Monday, December 9, 2013

"That Book Had Other Plans"

Dear Uncle George:

We take a break (hello, Val, it has been almost a month from your last entry, how much break do you need?) from our time in Nauvoo to catch up my real life.

Bountiful Temple

I went to Salt Lake City to meet my all-powerful photography "bosses."  I took some pictures. I saw old friends who I LOVE and ADORE. And paid for my consequently I ate entirely way too much.  One lunch involved a sports bar in a basement of some seedy building.  With my missionary tag on.

And the employees didn't even notice.  Welcome to Utah.

We have been besties for decades

I loved being at the Church Office Building with the media department and doing things that make a stay-at-home feel like she actually has a "real" job.  Commuting.  Dressing up.  My own cubical space I shared with a Argentinian who had yet to pump his own gas for his new car he had owned for five weeks.

Herman is an easy name to remember

Big Cottonwood Canyon

Thanksgiving was uneventful which in itself is an event.  No guests.  No going somewhere.  If you really knew me, you would know us doing nothing on Thanksgiving (yes, I did make the traditional meal which in itself is something I pretty much despise doing) is so out of the norm.  Everyone who usually would seem they have no where to go had somewhere to go, so we stayed in.

And as my bishop would say, "Can I be candid?"

I didn't shower.  For two days.

I edited photographs.  For two days.

I ate too much frozen fruit salad. For three days.

And I counted so many blessings that I can not wrap my head around it all.  What a strange year it has been for me.

A training I was at with a guy who is actually from Nebraska (you don't meet one of those folks everyday--I mean Nebraska is God's country as I have been informed....although Alaska does seem to be His country too so maybe God's countries are lands that have names that end in "aska"--just an observation) asked the kids what their highlight of their 2013 would be.  My head instantly went to India.

Did going to India for a few weeks change my life?  No. I already considered myself a global resident.

Did I think "How did I get here?"  Yes.  And I don't mean the 39 hour travel.  One way.

Did it make step back and think "Wow, who knew people lived like that?"  No.  I already knew.

Did it make me what to come home and throw everything I own away?  Yes. We ARE mired down with too much stuff.

I was profoundly moved by India, not because of what I took away from there, but what I left.

Which was part of my heart.

I left part of my heart with some nuns who chant at 4 am each day, with a woman named Madu who is all-powerful, and a man-servant who doesn't know how to eat with utensils named Raju.

All power--roar

I left part of my heart with people who "live on the pavement" for generations (do you hear what I am saying?  150 years of generations...imagine moving your family to the streets right now and they still live there in 150 years.  Makes you kind of want to throw up in your mouth doesn't it?)
I left part of my heart with the little girl who had never seen a white person in her life who just so happened to be wearing a pink "Facebook" shirt.

And I left part of my heart with the young women who can be found prostituting.  Easily located on a bridge.  Modestly dressed.

Emotionally, 2013 brought some things I did not see on my radar coming.  Profound things.

We put our beloved Coho dog down.  My wailing carried through the vet office to the point it was just embarrassing for everyone in the building.

The Boy became an Eagle Scout.  Praise God.

I retired from the directorship of RYLA.  10 years.  Almost 1,000 kids came through.  Each returning 7 forms to me.  Do the math.  In love with the staff. Still am.

I was called on the photography mission.  The best calling ever.

I traveled.  A lot.  Mainly alone, which gave me a lot of alone time.  Profound eh?  With all that alone time, a chick gets to think. I decided the following, in no particular order:

West Virginia postcards are cheesy.
I like frozen macaroni and cheese.
I do have too many cats.
I rarely miss Tom.  And when I have something to say to him, I go to his grave.
You should not eat Wal-Mart cookies.
I love hip hop music.  The Girl says I am in my 20 year old black man musical phase.  Truth.
I  do like going for walks.
I love the smell of coffee. Still.
I appreciate people who are strong.

And I still love serving the poor.

Which brings me to this past weekend.

When you arrived in Kansas City to begin your photography mission, you wrote about how you gave a poor black man a nickle because he needed it.  I feel connected to you because I have given the poor some nickles too.

And some Christmas candy, holiday cards to fill out, and a photograph.

Years ago, when I was exploring how to serve at the local homeless shelter, I asked them what they would like if they could have any service.  They instantly said two things:  photographs of the clients and a birthday party for their long-term residents.


Four the last four years, we have offered candy, cards and photographs for any of the 70+ clients at the men's shelter on the first Saturday night in December.  It has been amazing.  Beyond the Facebook kind of kid just got on first base kind of amazing.  But truly amazing.

And this year, the women's homeless shelter opened. A project we "Church Ladies" started investing in two years ago.  Seeing it finished brings a tear to the old brown eye.

Tons of clothes we collected for the women

I do not have any images to share with you except for one.  With permission.

When I was hobnobbing at the Church Office Building, I was introduced to the paid, professional photography staff.  The best piece of advice I got from one of them was that I should always take a shot for myself.  Whatever it is.  Whoever it is.

So at the shelter on Saturday night, I did just that.  I took one for me.

There was a man who came in for his treats, carrying the perhaps most used, tattered book I have ever seen.  It was kind of big, not usually the kind of book someone hauls around in every day life.

Come to find out it is his Bible.  It was blue, with a flying white dove on the cover. I would not have thought that.  Too Mormon now a days I guess.

He was cheery. Sincere.  Passionate.  And he feels he has been called to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

He used to work in the entertainment industry as a Prince (yeah, the singer) impersonator. He was married to the Madonna impersonator and they would travel around the country doing gigs.  They had a son and daughter, and if you have ever wondered what the love child of Madonna and Prince would look like...she looks like Alicia Keys.  Truth.  I have seen the pictures.

His book was so glorious.  Loved.  Studied.  Loved.  If only my Bible looked so "good."

After he hit his hard times, he said he was thinking of going back in to the entertainment business.  Then, as he told us, he looked at his Bible on the table and said "That book had other plans."

Loved it.

On this stroll through the 2013 memory lane, I believe the homeless preacher hit it on the head for me.

As we go through life, often the "books" in our life have plans for us that we don't know will be part of our life or story.  We don't even know they exist.  We don't know where they lead.  Or how far.

How just a comment, a touch, or even a smile can change the course of your life. Often, immeasurable joy.

I know it has mine.

So as you wrap up this year, perhaps you too will want to take a look at what you will remember about 2013.  What your books have brought you.

Have a great holiday season.  And to quote my bishop "Merry Christmas."  :)


Thursday, November 14, 2013

"Take the Mini"

Written by Uncle George:  May 2, 1907
Visited the most interesting points--old homes of the Saints, the Prophet's home, temple ground.  In the afternoon, made views of the most prominent places.  Rowed...across the river to Bluff Park, Iowa side and got a beautiful view of Nauvoo.  Enjoyed the ride very much; and sight, which we wanted, was grand.  We can now understand why Nauvoo is said to be located on the most beautiful spot on the river.  Made views of the graves...Nauvoo Mansion, Nauvoo House, and many things that brought to mind the condition of our people sixty years ago.

Val:  May 2, 2013
His name could have been Schneider and he could have come into my room.

Since a girl can't get any internet in the great village of Nauvoo, I figured I might as well get clean. I mean, I had the time.  The good news is that besides that there are really only two overpriced places to eat within a 25 miles (hello, three sunnyside up eggs and toast everyday because I am already spending all of Mr. Fun's money I have to exercise restraint somewhere--however the good news is they had a newspaper to read...which was only two days old), they have running water there.  Even hot water!  Jackpot!

Even though it was hard to tear myself away from the only tv station that I found to be in working order that showed all the reruns of  "Golden Girls," I did get that hot shower.  Imagine my surprise, however, when it came with an additional unexpected feature:  the fire alarm in my room going off for the whole time I was was bathing.

Now, I am not the kind of chick that worries about things that are irrelevant in my world like burning up in a freak fire in a 100+ year old electrically wired hotel because I know I put out my cigarette out before heading to the shower (lighten up I am just kidding!).

I tend to worry more about the folks who might stumble into a cart left in the entrance to the grocery store or picking trash along the side of the road when I go for my morning walk.

And a warning device going off for an endless amount of time.  Not in my house.

I was worried about some large man named Schneider with a clanging tool belt and a 1970's mustache busting into my room, while I was, let's say, "unavailable."

The sort of guy who dressed like Han Solo before Han Solo dressed like Han Solo.

The sort of guy who carried a hammer around all at all times because you just never know when you might have to hit something really hard.

And a guy who is not to be confused with a kid named Schroeder.

 Peanuts characters inspire happy dancing

Schroeder is a kid who doesn't have a mustache or a hammer on his hip.  I recently learned that Schroeder was Charlie Brown's closet friend.  He is also a catcher on their baseball team.  I was a catcher on my softball teams for years.   Even in college.  As Bruce Springsteen says, those were my "glory days."  Here is some photographic evidence of my early catcher years:

Obviously my team must have been rolling in the dough because I had cleats and our hats had our name on them, which were probably ordered out of the Sears catalog three months in advance.

What strikes me about this photograph (besides all the technical flaws of it--hello, snobby Photo Val--not to be confused with a snobby Plaza Rotarian) is that it is summer time.  Look at the color of the grass....if it can be called grass.

So, neither Schneider or Schroeder, showed up in my room that morning.  Which is disconcerting in its own way.  I mean, what kind of hotel has a fire alarm go off for 15 minutes and not send someone to check it out.  What if there really was a fire?  It seems to me, now, that either way is a loss for me.  A furry, hammer-carrying super or a piano-playing kid busting into my room.  Neither of which came to check out the ruckus.
Before all this excitement surrounding the fire alarm, I went out early to see what kind of sunrise presented itself.  Here is what it looked like my first morning in Nauvoo:


As much fun as I was having traveling back in time with news that I had already heard about two days earlier, it was time to go to work.

Montrose was as small and boring today as it was the day before.  The weather cleared up for a bit and made for a lovely shot:

I should warn you that this is one of the only photographs the entire mission that will have some people in it.  You seem to wander in the photography world alone, as do I.  Which if you knew me, that is most unexpected.  Especially to me.

Printing Office

I don't know where you found your folks for your picture, but I found these buddies eating snacks and trying to stay warm next to a wagon and field of blooming trees.  All missionaries.  Most are called to work the grounds. Since most were women, they were not too thrilled to have their picture taken when they looked like they were working in the yard.  However, I assured them that only you, my mom and my new bishopy friend, Chris S, from Overland Park will probably even see it.  :)  I loved the guy with the pitchfork.

Since it was off-tourist season, there was literally no one in these next places I photographed.  All alone.  Sort of uneasy....a woman does not want to be alone, in a woody place, in the rain, by a river.  I see Law and Order and it never ends well for those ladies.

Smith Family Cemetery

Mansion House

Nauvoo House

Dude, I think it is time to keep it real.  Since there is only three of you reading this, I want to record what happened when I was standing at this very spot next to the Mississippi River.  But, since it involves you, I think you already know what I am going to say.

Deep the risk of sounding nuts (More nuts than people think I am.  More nuts than eating only eggs and toast for four days.  More nuts than being more than happy to read news I have already known two days)  I believe I saw you.

You were behind me, following me.  Wearing black pants and a black vest.  You had a on a light colored shirt, with a kind of bowler hat.  When I saw you, I seemed to already know it was you.  As you "ran" faster to the river, I was not afraid.  We were connected by our eyes for that moment and I know you felt honored to have your work mimicked/recreated.  Thank you for letting me know you are happy.  That makes me happy.

There are so many images from today that I am feeling a little overwhelmed on how to share them all.  I think I will add a day to each of your days....the burden of digital availability.

Here is one that I cracked myself up with, purely by accident.  I was at the crossing site of the pioneers when they left Nauvoo.  There is a huge statue of Joseph Smith pointing towards the west to Brigham Young, invoking the feeling that Joseph, who was killed before the Saints left Nauvoo, is saying to Brigham, "Yes, you should go."

As I was tromping around to take various angles of the statue, this one showed up.  It instantly looked like to me that Joseph was saying to Brigham, "Take the Mini."  :)

One more thing.  I guess I need out fill out one of those on-line travel review sites about the lack of concern regarding my morning's fire alarm incident.

Oh wait.  No internet.

Sneaky, Nauvoo, sneaky.  :)

Love, Valsy

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Am I (in) Wicked? Not so much

Written by Uncle George:  May 1, 1907
Lunch on the train--eggs, cookies, prunes etc. Made a view of Quincy while waiting for the train.  On to the boat without a moment's delay.  Mississippi River.  A new experience for me.  Arrived in Nauvoo.  Went to bed at hotel about one and half miles uptown.

Val:  May 1, 2013
I had a couple hash browns and imported grapes from Chili for breakfast. I would have preferred some prunes because I live like an old lady most days, but they weren't on the menu.

And if you have ever driven through Chillicothe, Wheeling, Kearney, Hamilton, and Marceline to name just a few, you would know that just finding hash browns is a feat in itself.  Humanitarians would call this stretch of land a "food desert."

We are not in Independence anymore, Toto.
Welcome to rural Missouri.

The Grand River-- flooded.

Wheeling is the home of the Girls State Basketball Champions... in 1975.

No cell service.

I saw chickens running around in someone's front Kansas City.  A yard that should now be listed as an honorable mention in "Rural Landscaping in the City for Dummies."

I saw Jim Saccaro lives in Brookfield, which means nothing to anyone except his family I suppose. Well, them and me.  His nephew, Nicholas, is a great guy and seeing their last name makes me instantly smile.

Marceline is the boyhood home of Walt Disney.  His dad owned the butcher store.  Main Street Disneyland looks just like Main Street Marceline. The Great Locomotive Chase cartoon is a shout out to the rail road that runs through town.

I am also a fan of Marceline because it has a Sonic, home of scrumptious lemonade with real strawberries. Something I could not get if I were on had traveled by train like you.

No lemonade in sight

And you also know, besides liking a good lemonade when I am in the mood, I like to take the scenic byways.  One this trip was Hannibal, MO.
I know Hannibal.  

I hadn't been there before BUT when I was in the 6th grade, I was cast as Aunt Polly in the Tom Sawyer play/movie.  I had to sing.  I had to dance.  I was videoed, which it really is a true crime that no one knows where that bad boy video ended up....not.

Pat M., the kid who had a significant identity crisis and lacking some serious tethering to reality in regards to the fact that he thought he was Arthur Fonzerelli (aka The Fonz), was Tom.   And it is a sad tale to report that he grew up to have a not-so-settled story and that his Fonzie years were, unfortunately, his best.

I had a pink gingham dress, complete with shawl, and they made me wear a scratchy, grey wig.  And spectacles.  I loved that dress but hated it, too, because you couldn't wear a bra with it.  Not that I had much concern in that particular area, but I always felt immodest without knowing what it was called.  I was so uncomfortable about it as a matter of fact, that when they filmed our part of the movie, I had the teacher make everyone leave the room so they wouldn't see me.  I guess that is a the price of payment when you pick the only girl with a gingham dress in town to play the part.

I didn't see too much gingham print when I saw the "Wicked" play last week.  Which the end of the first act...holy hannah.  I didn't get to fly up into the sky in my play.  Now I know why I didn't make it to Broadway. Stupid flying.

Since Hannibal and I had met before in 1981 in the music room of Soldotna Elementary, I decided to have a snack and enjoy it's feeling.  A little picnic on the Mississippi River. Yep, it was nice.  Yep, it was quiet. Yep, I bought a Japanese teacup to remember my time because nothing evokes a nice memory of Hannibal, Missouri like a teacup made in Japan during WW2.
On to Quincy. 
Just when you think it is not possible to stuff another moment's fun into this day filled with no internet, wait!  There's more!

Quincy doesn't look like it has changed much.  A little dirtier.

But I do have a good Holy Ghost story.

I was driving around looking for your picture place.  You would not think that it would be hard to find the highest point in a town of about 413 folks, but it was. Street after street I could not find the space I should be.  And I knew it.

Sometimes, even I am not too dense to know when to pull the car over to ask for help from Heavenly Father.  So I did.  His voice told me to drive north two streets and turn left.  I did and came to some screwy T weirdness in the road.  His voice told me to keep going west, even though the T was not very inviting.

Sure enough.  There is was.  The park and its entrance I needed.

For some reason, this photograph made the mission real.  That we literally were standing in the same place.  The same day.  I know it sounds dumb, but today it was real.  And I cried.

Only the General saw my tears.

Nauvoo, the Beautiful.

It really is, you know.  Beautiful.

A flowing creek waterfall welcomes you town.

You turn a hilly corner, and you are greeted by the temple.

A pioneer history complex.

What is not beautiful about these things?

The sun was going down and I had an urgency to get as many shots as I could.  I was basically running from place to place with no explainable reason.  "Why run, Val?" I said to myself. I have three more days here.  Why run?

The flowers were gorgeous.

The temple was gorgeous.

The sunset was gorgeous.

After sunset, I had myself some real food (see ya, hashbrowns).

While the day was long and weird, I think my hotel selection was my favorite thing.  It was in the Hotel Nauvoo.

So what you say?  It used to be called The Oriental Hotel....the same hotel you stayed in.  :)
(but let's be real, there isn't a single oriental person, place or thing within about 300 miles from here)

Obviously they wanted to keep it as authentic as when the pioneers were there...because there was no internet.  For four days.  FOUR days.  Four DAYS.

It looks like it is going to be a long, isolated four days. But you survived, so I know I can.

With, or without, some prunes.  :)