Tuesday, March 29, 2011

In Remembrance: Strolling through England

"Once in awhile it really hits people that they don't have to experience the world the way they have been told to." 
~ Alan Keightley

Six months ago today, I left the town I grew up in to board a plane and travel thousands of miles away. I was scared, nervous, and excited as I made my way to the airport on that early Wednesday morning. People were driving to work, and I wanted to shout out the window, "I'm going to Europe today! For seven weeks! And no one is going with me!" I didn't though.

Those six weeks (I came home one week early) were a whirlwind of adventure, fun, emotional ups and downs, and both spiritual and personal growth. Even now, I can hardly believe I traveled around six countries solo (without a computer or cell phone I might add) and still managed to come home without any problems. That I most definitely credit to God. Through the scares of the heightened terrorist levels for American tourists, nearly missing flights/trains, getting lost every once in awhile, and a riot in Paris that started the day I left, I knew I was never alone. While in the initial moment, I may have panicked (I am human, after all), that was quickly replaced by peace and the knowledge that I was not alone. 

I was watching Funny Face yesterday because I had not seen it for nearly two years. I felt such strong pangs while watching Audrey and Fred walk by the Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, and Champs-Élysées, and all the cafés. Today, as I watch The Young Victoria, I have the same feeling of missing England. Not a day goes by that I don't think of the time I spent in Europe, and yet, it all feels like a dream.

Today, I want to share a few highlights from my trip. I wish I could take everyone through all the memories and events that happened, but that would be impossible and take way more than a blog post to wade through. I do this so as not to forget what I experienced, even as time continues to move forward and those six weeks stay planted in my past. I am still living in the outcome of those experiences and hope to never forget it.

The shorter connected building (on the left) was added in the 1930s.
1. John Keats' home: When I found out I was going to London for a week, I was nearly ecstatic.  You see, I was working on a senior seminar research paper on the Romantic poet, John Keats, and his home was located only twenty minutes away (via tube) from where I would be staying. I could hardly contain my excitement as I rode the tube with one of the girls I was staying with, and as we walked towards the street he lived on, I could not keep the smile off my face. Even the slight drizzle was no match for my good spirits. I remember coming to his gate where the nameplate read, "Wentworth Place" and slowly made my way down the walk towards the entrance of the house. As I stepped inside, my breath caught and the hair rose on my arms. I was standing, standing, in Keats' home. The very place he wrote some of his most moving poetry and letters to Fanny, his beloved. As my friend and I walked through the house and I stood at his fireplace, sat on his chair, and looked through the display case at Fanny's engagement ring and poem "Bright Star", I felt tears well up in my eyes. I was incandescently happy in that moment. It is noticeable in the pictures. :)  

Standing under London Bridge
2. A Day with the Dunns: Have you ever experienced so many things by yourself that you just can't process much more? That was me about the fourth day in London. I had traveled nearly 4000 miles, explored the city by foot (and in the rain), and had eaten maybe one meal a day. I was enjoying myself immensely, but was also wanting something of the familiar even if just for a moment. Fortunately, I was able to have that with Danny and Sarah, who were also visiting England but for a conference. We met early in the morning and planned to take in sights all day before catching a West End (ahem, Broadway show for us Americans) that night-Les Misérables. I was terribly eager to see them, but of course, that was also the one day there was a tube strike during my stay. I crammed onto the bus with many, MANY other people trying to get to work, and stood for  nearly an hour, as there were no seats to be had. Once I got off (and found them for that was also quite the ordeal), I immediately forgot all of my discomfort and worries. It felt wonderful to see friends and not feel alone. We took London by storm that day, visiting Westminster Abbey, viewing Big Ben and House of Parliament, touring Churchill's War Cabinets and the Imperial War Museum, saw the changing of the Guard and Buckingham Palace, as well as walking on the London Bridge and around the Tower of London. It was a full day and by the time we reached the Queen's Theatre, I was exhausted. Still, I was captivated by the show and have since deemed it one of my favorites. It was hard saying good-bye to the Dunns, but I was also rejuvenated for the next leg of my trip, Basingstoke. That day will also remain one of my favorite memories of my trip.

Jane's Grave
3. Jane Austen's Home and Grave: This is my last stop in England, I promise. There is just so much about my trip that sticks with me! :) I could not move on though without at least mentioning Jane Austen. I visited Winchester one day when I was in Basingstoke, and as I stood over Jane Austen's grave in Winchester cathedral, I could not help but feel in awe that I was there. Jane Austen's bones were beneath me in that very spot. The literary genius (as she is to me) who captures the hearts of women all the world over with Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth, and Mr. Knightley, was in that very spot. I had to politely wait for a German family to remove themselves from her stone, but once they did, I just knelt and read the inscription, pausing for a moment to take in where I was. I also saw her last residence that day, which is a private home and does not take kindly to being bothered. (A notecard in the window stated that quite clearly!)

There is much more to say about Europe, and I most definitely will add to this list in the next few days. The importance of calling these things to remembrance is to not forget why I went or what I experienced as time goes on...six months later...one year later...or twenty years later.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor died last night. I never liked her much. I was not a fan of her as a person only as an actress. She tore apart more than one relationship (including one of my favorite couples, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher). Still, when Dad told me today that Elizabeth had passed, I wanted to cry. I realized an era is in fact ending. Gene Kelly. Cary Grant. Audrey Hepburn. Judy Garland. Katherine Hepburn. Elizabeth Taylor. And so many more. All of these stars worked their lives away to entertain us, with such class and debonair. Yet they are slowly falling away.

If you know me at all, you know that I love Hollywood, especially classic Hollywood. I sometimes wonder if people realize how hard actors and actresses worked in those early years to produce something worth seeing. It was not always sunshine and smiles. Greta Garbo said, "If only those who dream about Hollywood knew how difficult it all is." Still, those pioneers didn't give up. They persevered, helping people forget their troubles if only for just an hour or two and brought happiness to people all the world over.

It saddens me to see the talent of yesterday fade. I don't mean to say that Hollywood today isn't talented. I am saying, however, that it could take a lesson or two from those who paved the way for what today's celebrities are living in. I am reading a book right now, What Would Audrey Do?. I know, I know. You may be thinking that this book sounds lame. Another celebrity self-help book. Wrong. It examines Audrey's life and shows how she would respond in certain situations, that while seeming specific to the starlet's life, can in fact relate to anyone's life. She was full of grace, compassion, and an inner beauty that far surpasses many actresses in Hollywood today.

At one point, the author of this book points out that it doesn't take much to make a "celebrity" these days. Someone has a youtube video go viral, lands a spot on a reality television show, or says something outrageously ignorant, and BAM. Celebrity. Websites are created, t-shirts are for sale, and they are on Good Morning America or The Late Show. As the author puts it, anyone can be a "celebrity" in today's society. It has lost its meaning.

Okay. I've pushed the Classic Hollywood argument, so does that mean I don't like Hollywood today? Of course not. It's Hollywood. I believe there are some there who do realize what has been given to them by people like Jimmy Stewart, Ingrid Bergman, and Gregory Peck. There are those who carry as much class as Audrey and Cary. (Julia Roberts anyone? George Clooney?) That's why I love the Oscars. They never forget their heritage by showing clips of the early years and honoring the greats such as Mickey Rooney and Lena Horne. But there will never be another era in Hollywood like that of yesterday. There is a reason it is called the "Golden Age."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Excuse me, please!

I went shopping this weekend with a friend of mine and her two daughters. We really lived up to the phrase, "Shop 'til you drop," ending the evening with both girls crashing in the backseat on the drive home. It was a fun day, and I had a blast with Payton and Ava.

Jamie (my friend) and I promised the girls if they were good all day we would get candy and ride the carousel. We were almost done shopping, and the girls had been real troopers. We let them walk while pushing the strollers behind them, and they practically ran towards the food court, holding hands. As I was watching them to make sure one didn't pull the other down in their haste or that they didn't plow into someone, I found myself saying things like, "Oh, watch out!" and "Say excuse me!" That's when I realized something. I didn't know if I was talking more to the girls or to the people who wouldn't move out of their way and pushed by them.

Payton on the carousel
I began to think about the entire day. Pushing a stroller through crowded aisles and clothes racks, only to have to back up because someone won't scoot to the side. If Payton pushed on by, I told her to say "excuse me," but was I really directing it at the adult?

This post isn't any big revelation about saying excuse me and being polite. It is about one thought: Once I realized that I was potentially saying "watch out" and "excuse me" to the adults, I felt powerful with my hidden lessons in politeness. I felt as if I was reminding the adults and the kids alike to think of others first.

Ava on her horsie :)
On another semi-related note: If you have not visited the store Crazy 8, GO! Yes, it is a clothing store for children, but the prices are not too bad and the sales are great. I suppose at this point, I must admit that I do in fact buy baby clothes on sale and put them in a box in my closet. It's a habit I acquired in high school after spending several hours in Gymboree, Baby Gap, and Janie and Jack. Even if you don't have children of your own, everyone knows someone who has children, is pregnant now or will be pregnant someday.  :)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Growing up, I remember lying in bed the night before my birthday, unable to sleep from the excitement and anticipation building up on the inside. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to think about boring things that usually made me doze off, but this one night of the year, I could not for the life of me fall asleep. I did not even have that much trouble on Christmas eve compared to the night before my birthday. I just wanted it to be here...so so much.

Somehow, I managed to finally let Mr. Sandman work his magic, and my birthday came. No matter how little sleep I got the night before, this was the one morning of the year that I could bounce out of bed at 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning with no problem. I was ready to enjoy my birthday.

My 4th birthday
As I grew older, I started counting down to my birthday. When I say count down, I do not mean ten days before or three weeks before. I am talking months before. September 1st rolled around and BAM. Halfway mark. Six months and counting. I had to be one of the most annoying people obsessed about her birthday, yet my friends and family accepted my enthusiasm as a part of who I was.

After my birthday treat at school, dinner with my family, checking the mailbox for cards from relatives and opening my presents, I got ready for bed and was filled with a sinking feeling. Today was over. It was over. I had a whole year ahead of me now with no special day belonging to me. The rest of the year just felt so...ordinary.

My 17th birthday
This year, I was feeling a sort of trepidation. I did not want to move forward another year. I had the sinking feeling already, and my birthday had not even happened. 23 just felt old(er). I still wanted to be the four-year-old who got Pretty Pretty Princess and a big girl bike for her birthday, the seventeen-year-old who had the most memorable birthday party ever. But 23? What is special about that? That is halfway between 20 and 25. It's the peak of the mini rollercoaster in my 20s. I just wanted to put the brakes on and stop 22 from leaving me.

Today, I thought about being 23, and all of a sudden, it was cool to me. I could almost picture 23 being this very sophisticated age and making 22 seem very young and carefree. Of course, I wish I could be young and carefree forever, but if I can't, I would love it even more to be sophisticated and grown up. And that is what 23 has come to mean to me. Grown up. An adult. 23 is the first year for me since I was five that will have no form of schooling in it. It is the peak between 20 and 25, but as I see it, I just keep getting more sophisticated from here on out, as my age increases. As Payton, who is five put it, I am going to be a "lady soon when I keep getting older."
Cake my BFF, Kate, made on my 21st birthday

So now, 23 is no longer the big bad age that makes me want to hide under the covers until March 2. It is the "perfect" age; perfect in the sense that I am going to make the most of each day spent in 23, and not one of them will be ordinary. Because I am no ordinary person with a ho-hum life. I aim to make 23 my best year yet, full of adventure and excitement. The bar has been set high by 22 with graduating from college AND going to Europe, but I think 23 will surpass even that.

Hello, 23. :)