanging over my head was from a lack of sleep or from amazement at where I was. we headed to the Latin Quarter to find a cheap crepe stand and, on the way, darted past Notre Dame. Although the other girls had visited Paris before, I still could not believe how fast they passed the cathedral with hardly a glance up. I struggled to convince myself that I was not dreaming and that the facade flying by in front of me was not a projection of one of Dad’s pictures.

My first glimpse of the Eiffel tower was also hazy-- literally. As I glided down the Seine River on a boat tour on an overcast, grey and rainy day, monuments slid into focus and back into the gloom. At the end of the tour, and by the time I was drenched from the spray of the boat and the sprinkling from the air, one massive leg of the Tower poked out of the cloud, only hinting at the size of the monument it held. I did see it in its full glory less than a week later. It ducked in and out of behind apartment buildings, giving me quick glances as I zipped along Metro Ligne 6. I almost believed the Eiffel Tower was not really there-- I must have been imagining it.

My unbelief at being in France never faded, and that was fine with me. I do not understand why, but everything seemed more romantic in that dream-like state. I am a romantic, just like Dad, so it was perfect for me. my imagination had more room to go nuts. I was sure that in Paris, the pianist I could hear playing classical music in the apartment above mine was a young bachelor trying to write a symphony.

Taking pictures is the one thing, besides the language, that I struggled with when I first got to France. I could not bring myself to snap my camera at anything. I tried to explain to Dad on the phone that I knew my picture would not do the originals justice, so I took very few pictures. My wise Dad explained, ‘You will never capture the blues of Chartres-- but perhaps you can capture an image that will make you remember how you felt standing and looking at the stained glass.’ And I remembered sitting on my bedroom floor, looking at Dad’s pictures and listening to him describe the places, introduce the people, laugh at the stories. Through those pictures, Dad started talking and sharing emotions with me that I somehow understood, even at 14. Through those pictures, I decided I had to go to France. I had to go for me-- to learn a new language, to see these places, and to discover who I was. But I had to go for my dad too-- to understand who he was and to make him proud.

After I realized that Dad’s pictures pushed me into going to Europe, I went camera crazy. I took pictures of everything-- streets, buildings, funny tee shirts, smart cars and interesting people. Only once in awhile did I find that I struggled to pull out my camera and try to capture the moment. That only happened in museums. Over and over I went to the museums and stood in front of paitings with tears streaming down my face. There I was, standing in front of a Monet, a Van Gogh, a Delacroix, a Rembrandt.

When I returned to the States, Dad and I sat down with his projector and with my computer and watched Paris blink before our eyes, one photo at a time. We laughed and told stories, and cried and shared experiences. And sometimes we didn’t say anything at all, but just looked at the shadows of France that we each captured with a click. Without a word, we both understood. I went to France so that I could have that connection, that moment of understanding.

Today, I understand that somehow I never developed that deep of a connection with Jacob. We knew each other, we loved each other but at a deeper level, I do not think that we ever really understood each other. France has helped me be able to bear my current life, in a way. Not only because of what I discovered about myself while I was there, but also because of what I learned about connecting to another person’s soul. I have to believe that someday someone besides my father will understand me on this level.

12 October 2013

The Story Continues

Here are more bits and pieces of my novel. i've cut and pasted parts so that you can follow along my journey:

Fall of 2005. Looking back, I believe that it was in this semester that I really grew up. I had just turned 20 and somehow that resonated with me. I was no longer a teenager. While I was still goofy sometimes, I stopped acting like a teenager. My style had been evolving slowly, but it was in the first month of this semester that it really softened. Without realizing it, my closet of hot pink and black and studded things had turned to soft blues and greens and lacey things. I gained a confidence in myself as well-- although I still spoke a little more blunt than I should have (then again, I still do that). Somehow I ended up almost being the ‘organizer’ of the apartment, even though I was the youngest and my roommates did baby me a little. Because of my suggestions, we developed a cooking plan to eat dinner together each night, a cleaning standard that kept our apartment spotless and a goal to read in the scriptures and pray together every morning as an apartment. On a personal level, I also pushed myself to grow more than I ever had before. My dreams of living abroad had always seemed so far away. That semester I made them a reality. I looked into the money it would take to spend a semester in France, I applied for BYU and then for the semester abroad program. In French classes, I dedicated myself to master the language as much as I possibly could, even though I had no idea yet if I would be awarded a place in the program. It did not seem likely, considering the fact that I was not even a student at BYU.

My roommates became my family that semester. One of them, Tara, had just barely gotten off of her mission. We worked out together everyday and spent hours talking about her mission and I listened to her wish to be back again. In conjunction with her influence, I was also enrolled in a Doctrine and Covenants class. My habits of scripture study over the summer carried over into the semester. Between roommate study and personal study, the Spirit guided me those months like I had never experienced before. As I read about mission after mission in the Doctrine and Covenants, the idea to serve a mission wormed its way into my head. Of course, I turned to Tara, who did nothing but sell me completely on the idea of serving.

Previously, I had thrown the idea around a bit, but it was mostly to be shocking or to act like I was going to do something no one expected me to do. On one of our first dates, Jacob took me out to a chinese lunch buffet (he was slightly obsessed with ‘all you can eat’ dishes or buffets--probably because he really got his money’s worth). As we piled our plates with orange chicken and egg rolls, he questioned me about my future plans and goals. Of course, I informed him of my life long dream to spend a semester traveling abroad and spending a semester in Paris. ‘Have you thought about serving a mission,’ Jacob inquired. ‘Yeah, I could maybe serve a mission,’ I casually responded. But in my mind I was really thinking, ‘Are you kidding me? That is so unlike me to give up one and a half years of my life to go and TALK to people. I would not even know how to approach people.’ His answer surprised me, ‘I support any girl that decides to go on a mission. I loved the sister missionaries on my mission and looked up to them. I always thought that I would like to marry a returned missionary.’

When I went to tell him that I was seriously considering a mission, I remembered that conversation in the chinese restaurant and if he will still feel the same now that we were talking about ME and about US-- it was not a generalization anymore. This was a ‘it will be at least another year before I even START my mission and that's a long time for you to wait’ conversation. When I finally got up the nerve, I blurted out to Jake, “Jake, I am thinking about serving a mission.’
He seemed taken off guard. ‘What about France?’
'Well, the mission would be after France.’
Slight pause. There was not even a long pause-- he took it all in stride.
‘I think that if you want to go, you should go. I would be the last person to stop you.’
A huge weight came off my shoulders; when it came down to make the final decision of whether to serve or not, even if he had asked me to stay and I felt I needed to go, I would have left. But knowing that I had his blessing made it easier to think about making my decision.

I still had just under a year until I turned twenty one, so I was not in a hurry to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ yet. Truth be told, I had already received my answer, really. Sometimes I still chalk it up to the fact that I was studying the Doctrine and Covenants which is full of mission calls and verses about white fields ready to harvest. Also, I started praying about if I should leave on a mission. Since that time I have learned a little about prayer-- I believe that some questions one should never ask God about. For example, if you ask God if you should have children, the answer is always going to be ‘yes.’ I think maybe my mission was the same way; God would never tell me not to be selfless and serve His other children. Either way, my answer was a very distinct feeling that going on a mission would be a wise choice for me. I kept these celestial promptings to myself for the time being, still telling people I was just thinking about a mission.

To my amazement, after I told Jacob, I received a phone call from his mother, Linda. They had conversed, mother to son, and Jake had confided in her that a mission was most probably on my horizon. This did NOT sit well with her agenda of when she wanted us to be married. Forward woman that she is, Linda called me to discuss with me the situation. I was appalled as I listened to her.
‘I just don’t understand why you would be going on a mission if you are in love with my son,’ she said.
‘Well, this has nothing to do with him,’ I replied, ‘I do love him, very much. But my decision to serve a mission stems from my love of the Lord and I feel strongly that I am needed and wanted in the mission field.’
I tried to share my testimony with her and the very personal revelation that I had received and had not told anyone about.
‘I have prayed and I have asked God if I should serve a mission. The Holy Ghost has whispered to me repeatedly. I feel as though I am being prepared to be a missionary. I KNOW that God wants me on the mission. This is what the Spirit is telling me.’
She was still sad, thinking that I was blowing off Jake and the bigger picture of marriage and family. Perhaps what I said next was too harsh, but I found the words spewing from my mouth:

‘If I know anything at all, I know this: If I decide to serve a mission, whether I marry Jacob or not afterwards, I will NEVER regret it. On the other hand, if I marry Jacob and do not serve a mission, I will ALWAYS regret it. And whether we end up together or not, Jacob will win; he will either find someone that he loves more than me while I am gone, or if he chooses to wait for me, he will end up with a better wife because the mission will make me a better person.’

Looking back on this conversation, I feel that my words really were inspired. I do not know where I received the strength, but I believed what I said. I have many regrets in my life already; Even though I try not to focus on regrets (since I realize that there is no way to change the past) I know that there are words I wish that I could take back, items in which I would never have invested, decisions that now seem hasty or irrational. But one thing in life that I know I will NEVER regret is being strong enough to say, ‘I know I have a boyfriend. I know he loves me. I know I love him. I know we could get married. I am going to take the chance of losing that relationship because I want to serve the Lord on a mission.’

Shortly after this conversation, I received a phone call from the BYU Study Abroad program. Their application process had been rigorous, full of paperwork, essays and even phone interviews about why I wanted to go (and this was after all the applications and getting accepted to BYU in and of itself). My work had paid off; I had been accepted to the program and they had offered to let me travel with them to France. The arrival of this news caused me to scream louder than I ever had in my life. It was if the Eiffel Tower had appeared right then in my bedroom. For years I had dreamed of living in France. My father served his mission in the Paris, France mission years before. When I was a young girl, I had spent hours with him pouring over his mission pictures, letters and journals. He told me stories about castles and museums and cathedrals and stained glass. My dreams were filled with impressionistic paintings, ‘la vie en rose’ and crepes. We poured over art books together and even went to small exhibits that came to Vegas. The first time I stood in front of a real Monet painting at the exhibit in the Bellagio, I cried.

In my dorm room I had a tack board where I kept pictures of my family since they were far away when I was in school. Once Jacob left for training, pictures of him were also tacked up to keep his face fresh in my memory. I also pinned up silly cartoons or things that made me smile. Always in the top right hand corner was a picture of the Eiffel Tower all lit up in the night sky. The more I dreamed, the more pictures of French monuments surrounded the Eiffel Tower-- they inspired me to do everything in my power to reach my goal of living in France. I had even declared French as my minor in college and pushed as hard as I could in Idaho to learn the language. Now it was all coming true. All I had to do was pay the program fees, sign up for classes, buy my plane ticket and pack my bags. Within three months I would be there. It was too good to be true-- and yet it was true and that was fine with me.

Before the mission idea had solidified, Jacob and I had briefly discussed getting engaged before I went to France in order to be married upon my arrival back home. But even then I had a desire to venture through Paris without a ring on my finger. It was such an old dream-- such a life time longing of mine-- that even though I had no intention of dating while I was abroad, I could not stand the idea of having anything tying me down while I was there. Now that a mission was in the works, there was no question that I would head to Paris officially unattached.

Jacob returned from all his training and our few months together raced by. Before I could blink, Christmas had come and gone and I was packed--my life for the next three months fit into two enormous suitcases, which would completely fill up the entire tiny European car of Madame Boudemange, with whom I would shortly be living. Even though I had wanted to go to Europe and live in Paris my entire life, now that I was on the brink of fulfilling my dream, I was terrified. I was about to board an airplane by myself and end up in France, by myself. I doubted myself and my ability to be independent at all. It was actually the Christmas present I received from Jacob, along with his promptings, that got me on my plane. Though many people thought Jake would hold me back from doing exciting adventurous things in my life, at that particular moment, it was only his encouragement and faith in me that gave me any faith in myself.

For Christmas, Jacob handed me an absolutely stunning leather journal. In the first pages, he had written a beautiful dedication. His words explained how much he loved me and how even though he would miss me, he knew that I would love France. The words expressed how proud he was of me and how he knew that I would excel at everything I tackled. He concluded by saying ‘You will always have Paris.’

How right he was. When I was abroad, I wrote him an email every week and sent a letter or two. Jacob was not the best correspondent when I was away in Paris, but I did receive a few letters and usually at least one email a week as well. Plus, he made the effort to call the cell phone issued by the program about every other week for an hour or two. But when it came down to it, France was my time. From January to April 2006, I did not focus on anyone except myself. It was about me. Me, and, I found out as I was over there, my father.

10 October 2013

October Love: I never get over it

All this on a 5 minute walk from my doorstep.

"Autumn...the year's last, loveliest smile." -William Cullen Bryant

05 October 2013

You know you're a runner when...


* You jump straight from bed into your running shoes

* Half of your laundry is running clothes

* You know the exact mark of a mile in any direction from your front door

* Your friends automatically include "How far are you running?" when asking about your weekend plans

* You get jealous when you're driving in your car and pass runners

* You get up earlier to run on the weekend than you do for work

* When your trainer tells you to run less, you groan

* The words "It's only four six TEN miles" come out of your mouth

* You are bummed on "recovery days" when you aren't scheduled to run

* You crave Power Bars

* Your Amazon wish list consists of running shoes, sports bras, nice socks, running tights, hydration systems and iPod arm bands

* Your toenails turn black

* You burn through a pair of running shoes every three months

* You run more than 100 miles a month

* You have a race scheduled every month all summer long 

*All your social events have to be scheduled around your runs/races

*You see a sign on the highway telling you how many miles away an exit is and you think "i could run that!"

*You can run 10 miles nonstop and still feel out of shape

*You see 50 degrees and overcast for the weather prediction and think "It's going to be perfect weather!"

This morning i woke up at 5:00am. When i couldn't go back to sleep, i decided to just go running. And i found myself in 24* weather at 5:30 on Saturday morning, running six miles under the stars. i finished before the sun even thought about rising. i never thought i would ever be able to say that.

i never thought i would ever call myself a runner...but all of the above statements are true.

04 October 2013

30 before 30: One Month Update

It's been just over one month since my birthday and when i posted the goals i have before i turn 30.

i keep a little moleskine notebook in which, at the end of every day, i have written what i accomplished that day to help me reach my goals. Here is what i have accomplished towards meeting those goals so far:

#1: Get completely out of debt

i cut up my credit card. i figured out exactly how much debt i had (including my car) and made a plan to pay it off as soon as possible. i set up a budget and updated it several times a week. At the end of September, i had lived below my budgeted amount and had a *small* amount extra to put into savings.

#4: Run a Marathon

Starting in June, i have followed a very strict running schedule. i run four days a week. i am addicted. Last Saturday i competed in my first race. It was a temple to temple marathon--a team of eight people that relayed from the Rexburg Temple to the Idaho Falls temple. The shortest leg was 2.6 miles and the longest leg was 7.2 miles. My leg was 6.5 miles. It was invigorating and empowering...even though i ran against 20-25mph head winds!

#7 Finish a twin sized quilt

My fabric is all cut out and organized. Last week i sewed the first square.

#9: Read 100 Novels

Finished: "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
Working on: "The Silmarillion" by JRR Tolkien
and "The Pipwick Papers" by Charles Dickens

#13: Read Bible from cover to cover and #16: Scripture studay nightly for 1 year

i haven't missed a night and i am almost through with Leviticus

#17: Do a yoga headstand

This was attempted. Much laughter ensued. Downstairs neighbor came rushing upstairs to make sure i was ok (she heard massive bangs, one after another on her ceiling). Someday...