14 October 2016

Coastal Tour

I have never lived close to water.  For most of my life I've been in a desert where closest bodies of water are small, often man-made reservoirs.  Growing up I lived near some lakes and rivers, but none worth swimming in and none close enough to enjoy on a regular basis.  Driving along the New England coastline today put another dent in my "thou shalt not covet" armor - how glorious to live by the sea!  I don't enjoy crowded beaches and surf culture, but I do enjoy the steady roll of the waves and quiet walks along the coast.  There is a kind of soul centering that happens with such a vast landscape.  I would love to live in Maine.  The exchange for bitter cold winters would be worth it.  I can handle cold.

I don't know what it is exactly about Maine that has always attracted me but I've wanted to visit for as long as I can remember and it did not disappoint.  It was every bit as charming and beautiful as you would want it to be.  Next time I come to New England, I'll need to plan much more time there.  Our original plan was to visit a city called Wiscasset, but we ended up going to Ogunquit at the recommendation of our Uber driver (Ali) from earlier in the week.  Ogunquit means "beautiful place by the sea" and it is that.  It has long been frequented by artists because of its stunning topography - I feel like we only scratched the surface of what the town had to offer.  The town was voted as the best small coastal town in America in USA Today this year - it's easy to see why.  The town has an active arts scene with an art museum and active repertory theater.  They also have the "Marginal Way", a twelve mile coastal walk along the length of the town.  We only went a fraction of the way the path offered since we still wanted to visit Salem, but walking the whole thing is on my bucket list now.  What we did see was beautiful.

One thing I love to find when I travel is local art to take home. I have a wall in my upstairs hallway where I feature art from everywhere I travel.  Today I found the addition for this trip (in the nick of time!).  It's a watercolor of the area in a repurposed barn wood frame by a local artist and I am thrilled.  I'm also glad I found no more books.  Six.  How did I find six books to take home?!  What is wrong with me?!!!  My poor suitcase.

Before going to Salem, we made a brief stop at the Nubble Lighthouse in York, Maine.  There's another thing I'd love to do - a lighthouse hunt along the coast.  This lighthouse is, mercifully, wading distance to the mainland, so the keeper wouldn't have had to live too far from civilization, and in exchange, he'd have the best view in town.  Sounds like a pretty good deal, even if the exchange involved a lot of work.  Given the number of houses we drove by en route to said lighthouse that were, I'm sure, well over six figures to purchase, the work to keep the lighthouse up sounds like a fantastic trade off.

Salem hasn't ever been terribly high on my list of places to see but, given that we are here in October, it seemed like a foolish thing to miss.  For anyone who really loves Halloween, Salem would be an absolute must.  Halloween is a month long celebration here.  A massive carnival down town, costumes everywhere, even a black cat graced us with its presence while driving around.  It was an absolute circus of cars.  Salem looks like a nice enough city to live in but it would be miserable in October.  Those small New England streets just aren't meant to host that kind of insane traffic.

We managed to escape the heavy crowds by staying away from all things witch related and heading instead to the historic "House of Seven Gables" which, despite my lack of love for Nathaniel Hawthorne, turned out to be a rather interesting tour.  The Turner family who owned the house made their extreme wealth in shipping.  Although the wealth of the home didn't seem like much compared to the homes we saw yesterday in Newport, given a few hundred years of time, the Turners would have been able to compete financially with the Vanderbilts; they just didn't have the technological capability to do so.  All the same, the house was impressive and beautiful.  It was a unique tour since it told essentially three stories: the Turners, the Ingersolls, and the fictional one featured in Hawthorne's novel.  Actually, much of the house was re-purposed once a woman named Caroline Emmerton owned the house in the early 1900s so that  tourists visiting the home would see places referenced in the book (including a claustrophobia inducing secret passageway that was really up a chimney).  The tour didn't make me want to read Hawthorne, but it was still interesting and worth the time.

There is something really magical about New England.  So much of what has shaped our entire country has come from this little hive of history and philosophy and art.  You can see the weight of that feeling still permeating through the streets.  There are political signs everywhere, more than I ever saw even in Iowa during election season.  The small book store scene is alive and well, and nearly every bookstore I went in (and I went into basically every one I saw) was busy.  We saw more antique stores than Starbucks'.  Even with the tourist draw, there is a definite charm that has not been lost or sacrificed among those that live here.  Even the drivers are polite - everyone gives way to pedestrians (it's the law, but still), and cars diligently take turns and wait for others to go first.  There may be a reputation of stubbornness but there is a reality of kindness that I am so impressed by.

I think what I have loved most about this trip is that it's given me new places to love.  The more I explore the world, the more of the world I get to love.  I've been able to love the museums of Paris and the mountains of Scotland.  The bustling streets of Dublin and the West End of London.  The childhood reminiscing in Disneyland, the sheep chasing in the Lake District.  The awe inspiring beauty of the Alps, Salem Harbor, and Prince Edward Island.  I've walked the busy city streets of Victoria and figured out public transportation in Boston and Berlin.  My passport has taken me to Mexico twice, Canada once, and Europe four times in the last decade.  What a gift it is to travel.  There are some things about being single that kind of suck, but the chance to travel the world is NOT one of them.

New England - you have been perfect.  I can't wait to come explore more of you.

13 October 2016

Newport Mansions

The term "Gilded Age" was coined by Mark Twain, and it was not a compliment.  He used it to refer to what could essentially be called slapping lipstick on a pig - the tendency by the people in the era to want to be as elaborate as they possibly could.  And boy could they.

If you look at a list of the wealthiest people in history, most lists will include at least five men from the Gilded Age in the top ten.  The era lasted from roughly the end of the American Civil War and lasted through the turn of the century and refers to the incredible wealth of men like Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Vanderbilt who came into their money because of overwhelming business success.  Unlike men in Europe who were scrambling to hold onto wealth that was slipping through their fingertips as the Industrial Revolution took off, men in America were rolling in more money than they knew what to do with, and when you had more money than you knew what to do with, you built a home in Newport, Rhode Island.

Newport is full of mansions owned by the well-to-do of the day, and these little Versailles were especially interesting to visit after seeing the inherited wealth of England all summer.  Unlike the estate homes in England which were full of relics passed down through the centuries from family to family, these homes are full of extravagance that was the product of a few years of work.  These were homes designed to look old.  Sometimes they would have the old shipped in - one home we saw had a five hundred year old French fireplace shipped over from Europe - but for the most part, these homes are, like Versailles, designed to show off wealth.  They lived short familial home lives, though - few of them are lived in now - only two or three generations of these families have been able to really experience the grandeur of such living.  (Again, unlike the British counterparts, where many of these grand homes are still, at least in part, family homes.)

We started the day in Marble House, so named because it's got an insane amount of marble on all the walls and floors.  There was marble in colors I didn't know marble even came in.  Not all the marble was real - upstairs some of the walls are painted to look like marble, but that was really only because the family wanted the house open in time for "the season" (the summer) and the house wasn't done being constructed yet - it was just faster to get the painting done rather than wait for more stone.

As far as history goes, this house is best known as being home to Consuelo Vanderbilt, who would go on to marry the Duke of Marlborough (best known to Americans as the uncle of Winston Churchill and ancestor of Lady Diana).  It was not a happy marriage for either party - both Consuelo and the Duke had other people in mind that they would rather have been with, but both had familial obligations to fulfill: the Duke needed to marry someone who could afford to pay for the upkeep of Blenheim Palace (she could, and famously added indoor plumbing to the place), and she needed to marry someone with a title (the fashionable thing for a socialite to do). Consuelo was extremely beautiful (J.M. Barrie is said to have waited for hours just to see her get into her carriage) and talented, her artistic taste is all over Blenheim Palace and much of her story (and stories of other women like her) inspired the stories of Downton Abbey.

Marble House is an homage to the last Kings of France.  All through the house are tributes to Louis XIV and his grandson, Louis XVI (he of "married to Marie Antoinette" fame).  As in Versailles, Louis XIV is everywhere in the house - his bust greets you when you come up the main staircase, his figure features above the main mirror in the gold room off the main hall (and on the ceiling, where he vomits up light fixtures).

Marble House may have been one level of ornate, but The Breakers were insane.  There's a reason houses like that one are often used to represent Jay Gatsby.  The Breakers (so named for its proximity to the ocean) is really the second house built on the property - the first mysteriously burned down.  As a result, the new home is built with no wooden structural pieces at all and the broiler is kept far away from the main structure of the house.  It was owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt - the center of the Newport social scene.  The mansion contains seventy rooms and many technological innovations that Europeans could only have dreamed of under similar living conditions - electricity for one, running water for another.  There were buttons on the walls that could be used to call specific places around the house (similar to an intercom system) and enough bathrooms for everyone to enjoy a hot bath whenever they wanted.

That kind of wealth is just unfathomable to me.  One Vanderbilt described such inherited wealth as being as dangerous as cocaine.  Another talked about how horrified she was when she found out about her status as an heiress; she was worried no one would love her for anything other than her money.  I think, when it comes down to it, I feel like Anne Shirley when she visits the city for the first time - that she'd like the chance to live in wealth for a while, but that ultimately she'd like the sound of the brook behind her house more than the sound of tinkling china. Having enough money to not have to worry about money - that's all I want.

We spent so much time wandering the houses that we completely forgot about lunch - plus we got off to a bit of a late start, partly because we slept in, partly because mom dropped her phone in the toilet, partly because mom also lost her ticket to the mansions somewhere on the walk from the car (her back pocket was cursed today), so we went straight to dinner after we were done with The Breakers.  We went to a restaurant on the waterfront as recommended by a travel website I found called "The Mooring" and it was utterly divine.  Rick Steves says that coming home with the most money is not the goal of travel - coming home with the most experience is, and sometimes the best way to get that experience is through freakishly awesome food.  I got fresh sole (fish) topped with a crab cake and arugula, along with some golden Yukon potatoes.  If I'm ever asked what I want my last meal to be. . . I think that's what I want.  It was divine.

In general, exploring Newport was utterly delightful.  Every time I travel I discover a city that I wish I could stay in for much longer - this time I've discovered two - Newport and Concord.  I haven't had nearly enough time in either place.  I think tomorrow will probably not make things better as we are off to Maine for our last full day before heading home.  It's been dreamy.

12 October 2016


I love the Transcendentalists.  They may not have achieved everything they wanted to while they were living, but their ideals really were ahead of their time and I am grateful for them.  Even in high school I knew that they understood things that I needed to understand.  Their writing is often wordy and intense, but the payoff is nearly always worth it.

The center of Transcendentalist fervor is Concord, Massachusetts.  (Embarrassing personal disclosure: I only TODAY put together that the Concord of Louisa May Alcott and the Concord of Lexington and Concord fame are the same place.  For all my brainpower and love of trivia and history, sometimes stupid things still fly way above my head and come crashing down with a thud that sounds a lot like a "duh".)  In Concord, the Transcendentalists attempted to form communities where people lived simply and with unity.  Nearly one hundred years before suffrage they pushed for the vote.  More than one hundred and fifty years before schools would integrate in the south, Bronson Alcott was founding schools where not only boys and girls learned alongside each other, but children of all races were taught.  They were educated in art and music - they had recess.  Their ideas were so radical that they never came into fashion, but their writing lives on, and thank heaven for that.

It is fitting that on a day when we paid homage to these great thinkers that we began with no water.  The apartment below ours is being completely remodeled and they turned the water off this morning.  We realized this before we got the chance to eat breakfast, but it definitely helped us get out of the house faster than we have done in the last few days.  The construction workers downstairs are really friendly, though - asking us what we've been up to on our visit and recommending good restaurants.

Our first stop for the day (after picking up our rental car) was Orchard House.  Orchard House is the best known home of the Alcott family, though they moved at least twenty times prior to settling here.  Bronson Alcott, the patriarch, was quite the idealist.  He was constantly seen as a radical for his ideas about education (he promoted children asking questions in class!), women, slavery, and other things that are now way less radical and way more normal (like the vegan diet).  His wife, Abby May, was born to a relatively well-to-do family that looked down on her marriage to Bronson, but she said that her soul was lonely until she met him, so apparently she didn't see it as a step down in her life.  The two had four children - all daughters: Anna, Louisa, Elizabeth, and May.  Best known of these is, of course, Louisa - author of Little Women (as well as thirty other novels).

It's hard to separate the real life Alcotts from the fictional March family.  Louisa was encouraged to write from her life, and much of the book is the very definition of art imitating life. Like Jo, Louisa felt out of place in the world.  She loved to run.  She loved to write.  She was a thinker and a voracious reader tutored at the feet of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who loaned her books and thought nothing of the fact that she was a girl who had no business reading Faust when she should be focusing her attention on needlepoint.  The Transcendentalists may not have been able to change the entire city, but the principles were alive and well in the Alcott house - quite literally.  May, the youngest Alcott, became Amy in the book - like her fictional counterpart, May was a great artist, who drew over any surface in the house she could find (with or without permission).  She was an amazing artist, lucky enough to study in Europe several times (twice with the help of Louisa's financial support after the success of her writing).  The house is full of her work - nearly every piece on the walls came from her.  Framed or unframed (she had a tendency to draw directly on the walls), she was encouraged by her parents.  May would go on to tutor Daniel Chester French, the sculptor best known for his design of the Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial in DC.  She even named her daughter Louisa in honor of her sister.

There is something so special about the Alcotts.  Their family unity and love is palpable in their home, in their writings, in their legacy.  There are signs everywhere of a family that cared for each other.  May painted flowers on the walls of Louisa's room when she came home ill after working in a Civil War hospital.  Bronson build Louisa a custom desk on which she wrote her books and through which he demonstrated his support of his unconventional daughter.  Anna was married in the parlor.  Elizabeth never lived in the house (she died as a result of scarlet fever before the family moved in), but there is a portrait of her above a piano in her honor.  One of the most special - dare I say sacred - experiences of my life was portraying Beth in the Little Women Musical several years ago.  There is an extremely special spirit about this family, and being allowed to step into their fictional shoes every night was an incredible experience.  I am so grateful for this story, and for this family, for the beauty they have given to the world.  I feel a great kinship to these amazing people.

After a stop at the Concord Museum, we went over to Walden Pond.  Walden was a beloved spot of all the Transcendentalists - Louisa features it in Little Women as the pond where Amy nearly drowns - but it is probably best known because of the writings of Henry David Thoreau.  Thoreau (pronounced less like "Thur-oh" and more like "Thor-oh" with emphasis on the first syllable - at least according to Thoreau himself and the local experts) once "went to the woods because (he) wanted to live deliberately".  He moved to Walden, built himself a modest home (that no longer stands, though the location is set off), and lived as simply as he could.  It's hard to imagine a more beautiful place to do so.  Walden itself is a peaceful, quiet location surrounded by trees.  Even with lots of visitors, it was peaceful and quiet.  I picked up a bunch of acorns to bring back home with me - one of the "houses" in my classes at school was named for Emerson - the symbols are an oak leaf and acorn in honor of the Transcendentalist belief that everyone has potential.

Our final stop was the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, the burying ground of the local authors of significance, including Nathaniel Hawthorne (I hate The Scarlet Letter. . . ), the Alcott family, Emerson and his family, and Thoreau's family.  It's not uncommon to see tributes on the headstones of people of significance.  Earlier this week we saw coins left on the monument to Robert Newman (who helped warn that "the British (were) coming!") Rocks are often left as a tribute as well.  Fittingly, there are pens left by the headstones of Thoreau and Alcott.  (I'm sure there would be for Hawthorne and Emerson as well, if they weren't roped off.) My heart is full.

There are so many people in history that I can't wait to see and to thank for the work they've done in the world or for me personally.  Lucy Maud Montgomery.  C.S. Lewis.  John Adams, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln - every single transcendentalist.  They reach my soul.  They give me hope in myself and my potential to do good beyond what I can see.  They may not have found wild success as a community in their lifetime, but they've made their mark.  Today I'm glad to have wandered through their footsteps.

11 October 2016

Second Verse, Same as the First (aka: more pastry, more book, more chocolate.)

When I was in high school I had a shirt that I bought from Old Navy that said "Cambridge" on it.  I bought it because of England, but I had my history teacher come to me one day and say "want to go to Harvard, huh?"  I seem to remember laughing.  Yeah.  Right. I'm no moron, but I never would have gotten into Harvard.

After visiting Cambridge for real today, I don't necessarily regret that I didn't go to Harvard (the city is crazy expensive, the school is crazy expensive, everything is crowded, the school is constantly crowded with tourists. . . But man it's beautiful.  BYU has many virtues and I don't regret my education there at all, but man there are some ugly buildings on that campus.  Basically any building constructed while the school was expanding in the 70s is horrific.  More recent builds have a classic collegiate look that I like, but you really can't beat the atmosphere of Cambridge, even with all the tourists and the traffic.  I love being on college campuses just in general - I swear if college paid well then I'd never leave it.

We didn't take an official campus tour so I'm not sure that I have any great Harvard trivia to give that didn't come from what I'm sure is an inaccurate episode of Gilmore Girls, but I do know that there are 73 libraries on campus and that the Harvard collection of books is the third largest in the nation, behind the Library of Congress and the Boston Public Library.  The centerpiece of the collection is the Widener Library, which holds 3.5 million books and is named for a Harvard grad who died on the Titanic in 1907 and was a book collector.  Only students are allowed to go into the school, which is understandable but ticks me off because there is little I love more in this world than beautiful libraries.

Fortunately, Harvard has plenty of bookstores and although my suitcase has no room in it for more books I will find a way because I now have two more books to add to my collection - some short novellas by Alan Bennett and a memoir where a woman wrote about what was going on in her life on the same day every year for forty years - 1960 to 2000.  She lived behind the Iron Curtain for at least half the book and I think it's going to be fascinating.  My poor "to-read" shelves are screaming at me to pace myself but a house isn't really a home if it doesn't have a fantastic library, right?

We spent most of the morning just wandering the city but eventually made our way over to the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow house, which was. . .closed.  The exterior was really pretty, though?  We got to look at the gardens around the house and watch the squirrels for a bit.  Then we walked around for a bit and stopped for some more pastries (Mike's Pastry Shop has a branch near Harvard that has way less crowd issues than the one in Boston) and at a local chocolate shop.  Now that I think about it, today was basically a repeat of yesterday: book stores, chocolate, pastries, and wandering through historical sites for a while.  We're either predictable or easy to please, I guess.  Neither of us feel disappointed, so that's good.

Finding the Longfellow House closed we decided to leave Cambridge and go instead to the Gardner Museum in Boston, but that was closed as well (we found that out before we left, at least) so we went instead to visit the USS Constitution.  The USS Constitution was named by George Washington and is the oldest floating warship in the world.  She saw most of her action in the War of 1812 where it earned the nickname "Old Ironsides" against a ship that looks like it was named after cheese (seriously - the HMS Gueirrere).  Its performance in the war saved it from being scrapped dozens of times, and the Constitution went on to be a training ship during the Civil War and a museum exhibition that sailed to the Paris Exposition in 1878.  There's not all that much left of her to see at the moment (though I think that may be more because of the renovation work they were doing on her when we were there) but it was still worth the trip.  It's impressive that she's still afloat.

By this point we'd walked about seven miles, so we were hungry.  We went back to what our guidebook calls the "drenched in marinara" north end of Boston for some Italian.  The guidebook wasn't joking - the street we went to had nothing but Italian food options, all of which looked and smelled amazing.  We found one that looked good, and it was good, and all was well.

Some other random observations:

Traveling with my mom is awesome.  We're both relatively easy going travelers.  We have opinions on what we want to do, but are flexible enough to bend to what the other person wants.  It's been delightful.

Political campaigning is much more active here than it is in Utah.  I think some of this may be because we're not just seeing adds for Presidential campaigns or local propositions, but also adds for Congressmen from Massachusetts and surrounding states.  One of the local propositions is ticking me off because the locals are voting on charter school funding.  Public schools are losing money because of charter schools! The anti Prop 2 adds say.  NO THEY DON'T I yell at the TV.  Schools get money for the students they teach, so the funding they're "losing" is really only representative of students they aren't actually teaching.  Heaven FORBID we give people a choice in their education.  "But those schools might be horrible!" people argue.  "Yes," I respond.  "They could be. But a traditional public school doesn't automatically mean the school is good and. . .

I could go on about this forever, but now probably isn't the time or place given that I'm supposed to be writing about my trip, but it's my blog so what the hell: American education is still holding on with a vice grip to traditions established more than a hundred years ago that weren't founded on principles of what actually taught skills the best but what was the most efficient and logical.  The rest of the world is moving at lightning speed to adapt and change to the technologically obsessed and creative world we live in, but schools are still trying to fight against all of that like it will leave and pass like a fad.  For the love of all that is holy, LET PEOPLE INNOVATE.

I'm done.

Tomorrow I will center my chi by visiting the hallowed forests of transcendentalism.  I can't wait.

10 October 2016

The Freedom Trail

For the record, I'm pretty sure there are chirping smoke alarms in hell.  All last night, one of the alarms in the hall outside our apartment beeped.  This morning, the other one started.  Whomever invented those blasted things is the worst.  We have phones we can unlock with our fingerprints or our eyeballs, certainly we can come up with a better way to alert someone that the batteries need to be changed.

Aside from chirping alarms, staying in this sleepy little neighborhood has been so fun.  My favorite part about staying with Airbnb is the chance you get to stay outside of tourist centers.  We may spend a good part of our days playing tourist, but we get the chance to escape the busy city and enjoy the relative normalcy of suburban life.  I love it.

Today we started on the north part of town and hit up a few features on the Freedom Trail.  If you haven't been to Boston (or studied the American Revolution), then you ought to review the story of Boston.  Without this intensely stubborn city, the Revolution would never have happened.  Boston was the center of industry and shipping for the English at the time - all the taxes, all the regulations, all the rules hit Boston harder than anywhere else.  It was a city founded on the backs of principled and educated men and women who eloquently and firmly fought for their ideals and managed to convince more reluctant colonies (I'm looking at you, South Carolina) that sticking with England was detrimental to the prosperity of the locals.  All my love of England aside - I do think that America becoming free from Britain was the right choice.  I am grateful for my forefathers and New England ancestry for the sacrifices they made to ensure the prosperity of this country.

The Freedom Trail, then, takes you to some of the more important Colonial locations.  We started by visiting the Copp's Hill Burial Ground, where some of the earliest Puritan settlers were buried.  Some of the highlights include Captain Robert Newman - one of the men who helped light the lanterns and hang them to warn the American Militia that the British were coming (by sea, as it turned out). The other grave that I found particularly interesting was an obelisk in honor of the first black Master Mason in the all-black Free Mason lodge in early Boston.

From there we went down the hill to the Old North Church, made famous because of is role in being the location from which Captain Newman (and his companion whose name I can't remember) lit the lanterns to signal the coming British attack, which led to what was essentially the first shots fired in the Revolutionary War.  The church itself is significant enough to have been visited and frequented by many important people throughout history.  The pew we sat in, for example, was once used by Teddy Roosevelt.

Just behind the Old North Church is a chocolate shop.  We had to stop.  The smell alone was divine.  We walked over the "Don't Tread on Me" rug (seriously?) and some salted caramels and a cashew turtle later (mom can never resist those), we went for some more dessert at the famous Mikes Pastries store.  We got there just before the rush (the store was full when we got there, the line was down the block when we left), and it was totally worth it.  We each got a croissant and have a cannoli and a macaroon waiting for us when we want more dessert.  Given that we walked about five miles today, I'm not feeling bad at all about that.  Even if I hadn't walked five miles today, I wouldn't feel bad.  I thank God every day for carbs.

Paul Revere's house was next.  I had no idea that Paul Revere ever did anything of significance in his life other than ride a horse, but he was a bit of a Renaissance Man.  I found out that his work in dentistry led to early forensic techniques.  He had sixteen children, eleven of which survived to adulthood.  It was fun to learn more about him today.

After Paul Revere's House we made our way to Faneuil Hall and the Quincey Market.  We ended up eating lunch in the "Cheers" restaurant, which meant little to either of us since mom and I have never seen the show, but the Clam Chowder was delicious, so that's good.

The Brattle Bookshop was a must.  Frankly, any bookshop is a must.  This one was particularly awesome, with a huge selection of books outside and a decent selection inside as well.  I probably could have stayed for hours, but I limited myself in respect of my company and my budget, and came out with three awesome books, two of which were printed prior to the first world war.  (Ironically, they were the cheapest books.) A collection of poetry by Tennyson, essays by Emerson, and Faust.  I love beautiful books.  I don't know how in the world I'm going to get them home in my tiny little suitcase, but I've been training my entire life for creative packing of books.

We wandered through the main parks in central Boston for a while after the bookshop.  The parks were smaller than I imagined them to be - the parks and gardens in London are so big that you can forget you're in the city - but they were well worth the trip, if only for the chance to do some squirrel watching.  There were so many of them.  Living in Utah you rarely see squirrels.  I forget about that until I see them again and realize how much I miss them.  These squirrels are so used to people feeding them that they come right over to you and look for the food in your hands if you crouch down.  Man I love those little rodents.

So far I haver really enjoyed the chance to wander this city.  Boston reminds me of so many other cities I've been to.  Seeing Pret restaurants reminds me of London.  The mix of history and modern structures reminds me of Berlin.  The squirrels and the smell of fallen leaves remind me of Iowa and being a kid again.  It's been lovely.

09 October 2016

Rainy Day in the Windy City

Nothing today has really gone according to plan.  For example - about ten seconds ago, the post I'd spent the last two hours working on (while watching Bringing Up Baby, I wasn't totally focussed) disappeared completely.  No idea where it went.  The app I used to compose the thing is now in the garbage can of my iPad and I'm back to composing the old fashioned way.  This post will probably be shorter and more sarcastic (if such a thing is possible. . .)

As I mentioned yesterday, we started off today by going to church.  Or, rather, we attempted to.  The address I found on lds.org took us who knows where.  As it was, we did get a rather fascinating conversation with our Uber driver, a man named Ali who was born in Iraq but came to the US via a Saudi Arabian refugee camp.  His life story was amazing - his determination to make the best of situations, the way he has been able to build his life from $350 a month to a solid accounting job at Boston University (and into a car that's way nicer than mine).  He spoke about the way he believes that our spirits are drawn to different places and people, how he picked our trip because, while he wouldn't normally go this way, it felt like the right thing.  I'm glad he did.

The whole drive reminded me of what a charmed life I've led - to have lived forever in cities where I could have the run of the neighborhood on my bike.  I remember riding my bike a mile away to the grocery store to go pick up donuts - or walking a few miles to school back when I was in elementary school.  I've had opportunity and grown up in a relatively just world.  It's easy to take that for granted and to sit on your laurels when so much of the world is in great need.  I don't know what the solution to that problem is - the imperialist solution that came about in the early 1900s is less than ideal, but dropping off food and supplies and running away seems heartless.  For the time being, I'm going to use my vote to support those who want to help bring refugees into the country to make better lives for themselves.  The process of getting into our country as a refugee is so complicated and difficult that I don't think there is any need to latch onto the fear that so many want to spread about those coming into the United States.  And you know what?  If someone did come into our country that did want to do harm, then fine.  Given everything else that's going on right now, they'd have to get in line with everyone else who is already doing harm.  That shouldn't stop us from doing good, especially to those who are asking for it.

We ended up napping instead of going to church before heading back out into the rain to the Museum of Fine Art.  Mom spent most of the ride there talking religion with our Uber driver, which I found pretty impressive because small talk is not my strong suit, but my mom has a fantastic way of sharing her thoughts without coming off as either pushy or weak.  She's a marvel.

The MFA is fantastic.  We had a great time wandering the different exhibits, particularly the American and European exhibits.  The quality of light and color in the impressionist paintings was particularly impressive to me.  Something about seeing such exquisite creation reminds me of the great potential humans have.  I also enjoyed a hallway that paralleled the cultural, political, and religious development in London and a city in China.  Museums that are well organized remind me of how much we have in common, and the beauty of what makes us different.

The Contemporary exhibit was unique - I have to remind myself in contemporary exhibits that it's a bit like wandering into the new fiction section of a bookstore - no one has any idea, yet, what books that have been published will have any kind of staying power in the long run so the whole area is pretty hit and miss.  Today there was a podium with speeches on it that you could read from as a commentary on the effect that a speaker has on the power of words (no one took the artist up on the challenge while we were there but the idea was cool).  In the same room there was a video of what appeared to be a woman eating something from her breast with a spoon.  I didn't get close enough to that one to figure out what the heck it was supposed to mean.  Also, ew.

We stayed at the museum until just before it closed, then walked through the rain to the T to catch a train home.  After years and years of public transportation exploring all around the world, I think I can comfortably tell you that I have seen a more interesting variety of personalities on trains in Boston in the last day than I have in all the other places I've been, with the possible exception of that drunken train ride we took in Germany a few years ago (we weren't drunk, the football fans were.)

We decided to catch a cab back home instead of walking the rest of the way in the rain - the cab we caught may not have actually been a cab. . .but the driver got us where we needed to go so. . . No harm no foul? Yay for adventures!  Not everything went as planned, but the day has still been delightful.  Tomorrow we head into old Boston in search of pastries, books, and history.

08 October 2016

Off to Massachusetts

When I was on my way home from England, I texted my mom (as you do) to let her know I was alright and back on US soil.  We talked about the trip and how amazing it had all been, how she'd enjoyed reading my blog updates, our own rudimentary plans to go back to Prince Edward Island, Canada later in the year (a trip inspired by my own desire to just go somewhere even if it meant going by myself, and dad encouraging mom to go with me - we've both had pretty insane years.)  I think, though, that my trip had struck a chord with my mom, and by the time the train pulled into the station in Provo, our trip to PEI (an amazing place, but one we've both been to) had morphed into a trip to Boston - a city that would allow us a great mix of high culture and easy access to small town charm.

Little did I know that this week would come at a rather inconvenient time. It's been an intensely difficult school year so far, and it's about to get crazier with the addition of about eighty more students on my roster the Monday after I get back.  I haven't had any time to really think about the trip at all or get excited about it.  Honestly, I've felt rather guilty leaving when there's so much to do.  Fortunately for me, I have a saint of a co-teacher at home who is earning some serious heaven points for covering for me while I'm gone.  I owe him big.

The last time I was in the North East wasn't really all that far north.  When I was in high school my family road-tripped to Washington DC.  It was an amazing trip and my first real taste of a big city.  I experienced a lot of firsts on that trip - my first time regularly "commuting" on public transport.  My first encounter with a drunken passenger on said public transportation. My first time actually visiting a place I'd studied in school.  Otherwise, although I've always been drawn to the North East (I grew up in the Gilmore Girls generation after all), I've never been there.  And what better time to go than in the fall?  When the North East is North Eastiest? And with my Marmee?

Day one was mostly travel for the both of us.  My plane took off from the gate just next to the one I left from for England this summer.  I could see the ghost of Joni past a few feet away and felt a little envious of her, because ENGLAND, but England will still be there next time I get there, and the shorter flight to Boston sounded way more appealing.  Who wouldn't want to go to Boston in the fall?

For all my love of England, I have a great feeling of kinship to John Adams.  Adams lived just outside of Boston in the city of Braintree.  There is so much of his story I relate to - his open and obvious flaws but eternal desire to make things better for the world around him.  He was passionate in the cause of justice.  Of particular note was his defense of the British officers in the Boston Massacre.  He was not particularly popular for this defense, but he was firm in his desire to establish America as a colony of civilization and equality.  I admire his unwearying desire to follow his heart.

Then, of course, there are the Transcendentalists.  My fascination began with, who else, but Louisa May Alcott.  I am probably best known for my Anne of Green Gables or Harry Potter love, but I was every bit the Little Women obsessor as a child. I had the movie memorized.  I related more to Anne - the tom-boyishness nature of Jo didn't appeal to me quite as much as a child - but I saw something of myself in Jo's somewhat bossy bookish and socially awkward nature.  The older I get, though, the farther away Anne feels from me.  She spent most of her (fictional) adulthood engaged or married to the dreamboat of Gilbert.  Jo, though - Jo struggles as an adult.  The life that had been so comfortable within the walls of her own home is more difficult when she leaves it.  Finding her place in the world is tricky in a world that prescribes only one really acceptable path for a woman to follow.  Her independent spirit and unconventional path are close to me.  One of the dearest summers in my life was spent walking in the shoes of the fictional March family and studying the very real Alcotts on stage.  The symbolism of visiting PEI when I was a wide-eyed almost college Freshman compared to visiting Concord as a perpetually boyfriendless nearly 30 something is not lost on me.  It's like a passing of the torch.

I also feel a great kinship to those who came here in the first place, some of whom were my ancestors.  William Bradford, the man credited for the thought behind the Mayflower Compact, is a direct ancestor of mine. Those early Puritans were far from perfect, but I admire their determination to create an environment where they could worship (even if I don't necessarily admire all the lengths to which they went to ensure that environment). In the same way that I've always been drawn to the UK, I've long wanted to come here.  So many of my ancestors lived in New England that it feels like part of my genetic makeup, even though the total amount of time I've spent here now equates to approximately. . .five and a half hours.

Flying into the airport was delightful.  I remember being in college and having my Arizonan roommates talk about how green Utah was and the midwestern roots that I have thinking they were crazy.  Now that my parents live in Arizona I understand why they thought Utah was green.  I still feel sad for them, though - anytime I fly into a city that's as green as this one I feel like the world gets a little better.  Utah has its beauties but I do miss the green.  When that green is coupled with flecks of bright red, yellow and orange?  Exquisite.

Mom and I met up in the airport and, using public transportation navigational skills I've been honing to perfection for the last decade, we ditched the Uber idea and took the bus and train to the southern part of the city where we walked through the streets of Dorchester to our home for the week.  Now, in addition to my coveting of the trees, I am coveting every house I can see.  Who the heck ever thought it was a good idea to make every house look so freakishly practical?  I want to buy all.the.houses.  I also want to take pictures of all of them.  Hope the locals don't mind!

After getting home we dropped off our bags and walked the quarter mile or so into Addam's Square to find dinner and a convenience store to pick up food for breakfast.  We ended up finding all that we needed in an Irish cafe that sold meat pies and a whole range of British necessities at killer prices.  What with the Caramel Digestives and Irish porridge and the Big Bang Theory/Have I Got News For You TV binge mom and I had tonight, I may as well be back in Europe.  Come to find out that the local convenience store also had a huge supply of my favorite England treats - a delightful surprise that, perhaps, shouldn't have been.  As my brother pointed out, it is New England.

Tomorrow is supposed to rain all day so we'll head to church then hole ourselves away into the southern part of town and the local art museums.  Given that church is at 9:00 and about a 20 minute drive (and two hours earlier than my body clock puts it at about 7:00), you should know how much I love my mother.  If I were traveling by myself I'd probably ditch the church idea, sleep in, and watch a devotional while I ate breakfast instead.  But my mother is an amazing woman.  The chance to travel alone with her is such a gift, that if mom says she wants to go to church in the morning, then we go to church in the morning.

30 August 2016

The Fountain of Youth

I have been blessed with my mother's amazing genes in many ways.  I have the same laugh she does.  I have a similar peacemaking heart that would much rather sacrifice my own preference to someone else's if it means conflict going away (a blessing and a curse).  I've also been blessed with her skin (sans the freckles she has).

This is kind of awesome.

It means I can rock red lipstick and feel like Snow White.  It means that I'm not spending crazy amounts of money on creams or lotions or pills or whatever in a mad attempt to keep my skin looking young.  Cetaphil and drug store facewash are good enough for me.  It means I can play characters on stage that are much younger than myself (thereby allowing me to play loads of characters I have on my bucket list for longer than some.)  There are some definite perks.

There are also some severe annoyances.

For example:

1. My new co-workers think I'm a precocious upstart with no experience.  In reality, I've been teaching for almost a decade (sometimes longer and with more official qualifications than those many years my senior.)

2. Dating is a nightmare.  People are always trying to set me up with their 20 year old recently returned missionaries.  No.  Just. . . no.

3. If I had a nickel for every time someone said "Ah! I thought you were a student!" I could probably fund a trip to Europe.

4. My greatest desire in life has always been to be taken seriously and treated like an intelligent being.  Even from a very young age, I remember being seriously annoyed when adults didn't want to collaborate with me more or less as a peer.

There really isn't a point to this post.  I haven't written anything real since England (and I need to!  There's so much!) but starting at a new school has taken half my will to live and all my energy.  So many new systems to work through and understand.  Still can't print anything and no end in sight to that, so that's fun.  Air conditioning broken in my classroom today, which was made more fun by my 60+ class sizes and the manure factory (no joke) down the road that was wafting smells our way all day.  I had to move away from farmland to live by farms.  Circle of life.

Venting done.

28 June 2016

Day Twenty: Journey Home

We caught an Uber this morning to take us to the airport. 28 miles away, so, naturally, it took us nearly two hours to get there. Oh, I-15. You wonderful, delicious morsel of efficiency. I will never complain about your traffic and perpetual construction again. I will kiss you when I see you. (Metaphorically because safety.) I don't even want to think about my commute every day in the England roadway method.

Our house in Greenwich meant our drive to the airport was basically one last farewell to the city. So long, Parliament. I'm sorry we didn't make it this time, V&A. One of these days I'll get around to you, Natural History Museum. I'm sure you are a delight. Imperial War Museum, you're still my favorite, please don't hate me.

I spent some time looking through my pictures and thinking about these blogs and how much I'll miss writing them. My daily life seems far less exciting than this, but maybe I'll be better at finding things to write about, even when the routine becomes routine again.

I'm sad because there are an many things I think I've missed out on in writing. I don't want to forget any of it. Like how the best thing we did all this trip was climb that mountain and be alone with the world. Or the man who "baa'd" like a sheep in the Tube for ages and we couldn't tell if he was drunk or mad or both. Or the audience reaction to the audience reaction in Harry Potter (first a collective gasp, then a collective laugh about the collective gasp).  What about my broken streak of bringing unseasonably warm weather with me when I travel? Finding that copy of Anne of Green Gables in Portobello and walking away from it instead of buying it? There are so many little details I've missed. Sitting in the terminal and about to leave, they feel important.

Maybe I'm just tired. God willing I'll be home on time, be able to collapse onto my amazing mattress and cuddle up to a kitty that loves me sometime in the next twelve hours.

For those of you who have read these posts and commented on them, thanks for your feedback and kind words. You've made me feel like a real writer again. I've missed that. Lucky for us both, this is definitely not my last adventure, in or out of my "real" world. I'll be back.

27 June 2016

Day Nineteen: The Wind Has Changed

It's a funny thing to travel half way around the world. In one respect, life stops. I have thought precious little about the looming election in America. I haven't thought about how much work I need to do in just a few weeks to get my classroom and curriculum and (more terrifying) student government prepared. (I've never been in student government. Not just as a teacher, as a human being. What the hell did I just agree to do?!!) There is so much to be done that I have been storing away in the far corners of my brain. Out of sight, out of mind, right? It's nice not to think about things you don't want to think about.

On the other hand, things you knew very little about (or hadn't paid attention to much) suddenly take on greater focus. London leaving the EU and the PM's successive resignation, for example. Abnormally wet weather. Annoying tourists.

And then there are things going on at home that remind you of how very far away you are and how much you wish you could do. Hearing about the shootings in Orlando made me feel very far away. Getting texts from my cat sitter about how Izzy is doing. Facebook images of everyone enjoying the sweltering Utah sunshine.

Three weeks away is a long time, and I am ready to go home.

I miss driving. I miss the bike trails by my house. I miss my cat. I miss my bed and my big American shower. I miss cell service and Internet whenever I want it. I miss the clothes I left at home. (Ooh how I miss variety in my wardrobe!)  It has been a practically perfect in every way kind of trip, but I am ready to leave.

Not particularly excited for the process of actually leaving, though. Nicole and I were talking the other day about how if we were given the power to apparate either to or from a location, which would we choose? Both of us vehemently declared "from!" I am not looking forward to tomorrow!

Fortunately, I think I'll be able to actually make it home with all the souvenirs I bought. In the past I was bringing home clothes and scarves and chocolate and the like. Now my suitcase is bursting under the weight of ten new books. That said, time in the London Underground teaches everyone that there is always room for one more, and somehow I think I've managed it.

(We do need to leave now though, before I find another book to buy and the whole thing explodes.)

Our last day in London led to a bit of an escape from the crowds in favor of time in Hampton Court Palace. Hampton Court is best known as the home of Henry VIII (one of them, at least), but its history is far more than just Henry - the palace had a revival of popularity during the late 17th century, which is why the architecture of the place is so disjointed. It's a history lover's dream to visit. So many amazing historical events are echoed in the walls of the palace. In three consecutive rooms, for examples, are evidence of the first three of Henry's wives; this shows just how long it took to build the place and how quickly he went through women. There are amazing wood carvings throughout, best showcased in the great hall, once used essentially as a canteen for visiting guests. This large hall has wood carvings throughout the ceiling. It used to hold the letters "A" and "H" entwined all around the room (for his second wife, Anne Boleyn), but after Anne was beheaded the letters were carved out. One was missed (on accident or on purpose is anyone's guess) in the top of one of the corners. This room also has heads in the eaves, meant to remind guests that the King had eyes and ears everywhere.

Henry VIII really is one of the most fascinating contradictions in history. On the one hand, he was Defender of the Faith - a staunch religious theologian who was studied and had great knowledge of doctrine. On the other hand, he was married six times (under increasingly dubious circumstances) and known for his unforgiving and unpredictable temperament. He's quite the character. Apparently he was the first king to have a full body portrait painted. He looks pretty formidable in the portrait, staring the viewer down with complete confidence. In truth, his life was a mess. He was injured in a jousting accident while married to Anne Boleyn and never fully recovered. He was in near constant pain. Plus, he had this nasty habit of marrying wives who couldn't give him a son, died when they did manage to give him a son, and were often adulterous or independent or not happy with HIS adultery and independence. What a disaster. Henry did manage, though, to set the line of succession before he died. His sickly son reigned for less than a decade, his Catholic daughter mercifully reigned for about that long as well, and then the world was granted Elizabeth I, one of the greatest monarchs in British history.

In addition to the information on Henry and the Stuarts that came after the Tudors died out with Elizabeth and the eventual entering of the Hanovers with George I. My favorite part of Hampton Court, though, are the gardens. Mary II (not the bloody one) was a great lover of plants and the gardens are filled with plants from all over the world. I especially love the fountain gardens because water and ponds are so beautiful and soothing and I want one. (I should probably get a yard first.  I have a feeling my cat and an indoor fountain would be not a brilliant idea.)

We decided to play tourist after Hampton Court and went to King's Cross for the requisite Platform 9 3/4 picture. The platform has moved every time I've come. It was never between nine and ten - platforms nine and ten are actually across the tracks from one another, so it couldn't be there anyway.  First it was back a long way and hiding near the toilets with just a wall. Then I came back and it had moved to a different location, this time with a luggage cart half way through so you could pretend you were going in. Now they've finally realized the money they could make and they have a whole photo area set up like Disneyland, where, apparently, you queue for about an hour, pick your props, and have a worker fling your scarf into the air so it looks like you're moving before you exit to a gift shop where you can buy the picture and a million other things (if you want to wait in another really long line.)  It's probably a good thing that I was running out of cash and had a few more gifts to buy or I'd have had to beg Greg and Nicole to wait while I bought more things I didn't really need to take home.

We saw Aladdin as our final show of the trip. Ironic to see a show about a hotter than hot desert hours before I fly back to one. Truthfully it wasn't my favorite of the trip by a long shot. The added songs were disappointing, the character development was flimsy, and the over abundance of campy humor was "meh". I wish they'd have taken a cue from Lion King and Beauty and the Beast and been a bit more grown up - the best thing about those adaptations is that they graduated from cartoon status and focused on telling a story with heart and maturity. This show felt like a step backward in a lot of ways. (Also, their Jasmine was terrible. Pitchy and whiney and awful. Not impressed.) "Friend Like Me" was good, but I expected more out of this show.  Ah well.  When your summer includes fifteen professional productions, odds are one of them will be disappointing.  We've been incredibly lucky with the rest of the shows we've seen, so no complaints here.

Well, my bags are packed.  I'm so grateful to have taken this trip.  I really do think the chance to travel as freely as I do is one of the greatest blessings of being single.  Seeing the world and experiencing new things is such a gift.  It changes a person completely to look inside a new culture and to view their own culture from a different angle.  There are many things about England that I will miss.  I will miss the landscape.  I'll miss the weather (even the rain - scorching heat when I get home. Boo.)  I'll miss the yoghurt.  I'll miss watching the show "Have I Got News For You" at night (hilarious).  I'll miss the easy access to hundreds of years of history.

But there are many things that this trip has given me that remind me of how much I love home.  America may be the land of Hershey's chocolate and loud extroverts, but it is also the home of wide roads and efficient travel.  It's the place where you can drive forever on one road and see nothing at all.  It's a place founded on independent and daring thinkers.  I'm not so geocentric that I could say that America is the greatest country in the world, but it is my country, and I love it dearly.  Even though I'll be spending forever on a plane tomorrow, aside from getting home to my cat, the moment I'm looking forward to most is when I arrive in customs and see the American flag.  It's a fantastic thing to travel, but it's just as fantastic to come home again.  I'm ready.

26 June 2016

Day Eighteen: A little bit naughty, a great bit inspiring.

It's inevitable when you spend enough time on the Tube that you come across some rather interesting characters.  There's actually a "People on the Underground" Instagram account I follow that calls out the particularly strange.  More commonly you run into drunks or overexcited teenagers.  With Pride yesterday there was loads of color.  I thought the celebrations were only on one day, but apparently they went on to today as well.  How do I know this?  A man that looked like Jeff Daniels wearing a Jack Daniels tank top, short shorts and eighties style trainers (sneakers) sat opposite me this morning, carefully covering himself in glitter.  It was a very thorough process that reminded me of my cat grooming herself.  (I miss my cat!)  It was fabulous.  (In every sense of the word.)

We played tourist today by walking by Buckingham Palace and through some of the parks on our way to our matinee.  Buckingham is generally an area I avoid because it can be so horribly crowded, but we missed the changing of the guard crowd by at least an hour and it was actually pretty empty (at least by Buckingham standards).  After visiting so many different estates across the country that have had to open themselves to tourists either in part or completely, it's pretty insane to imagine having an entire estate to yourself.  (Granted, the queen doesn't have the land that these other estates do immediately adjacent to this house but, you know.) It's still pretty wild.  I'm pretty glad I don't have people outside my windows at all hours taking pictures.  I did enjoy the brief visit, though - it seems more recognizable after the last several years of William and Kate events than it did the first two trips to London.

We were lucky to get tickets to Matilda today.  Most shows are dark on Sunday, but Matilda has a Sunday matinee.  It was immediately apparent why: unlike the other shows we've seen, this show was positively swarming with little girls.  I've hardly seen any children in the other shows (with good reason, I guess.  1984 isn't exactly light fare, and Harry Potter is pricy, tickets are hard to come by, and really more attractive to children of the 90s who grew up with the Boy Who Lived.) No worries.  Matilda is a fabulous show for children, and aside from the one that literally could. not. stop. squirming. in front of me, it was fun to have their reactions all over the theater.

Matilda was the heroine I related to most when I was really young.  Of course, I loved Anne Shirley, but I aspired to be her, I didn't think I really was.  Her world was too different from mine.  I loved Mary Lennox as well, but my life was so different than hers that I didn't really relate to her that much.  Matilda, though - Matilda was an inspiration (before Hermione came along).  Matilda was smart.  She loved to read more than anything and had an inner confidence and spunk that I shared.  She got on better with adults than with children and had an utterly insatiable desire to learn and make the world right.  Matilda, like Hermione did later, reminded me that even if people thought I was a nerd for loving school and reading, that knowledge made a person somehow powerful and someday they would understand.

I've loved the music for this show for a long time and the show was wonderful.  For a show that places so much weight of the storytelling onto the shoulders of nine children, it was really impressive.  My favorite song in the show is at the beginning of act two - the kids come out and sing about how everything will be wonderful when they are adults.  They'll eat sweets all the time, they'll go to bed late, play with toys their parents don't think are fun  and they'll never get a sunburn.  Then Miss Honey comes out and sings the same song - she's not waiting to be a grown up, she is "up" - and she's still waiting for that bravery.  This is why Matilda is still an inspiration to me - she reminds me that, years ago, I was a really confident (probably to a fault) little girl that worked through bullying in elementary school and still came out of it with head held high and priorities set.  She was brave.  When I feel small, when the adult world in which I live suddenly seems overwhelming or disappointing or even frightening, I can call on that voice for help.

After Matilda we went over to Westminster Abbey for the evening service. Come to find out that the normal service has been cancelled in favor of a special (free) ticket only event in honor of the re-dedication of the English Holocaust Center that serves not just survivors of the Holocaust but also survivors of other genocides or abuses.  We were told that there might be room if we waited, so we decided to wait and find out.  I'm glad we did because they were able to fit us in - just barely.  We got three of the last four seats (everyone else had to stand). It was a beautiful service.  Several speakers from various religious organizations around the country spoke about the role the Holocaust plays in our present and future decision making; about the power of choice; about the way that choice enables us to be humane at all and that without choice we would only be automatons; about our responsibility to build a world that doesn't just allow all people or even simply accept them, but enriches them.

It's so easy to live in fear of what we don't understand.  I see this with my students - given a piece of literature or an experience that they don't get, or don't feel prepared for, they tend to shut down in anger.  I see this in my church - when someone asks a question or wants to discuss something uncomfortable (LGBT issues, for example - feminism for another), it's not uncommon for those issues to be shut down, glossed over, moved on from or even referred to as sinful.  I don't think it's necessarily because people on either side of these different situations is right or wrong.  I just think that when you don't understand something or are ignorant of something, fear is a natural reaction to it.

This is why I am constantly trying to find books that challenge the world view of my students.  They live in such a vanilla world most of the time.  And I'm not even referring to Utah Valley and Mormon culture.  I'm referring to the whole existence of teenager life which can, at its worst, be extremely self centered and frivolous.  I don't necessarily fault them this - there is a real luxury in being a teenager.  You are old enough to do good and influential things in the world without, for many of them, the pressures or fears of adulthood as a regular part of life yet.  But that self-centered world is not ideal for creating kind, considerate, charitable adults.  I choose to teach what I do because I don't know how else to encourage my students to be empathetic and generous humans for the rest of their lives.  They may not leave my class being the most brilliant writers.  They may still hate reading.  But, God willing, they will be better people, because that matters infinitely more to me than the writing and the reading.

(Do you hear that, Federal/State Education dimwits?!)

25 June 2016

Day Seventeen: Crowds and Inspiration

I do love the rush of a city. I love the resources and options and culture and life. I love being on the Tube and hearing about five languages and seeing so many different types of faces and cultures represented. I love the food and the museums and the passion.

I am also a certified introvert who craves quiet time alone. I love my house for that - I love that it's clean and decorated precisely to my tastes. I love coming home and seeing everything just so. I love the glorious view of the mountains outside my window. I love how quiet it is. I love watching the deer from my balcony.

Being in London makes our time in the Lakes and in the Cotswolds seem like another life. Was it really only a week and a half ago that I climbed Newland's Pass and felt like the only person for miles? Just me and the sheep and the waterfall for company. (Well, and Greg and Nicole, but still.) That whole world feels like a lifetime ago when you're pushing yourself through the Portobello market.

I wouldn't trade it for anything.

(But I'm also looking forward to the lower crowds and more peaceful elements of home.)

Portobello is such a fascinating place. I think if you looked hard enough, you could probably find Mary Poppins' bag there somewhere. You can find practically anything, and much of it at reasonable prices. (Prices do seem to have risen a bit of late - I read that stalls are so expensive to rent that some of the smaller vendors have been pushed out and others have raised prices, but it's still pretty great.) The only problem with Portobello (aside from the claustrophobia inducing crowds) is that there are a huge number of things I want to buy and can't, because who has room for a gorgeous working (almost) grandfather clock in their carry on (unless you can find the Mary Poppins bag)? As it was, I enjoyed looking at all the things for sale (at least for the first hour) and ended up leaving with a present for my sister and (of course) another book for me. Bleak House by Dickens this time - I've been dying to read it. I also got an amazing lunch from one of the street vendors - this potato and cheese and garlic and spicy conglomeration that was probably really bad for me but so good that I really don't give a (insert favorite expletive ((or "expletive")) here).

After the crowds of Portobello, we did get a brief respite by walking through Kensington Gardens. I love Kensington. The last few times I've been here I have stayed in west London and have been a frequent visitor of the parks. This time, staying in Greenwich (south and east), this has been our first time in the parks at all. It was a breath of fresh air to be back with the trees, to watch the dogs running around and chasing the pigeons. I think if I ever were fortunate enough to live in London I would have to come spend time in the parks on a regular basis. One can only spend so much time fighting crowds before one starts going nuts.

Of course my favorite part of Kensington is the statue of Peter Pan. I had such an obsession with Peter as a child. Truthfully, I don't think I can say that it's worn off. There is something so entrancing about that story to me. As a child the adventure and prospect of flight alone were enough to captivate me. I used to keep my window open at night in case Peter came. Even after I grew old enough to know that he wouldn't (because I was too old . . . and because he's fictional), I still kept it open for sake of symbolism alone. I love what that story teaches children about the bravery it takes to grow up. I love what that story teaches adults about the beauty in embracing childhood and not getting so lost in the business of life that things that matter most get shoved aside.

One of the most magical theater experiences I ever had was in Kensington in 2009 when they put on the Peter Pan play. I really can't describe the play in any justice, but it was stunning. The scene that really stuck with me was at the end of the first act. Peter has been wounded in his fight with Hook and doesn't think he can fly. He tells Wendy to leave without him by taking hold of the kite, but she is scared and doesn't think she can fly without him. In the end, he shoves her off the rock and the kite sweeps her away. This is a great scene for Peter, but it's really Wendy's story - that scene meant so much to me that summer. I was just weeks away from starting my internship as a teacher. I was about to be thrown into adulthood in a very real way and I wasn't sure I was ready for it. Peter Pan has always been a story that reminded me to be brave. I have to visit the statue when I come. It's a beautiful thing, set in a lovely location along the Serpentine River that runs through the park. I usually take about a hundred pictures of it, but limited myself to three (ok four) ((ok five)) pictures this time around. Not that I need more. But . . .

Caught in the rain after Kensington, we decided to go to the store to stock up on necessary treats to take home (seriously, America. Get your act together and demand McVities biscuits. They are the BEST EVER) before grabbing dinner and heading to the theatre for tonight's show: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.

I first read Curious Incident in high school. I was utterly taken by it - I think I could say that it was probably the first "adult" (non classic) book that I read that was also particularly different. Told entirely from the perspective of Christopher, a boy with autism, I was thrown into a world that was so VERY different from the one I knew. It was magical. It was funny. It was sad and interesting and strange and enlightening. It changed me. It made me want to be a teacher.

I revisited the book in college in a class where we needed to read something about learners with disabilities.  This book was on the list, so I pulled out my copy and read it again.  Reading it from the perspective of a person just months away from working in her own classroom - it really transformed the kind of teacher I wanted to be.  I wanted to protect students like Christopher.  Not necessarily from themselves - I wanted to protect them from educational systems that held them back.

It's been one of my greatest privileges to fight to create a classroom where everyone is welcome.  Some of the students who have found the best success are those that learn in different ways than the "average" student.  (That said, I'd argue that the "average" student is a red herring and doesn't exist, but that's a discussion for another day.)  I've been especially lucky to work with students "on the spectrum".  They challenge me, but I love a challenge.  The challenge is so, so very rewarding.

Seeing Curious Incident tonight reminded me of how special (dare I say even sacred?) my job is.  The show was beautiful.  The technical elements were amazing - I loved the precision of it all, especially given Christopher's personal affinity to maths.  They told the story well and with great heart.  What I loved most of all, though, required no technology at all.  I loved watching Christopher's teacher advocate so fiercely and kindly for him.  That's not to say that Christopher didn't have other advocates - he was surrounded by them.  But in the end, it was his teacher to whom he posed the question "so - I can do anything?"  It was the voice of his teacher that he heard directing him when he was scared.  It was amazing.

You know, summers off are a true perk of my job.  Not that my summers off are ever purely "off" - there's loads to prepare for (especially this year in transferring to a new school and taking on Student Government and the like).  But my job does allow me to take three week holidays in Europe every other year or so if I want to, and that's a pretty big plus.  It can be hard (in June) to even want to think about all the work ahead.  After today, though, I'm excited to get back.  I'm excited to take up the challenge of reaching the student that no one else has quite been able to figure out yet, because that is what makes my job so very, very beautiful.

24 June 2016

England Day Sixteen: Joni Newman and the Practically Perfect Play

Note: As with last night, I'll talk about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in general, non-spoilery ways. You can message me if you want more detail.

We were all so excited by Harry Potter last night that we got to bed much later than normal. That, and the discovery of fans to cool down our stuffy room and we were all asleep until a crazy hour of the almost afternoon. (Sidebar: London had more rain two nights ago than it generally does all the month of June, which meant flooding and crazy closures on the Underground and humidity. Hot sticky days are no fun.) It's alright though - a late morning still gave us plenty of time to do what we wanted to. First, though, we turned on the news. The British voted last night on whether or not to leave the EU and since polls closed at 10:00 PM, results weren't finalized until this morning. Much to everyone's surprise, the leave vote carried and Britain is about to start the process to leave the EU. The media is all over this, of course. What I found most interesting was the press conference held by the Scottish PM. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU. Scotland in particular is frustrated - they voted just two years ago to stay in the UK, largely because they wanted to be a part of the EU, so it seems likely that they could vote in the next year or so on the same topic again. What a strange world that would be - a United Kingdom with no Scotland. What would they do to all the regalia that has the Scottish thistle on it? (And can I have it?!) It's a crazy world.

Our first stop today was St. Paul's Cathedral. I think I could say with a certain degree of honesty that St. Paul's is my favorite cathedral. It's so different from the Gothic cathedrals you generally see in Europe. It's white and bright and so very Romanesque. They've changed their photo policy (you can't take pictures inside now) but you do get a very good audio guide for free. The audio guide was a good tool for understanding the history of the building, but also for promoting a spiritual focus that I haven't seen (oddly enough) when being a tourist in other churches. Two of these stand out to me. The first was information about the men who stood as guards of the cathedral during World War II. There was a brigade of men in charge of keeping watch over the cathedral each night during the war. They would sleep in the crypt and patrol the building. What I thought was most interesting was that the night when the cathedral did get bombed, the only note that was made in their logbook was a brief explanation about putting out a fire. I suppose that can be a simple reflection of how busy they were, but it also seemed like a reflection of how normal such a life was for them. I'm so glad bombing isn't a normal part of my life.

There was another interesting discussion on a painting based on the scripture in Revelation about Christ knocking at the door. Similar to the one my LDS friends would recognize, the door in the painting cannot be opened from the outside. The painter describes this door as representing the "obstinate mind", closed willingly to the knocker. Not just closed because they cannot hear, but closed stubbornly. Such things make me reflect on my own mind and the culture around me. They remind me of students I work with who look at a piece of literature or art that I find particularly spiritual or powerful but that they find trivial or annoying or even bad. I don't fault them for this - I could be wrong, after all. And they are young - there are many things I didn't like as a teenager that I have since matured enough to appreciate. But it does remind me of my resolution to actively seek for find things that are virtuous, lovely, or of good report - no matter their source - and do what I can to let those become part of who I am.

After St. Paul's we went to the British Museum. I haven't been in ages and last time I went I wandered very little. This time we stayed for a lot longer and I saw about half the exhibits. I always love the Egyptian exhibit - there's something really fascinating to me about Ancient Egyptian culture, particularly their religious rites (which are remarkably similar to my own). Remember - when Herod started to kill the infant boys, Jesus and his family were sent to Egypt.  Moses and Joseph were both sent to Egypt as well. For hundreds (maybe even thousands) of years, Egypt has been a hub of education for intellectuals and prophets alike. Wandering through the different sarcophagi reminds me of how much bigger this world is than my own existence. (I suppose that's a natural reaction to being surrounded by things that are 4,000-7,000 years old.)

My favorite things to look at this time were in the Greek and Roman exhibits. After looking at the Egyptians and the Abyssinians, there was a marked difference in the art. The other two civilizations have art that is remarkably similar and awkwardly proportioned (especially where the people are concerned) - seeing the sculpture of the Romans and the Greeks are remarkable comparatively.  Less symbolic, more realistic.  The contrast between the two was striking when they were placed so close to each other.

Regardless of the difference, walking through art from civilizations all over the world is impressive and humbling.  It's particularly impressive to see how people have discovered ways of making, say, pottery.  Take the Chinese - their pottery is pristine.  How does a person (or a civilization) gain that kind of knowledge?  I suppose you could say the same thing about things like the iPhone these days.  I guess I'm just impressed by anyone who is able to see the possibility in things and create.  I'm good when I have a script in front of me.  I'm good with organization and detail.  I'm less good at thinking in the abstract.  I admire people who can.

The highlight of today was, again, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I was impressed with how the second part of the show was less focused on the magic and more focused on the relationships of the people involved.  The show felt more intimate in Part Two.  I really enjoyed it.  (So did the girls behind me, who basically spent the entire second act sobbing.  I passed them some tissues.  Potter fans stick together and provide emotional support!). Truthfully, there were some scenes that got to me as well.  The acting was truly on point.  Jamie Parker's Harry is magnificent.  (They're all good, but I was really taken by him tonight.)

My fear with this show is that people will see it (or read it) and want for it to be something it isn't.  Books can give incredible amounts of detail.  They can go into a dozen different plot lines and be extremely long but still maintain interest if they are well written because people leave the book and come back to it later if they need to.  Plays (and movies) are much more limited.  Storylines must be focused and streamlined and paced in ways that are very different than books.  Those used to experiencing the Potterverse through books and love to pick apart every minute detail may find that some points in the play have been rushed or not explained to their satisfaction.  There are some elements that I think could still be strengthened in small ways (and they could be - the show is still in previews for another month, which means changes will still be coming). All the same, I think this is a truly excellent play and a powerful story.  It touched me personally and fits in almost flawlessly with the Potter universe.  I loved it.

23 June 2016

Day Fifteen: Vintage Ring OR Joni Newman and the Childhood Wish Fulfillment: Part One

Before you read, know that I believe in honoring the request to "keep the secrets" for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I will talk a bit about some thoughts on the show here, but only in general, non plot based ways. If you want to be spoiled, hit me up on Facebook or send me your email and I can send you more specific detail. Any particular questions you have would help me know what to send you - I don't know that I could send you more than a basic plot summary anyway (and I'm sure you can find that online already.)

Today started off with a girl's trip to the Camden Market. Greg got some kind of rash on his legs (heat stroke? Fabric burn?) and he didn't want to walk forever (yesterday we went about 17,000 steps), so Nicole and I set off quite happily for a shopping adventure. The last couple of times I've been here I've been with girls and have made out like a bandit with clothing. This time the only clothing I've purchased was the t-shirt at the play tonight. It was really fun to have some girl time.

The Camden Market is the hunting ground for antique shoppers on Wednesday and Saturday, but we heard that many of the regular shops were still open so we decided to check it out. There weren't as many as we were hoping for, but Nicole did find a beautiful tea cup and saucer from Germany that she was hoping to get while here (not this one, but "a" one) so the trip wasn't wasted.

My mission was a bit wasted. While we were in York, Nicole got a new wedding ring. She liked her old one, but I guess it was rubbing against her finger in an annoying way, so she wanted to get something in England. She did, and it was lovely, and I got jealous. And I had some extra cash that I hadn't spent on this trip in my budget so... I had to, right?  Trouble was, finding a shop was very difficult in London. I wanted something worth the money but not too expensive. I don't need really pricy, I just wanted really old. Everywhere we looked seemed to have small selection and mostly things well out of my price range. In fact, one store we looked in told me I was crazy for looking in the price range I was and that I'd never find something for that (which I knew was crap because Nicole had already done it just days before.)

I was ready to give up the search when, lucky for me, Nicole suggested we walk one more block down the road we were on. There were loads of jewelry stores, so I agreed. Lo and behold, the exact kind of store I was looking for appeared. Specialists in antiques - not just pawn brokers, with a decent (if not huge) selection, and several in my hoped for cost to choose from. I looked at about five potential options, narrowed it down to two, and eventually chose what the clerk called the "bargain of the day". It was priced by his father well below what he would have priced it at (to the tune of at least £100 pounds less) and it was half what I was budgeting to spend, but it was still perfect for me. The ring itself is hallmarked, so we know that it was made in 1915 on London. It's 18 karat gold (never thought I'd have something like that!) with four sapphires and one diamond. It's just on that edge of design between Art Deco and Victorian and I love it. One of these days I'll take it into another jeweler to get some information about the stones, but I really couldn't care less if they are good quality or not. The ring is beautiful, and definitely old, and that's all I wanted. (And if that ends up all being a lie, then I still don't care.) Yay for treating yourself now and then! I don't have anyone to do something like that for me, so I'm going to do it for myself.

We met up with Greg at the Tate Modern after lunch. I love the Tate Modern because it is so different from any other museum in town. You never know what you're going to get. Most of the time I go and could stay forever. This time wasn't one of those times, unfortunately. There were a few exhibits I really liked - mostly a few rooms that focused especially on color.  There were a few other installations made out of unique materials that I enjoyed looking at, but many of the exhibits had an over handed political or social feel that I understand in art but felt a bit oversaturated by. I think such messages and commentaries are important for artists. Art at its best helps us to see things in a new way that we would not have noticed otherwise. It helps us to empathize with experiences that are not our own. Done poorly, art can also be preachy and scolding and patronizing to the viewer. Most of the pieces I saw today felt more in that sphere.

That said, there were a few of these social pieces that stuck out to me. There was one giant mess of cardboard stylized in a turn of the 18th century advertisement but with modern messages that reminded me of how some of the problems that exist in the world are trivialized by petty frustrations. There was another piece made of fire hoses that had been used to shoot water at children who had been marching for their rights during the 1960s in America. It was striking to see how many there were. I couldn't fit them all in one picture.

Of course the main event today was the first part of our Harry Potter play experience. Even picking up the tickets was magical, since they are yellow and embossed and beautiful. I think I'll frame them when I get back home. First stop was, of course, the merchandise counter so we could buy all. the. things.  I ended up buying about half the things. . . But I kind of want to buy the rest tomorrow.

As for the show itself - I don't know how to put it other than that it is utterly magical.  Funny enough, I'd forgotten to even consider how they would do magic in the play, but some of the effects are mind boggling.  Some of them I can figure out because of my theater background, but others still have me trying to work them out.  The heart of the story is solid and the acting is perfect.  I'm so impressed with the casting and the design.  More importantly, though, I think the story is excellent.  I think lots of people who are used to having crazy amounts of detail (from the books especially) will be dissatisfied with some elements of the plot (or, perhaps more accurately) will want more detail or development from their favorite characters, but when you let the story be what it is (and not get upset with what it isn't, or shouldn't be), the heart of the story is exactly what all the previous Harry Potter stories have been about - the importance of family and friends. Or, perhaps more accurately, the importance and power of love.  I'm excited to see how it ends.

22 June 2016

England Day Fourteen: Too Many Tourists

We all slept in far too late this morning. Two weeks of non-stop rushing around can take a toll on a person, and today that toll manifest itself in all of us oversleeping.  This left us with a slightly truncated tourist experience, but we still have plenty of time left to see what we want to, so it's all good. After we finally dragged ourselves out of bed, we went directly for the Tower of London.

The Tower has a rich history in Britain with origins in London more than 1,000 years ago. Located right off the Thames, it's a perfect location for many things. It began as a castle for Edward I. Eventually it would be used as an armory, a mint, and, most famously, a prison. The last prisoner held in the Tower was back during World War Two, but the prime of prison use was during the 1500-1600s. Back then, the understanding was that if you entered the Tower by river as prisoner, as many did, you would not leave. Many famous Englishmen (and women) saw their last days in the Tower, including two of Henry VIII's wives - Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

I hadn't been to the Tower in nearly a decade before today. I didn't really enjoy it the first time, so I didn't go on my last trip. That feeling more or less held. I feel like going to the Tower is a bit like seeing the Champs de Lise in Paris. You see it because that's just what you do in Paris, but you get there and the whole thing, while interesting and historic, is so overrun by tourists that it's not a very enjoyable place to be, so you just leave.  I've heard more American accents today since I got to London, and American tourists can be really frustrating after the orderly queuing you see from the Brits. (Yes. I know that I'm American, but I'm also a teacher and a firm believer in taking your turn in an orderly way.) So the Tower isn't my favorite place. It's expensive, but there are some perks. For example, the Crown Jewels are kept in the Tower. You get to parade past priceless jewels that are so enormous it makes you simultaneously sick with envy and disgust of extravagance all at once. One of the diamonds we saw is more than 3,000 karats. Another crown had more than 12,000 diamonds in it (at one point - they were all taken out? I don't remember why.) Such extravagance is hard to fathom. I was struck by the symbolism of the coronation ceremony itself. The process and ornaments that are used and tokens that are given are extremely similar to those in LDS Temples. Hugh Nibley (a Mormon theologian and brilliant scholar of history) talks about how all civilizations are, in one way or another, re-creating the temple, whether they know it or not.  It really was both beautiful and overwhelming to see.

We left the Tower in search of food and a change of plan. We'd stayed so long that our plan to visit St. Paul's would need to be postponed. Our substitute plan was to go in search of chocolate. I did some research on the best chocolate boutiques in London, and we settled on one that is run by a man named Paul A. Young. He is, according to what I read anyway, supposed to be the best chocolatier in London. The store was small but completely enticing. It smelled amazing and looked even better. I love the detail of design that gets put into really good food. When presentation matters, I assume that the product is worth my while. (You can totally judge a book by its cover. Be superficial!) I haven't been disappointed. So far I've had one of the four I bought (don't ask how much they were!) ((Ok. They were about £2 each.)) The one I tasted was kafir lime and ginger. If you haven't had kafir lime before, you're missing out. It's got a delicious tart flavor, but mellowed slightly and creamier. It was heaven.

Our show tonight was The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk at the Wannamaker Theatre (just behind the Globe). It was the "wild card" show that we picked. There is precious little to be found about it online - all we knew was that it had been performed with success elsewhere, that it was about Marc Chagall and his wife, and that it was produced by the RSC. We figured that even if the show was awful, the production value would be solid. We were definitely not disappointed. Truthfully, I don't know that I have words to adequately describe what it was to experience this show. The music (two live musicians playing klezmer inspired music) was beautiful. There are times when words aren't necessary (or even damaging) to the message you want to present. Theater is so often guilty of talking when words are unnecessary. In musicals they sing to fill these voids, but even then the words can trivialize the purity of expression. This show was a master class of stillness and patience in allowing and trusting the audience to follow the story, even when there aren't words to tell it.  The story of the life that Marc and Bella shared together was told through a series of vignettes interspersed with music - the whole night was mesmerizing and magical and lovely.  I'm dying to get my hands on this script. The last time I saw an RSC show in London, it was released on film.  Maybe the theater gods will smile upon me and release this one too so I can share it with others.  I'm so glad we went.

21 June 2016

England Day Thirteen: Nothing Unlucky About "The Play That Goes Wrong"

I love London. I love the energy of a big city. I love the history and knowledge right at your fingertips. I love the amazing restaurants and the feeling of being in a place where amazing things have and are and will happen. London is a dream.

Today we kicked off that dream by visiting the museums around Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar is one of the most recognizable places in London - the huge monument to Nelson, the National Gallery behind you and the Houses of Parliament visible in the distance - it's a crowded place, but a magical place all the same. I love this city.

The National Gallery was our first stop of the day. It's a rat's maze of a place that's fun to wander. Unless you buy the map (£1), you really don't know what you're going to find, other than a general era of artwork. I actually prefer it this way. When I wander an art museum I like to go in blind. I like to walk a gallery until something peeks my interest. If I find something great, I stop. If I find something really great, I can stay for ages. I don't know enough about art history to really critique a piece. I know the names of many great artists (largely thanks to my mother), and I know a lot of history, but in general, I go with my gut reaction. The National Gallery is really suited to an experience like this. There are so many brilliant artists on display that you can't "showcase" them all. Sometimes you turn a corner and find a recognizable piece on a back wall surrounded by works you've never seen or heard of. Or the piece is in a corner you'd never have noticed. The surprise of it all is appealing to me.

Today I was particularly taken by the works of Monet. All artwork is better in person, but I think Monet is especially so. I love getting so close that you can see the individual brush strokes. Up close (to quote Cher), Monet is a mess. I love taking a step backward, then another, then another, and so on as the painting comes into view clearly. The farther back you go, the more beautiful it is. I like that as a symbol of humanity. Sometimes I feel like I look at myself (or others) I only see the little pieces. It's when I look back on the whole of my life (or the lives of others) that the beauty becomes clearer. It's the same when I look at the experiences I've had or the places I've been led that haven't made sense. Viewed from a distance, their purpose in the grand design is clearer.

I'd like to say that the whole of my experience in the museum was profound and thoughtful, but I also really love finding doppelgängers for modern humans and looking at bizarre religious art. Oh, Medieval and Renaissance artists. Bless them. They weren't really allowed (at least legally) to study the human body, which means that much of their art is a disproportionate mess that gives me the giggles. It's undignified, but it sure is fun. Today I found a dead ringer for Mr. Bean, a baby Jesus that Mary certainly didn't give birth to (it was ENORMOUS) and some other great, if bizarre, works of art. Maybe you had to be there?

After the National Gallery we walked down to Westminster to tour, but decided against it. Ticket prices have raised to £20 a person (that's half a day pass to Disneyland) and we decided we'd rather save that £20 for Cursed Child swag. We are hoping to attend an evening service there on Sunday so that we can get a peek inside for free. (It probably won't be quite so busy then either.)  I've been before though, so it's all good. (I guess this means we've reached the part of the trip where yet another amazing and historic church is just sort of "meh". Bit sad.) We did have a look around the grounds, though. There are a few things on the grounds I like to visit, especially the statues dedicated to great world leaders. We didn't get to see them all today, but we did see a few. The Abraham Lincoln one is my favorite, partly because of the legend behind it. The story goes that America agreed to have a statue of Lincoln near Westminster, but only if he were placed on American soil. The statue, then, is on dirt that was (at least many years ago) shipped over from America. The great part of this is that, according to the legend, if you are an American in trouble with British law and you go stand by the statue of Lincoln, you are technically on American soil and the British can't do anything to you. I don't know if anyone has tried this.

One feature on the grounds today was a huge pile of flowers and a banner for the recently slain MP, Jo Cox. She was killed a week and a half ago outside the library in her constituency in an act of violence that has shocked the country - gun violence is really rare in the UK. Every news channel I've watched has been reporting on updates regularly. The more I've learned about her, the more I've grown to respect her. She seems like she was a truly wonderful woman who worked hard for her people. It's really impressive to see the different interviews of people in her district - they all seem to have great affection for her, and many have personal experiences or anecdotes about how she has personally influenced them (either directly or indirectly). She was heavily involved in causes of humanitarian aid. Many of the tributes on the flowers outside Westminster were personal cards from her friends within Parliament.

In addition to these tributes, there have been many tributes to the victims of the Orlando shooting and Oxford had a display in show of support to victims of sexual violence, many directed specifically to the Stanford rape victim. Walking down the streets here I see people of all races and languages and religions. It's striking to me how different societies that are inherently diverse have far more dominant attitudes about acceptance.  I'm sure that there are those who are on the opposite side of that - the murder of Jo Cox is proof of that - but walking around London reminds me that who I am, the ideas that I have, the place where I live - it's all just a piece of a puzzle that is much bigger than I am.  It really is important to look outside the microcosm of life you live in now and then and see the world from a different lens.

Given that Westminster was crazy crowded (and pricy), we decided to head back to Trafalgar Square to visit the National Portrait Gallery.  I love this one - it sounds a bit boring, but I actually really love the chance to see portraits (some familiar, some unfamiliar) of people I know about and admire.  My favorite of the day was a portrait of William Wilberforce.  He was the man behind the push to abolish the slave trade in Britain back in the early 19th century.  He campaigned tirelessly throughout his life for social reform.  He, to me, is a person who wore out his life in well-doing.  It struck me that his portrait was unfinished.  It suggests, as the plaque next to the painting pointed out, that Wilberforce led a life that was always in progress both as an individual and representing the work he strove to accomplish.

The show tonight was The Play That Goes Wrong.  It was compared to Noises Off, which is always a good thing, and it won the Olivier Award (British version of the Tony) for best comedy in 2015.  That was about all I knew about it going in - we were not disappointed.  After some dark shows (Faustus and 1984 aren't exactly sunny), this show was a breath of fresh air.  We laughed from start to finish.  Definitely a show to remember.  I bought the script so I can read it again (and convince some theatre back home to do it).  If you get the chance to see it, or if it ever makes it to the States - see it.  You won't regret it.