Thursday, December 12, 2013

In the Land of Miracles

Enjoying the last few moments of my long
hair...the dread is palpable!
I've had dozens of post ideas rolling around in my mind for the past three weeks, but I kept vetoing all of them before they made it to the page. I considered writing a eulogy to my hair the day we cut it to have a wig made, but I decided that would only be meaningful to me. Then I thought about giving a running list of chemo side effects but figured that would be intensely boring. Next, on a particularly rough day, I almost wrote about how I was feeling a distinct kinship with good old Biblical Job. That, however, sounded depressing. Besides, things really aren't all that bad--I still have an amazing family and incredibly supportive friends. And in fact, that's part of what I wanted to focus on today. I can't tell you all how impressed I've been--overwhelmed, really--by the amount of love and support we've received. Your prayers are definitely helping, friends. I feel them every day, and I have never felt so surrounded by miracles at any time in my life. In fact, when I went for my second round of chemo yesterday, the doctor was honestly floored at how the tumor seems to have disappeared after only one treatment. Things are going incredibly well!

After a couple of rough weeks with a variety of crazy side effects, I started feeling like my normal self about a week ago. This freed us up to hit wedding preparations really hard, but that brought on a new set of worries and troubles. Last Monday, after purchasing two plane tickets that we wouldn't have had to buy if it weren't for a tumor we've "affectionately" named Amalickiah, I started feeling really stressed about money. With a wedding, medical bills, and a variety of other unanticipated expenses, money has been flying out of my bank account at a frightening rate. As Roby and I discussed possibilities and tried to decide what expenses we could start cutting back on, the doorbell rang. To our complete amazement, some
anonymous soul had left a jar full of coins and topped with two $20 bills on the doorstep. This unexpected gift was simply accompanied by a cute Christmas card wishing me a Merry Christmas and expressing hopes that things were going well. The timing was incredible; the love behind the gift nearly made me cry. Whoever that kind soul was (most likely a young family), that simple gesture changed my perspective on how God has been lifting me constantly these past weeks. Minutes later, I got a call from one of my brothers saying they wanted to reserve and pay for a nice hotel for our brief honeymoon (three days in Salt Lake). Heavenly Father really knows our hearts and our troubles. He really does listen. So rather than a list of downer days and depressing moments, here's a slightly more uplifting catalogue of some of the things I've learned recently as we walk through a land of miracles.

1. Cutting my hair was extremely difficult, but as much as I still miss it, it wasn't as hard to get used to not having it as I thought it might be. And while I hung out in a hat for the first several days, nobody thought I looked ridiculous either with or without the hat. Lesson learned: physical traits really don't have to define us--even if it's hard to deal with being forced to change some of our favorite things about ourselves. PLUS--the awesome wig-making place promised to have my wig done before the wedding! YAY!! It normally takes almost two months, but they were willing to pull a few strings under the circumstances... I'm excited to have my hair back, and it'll be particularly special to have it for my wedding day.

2. Chemo can do really weird things to your body--there were days when I felt lightheaded and swollen, days when I couldn't seem to remember even simple things like my credit card number, days when I ached all over as if I'd climbed a mountain, and days where I hovered through fevers and insomnia. But amazingly, it still wasn't as awful as I thought it might be. Don't get me wrong--it was HARD--but none of the side effects last that long. And my favorite part was when I started feeling normal again and learned to appreciate the benefit of good health.

3. Mouth sores are seriously awful business. When the doctor mentioned that as a potential side effect, I dismissed it thinking, "I've had plenty of cankers in my day--not a problem." Oh man...I got only one mouth sore on the bottom of my tongue, but it was a beast. It got infected, and with zero white blood cells to fight it, that thing hung around for days in an extremely painful state. I couldn't eat anything but bland purée for almost a week, and I developed a lot of empathy for people who get jaw surgery or who regularly struggle with painful sores in their mouths. And the good part inside this hard thing? It eventually did go away--and I learned to take better care of my mouth. We are now well-equipped with all sorts of mouth washes and medicines, and we are going to fight those suckers the instant they give me trouble in the future!

Sporting my temporary fake wig at the shower
4. People are really awesome. I got flowers three times in the past couple of weeks, cards from all sorts of kind souls, surprise visits from friends, family, and neighbors, and a truly special Thanksgiving with foods tailored to my special chemo diet. My family is a marvel--my mom in particular makes a huge effort to find fun things for me to eat and keep me healthy and happy. I also had a wonderful bridal shower last weekend with so many dear friends braving a crazy snow storm to be with me. I continue to receive kind messages of support on Facebook and through email, and everyone always mentions they are praying for me. It means a lot, friends. I've cried a lot in the past weeks, and it's only rarely been from sadness.

5. I started losing my hair about a week ago, and it's a little gross. I feel like I'm wearing extra furry sweaters all the time--especially around the collar. Poor Roby quickly learned that kissing my head is a bad idea unless he wants a mouthful of fluff. But, in spite of the hairiness, I'm actually relieved about the way it's been falling out. So many people told me it would fall out in clumps, and I was terrified to wake up with huge bald spots. Apparently, though, the particular chemo I'm on causes hair to thin in a more natural way. So while it's falling out a lot (especially since I have a ton of hair), it's still just looking progressively thinner. It's a lot less of a shock this way, and I'm really grateful it hasn't been worse.

6. I love snow--especially in December. It makes everything look clean and beautiful and magical. And this year, it's been even more fun than usual, because Roby has been transformed into a little boy by it! He doesn't see a lot of snow in the south of Italy, and he is constantly overjoyed every time it starts snowing. Even though it's too cold to play around in it much or even go for walks, Roby still bundled up a few times to stand outside in the falling snow. He's too adorable.

7. Being in love is wonderful--no matter how I feel physically, having Roby around always makes me feel better. And of all the blessings and miracles I've witnessed recently, his support is one of the most invaluable things for me. I'm pretty excited to get married in 15 days. :) Who wouldn't be with a guy like this?!
Even chemo days can be happy days.
Seven is a good number, so we'll leave it at that. Just know, friends, that things are good because God is good. I feel His support and love through your support and love. Thank you for being there for me.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wrong Roads

I've heard several Utahns say that this year has been one of the prettiest falls they've ever seen. I have to agree with them--I don't think I've ever seen so many brilliant colors lining the streets and dotting the valley. I've also discovered that there is something strangely satisfying about raking up all of those beautiful colors into manageable piles. In some ways, uncovering the still-green grass is like cleaning up a messy bedroom. Or maybe it's more like finding some order and sense when nothing else seems neat or tidy in my life.

Since I last wrote, things got tipped a bit upside down. Although the Huntsman Cancer Institute was amazing, we got a call from them a couple days after my visit to inform me that my out-of-pocket cost would be astronomical because they weren't part of my insurance network. Friends and family started donating funds almost immediately, but I just felt confused and unsure what to do next. That same week, we also met with a reproductive endocrinologist to discuss my chances of infertility post-treatment, and I was unexpectedly faced with two extremely difficult decisions that never would have crossed my mind: is it worth the money to receive the right treatment? And did I want to risk never having children? My first wave of optimism started to dwindle a bit, and everything began feeling terrifying and wrong and generally like everyone was talking about someone else that I'd never met.

Have you ever done something that seemed perfectly logical but that a very deep part of you just didn't feel right about? It's a disconcerting feeling and honestly makes me really grouchy. In a way, I feel like time stood still for weeks when all I wanted was to be quickly progressing forward and getting all of this behind me sooner. We spent so much time with doctors and exploring treatment options that I began to feel like I had a new part-time job. Frustratingly, though, we couldn't seem to get things to match up with the right treatment at the right price. So, as we explored care options, Roby and I decided to head down the path of embryo preservation, even though we were unsure it was the right decision. We also tried to keep things light by taking advantage of the beautiful fall--raking leaves regularly, having photo shoots with my sister, getting my bridal pictures done before I lose my hair.

Waiting, though, was terrible. My type of cancer, HER2 positive, just so happens to be the kind that grows like a wild thing and has a hankering to spread everywhere. Every time I had a slight pain in my leg or back or stomach, I'd panic and wonder if that meant the cancer had spread. Being a tense person, headaches aren't an unusual thing for me, but suddenly even the smallest twinge in my temples had me thinking of the horrors of brain cancer and Gamma Knife therapy. (Yeah...I've done a lot of reading and research...) I remember telling Roby one night that I felt like by waiting and undergoing the long-ish process to save embryos, I would be choosing between the possibility of metastasis with its lifelong problems and not having children. No one should have to choose between death and creation. And while I recognize that that's being a bit dramatic, I felt pretty awful.

Fortunately, after many prayers and fasts from more people than I ever believed possible, things started to come together last week. Following some failed doctor visits, we were leaning towards switching back to Huntsman and dealing with the cost. We had also received a packet of hormone shots to begin prepping my body for an egg harvest. But I still felt like something was off. On Monday night of last week, Roby and I watched this video clip by one of my favorite LDS leaders and speakers, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. As he talked about right and wrong roads and the confusion of finding the best path, I realized we were on the wrong road--a couple of them, to be precise. It was hard to let go when I felt like so much was riding on these decisions, but I turned to Roby and tearfully told him that I felt we needed to change directions. He had felt the same thing. After watching that movie and coming to that conclusion, everything felt better, and the pieces began to fall into place.

We had found a doctor that we really loved who wouldn't cost a fortune, but she hadn't prescribed the chemotherapy that we felt good about. We visited with her again last Wednesday in hopes she'd change her mind, and the first thing she said when she walked in to see us is that she had reconsidered. After researching the new treatment I wanted (it's only been available for about a year), she felt it would be both good and right for me. She also confirmed that my chances of infertility were not as high as we were originally told, and she felt that owing to my younger age, we would be fine as long as we were careful. I immediately felt like there was nothing left to do but schedule my first chemotherapy for a week later--that day being today.

So here we are--D-day, as it were. Part of me is relieved to finally get on the path to recovery, because even though a scan last Friday confirmed that there isn't a wild cancer-spreading party going on inside of me, the tumor is still a nasty little beast that is starting to cause increasing pain and discomfort in its localized area. But the other part of me is very frightened. I still have so many questions and unknowns: will I feel nauseated? What's it like to be too tired to walk up a flight of stairs? Will it get that bad? How will I feel when I have to look at myself in the mirror? Is it bad to want to avoid seeing myself without hair? I can't be brave all the time--there is still a little girl inside of me who has never before been sick with more than a cold or stomach flu, never been hospitalized, never even broken a bone or had stitches (until two weeks ago when they put in my chemo port). And now, here I am, scheduling the days when I'll feel horribly sick and lose the hair that has been a significant part of my life and identity for 29 years. There have been many times when I've lain my head on Roby's chest and
cried until I couldn't cry anymore. I'm intensely grateful that he's an emotional and psychological counselor (as in literally--it's his chosen profession).

I know that this is a challenge that God wants me to take on with faith. I also still know that He is in charge and is guiding all of our steps and even missteps. Of course, that doesn't mean that things will always be sunny and cheerful and awesome. It just means that we are embarking on an incredible journey that will teach us many crucial life lessons. Friends, I'd like to invite you all to come along on this journey with me and Roby. I can't promise to post everything, and I don't know how often I'll feel up to posting. But I do know that having your support along the way will make everything feel better.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Welcome to the 5%

I'm sorry to interrupt our scheduled programming and I'm also sorry for leaving you all at a moment of suspense in my little story. I've been caught in a bit of a whirlwind these past weeks, and nearly all my thoughts and energies have been consumed in its wake. I promise to resume the love story soon, but right now, I'm wide awake at 4 a.m. with a desperate need to tell you all about something else.

Did you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month? I didn't, actually, until last Monday when I was sitting next to Roby on the Paris/Salt Lake City flight, and the stewardess accompanied my orange juice with a pink-lettered napkin. "Take flight in the fight against breast cancer," it said. How ironic--because that's exactly what we were doing.

No surprises or cliff-hangers here, folks: just the overwhelming truth. Last Friday, I was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in my breast.

Roby was in Lyon with me. We'd arranged his first visit there over a month before, and somehow all I can think is that God knew I would need him desperately that day. I'd recently completed a cycle of antibiotics to treat what the doctor assumed was an unusual infection. But when the swelling didn't completely disappear, he ordered a biopsy. The results sent both me and Roby to the States within just a few days. He only had a week's worth of clothes and had to make special arrangements with a police officer friend to get his passport sent to him. Miraculously, everything still fell into place for us to be together--just as it always has. I have no doubt in my mind that I'm marrying the best man in this world. If you hadn't already guessed the end to my love story, I apologize for spoiling things a little...

We had an appointment at the Huntsman Cancer Institute yesterday--it's the premier location in the West for those needing treatment and all that goes with it. I arrived at 10:30 with a small entourage--Roby, my mom, one of my sisters--clutching a shiny, red folder filled with half-translated exams and images and results. Medical French is complicated...but I've learned a fair amount this past month. Six hours later, completely exhausted and in a bit of pain from having become a temporary pin-cushion, I left. All of our minds were spinning with the information that had bombarded us all day: starting chemo therapy treatments as soon as possible, getting surgery in a few months, undergoing genetic testing because 29 year-olds don't usually get breast cancer, learning that treatments could make me infertile. And then, for me, the real kicker: facing the reality of losing my hair. I think that last one deserves a post of its own. I'll go there another day.

I'm still struggling with jet lag right now, and can't believe I'm having to make decisions that I never even knew people had to make. I'm not even supposed to be here. I should be in France, missing my fiancé following his first visit to our future home. I should be teaching a math or a French or a history lesson. I should be sending messages to my mom about what kind of flowers I decided to have for my wedding. Nothing seems real. To be honest, I've been running away inside my mind. But I guess I can't run away forever when I suddenly have dozens of people telling me what I have to do and what's going to happen.

Apparently, only 5% of breast cancer patients are under the age of 40. I don't know how I won those odds. I've never won anything.

But that's enough. Let's get all of that awful, depressing stuff out of the way. I have to tell you, friends--wholeheartedly and without hesitation--that even though this is very hard and frightening and derailing, I don't doubt for one moment that God is aware of me. I want you all to know that I am not bitter about this. I'm scared out of my mind at times, but I am also unendingly grateful to be surrounded by people--angels--who love me. And while I could be asking why this is happening now--two months before our wedding--I'm mostly just grateful that I don't have to go through any of this without the love of my life by my side. God knows what He's doing;
I am grateful for His timing.

Remember how I said my love story is all about faith and healing and learning to trust? It's all still true. I just didn't know that I had a new plot twist around the corner which would further try my faith, build my trust, and add a different layer to the idea of being healed.

Six years ago today, I met a brand new 25-year-old Italian missionary. Now, in two months and two days, we will be getting married. Everything else is just a wrinkle in our plans. We are going to make it. In the meantime, we would love your prayers.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

...To Be Together...

Have you ever seen North and South? It's undoubtedly one of my very favorite movies. At the end, there's this fantastic moment at a train station where the two protagonists magically cross paths, and suddenly several months' of confusion is resolved in one perfect kiss. I've always loved the idea of trains and train stations--they are a rarity where I come from--but that scene makes them seem positively dreamy. And I won't lie--of all the scenarios I imagined for when Roby and I first "re-met," this was what I secretly wanted.

My girlfriends, some of them as giddy with anticipation as I was, dropped me off at the station just as the sun was rising on that fresh spring day. I walked nervously toward the corridor where we would meet, and as I stepped through the sliding glass door, he was the only person I saw. Ahem... Well, that's actually because at 6:50 a.m. on a Saturday, he was the only person there. He had his back to me, and when he turned around and saw me...he looked somewhat stressed.

To infuse a little reality back into my life, those first several minutes were a bit awkward. We exchanged a quick hug, rushed to buy tickets, and then bumbled through a little small talk while I ate an apple. He kept his distance. I tried to hide my disappointment and be rational. When the train arrived and we got on, I did my best to sit as close to him as I comfortably could, hoping he would get the hint. We flirted a little shyly at first, and then we both started warming up--almost in synch with the morning light.

Yes, this is really what we saw.
I absolutely adore Switzerland, and we were speeding through some of my very favorite parts of the country--the places where I had spent the best months of my missionary service. As I was sitting by the window, I would look out and excitedly point out what we were passing--the vineyards, the lake, the breathtaking views that had entered into my heart years before. I felt like I was sharing something very special and deeply personal. He leaned towards me several times to look out--and my fears of not sensing chemistry were immediately quieted.

At one point, he asked me if I felt comfortable with him. It was easy to say yes, because I'd never felt so rapidly at ease with a guy in my life. He seemed relieved and started to tell me about a dream he'd had recently, and as I listened attentively, I realized he was trying to work up the courage to do or say something. Right as I sensed the anticipated moment coming, however, we pulled into another station and a good friend of mine hopped on and sat down with us, abruptly ending everything.

I had known she was going to join us--I had invited her to come and even told her which train we'd be on. But it was still difficult not to be a little grumpy at the unfortunate timing... Roby was quiet for at least five minutes--obviously trying not to be irritated. Regardless--Christina, I know you're reading this, and we both love you dearly! :)

I have to admit, I felt discouraged. I was certain that the train ride would be our only chance to establish a connection and decide if we both had similar feelings. We arrived at the temple without ever re-establishing that special moment, and I felt deflated and even a little desperate. As I sat impatiently through our session, I came to a conclusion--I had to take matters into my own hands and tell Roby how I felt, or I would risk regretting that day for the rest of my life.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

They Had to Travel Long Distances...

Do you believe in miracles? Not necessarily the walk-on-water or miraculous-physical-healing variety (although I definitely believe in those too), but do you believe in the small things that come together just a little too perfectly? If you don't, then this next installment of my story might seem like nothing more than an interesting string of curiously fortunate coincidences. To me, however, all I see is a merciful, omnipotent hand rapidly assembling the confused jigsaw of my life, and it is nothing short of miraculous.

I love temples. In the LDS Church, we have quite a few of them across the globe, and in my home state of Utah, there are upwards of fifteen. Before setting off on my crazy France adventures, I was in the habit of going to the temple at least once a week, both because I love the peace I feel there and because they are so accessible. But here in Europe, they aren't as easy to come by. The nearest one to Lyon is just outside of Bern, Switzerland--four hours away. The distance isn't too terrible, but going there requires advance planning--finding transportation, figuring out a place to stay, getting a travel group together, etc. Since one of my job hazards includes not always knowing when I'll have enough of my own time to travel, putting together temple trips has been a challenge, and by March of this year, I had only gone once to visit the temple. Fortunately, I finally had a weekend where I knew for sure that I would not be traveling with the Roneys, so I immediately started organizing. In no time, some friends and I were preparing for a temple day on
April 13.

Not long after Roby and I started writing to each other and in the midst of all my secret hopes and thoughts and dreams of spending time together in person, he asked me one day if I ever had the chance to go to the Swiss temple. Of course I told him about our anticipated trip in April and how I was excited to finally be going again. His next message, though, came as quite a surprise. It turned out that he had been planning to go to the temple the same week as me.

Now, you might easily say that he decided to go when he heard I was going to be there. We had both been hinting at each other that we would love to meet up, and we hadn't been writing for more than two weeks before he invited me to come to Italy. But you have to know that Lecce, Italy is nearly 13 hours away from Bern. It was even more difficult and rare for Roby to get the chance to make that journey than it was for me. Furthermore, he had been invited the day before asking me by some friends who were making the trek. This was not a sneaky plot just to see me. The first puzzle piece had simply been put in place.

Of course, things always have to be a little complicated. It turned out that I wouldn't be at the temple until Saturday whereas Roby's friends were leaving early Saturday morning. My initial excitement crashed down into disappointment when I realized we might not be able to see each other. But Roby just kept saying "we will see." The day before Roby left, he told me that somehow, there wasn't a place for him to stay near the temple on Friday night, and he was trying to figure out what to do. A crazy idea came to my mind. My friends and I would stay Friday night in Geneva--two hours away from the temple. What if I invited him to stay? Of course, it would mean taking a train down to Geneva and taking one back to Bern as our car was already full. It didn't seem logical at all. But the idea persisted in my mind, and I finally asked him.

It turns out he had been praying that I would invite him to Geneva.

Although I thought my idea was crazy and improbable, he also said he'd been hoping I would then take the train back with him to the temple. Puzzle piece number two. Furthermore, he had found someone who could give him a ride to Geneva that day--piece number three. And once again, if you'd still like me to be counting pieces, it turned out he would be able to stay all day on Saturday as there was yet another person who could give him a ride back to Italy even though his friends were leaving much earlier. It all seemed so perfect.

Friday, April 12--finally, the day arrived! I was so anxious and excited and nervous that I could hardly teach at all. Roby and I had just Skyped for the first time a few days before, and I had realized that he was even cuter than I thought from his pictures or my fuzzy MTC memories. But what if he didn't like me in person? What if things felt awkward? What if there wasn't any chemistry? What if we didn't fit well together after all? He had known me as his teacher--what if I was just imagining that he was really interested? What if I had to deal with a horrible disappointment yet again? I imagined dozens of scenarios for our first meeting--everything from a cold greeting and a miserable train ride to swelling orchestral music and a love-at-first-sight kiss. Soon enough, we were on the road and I was headed closer to my uncertain fate.

And, of course, things got complicated again. I had arranged for a friend to meet him and take him to where he would be staying, but the intention was always for me to meet up with him that night as well. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. I spent the whole day anticipating our first meeting that night, but coordinating our locations became too complicated, and we ended up staying 20 minutes away from each other. I was keenly disappointed. It seemed too ridiculous--so close and yet impossibly far away. Fortunately, we still planned to meet early the next morning at the Geneva train station.

I think I slept about two hours that night.

Friday, September 13, 2013

...A Young Man and Young Woman Fell in Love.

Back in the we are on opposite sides of the group!
I don't remember what I thought after commenting on Roberto's new profile pic, but I do remember being excited when he wrote back two days later, clearly wanting to hear back from me. We started with the basics: work, school, an exchange of memories from the MTC. He asked for help with his English. I told him that he already wrote excellently well. I explained what I was doing in France. He mentioned that he went by Roby and that his hometown and current residence of Lecce, Italy wasn't too far away from Lyon...  They were small things that somehow made for rapid connections. Within just a couple days, our messages grew much longer and even became significantly more personal. I started checking my Facebook several times during the day to see if he'd responded yet and always felt unusually happy when I saw one of his messages. We fell into a pattern before a week had passed, and I started learning what times he was most likely to write back. But then one day, I didn't get a message.

It was getting late in the evening--almost time to go to bed--and I started feeling anxious. What had happened? Why hadn't he written back? Had I done something wrong? I must have reread my last message about ten times, carefully combing through it to make sure I hadn't said something stupid or something that could be misinterpreted culturally, linguistically, or otherwise. Finally, I went to bed feeling disappointed and yet telling myself not to be ridiculous. Obviously, people have lives and things they have to do. It's not like I was a priority for him, right? We weren't dating or anything--I had no claim on his time. But I'd been through similar situations before and they always ended up badly: waiting up for a text that never comes; hoping for an email response that is never written. This was probably just another one of those got-my-hopes-up-way-too-soon moments that I'd spend the next week or two coming down from. Residual bitterness from past experiences? Maybe. Fears created by old wounds? Absolutely.

This is where the next miracle happened. I woke up the following day, and, even though my hardened-by-experience side tried to stop my little-kid-at-Christmas side, I checked my Facebook first thing.

And he had written back.

Dear friends, not only had he written back, but he even apologized for not having written sooner. This seems like a very simple thing--and really, it is a simple thing that most people wouldn't think much of. But to me, it was a sign. In all my ten years of marriageable-age dating, I had never had a guy apologize to me for responding just a little later than normal--especially not without any prompting from me. Honestly, from that moment on, I was sold. Here was a man who obviously cared about my feelings, even if they are a little neurotic at times.

It was also at this point that I realized he had tried to contact me two years earlier, when I was elbows-deep in a master's program and struggling with my first time teaching a college French class. He had wanted to get to know me back then and had tried to spark a conversation on Facebook, but it never went anywhere. Frankly, I completely blew him off. I still don't remember why or what I was thinking. Ultimately, I guess it just wasn't the right time. In fact, back then I specifically did not want an intercultural relationship, because I felt like they were too complicated and would make a marriage too hard to navigate. I look back on that attitude with a smile now...but, I digress!

My favorite walk
At this point, I suddenly became very quiet about my personal life. It was unusual. I generally told at least my mom and a couple of good friends about every guy I was interested in. But this felt so...BIG...that I took a little while to open up about what was happening. And what exactly was happening? Well, I was discovering remarkable similarities between myself and Roby. Our minds had similar ways of thinking. Our beliefs were entirely compatible. Our life goals were aligned. What we were looking for existed fully in the other person. I was falling in love. And I could sense that he felt the same way. We hadn't spent a moment together in over five years, and yet I felt like I knew him very well. I began taking long walks in the crisp, spring air and spent a lot of time just thinking. I will always associate that season with those feelings--fresh blossoms mixed with new emotions and ideas. I didn't even know yet that the next series of even bigger miracles was just around the corner.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Once Upon a Time...

Remember how I said last time that big things have been happening in my life these past few months? Well, to sum up the story, I've been considering changing my blog name to be "Poppins Goes to France and Falls in Love With an Italian..." BUT, I think that would be a little less catchy. However, this does mean that I have some explaining to do! I've been turning this story over in my mind for months, trying to figure out the best way to share it on here--should I tell it like a fairytale? Should I make it funny? Should I just give an account of everything that happened? In the end, I've decided to tell it to you the way I see it--as a story of faith, healing, and learning to deeply trust God's promises after recognizing that my trust was wearing thin. And of course, there will be JOY! (And love and maybe some mushy stuff...) I guess that means that for the first time on this blog, things are about to get very personal around here... :)

When I came to France last September, I was very unsure of what I was getting myself into. Most people were excited for me and I was pretty excited for myself. But there were a few people who said to me that deciding to live in France for three years would probably mean that I was limiting my marriage possibilities--I know that might seem like a strange thing to say because there surely isn't an unusual imbalance of men to women in France, but to a 28 year old Mormon girl like myself, those kindly expressed concerns nagged at my mind. Couple that with all-too-many dear souls who for several years have asked me the tremendously personal question, "why aren't you married," and I guess you could say the pressures were running a bit high when I embarked on this adventure.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I'm a deep thinker. But not only do I think a lot, I also thrive on talking through my thoughts to a good human sounding board, especially a practical one who can tell me to be realistic. Unfortunately, my first few months in France were seriously lacking in sounding boards, and frankly, I was pretty lonely. Don't get me wrong--I was surrounded by very good people and I was unbelievably well taken care of by the Roney family. But I didn't feel like I had any friends that I could really talk to. As a result, those nagging concerns started turning into feelings of desperation and even despair. Part of me is embarrassed to admit that I really thought my chance at getting married was past--and I was pretty upset about it. Retrospectively, I'm telling myself that I was being dramatic. People get married in their much older age all the time--28 is not the cut-off for marital bliss! I guess it all goes back to that nun thing I joked about once...

Ooo--who is that handsome fellow?!
Anyway, I started the new year with a sense of quiet desperation and a bit of resignation. I wasn't going on dates at all, and I wasn't really seeing any dateable guys around. But, as I've said before, when life starts looking grim, that's when the "magic" (or I would say miracles) happen. One day, I was killing some time (a terrible expression, isn't it?) on Facebook and I saw a new profile picture of someone I hadn't seen in a few years--five and a half, to be exact. Back in those days, I was a teacher at the Provo Missionary Training Center (MTC), and I had many missionaries file through my classroom. And, of course, being a good teacher (hee hee), I am now friends with many of them on Facebook and like to follow up on their lives. I hadn't heard much from this particular former missionary (he wasn't and still isn't a big Facebook-er), so seeing his face lead me to wonder how he was doing and what he was up to (and I won't lie: I thought he was pretty cute...). So, I commented on his picture--I figured it was my teacherly responsibility, right? HA...ahem. Well, it turned out that an innocent Facebook comment has now changed my life forever.

Do I have your attention yet? Oh, good! Well...I'm afraid the rest will have to wait until next time. And don't worry, the preamble is over and there are still many awesome things to come!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Among the Dead

I know what you're thinking, but no--the reason for the temporary demise of my blog is not because I have been among the dead. Actually, some very exciting things have happened in the past few months which, frankly, I ought to have been writing about. BUT...when life gets exciting, isn't it better to just live it and then write about it later? At least, that's what I keep telling myself... Anyway, the recap on exciting events will wait for next time, because today, I just feel like giving you all an interesting snippet of French culture. And what better way to revive a blog, after all, than by talking about a cemetery! :)

It may seem strange to most people, but I have a confession--I have long had a mild fascination for cemeteries. There was a time when this fascination was connected with ghost stories and the supernatural, but for a much longer time, it's been more a question of interesting history. It all started when I was a little girl and my parents would bring flowers to their grandparents' graves on Memorial Day. My siblings and I would spend that time running around looking for the oldest headstones in the cemetery--and being from Utah, they didn't usually date much farther back than 1850.

This cemetery in Nice is much better-kept than the one I encountered
as a missionary in Metz--no cracked tombstones here!
When I first came to France as a missionary several years ago, I expected cemeteries to be absolutely fantastic--packed with ancient graves and looking just as green, tree-lined, and generally lovely as the average American cemetery. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered for the first time why some people consider cemeteries to be creepy: in addition to the gravel walkways (no grass in sight) and the imposing monuments, some of the cement coverings on the tombs were so cracked and broken that I honestly wondered if I'd see bodies poking out of some of them. I was also very disappointed to learn that in France, a burial plot is sold to a family for a specified period of time--usually not more than 100 years--after which time the family has the option to renew their contract. However, if they choose not to renew, then the body is exhumed, the bones are either put in an ossuary or cremated, and the plot is sold to someone else. Alas...the rules that accompany overcrowding... And thus died my dreams of seeing graves from the 14th Century. In fact, it's rare to see graves dating back past, well, around 1850... HA! The irony!

Fortunately, I finally came across a rather lovely cemetery yesterday during a stroll through Nice, and I'm happy to report that my faith in French cemeteries has been partially renewed! No, there still wasn't any grass or trees or park benches, BUT--I discovered that some monuments can be really beautiful instead of frightening and certain cemeteries are actually well-kept and free of broken tombs. Not to mention the fact that this hilltop burial ground afforded a spectacular view of the sea. Perhaps I'll have to take up my old habit of evening strolls among the dead...

Anyway, that's all for today, friends. But stay tuned for next time in which I'll tell you all the details of this century's greatest love story!! Well, at least most of the details... :)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Bits of Bordeaux

Have you ever felt like a city was speaking to you? I mean, not in the literal "hello there, how are you doing" sort of way but in a "you belong here" sort of way? I still know remarkably little about Bordeaux, even though this was my third time visiting it--but something clicked for me this time. And for those of you who saw my crazy hotel pictures all over Facebook, no--it wasn't because I stayed in my very own "princess tower." Although, while we're on that subject, check out the accommodations!

Yes, that is a real rose on the edge of my
marble bathtub...
I even matched that day! It was just too perfect...

But anyway, back to the topic at hand... I've always been a fan of classical music; I took piano lessons for years and even started my college career as a music minor. I love going to the symphony and the music that seriously pumps me up is...don't laugh...Beethoven's 5th Symphony (the 3rd and 4th movements). And so the thing that really hit me about Bordeaux is the feeling that the opera house--rather than the standard gothic cathedral--is the heart of the city. Its surrounding streets are all teeming with people seeming to emanate from the opera's plaza. Somehow, I think if cities had a pulse, Bordeaux's would be pumping to the tune of Mozart's 40th Symphony. And it was wonderful.

Place de la Comédie (in front of the opera)
But as if the classicism and nearly palpable musicality weren't enough, artsy types seem to be drawn to this gold-stoned city. The most common mode of transportation was bikes--I've never seen so many business men and women on two wheels in my life--and as I walked around the city on my own, I understood why; who would want to be trapped in a car when there is so much art to be seen?! Further, the city is just incredibly artsy-bike-rider friendly. To illustrate, here's a small sampling of the Bordeaux I instantly fell in love with.

Just a standard movie theater...!
And a standard city gate

Yeah, I think I could live in Bordeaux...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Why I Will Never Live on the Riviera

Is that a heavenly light shining on my hotel room?
Might as well have been--it felt just like home!
Last weekend, we spent a few days on the Riviera--that idyllic piece of Mediterranean loveliness that has attracted people from all over the world for centuries. I've become particularly fond of Nice--it's bursting with color and history and it's officially the location of my new favorite hotel room. Why then, you might ask, would I never want to live in this enchanting city?

Do you see what I mean by color?

Well, it all started innocently enough. After a morning of rain, the sun finally decided to show its face and tempt us outside for a walk by the sea. We spotted a rickety old staircase at the bottom of a cliff and decided to try our chances skirting around the rocks and rolling waves to see what we could see. The boys ran down the standard stairs first, and I gaily traipsed after them down to the pebble-strewn beach.

There was a 20-something couple off to one side of us, but I didn't pay them any more attention than you normally pay to the average stranger. When I glanced over towards them, I saw the girl getting ready to pull her shirt off. I naturally assumed she had on a bikini or something underneath--what else would come to an unprepared mind? Imagine my momentary confusion when I realized she suddenly wasn't wearing anything at all... I just stood there for a second feeling like a very stupid and very embarrassed American. When I snapped back into gear, I rushed the boys back up the stairs as quickly as possible, ensuring that they didn't turn around and become pillars of salt...

What are the odds?! It was probably only 55 degrees that day, and that crazy woman was the only one on the whole beach to sport her summer swimming attire...and it just had to be right where we were. Alas--even March isn't a safe month for a walk on the Riviera. Oh well--I'll stick with my own beliefs on modesty and go off to explore friendlier shores! :)
Explore Roman ruins in your Sunday best? Sure! As long as it's far away from the beach... :)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Food Blunders

Recently, we went to a French buffet restaurant--Flunch--with the missionaries. I'd never been to a buffet in France before, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Well, it was exactly what you might find at the nearest Chuck-a-Rama if it were given a distinctly French flair. For example, the drink section included a wine dispenser (as in a soda machine that dispenses wine), the dessert table had a selection of cheese plates, and the meat included some French specialties in addition to the familiar roast chicken and fries.

At any rate, after we all puttered around and gathered some food that looked moderately good, we found a table to sit and enjoy the spoils. Then, one of the elders sat down with a plate of this...

Regrettably, I didn't think to take a picture of his actual plate, but this version that I stole from Google images comes pretty close to what he had. For those of you who don't recognize it, it's known as andouillette--sounds fancy, right? Well...let's just say that even though it's served in some high-end restaurants, I wouldn't order it no matter who made it! (And to get it at a cheap buffet? I shudder at the thought...)

I think we all know what hot dogs and sausage are made out of, but I still find them delicious and appetizing, because they are sufficiently ground up so as to disguise any thought of them containing bits of offal. Besides, most of them don't really have offal, do they? Ahem...well, andouillette is not quite so discreet. It's a loosely-packed sausage that quite obviously contains chunks of...pig parts...and is clearly wrapped in an intestinal casing. Sounds yummy, right? Ha...yeah...I've never been gutsy enough (no pun intended) to try it for myself.

So when this bold elder sat down, I couldn't help but stare at him--in fact, my jaw probably dropped a bit.

"You got andouillette?!" I said.
"Weeelll," he responded, "I always like to try regional dishes and get a true French experience!"
"Me too, but I've never liked the idea of going that far. You know what it is, right?"
"Uh, yes."

I'm still not sure he did know. Because when he cut into the casing and all sorts of...indescribable bits of I-don't-know-what tumbled out, he looked a bit concerned. Not to be dissuaded, however, he plunged in and ate several bites while we all looked on in wonder. But as he was eating, I noticed something slightly odd; it looked like bristly animal hair was still attached to one of the pieces. I couldn't very well let him eat that, so...I pointed it out. Upon closer investigation, we discovered I was correct. And thus ended Elder Arnold's andouillette experience--however brief it proved to be. Lesson learned.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Porcelain Control

Although most of the stereotypes about French people are a bit untrue, the idea that French women are remarkably and almost universally thin is actually quite true. So what's their secret? Some say it's because they resist the impulse to snack, but from what I've seen of French restaurants, I think it all comes down to the old classic: portion control. Nearly every restaurant I've been to has a funny way of serving each little dish in its own special container--almost always of the white porcelain variety. By this point, I'm somewhat convinced that if someone was ever seized with the whim to go into making white porcelain dishes, they could make a small fortune by setting up shop in France. Ultimately, the idea is to present a well-ordered plate to a customer--but the everything-in-its-place mentality also means that there is a specific amount of each food item. Case in point, take a look at how my small skewer was delivered with its sides. (The salad was a bit larger than its container, but it's still spilling out quite artfully!)

Of course, portion control is not always the rule of the day. In fact, not long ago, I ordered what I assumed was a simple roast duck dish (yes, duck is considered commonplace in these parts) and was served with this lovely terra-cotta-bowl-enhanced mammoth. (Regardless, notice the white porcelain accents throughout the picture...)
Hearty medallions of roast duck swimming in a creamy blue cheese sauce with lentils, onions, and carrots. Wow...I had no idea that something so homey as lentils could taste quite so incredible! If only I could figure out how to reproduce the amazingness... As for the portion control, I have a feeling--judging by the waitress's face when I ordered--that French women typically shy away from something so...well...guaranteed to stuff you beyond your normal capacity.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

If Luxury Had a Lap

Cannes--what comes to mind for most people? Glitz? Glamor? Film festivals? For me, the name is now synonymous with sunshine, fair weather, and a welcome vacation. Kicking our all-to-brief break off with four hours of driving may not sound particularly appealing, but road tripping through France is actually not so bad--especially when you are going south and seeing an increasingly blue sky. But rather than bore you with free-way glimpses of quaint provençal villages or ancient castles teetering precariously on cliff edges, I'll skip straight to the part where I stepped back into my pretend life of luxury.

Although we got to our hotel a bit late, it was still early enough to appreciate its splendor. The Carlton is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and has been known for just as long as one of the loveliest hotels on the French Riviera. Yes, I really stayed there. Yes, it was strange and yet fantastic.The lobby was fairly intimidating--packed with ridiculously expensive merchandise (diamond-studded heels, anyone?) locked behind glass windows (who knew hotels promoted interior window shopping?), framed with crystal chandeliers, and accented by marble pillars. I wasn't quite sure if I would like staying in an overly magnificent room. But you know what? I was pleasantly surprised--the rooms felt positively homey! That is, of course, if you're staying in a home tastefully decorated in a neo 19th Century look.

At any rate, the best part was being treated to an incredible sunrise the next morning; it was worth skipping my rare chance at sleeping in...

Of course, breakfast in the lovely hotel café was also nice--ever heard of rose petal jam? Yeah--me neither...but of course I tried it! It tasted like...perfumed sugar. I preferred the flaky pastries...
Owing to my desire to be surreptitious,
this photo is less-than-great...but you still
get the idea!

But enough of the hotel! Take a look at some of our other adventures!
Excuse me, my carriage awaits...

Jack Sparrow...?!
Can you tell which windows are real?
Million dollar yacht... Sure--
why not?!
Wave dodging--if only the water hadn't
been so cold!
Just some of that color
that I can't ever resist...
No post is complete
without it!