Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Nicknames I have been given over the course of my life.

(In approximate order.)

+Ray Charles
+Rach E. Bob
+Little Tiny Girl
+Little Peanut
+Rachel "Radiation" Hunt
+Ray Ray
+Precious Rachel
+Patience Rachel
+Yellow Bird
+Baby Girl
+Baby G.
+Dear Heart
+Rachel the Elder
+Madam Librarian
And so forth.

The following video has many gems, as those who have watched it well know, but one particular gem/piece of wisdom concerns the fact that you can't give yourself a nickname. Rather, they are something that must be bestowed upon you. I think that is why I am so fond of them. Each one ties you to someone else, and invokes a memory of place or time or whole groups of persons. I still remember being a small child and opening up presents on Christmas day addressed to 'Rapunzel' 'Rach E. Bob' and 'Bobbie,' and knowing that they were just for me. From that same period of life, I can still hear my dad call me 'Little Peanut,' and my mom: 'Little Tiny Girl.' From high school I remember running by the pole vault pit during a race and having my friends shout, "Rackel! Rackel! Rackel!" at the top of their lungs, and being able to push harder with their encouragement. Then there is the fact that Meg and Kristina still call me 'Baby Girl' on occasion, like they did when we were 19, and Francesco (and his wife) still call me 'Precious.' It sure makes a girl feel loved (and also known).

'Rach' and 'Rachie' remain my favorite nicknames, because they are almost always spoken by a family member or best friend.

What are some of your nicknames? Favorites/least favorites? What do you wish were some of your nicknames? (I have one that I wish was on my own list, and that I definitely tried to make myself. I was always sad when I was small that we were called Mormons and wanted to be called Nephites, so distinctly remember writing my sister a note during sacrament that said, "Love, Rachel, the Nephite Princess.")

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lost things.

The book that Spencer gave away that caused me to cry tears was The History of Love. The author: Nicole Krauss (wife of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close's Jonathan Safran Foer). He gave it away because he was supposed to give it away, to our friend Katherine before she left for Canada. But not that copy. Another copy, one that I bought at Shakespeare and Company in Paris, for 5 Euros. Spencer didn't know that the other copy was meaningful to me, that the inside cover had been signed: he believed the Shakespeare stamp and Paris association would mean much more.

How the first copy happened to be signed: My friend from library school tipped me off on a reading that would take place at Boston College, which school is even more regal than Harvard, if it is possible. (For instance, the buildings look like castles.) She couldn't go, but knew I liked the author. On the appropriate day I walked to the school, found the correct space, and sat by myself on the second row. Nicole Krauss read from two books: the one I knew and loved, and the new book that she was still writing, called Great House, before she knew when it would be published—before it was called anything. The second book was about a desk, or more truthfully about the different people who owned the desk or came in contact with it, those who wrote their secrets there, and those who locked them inside. The desk itself was a secret. That book would be published, and I would read it. In fact, it would be the first book I finished reading after a long period of not being able to read or finish anything. It helped me break through to a better time. But the book I love best is about an old man from Poland, who moved to New York as a younger man, and only loved one woman his entire life. He wrote, because at the end of his life, he needed to write, the way he did when he was a child. What did he need to write about at the end of his life? His disappearing and unlocking, but mostly about his one love, and their child that he never knew, who himself had grown up and become a writer. The book is also about a fourteen year old girl named Alma. There is a book within the book that ties the two characters together. It is so beautiful and sweet and sad and meaningful all at the same time.

An English class at Boston College had studied that book in depth, and brought the author there. They filled up a conference/ballroom, then left immediately after, even though she announced that she had time to talk. Their professor was holding their last class meeting then, where they would discuss her speech. It left much fewer people in the room waiting to talk with her, to have her sign their books. I had my copy with me, just in case. I got in line—purposefully last in line—so those behind me would not be ushering me forward. When it was my turn, I asked if she would take a picture with me. "Of course." And however sappy this is, I also told her she was my favorite living author, and the only living author of any of my five favorite books. She asked me who the other authors were, the other books. Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, St. Exuperuy's Little Prince, Kierkegaard's Works of Love, and Dostoevsky's The Idiot. She told me that the first of those two books are referenced in her own. I told her I knew and loved those references. Because there was no one behind me, I asked her who her favorite authors were, her favorite books. Because she had time, she told me. In fact, she more than told me. She wrote them down, on a piece of paper she asked for from her assistant. After scribbling for a few moments, she explained that she prefers Australian and Polish writers, as opposed to American ones. She placed the reading list in my hand. I placed it in my book. Some soon time after I opened the book to find her list, to examine it. The paper was gone. I looked through every single page. Still nowhere. I searched my room, by bag, my bookshelf. It never turned up, even when I packed everything I owned and moved to the opposite side of the country. I only remember one recommendation from that small scrap of paper, because it was also mentioned in her book. It is called The Street of the Crocodiles. While I am glad to remember it, I am sad to have forgotten the others, to have lost the others. This first loss was enough to crack my heart. The second loss, the book itself, is too much disappearing.

From that day:

From another Boston day, about a year later in which C, E, and I met her husband:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I was a music video.

Or, more truthfully: I was in a music video. More truthfully still: I was in two music videos! Both belonging to the wonderful Drew Barlow Danburry.

The first was filmed at the old Meg Space, and shows me standing in a corner talking to Davis, and then sitting on a couch, talking to Jordan.

The second was not, and does not. Here I am mostly standing in a corner of the yard talking to Becca and Kyle, or pretending to learn how to play croquet from Kyle. (Which documented instances lead me to believe that I am often standing in corners talking.)

Drew's songs never get old. And because I am thinking about it, my favorite Drew memory is from the very week that I went on my mission. I had gone to my Oregon home for one month before coming back to Utah to enter the MTC. I was already set apart, which means that I was already expected to act like a missionary and do some missionary things. It also meant that I had to have another person with me at all times. My mom would act as that person for the few days of interim. My sister had called me sometime during our long drive across states, telling me that Drew was playing at Cafe Sol and that I should come. I wouldn't be able to go inside because missionaries don't go to concerts, but I did want to go outside and say hello to all of my friends. The question was: would my mom be willing to come with me? She was tired and we got in late, but the ultimate answer was yes. With some coaxing, yes. And I am completely grateful. So many people I loved were there. So many hugs from the girls. So many handshakes from the boys. (I remember Davis hugging my mom since he couldn't hug set-apart-me.) The one person I didn't get to see was Drew himself, because he was playing inside. My friend Kristina suggested that maybe he would play a church song so I could come in. I wasn't sure it would work, but she disappeared to test it out. Soon after, I heard my name over the microphone, calling for me to come inside. Kristina and Meg each held one of my hands as I went in. The room was full of hundreds of indie kids. Francesco (who was born this very day, some years ago) was one of the first people I recognized. In true Francesco fashion, he started clapping, and in true how-everyone-acts-around-Francesco fashion, the rest of the room followed suit. They were clapping for me, for a long time. These hundreds of kids. Some whom I knew, some whom I didn't. It felt like a dream. The best dream. Then, in the midst of this applause, I was escorted to the very front so I could shake Drew's hand. Once I got there, he played the following song, for me, on that most beautiful night.

I cannot thank him enough for that memory. This song is still sweet to me, and the times I get to hear it the most are when I'm Utah home, from miss Eden. I love her renditions too, because whenever she sings it, she prefaces it the same way: "This is a song my mom sings me to help me go to sleep at night." Way to go Eden's mom (and Eden). Way to go Drew. You are champions.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I have been married for 6 months and 1 day today.

(And I meant to do this yesterday. Oops.)

Two thoughts. One: The above are a few things you may or may not know about Spence and I. (Feel free to click on it and make it more legible.) Two: It is fair to say that the last six months have been the most adventurous of my life. It is also fair to say that I am crossing my fingers that the next six months will be the least adventurous. (Though it does not seem likely.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sunday, February 19, 2012

It's piggybank time!

This post is also about Eden, which may temporarily make my blog an aunty blog (not to be confused with a Mommy blog).

It is also about my sister Charity, who shares the privilege of being Eden's aunt. It is important to know that both Charity and Eden like to sing, and that they frequently sing to each other. It is also important to know that they are very good at this.* And that they make up their own songs (both the tune and the words), and that they sometimes communicate this way for half hours at a time, for whole days at a time. It is a remarkable thing to behold. During one such time, Charity was singing to Eden that she needed to eat, and Eden was singing her reply (i.e., her unwillingness to eat). Imagine if you will, a cute, catchy tune. Also keep in mind that at the time of this sing-songy conversation, Eden was 3ish.

C: It's eating time.

E: It's not time to eat, it's money time.

C: It's play time.

E: No, no, no. It's not time to play, it's money time.

(And so on. Always ending with Eden shaking her finger and singing that it was money time.)

Two years pass. Christmas passed. It is now. Charity (who loves the Oregon Ducks) got an Oregon Duck pillow pet for Christmas. Enter Eden (who has her own pillow pet).

E: I wish I could have that pillow pet.

C: You already have a pillow pet.

E: I'll switch you!

C: I don't want to switch. Santa gave it to me for my Christmas present. Don't you want me to have what Santa wanted to give me? (Thinking she would respect Santa.)

E: I'll give you money!

C: No.

E: Please, I'll give you money.

C: No. I don't want your money.

E: Please, I just really want that pillow pet.

I knew she was serious, purely by how serious she is about her money. It also inspired me to leave her the following note, with the majority of my non-European change.

Apparently she loved it. Apparently she could also read every word. But "money."

*At my granny's funeral, immediately following my aunt and cousin's lovely rendition of "I'll Fly Away," Eden whispered, "They sing beautiful just like I sing beautiful."

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A conversation during sacrament.

With Eden, my five year old niece who I love and used to live with (when she was a 5 month old baby to a 2 year old baby).

Sacrament starting...

E: It is so hard not to talk.

R: Do you know what the Sacrament is for?

E: There's bread. And water!

R: It's when we remember Jesus.

E: I heard he died and went to heaven.

Quickly followed by:

E: Did they bury him?

R: They put him in a tomb.

E: I know what that is. It's where the vampires go.

R: (Apparently laughing)

E: Don't laugh!

At this point I whipped out some paper, handed it to the little lady, and scrounged up some markers from my more prepared mother. Eden drew me, and then I drew Eden. She colored both (which coloring may or may not highlight the difficulty every child faces in choosing a skin color for Caucasians....). Enjoy!

Friday, February 17, 2012


When I lived with Liahona and baby Eden back in Provo (and back when Eden was a baby), the very best part of my day was walking home from school, and seeing our little yellow house peek out of our neighbor's bushes. That part right before being home. That full hope of home. Since then I have tried to pay careful attention to those specific "best parts." In my Boston home it was often noticing my neighbor's house two doors down. It was easy to notice because it had a large and welcoming garden, and in the fall a small and welcoming table with vegetables on top and a handwritten sign explaining that they were blessed with so much and wanted to share. When the table was outside I would eat a ripe tomato everyday on my way to school and would often grab an eggplant or squash on my way home from school. At my brother's house it was the turn to get onto their street (from either direction). Once you were on their street every house looked so similar that there could be no sign, except for their camaro that I very occasionally had the privilege to drive. That parked car is the singular way I knew I was in the right place. Then at my grandmas house, I knew I was almost home when I saw her roses. My mother had given her the rose bushes many years before and they have prospered under her care. I am not even particularly fond of roses, but I am fond of these "welcome home" ones.

How did we know we were almost home when we lived in Vienna? A restaurant, one block away from our house, with a very I-am-living-out-of-the-country-for-my-first-time-and-I-came-from-Los Angeles-and-I-love-that-you-are-one-block-from-my-house feel. I thank you, Cafe Hollywood.

And then our temporary, renting only part-of-a-house house in Claremont:

It is probably more funny to me than it should be, and even funnier that I didn't notice it the day I moved in, because it was day, and not lit up, and the first time I noticed it was the first time my friend Ayesha drove me home from somewhere, and I was trying to tell her where it was, and she asked, "That one with the cross on it?" and I had to say, "Yes. That one with the cross on it," because it was.

Now (as of February 12th) we live in downtown LA, and I know I am close to home when I see the taco truck of my dreams(!). How do you know you're almost home? Does it fill you with the joy of 100 summers as it does me?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

When I was 27.








August too






Apparently when I was 27 I wore my hair in a bun a lot. I also got married, moved to Europe, finished my first year of PhD school, mourned the loss of my grandmother, and gave my first presentation at a conference. And if you care to see my (comparatively) less interesting 26th, and 25th years, please go ahead.

Monday, February 13, 2012

On the first day of school, with a preface.

To understand the magnitude of what I am about to share, you must first know a few things. First, you must know that when it comes to school, I am eager, but reticent: I talk very rarely in my classes, and when I do it generally takes every ounce of my courage. In some classes, this is not as true as in others (for instance in my last year's Levinas class, I contributed vocally almost every day), but it is generally true. And it was definitely true in another class I took last year, with a professor named Dalferth. He becomes important to this story. Second, you must know that I only spoke to this professor one time, during that one semester. It was on the day that I gave my presentation. He thanked me for it, and told me I did a good job. I muttered, "Thank you," quietly, and that was that. There was a farewell party for Richard Bushman that this professor was at, and that I was at, and Spencer encouraged me to talk to him. I couldn't do it. I was too nervous. So instead, Spencer talked to him. I think to show me it could be done. The third thing you must know is that I got married somewhat recently and moved to Europe sometime recently, before moving back.

When a friend first heard that I was going, she was thrilled, because she would be Europe too, in Zurich, Switzerland. And who would she be writing her dissertation under? None other but Ingolf Dalferth. This friend suggested that I see if he would do an independent study with me, where I do most of the work by myself, but meet with him very occasionally. Even penning this request took courage for me, but I did it. And he wrote back quickly: a yes. He then asked what I would like to do it on, and I answered: Kierkegaard. I would like to do it on Kierkegaard. Specifically I desired to do it on Kierkegaard, the woman he was famously engaged and unengaged to, his notion of sacrifice, and the way the woman is weaved into every one of his texts. I told Dalferth my interest, and he wrote back with a reading list. I saw him exactly one time, in Zurich. A lunch meeting in a too loud restaurant, and then in his office on the same day. I was required to write a single paper. The length and specifics were never discussed. It ended up being 40 pages, and was on the exact things I wanted it to be on, making it more biographical than philosophical, but nevertheless pleasing to me. (In fact, probably very pleasing to me, because it was the exact paper I have always wanted to read.) In Dalferth's comments back, he also noted the biographical slant, but graded in such a way that the paper seemed to still be somewhat pleasing to him. End preface.

On the first day of school I called my mom as I walked to class. And I got there early. And I sat in the very back of the seminar room/table for computer plug access. Dalferth walked in right at 9:00 am, when class was to begin. He sat down, and looked around. He looked at many students, before he noticed me. When he did: a big smile, and the words, "Ah, hello Rachel! Back from Europe?" To which I said, "Yes. And you!" (also with a smile). "Yes. Are you jet lagged?" "A little bit." "Well, take a nap." With that, class began. That already felt like one hundred successes, because it magnified in one day what I previously said to him in an entire semester. But it gets better. A lot better.

The first part of class was on two possible ways of interpreting text. The first is to look at the author's life, as well as their other writings, and to look at the present text in the context of both of those things. The second is to look at the topic of the text, and the topic's context. This includes everything that has ever been written on it, going back to the past, and what could ever be written on it, going forward to the future. He pointed out that the philosopher at hand (the very Kierkegaard I studied in Europe), particularly lends himself to be looked at biographically, and as such, he would begin by talking about him historically. He then gave me one of the best compliments I have received, ever, by saying, "If I forget anything, I will ask Rachel, because she knows everything there is to know about Kierkegaard's life." Another big smile.

He started with Kierkegaard's birth, and city, and sad but close relation with his father and the way that particular relation influenced his relationship with God, before he brought up Regine Olsen--the woman I wrote about. At this point Dalferth really did turn the time over to me, asking me to tell the class about their relationship. I did so, for several minutes, and then again, after a fellow student asked a question that he also referred to me. I was nervous as I spoke, but I spoke. And my classmates listened, typing or scribbling notes furiously. During the break several approached me, asking me additional questions. It was a wonderful start to a semester, and quite possibly the best moment of my academic career up to this point. I loved sharing my knowledge and my passion, and having the opportunity and trust to do so. In many ways it is a shame that it took me moving to Europe to talk to my professor, but I am so thankful that it happened.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Grand Inquisition.

And one more story.

On my last day in Vienna, we visited Wittgenstein's house then hopped on the train to Prague. There was a scare immediately prior to that where we thought we missed our train, but thankfully the clock Spencer spotted was one hour fast, so all was right with the transportation/trying to get out of the country world. Arriving in Prague was not as wonderful, however, mostly because we didn't know how to get to where we would be sleeping that evening, and had a lot of things to carry (including heavy, non-traditionally shaped luggage, a gigantic bike box, and a bike), and got lost quickly. The place was also not as close as Spencer suspected, which was unfortunate. More unfortunate was that Spencer accidentally mixed up the zipcode with the house number, so we had the correct street, but that was all. We were supposed to meet a woman at the space to receive the key, and were running late since we were running lost. This meant that Spencer was feeling urgent, and we were both feeling a little frustrated. It also meant that when we found that street, Spencer took over on the bike and rode up and down shouting, "Margarita! Margarita!" at the top of his lungs because that is the woman's name who had been emailing him. He would also stop unsuspecting pedestrians if they knew and/or were Margarita. Sadly, none of them were, and none of them knew her whereabouts or who-abouts. During Spencer's time of guess who I sat on the sidewalk by the remainder of our stuff. As I already mentioned, one of these stuff-items was an extra-large bike box, made out of cardboard. And the other items were mismatched luggage: panniers, backpacking backpack, etc. Not a single piece of traditional luggage. Now picture me at this moment: I was cold (and increasingly getting colder), sick (and likely increasingly getting sicker), and was unshowered. Now picture everyone who walked by me during this time: I am 99% sure that 99% of them thought I was homeless. And really, it is not their fault (though it was very depressing).

Eventually Spencer took his bike riding regime to the next step in our plan (which probably should have been the first), and that was to find somewhere to check his email, to try to contact the woman and to secure the proper address. He came back after doing those very things. Now that we knew the correct apartment building we waited patiently for someone to arrive so we could sneak in behind them, and of course ask them if they were Margarita. We did make our way in eventually, and no one we saw was the elusive stranger. Spencer left me there, while he returned to his shouting, "Margarita!" rounds up and down the street. I didn't want to be doing that, but didn't really like staying behind either. I was embarrassed to be a loiterer in a foreign place, especially each time some non-Margarita person walked in and out, since I kept getting the same looks. Finally, an old woman walks in. Following Spencer's lead I ask her the requisite question. No, she wasn't Margarita either, but through the open door I suddenly spot a woman in a van who is looking at me intently. I cautiously wave. She less cautiously waves back, and gets out of the car to approach me. She sticks out her hand. Again I ask, "Are you Margarita?" "No." She answers, "I'm Helen." The woman we were waiting for was named Helen! Margarita was her partner! I could not believe it. Spencer comes soon after, and the woman named Helen takes us upstairs to the apartment, hands us the keys, shows us around, and then departs. I am so tired and grumpy and hungry and cold, and we still had packing/rearranging to do. Spencer is the biggest trooper though, because he wasn't even upset that the lady's name was not Margarita, or that we had been outside for two plus hours in unfavorable circumstances. He is also a trooper because he then stayed up most of the night packing my bike in the infamous box, while I slept.

We had Helen's person take us to the airport the following day because my flight was early in the morning, and there was no way we would have been able to navigate the city to the airport, drag all of my luggage to boot, and make it through flying-to-another-country security in time. Especially because of how bad/long that flying-to-another-country security was. I was nervous that I would get in trouble for staying in the EU longer than my allotted 90 tourist days, but I think it would have felt like an inquisition anyway: a grand inquisition. You see, the woman asked me one million questions. Or perhaps one million and one. They were questions like, "When did you get into Prague? How did you get here? Where was your luggage? What's in your luggage? Has anyone touched your luggage? Where was your luggage this morning? Where was your luggage 5 minutes ago? Why aren't you flying out of Vienna? What other countries did you travel to? Where did you stay in those countries? Who were you with? What were you doing in there? Why isn't your husband flying with you? Etc., Etc." That last (non-Etc.) question got me, because I really wanted Spencer to be flying with me, and until two days before I thought he would be, but then he found out that he had to stay longer to finish his semester and I still had to go back as scheduled to start mine. There were more of these types of questions, including the much dreaded, "When did you arrive in Europe?" question. I answered honestly though vaguely, "A few months ago," and was grateful when the followup question was, "What specific day?" because I didn't know the specific day, so could say, "I don't know the specific day," without being a liar. It was easy to answer the other accompanying question of where I flew into, and all of the other queries, so I thought things were going okay, but then the lady told me that her supervisor would need to interview me further. She also asked me if she could interview Spencer. She asked why he wasn't going with me and all of the other questions she had already pressed me with, while her head pressed me again, repeatedly asking when I got there. After she was satisfied, she also interviewed Spencer. After this supervisor left, the original person asked me two more questions. They sounded the most memorized/probably required, so any absurdity is not necessarily the asker's fault. With that defense out of the way: Read on.

Woman: It is sometimes the case that passengers bring bombs on the plane. Are you bringing a bomb on the plane?

Me, vocally: No.

Me, silent: No, but if a passenger was, would they really tell you?

Woman: It is sometimes the case that other people give passengers bombs to carry on the plane. Did someone give you a bomb to carry on the plane?

Me, vocally: No.

Me, silent: (Please see above.)

With all of this grief, they actually let me through. Just in time for the person checking my bags to give me additional grief, to call her authority to give me even more. All in all, it is a miracle that I made it home.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mormon Women Oral History Project.

AKA: The best thing I did in Vienna.

Have you ever sat down with someone, and asked them to tell you all about themselves? I have done this. In fact, I have spent days and weeks doing this in a foreign country, right before I was about to say goodbye. I wanted to do it the whole time I was in Vienna, because there is a project I believe in that is comprised of such asking and such listening. It is called the Mormon Women Oral History Project, and was started by a woman I admire, named Claudia Bushman, when she was teaching at my school in California.

The point of the project is in many ways wrapped up in its name: to let Mormon women speak their own histories, and to record them and transcribe them. It is so simple but so beautiful, because sometimes women's voices are forgotten in scriptural and spiritual discourse. I wanted to help the project become even more international to open up the voices still further, and recognized that my Vienna stay gave me a unique opportunity to do so.

I was able to meet with sisters from the UK, the Philippines, Austria, Canada, and the United States. Together they represented a fair spectrum of human experiences and backgrounds. Each was a woman I cared about. Each was a woman I would call friend. As I sat with them, I asked them about their life, their faith, their families, their experiences inside and outside of the church, and their feelings on LDS women's issues. I listened as they told me diverse stories and viewpoints. I remembered that the church is big, not only geographically, but ideologically. I remembered that it remains relevant in those differences, rather than in spite of them.

My favorite question of all asked simply and straightforwardly, "What is your conception of Heavenly Mother?" I understood the courage of this question, and its assumption that these women did have a concept of their Mother in Heaven that was just waiting to be teased out. Maybe I liked this question because I shared that personal hope. And maybe because of that personal hope/investment, I found myself nervously hurrying to fill any silence with a softer, less effective question: "Or do you have a conception of Heavenly Mother?"

Many of them did, but not all. Some expressed a desire to know more. Some expressed theories on why we don't. Some were satisfied with their supposed reasons. Others were not. One shared the most beautiful thing about Heavenly Mother I have heard in all of my 2008 paid-by-BYU months of Divine Feminine research, and all of the years that have intervened.

It concerned a personal story/revelatory experience in the temple. The woman was sitting there, hurt and frustrated with her husband—more hurt than she could have imagined—when she felt God speak to her. In her anger and frustration, she said, "No. I don't want to speak to you. I want to speak to Mother." And then she felt/heard something else. "She's here." Like when you're in college and you call home before the time of cellphones, and your dad picks up, but really you just want to talk to mom. And your dad goes and gets her, and sometimes he stays on the line too. It was like that for this woman. She felt them both, and knew that they were both listening and that they both care. And because her Heavenly Mother was there, she could speak. She could speak honestly and openly, and she could let them give her an answer.

It reminded me of something Eugene England once said at a BYU Women's Conference. He started out by asking, "What is a good basis for imagining eternal marriage, then?" before he went on to answer:
The plain scriptures, I believe. In the first place, modern scriptures and revelations suggest quite plainly that we would more accurately and profitably read the scriptural references to "God" as meaning God the eternal partnership of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. They have a more perfect unity even than that of God and Christ and the Holy Ghost, and so the word God implies both of them, at least as much as it denotes the three beings in the classical Christian trinity called "God." 
Such a more correct identification of "God" might help us better comprehend the direct role our Heavenly Mother played in our creation and salvation. When we read in Genesis that God said, "Let us create man in our image," it makes most sense to read it as God the Father and God the Mother speaking as One. When we read in John that God sent His only begotten Son to save us, it would be better to understand, as it certainly makes more sense, that our Heavenly Parents sent Their only begotten Son. 
This process is truer to the evidence—and to our real needs as men and women—than looking for a female God between the lines in the scriptures or in apocryphal works or mythologies, as many feminist theologians are doing. It might help us better imagine our futures as husbands and wives, equally yoked in what Shakespeare called "the marriage of true minds"—and to work toward that future now. 
Second, modern revelation tells us that when God put "man" on the earth, "in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them." (Moses 2:27.) Clearly men and women were both created in the "image" of Christ. That would seem to mean we are created in the image of the Heavenly Parents who together make up the "God" whom Christ came to reveal, that is, the perfect eternal partnership He came to teach us how to achieve and to show us in His life and character what we would be like when we achieved it.
On another day I asked myself these same questions (the ones I had been posing to my friends). Spencer was at school, so I sat on our couch, microphone headset in tow, and I talked and I talked for three hours, out loud to just myself. I talked about the things that are hard for me in the church and I talked about the things that are good for me. I talked about my feelings on sisterhood and the myriad ways that women have blessed/saved my life. I talked about my own experiences researching Heavenly Mother, and I talked about the million times God has answered my small, simple, and specific prayers in ways that I know are from heaven. I talked about lessons learned from my father and mother, and how I know that my mom believes in prayer because when I was a child I walked in her room to talk to her and found her kneeling beside her bed, quietly crying, when she thought no one was looking. 

As I spoke, my first feelings were renewed: that this project is an important one. There is something so powerful and beautiful and affirming in letting individuals tell their own stories. It is redemptive, really. And in this context of spirituality, where women's voices are often lacking, the simple act of asking and the even simpler, but not less essential act of listening, becomes doubly important. I believe that the French philosopher, Levinas, would agree, because he understands that it is this simple back and forth talking that lets us have relationships of peace. It is how we let the other present themselves to us as a self. It is how we avoid violencing the other.

One more interesting thing happened: as I sat with these women, these sisters who I already cared for, and as I heard their stories, my heart was filled with even greater love for them. I felt the spirit every time. I felt love and tenderness every time. I remember reading in Ender's Game that it is impossible to truly know someone and not love them. Participating in this project is the strongest I have ever felt that. One possible reason for this, is because hearing someone's words, in their voice, from their mouth lets us rejoice with them when they rejoice, and mourn with them when they mourn. The simple act of talking becomes healing, and things that are hard no longer feel quite so burdensome when they are shared, when they are spoken. And it also works the other way: things that are happy feel even happier. Even more joyous.

I am left with the sneaking suspicion that we should all be telling more stories. We should all be asking for more stories.

(And as a p.s. question, added after the first writing: What question would you like to ask? What question would you like to answer?)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Best of Vienna.

Vienna was kind to us, so kind in fact, that it is almost hard to talk about. Because what do you say when there is so much to say? Instead I will leave you with these pictures of some of the beautiful places and treasures of Vienna. But please know, that the real treasures are the friends we made in so short a time, that made it very difficult to leave, and made us want to extend our stay by a whole year.

These chandelier Christmas lights near Stephansplatz.

New Years Eve: waltzing at midnight and fireworks in all directions.

Sadly these pictures do no justice to the fear and excitement of it all.

The Belvedere in general and seeing Klimpt's Kiss there in particular.

Wittgenstein's house on our very last day. He built and designed it himself.

I had heard that it was boring, but it wasn't boring at all: only modern.

These were left in our fridge with milk for crepe making. My favorite reads: If I had to
choose between my friendship with you and one of my limbs, I'd be missing a member.

Apfel kuchen (apple pie/cake) made with love by
our favorite neurosurgeon/painter.

Farewell present for Spencer from other dear friends.

Farewell present for me from the same friends.

And for your pleasure: one of the funniest thing that happened in Vienna. It is tied to the talk I gave one Sunday. I finished writing it that morning around 3 am, sitting in a computer lab at Spencer's school. He was busy working on a project, and I was too scared to bike the hour home without him. I had a gigantic piece of paper covered with my scrawled notes, when Spencer's friend walks in. The boy, Luis, asked me what I was working on. And maybe because I didn't know very many people, and was in a different country, and it was 3 in the morning, I explained that I was going to be speaking at our church the following day and very enthusiastically asked him if he would like to come. (This isn't to say that I shouldn't, or couldn't have done that if I was in my own country, it is just that I hadn't in a long while.) He gave a "maybe" kind of answer and left it at that. Which was okay. Spencer sees this friend a day or so later, and the friend says, "Your wife's really religious, huh?" in that insider kind of way that makes you know he assumes Spencer isn't religious. Spencer already finds this funny. Probably because he is just as, or more religious than me. But it isn't until many, many days later that I am thinking about the exchange again, when it dawns on me: he thinks I am a preacher! Spencer's friend thinks I am a preacher!! What other church allows regular members of the congregation to speak?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Americans in Paris.

S and I went to The City of Lights to look at Christmas lights, and you know, to celebrate Christmas. I think it may have been the only way that being away from family for the second year in a row was (somewhat) bearable. It was a lovely city, and one of my favorite Europe cities. Perhaps because it reminded me so much of New York, in every good way possible. It also had delicious pastries on every corner. While there we most definitely lived on croissants, crepes, baguettes, pan de chocolates, and cheese--all kinds of delicious cheese. Fortunately while there we also walked a lot, so I felt good about it.

One of those walks has been mentioned previously. It celebrated the completion of my 40 page Kierkegaard paper, and was to the Eiffel Tower and back. We got there after it had closed, so ended up going a second time. I wanted to take the stairs up, to have the experience and to see the city. It was amazing to me how different the famous tower looked up close, compared to far away, and compared again to pictures, videos, and other representations I have seen of it. Up close it is not that pretty, except for the lights. Or it is pretty, just not in ways I expected. It is made from a course metal. Spencer told me the French didn't like it very much at first, and wanted desperately to take it down after its entrance into the world for the World Fair. Now I can't even imagine Paris without it. I am sure many feel that way. Someone exercised good wisdom in persuading the Parisians to let it stay.

We also got to visit a few museums. I wanted to see the Louvre because I (and everyone else in the city) wanted to see da Vinci's famous painting. It was nice, but smaller than I imagined. Winged Victory--a very commanding/inspiring headless statue with wings--was more impressive. I also didn't know that the Louvre only housed old paintings. I was expecting to see Monet's, Picasso's, Van Gogh's, etcetera. Sadly for me, I was in the wrong place. I think my favorite thing about the Louvre was not a single work within the structure, but the structure itself. It really is a beautiful building, as so many in that part of the world are. Still, Spencer and I loved the Pompidou Center more. This may not have been too surprising, because we received a very strong recommendation, naming it a favorite in the whole of Paris. It is also housed in a cool structure, though cool for completely different reasons. The purpose of the Pompidou's structure is to have all of the things on the outside of a building that normally go inside, but distract from the meaning of the building--things like air ducts, electrical ducts, and water lines. The art inside was also better. Or at least better to me, and to my interests. Architect Spencer liked the Pompidou more because he modeled a building after it, is friends with the individual who designed the restaurant on the top floor, and finds it one of the best contemporary art museums in the world.

More Paris highlights include visiting that particular restaurant designing friend, who has also done some other cool things in the city and country like design a hip, bright green fashion school on the Seine River and a sunny orange building in Lyon. He was very nice, works with his wife, and has a little daughter. Somehow I really liked that he had a family and was similarly down to earth. For whatever reason I don't picture most architects like that. Afterward we got to meet up with our best European friends: Katherine and Eric. They had been traveling around Spain and had a 4-5 hour stop in Paris on their way back to Vienna. It was nice to spend Christmas Eve Eve with them. In Spencer's words, they made our Vienna/Europe experience 100 times better. That night we also enjoyed Paris' many (English and non-English) bookstores, and watched The Artist, which film I whole heartedly recommend. Christmas day we slept in, opened stockings, ate pez and other good treats, before going to another friends for dinner. We met her in Utah this past summer, and she is very kind. Her family: equally so.

The last one was taken in Vienna, but you get the idea.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Soren's City.

The second best side trip we went on was even better than the temporally first. It was to a little place I call Copenhagen, Denmark, and is the city of my philosophical hero, Soren Aabye Kierkegaard. The truest way to describe this trip is to call to mind Charles Dickens famous words in his Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. (This is actually true of a lot of times in my life, the prime example being wedding day: lovely and happy--though a tad stressful. Directly post wedding day: terrible car wreck.) We planned to take an overnight bus, because while potentially not as glamorous as a train (or plane for that matter), buses are generally much, much cheaper. We pack our bags after securing a place to stay with a friend, and head to the station.

We are there before take off time and notice workers in the office still selling tickets, both fortunate things. For a very unfortunate thing: they were no longer selling tickets to Denmark for that night, because the bus was full. The woman explained we could purchase a ticket for the following day. We had to say no, because we needed to be there the following day to hear my professor speak at a philosophy conference. We hurry to the train, and buy tickets. Or try to. The person didn't say yes, or no, just that we could get them, but on the train itself. It was too late to be booked all of the way through. That type of thing has happened to me once before, and doesn't make any sense to me, but was what we would have to do, so instead of buying tickets all of the way from Vienna to Copenhagen, we had to buy three train tickets each. One to each country border. It was very sad, and quickly became very expensive. Our affordable trip suddenly wasn't as affordable as we hoped/needed it to be. First "worst" time.

The second came soon after when the train we were on was about to split and go in a different direction. We were warned at the last possible moment, so just barely had time to gather our bags, run out the door, and connect to the part of the train that was continuing its "to Denmark" course. The problem now was that every car was full. Not only would we not be able to lay down and sleep, we were having trouble just finding two sitting up seats in the same car. I walk all of the way down and back, twice. And then I see it. One car, that has no people in it. Just one bag, on one seat. I don't think very much of it, except to feel gratitude that I found somewhere for Spencer and I to travel, when the bag's owner returns.

He was the most currently-on-drugs/un-showered person I have ever seen. His pants were all of the way down, showing his underwear, and while he knew English well, he could barely speak or be understood for his slurring. As soon as he sat down, he started smoking in the tiny car inside. Spencer politely asked him not to smoke in the car. He politely asked us if we didn't smoke. When we said no, he stepped into the hallway, but unfortunately just outside of the door, right by where I was resting my head on the wall. I had to turn away, but could still smell it strongly. The smoke combined with other unclean smells was nauseating to me. The individual came back in, and struck up a conversation with Spencer. He mentioned he was going to Prague, so Spencer asked him if he was visiting friends there. "No. I'm going to buy drugs. Crystal meth. Do you know it?" And then I got to hear Spencer, my very appropriate, very clean husband say things like, "Yeah, I know crystal meth." And then later, "No, I haven't gotten too much into death metal," when the gentleman asked him about American death metal bands. At one point the man fell asleep, but not before asking Spencer to wake him up at a certain stop. When the time came (about 3:00 in the morning), Spencer tried to, but he wouldn't wake up. I thought he was passed out, or completely gone. I could neither see nor hear him breathing. It was completely scary. I had to get out of there to find another car that had purer smells so I could sleep. End second "worst" time.

The third came when we got to the conference to find out that my Switzerland/California professor wasn't even there. He had gotten sick, and let the conference chairs know he wasn't coming, but neglected to tell anyone else. We could have taken the bus the next day after all, and avoided the crazy cost plus circumstances. Finding this out was maddening enough, but only moments later we discovered that the hotel we had originally booked (before we knew we had a place to stay) did not accept our cancellation. Another large chunk of money, and the fourth worst thing. Our situation was getting sadder and sadder. There was one more "worst of times," but it is more complicated and less worth talking about in such a sphere.

Thankfully, everything else was best of times. Everything else was best, so best in fact, that it made all of the bad worth it. It made the bad seem like nothing. First best, Jan Marie. I met her in Boston, and I cannot say enough good things about her, but to say a few: she is intelligent, thoughtful, and an Astronomer!! She also returns books you lent her a year and a half ago, in another country. The second was running into a Swiss friend in front of a busstop in front of the Copenhagen temple. The third was the Copenhagen temple itself. The fourth was running into the Swiss friend again at the philosophy conference, and accompanying her to to the Soren Kierkegaard Institute. She was supposed to meet with someone that morning, but missed it, and hoped to catch him in his office. On the way we passed by a Soren statue, and many other lovely things.

When we walked into our goal building, two girls invited us into a party. That was the fifth thing. The sixth was thinking to ask if the author of the 800-900 page biography on Kierkegaard I had finished for the second time just two weeks before was present. And the seventh was Spencer who had heard me say that they call him the Danish Robert Redford, tell me, pointing to someone, "If he's here, it's that guy." The eighth was having him be right. The ninth was the fact that the Danish Robert Redford was extremely nice, and talked with me for 30+ minutes about his book and other things. The tenth was that I had that book with me, and that he signed it! The eleventh was exploring all of Copenhagen the next day with Spencer, Jan Marie, and another friend from Boston, Matt. We saw everything I wanted to see with a half hour before we had to be at the busstop (which we were smart enough to buy advanced tickets for) except for one thing: Kierkegaard's family home.

I knew what square it was near, what famous church it was also near (that we a. had already visited and b. happens to hold the original Christus!), the name of the street (Nytorv), and had even heard that it was now a bank, so was keeping my eye out. All to no avail. That is, until we got lost on our way to a warm place to sit and hot chocolate to drink. All of our twists and turns led us back to one of the main squares downtown. Jan Marie realized her mistake, and was ushering the troops back the way we had just walked, when I caught glimpse of a bank I had been eyeing earlier. From my current angle I thought I saw something that might, just might be a plaque honoring the philosopher I loved so much (which plaque I had also heard existed). I ignore the others who are turning around, and cross the street at an angle to approach the perceived plaque. It's shine was drawing me in. As I got closer I could see that it was nothing more than a slot for people to put bank slips in. (Boo.) But, what did I see a few feet to the left of it? A real plaque! With Soren's name on it!! Made out of the same white stone as the rest of the house, and crumbled. I would never have noticed it from across the street. In fact, I would never have noticed it unless I was just a few feet from it (which I now was)--it blended in so perfectly. I felt tenderly blessed to have found it, especially just minutes before I would be leaving the city. It was a very sweet send off, and would comprise the twelfth and final "best thing" that happened to me in Copenhagen.

(Except, if I am honest, there are probably at least a dozen more best things, including seeing the Little Mermaid statue that my mom once stood in front of, and on that same tired walk seeing a street sign for the place where Kierkegaard and his ex-fiance would often meet. That trip was heaven when it was not hell.)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Giving Thanks.

Thanksgiving weekend we hosted two dinner parties, and attended another. For one of those parties Spencer tried to find cream to make mashed potatoes. It was slightly difficult, because we didn't know the word for cream, and forgot to look it up before we left for the store. Once we got there, he started asking every person that walked by the particular aisle. I suspected it would go badly, because just the night before he had tried to get strangers to take a picture of us in front of an outdoor Christmas tree, and all ten people that walked by said no. Thankfully this time, the second person that came by a. knew English, and b. was willing to help us find the right kind of cream. We told her why we wanted it, and she said, "Ah, Thanksgiving!" and then asked us if we were making turkey. We weren't, but I liked that she knew the custom. Instead Spencer bought three little hams and made mashed potatoes. I made multiple pies, and friends (from multiple places) brought some other things to share. All in all, it was a delicious and lovely evening.

One of the best parts was the requisite, "go around the room and say what you are thankful for" part, and as per Spencer's family tradition, each person said two things. Sadly, I only remember one of Spencer's, which had something to do with the fact that we were sealed in the temple. I had a lot of things to be grateful for, because miracle of miracles, our long last package had just arrived, approximately five months between the time we sent it from America and received it in Europe. The package was pretty beat up, but intact. From the stamps and stickers we could see that it had also had quite the adventure, spending time in New York, Germany and elsewhere before making its way to Vienna, Austria. The day we received it felt better than Christmas--to have things we cherished (and could keep us warm) returned again, when we thought that they were lost forever. We were both so giddy and so grateful. My second gratitude item was simply that we were/are both still alive, which with our fairly recent circumstances is a pretty big gift indeed. Lastly, we followed one more of Spencer's family's traditions, and built Apple Turkeys. (See picture below, and guess which one is mine.)