Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day and Anniversary in the District

Staying up late and waking up early don't go together very well, but that seems to happen a lot on our vacations. We want to do so much! Today, we hopped on the metro as we have been doing every day this week and headed over to Arlington Cemetery for the Memorial Day address and see the changing of the guards. We were given two roses each. One to put on a grave to remember a soldier's sacrifice and the other to take home and remember what we learned and saw. 

We waited in a really long line to get shuttled to see the vice president give the Memorial Day address at the tomb of the unknown soldier. It was extremely hot and humid. We downed tons of water and were sunburned. Thankfully, with Jeff's active army status, we were shuffled to a shorter line. Unfortunately, it was too close to time, so all shuttles were stopped, and the procession and address began without us. We did not get to go see the VP.  However, when we shuttles got up and we finally arrived at the site across from the tomb of the unknown soldier, we got to hear the president of the U.S., Barack Obama speak, live and only a few feet away from him. It was a beautiful speech about those who sacrificed and a call for us to seek to make a difference in our community, country, and world as well. 

 Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, honoring all those unknown soldiers who died in the line of duty.

We took advantage of our time there to go around the site and read the tomb stones. There were so many names, ranks and people. I was touched and proud of these people and their sacrifice for our protection during these wars.  I was very sad as well that so many people lost their lives to the inhumanity of war... There are many factors that create war, but the I think the biggest ones are fear, hatred, and unsettled differences.  It's so unfortunate that people can't live peacefully and respectfully with one another.  It manifests itself in caste systems that places some at a more superior class than another, and misunderstanding and refusal of acceptance or at least tolerance of other beliefs.

Afterwards, we made our way over to the White House. What a beautiful place.  I can't even imagine getting to live in such a large and famous home. Of course there were also a million other people waiting to take pictures there so we had to go quick!

By the way, today is AJ and my first year wedding anniversary!  We celebrated by going to the Hard Rock Cafe (a favorite and a must, every time we travel).  This tradition began while we were on our honeymoon to Orlando (the largest Hard Rock in the world), and has continued ever since.  We had a wonderful time.  They played the Beatles, the Temptations, Led Zeplin, Fall Out Boys, etc.  Everyone was singing and having an awesome time.  Even we joined in.  The controversial song of the night was Katy Parry's "California Girls."  What?!? Is that even legal at Hard Rock?

The food was awesome as always.  I got the Red, White, and Blue Burger with super hot sauce and fries.  Yum! I love the waiters and waitress here.  They are so outgoing and helpful.  They embody their motto, "Love all.  Serve all."  Wonderful!  Also, we got a shout out from our waitress to congratulate us for our anniversary and others joined in as well.  It was so cute :)

FYIW: There was even a system that allowed me to get to the restroom in this old restaurant. 

Funny/Weird Story of the night.  A man came up behind me and told me that he was a chaplain for the U.S. Marines.  He condemned me for being in a wheelchair and proceeded to command me to get up and walk.  The scariest moment was when he yelled "Shut up!!!" to the waitress who was talking to me.  I wasn't exactly sure what to do at that point, so I got out of there as soon as possible.

Then, we had a wonderful romantic walk home, talking about all sorts of stuff and exploring the city.  Gosh I love AJ.  He's my heart and my best friend.  He makes me feel so happy and so safe.  I'm so glad to get to be with him forever and ever...

Friday, May 25, 2012

The National Mall and Memorials

Washington D.C. Day 2

From my notes the day before, DO NOT drive in D.C.!  It's so much easier walking around and getting lost without the driving stress.  Everything touristy is close by, so why drive?  Also, the metro system here is AWESOME and totally wheelchair accessible.  FYI: D.C. is one of the first cities in the U.S. to be wheelchair accessible because of our Pres. FDR (He had polio and was confined to a wheelchair).

This city is amazing... The feel here is unlike any other I've experienced before.  The historic events and important be here and experience the power here is unreal to me.  Walking National Mall and Memorials is such a stark reminder to me that I am here is where history happens every single day.

Today, we visited as many places as possible so that AJ could take advantage of his short time here.  We visited: the Holocaust Museum (the temporary exhibit because passes were out for the day)

The National Archive

(Jeff, our amazing travel buddy and tour guide :)

The Washington Monument

The Jefferson Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial--He is my favorite president, so naturally, this was my favorite place to visit.  He lived during such a bittersweet time in American history.  I feel like he had to bear the hardest of burdens, and had to make some very difficult decisions amidst the death of his country men.  I know without a doubt he was inspired and truly loved all Americans equally, therefore, he fought for all to be treated equally.  He sacrificed so much for this country that was in turmoil.  His words really touched my heart...

"Let us discard all this quibbling about this man or the other man, this race and that race, and the other race being inferior and therefore they must be places in an inferior position.

Let us discard all these things and unite as one people throughout this land until we shall once more stand up declaring that all me are created equal."

**I cannot believe I get to see the Lincoln Memorial everyday, right down the hill from my GWU dorm :) 

The FDR Memorial
and The MLK Memorial

These men are such powerful, inspirational people.  They lived their lives for other people and left important prints on this country and our lives.  I am so proud to call myself an American because of them.  I'm so grateful for this country and the wonderful life it has allowed me, especially with my disability.  I will return as often as I can to these places to remind myself of the sacrifice and hope to live as they did, serving and thinking of the well-being of others.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Washington D.C. LDS Temple

We landed at the Baltimore-Washington Airport and picked up our car.  Note: it's much easier to just fly into Dulles or Reagan because getting to and from this airport is a hassle to deal with if you're going to be in D.C. most of the time!  To get there from D.C. via public transportation would take 2 and 1/2 hours, and they don't run earlier than 5 AM.  Check out here for more info.
A.J. and I decided to start off our trip with a visit to the D.C. LDS Temple which is technically in Kensington, MD, about 35 mins from D.C.  We found this temple to be extremely unique and grand on the outside, and simple on the inside.  A very beautiful and wheelchair accessible temple.  The session was delightful as always but admittedly, we fought to stay awake, still tired from our flight.  The heat and humidity here is intense.  It doesn't help an already tired camper... Beware of sweat!

There is a super awesome transport system to get people to and from the metro (a system funded and operated by some brothers who are willing to offer up their time for church members).  Their number is given out in wards, so just ask around and text them.

Then, we headed over to our hotel in Arlington, VA.  It took a long while to get everywhere as we kept getting lost and lost and lost.  Note: update your GPS ahead of time to get the most current roads and gas states, etc. (that is only and option if your GPS has a progressive feature included in the system, where you can update it again and again). Exhausting but worth it!


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Camping at Payson Lakes

I've never gone camping before in the five years I've lived in Utah.  Sure, I've done outdoorsy things before like hiking and fishing in Utah, but I've never gone camping.  Hence, my strong determination to go camping this summer before AJ and I leave on our journeys to DC and Englad. This was bound to be an even more interesting trip as I'm going camping for the first time in a wheelchair, ever.

The drive up the canyon to Payson Lakes was beautiful with both green and naked trees all around us, the sun was setting, and a few deer were skipped off into the forest. The road was windy and seemed to go on forever as we went up higher and higher. When we reached the campsite, we were nervous as there was no one there to guide us, but we just paid our dues and hoped we would find a spot.

It was a lot more chilly than we expected for the month of May, so we were a bit unprepared for the weather. Luckily we brought a few more blankets than usual and all of the girls were bundled up for dinner and s'mores. Dinner was perfect. The boys gathered wood and Ben lit the fire with his savvy outdoorsy skills. We had chilli, hot dogs, Frito boats (chili served with Frito chips), and roasted s'mores.  We sat there and reminisced of fun times together and much laughter ensued. We had a great time together.

As night fell, I looked into the sky at the millions of stars up above us. I thought of beauty that Heavenly Father has granted us in the form of stars so bright, skies so endless, mountains so tall, flowers so beautiful and nature so calming. I believe God has provided us with all of this to enjoy and serve as a reminder of His existence. I am grateful for this opportunity to be away from my normal city life to reflect on blessings in my life and think about the adventures that lie ahead.

The boys and Holly did a great job at setting up the tent.  The five of us fit into the tent comfortably and I just parked my wheelchair outside. It was a bit of a hassle for me as I had to crawl around or have AJ pick me up and down. It was also annoying to have to be carried in and out of the bathroom as there were no accessible ones. Those are just some of the challenges with camping in a wheelchair as expected though. 

Setting up the large tent
Unfortunately, we underestimated how cold it could get and didn't bring enough gear to keep us warm.  I got a total of 3 hours of sleep that night.  It made for a very interesting hike the next day.

FYIW: Bring wet ones, toilet paper, lots of water, gloves, flash lights, sleep cushion, camping potty chair, and other things you think would help you stay comfortable, safe, and healthy. Also, you can't ever pack too much food, so bring snacks and filling foods.  Don't forget to bring cash for the park fee!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Be a friend

Have you ever felt alone in crowded room of people? On Friday, I went to a wedding reception where I felt uncomfortable because I felt quite alone, out of place, and just wished there would be someone there who would come talk to me.  Normally, I'm a pretty outgoing person and can easily hold a conversation with just anybody, but awkward times do arise.  I didn't know anyone enough to wheel up to them and just start chatting.  Oh how I hoped someone would come talk to me.  

Luckily, someone did come and made me feel less awkward and that it mattered that I was there.  I was so glad. After some time, more and more people came to talk to me.  The next thing I knew, I had been there for three and a half hours! 

Anyways, I just want to thank those who care about me, and let them know that I care about them, too.  I also hope that each and everyone of us will be mindful of our surroundings, and how we can positively affect people by the simple things we do--especially for those who seem to be having a hard time adjusting and may need our help.  We can all be a friend and lend a hand.  People who made an effort to come talk to me made a huge difference in my time there.  I had a great time.  THANK YOU!!!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Proud of My Scars

I don't recall too many details from the day of the accident. I remember snowboarding and going off the jump and the fall after. I remember the excruciating pain all throughout my body and not knowing where the source of it was. I vaguely recall being flown to the nearest hospital and feeling the gush of the wind on my face as I was being rushed into the emergency room. I felt oh so cold and was shivering as I was put under a huge french fry lamp and covered with multiple layers of blankets. I was told I was going to have surgery right away. The next few days were a blur. I learned later that team of wonderful doctors and nurses spent a total of 16 painstaking hours, pulling out hundreds of teeny pieces of what used to be my vertebrae and stabilized my back with a titanium rod and one of my left ribs. It's a bit surreal to think of all my body endured. The result of that was a brand new life.

However, that is not to say that it was all rainbows and butterflies afterwards. Although infinitely grateful for those life-saving surgeries, it was still difficult for me to accept my new reality and the scars that were left behind served as painful reminders of what happened to me. I knew there was a really long gash that runs straight down my back with a fork in the road midway that detours left onto another jagged remnant. I had felt it many, many times but avoided looking at it to prevent a long lasting image of imperfection on my back. It was months before I could muster enough courage to finally take a look at them. I knew had to in order to progress in my healing process, but I was really hesitant because I knew it would make me sad. My hands were shaking excessively as I lifted up my shirt and turned to look at them in the mirror. The sight of the scars was harder than I imagined. I was saddened by the fact that these scars had replaced my once smooth back and would stay there for the rest of my life. I remember feeling uneasy about going out in public with my swimsuit on because I knew everyone would look at me weird and stare at those scars and wonder (as if they didn't have enough questions already of why I was in a wheelchair). I felt extremely insecure about my body at that moment and decided I was never going to wear backless swimsuits ever again! Because of my scars, I no longer felt confident in what I could wear, which began to weigh down on my self-esteem what I determined to be  the beautiful aspects of me.

After the accident, I read from the "Heaven is Here" book by a burn victim, Stephanie Neilson about her encounter with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. He told her to be proud of her scars. "We look for Christ's scars because they are evidence of what he did for us. They'll be the first things He shows us when we see Him again. Our scars tell a story, too. Although they may not make you feel attractive, they are a witness of a miracle, that God blessed you to live, and that you have accomplished very difficult things" (292).

Reading that passage changed my perspective on the significance behind scars, both the visible and invisible ones, and made me feel happier about my own. It gave me a sense of pride in my scars because they are a reminder to me of how far I've come since the accident. It's been a bumpy journey but I didn’t let that stop me. The scars tell me that I've been entrusted by God to be brave and do hard things. He loves me and wants me to make something of all of this. He wants me to share my story. It's been years since the day I peeked at my scar down my back, and I'm happy to say I no longer worry about others seeing the scars on my back for I understand the significance behind them and I am proud. 

I also know that my scars are not what define my beauty. What makes me beautiful is the fact that I am a daughter of God; I have a brain and a heart to share with all of God’s children and that is most important. My heart dictates my actions and is the driving force behind pursuing my passions. It motivates me to serve my fellow man through labor and kindness in my everyday dealings. My hearts makes me brave and going beyond what people think I'm capable of. That means wearing a nice backless swimsuit at the beach and embracing the stares of wonder even when it was something I didn't think I could do before.  The life saving efforts of my miracle workers have permitted me this heart to survive and grow and become stronger, and I must make them proud.

I think Mindy Gledhill said it best: "It's not about your scars...It's all about your heart."

Embracing my scars by wearing a nice open-back swimsuit and enjoying life.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Peace in Mind and Heart

I heard from a speaker, Marilyn Berrett, one of the coolest lady ever.  She talked about seeing the world through dance and nature.  She referred to the verses of the song, "Where can I turn to Peace?" to help us see methods we can use towards finding peace.

Have an attitude gratitude--use it for every aspect of life, especially through pain and tough times.  The Lord provides us with so many things in life for which to be thankful like the beautiful sunset, which is an invitation of peace from the Lord.  Those who are grateful excel in all aspects of life.  They are more loving, joyful, enthusiastic, optimistic, peaceful, more pleasant, etc. (it's so true.  I learned about the many effects, including positive physiological effects from gratitude in my Mind, Body Health class).  A way to become more grateful is: A gratitude journal.  I have begun doing this and I can already see how much happier and even more thankful I am for all in my life, yes...including the tough physical times.  Another way is by learning other cultures' prayers of gratitude, and embrace them to enhance the gratitude.  A really, really good one is dedicating a prayer of solely thanks to our Heavenly Father, once a week.  I'm sure we can afford that, after all that He has given to us.

Pray--this is our constant access to our Heavenly Father.  There is no quota to meet and no appointment to make.  He is always there for us, reachable at any time and in any place.  I especially love praying outside in nature.  That is where I feel most at peace and closest to Him.  It's so wonderful to be able to clear my head from that in the city, turn my focus to God, and fill my heart with all sorts of gratitude and goodness, all while being surrounded by beautiful creations by Him.

Love without end--love just as the Prince of Peace loved each and everyone of us, which is unconditionally and eternally.  Increase our love for those who have mistreated us, which will eventually soften the hardened heart and dissolve offenses taken.  I struggle with this one because it's so hard for me to be kind to those who have mistreated me.  I feel like we should all be friends and support each other, instead of resorting to coldness and mean comments, which is why I'm super disappointed when people do it to me.  However, holding onto grudges prevents me from reaching my full potential as a servant of God, therefore, I must learn to get over and get to loving (easier said than done, but persistence will carry me to success...I hope).  We have to take that first step towards forgiveness...The criticism and offense stops right there!!  It will be a tough path, but we have to keep trying if we want to salvage anything that is left in tough relationship.  Just keep trying and have faith that everything will work out in the end.

This song has always been comforting to me during many times of need, especially when I'm on the verge of breaking down and quitting.  This talk definitely hit the spot, and I feel so much more empowered and equipped to do what I know is right. I was so glad that I was able to come and see that there were others just like me, searching for peace in their lives.  It's oddly comforting to me that that I'm not alone, and that are many that are in the same position in their lives--calling for help.  I know that if I asked for help, there are many who would be there to support me in a heartbeat.  We are all brothers and sisters and we are here to help each other as best as we can.  That is also why we need to find this peace within ourselves, so we can become stronger and readily available to help others as well.  It's hard, but pull in positive energy and reciprocate it.  Pass it on.  Don't worry, your problems will be resolved and you will will be saved if you keep your head up and in the right place.  This will create your peace in mind and heart.  Have faith...