Wednesday, November 23, 2011

'Twas the night before Thanksgiving . . .

And all through the house, the nephews kept stirring around like a mouse. The sisters were cooking in the kitchen with care, in hopes that good dishes soon would be there. And I on my sofa was trying to sleep but near me were young boys who kept making peeps. There's an interesting trend the last couple of years when I spend the night at the family house if my nephews are there. They magically gravitate to wherever I'm sleeping at night. And since I long since lost the privilege of having a dedicated room to stay in (which is very appropriate), often that means that there are three of us piled on couches and on the floor. We've had some adventures, including the time that I was planning on staying in the room with two twin beds and both T and K wanted to join me. I gave them a little explanation about how there were only two beds but three people, so one of them would be sleeping on the floor, when K piped in, "that's okay, you can share my bed." So I ended up sharing the bed with a five-year-old. Tonight we are downstairs, with T and I sleeping on the leather sofas and K sleeping on the floor in a little low fort that he made himself, mostly consisting of blankets draped over upside-down banana chairs. It completely reminds me of something I would have done at his age. He spent a long time adjusting it, until it was time to pull out the stern aunt voice and tell him that it was sleeping time. Then he ran upstairs for a drink of water and I'm almost positive he snuck a fresh Thanksgiving roll from the rack while he as up there, because I can hear him quietly smacking on something under the blankets and chairs. At this point I'm not sure it's worth it to fight that battle, though. Time to go to sleep so I can be awake for the family Turkey Trot tomorrow morning. And have a good Thanksgiving before heading off to Rwanda on Friday. Hooray! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A stroll down memory lane

Smeels of Kenya walking past houses, when I first moved here tree with lamplight and Nauvoo secret pathway and orchard and secret places maple leaves and botany class It snowed today. First, it was gusty and drizzly. I was at work this morning and when I left at lunchtime, the wind blew the door right out of my grasp and would have kept it blown open if I hadn't forcibly closed it. Then as I ran some errands, the weather got wilder and wilder until it seemed to kind of snap into a sudden calm as the rain turned to a quiet drifting of snow. It was beautiful and peaceful to observe from the snugness of a blanket. Then a moment hit when I decided I'd been inside long enough, so I put on my bright green coat (not only is it cheerful, but it's a very nice pedestrian coat when it's dark- very noticeable) and hiked up into the foothill neighborhoods. And I do mean hike. It's a bit of an adventure just getting up as high in the hills as my own house when the snows come, but things get progressively steeper from my house up, and I have no clue how those people get their cars home in the winter. But it's great for a stroll with some beautiful architecture to observe, and on the way back, beautiful vistas of the city. This stroll also seemed to be triggering all kinds of random memories for me. As I first began walking, I realized I was on my old street, where I lived when I first moved to Salt Lake, and I suddenly recalled the walks that I took in those first days and week, especially before my job began. I had forgotten just how isolated and lonely I felt, coming from the camaraderie of a tight-knit BYU ward with friends I'd known for years- and now I knew Melanie, and I was meeting people in my new ward, but I didn't have a network. And I went on walks and I looked at houses and I felt a deep, aching hunger to be inside them, where warmth and friendship and love exist. It was that very driving emptiness in my life that propelled me to get Melanie to go meet our neighbors in our apartment complex, even in the midst of the onset of depression. The desire for human contact was stronger. And it was during that quest that we met our wonderful neighbors Daniel and Dallin, who became a critical part of my support network and who are really responsible for the base of friends I developed in the singles' ward (they also convinced me to attend their singles' ward, the student ward, rather than the stake ward I had been attending. That also made a massive difference in my life). So tonight, as I walked past the houses, and thought of everything I've built in the last three years in terms of friendships and relationships and deep human connections, I felt a huge amount of gratitude. Belonging is a critical feeling. I kept on walking, and I found a row of maple trees with most of their leaves still on. They were delicately iced with a thin layer of snow, and a streetlamp was shining through one of them in a slightly surreal way, the light from the lamp dancing off the edges of the snow. This time I was taken back by my memory almost nine years ago. I hadn't realized it was that long ago, but the memory was of Nauvoo. I lived there from January to May, taking classes at the BYU-Nauvoo center, which has since been torn down. I loved that building and I love that city. I loved putting on multiple layers of clothing to go out and brave the zero-degree weather, but even more I loved when the seasons began to turn and the river ice broke up (I watched this transition eagerly through my bedroom window, which afforded a great view of the Mississippi), and when the spring bulbs began to push their way up and I didn't require my trench coat when I went on walks, I just about went crazy from spring fever. I walked all over that city, exploring historical sites and back woods, and groves of trees. Then the magnolias started to bloom, and they were all over the place, covered in delicate pink and white blossoms that smelled, oh, so divine. One night in particular, Danielle and I went for a moonlit walk. We set out to watch the sun set over the river at our special place, past the Sarah Granger Kimball home to a grassy little bend in the river. Then on the way back, with the moon shining down, we stopped to glory in the magnolias- their scent, their beauty. The moon was full and shone down through the petals, a scene that Monet would have loved. It was quite a bit different than looking at lamplight through snow-frosted maple leaves, but the memory came back so sharply, and made me smile again. Nauvoo was a period of huge blessings and the formation of deep friendships was instigated there. Danielle is still one of my best friends. I curved around the peak of the road and began descending in the rambling, roundabout way that those streets do. I passed another maple tree, but this one made me pause for a different reason. It was a silver maple, a beautifully delicate tree with silver bark and very intricately designed leaves. This time, I was reminded of a class I took at BYU- one of my very favorite undergraduate courses. Not surprisingly, it was called field botany. The gist of things was that we would follow our professor around campus until he found a tree or shrub we hadn't learned yet, and as we gathered round, he would give us the necessary information to identify it. We learned the silver maple, Acer saccharinum, towards the end of the class, and the beautiful leaves were changing colors and falling. I gathered up a handful of them and stuck them in my binder. Later on, when I found them, they'd essentially been pressed, and I tied them to pieces of string and hung them from our living-room ceiling. Botany nerds do things like that. But tonight, as I saw the silver maple leaves, in a kind of tribute to Professor Furniss and everything I learned in that class, I collected some and carried my little bouquet home. Rounding back down my street to go home, I caught a whiff of something indescribable that smelled like . . . something. I actually have no clue what it smelled like, but I can tell you that whatever it was conjured up very clear memories of Kenya. For a moment, I was back in Gathiga village, walking down the bumpy, uneven red clay roads with random trash piles being incinerated at various lengths. I was laying in my bed, being awoken by a combination of the rising sun, the chickens and pigs outside, and the neighbors who every morning, without fail, played beautiful, happy ukulele music that kind of became my soundtrack for the trip. I wonder what it will be like to go back. Will any of the kids even remember me? So many volunteers come and go. I'm sure the older girls will. I'm hoping that I can get another Kenyan pedicure sitting on the ground while the little kids crowd around. And it will be so different to be there without crazy Kate, my wonderful, spontaneous British roommate, or Cynthia, my anchor who guided me around Nairobi, or even Dominic, the fascinating and very offbeat volunteer who arrived the week before I left. And of course James won't be there. But Grace will, and I am so anxious to get to spend time with her, one of the most amazingly strong women I've ever met. I ended my walk home with a spring in my step- so many good times have been had, and so many good times are in store. And best of all, right this moment, things are good and peaceful. What a lovely little walk down memory lane.