Saturday, December 12, 2009

Beautiful Custom Woodwork

Bryan just created a new blog of some of his work. So gorgeous! Now all I need is a house and family so I can hire him to do my kitchen--we'll see what Christmas brings ;)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Muslims and Mormons

Great article on Muslims and Mormons from the LA Times, April 2008.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Putin hangin' with the rappers

Totally amazing--check Putin out. I'm only sad he didn't bust a move! Favorite quotes: "Russian rap carries a unique Russian charm," "Graffiti becomes a real elegant art," and "Break dance is something special." I'll say this much for him--Putin knows where to place himself for good ratings. My new dream is to see him record a rap track with this guy.

Gold, Jerry, Gold--

Hilarious posting I found when the article I searched didn't come up. is now my new favorite Russian news source. This is the happiest I've ever been to have been denied access to research.

Right, there appears to be a problem here.

For some reason, the page you have requested cannot be found.

That's probably because it doesn't exist. There could be a heap of other reasons, of course. It could've decided to jump ship and emigrated to Goa; it could've joined an underground revolutionary organization; or it could've fallen in love with another webpage, eloped and had a heap of pink-cheek, soft-fonted baby webpages.

While you are pondering over these various possibilities, why not try reloading your browser? You never know, you might get lucky this time.

Of course, you can save your luck for later, because apart from the page that you are looking for and this page that you are looking at, RT is packed with other interesting things for you to click through.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bach, Mass in B Minor

I am currently sitting in Bovard auditorium, waiting for the Bach evening to start. I am always so impressed with the quality of performances here at USC. I really need to take advanatage of these events more often--they are free to students and so enriching. More later...

Russian picnic in Associate's Park

I saw a sign for a Russian picnic on my way to Religion and Conflict Wednesday night, so I showed up a little after 2:00 pm to check it out. I saw Tatyana, whose classes I sat in on last semester. It was so fun to catch up with her! She's invited me to her Russian classes next week to come and talk with the students. I am so excited to get to attend her classes again!

I ended up meeting lots of great people at the picnic and getting to speak a lot of Russian. People from Kazakhstan, Moscow, St Petersburg, and Ukraine made up the native speakers. Maya, from Vienna, Austria also had impeccable Russian. So much fun!

The food was great--blini (crepes), borscht, and plov (rice with chicken). I even called Eli on the way to tell him I was going to have borscht, pelmeni, vareniki, to which he added yabloko! (all of this was of course said in our sing-songy Russian voices we use when listing off foods like two old babushkas who have been friends for ages and sit by the road selling sunflower seeds together).

I ended up staying over four hours (when I had originally planned on leaving after one!). Many of us exchanged information, and we are looking forward to many more get togethers. So sad it took this long to find my Russian community! But happy now that it's here. I was even invited to one of the American Russian speaker's tailgates tomorrow for homecoming. He is in the Master of Public Policy program. It was great as we all talked after--two Americans, a guy from Kazakhstan, two Russians, and one Ukrainian girl. It was especially interesting as we talked about cultural differences and politics in Ukraine. Such a fun night!

Muslim fast-a-thon

The Muslim Student Union hosted a fast-a-thon yesterday. The theme was go hungry so someone else won't have to. We had people sign up to fast, and then the MSU went to local businesses and got them to sponsor each person who had signed up to fast, and then donated the money to feed the poor in the community. It was a really amazing opportunity to focus on fasting specifically to help someone else be provided for.

We met at 5 pm, after sundown, to break our fast at the mosque on Exposition and Vermont. We broke our fast with a delicious date, and then went up to observe the muslim prayer. We then went back downstairs for a persian dinner and words from the organizers. I sat with Jim Burklo, dean of religious life and head of the InterFaith Council. I explained to him that we have a fasting tradition as mormons--usually the first Sunday of the month, and that we pay a fast offering (at least the cost of the two meals we don't eat, and we are encouraged to be generous and pay beyond that) that goes to the poor and needy.

After Aaman, the president of the MSU spoke, Jim shared a few words. He did a great job. After his words, I was asked to speak, along with two other non-Muslim students who had fasted.

I shared with those present that as a Latter-day Saint/Mormon, I come from a fasting culture, but that I felt that I had learned two meaningful lessons about Islam from fasting. I shared my experience from one month ago at the mosque in Hawthorne, where the Imam told me that fasting was to learn to control ourselves with things that are permitted, so that we would be able to have more control with things that aren't permitted. I then said that the second lesson I learned that day as I fasted was compassion. I shared that I had reflected on the theme of going hungry so another person wouldn't have to. I remembered being so hungry as I walked home and seeing someone walk by with a tray of sandwiches. I wanted so much to eat one of them, I said, but couldn't because one--I was fasting, and two--it wasn't mine. It made me think about how many people in my own community go without food enough for themselves and their families each day. And it is not because food is not available--it is because they cannot afford it. This simple moment taught me that I must be more compassionate and reach out to serve more in my own community. I thanked them for the opportunity that I had been given to fast with them, and expressed my hope that we would all be more compassionate and reach out to help others in need.

As I walked back to my seat, Jim leaned over and gave me a great compliment. He said, "That was amazing. I would definitely hire you for public affairs." I really respect him and appreciated his words so much! He has been very encouraging and helpful in the things I want to pursue, and has even offered to introduce me to some people at Clairemont should I decide to pursue a PhD in Religious Studies.

I excused myself shortly after I spoke to go to the public diplomacy dinner with Marc Nathanson, who is the new ambassador to the Czech Republic. As I walked down the steps outside, I heard someone approach from behind and say, "Beautiful speech, Kimberly. Thank you for your words." It turned out to be one of the Muslim students from USC. We talked for a few moments and I invited him to interfaith council Tuesday. I have really enjoyed being a part of faith-based diplomacy.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A week in the life...October 22-27

Flipping through my notes to find information on the Russia-Georgia Conflict, and instead found a page called "blog." Seeing as this never made the actual blog, and as I had even mentioned needing to write about it, here's the list:

October 22-27

Thursday, October 22: Turn in my 15 page paper to Seib on the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Naomi and I discussing dating during break--Seib asks if that is what I wrote my paper on. Considering pitching that as my final paper idea ;) Run into Hartley at the gym

Friday, October 23: Fly into Salt Lake City! Interview for a media internship with the welfare department. Really excited about it--sounds perfect! Loved the people I interviewed with. Homecoming spectacular with Tyler--so much fun! Loved the tongue-in-cheek way they mentioned the honor code. All of the performances were amazing, and there was even a mention of USC in there! Bonfire after at one of the roommates' parents' place in Alpine. Oh, how I've missed bonfires!!

Saturday, October 24: Happy Birthday, Wendy! Went to brunch at Kneader's, had a surprise birthday party for Wendy--totally amazing--we did a Casino theme, complete with virgin pina coladas, margaritas, and martinis. Went to the Mt. Timpanogos temple with mom to do initiatories before catching the football game (which Tyler was nice enough to give me his ticket to), then off to yet another party for Wendy at her apartment. Eli ended up coming by, and we talked about plans for next summer, how nothing will quite beat Moscow, and how we're not really sure where life is going to take us.

Sunday, October 25: Went to Cecilie's singles ward. Totally crazy! And kind of making me nervous to return to a single's ward in Utah! But I did run into a few people I know, so that was fun. Caught up with Kim (finally) and Kelsey.

Monday, October 26: Got up at 5am to finish the last 4 pages of my take home exam for religion and conflict. Finish just in time to catch my flight back to Los Angeles (that was leaving at 8:35 am), and Will picked me up just in time to make my 10:00 am institute class on temples. I walked through the door just as they were starting, bags and all (not to mention, in my pajamas). Took Molly to Trader Joe's for her first time--thinking we need to make a tradition of it. I taught the lesson at FHE on Elder Gibbon's talk from the October Ensign. So fun! I loved hearing about how Sister Gibbons responded to their call to serve in Moscow. It really made me miss working with him this summer.

Tuesday, October 27: Did research for Teresa, then a great APDS social (where I met Mark and talked him into coming country dancing with us Friday), and ran on down to Pasadena to meet Krishelle for dinner and catching up. She had me tell the banya story to her friend who was also up for a business trip.

Fun, fun

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fall of the Berlin Wall

November 9, 2009 marked twenty years since the fall of the Berlin wall. I was talking with my mom about it yesterday, reminiscing about our trip to Berlin this summer. As I watched news clips and read articles about the commemoration, I pictured standing at the Brandenburg Tur and walking along where the wall once stood, and going to Checkpoint Charlie, where they had set up a wall with panels describing different events and themes from the wall going up to the wall coming down. One of the most heartbreaking displays I remember seeing was one where two women were holding their children up from different sides of the wall so that these cousins could meet each other.

I would have loved to have been there for the festivities Monday. So many historical figures were brought together to remember they symbolism of the wall. AP quoted Chancellor Angela Merkel as saying, "Both [the fall of the Berlin wall and Kristallnacht--night of broken glass, which was also November 9] show that freedom is not self evident. Freedom must be fought for. Freedom must be defended time and again. Freedom is the most valuable commodity in our political and social system." She called the fall "epic" and lauded Mikhail Gorbachev. "We always knew that something had to happen there so that more could change here," she said.
"You made this possible — you courageously let things happen, and that was much more than we could expect."

Sikh temple

The interfaith council was planning a trip to the Sikh temple last Sunday (November 8), and I was trying to decide if I was going to make it. So I texted a friend with my dilemma, and he texted back that it sounded like I really wanted to go and that he was in. So we decided to meet up at the institute building and head up Vermont to the Sikh temple.

We met up with my friend Argad, who is Sikh. When all of the IFC people got there, he explained a little about the faith and how they worship. Everyone was required to cover their heads, so I was given a little bandana to tie around my hair. It reminded me of the babushkas in Russia.

Argad explained the 5 articles of faith that Sikhs should have at all times: Kesh (uncut hair), Kanga (a wooden comb), Kachchhera (undergarment), Kara (a steel bracelet), and a Kirpan (a small dagger). He explained that the undergarment symbolized chastity, and that the bracelet, traditionally worn on the right hand, helped a person remember every time they put forward their hand to do something to ask themselves if the act was worthy of God and to think about what they were about to do with their hand. These five items are for identification and symbolize Sikh values of honesty, equality, fidelity, meditating on God, and never bowing to tyranny (the dagger symoblizes that defense of the oppressed is justified in the eyes of God).

We took off our shoes before entering the worship space. Women were seated on the left, and men on the right. All sat on the floor as texts were chanted/sang in Punjabi. At certain times during the readings, people would stand, and then go back to their knees and touch their foreheads to the floor out of respect.

Argad explained that much of the symbolism has to do with receiving knowledge from God (the word Sikh means disciple) and also about the equality of man. When we had lunch in the kitchen after the recitation, we all sat on the floor to eat. No matter a person's status, profession, or level of education, all sat in this room on the floor. No area was deemed to be better or worse than any other section of the room.

Argad told us a short history of the oppression of Sikhs and of a "holocaust" that took place in 1984. He said that the government really clamped down on the media about it, and that many other countries, including the US, didn't do anything about it because of the growing economic power of India. He sees their democracy as a hypocrisy. Their temple was invaded on a holy day in 1984, when even more worshippers than usual were present, and that Sikhs were killed as they worshipped. This happened because a vocal leader of the Sikh faith was questioning why the Sikhs were not given a land/state of their own.

I am saddened by the amount of hate and intolerance that I am often not even aware of.

Open Mosque Day

I officially found a new recruit to check out other faiths in LA! I had been wantint to go the Open Mosque Day being held in Southern California, and found out the week before that one of my friends was interested in going. We decided we would go to a mosque after church the following week (the open mosque day was held on a Sunday).

So when Sunday, October 18 came around, we decided to jump in our car and find a mosque. Only problem was, there was no address on the flier, and the link online didn't show any locations. So we thought we'd just drop by a mosque and see if we got lucky. We went to the one kitty-corner from USC on Vermont and Jefferson (I think), and a very nice man helped us find an address in Hawthorne.

We set off to meet the close-knit community which reminded me of a ward in a small town (or rather a small branch in Russia--we had helped the members in Ulyanovsk plan and host an open house, or day of open doors as it is called in Russian, to invite people from the local community to come find out more about what Latter-day Saints believe in and what we worship). Everyone was so eager to be of help and answer questions. I was really quite impressed with the way they pulled the event together.

After looking at displays on the 5 pillars of Islam, the Quran, and women in Islam, we went into the main room for a presentation. It started with a beautiful little girl reciting/singing a prayer with two older girls. After a few welcoming words, we watched a DVD on Islam and their beliefs. The floor was then open to questions. A few were quite hostile, but those fielding questions did a great job.

The crowning (read ridiculous) comment came from a man who seemed to be some local government official: What a sad, sad state of affairs that your religion can lead to so much violence. I wish I could remember his direct wording--he said it in such an accusatory way, as if Islam was the only religion that had ever evoked God's name in justifying violence. I remember turning and looking at him and suppressing my desire to say, "Really? Have you ever heard of Christianity? Do you really not know what violent acts have been carried out in the name of God by Christians?" But, I let the moment pass and instead raised my hand, thanked the muslim members for the beautiful, informative presentation, and asked what a day was like in the life of an observant muslim.

They explained the prayers and other obligations. I asked about studying the Quran and if that was supposed to be done daily. No, they assured me, trying to make me not think that is so burdensome as that (not realizing I put in between 30 minutes to 1.5 hours daily for my own scripture study and would definitely not be turned off by this idea).

They also tried to explain how there was a division early in Islam over who should lead--a relative of Muhammad, or if the person should come from the voice of the people. This led to the different practices of Islam. A woman sitting next to me turned to a guy behind her and said, "Well doesn't that sound familiar?" Which made me start--I had just been thinking that! It sounded much like the debate that went on in the LDS Church when Brigham Young became prophet. "Are you LDS?" I wanted to ask, but never quite got the chance. I found out later she was when I was talking to one of the representatives about traditions in Islam. He told me he had just talked to my other LDS friends and would be doing a presentation at our church (I explained we actually hadn't come with them--it was just a coincidence). Kind of funny how we get drawn to one another!

After the presentation, when we were chatting with representatives eager to answer our questions, Curtis and I were approached by people from a cable news station. They asked me to say a few words about the event, so chances are I had a few minutes of fame that I never really saw. After I made my comments, the camera-man asked if I am on camera often. I told him, no, never. He said I answered perfectly, seemed really comfortable, and did a great job. It was really fun--maybe I will strategically place myself around events where I feel journalists will be and see if I can make a profession out of being an official bystander who witnesses events lol

I ended up talking to a man named Azan, and he introduced me to his beautiful daughter Yasmine. He wanted her to tell me about a typical day in her life. She's in the 7th grade. She said, "I wake up. I eat. I go to school, I talk to my friends, I come home and do homework, and then I eat, and go to bed." It was really cute. Just before she had come over, her dad was telling me how it has really been the toughest on his kids. People at school don't understand why she dresses different, and that she is a normal person. They are faced with a lot of questions. Azan was saying that his colleagues all respect him and his family, and see that they are good people who work hard, but they follow this with--but you and your family are the exception. So sad.

Yasmine said that I could call her Jasmine, that is what the other kids call her. When we went to leave I said, "It's Yasmine, right? So nice to meet you." She beamed that I would call her by her real name. I told her I thought it was a beautiful name and that it was very nice talking with her. After dinner we passed her as she was getting in the car with her mom. She waved goodbye with a big smile on her face as they pulled away.

Dinner was great--it was like BBQing at home with my family. We looked around for an open seat and ended up eating at a table with the Imam and one of the members of the board. The four of us had a great conversation, and they were so hospitable. They seemed grateful to have us, and we were grateful for the warm reception. The Imam told us a little more about their religion, the local community, and even dating traditions in Islam. He asked if Curtis and I had any children. Instead of explaining that we weren't married, we just said that no we didn't, but talked about our families. I think they were surprised that I came from a large family, but so did the member of the board, so we had a great time talking about that.

It was really an amazing experience to go and meet sincere people from the wonderful community in Hawthorne. My roommate Fareed may go back with me on a Friday for call to prayer. I would love to see them again.

Detained in Rostov

Apparently I'm not the only one to get detained in the Rostov-on-Don airport. An officer who tried to expose corruption and lawlessness in the police force in Russia said he was detained in Rostov, and when finally let free, found his credit card had been blocked, and he was not able to buy a ticket to get out. I guess things could have gone worse for me...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

President Monson, Obama meet

President Monson, U.S. President Meet
“President Monson, U.S. President Meet,” Ensign, Oct. 2009, 79
In July, President Thomas S. Monson met with United States President Barack Obama, presenting him with five large leather-bound volumes of his family history covering hundreds of years.
President Monson was accompanied by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who is also a member of the Church.
“President Obama’s heritage is rich with examples of leadership, sacrifice, and service,” President Monson said at the event. “We were very pleased to research his family history and are honored to present it to him today.”
President Obama and Elder Oaks, a former justice of the Utah Supreme Court, also had an opportunity to discuss their shared passion for the law.
President Obama said he enjoyed the meeting. “I’m grateful for the genealogical records that they brought with them and am looking forward to reading through the materials with my daughters,” he said. “It’s something our family will treasure for years to come.”
The Church has also presented family histories to other U.S. presidents, including Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
President Barack Obama (second from right) meets with (from left) Senator Harry Reid; Joshua DuBois, director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; President Thomas S. Monson; and Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Oval Office.

Temple Square in Forbes Top 25

Read in the Ensign and the Deseret News that Temple Square in Salt Lake City is the 16th most visited site as reported in Forbes with 5 million visitors. It is the only religious site in the top 25.

Catching up...again

K, I'm officially catching up, even if only in name, on my blog! Tons of great things have been going on. I still haven't blogged about my last two trips to Utah, the Open Mosque Day a friend and I attended, visting teaching with Megan, introducing Molly to Trader Joe's, Wendy's amazing 21st shindig, Amy and Wendy coming to LA for Halloween weekend, complete with parties, country dancing, sightseeing, and Paul and I acting like 14 year-olds trying to trick-or-treat in an apartment complex down. Many great stories to come!

Oh, and I can't forget learning Mandarin and thinking my name meant goat, only to find out later it means gold...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Saturday discoveries

Naomi is convinced I was a liberal hippie Jew from upstate New York in another life. We're always surprised at how alike we are. This revelation comes as we are "studying" in a comfy cafe by her place.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Oh so much to catch up on. I have made two different lists about what I need to blog about and still haven't found the time to sit and write them. So for my return post, I figured I'd put in a conversation I just had about skydiving cuz it made me laugh (and because it is already written). Some of the people from public diplomacy are going skydiving next Saturday, so I was trying to convince Matthew he should come. I don't usually post conversations, but I never blogged about skydiving (probably because I didn't have a blog then lol). So here it is:

Matthew: i need convincing11:25 PM convince me
16 minutes
11:41 PM me: lol i navigated away from the page and got caught up in facebook pics and blogs Matthew: lol11:42 PM me: but, i do think you should come!

There is nothing better than having them reach the point where you are ready to jump and the door opens and you think, omg I am an idiot! They want me to throw myself out that door Matthew: lol me: and it's too late to back out, cuz this guy I'm strapped to is pretty intenet on making this jump hahahahaha11:43 PM

Matthew: hahahaha me: then you are like, ok, this is the worst 10 seconds of my life i can't breathe and my face is being sucked behind me

Matthew: wtf have you done this before?

me: then the chute opens and it is the most amazing feeling except that moment where you pull away from your tandem jumper as the chute violently pulls you back11:44 PM but then you get the most amazing view of your life and the adrenaline rush makes it all the more beautiful

Matthew: have you done this before!?!??!11:45 PM

me: and the second you come down, you're htinking, is the landing going to be tough, are we going to slam in the earth? Then you gently float in and skim across the top of the grass and land. Then you're hoping they will let you go up again. You can't get enough You decide you are going to become a jump instructor so that people pay you to do this it's so amazing and the only thing you dislike is the price11:46 PM and the thought of packing your own chutte cuz then if it doesn't open it's your fault you're dead

Matthew: kimberly degroff me: yes? Matthew: have you done this before?11:47 PM

me: heheh answer to your question: yes I have Matthew: really?!?! me: Don't worry, I saw your question before, i was just about to answer it but thought that maybe something good was going to follow the kimberly degroff post :) yep! The summer before I moved to LA My best friend and I decided we had to do it before I left Matthew: wow11:48 PM me: Last big adventure I guess

Matthew: skydiving mormon girl this is epic

me: love it :)

So, that is my skydiving experience in a nut shell :)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Retreat at the beach

Met up by Superior and Starbucks with a few other people from InterFaith Council to head off to our retreat at Manhattan Beach. Started out the event at a church near the beach with a game to get us out of our comfort zones and get to know one another. After more people showed up, we had a dialogue about what interfaith councils can do and discussed why we have religion (or if it was even needed. I, of course, fell on the "yes, of course religion is important" side of the debate).

We decorated a flag that will be displayed for IFC, which was pretty fun considering I'd had a great warm-up the night before at Spencer's. Then we took off for lunch and the beach.

The beach was really fun, and I met fun, new people. I don't often consider myself a beach person, but really loved hearing the waves crash on the shore and seeing the beautiful mountain background. Glen and I took a walk on the pier and talked about our vision for IFC. When we came back, the group started a game where one person would make a musical sound, and then each would have to add in some new aspect. We ended up recording ourselves and were pretty entertained with what we came up with. Steven and I had a hard time not busting up when it got to us. We were pretty sure it would have been more productive (but a lot less fun), if we were separated. Between him and Kudal, I spent a lot of time laughing.

I was sad to have to leave early, but Emmanuel was nice enough to give me a ride in his silver Mustang convertible. Really made me miss my old convertible (even if mine was not nearly an 1/8 as nice as his!! Gotta love the '92 Pontiac Sunbird convertible), though I definitely appreciate having my Saab!

Went to a great Italian place where the waiters come around and sing "That's Amore" and toast all the customers. Talked to someone who doesn't like Russia and tried to explain why I love and appreciate it so much. Don't think I made much progress, but hey, I'm still a fan. And if anything, it only deepened my love by having to defend her. And made me again recommit to studying the language more.

Revisiting downtown

I realized how much I miss downtown on Friday. Spencer and I went to a concert at the Colburn School of Music on Grand, located near the Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA. The kids were amazing!! Songs were either violin or piano solos, or violin/piano duets. I really enjoyed the more disonnant sounding songs.

After the concert, we decided to wander around the area. It really is so beautiful at night. Such a different feel than during the day. Kind of peaceful when everyone clears out. There is a little area that is always beautifully decorated nearby--there is a waterfall (sort of) that flows into a little pond next to a patio with tables. Some great views.

The ice cream place we wanted to drop by was closed, so we decided to head back to Spencer's apartment right across the street from the school. They are on the 7th floor and have an amazing view. Spencer has set up his drafting table near the large windows that overlook the street. After eating ice cream and talking about symbolism and some of the projects he has been working on, we spread a large piece of paper over the desk and painted a really random scene. Turned out much better than I thought it would. I am not the most artistic person...

Then we headed out to the deck and had a great talk about LA, figuring out life, and overcoming trials. We decided to head back in and have some bagels and creamcheese with honey. Delicious! I cameo-ed my one song that I can play--When You Say Nothing At All. Then we tried to pick out Free Falling. We decided we'd had enough of pretending we knew how to play the guitar and eventually settled for the original. This rolled into spending the rest of the night listening to Cold Play's new CD. Will and Jonathan came home from the various parties of the evening and gave us a rundown.

We ended up having pancakes with new and yummy jams (mango is my new favorite), and counseling Jonathan on which classes to take for his continuing education courses. I think we succesfully talked him out of taking a prenatal class.

It was a really fun night, full of a lot of relaxing, great things. Man, I miss downtown.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dr. Seuss--scripture?

I was talking to my mom on the phone, as I usually do when walking to and from campus, when she told me a story I just had to write down.  

Payton (Michelle's oldest) was saying the prayer and said, "We are thankful for the Bible, and for the Book of Mormon, and for the Doctor...Seuss."  Pretty sure he meant the Doctrine and Covenants, but then again, I have learned some really great things from Dr. Seuss books!  

Needless to say, I think my nephew is adorable!

Interfaith fun

Went to my first meeting with the interfaith council at USC.  It was...interesting.  I can't wait to see what we end up accomplishing this semester.  I think there is a lot of room to create and promote events that will have an impact in bringing together people of different faiths.  We have a retreat this Saturday that I am looking forward to.  

The best news came when I got home--the Los Angeles LDS Stake Public Affairs Representative invited me to an interfaith dinner that is being held tomorrow night.  All funds raised go to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.  I am really looking forward to becoming more involved in Church public affairs in this area.  

To round out all of the fun, I am going with Mark (who is involved quite a bit with interfaith efforts, has worked for the Israeli consulate, and been involved in Church public affairs) for Greek food and then to a Greek Orthodox Church tomorrow.  Kind of reminds me of some of my outings in Moscow!  I have my head scarf in my bag, and I've thought ahead enough to plan on wearing a skirt and long sleeves.  I never know how strict each church will be on dress code :)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday Monday

Another great day at institute! I love Sister Frandsen's lessons and always feel like I learn so much from them! I think that the story about Abraham and Isaac is my favorite. We watched a short portrayal of it--I tear up every time. I am so amazed at the dedication and faith of Abraham. And also of Isaac--he could have struggled and fought against Abraham, but he was ready to make himself a willing sacrifice.

Jessica and I chatted after class about journal keeping--especially of spiritual things. I really admire her a lot. She is so talented at the piano and always so kind to every one. She rode home with us last Thanksgiving, and I was able to meet her dad. They are such kind people. I want to say their family is from Sweden, but I'm not completely sure.

After catching up with my mom and dad on the phone, I went to finish paperwork for my research position. Then it was off to print out articles on the use of new media in the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

I was able to attend Teresa's class on public diplomacy in the European Union and loved it! We had a great discussion about Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, Russia, and the Israel-Palestinian conflict in relation to the EU. Really interesting. Teresa is a visiting professor from Spain, and I appreciate the perspective that she brings.

Rob taught the lesson on having the Spirit in our lives at family home evening. Really great lesson. Found a friend to go to a mosque with this Sunday for open mosque day. Pretty excited!

Talked to Glen today, who is our representative with the Interfaith Council at USC, and he invited me to be a part of it. So I am going to my first meeting tomorrow and have a retreat on Saturday in Malibu with them. Can't wait to get involved!

70s, papoosas, and a Canadian Thanksgiving

Had such a great Sunday! Great stake conference where Elder Sitati (a visiting member of the Seventy) spoke. Then it was off to a movie screening for my friend Wen Chai. They did an excellent job with the film--it was about a family from India, family relationships, and coming together in tradition.

Then it was off to dinner with Rob in downtown. We went over to his mission trainer's house with about 6 other couples. Pretty sure we were the only single ones! Met so many fun, new people--Jessica and Jeff hosted, and their friends were so great! I met a girl from Park City named Christina. We have decided we need to get all the girls together again for a girls' night soon. Had papoosas for the first time. Delicious! And the best cookies I have ever had. Jessica was nice enough to send the recipe, so I'll be baking those when I'm back in Utah next week.

After dinner, I went to Will's Canadian Thanksgiving party downtown. I loved it! Great conversation, fun new friends, and scones with syrup. What a night! I met a guy named Blake who served his mission in Moscow and was actually there this May at the same time I was! We talked for a long time in Russian--so fun to have someone to speak with! We have decided we need to keep up our Russian, so we're going to do verbs of the week.

Also talked with Spencer for a while about politics, the EU, and relationships. He is always really fun to talk to. He and I had a great conversation about science and religion not too long ago. Still need to finish that one up. It's always great to find someone who enjoys talking about similar topics.

Got a ride back home after the party--really nice that some of my friends only live a block away. I am trying to talk more people into keeping blogs because I am sure I would be completely entertained and probably learn a lot at the same time from so many of my friends. I ended up talking for a long time after FHE tonight about what some of us want to do with schooling, careers, life, all that good stuff. One of them lost me there for a minute explaining how transistors work, but it was all pretty interesting. I can honestly say I learned something new today.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Shopping Diplomacy

...because you can put anything in front of diplomacy. And because Naomi and I are quite diplomatic shoppers. We went to find professional clothes--I to find a suit for my interview in Salt Lake, and she to find clothes for her trip to Mexico meeting with government officials. We found some amazing skirt suits in Macy's, but there was a line forming to try things on. So we started trying things on right outside of the dressing rooms. Tricky manuevering, but it worked out! By the time a room came open for us, we were finished and let the next two girls go in.

The guy working there was very amused as we changed in and out of our clothes. Just as we were leaving, two girls came up to him to ask about the dressing room, and he laughed and said they could just change right here if they wanted. Or wait in line. They looked a little sceptical, so Naomi and I backed him up by saying that's what we'd done. They opted for a dressing room.

We came away with some incredible finds at a great price! I got a ton of compliments on my cream and black pleated suit at stake conference today--all thanks to Naomi's good eye. I definitely have a new preferred shopping companion.

Friday, October 9, 2009

20 years fall of the Berlin Wall

Today marks the 20 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall.

I cooked!

Or maybe just warmed up some canned chicken noodle soup. Either way, the roommates were impressed/shocked. I walked into the kitchen with my can o' soup and started pulling open drawers to find a saucepan. After opening and closing the third drawer, Chester asked me what I was looking for. I turned around and pulled out a pan from under the stove. "Just a pot to put my soup in."

"You're cooking?!" he asked me. I had to laugh at this, and then laugh even more when Copper said, "You're not eating frozen strawberries?" I usually have a protien shake with strawberries.

So I put the soup on the stove to warm up and turned to throw away the can. Molly asked me something at that exact moment, so being a little distracted, I opened the cupboard underneath the sink instead of the one next to it. I looked inside, a little confused, then opened the one next to it and threw away the can. Yuan started laughing pretty hard at that, as I looked up sheepishly and tried to explain myself.

"I didn't realize where I was standing. I've been away a lot. That's where it is in my kitchen in Utah..." The roommates were pretty sure that was the first time I had ever cooked here, but I reminded them that I have made scrambled eggs at least twice.

Just another really great day with my incredible roommates!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Russia's international family court proposal

I was reading today on that Russia has announced a proposal for an international court for family issues (Россия предлагает создать международный суд по семейным делам). They recognize that there are a growing number of divorces and family issues that cross national boundaries. This court would serve to protect the rights of children whose parents are from different countries.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Science and religion talks at church

Rachmaninoff Night

Enjoyed an amazing performance by Keenan Reesor (who served in the Samara Russia mission right before I got there) of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2. I was caught up in thoughts of Russia the entire time and couldn't say whether minutes or hours had passed. He is an incredibly talented musician, and I enjoyed finding the Russian soul in his portrayal. Thoughts of Moscow and old friends abounded.

I was able to finally meet him (my parents met him while I was in Saratov, Russia) and tell him what a fabulous job he did on the piece. When I told him who I was Mary Kay's daughter, he said in Russian, "Oh, so that means you speak Russian!" We spoke for a minute in Russian, and he commented that it was so nice to hear Russian again. He asked if I could hear the Russian in the piece--oh, my back, oh my troubles, all of this work! I laughed and told him I had thought of Russia the entire performance. "Your mom told me they called you Tigre in Russia, right? So cute!" Ah, another fond memory of Russia. In my first area, the district president (the leader over all of the Church in Saratov who is now a general authority) was giving a talk in our branch and went to say something about Sister Smith and me. He paused as he got to my name (which is quite difficult for Russians), and said, "Sister Smith and the Sister whose name is closer to Tiger!" Needless to say, I didn't live that one down for a while!

Keenan and I are both second years in master's programs here at USC--he in piano performance, and I, of course, in public diplomacy. How odd, we thought, to have both just barely missed each other in Russia (he literally flew home the day I got there), for him to have moved into my parent's ward and out before I got home, and then to meet in Los Angeles as we are both at USC. (He's married, so don't get any ideas!)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Answer to life's questions: Russian and Religion

So earlier this week I was kind of feeling like, what am I doing out here at USC, living in LA, studying public diplomacy? All of my classes seemed to keep coming back to the middle east, to areas I didn't feel as knowledgable in, and as I posted in another blog, I thought--what is a Russian literature undergrad doing in classes on the middle east and media? I had a 12-page paper due on a historical aspect of media and was feeling a little overwhelmed. A friend mentioned that I could write on Desert Storm and President Bush (H.W.). I thought, oh great, another middle east topic (I think the middle east is interesting, if just doesn't happen to be my area of expertise).

I called my mom, my always-there-incredible-source-of-advice mom, and explained what was going on, and how Eastern Europe was my background, but everything always seems to come back to the middle east, this class, my Religion and Conflict class, everything, and that I was feeling like I didn't know why I was here. She said to me, "Of course you should pick a topic you are interested in--do something on Russia. Why don't you write on the fall of the Berlin wall or something? Write about what you want to write about--make this masters work for you. Get what you want out of it." So I decided I would go back and look at different events, pre-9/11. I ended up deciding to write on either the Hungarian Revolt of 1956 or the Berlin wall. The Hungarian Revolt won out (I decided I needed to know more about it and what better way than to research for a paper?). I set off to the library and checked out about seven books.

As I was perusing them on campus, my good friend Paul came over to catch up for a minute. I told him of some of the frustrations I had been dealing with. So glad he came along! He gave me some great advice, really encouraged me to stick with what I love--Russia and religion, and gave me a pep talk. I really appreciated his supportive words. He convinced me I am good at public diplomacy and not to give in to the majority who seem to gravitate to the middle east. So grateful for good friends! Ran into Mike later, who is focusing on Japan, and he basically told me good for you for sticking with eastern Europe--he wasn't giving in to the middle east trend either!

So I wrote my paper on the Hungarian Revolt and really enjoyed it! I am happiest when I am dealing with issues involving Russia and Eastern Europe, and feel great about what I've decided to study!

To top it all off, I think religion finally won out in my Religion and Conflict class! People are finally realizing what an impact it has in international relations. I felt really on my game--I was able to express all of the ideas I wanted and was able to connect religion in with IR theory. The professor even backed me up on quite a few points, which I really appreciated. Using examples from eastern europe, I was able to support my comments and help others to understand why I thought religion played an important role in international relations.

In my earlier talk with Paul, I had told him of some of my frustrations with my religion and conflict class and how people kept saying that religion was for the poor and uneducated. Along with his comments at the time pointing out that that was ridiculous, and that he and I and many of our friends are religious, he sent me the following:

"A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell." C.S. Lewis

Well said.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ukraine Temple Progress

The angel of Moroni statue has officially been placed on the temple in Kiev, Ukraine! Sister Van Dyke, one of the missionaries I worked with while I was in Moscow wrote an article for LDS Church News on it.

Learned some amazing things about the symbolism of the statue of Moroni at my temple class on Monday. I'll have to add those here when I have all of my notes with me.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Moscow link

Interesting blog from a friend on being Back in the USSR. She is Ukrainian and offers a unique perspective on Moscow.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Just read Eli's blog. Amazing how similar I feel my struggles are to his at this point:

"And all of the pressure and anxiety lately has only made me think more about how different life was just a few months ago, hanging out on the streets in Moscow, comfortable, and relatively care-free. Every once in a while I get this flash-back of Kimberly, Acia, and I walking down this narrow street through the thick trees and concrete 20 story apartment complexes just outside of our office building. We've just finished work for the day and we have hours and hours of sunlight in a gorgeous, vibrant city. The possibilities are endless. We walk fast to get to metro because we have about 80 things we're trying to cram into our evening and we want to be able to do them all. Kimberly and I are teasing Acia about all the Russian boys we're going to find for her. She blushes and tells us in her cute Slavic accent to leave her alone. Eventually our conversation turns to vafly, which we've already eaten once or twice during the day. We pass the cheese roll stand where I buy my breakfast just after getting out of the metro every morning. And while that scene happened day-in, day-out for weeks, I never got tired of how happy I felt. I was somewhere that I really loved, experiencing something that I really loved. Now my life looks quite a bit different. It's not really better or worse, just different. Amid all the stress, I get to be with great friends with whom I share the opportunity to get an invaluable education. It comes at a cost of course; all good things do. Most of the time I'm convinced that I love it despite all the aspects that sometimes aren't so lovable. Sometimes I have to convince myself to love those not so lovable aspects in order to stay productive.There's always this little battle going on. Do I learn to love what I'm doing because I know it's right or do I change what I'm doing, cued in that not loving it is evidence that it's not right? How much of it am I supposed to love to make the sacrifice all worth it?I'm not about to dramatically change course. Occasionally, however, I have to stop and ask myself where it is I'm trying to get. I have to ask myself what kind of realistic destinations actually exist for me..."

To which I had to reply:

"Oh, Eli. You have no idea how much you just described what I'm going through! I think about Moscow all the time--much the similar picture: you and I laughing from the second we see each other, Acia rolling her eyes and laughing because we're laughing, her telling us we walk too fast. Tears literally sprang to my eyes when I was writing Sister Hall this week because I missed it all so much. Weren't those the good old days? Now back to reality, where I find myself asking how I ended up in SoCal studying public diplomacy and wondering what on earth I'm going to do if it isn't Church PA, cuz I sure as heck don't want to end up working for hollywood. And what was I thinking as a Russian literature undergrad going into classes on the Middle East, media, and foreign policy? As always, right there with you on the wondering..."

Near mugging?

Absolutely terrified an older hispanic woman this morning. I talked Will into running with me, and as we were going along, we were discussing the LA 1st ward. I told him my friend was moving down, who I had ran into in Russia, and then yelled out, "We got another one!" It wasn't until I saw the older, terrified hispanic woman cower against the fence that I realized what we must have looked like to her--suddenly two people run up behind her and one yells, "We got another one!" I felt kind of bad after realizing I probably scared her half to death, and Will and I greeted her with "hello" and "good morning" as we continued on our way.

Ironically, I had made some crack about getting mugged at 9:00 in the morning in this rough neighborhood, and Will had mockingly asked if I had left my mace at home. But apparently I was closer to being the mugger than the mugged today.


Ran into Professor Wiseman on campus last week--so good to see him! I loved his class last semester! He congratulated me on a job well done in his course. I learned so much from him! And some of my favorite papers came out of his class--my paper on the emergency response efforts of the Church and my New York Times op-ed on prop 8 and Mormons. I really enjoyed being able to consult him on my research interests. I don't think I have ever enjoyed doing research so much. So sad I was unable to take his class this semester (it was on a Friday, and I knew I would be out of town the first couple weeks of school). Either way, good to see him.

Great class on temple symbolism today! And more to come next week.

Realized it makes me self-conscious when I'm picking out tomatoes at the same time as other people because I inevitable think, why hasn't any one picked this tomato yet? Is it bad? Not ripe enough? Too ripe? Am I just not very good at picking out tomatoes? Talk about stressful. I mean, you know it's bad when you start doubting your abilities in picking tomatoes!

Decided to forgo my internship this semester. 27 hours/week, unpaid in an area I don't want to end up in just didn't sound like a good idea. So I'm focusing more on readings, presentations, and papers now. I think it will prove to be a good decision.

LA weekend

Samba under the stars in downtown Friday night after finally checking out the tiki tacos at 23rd street cafe. We even learned Thriller. Beach clean up and BBQ Saturday morning with Santa Monica 3rd ward. A Dodger's game where we absolutely cleaned up over the Giants. Cards and milkshakes with friends at the Grove. Not a bad LA weekend. And yet, through it all, I still wish at times I was up in Utah, enjoying a beautiful mountain-filled evening with my family and cousins.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Summing up

Sister Hall is putting together a history of the Europe East Area and wanted me to write a bio about my internship. I thought I'd include it here:

Upon completing her undergraduate work in Russian language and literature at BYU, Kimberly went on to study public diplomacy at the University of Southern California. Her main interests center on religion and eastern Europe, so she jumped at the opportunity to do a public affairs internship for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Europe East Area Presidency's office.

While in Moscow, Kimberly was the point person for all media covering the visit of President Uchtdorf and Elder Anderson. She coordinated with those submitting articles and pictures from each of the four cities visited. She also received the assignment of getting and in some cases writing highlight pieces on members from each city. Especially meaningful for her was talking with the mission presidents of Samara and Rostov about their members: Samara because this is where she had served her mission and was able to hear of many amazing experiences that had happened to help the Church grow, a touching experience for someone whose heart still reaches out to the Saints in that particular area of the world and prays often that others around them will be touched and come to the true gospel of Jesus Christ; Rostov because President Harrison had been her first bishop out of the dorms at BYU and now, as mission president, worked closely with one of Kimberly's former mission companions. Kimberly was able to go and visit both of them.

Kimberly's internship came at a unique time of transition for public affairs. She was involved in meetings on the restructuring of public affairs in Ukraine with the new public affairs head, Elder Manzhos. She recalls fondly a conference call to Kiev where she served as secretary, taking minutes; as interpreter for the VanDykes, who were in Kiev; and as participant in the conference who at times weighed in with her own opinion and clarifications. This was the most enjoyable exercise in multi-tasking she has ever experienced.

Kimberly also worked on various translations, ranging from articles to be covered in media to helping on translations for the Liahona to preparing an English version of the program for the conference held in St. Petersburg on law and religion.

Though her internship taught her many things and gave her great experience, what will always stand out and remain with her are the relationships and memories made with those in the office. There was not one person in the office that did not make a lasting impression on her and touch her heart. She received so much more than she gave and will forever be grateful for the opportunity she had to spend one summer with the finest people she has ever worked with.

Falling in Love on Trains

Really enjoyed a link someone had posted from BBC today called Do People Fall in Love on Trains?

I got a little nostalgic for the Moscow metro. Exchanging glances, smiles, sometimes phone numbers, having a young, sharp-dressed guy offer to walk me home, winking and smiling at friends only to have the guy next to him think we were strangers and that I was picking up on him, the trips to Sokol. In short, the good old days.

And how can I forget those trips on trains from Vienna to Prague, and Prague to Berlin, then all around Italy? Which reminds me, I have a few people I need to get back in contact with ;)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Low Down

So, my blog is pretty much my journal where I get to keep track of lots of random things that happen in my life. Since I have been a total slacker (or just not in a place where I had internet access and time to write simultaneously), I figured I could at least make a list of stuff that has gone on. The really interesting ones will turn into blog posts (how could I in good conscience not write about the donkey/watermelon races????), but others will merely be consigned to a line on a blog post, as follows:

Saturday, August 29--night out with pd students for Katharine's housewarming party

Sunday, August 30--first Sunday back in LA. Went to USC and LA 1st wards. So love being back at Church!! Great meetings, saw old friends, met new ones, and got settled back into a ward. Even met some new Russian speakers!

Monday, August 31--Went to a SCycling class (SC for USC, I can spell sometimes) that totally kicked my butt. Lots of fun, though!

Tuesday, September 1—Interviewed with the company I am now interning with and did sealings at the LA temple

Wednesday, September 3—Grabbed some free food with Tabby, which she entertained herself with by feeding squirrels before heading off to our conflict and religion class.

Thursday, September 4—Went to my 9 am class, then took off for Parowan for an amazing labor day weekend *so much about this weekend deserves a blog post. To be continued…

Friday, September 5—Ran about ½ mile with Michelle in her Red Rock Relay Run. I’m going to say I only ran that long because the rules state you can’t have a pacer, but really I was just thirsty and sick of the hills J And I hadn’t been feeling well, but hey. Then of to the rodeo at the county fair, mostly hung out with Burke, who was working the chute, went dancing after and met some fun, new people, including the swing club from SUU. I have an official invitation any Wednesday I’m in Cedar J

Saturday, September 6—Spent the night at Burke’s (have I mentioned he’s my brother?) before heading off to the cousins', where all the girls spent the morning curling our hair before heading off to the ranch rodeo where we saw Burke on a branding team (no, not the marketing kind of branding, but the one where you have to rope a calf, toss it, tie it, and brand it—in this case with white paint). Stuck around for the rodeo. This was the rodeo to beat all rodeos—namely the one where the donkey riding took place! Then off for some more country dancing and fair rides! Dance party in the kitchen with Cami, Amy, and Wendy when we got home. Totally hilarious

Sunday, September 7—Went down to Enoch to Burke’s ward. Rhett was being ordained a deacon. So fun to be there for him and watch him pass the sacrament! Mom, April, Burke, Zane, and I all bore our testimonies. Really special experience for me to be there with my family! Dinner for grandpa's birthday at Kelly and Rosa's. Sunday evening fireside with the Army band and Russian piano performance.

Monday, September 8—Labor Day parade. Grandpa was so great as the Grand Marshall up on his horse! Thought he was missing after, but turned out he was at home all the time. Lots of hanging out with the cousins, then went over to grandpa’s after everyone else drove home. Mom, dad, and I were the only ones who decided to leave Tuesday instead.

Tuesday, Septmeber 9—back to LA. Listened to Truman G. Madsen’s lectures on Joseph Smith the whole drive home. So amazing! Then crash reading to try and get ready for my Wednesday presentation

Wednesday, September 10—Spend the whole morning reading the 300 pages I was presenting on, went in for a two-hour training at my internship, then off to classes

Thursday, September 11—More classes, first day at the internship by myself, and home for more homework. (Any one else feel like there should have been something more done today given it was 9/11?)

Friday, September 12—half day at the internship and another 8 hour drive to Utah (normally takes about 7 hours, but traffic was awful), and another series of lectures from Truman G. Madsen (I had the original 8 lectures he delivered on Joseph Smith, plus another series he did on teachings of Joseph Smith). Made the drive much more enjoyable! Got to Parowan in time to help fold up tablecloths Joyce and my mom had been pressing for Alex and Becca’s reception.

Saturday, September 13--Alex and Becca's reception

Sunday, September 14--Enoch stake meeting, lunch at Marie's with everyone, watched Jon Tucker Must Die with Amy, Wendy, and Cami, then took off on my long drive back to LA. Since my Truman G Madsen CDs were done, took the time to catch up with friends from Russia--Ryan, Eli, Tyler-- and got a call or two from my mom, who was scared I was going to fall asleep (was very grateful for this call--that last stretch was tough!)

And that brings me back to Monday, September 15--the great institute class, a stint at the internship, and the amazing fhe dodgeball event. There you go, all caught up!

My amazing institute class

Back at institute Monday mornings from 10:00-11:30 and am so happy! We had an amazing lesson (as usual) from Sister Frandsen. Our subject is temples this year, and I am so excited for all of the lessons ahead! I took about 3 pages of notes on this introductory class alone and next week is on symbolism in temples!!! For those who really know me well, you know just how excited this makes me (as if the exclamation points didn't give it away). Maybe I should confess my love for and interest in symbolism right now. From numbers, to the etymology of words, to pictures, I love it all! I especially love what I have read from Alonzo Gaskill on symbolism and learned from Reid in my family history class last fall in the USC ward.

And Dan Brown came out with a new book today The Lost Symbol. As one article said, Happy Dan Brown Day! Though I don't always agree with everything he writes, I am excited to see the new symbolism he is sure to highlight.

So back to my main point--I am really excited for institute this semester and am sure random ideas from class will make an appearance in the blog. It truly is time to start the wandering Mormon series. Now if only I could keep up with blogging, homework, and the internship!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dodgeball FHE style

Had a much needed FHE tonight with the LA 1st and SM 3rd ward. So much fun! I saw so many people I knew and met so many new people! Just when I'd decided I'd probably tone down on the social this year... haha That lasted a day (I would say three weeks, but as Will reminded me, it doesn't count as being anti-social if you're not in the state).

The dodgeball was intense--so fun to watch! Russell and Jonathan certainly got in some amazing dodges! I was glad I had decided to be a spectator (we had about 80-90 people show up to the activity, I thought it was 50, but Will informed me I'm still bad at guess-timating), as many of those throws could have taken my head off, or, who knows, cost me another rib.

One of the highlights of the evenings was when I was joking around with Will and started dancing while he sang, "If you like it then you should have put a ring on it" and kind of danced/turned around to see Ryan right behind me. He'd been waiting for a good opportunity to step in and say hi, and I happened to bust a move (if you can call it that--really, I'm only a country dancer, I don't get this hip hop stuff) right in front of him. Kind of embarassing, but definitely hilarious. Just what I needed after a stressful day at the internship, LA traffic, and wondering why I was down here.

Russell helped me to realize that, yeah, that's the industry, but you deal with it while you have to, and then go on and have a lot of fun!

From the second I got into the building, it was seeing friends I hadn't seen, people I'd (sadly) forgotten were down here, and laughing the night away. Got some good laughs and mileage out of the donkey story at least, which led to some really great stories from other people.

Ended up seeing Bryan, who I met country dancing last year (which he informed me got him into some trouble). Decided we should probably get some people and go again, or if not that, at least to Lake Powell. So yeah, lots of good people, lots of good plans! Let the social events begin! (I'm still going to get those presentations and all my reading done--I'm thinking responsible socialite this year).

Still missing my cousins and all the good times in Parowan, but I am happy to be back in Los Angeles, and wish that they were here! Texted with Wendy about the good times the last couple of weekends, and I can't wait for her to come and hang out in LA! ...and can't wait for conference weekend, when I've made plans to go dancing at Studio 600 and be in Utah for six days. Already getting people together for that lol Good to feel like me again :)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Los Angeles!!

Back in LA!! So crazy, but it's been great! Biggest news is that I live in a mansion with about 9-11 other people. Brittany and I are the only Americans. Everyone else is from China, and I love it! We have two other girl roommates, and the rest are guys. They are all so nice! The guys helped me move my stuff in, along with Brittany.

I've had so much fun chatting with and getting to know the new roommates!


*Going grocery shopping with Xui, Ju, and Gary at Superior and trying to take the shopping carts out of the parking lot. The wheels locked up on us, and we had to carry/coerce the shopping carts back to the lot (we failed to notice the sign that said the wheels would lock up if we went past the yellow strip). So I ran to the lot across the street and brought my car over. We also grabbed some free frozen yogurt.

*Left within an hour of the last story to go to campus with three other of my roommates. I needed to buy books, and they were going to a class on how to make friends with Americans. Knowing I hadn't really eaten dinner yet, I got invited along ("It's okay. The dinner is free. It's not just for internationals!"). I thought about it for a minute, but decided I should probably grab my books and study. Would have been great, though! We made another trip back for free frozen yogurt, leaving me to try and explain the difference between it and ice cream.

*Introducing two of the guys to Cinnamon and Spice oatmeal and trying to explain why I was having that for dinner. I offered them a bite, and they liked it, which went better than Brittany's experience yesterday having them taste mac and cheese, which they definitely do not like :) The guys have offered to cook Chinese food for me next week, and I told them I would break character and cook for them as well. I showed them what tortillas look like and tried to explain burritos and enchiladas.

*I came home Thursday night and was so excited to have so many roommates to talk to! And it was great Friday morning when I got up and had breakfast with Felix cuz we were the only ones awake. I love chatting with Ju and Xui (who told me I could call her Candice, but I prefer to use her Chinese name).

*Ju finding out I was Mormon was classic. She asked if I was Christian, and when I said yes, asked if it was hard living in Utah because there were so many Mormons. I told her, "No. They (mormons) are Christians, too." And then I added, "I'm Mormon." We talked about all kinds of things, including religion for a bit, which was really great. She is protestant--her grandfather was a preacher. (Follow up great moment: Ju telling Gary I am Mormon. She said it in Chinese, then he turned to me and said, "You're Mormon?!" I laughed and said, "Yes. Feel free to ask me any questions. I totally don't mind. I know it seems different and people have a lot of questions.") Ju and I have decided to go to the fashion district together when I'm not leaving town for the weekend.

*Hearing that the guys scared Xui and Ju with ghost stories about our house.

*Coming home from Naomi's last night to Chester and Felix (the guys who live on my floor) telling me about a break-in two blocks away where the people were held up by gun point as they were robbed. Then, consequently going around and checking the locks on our doors to make sure they were shut.

*Hung out with Naomi last night. Had a great talk about being back in LA. Then walked past a Chabad building that was next to a church of Scientology. Led us into quite the discussion. Had so much fun asking all of my questions about Judaism. I think I am going to start the Torah (five books of Moses, or first five books of the Old Testament) in October when their study schedule starts and read the corresponding explanatory passages in their books. Way excited about this! And she let me borrow a book called: Myths and Facts: A guide to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

*Talked for hours with Brittany this morning, then went down to the distribution center and the Los Angeles temple.

In short, I am absolutely loving my new living arrangement and being back! New cultural experiences for all of us everyday, and I wouldn't trade it! The place is beautiful, I love my classes, and my roommates are awesome! So, so, so fun!

Last few in Utah

Let's see, there was the temple dedication Sunday, which I loved. Then the bbq with the fam and cousins, followed by a few episodes of Arrested Development with Amy and Wendy (we're trying to convince Wendy she should love it, too), and then a great chat with Eli at the Enclave. Left me missing our good old days in Moscow, and still regretting that I didn't stay home from the poxod (camp out) to hang out with his fam when they were in town.

Monday brought visits with the Harrisons and catching up with Tyler. Then on to some packing. Tuesday made for a great last full day in Utah. Went up to temple square with Ryan and Tyler, where we walked around, sat in the grass, ran into one of my Russian-speaking friends, did some family history work, and watched the Joseph Smith movie. I was really glad we went to see it. It had been awhile and reminded me how much I love it. I felt like I took away a lot about sacrifice and remaining faithful to what we believe in.

Great talk with Tyler on the way down about the movie, Moscow, lessons we've learned, coming to know ourselves better, etc. Then dinner with the fam and talking my dad into one last trip out to Utah Lake. Tyler was the first to be thrown from the tube, but made sure Amy and I had a dunk in the lake as well! I was laughing/screaming pretty much the whole time we were on the tube. So much fun!!! The lake was beautiful as the sunset behind our beautiful mountains. After losing Tyler in the dark and finding him by his voice, we decided it was time to head in for the night. We tried to surf the tube in, and I fell off.

Back at home, dad got a blessing, and he and mom went to bed. Amy, Tyler, and I opted to watch the Saint (great Val Kilmer movie). It takes place in Moscow, and the address where Val Kilmer and Elizabeth Shue hide out was the building right by Tyler's! Seeing Red Square in the movie made me really miss Moscow! I have missed aspects of Moscow, people, etc, but not the city itself until that night. It made me really nostalgic for this summer. I suddenly realized that I wouldn't be getting off the green line stop around center any more to go for a walk to Red Square, drop by Novokuznetskaya for Akuly (my favorite street band), or even be seeing the Adam and Eve fountain any time soon. I was surprised at how much I missed it, and by how many memories came flooding back just from seeing Red Square (all the times we went to the GUM, hung out on the square, went back cuz the soldiers were all celebrating, and we could hear them from far away).

To add to the home (I guess I should say Moscow, but it was my home for the summer) sickness, I received a really long email from Acia in Russian telling me about everything that was going on. She talked about all the stuff we had done, and what we would be doing if I was still there, and I really missed it and her. This really was an amazing summer!

I packed up my things Wednesday morning and headed out to try and get to my 7:00 pm class at USC in Los Angeles. Only stopped in Mesquite to fill up and grab a phone charger, then back on the road. Vegas traffic slowed me down by about an hour, which led to my being 30 minutes late to my first day of class. But that is already a part of LA, and not Utah.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Southern Utah

After the sealing, we all went to Golden Corral to eat. I haven't been there in years! It was fun to have everyone together, and I got to see Jed and his wife, Caitlyn. I hadn't seen Jed for over one year--he had been doing army training all summer, and then I had moved to LA by the time he got back.

We then went up to Cedar City to see Burke, April, and the boys. It was really cute, Burke yelled down the stairs, "Boys, grandma and grandpa are here!" To which they replied, "Which ones? Kim's mom and dad?" I love them :)

We went out and petted the horses, watched Rhett ride one of them bare back that he has been breaking in for one month, jumped on the tramp, and just had a lot of fun. I am thinking I will go stay with them Tuesday night on my way to LA. And Burke is in charge of the trail ride this year in Parowan, so I might head back up for it Saturday. I will actually be spending quite a bit of time in Parowan this next month, which is just fine with me! The trail ride and demolition derby are this weekend, and for Labor day weekend we're all getting together to celebrate grandpa's birthday. The fair, Parowan parade (which granpda is grand marshall of this year), and the dance are that weekend as well. Then the next is Alex's wedding reception. Had I realized how much I would be down, I probably would have just commuted to LA the 24 hours/week I need to be there for class this first month! I probably should find a job, though...

After hanging out with the boys, we took grandpa back to his house, picked up Wendy, and went to the mud bog at the fair grounds. They fill part of the arena with mud and people try to drive through it in their trucks. I love Southern Utah.

St George Temple Trip

The St George temple was as beautiful as ever yesterday, and even more so because so much of my extended family was able to come together. As I walked into the chapel where everyone was meeting, I saw Kelly, Rosa, Joyce, and Dave. I made my way towards the back where there were more open seats. Tears came to my eyes as I sat with my mom, grandpa, Mark, and dad when Becky came in. To be able to be with my family in the temple was such a blessing!

Becky and Dave went through the temple for the first time, and then were sealed for time and all eternity to each other, and then to their two beautiful children, Cayden and Sadie. I don't think there was a dry eye in the whole room as their family joined together. Becky and Dave looked so happy!

After the sealing, we received special permission to go upstairs where pictures of temple presidents are kept near the sealing office. My great-great-grandpa, Thomas Punter Cottam, was the fourth temple president of the St. George temple from 1925-1926. He passed away in March 1926, while serving as Temple President. He and his father, Thomas Cottam, did all of the decorative moldings in the temple. My great grandpa, Arthur Cottam, Thomas Punter Cottam's son, was a grounds keeper at the temple all while my mom was growing up.

We also saw the sealing room right off of the Celestial room, where my mom and dad were married, as were my grandparents, Alma and Carma Evans. The St. George temple means so much to my family, and it was amazing to be there for Becky and Dave.

As we walked out of the temple, rain was pouring down--a nice reprieve from the typically hot August days in St. George.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Law talks, boating, BBQ

Yesterday was another busy day! So much to do here in Utah! Got up and helped unload the boat, then I vaccuumed it out. Went with the girls for pedicures. Got a call from Pres. Pieper (I had called and caught up with his wife earlier that day), letting me know that he had talked to Cole Durham at BYU law, who would be happy to talk with me about law school, freedom of religion, etc. Such an amazing opportunity! I called Professor Durham, and he made time that afternoon. We had a good talk about law, where to go, what kind of law I could practice. He gave me a lot to think about. He is such a good man, and I really appreciated his willingness to make time on such short notice.

Then it was off to meet up with the cousins for more boating on the lake, people finding out I'm older than they thought, and watching every one surf from Jared and Cheryl's boat. The lake was gorgeous and the water was perfect!!

After, I took off for Jen's BBQ, which I had to attend in my swimming suit, cuz we were running later than expected. Cecilie was nice enough to let me borrow her shirt :) The BBQ was so fun! Liz, Mama, Shane, and Jen were there, so we just laughed and laughed! Most of the laughing was from Mama and I remembering all the crazy things we did my sophomore year at BYU. Stayed out pretty late just talking, then it was time to head back home, with promises that the 4 of us would get together in the next couple of days before I leave. And word is that Jared is in town! Going to be so much fun!

Well, running off to St. George for Becky's sealing. So excited for her! Then back up to Orem, tonight. I love my life!

Lake Powell

I could never vacation anywhere but Lake Powell and be happy! We loved it! Bob and Jill and their kids came with Michelle, her boys, my parents, Amy and I. Michelle, Amy, Tanner, and I drove in one car. We had our traditional blasting of Air Supply with the ever-loved Making Love Out of Nothing at All on the way.

We arrived at the lake Monday afternoon and set about anchoring the houseboat. Bob, my dad, and I were left to do this, and for only having the three of us, I think we did a pretty great job! Picture I wish I had from the trip: me in my swimming suit with about an 8-inch drill drilling holes in the rock to anchor into.

Tuesday was the perfect day--I got up with the sun and got some scripture reading in before heading back to the marina with Michelle for a 4 mile run. I liked running with her so much I'm considering running a half marathon with her next year. After the run, the girls decided to do a workout together. We started to head out to the shore, but realized it would be too hard for situps. We did our warmups, which everyone thought was the actual workout, then started into a squat/situp routine. So much fun, even if I was way sore for the next two days! Not sure if it was the running or the squats that did it.

After working out, we loaded every one in the boat and went for a drive. We headed into the marina first where I got the best approach ever. There were about 15 guys sitting around, and one of them smiled at me and I smiled back. When he left, we both waved goodbye. They pulled away in their boat. I was sitting there with everyone, talking and laughing, and heard a guy behind us say. "Hi, everyone. I'm D----. How are you all doing today?" Then he turned to me and said, "Can I get your phone number?" Everyone was a little shocked, which made me laugh looking back. So we talked for a minute, and he said he and his buddies had just came home from their missions in Australia. I have this problem where people think I'm about 20 years old. What can you do? So after he left, the consensus was, "He's ballsy. In a good way!" Oh, Lake Powell.

Found a beautiful place to jump out and swim for a while that was in the shade. Then Amy, Maddie, Ashtynne, Taylor, and I all washed our hair in the freezing lake (it was getting dark by now).

Most everyone went home Wednesday, but Amy, my parents and I decided to stay an extra day. Getting the houseboat back in was quite the adventure, as we were high-centered. We actually stranded mom on the shore cuz she didn't get on quick enough (she and I were pushing, dad was backing out, and Amy had the boat hooked on trying to pull us away). Amy went back in for her while dad and I left off to pump and get fueled up. Ran into a priests group at the dock and a guy who just graduated and is looking into playing football for Snow (how am I not 19 again? lol).

Went for one last long boat ride. Lake Powell is so beautiful! Blue, blue sky, red rock. The stars were incredible at night! I love Utah! And as we were driving home, I was looking at the mountains, trees, and green fields and realized how much I had missed having the mountains as a backdrop.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The best day

Yesterday was such a great day! I went to the Mt Timpanogos temple with my parents, which was really wonderful. Ran into an old friend, Ryan, from work at the temple, and even saw my kindergarten teacher! This was made all the better because I drove--for the first time since being home. So nice to have a car again! Then went back home and got to catch up with Michelle and see her boys--they are so cute! I can't believe how old they are getting. I am so excited to spend the next couple of days at Lake Powell with them!

Then I went down to Levan with my parents and Amy to meet up with Burke, Grandpa Alma, and Burke's boys. Raced the boys up and down the dirt road by the farm til we were too tired to do it anymore. We had so much fun!! Can't wait to go to southern Utah and see them again!

Also saw Bryan, Nicole, and their girls on the way back into Orem. Caught up with a friend from Moscow while I drove up to Lehi to meet up with Kelsy and Don. Don is leaving for medical school in Texas, so we decided to spend his last weekend in Utah together. We originally had thought of going to a rodeo, but just ended up grabbing ice cream and talking all night. So many good memories reminisced, new plans made, and hilarious things said. I haven't laughed this hard in a long time!! I am way sad that Don is leaving (and I guess I am leaving, too), but the three of us have decided on a monthly conference call and have agreed to do many more amazing things in the near future, cuz, hey, Utah is a good midpoint between Los Angeles and Houston!

Saturday, August 15, 2009


The nice thing about jet lag/insomnia is it gives you a chance to catch up on things. I have read a few sections in the Doctrine and Covenants, tidied up a bit in my room, listened to Taylor Swift, studied for the LSAT, and now--updated my blog.

I've also decided to start a new blog with some of my thoughts on the gospel--from scripture study, headlines about the Church, and some of my thoughts on what it means to me to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My friend Paul gave me the idea about one year ago to keep a separate blog on "Mormon" stuff, and I figured it was about time I tried it out. Maybe this will even serve a public diplomacy purpose by getting out another (unofficial) voice about the Church.

Now I think I'll go get some sleep--maybe I can trick my body into thinking I'm taking a late afternoon nap in Moscow, even if it is 6 am here.

Back in the swing

Flew in Thursday night to SLC International. Got to catch up with Eli and Krishelle for a minute by the A gates. So fun to see them! Though I would like to think they came just to see me, I'm sure they were really at the airport to catch their flight to see Will in Baja ;) It worked out perfect to meet up with them--they had just gotten through security as I was getting off my plane, so we took the chance to reminisce about Moscow and the good times!

Then it was off to see my dad and sister, whom I hadn't seen since the beginning of May, and mom, whom I hadn't seen since earlier that day (though it was 18 hours earlier, thanks to lovely time changes, only about 12 hours were marked off on the clock).

It's been great to be back and see people and be able to make phone calls! During my two hour lay-over I definitely got in some much-needed calls :)

Went in Friday morning to get my hair done. Decided to put red into it, which was fun, but also led to a second job of putting more blonde back into it. I'll figure this out some day lol Amy is so patient and great! Being back and hanging out with her has been the best! I have really missed talking with her, and we have spent just about every minute together since my plane came in!

Train to Milan

Aug 11-12, 2009

Best train ride ever!! We were in a sleeper car, and had the best train attendant. Helped us get our bags on, showed us where the room was. THEN, we realized we had a little sink in our coupe!! And the bed was made for us, with a bottle of cold bottled water sitting there for us. And they gave us a hygiene kit, consisting of a toilet seat cover, soap, and paper towels. And there was a nice towel sitting there, too. Mom's bed even had a mirror hanging over it. I jokingly said, "And we're going to get a continental breakfast." Well, in the morning, they really did bring us breakfast in bed. Not continental, but still. We got pear juice and a sweet roll. Wow, talk about service. I could probably live on this train!

Mom was grateful to have a more positive train experience leaving Rome than she had coming to Rome. Needless to say, mom doesn't like gypsies anymore.


Written while still in Italy, but couldn't find internet to post it:

Aug 11, 2009

We loved our last day in Rome. We took a guided tour of the colloseum and the Roman forum. We really liked our guide for the second part. He seemed to know his stuff, and even told us where the phrase the wrong end of the stick came from. Something with communal bathrooms. You don't want to know.

There were some boys in our group who had done a Christian Bible Camp in Kiev, which was really interesting. They were baptists from Minnesota. They thought it was cool that I had stayed in Russia long enough to learn Russian. They were only in Ukraine for a couple of weeks, so knew phrases like chut chut and kruto. Never did get their names, but it was fun to meet people who had also been doing religious things in Eastern Europe.

Our next stop after the Roman forum was the piazza Novona where we saw the puppet master. This (probably) crazy guy had set up a little table and a boombox, and was putting on hand puppet shows. At first it was just weird, then it got pretty impressive. He did a version of Michael Jackson complete with smoke and the moonwalk. Hilarious! The next favorite was the can-can, which admittedly got a little graphic. He flashed some knuckle at a couple of 20ish year old boys, at which everyone laughed. He also did a great job with a partner dance where the couple danced a tango in time with the music, and his hands followed one another perfectly. After watching his entire routine, we set off for the next sight.

We saw the Pantheon, a pagan church that was converted to a Christian church. So beautiful! If I hadn't been living in Russia for the last 3 months and being a tourist for the last 3 weeks, I probably would have stayed for a long, long time. Gorgeous interior and huge columns. There is a McDonalds EXACTLY across from it, which made us laugh. So weird to see this beautiful church's courtyard open onto a McDonalds. Seemed wrong somehow.

Then it was off to the Trevi fountain. My mom had especially wanted to go there, and we kept chucking euro cents into the fountain. Stayed for a while and enjoyed the atmosphere.
Then we treked back to the train station, grabbed our bags, and set off to make our next connection.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Still going

Well, last official day devoted to being tourists. We have our last sights of Rome, then it's off on a sleeper train tonight at 11 to Milan. Then we take a bus to Bergamo, Italy to catch a flight to Brussels. Be there by afternoon tomorrow. Then off early Thursday morning to America! Mom and I are on different flights. I leave 30 minutes earlier, but arrive in SLC about an hour after her. I have two layovers--London and Dallas. Mom hits Georgia and then home! Getting closer =)

We have had so much fun, but can't wait to be home and see everyone! After watching a movie the other night and going out to dinner, I said, "You know, mom, you should take this as a compliment--I think I could have just as good of a time at home watching a movie with you as I could going on some big vacation." Not that Europe hasn't been fun--it's been great, and we're both so glad we made the trip--it's just that I realized yet again how nice it is to be with family doing the every day things. We decided the perfect evening would be having dad fix omelettes and then to have everyone sit down to watch a movie together from the comfort of our own home.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mark Anthony?!

Day 2 in Rome much better than the first! We stayed in and watched Australia after a heinous trek to our hotel last night. Had some great Italian food at a way fancy place in the hotel--we were unfortunately underdressed... They didn't seem to mind too much, though!

Our view is beautiful--overlooks the Vatican from afar. Even saw some fireworks last night!

Vatican today, including the museum and Sistine Chapel. Everything was so beautiful and interesting! Had a great guide named Mark Anthony. Not even kidding. Totally made it all that much better that he's from Ohio. And knew his stuff. I also appreciated the occasional crack about his name--like when we saw a statue whose hair was modeled after Cleopatra's. Off to more Rome fun! Colloseum, Roman Forum, and Trevi Fountain to name a few items on the agenda for tomorrow!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

We're done

August 9, 2009

I had just told my mom after the Bergamo adventure (yet to be written) that I thought that maybe I had reached a point in my life where I didn't need to be having adventures all of the time. Maybe it was time to just be a grown up, and do good things without having to have good stories all the time.

Well, today reaffirmed that. Not much time to write, but we just got off the train from Florence to Rome to find that our money, credit cards, and passports were missing. Yep. Gone. We both thought of the gypsies who had blocked our way just as we were trying to get off and wouldn't let us pass. My mom ran back to the train compartment while I watched our bags. The guys in our compartment said they hadn't seen it and tried to help her look. She came back out pretty frustrated. Then she went back to check again.

I was praying about as hard as I have in a while and thinking through the next steps--we were going to have to figure out where the embassy was and get there on the five euros we happened to have. We would have to get a new passport so we could get on the plane, cancel all of our credit cards, and have my dad wire us some money.

I was prepared for both my mom and I to be so frustrated we would soon be crying, when I glimpsed her through the crowd with our pouch of money and passports! Just as she was coming off the train, she saw a woman walking with our American dollars, passports, and cards holding the bag. She was looking at her hands in confusion. My mom went up and took it from her and said, "Thank you! Thank you!"

All that was missing was the 80 euros we had grabbed from a bankomat the night before. Apparently whoever took the money didn't want to deal with passports or exchanging dollars. We were so grateful to get everything back, but still a little shook up from it all.

Did we mention we lost mom's ring at the hotel? We're hoping to hear back from them soon. We had Amy call her and explain we had left it and would be sending an email with our address in Utah.

I can say for certain that I really am done with these types of adventures for a while. We know we'll enjoy Rome, but home is sounding really good right about now...

Love, the a-bit-sick-of-wandering Mormon


August 8, 2009

To come...

Bergamo, Italy

August 7, 2009

Stories to come...

Airport Nightmare

August 6, 2009

Our first trip to an airport/train station where we weren't running to get there on time came in Berlin. That is where the good luck ended, however. The airport was crazy!! In fact, we're not even counting it as a part of Germany. We would hate to mar our impressions of this beautiful country by associating it with our airport experience. We were a bit early--about 15-20 minutes before they would let us go through security and check-in. We shuffled around things in our bags, trying to guess about how heavy 15 kg should feel. Finally, our flight came up to go through security. We got through fairly easily, then stood in line to check in. My blue piece of luggage came in at 15.3 kg, but the woman at the counter didn't say anything. We weighed the other bag and things were going fine until she told us we needed to go pay the check-in fee, go back through security, and then come straight to her where we would get our boarding tickets.

Not thinking this was a huge deal, we took off to pay the fee (we had added checked bags online--a change in itinerary that cost us about 20 Euros), and upon getting to the counter were told the price. I thought the man had said 18, so I handed him a 20. "Eighty euros," he clarified. "Eighty? Did it not charge anything to my card?" "Your card has been charged for your flight and luggage. This is the check-in fee. Eighty euros, please." So even though we'd tried to go cheap by flying on Ryanair, they got us in the end (the original flight was about 4 euros before tax, which came to about 60 euros for the two of us). Word of advice--if there is the remotest possibility you will want to check a bag, say so when you first order your flight or you might be looking at an 80 euro additional fee.

Then we went back through the first security check, got our boarding passes, and went to the second security point, This is where the real fun began. Every flight that was going out (there were about 6 at this point) were funneled into one/two security check lines. I say one/two because there were no formal lines. Just a mass of humanity trying to push their way up to the one roped gate where two security personnel stood trying to hold us back. One girl in front of us was determined to make her bag fit in the little box that tells you if your carry-on is the right size. She ended up jamming it in, getting it stuck, and having to pry it out. We all stood there while she tried to get through. All the while, people are pushing in from behind and all sides to get to the front of the line.

We made it through this eventually, and went back to another line to go through the gate that opened to a waiting room. We sat for another 20-30 minutes waiting for the plane to arrive so we could board. For some unknown reason, we thought that the seats were assigned, so avoided jumping into the mad rush that was people trying to get on the plane. We didn't get to sit by each other, but figured--not a big deal, at least we didn't get trampled to death. My mom had the sad luck of sitting by a boy from Brazil who was coughing a lot and had a concerned-looking flight attendant checking his passport. She was sure she was going to come out with swine flu. She seems okay so far...

So we got into Bergamo, grabbed our bags, and took off for the parking lot. Then we had to cross a busy highway--a nice Italian guy finally told us that if we went a bit further up, we would find an underground tunnel--and then were able to check into our room. It was quite modern and different than the Marriott. It is our own little joke to now walk into our room and say, with our noses up in the air and our hands outstretched in a dainty fashion, "Well, it's no 5-star Marriott, but I suppose it will do." The things we do to entertain ourselves after dragging our bags somewhere because we are trying to avoid paying for a taxi!