Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Childhood Reminiscing Session #2: The Time I Almost Drowned

All of us kids loved to swim when we were little.  Since we never had a pool, the highlights of our summers were spent in our neighbors' pools or the pools of charitable ward members who didn't mind a few screaming kids running around their backyards.  When we lived in the house on Stillwater Court, we were fortunate to have three friendly neighbors equipped with this luxurious amenity and we took advantage of it as much as we could.

On one particular day when I was five or six, my siblings and I suited up and walked down the street, towels slung over our shoulders, to enjoy a fun afternoon at the Dito family pool.  While the boys and my sisters were splashing away in the deep end of the pool, I stayed in the shallow end to practice my "Tea Party" skills.  If you don't remember that game, the rules are fairly simple: All the participants have to see how long they can sit Indian-style (or cross-legged, whatever the politically correct way to say that is now days) at the bottom of the pool before floating back up to the surface or running out of breath.  It's like you're having a "Tea Party" at the bottom of the pool. So I took a deep breath and plunged down to the bottom of the pool, propelling myself downward until my bum hit solid ground.  For some reason, this attempt was different than the others, mainly because it had worked just a little too well.  I was at the bottom of the pool looking up at the sun rays shining through the water, and even my little five-year old brain realized that I was not going to make it back to the surface without help.
Just as I was about to run completely out of air, someone grabbed me under my arms and pulled me out of the water.  My brother, Kiel, sat me down on the side of the pool, looked into my face, and said firmly, "Go home."  And I did.  I found my towel, wrapped it around my dripping body, and walked three houses down to my own front door.

Strangely enough, I don't remember being scared during the experience.  My little brush with death didn't seem out of the ordinary at all to me.  Afraid that Mom and Dad would bar us from swimming if I happened to mention that I nearly drowned that day, I chose not to say anything about it.  And we enjoyed many more afternoons at the neighbors' pool that summer and many more summers to come.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Little Drummer Boy

In Relief Society today, we talked about how many of us struggle with feelings of inadequacy.  We are sometimes asked to do things that we think are far beyond our reach, that we don't possess the capability to accomplish them.

I recently heard a version of the Christmas carol Little Drummer Boy by Pentatonix.  (If you have managed to stay ignorant of their music video even with the postings and repostings of it on Facebook, you can find the link below.)  I'll be honest, I've never really cared for this song.  I guess I had previously only heard the really cheesy versions they play on the radio sometimes.  But for some reason, this version allowed me to actually listen to the lyrics and realize what this song is all about.  I've listed them below (minus all of the "pa-rum-pum-pum-pums").

Come, they told me
A new born king to see.
Our finest gifts to bring
To lay before the King
So to honor Him
When we come.

Little baby,
I am a poor boy, too.
I have no gift to bring
That's fit to give our King.
Shall I play for you
On my drum?

Mary nodded.
The ox and lamb kept time.
I played my drum for him.
I played my best for him.
Then he smiled at me,
me and my drum.

This song is all about feeling inadequate.  It's about feeling like what you have to offer isn't good enough.  It's about seeing the talents and wealth of your peers and feeling like you will never measure up to their accomplishments.  But as this simple song suggests, it doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, strong or weak, talented or seemingly ordinary.  It doesn't matter if all you have to offer up is a beat on a cheap drum.  As long as you give your best, it is enough.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, October 18, 2013

How the Tables Have Turned

I was looking back at some of my old posts from when I first started out as a blogger back in 2008.  (It's crazy how fast the time has gone, right?)  I reread this post and I had to laugh a little bit:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Work Stress
"So I'm at work right now. Normally, all I have to do is a little bit of filing, some scanning, and A LOT of email sorting, but the last couple days have been different. Since Melodie is gone on vacation, I think Frank thinks that I'm supposed to be taking over all of her responsibilities. He asked me to fiddle around with a couple documents and do whatever I thought was "necessary and proper" to them so that the forms would work with the current situation. How the heck am I supposed to know what is necessary and proper? I only started working here a week ago and I know absolutely nothing about accounting. I thought I was hired for easy jobs so that all I had to do was be blindly obedient to Melodie. You know, be willing to file and scan without having to know any details about what I am filing and scanning. So I was stressed for about ten minutes, staring at this document on the computer screen that I was supposed to be changing, sweat gathering in my palms. Finally, I got up the courage to go tell Frank that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and he just said, "Oh, that's okay. It was a stretch anyway. I just wanted to give you a shot at it." Relieved, I walked back to my cubicle and looked at the terrifying document, hopefully for the last time. I just hope Frank doesn't feel the need to give me any more opportunities to progress in the accounting world. That's a land in which I have no wish to travel."

I wrote this when I was 19-years old and I was home for the summer working for three hours a day as a secretary at Brother Unalp's CPA firm.  Now, here I am five years later, working for the same CPA firm.  This time around, though, I'm not just filing and scanning; I upload bank statements into our clients' files so I can allocate transactions and reconcile accounts.  I compare reports to bank statements to make sure there aren't any discrepancies.  On top of that, I am doing corporate paralegal work for Jeff's (Brother Unalp's) law practice.  As Jeff would say, I think I have officially gone over to the dark side.  And the saddest part is, I am actually kind of liking the dark. ;)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Washington D.C. Part 7: The Heritage of the Past

After spending the morning at the Holocaust Museum (which is, hands down, the most powerful and best put together museum I've ever been to), I craved a lighter and a little less sobering afternoon.  I ate at Panera Bread with Hannah in Chinatown and then headed down to the National Portrait Gallery.  As it turns out, the presidential portrait gallery is in the same building as the National Art Gallery or whatever it's called.  All I know is I spent the first hour inside the building wandering around looking at a bunch of art I didn't care about.  (Sorry, art lovers.  I get very little enjoyment out of staring at weirdly-shaped sculptures and looking at portraits of people I don't have a clue about.  And if it's a painting of a landscape, it better be pretty with lots of greenery and streams or it's just not worth painting.)  In all of my aimless wandering, I did manage to find a couple of cool specimans.
Portraits of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.
This is a picture of Charles Pinckney whose only real significance to me is that I had to argue points as if I were him in a debate my junior year of high school.
I finally overheard someone ask a guard where the presidential portrait gallery was and, after sufficiently eavesdropping on their conversation, I quickly made my way over to the section I actually went there to see.  I really loved this section of the gallery.  It was interesting to see how each of the presidents were portrayed in their portraits.  And after a long day of endless walking, it was nice to sit down in a comfy chair and watch and listen to iconic speeches from several presidents over the years.

Because I got a little lost amongst America's greatest art projects, I ended up spending the entire afternoon in the gallery.  Before I knew it, it was time to go meet up with Hannah again.  We made a dinner reservation in Georgetown and enjoyed a nice meal there that night.  We walked down and sat by the water for a little bit.
The view of D.C. from Georgetown.
 The next morning, I headed to the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.  I didn't realize until later that I viewed the Constitution on the anniversary of its signing, September 17th.  How awesome is that?!  It was amazing to see the actual founding documents and the signatures of the people who worked so diligently to shape this great nation into the land of the free and the home of the brave.  I walked away with extra motivation to do all I could to keep it that way.

 After meeting up with Hannah for lunch, I took a short walk over to Ford's Theater.  Under the theater, there is a museum dedicated to Lincoln and his presidency.  I learned about quite a few things I hadn't known before, such as the fact that Mary Todd Lincoln, President Lincoln's wife, had siblings who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.
A quilt signed by the likes of Abraham Lincoln, General Hancock of the Union Army, Ulysses S. Grant, etc.

The gun John Wilkes Booth used to kill Abraham Lincoln.
 We also got to climb the stairs up to the theater to see the presidential box where John Wilkes Booth shot the president. The house that Abraham Lincoln died in is just across the street from the theater.  I was able to stand in the room that Lincoln died in.
The presidential box at the theater.
The house across the street from the theater where Lincoln died.

After touring Ford's Theater, I went back to Hannah's work where I had stored my luggage that morning.  It was time to end my fabulous trip and head back to California. I was sad to leave and not quite ready to get back to normal life but, unfortunately, I had a plane to catch.  Thank you Hannah and Wes for letting me crash at your place and driving me around for a few days so I could enjoy the sites and sounds of the capital!  You were excellent hosts!  (And it's a good thing the government shutdown didn't take place a few weeks earlier or my trip would have been a little less exciting.)  If a good job opportunity opens up over there, I will definitely take it!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Washington D.C. Part Six: A More Sobering Day

On Monday morning, Hannah and I got on the Metro yet again.  She got off one stop before me to go to work and I stepped off the train at the station closest to the Holocaust Museum.

I received an identification card at the beginning of the tour for a Hungarian woman named Terez Spitz Katz.

We all piled into a couple of elevators and headed up to the 4th floor to begin the tour.  The museum is designed to move through history chronologically, beginning with a background of Jewish populations throughout Europe and Hitler's rise to power in Germany.  After World War I, Germany was humiliated and downtrodden.  Following "the War to End All Wars," the country's people endured nearly two decades of political upheaval and poor economic recovery.  When the charismatic and nationalistic Hitler stepped forward promising to restore Germany to its former glory, the people responded with enthusiasm.  They hoped that Hitler would be able to make their humiliation a thing of the past so they could move forward into a more promising future.  The Nazi Party stepped into the limelight, declaring that Germany would only become great if the source of all of their problems was identified and thrown out of their midst.  According to the Nazis, this weakness that needed to be destroyed was a group of people: the Jews.

Hitler and his followers took fierce control of the media, portraying the Jews as evil and the root of all of Germany's shortcomings.  The Nazis took over schools and youth groups to brainwash the nation's children to believe in the basic tenants of Nazism.  Only approved books were allowed to be read.  The curriculum was infused with the idea of the superiority of the Aryan race.  Meanwhile, Jews were forbidden from attending school.  They had to wear the yellow star of David on their clothing so they could be easily identified.  Jewish businesses were boycotted and shut down.  The Gestapo arrested and jailed anyone who disagreed with the Nazi Party's politics, often sending political opponents to concentration camps to never be heard from again.
As the Nazis pushed their way through Europe, the Jews were forced to live in ghettos where the conditions were squalid and cramped.
Jews and others deemed to be harmful to the state were sent to concentration camps.  In the beginning, many of these camps were designed for the prisoners to work.  They lived in horrible conditions and endured back-breaking work.  But it wasn't until the last leg of the "Final Solution" was implemented that the real horrors began.  These concentration camps became death camps where Jews were forced to separate into groups, remove their clothes, and leave their belongings behind, only to be packed into gas chambers to be exterminated and disposed of.  Most of the holocaust victims who suffered this fate were women, children, and the elderly.  Those who survived the first wave of killings lived in horrendous living conditions rank with disease and starvation while having to endure tremendous cruelty from their captors.  Nazi scientists and doctors used the bodies of Jews for science projects.  A survivor recounted a story of a man who was forced to dig a hole then jump in headfirst to be buried alive.  By the end of World War II, nearly two-thirds of all European Jews had been killed as result of the Nazis' reign.

The most powerful part of the museum was a single room that was filled with the shoes of people who lost their lives shortly after relinquishing them.  There were men's dress shoes, women's sandals, children's shoes.  There were also exhibits containing eye glasses, kitchen utensils, prosthetic limbs, etc., further proving the point that these were ordinary people who were just trying to live ordinary lives but, because a small group of people was given too much power, they were forced to endure some of the most horrific things imaginable.  Part of the museum is dedicated to those who fought back against Hitler's regime, those who risked their lives to help those the Nazi's targeted.  I wonder if I would have been brave enough to be one of those people had I been one of their contemporaries.  I hope so...

Friday, October 4, 2013

Washington D.C. Part Five: "Stand There and Look Poor"

On Sunday morning, we got up and got ready for church.  Hannah and Wes' ward is currently meeting in a Baptist church until their chapel is built.  When it is finished, it will be the closest church to the Capitol and, I believe, it would have been the ward Mitt Romney would have attended had he won the election (although I don't think he would have had much of a fan club among his fellow ward members there).  As people started filtering into the chapel, I started recognizing some of the faces of the people around me.  The couple sitting in front of us attended BYU while I was there, further proving the point that the world is ten times smaller for the average Latter-Day Saint than it is for the rest of the world.

After church, Hannah and I headed to Arlington National Cemetery.  It was amazing to see the amount of people who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country.  I am extremely grateful to all those who have served in the armed forces throughout our nation's history who have put their lives on the line so that we wouldn't have to.

Tribute to the astronauts on the space shuttle Columbia

The view from the JFK Memorial within Arlington

The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
We stopped for dinner at Hannah's grandparents' house and then headed out for another night tour of the remaining monuments.  Our first stop was the Jefferson Memorial.  I took about 100 pictures of the place but only had a few that turned out.  Apparently, the brilliance of the light shining on the white stone was just too much for my little camera.  We went inside, read all the inscriptions, and soaked in the patriotic ambience of the building.  And, of course, we couldn't leave without taking a few selfies with Thomas standing proudly in the background.

Excerpt from the Declaration of Independence

What can I say?  I was excited to be there!
We then headed across the water to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.  While FDR is far from my favorite president, I must say that his memorial is kind of awesome.  Before the amendment passed that limited people to two terms as president, FDR was elected a whopping four times to the presidency.  Though he died a few months into his last term, he held the position of President of the United States for more than twelve years.  So I guess it makes sense that his monument would be the biggest and the most expansive.  There were lots of statues.  In other words, there were a lot of opportunities to take pictures.
I guess I haven't studied FDR enough to know why there was such a prominent statue of a dog but it was a convenient statue to take a picture with.
In the New Deal/Depression portion of the memorial.  Hannah: "Stand there and look poor."
Hanging out with Eleanor Roosevelt.

The man of the hour, himself.

Standing in a bread line.
We went to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial next.  There were A TON of people there since it's a newer monument.  I only got this one picture. 
After getting over my slight consternation that there was no monument to another hero of mine, James Madison (the man is known as the Father of the Constitution for goodness' sake), we headed back to the apartment after yet another successful day in Washington, D.C.!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Washington D.C. Part Four: The Pemberley of America

When Elizabeth Bennett visits Pemberley for the first time in Pride & Prejudice, she observes, "I have never seen a house more happily situated."  Though I don't have as much experience touring old mansions as Elizabeth, I would venture to declare that George Washington's estate, Mt. Vernon, is the Pemberley of America.

Hannah and I met up with her friend Cassi for brunch before making the relatively short drive to Mount Vernon from Washington, D.C.  We crossed from the Maryland side of the Potomac River to the Virginia side and drove through beautiful forests and vegetation, a common feature on the east coast that is few and far between on the west coast.  As we neared the estate, it became apparent that George Washington's house was going to be quite crowded.  After driving around for at least 45 minutes, a good Samaritan finally pulled out of their parking spot right in front of us.  We cheered and clapped and exclaimed, "It's a miracle!"  Other tourists weren't so fortunate but, I'll admit to my shame, I didn't care at all so long as I got the chance to see my hero's home.

We bought our tickets for our scheduled tour of the mansion, then headed into the reception building to watch a biographical film of George Washington.  The film and the tour was introduced by Pat Sajak (which was kind of random and slightly hilarious).  After watching the cheesy yet informative film, we walked over to the Colonial Market & Fair which was taking place on the grounds that day.  Vendors sold everything from glass witches' balls to quills.  This was where I bought my one and only souvenir from the trip, a really awesome wooden spoon that I was super excited about (don't ask me why).  We took pictures in front of the lawn at Mount Vernon (where every tourist and their dog asked me to take pictures of them) and then got in line to start our tour. 
A window in the reception building at Mt. Vernon.

Mt. Vernon in all its splendor.

(I wish I could take better selfies.)
We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the mansion for obvious reasons but it was so cool!  The first room tourists walk into in the house is the dining room, which was the room Washington focused on the most to demonstrate his social status and wealth.  It was undergoing some renovations while we were there but, even with the furniture gone, we could tell that Washington spared no expense to make that room as lavish and beautiful as possible.  We went up the stairs and through the bedrooms, claiming which bedroom would have been ours had we been fortunate enough to be the Washingtons' guests.  The last bedroom we saw was the one Washington died in.  The tour guide must have said, "General Washington died in that very bed," about six times.  Supposedly Martha Washington never set foot in that bedroom again after her husband's death.  After finishing up the tour, we took pictures on the back lawn of the plantation-house.  Nestled against the shores of the Potomac River and surrounded by trees and beautiful landscaping, I don't believe there is a more perfectly situated house in the United States.  I absolutely loved the place!  If I were rich enough and the house were removed from the list of historical sites, I would have no qualms about picking up and moving there tomorrow.  If the American equivalent of Mr. Darcy lived in a place like that, I'd fall in love with him, too!  (Totally kidding...)
Hannah, Cassi, and I waiting in line before the tour.

The view of the back side of the house.

The view of the Potomac River from the porch of Mt. Vernon.  That scraggly looking tree was there when Washington lived at Mt. Vernon.

No historical site is complete without a few militiamen.

The tomb of George and Martha Washington.
We learned more about the life of George Washington in the Mount Vernon Museum.  We watched a video about the colonists' Christmas Day attack on the Hessians stationed at Trenton in 1776. Real snow fell from the ceiling of the theater.  I saw George Washington's actual dentures.  (Heck, if I ate his favorite meal at Gadsby's Tavern the night before, I might as well see the teeth he used to chew it with.)  Looking back, I think Mt. Vernon was my favorite part of the trip.  It was wonderful to visit the home and learn more about the life of my favorite American hero!

We rounded out the day with a meal at Ella's Pizza in Washington, D.C.  There are quite a few people from my home ward in California who have recently moved out to the D.C. area and we thought it would be fun to meet up for dinner.  So me, Hannah, Wes, Amy Lambert, Brittany Unalp Olsen, and her husband, Justin, got together for a little Clayton Valley 1st Ward Reunion.  It was great to see everyone again!

Still more to come!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Washington D.C. Part Three: Did I Die and Go to Heaven?

Hannah wasn't able to get work off for any of the week days I was visiting.  While it would have been fun to enjoy the sites of the city in the company of another historically-minded person, I also found the experience of wandering around the nation's capital on my own quite liberating.  I could do everything at my own pace and on my own time.

So Hannah and I got off at the Metro station near her work.  She directed me as to how to get to the National Mall where all the Smithsonian museums are and then headed into her office building.  I continued down the street a little ways to visit the first museum on my "to do" list: the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Me and a koala bear, haha
I enjoyed meandering through the mammal, sea, and dinosaur exhibits.  All were extremely interesting and informative.  However, I found that the most visually stimulating section was just around the corner in a section I didn't think I would enjoy very much at all.  Having always prided myself on being a low-maintenance kind of girl, I found myself humbled while walking through the Gems and Minerals section of the museum.  Apparently I love expensive gems and jewels as much as the next girl.  That isn't to say that I will be blowing all my spare cash on jewelry in the future; I just won't say no if anyone ever feels so inclined to give me, say...a topaz ring.

Jewelry that the French Emperor Napoleon gave to his wife.
I saved the most interesting part of the museum for last.  Hannah had told me that the forensics exhibits were really cool and I couldn't agree more.  There was a special section that focused on the settlement of Jamestown that demonstrated how scientists could glean the profession of the colonist from evidence on his or her skeleton.  For example, a skull was found that had some abnormalities in and around the front teeth.  Through some analysis, forensic scientists came to the conclusion that the settler was a tailor and that his or her teeth abnormalities were due to constantly holding needles between the teeth.

After I finished up at the Natural History museum, I headed next door to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.  If there had been no one else around, I probably would have released several audible sighs and squeals of delight.  But, alas, I wanted to be considerate of my fellow tourists so I kept my reactions to the awesomeness surrounding me in check.  I saw the original Star-Spangled Banner!  I learned some of the history of how changes in transportation in America have transformed our cities and lifestyles.  I learned the evolution of American eating habits in the Food Exhibit.  I saw the dresses that each of America's first ladies have worn to their husband's presidential inaugurations.  I absolutely loved the Americans At War Exhibition!  I seriously got a little teary-eyed while watching a short video presentation at the end of the war exhibition.  How can you not get emotional when images of war are flashing across the screen while a reading of the Gettysburg Address is playing in the background?  Do you have a heart? ;)
In the Food Exhibition! My Mom had a crockpot just like this one!

WWII poster in commemoration of the events at Pearl Harbor.
The shoes Dorothy wore in The Wizard of Oz.

Jackie Kennedy's Inauguration dress.

George Washington's sword during the French and Indian War.

The chairs Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant sat in to settle the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox near the end of the American Civil War.
The museum closed at 5:30 so, reluctantly and involuntarily, I shuffled out of the museum doors and made my way back to Hannah's office building.  We had decided that we would eat at a place called Gadsby's Tavern in Alexandria, Virginia that night.  After a quick stop at the apartment, Hannah, Wes, and I hopped in the car and headed toward Virginia.  We got there a little before our dinner reservation time so we stopped at a small candy shop around the corner from the restaurant, loaded up on salt water taffy, and then headed over to Gadsby's Tavern.  Gadsby's Tavern has been around since the late 1700s and served several well-known early Americans, including George Washington.  All the servers are dressed in colonial get-up and the food is time-period specific.  I thought it appropriate to order George Washington's favorite dish, which included a grilled breast of duck with scalloped potatoes, corn pudding, and rhotekraut.  The food was delicious and filling but I couldn't stop there.  I was on vacation for goodness' sake!  So I ordered some chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream on the side.  Though it's a bit pricey, I wholeheartedly recommend eating dinner at Gadsby's Tavern.

My first full day in Washington, D.C. was immensely successful!  Next stop: MOUNT VERNON!