Sunday, December 23, 2012

9/11 Memorial

My BIL Tim and I went to see the 9/11 Memorial last week while he was in town with a couple of friends. It was very sobering standing at the North and South Pools, looking down into the abyss of where WTC 1 and WTC 2 stood.  It was like they had just gone down into the ground and disappeared.  The thought crossed my mind-the building sank down into the depths of Hell itself.  9/11/01 surely was hell for a lot of people, so I don't feel like my impression was off too much.  Around both pools were listed the names of all the victims of all of the events; the Pentagon, the Towers, Flight 93, and the rescue workers who gave their lives.  It was emotional just looking at these names.  It was very real and very close. 

There is a tree there called the Survivor Tree.  It is the only tree that survived the horror and destruction of that day.  It was taken and nursed back to health in another location, then moved back to the grounds in 2010.  

There was a reverence on the grounds.  I almost didn't want to leave.  

This is a Christmas tree displayed by the NYFD with pictures and names of their fellow firefighters who did not survive the rescue effort. 
It was right next to this tribute outside the actual memorial.

St. Paul's Church is right across the street from WTC Plaza. It was miraculously undamaged on 9/11/01, and became a hub for rescue/relief efforts.  I LOVE old churches.  Obsessed. 

It was a very cool experience.  The memory of 9/11 and the feelings of sorrow, reverence and gratitude, solidarity and patriotism are alive and well in the surrounding area.  Tim asked me if the whole city still remembered like this, and I didn't think so.  The feeling of tribute is palpable on that small square mile or so of land in lower Manhattan. 

Just Some Christmas Goodness

Parties, lights, friends, family, food.  That's what is happening in December.  Christmastime is always good, and when I can do it both in New York AND Utah, it is extra good.  New York City is just fun and exciting, with all kinds of fun Christmas things to do and see, and Utah is just.  Home. 

A night out with my boys Jeff Stevens and Rance Wright. 

Peppermint hot chocolate and the Rockefeller Tree?  Yes. 

Fifth Avenue.  These people  know how to do Christmas.

Not a great pic, but this is the Harry Winston store.  It looked beautiful.

Tiffany & Co.  That is a HUGE diamond in the middle.

Fifth Avenue. 

The Plaza Hotel

Did you know there is an actual Resident area of the Plaza?  People actually live there.  I tried to go in, like I owned the place.  Just kidding.  
Just a little bit of skating at Bryant Park in the morning.  (Not me.  Heavens, no). 

SoHo, while shopping for Christmas presents.

Have I said yet in this post how obsessed I am with New York?  Obssessed. 
 OK, this takes a little bit of explanation.  One of the parties I attended was given by Ryan and Kimberly Simmons, in my ward, and fellow BYU/theater people.  We all met at the 96th/Bway train stop with gifts.  As we walked toward Ryan and Kimberly's apartment on 116th street, we stopped random strangers and offered them our gifts.  It was hysterical, and uncomfortable, and fun to just spread some Christmas cheer.  New Yorkers sure are an un-trusting bunch....Anyway, we ended up at their DARLING home for treats and games.  Among the activities was the traditional jello mold drop, in which they drop a jello mold out of their 5th floor window into the alley below.  If you can hear the splat on the street, it will be a good Christmas.  Verdict came in with a forecast for a very good Christmas. :-)
I know how skinny I look in this picture.  It really is just the angle.  I wish it wasn't.

Seth Baird and I.  Sometimes you have to take family portraits in front of a tree.

Our fabulous hosts, Ryan and Kimberly Simmons.
 My brother in law Tim came into town last week, and I took him and a few of his friends around the city.  We visited Bryant Park again, and a great tree.   Still, none of us needed to ice skate.  Go figure.   There was another visit to High Line Park for me since I wanted to take them as well.  They loved it, and I loved it all over again.  We also visited the 9/11 Memorial, and Columbus Circle where there were lots of Christmas shops to browse.  They finished off the day at Evita while I worked.  It was great to see Tim, and so fun to feel like a local as I showed off my new home.

Cool shot from the High Line

 I am newly in love with Instagram, an app on my phone that allows me to add cool filters to my pictures.  Obsessed.

And...home.  My backyard is awesome. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Oh, and By the Way...

I am home.  After kind of a nightmare travel day (trying to sleep when the large man next to me is snoring on the first leg, sitting on the runway for 90 minutes on the second leg) I am home in beautiful, snow-covered Mapletopia.  And it feels so good!  I forget how good is SMELLS here in the wintertime.  All fresh, crisp, clean, no urine or other various and sundry body odors sweat...or vomit...or a combination of the three....just goodness.

This is my Christmas tree.  Coming home to it, I finally feel like it is Christmas.  That, and the 6 different varieties of hot chocolate in my parent's cupboard.  And the two cartons of Dreyers peppermint ice cream in the freezer.  Yes.  Christmastime is here.....

Vulnerability at Christmas? Never....

Merry Christmas.

I have been thinking about that phrase for a few days now.  A couple of weeks ago I was at KMart, and after a completely routine check out, complete with minimal communication and not a lot of eye contact with the clerk,  (very typical of NYC, and I have to say I fall into it sometimes as well.  Not proud, but a true statement), I looked up at her at the end as I left and said, "Merry Christmas."  Her eyes met mine, lit up, and she smiled and said, "Merry Christmas!"  I walked away, my spirits immediately lifted and feeling the Christmas spirit.  I vowed to myself that I would say it much more in my daily interactions with others this season.

Well, I haven't.  I forget, I let the moment go, or, -and this has surprised me- I feel too insecure to say it to someone else.  Now, why would that be?  Is it because, amidst all this PC crap-and I do think it is crap- about not offending anyone, I have actually fallen into the trap of feeling like "Happy Holidays" is safer?  Maybe sometimes.  But I haven't even been saying that very much.  I have had so many moments this season where I think, "I should have told that person Merry Christmas."  But I let the moment pass by with nothing said and move on with my day.

The truth is, I realized that giving any kind of seasonal greeting is opening myself up to being vulnerable with that person.  It is letting them know that I care about them enough to wish them a Merry Christmas.  Why am I afraid; why is being vulnerable, even on this most basic level, uncomfortable? Maybe I have this fear that it will not be well-received.  I want them to smile and say the same thing back, and what if they don't?  Will I feel rejected in some small way?  Maybe I just want to get on with my day and stay in my own little world, send my packages, buy my lunch, whatever, and not have any more human connection than necessary.

If that is the case, how did I get to be that person?  That is probably a large can of worms that should be discussed with my therapist before putting it out there on the internets.  ( I just so happen to have a session tomorrow.... ) But, this epiphany was really interesting for me.  Why am I so weird about reaching out just enough to give someone a smile and a wish for their wellness this season?  Time and time again, when I have actually taken a moment to do so, it has proven to make my day better just by making eye contact and sharing a moment with a stranger.   We are so isolated as a society that even those two small words are a challenge.  So odd. 

To utter the words "Happy Holidays," or "Merry Christmas," are to make a connection with another human being.  They matter.  I told a Jewish girl that I work with last weekend "Happy Hanukkah," and she was thrilled, like it had meant so much to her.  Maybe it didn't, but she was glad for the sentiment, and I was glad I had remembered to give it to her.  We shared a moment.  At least for me.

So, I am re-vowing to myself now to step outside, be brave and vulnerable, and let others know I want them to have a Merry Christmas.  I can say Happy Holidays, but you know, I really do like "Merry Christmas" better.  And honestly, I think most other people do too.

Let's do this.  If anyone reads this,  I am challenging you to really make a concerted effort in the next 5 days to tell people you come into contact with "Merry Christmas." Or something indicating your wish for their well-being this season.  Just watch how others react.  It is fascinating, and so fulfilling.  I just think most of us have forgotten how to say it.  And it really does mean a lot.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Thanksgiving Was...

Amazing.  It didn't start out amazing.  But it quickly got amazing.

I went to Ellicot City, Maryland to visit my great friend Stephanie for the holiday.  So, I took a bus to Baltimore.  Since I had to work on Wednesday afternoon, I couldn't catch a bus till that evening.  As I walked out to 11th Ave. and 34th Street, pulling my luggage, I quickly knew something was wrong.  The line for the bus was four blocks long.  I was thinking, hold up, hold up.  WHAT?  Two hour delay before I stepped on a bus?  Check.  Standing in the cold for that long?  Check.  Friends made in line to share in my misery with?  Check.  Arrived in Baltimore at midnight after a cramped bus ride?  Check.  Murder. 

After that, however, my weekend took an upswing very rapidly, and stayed there for the duration.  I got up the next morning and met Magnolia, Stephanie and Riley's daughter, who was about 5 months old.  I almost died, she is so cute.  After getting ready, we drove 3 hours down to Staunton, VA (through the amazing Shenandoah Valley, thank you)  to spend the day with Steph's extended family.  Now, I understand there is no completely adequate substitute for your own family during the holidays, at least for me anyway.  But Steph's family welcomed me with open arms and became my family for the day, and they did a wonderful job of making me feel at home.  It was a traditional family Thanksgiving, with the people, endless food, laughter, and warm fuzzies.   The day was gorgeous, about 60 degrees, and just so relaxing.  I have always loved Stephanie's family.  They are so kind, warm, and welcoming.  You really do feel a part of them immediately.  I just can't say enough.  It was a perfect day.

The rest of the weekend was spent in Ellicot City, a suburb of Baltimore.  I am obsessed with this city.  The downtown area, just around the corner from Steph and Riley's darling house, is straight out of a book, complete with boutiques, a super yummy chocolate shop, a coffee shop (breakfast on Friday), and a great restaurant (lunch on Saturday).  I mean, seriously.

Don't worry that I went back to the chocolate shop before I left and bought a stockpile that I ate...that day.  I am just so happy that I have a reason to keep going back to get my fill of small town goodness.

Lastly, I can't handle this little one.  The is the Christmas outfit I bought her.  I can't handle the cuteness that is Magnolia.

This is kind of a shameless shout out to a good friend, but I so appreciate Stephanie's presence in my life.  We were in Les Miz together, so have known each other for twelve years (I am getting old?).  Stephanie played Cosette.  She was 19, started a month before me and left tour a week before me.  We started out as the two youngest in the company, (I was 21) which, in a way, bonded us immediately.   I remember about a week before I joined the company getting a phone call on my new cell phone. (It was the year 2000, give me a break).  I answered and it was Stephanie, introducing herself and asking if I wanted to be her roommate for a few weeks.  I was so surprised and impressed with this girl who would reach outside herself without even knowing me.  Steph and I became really good friends, through the many ups and downs and adventures that is Tour.  She was definitely the girl I was closest to on the road.  We had so much fun together, but also always really enjoyed discussing ideas and principles with a healthy respect for eachother's beliefs and opinions, whether they were the same or not.  We loved to explore places and be outside, and to this day, whenever we get together, our time needs to include some sort of outside adventure.  I love it. 

Even though Stephanie isn't Mormon, and knew she wouldn't be able to be in the temple with me, she still came to my wedding and sang for the luncheon.  That meant so much to me. 

Five years later, she came to my side again as my marriage ended.  I still get emotional thinking about how grateful I was, and still am, for a friend that puts her friendship into action. 

In September 2011, I finally got to show my gratitude for her by attending her wedding to Riley.  It was awesome.

Pretty much, I can't describe a better person or friend than Steph.  She knows what friendship is, and means, better than I do.  She is a great example to me.

I adore her a little bit.

OK, that was almost too much seriousness.  I have to think of something funny or witty.

....I got nothin.  But it really was a great weekend!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Cancer Sucks.

I was going to do another catch up post today, but I just got done reading my sister Teresa's blog and I just can't get myself motivated to talk about how much I love New York and my life right now, and what a great Thanksgiving I had.  I just need to process for a second, and since my computer is right in front of me, lucky you, I am doing it online for all to see.

T's husband Layne has cancer.  Stage 4 colon cancer, to be exact.  We found out in May, kind of, but it was confirmed in June.   Layne's age (42) and good health are always a good thing in that his body is in better condition to fight cancer.  However, those factors also usually mean that the cancer is more aggressive.  I won't go into all the details. You can find those on her blog, which was set up specifically to keep others updated, if you are interested.

Our family doesn't have a lot of history with cancer, thank goodness.  My mom has had some melanomas on her face that were pretty traumatic and stressful for all of us.  But she was able to get them removed; chemo or radiation were not needed.  For the most part, that is our experience.  We are really lucky.  And my mom got a face lift she never really wanted.

Stage 4 colon cancer.  What does that even mean?  Our whole family has been blindsided and sucker-punched by this, all at the same time.  To watch this all unfold is just a nightmare.  And a lesson on faith, if I am being honest.  Definitely two sides to this coin.

Stage 4 is terminal, long story short.  I will never say never, and I will never stop hoping for a miracle healing.  But, putting things bluntly, chances are most likely that we will lose a cherished member of our family much sooner than any of us thought we would.  Miracles still happen, and I know God is working miracles in this as we speak.  But it is not up to us what those miracles look like.  I have no idea what sort of miracles God has in store for this little family and our extended one. 

Right now, in this moment, I just feel sad about the whole thing. 

To make it worse, in my opinion, every piece of news and progress we have received in relation to Layne's cancer has been negative.  So, the blog post I am reacting to today is that my sister is having impressions that time is shorter than she thinks for her husband.  

I can't imagine.  Well, in a way I can.  I know what it is like to all of a sudden have everything you thought for your future suddenly thrown into question.  I know what it is like to think your life was going to be spent in a certain way, with a certain person, and then learn that may not be the case.  But divorce and death are still different enough that I have no idea what my sister is really going through. 

Teresa is handling it really well, I think.  She lets herself grieve and cry when she needs to, and she and Layne have both really involved the kids in a healthy way.  Layne is on disability from work currently, and they home-school their kids, so right now they are getting to spend a lot of quality time together.  That is really awesome.   But I worry about her.  I know she will pick herself up and be fine, eventually.  But how?  What will that look like?  I really really really worry about the four beautiful children that may be left without a father, and are way too young to have to face such an ugly part of life.  It makes me want to hug them tighter and longer every time I see them. 

I am astounded by Teresa and Layne's faith.  They are amazing to me.  They are both tackling this with all their strength, and at the same time accepting the reality of the situation.

I am so grateful for a few things.  I am grateful that I have lived nearby for the last few years (in Utah) and I got to spend so much time with them.  I am glad my parents are around and are in Salt Lake for half of every week while they serve a mission for my church.  They get to spend a lot of time at T and L's home.  I am grateful for eternal families.  I know it brings Teresa and Layne a lot of comfort (and our family) that they will only be separated for a time, not parted forever.  I am so grateful for a God in heaven who knows us, loves us, and has a plan for all of us.  Even though this is hard, and I am already devastated, I know and my whole family knows that God's Will will be done.  Sometimes the plan God has for us is not easy to live with.  I know that myself.  But if/when Layne dies, I know Teresa and the kids will be taken care of, and it will all be OK, somehow, someday.  That's why Christ died, isn't it?

I am also grateful for the little blessings that tell me God is aware and taking care of things, like the fact that Layne is at home right now to spend time with the family.  

That being said, I hate talking as if Layne is already gone, or his fate is set in stone.  It makes me feel like I am practically putting him in his grave.  What a yucky feeling.

This post is so scattered, I know.  I told you I just need to process; I have a lot of thoughts right now.  Sometimes I can think about this objectively.  Some days I burst into tears as soon as the thought of Layne's terminal condition enters my mind.  But my main, overriding thought is this.

Cancer sucks. There is nothing redeeming or good about it.  I hate it, and I am furious it has attacked my family.  This is a really ugly, crappy part of life, and I am not going to qualify any more by talking about blessings and faith and the things I am grateful for.  While those things are true, I really just want to say I hate cancer.  Today is a day when I hate it and am not interested in being grateful.  I just hate it.