Confident: The real way to be

The other day i was hiking up a mountain, one of my favorite past times, and a young man passed me on his way up. He was bare chested with a pair of short shorts, a headband around his forehead to keep his long hair in place, and a pair of running shoes on his feet as he ran by. I was pretty impressed that he was going to run five miles of straight uphill, and with a simple “Good morning” I let him pass.

A short while later while I was still making the climb, he passed me again, this time on his way down. He was still running. I said, “You’re fast!” as he passed by. And his response struck me. Without hesitating and with a small smile, he said, “Thanks.” And kept running.

To be honest, the response that I had anticipated was something along the lines of, “Nah, I’m not fast at all.” To which I would say something like, “Well you’re way faster than me. I can barely take another step up this hill and I’m walking!” To which we would both walk (or run) away from feeling a bit inadequate about ourselves.

But instead of acting all “modest,” he took my compliment and ran with it. He believed it. And he didn’t have to believe it because he already knew it. The vibe that I got from his response was “Thank you! I am fast. I have been working really hard to get here and I feel great about myself and what I can do.” It was SO REFRESHING to come into contact with someone that was genuinely confident in something that they were genuinely good at.

In addition, his response did something for me too. Oddly enough, I didn’t watch him run away thinking, “I wish I was that fast,” or “I’m such a wimp, why can’t I be stronger.” Instead, I felt instantly boosted myself. His recognition and celebration of his talents and accomplishments, in a confident yet uncocky kind of way, turned me inward to my accomplishments and talents and made me feel like celebrating those. And made me look at his talent and think, “If I really wanted that and worked for it, I could be as fast as him!”

As much as we think self-deprecation is the way to be, IT’S NOT. And it doesn’t bring others up. I once heard that being humble isn’t putting yourself down, but bringing others up. This is something our culture could really work on, and I’m glad there has been somewhat of a trend to self-confidence recently. (And obviously there is a line between confidence and gloating and boasting, but if you are being honest with yourself it’s pretty easy to tell where that is.) Confidence is authentic. It’s secure. And what better circumstances could there be to form relationships in and make others feel good? TAKE compliments. BE confident. You might find that, in a strange way, your confidence in yourself will rub off on others and bring them up too. This is something that I have been thinking a lot about lately, and something that I really struggle with personally. I often don’t feel like I am enough, and find myself comparing myself to others and beating myself up over things that others may do or be so easily. But I have recently realized how damaging that can be and resolved to start being honest with myself and confident in who I am.

So next time someone gives you a compliment, especially if it is something that you admire in yourself or have worked really hard to achieve, do yourself and everyone else a favor and TAKE IT. Just take it. All you have to say is “Thanks.”

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Ode to 2014

Hello, friends.

It’s the new year, and as such I am going to try to keep up on my blog a little better. As I’ve mentioned before, amidst homework-writing, political newsletter-writing, missionary-writing, and personal journal-writing it’s sometimes hard to find time for blog-writing. BUT, I enjoy it, and I like to think there’s someone out there who also may enjoy what I have to say. So here’s to a year of consistent blogging! We’ll see how it goes.

In light of the new year, I want to focus today’s post on the year we just had—2014. For Christmas, My mom gave my husband and I little grateful journals, and asked us to write in them every night something that we were grateful for that day. I was so excited about this. I have been wanting to start a grateful journal forever, and although I most of my journaling on the computer now, I’m still a bit traditional and enjoy having an actual book to put ink into. This gift and the beginning of the new year was just the motivation I needed to get started.

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As I began to write my first entry on Jan. 1, it only made sense to spotlight 2014 and what the year taught me. And in order to do so, I need to backtrack a little. As most of you know, two days after we got married on Dec. 28, 2012, Kindall and I jumped on an airplane and flew to Asia where we spent the first year of our marriage. That year, I rode on an airplane 20+ times and traveled to 9 different countries. I learned a new language. I made amazing new friends, and saw incredible things. I spent every second learning and growing and working and adventuring with my new husband.

And as much as I missed my family, quesadillas, and the comforts of home, I was scared to come back. I was scared to come back to “real life” and have responsibility take over the unlimited time that I could spend with my husband when it was just the two of us and a billion Chinese people. I was scared to get stuck in the Utah bubble and miss my adventures. I was scared I wouldn’t get on an airplane again for who knows how long. I was scared to be demoted from an American superstar in Asia to one of 30,000 faceless BYU students. I was scared to go from a small branch of 80 international ex-pats, where we were primary teachers and the “cutest couple of the year,” to a married student ward where “newlywed,” “BYU student,” and “Utah-native” basically meant I was the same person as everybody else. I was scared to have to try to make friends with people my age again, when in China my friends’ ages spanned from 10 to 65. (For some reason, I often find it easier to make friends with old and young people than people my own age. One example of this: after an entire semester in an anthropology class last semester the only friend I made was the 55 year old lady who sat next to me. She was really great though.)

But as I sat and reflected on the adventurous 2013 and the normal, newlywed student couple 2014, I cannot say that I was happier or more fulfilled in 2013 than 2014. In fact, I have to say that my happiness has only grown and will keep growing, I hope, as long as I live.

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2014 taught me something: that life is beautiful. No matter where you are or what you are doing, the fact that we live, that there is life all around us, is beautiful. And as I looked back, I realized that the “normal,” year of 2014 taught me so much. It showed me that if I have a passion and dedicate myself to it, I can do whatever I want and be good at it and find joy in it. It taught me how to make new friends (even with those my age!) and develop deep relationships based on love and true care for the other person. It taught me what it’s like to have a small, helpless, adorable creature depend on you for everything, and how to love that creature even during the less adorable times that often involve one of my favorite things being chewed up and strewn all over the house (Oh, Moose). It taught me how to be a leader and to be someone who others look to for an example of love and service, although I still have a long way to go with those skills. It taught me to balance the busyness of life and focus on the things that will bring me the most joy in the long run. It taught me the joy that comes with trying new things and the self-worth and fulfillment of developing hobbies. It taught me that adventures don’t just come when you’re in an exotic place. It showed me that I love Kindall not only when we are out on blissful adventures, but in the normalness of everyday life—waking up early together, going to school, doing homework, making dinner, watching movies. It’s been two years and I still love him more and more every day.

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PC: Martha Mae Photography

 

2014 taught me that no matter how glamorous your life is, how adventurous and crazy and fun, the things that really matter are love, service, improving and finding joy in yourself, and spending time with those you love. Somehow a year at school with my hubby was just as fun as a year of traveling Asia. Because those things that matter, they are the things you can take with you anywhere.

So here’s to 2014. Thank you. And here’s to another year and lifetime of loving life.

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Summer is for kids.

I never got around to posting this over the summer so I’m just going to put it up there while I start working on a new one…

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Soo since writing has become my official job, I have really started slacking off on writing for pleasure. Not that writing for work doesn’t give me pleasure, but news about my personal life isn’t exactly a topic of interest for the vast audience of Deseret News (where I am currently interning).

But I egotistically believe that my personal life will be of some interest to my posterity, which may one day be as vast as the audience of the Deseret News.

So here I am with an update on The Personal Life of EP.

We love baseball and ice cream.

We love baseball and ice cream.

Here we are in the middle of the summer. And I have learned that working full time in the summer is rough. THANK GOODNESS FOR WEEKENDS. Over the past few summers since graduating high school, I have slowly began to realize that the word “summer,” which carried such an air of freedom, joy and lemonade as a child, now merely refers to a change in the weather from freezing cold to bloody hot. No, I’m not complaining. I fully appreciate the extra hours of daylight and new activities that this change in season makes possible. I’m just saying it’s not quite what it used to be.

We did have SOME time for fun. Weekend trips are a must.

We did have SOME time for fun. Weekend trips are a must.

Me

I am currently doing an internship at Deseret News in the Mormon Times & Features department. Applying for this internship was sort of a happenstance. After my semester writing for the cops, crimes & courts section for BYU’s Universe newspaper, I was convinced that I was one of those unique, hard core journalists that actually liked writing about the ‘hard news.’ So when I received word that I got this internship for the artsy, inspirational section of the paper, I was a little taken aback and unsure if I would enjoy it.

Just me and my bff posing at our big kid jobs.

Just me and my bff posing at our big kid jobs.

However, I LOVE it. The world has enough bad news in it, and I cannot even say how much I have enjoyed being the bearer of all the good news instead. I have written about the symphony, piano concerts, arts festivals. I interviewed a WWII vet who survived for days floating in the ocean, some Utah parents of 18 children whose hearts are bigger than I can imagine and the LDS guy who published the Apples to Apples board game. Oh, and Brian Regan. And last week I got to interview a sweet couple who is celebrating their 75th anniversary next month and a grandma who just got baptized at age 100.

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That one time I made the front page of the C section…twice.

I love my job, and I love the invisible power of words being shared between minds. I love being the facilitator of that power, and helping people tell their stories that just make other people happy.

Kindall

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I’m in love with him.

Kindall started out his summer not really knowing what he was going to do. Somehow he is so easy going that he is okay with that. (I, on the other hand, have to have things planned out to a T well in advance.) And of course, as things work out for him, opportunity came a-knockin. He got hooked up with the guys who own Rocky Mountain Flyboarding through a neighbor, and originally thought he would just be doing sales for them (if you aren’t familiar with the water sport flyboarding yet, click here to be amazed). However, he put his business skills to work and last week he was officially made a partner of the company! I will never cease to be amazed and proud at his accomplishments. Anyways, that’s a job with benefits for sure. For both he and I. With our previous jobs we got free ceramics and candles, but this job we’re talking unlimited fun on the lake and the capability to fly like iron man. Ohh yeahh.

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I think I accidentally married Iron Man.

Moose

Our family of two has officially become a family of three. Our 7-month-old puppy Moose is such a joy. She is the sweetest thing in the world, and gives me an honest reminder every day to be loving, forgiving just plain happy. She enjoys taking showers and LOVES to snuggle more than anything; if you sit down on the floor she’ll be on your lap in a second. We take her running, biking, hiking, swimming, playing in the park, and (her favorite) to grandma’s house. I think grandma loves her almost as much as she loves grandma. (Which really comes in handy when we want to have a date night anywhere other than the park). Last night we took her to the playground for the first time and she had a blast sliding up and down the slides and chasing us around. In seeing how much I can love this little puppy, I just can’t wait until I have a little human to call my own.

Photo on 7-22-14 at 5.25 PM #2

She INSISTS on sitting on my lap. No matter where I am.

Well, that’s us! The Palmers. We are happier than ever.

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Welcome back to the real world.

WE’RE BACK!

Contrary to my mom’s belief, we finally came back after just a year in China. Back to Utah, snow, school, family, friends, burritos, the whole works. Although I miss China and the life we had there, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, it’s amazing how easy it is to assimilate back into something you’ve known all your life.

Christmas was wonderful. Family, snow, a warm fireplace, and a traditional Mexican Christmas Eve Dinner of tamales, pozole, tinga, and horchata was all it took. And being able to Skype to Derik from his mission in Portugal made it perfect. That kid is really a diamond in the rough. He’s the most handsome, sweet, and sophisticated boy I know (besides Kindall). Ladies, he’ll be back in 2015 :).

The two weeks since then were BUSY. Mostly with trying to find a place to live! And all kinds of “adult-like” errands. Our days usually consist of things like going to the bank, meeting with our realtor, visiting the social security department, etc. It’s strange being an adult now. But we sure have gotten a lot done! We have the first day of school under our belts, an adorable 75-year-old house in Provo rented out, and I am officially Erica Palmer.

In addition to Christmas and New Years and all this busy business, Kindall and I got to celebrate another special day, our one year anniversary. December 28th. Here’s to the best year of my life. It absolutely flew by. But there wasn’t a single thing I would have changed about it. The day before, Kindall had two friends getting married in the Salt Lake temple, and we had the opportunity to attend one of their sealings. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate your anniversary than to go back to the place where it began and be reminded of the covenants that I made and the incredible blessings that come with those. And to be reminded that the most important thing in my life is the thing that I love most: my husband. It was really cool to see the happy couple being sealed together, and to think of myself in that position just a year before. And to leave the temple this second time with a year of marriage under our belt and feel even more sure that we made the right decision.

Saturday, Kindall was in charge of the date. We’ve been playing so much this past month, this past year, that we didn’t feel the need to do anything too extravagant. What Kindall came up with was perfect. He took me to Soldier Hollow to do some cross country skiing! Both of our first times. The significance of Soldier Hollow is this (please skip forward if you don’t like sentimental stuff): FIVE years ago, probably around this same time, my group of friends put together a trip to Soldier Hollow to go tubing, and, being high school girls, made sure that we invited a good share of cute boys. I chose Kindall, who I barely knew at the time, and it was there that we really hit it off. So I guess you can count me as the officiator of our relationship. Anyways, neither of us had been back there since! And it was fun to do something with just the two of us, after a whole week of family and friends.

Life is good. I love school. I love our cute old house, and the fact that we can decorate it anyway we want. I love grocery shopping for two. I love the fact that I have to go to the grand opening of Provo’s first Chick-fil-A tomorrow for my reporting class.

Happy happy new year. I hope yours was celebrated just like mine and Kindall’s; with James Bond, a two-man dance party that started at 11:55, and plenty of truffles and Martinelli’s when 12:00 rang out. And all smiles for the year to come.

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China, We Bid Thee Adieu.

Our past few weeks before we leave China have been chalk full of festivities. Party after party. We are so blessed to have made so many good friends here.

It all started with Thanksgiving! My last Thanksgiving in China a couple years ago, Taren and I ended up at a snack bar at the super market eating a single cob of corn and a steamed bun, which I realized after one bite was full of tiny little sea worms. Needless to say, the rest of it went uneaten.

This year, I was determined to make it better. And thankfully, had some help to make it happen. A coworker who brought us an American turkey all the way across the sea in his suitcase, a  wonderful lady in our branch who happily did all our Thanksgiving shopping for us since we are two hours away from the nearest international market, Alicia and her arsenal of cooking tips, two willing husbands, and six Filipinos and three Chinese people ready to eat whatever we fed them!

I have never been in charge of cooking a meal for a whopping 13 people before, especially not Thanksgiving. Alicia and I spent literally three uninterrupted hours planning the meal in advance, from recipes to a cooking schedule narrowed down to every 15 minutes.

The day of, the two of us and our husbands spent literally all day in the kitchen, bustling about to get everything ready on time. We only had a few small mess ups…Kindall burning the hob nob crust for the pudding pie, Erica dropping the emergency chives in the road on the scooter ride back from the market, Kindall burning the marshmallows on the sweet potatoes, the rolls turning out more like kitchen sponges than homemade bread, you get the idea.

But it couldn’t have been better. We had it all: turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, brown-sugar glazed carrots, marshmallow sweet potatoes, salad, macaroni and cheese, rolls, stuffing, cranberry sauce, apple cider vinegar, and a homemade pumpkin pie that would make Marie Callender proud. 

This was the first meal in China where I think I ate twice as much as any of the native people. For once I was the one eating my heart out on all these delicious foods, and they were the ones thinking “I’m not sure if i like this turkey stuff…” 

But I think they enjoyed it overall. It was wonderful to have all our friends/Chinese family around us and share with them one of Americas most beloved traditions. We got to pray with them to start the meal, and then we went around and everyone said something that they are thankful for. It was really sweet to hear them all say they are thankful for their health and their families, and all the blessings that the year has brought. I’m really going to miss these people when we leave. They have taken such good care of me.

Aside from Thanksgiving, we had a couple birthday parties, where we sung karaoke for hours and ate a roasted pig on a stick, a ward Christmas party, where we were unofficially given the title of the Cutest Couple of 2013 by the primary kids, and a goodbye party, where we wrote our wishes on giant lanterns and set them off into the sky. Between Maria and Elma, we were wished “a many babies” and “boy first!” multiple times. It’s a wonder I didn’t go home pregnant.

I am really going to miss this place. This is where we spent our entire first year of marriage, and it feels like a piece of my home! China is MAGICAL. I’ll miss riding our scooter through the beautiful green mountains, jogging through the village rice paddies, perusing the ceramics factory every day, and eating all the Chinese food I can get. But most of all, I’ll miss the people. The Chinese people who became our family, the Filipinos who invited us to all their crazy parties, the factory ladies whose smiles never ceased, and the branch members who went out of their way to give us a little piece of home whenever they could.

This last year was perfect. We lived it up! We rode elephants, swam in jungle waterfalls, laid on the beach, played with monkeys, explored 1,000-year-old ruins, learned Chinese (Kindall already knew it), karaoke-d for hour on end, taught primary, and learned hands-on how all kinds of things were made, from ceramics to Christmas trees to glass figurines to lightbulbs to stuffed animals. I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it.

And with regards to going home, my feelings are mixed. There is something scary about leaving the most adventurous, crazy place you’ve ever been and going back to the normal and familiar. Some people might feel the exact opposite ha. And i probably would have agreed with them a couple years ago! But now, instead of being scared of things like chicken feet and Chinese men, I am scared of homework and laundry and how I’m going to make friends in a ward with more than 60 people in it. Sometimes going back to the “normal” things is harder than going away from them.

But, I’m ready. I am ready to confront the real world head on, and knock out homework and laundry and making friends like I’ve been doing it all my life. Because, in reality, I have.

It’s a wonderful feeling to be moving on to the next stage in life, full of hope and enthusiasm and anticipation for what’s ahead, and to be able to look back on the past year and be happy.

And to all you newlywed couples, I couldn’t recommend a better first year of marriage than moving across the world and taking it on all on your own.

~ep

 

Our last time eating jiao zi

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Sometimes Kindall insists on dancing, even though we are on the stage in front of everyone at the branch Christmas party and there is no music.
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We miss these guys.

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Wishing for long life, a house full of children, and friendship to span 1,000 milesDSC01052

Oh, ElmaDSC01043

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Conquering 九龙峰!(Nine Dragons Peak)
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3,000 + steps later

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Green mountains, rice paddies, and old villages
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Singing to BeyoncéDSC00847

Michael JacksonDSC00923

…Something in Chinese
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Birthday pig roast, Filipino-styleDSC00961

And last but not least: This gorgeous lady is the greatest. She works on the assembly line in the factory, testing light bulb sockets from 7 am-9pm every day, Monday-Friday with every other Saturday off. And she is one of the happiest people I’ve ever met. Every day when I pass, she shouts out “Ai, liang mei!” (pretty little sister) and bombards me with chatter and all kinds of questions about life in America. She always brought a smile to my face, and helped me improve my Chinese more than I could have done myself. And even hand knit me a scarf for Christmas. What a wonderful friend.

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We love you, China. We’ll be back.

我们爱你,中国。很想回来!

 

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平山广东中国 Pingshan, Guangdong, China–For the past ten years, this Sichuan-born Chinese man has spent nearly every single day from 8am to 10pm on this street corner, working by sunlight in the day and by this single fluorescent bulb in the night. He does anything from fixing bags to repairing high heels to polishing leather shoes, making only a couple US dollars per customer. He has the reputation as the best quality street artisan in town, which is how I heard of him. This is how he supports his family.

photo of the week | december 1st | street artisan

Mr. & Mrs. Palmer

This is so I remember the Day.

Erica Alexis Mehl & Kindall Christian Palmer

date: 12.28.12

sealing: salt lake temple

luncheon: the roof restaurant, joseph smith building

after-party: white willow reception house

colors: icy blue, gold, & taupe

The week of my wedding is a complete blur. The whole month in fact. One big blissful, merry, jubilant blur.

Let’s backtrack just a couple months…a surprise proposal on Halloween night, Kindall gone for two weeks, school, work, Erica and her mom knocking out an entire wedding’s worth of plans in a month an a half, finals week (which was definitely the low point of my entire school career), a week-long trip to Costa Rica (which was planned by Kindall’s family before the surprise engagement), Christmas, and receiving my endowments in the temple two days before the wedding (which was the most special part). This was possibly the busiest two months of my entire life. And to top it all off, Kindall was in bed the whole week before the wedding with some mysterious sickness he contracted in the tropics. My entire Christmas was spent worrying what I would do if my own fiancé couldn’t make it to my wedding. But we were granted a miracle, and the morning of the wedding he awoke almost completely healed. Phew!

The morning of the 28th, dawned bright, early, and white. Snow. There are a few things I particularly remember…my beautiful friend Lara coming over at 5:30am sharp to do my hair and make-up, my wonderful brother Derik painting my toes for me as I got ready in a bustle, packing up my veil that my aunt Nora sewed for me by hand. So sweet. As we rushed out of the house to get to the Salt Lake Temple by 8 o’clock, a steady stream of snow was cascading from the sky.  I couldn’t believe it, so far a whole winter with no snow and suddenly there was a blizzard on my wedding day! Thankfully, we were only a little bit late to the temple.

The sealing was the most beautiful thing. Being there with almost my entire family, some of who traveled far and wide to get there, and being sealed to the most perfect, handsome guy that I could have imagined made me like the luckiest girl in the world. My heart was full.

Now, it was time to celebrate. As Kindall and I stood inside the temple with only two glass doors separating us from our congratulators outside, I was overjoyed with excitement. We were married! We walked out of the temple to cheers, hugs, and cold handshakes from our devoted families and friends who had waited so patiently in the cold. I looked around, and it was a whole new world. The morning blizzard had given way to an incredible blue sky, fluffy white clouds, and a bright yellow sun. The ground was hiding under at least two feet of fresh, pure, white snow. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect backdrop for a December wedding! It was like Mother Nature was celebrating our new beginning right along with us.

Somehow the warmth of my feelings got me through about half of the next two hours of picture taking, though our poor families were trying to huddle together the best they could in the the balmy 27˚ weather. And Kindall, after a week of being bed-ridden and hardly being able to eat a thing, was somehow able to swing me into his arms and carry me around the entire temple square when my high-heeled feet got too cold to walk anymore. Now that’s a gentleman.

The wedding was captured in photos by the stunning Leah Wright, and on video by the renowned  David Perry. I cannot say enough good about these two. Leah has been a family friend for a long time, and I have known for years that she would be the one to shoot my wedding. Beautiful shots. And David was just incredible. He arrived on the scene with fruit snacks and hand warmers for us that couldn’t have been more welcome. At first, I was a bit doubtful of the necessity of a videographer, but my mom was able to convince me otherwise. Thanks, mom : ). What better way to relive your wedding day than to see it in motion! See link below, password is 2.

Temple Film/Kindall & Erica
password: 2
videographer: david perry
song: on top of the world/imagine dragons

(Bridals and engagements were both done perfectly by Jacki Miller, don’t forget to check her out too.)

After a couple hours of photos, we made our way to the top floor of the Joseph Smith Building where hot chocolate was waiting along with the luncheon and the most beautiful view of the temple that the city can offer. I don’t remember what we ate, but it was wonderful. As we walked around greeting everyone, I still couldn’t grasp the fact that this was my husband, and I would be introducing myself next to him for the rest of my life. What an exciting thought.

The reception was at the White Willow house, an absolute gem. It is located in an adorable little antique house on 5th west in Provo, and they take care of everything for you. Decorations, flowers, food, cake, EVERYTHING! Once we found this place my mom was sold, who wouldn’t love a wedding with no hassle. Everything turned out beautifully. Since it was only a few days after Christmas and right before New Years, a giant Christmas tree adorned the front hall right inside the front door, underneath a shimmering silver and gold chandelier. The guests made the procession through the house, through the wedding line, and into the main room where a soup and dessert buffet and a photo booth were waiting. On top of each table was a white, leafless tree dressed with strings of jewels and photos of the bride and groom, of course. The antique house adorned with elegant silver and gold decor was the perfect companion to the snowy world outside, and the perfect feel for a winter wedding.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that enduring the reception line is the worst part of the wedding day, but I absolutely loved it. Seeing so many of my family, friends, and  people I have never met with each of their smiling faces, all there to wish me and my husband congratulations. Such a blessing. Thank you, everyone.

The rest of the evening was full of love, laughter, flying bouquets and garters, photos in the booth, cake in the face, and lots of dancing. After a send off through a sparkling tunnel down the snowy path and into our lovely car (which somehow got filled with all kinds of…stuff), we were off! Married. On our own. Mr. & Mrs. Palmer. And now, 11 months later, I still get butterflies in my stomach when I say that.

wedding-5Hello, world!

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wedding-51The Palmer Family

wedding-55The Navarro Family

wedding-54The Mehl Family

wedding-61HMC4L! My best friends in the whole world.

wedding-85The sweetest brother a girl could ask for.

wedding-94Mis padres

wedding-103Succulents, white roses and billy balls

wedding-115He makes me so happy.

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wedding-137The House of the Lord

wedding-151White Wedding

wedding-158Mittens

reception-28The Line

reception-23The Cake

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reception-129The Rings

reception-17My absolutely beautiful best friends

reception-114Daddy and Daughter

reception-103She caught the bouquet!!! And Brandon caught the garter. Guess who was married next.

reception-90Sweet, sweet love.

reception-140A sparkling send-off

reception-145The End.

Musings

I love fall.

But here in the tropics, it’s a little different. The green leaves stay fastly attached to their branches and the clouds stay dry, not a raindrop or snowflake to fall from their grasp until spring. Even the factory is in the wrong season; the last of the Harvest and Christmas samples were shipped to America in October in time to be in stores for the holiday season, so everything we are looking at calls of Easter and Mother’s Day. 

But Fall still lives! The weather has finally cooled down to a balmy 70 degrees, prompting the emergence of sweaters, stockings, and scarves. I never thought I would be cold in 70 degrees. Along with that, we have finished writing up our shopping list for Thanksgiving dinner and the sound system in our office has officially begun gushing Christmas music.

Time is flying by faster than I can count. In less than one short month, we will be back in America. Living in Mapleton, going to BYU, doing that whole “normal life” thing again. I am so excited to be back. Family, friends, my car, normal food, and a comfortable, warm house await, just in time for the Christmas season. But as it gets closer, I find that more and more of me is getting anxious and feeling a longing to stay. Our life is so good here! We wake up together, work together, make dinner together, and spend all night together. We live in a place of absolute beauty. My mind and knowledge are expanding every day as I am exposed to this culture and learn how to communicate with the people in their own language. And as much as I crave Beto’s and grandma’s shredded beef tacos every single day, I know that when I return I am going to miss the noodles and 饺子 (dumplings) and fried rice that I get here for every meal.

As I sit here contemplating this, my mind turns to a poem by William Blake that I recently read:

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sunrise.

Life is full of joy. But if we find ourselves caught up on one thing, on one experience or situation or circumstance, thinking that it is only through that that we can find happiness, we will be let down. Guaranteed recipe for disappointment. Instead, we need to kiss the joy as it goes rushing by on the unstoppable wings of time. It is only by doing this, that we will be happy people. Love the past. Love the now. Love life.

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Cambodia Part II: The time I became an explorer of ancient ruins

If there was one magical place left on Earth, Angkor Wat would be it.

Literally “Temple City” in Khmer, Angkor Wat is an ancient temple complex located in Siem Reap, a small city in the northern Cambodia centered among dozens of these thousand-year-old stone ruins. When it was built in the 1200s, Angkor Wat boasted the title of the largest temple in the world. Bigger than any Catholic cathedral, than any Mayan pyramid.

And it was, by the time I went to see it, three times as old as the Declaration of Independence. Coming from a country with such a small history, astounded me.

Completely religious, the temples are a mixture of Buddhism and Hinduism and rich with symbolism. The dozen doorways leading into the kings tomb slowly get shorter and shorter, emphasizing humility and submission to the king (which I found out the hard way by smacking my head on the stone arch; apparently I wasn’t being humble enough). The staircases are treacherously steep, symbolizing the effort that one must be willing to put forth to reach Heaven. And there are hundreds of feet of stone wall carved into stunning murals of battles between good and evil. The culture that comes with these religions is quite intriguing. I wished I could understand half of what was being depicted.

But in spite of all that is left to see, those thousand years of history definitely taken their toll. Grand hallways once painted white and plaited with gold have given way to bare, stone walls. Bandits have beheaded countless intricate sculptures of intricately carved warriors, seeking after the jewels hidden inside. Dozens of structures were toppled over during the ugly civil war that raged during the rule of the Khmer Rogue in the 70s.

And one thing has happened that only time itself could have produced: Mother Nature has taken over.

Massive trees with roots as tall as a two-story house tower over archways and cut through stone walls, slowly and imperceptibly forcing their way through, and nearly every exposed surface is covered by a soft blanket moss, more brilliant than any green I have ever seen.

It is a place absolutely seething with life, both the memory and the creation of it.

And I think this is what makes it so beautiful. I have never before seen a place where Man-Made and Mother Nature intertwine so harmoniously, so appropriately, binded by time.

We were there for just a few days. The nights we spent at a quaint little seven-room villa which used to be the home of the French governor of Cambodia in the early 1900s, and still looked the part.  It was absolutely adorable.

The days we spent eating curry, riding tuk tuks and elephants, and immersing ourselves in these ancient temples. We were Indiana Jones, David Attenborough, and Lara Croft all rolled into one.

When Henri Mouhot, a 19th century French explorer “discovered” Angkor Wat, he said,

“One of these temples—a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michael Angelo—might take an honorable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome, and presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the nation is now plunged.”

The grand Khmer empire that once ruled most of Southeast Asia and built these magnificent temples is almost completely nonexistent now. War and corruption has ravaged the country, and technologically they are near the bottom. If it weren’t for these ruins still standing it would be hard to believe that that great empire once existed at all.

But they stand. Exist, it did.

And in the 9 countries that we have visited in this past year, I think I can say that this place is my favorite.

Now for the photo overload.

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241A1864A good spot for meditation.

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241A2565The Elephant Terrace

241A2619Ta Prohm. It’s impossible to describe the immensity of this tree without seeing it yourself.

241A2690Greener than green

241A1973I couldn’t help it.

241A1903Moat to the castle. Watch our for alligators

241A2115Early risers. Full moon

241A2135Angkor Wat at sunrise. There’s no better way to appreciate the beauty than to see it slowly uncovered by the rising of the sun.

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241A2280Bath time outside the temple. This captures the local life that goes on here daily, almost hidden, in a place that other people will use their vacation days and fly thousands of miles just to see.

241A2206Kindall in half light.

241A2295Battle scene

241A1995Someone got a little sleepy.

241A2070Wild, hungry monkeys!

241A2100He was quite protective of his territory.

241A3103I. Love. Elephants. 

241A3118Here’s one way to hike a mountain.

Akun, Cambodia. Thank you for sharing your treasures.

Part 1: The time the children of Cambodia captured my heart

Kindall and I spent five days in Cambodia during a Chinese national holiday. And I have so much to say about this incredible place, I’ve decided to split it into two parts. This is the time the children of Cambodia captured my heart.

Even aside from the thousand year old temples wrapped in massive roots, wild monkeys playing in the fields, and floating villages on the rivers, Cambodia was a whole new thing for me. The children in particular were captivating. Everywhere you go, you are met with pleas from children ages four to fourteen, “Lady! Lady you buy my bracelet! One dolla one bracelet!” or “Postcards! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, TEN postcards lady! You buy ten postcards one dolla!”

In experiencing this situation myself, over and over, and also observing the experiences of the tourists around me, I noticed an array of responses. First, without fail, is that soft, melting-of-the-heart and softening-of-the-mind that only a child has the ability to produce. The Awwwww! followed by an automatic reach inside your purse, whether you want what they are selling or not. I mean let’s be real, if American kids are cute then foreign kids are even cuter.

But then, as the little girl skips away with one less bracelet and a new dollar bill in their hand, you feel a twinge of sadness and sympathy for her. And for all of these kids who live like this every day, spending their childhood selling pointless knickknacks for pennies, while me and all the other tourists have hundreds of dollars to spend perusing the world at our own leisure. This feeling is especially hard to get over. The feeling of, why am I so lucky? And what can I possibly do to help them?

But after you somewhat move past these initial emotions, you find yourself impressed. Impressed by how diligent these kids are, working so hard at such a young age, and impressed by their implausible ability to give their sales pitch in at least ten different languages. (Literally. There were a few times when I would pull the “I don’t speak English” card and start speaking Spanish or Chinese to try to shake off the mini-salesman that was tailing me, but she would just as quickly bounce around these languages without skipping a beat. One dolla, lady! Un dolar, senorita! Yi kuai qian! Incredible.)  You also begin to realize the cunning business mind behind that cute, innocent face. Like the kid who meets my excuse, “But I don’t even own a refrigerator to put this Cambodian magnet on!” with a blunt, almost annoyed rebuttal, “If you don’t buy this magnet then I can’t go to school.” Really, whether he is telling the truth or not, how are you supposed to argue with that?

The only familiar thing that I can compare it to is that nice, summers afternoon when you happen to drive past a lemonade stand on the corner. You’re in a hurry and don’t particularly want some kid’s half-mixed cup of crystal light. But as you pass the kids behind their little fold-up table you can’t help but notice the hopeful look in their eyes as they jump up and down, waving their sign for the hundredth time that day as if they only waved it a little harder they could score a whole dollar.

Now if you think this is difficult to resist, imagine a small, brown, barefooted child trying to convince you in broken English to buy their post cards for just one dollar so they can go to school.  And then imagine 100 of them. That’s a whole ‘nother battle.

As I continually encountered this situation while we toured Siem Reap and my thought process began to unfold, I decided that instead of divvying out hundreds of dollars and in return collecting thousands of postcards, I would try to give these kids something that I think kids should be more concerned with than money: Happiness. Warmth. Laughter. Candy.

There are a few occasions I remember in particular. One morning, after witnessing the sunrise behind the stone towers of Ankgor Wat, Kindall and I were sitting in one of many identical outdoor breakfast stands lining the outskirts of the temple. As soon as we sat down, we were instantly ambushed by a group of young Cambodian children, all pushing their baskets of goods towards us and chorusing the familiar routine. I had just ordered a massive pineapple pancake and it was sitting on my plate in front of me, warm and untouched.

“Anybody want a bite of my pancake?” I asked, disregarding their solicitations completely and holding the plate out temptingly. They instantly went silent and, with eyebrows raised, eyed it suspiciously as though trying to decide if a bite of a pancake was worth giving up the sale. But shyness and politeness took over, and one-by-one they averted their eyes and shook their heads. “Okay, but it’s really good,” I said, taking a big bite for myself.

As they continued to stare longingly, one of the little girls noticed that I wasn’t using the syrup on the table and shouted, “Chocolie! Chocolie!” The others lit up at once and, following her call of Chocolie!, ran back to the shop. They returned with a big bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup, which the little girl handed to me with a giant smile. I haven’t put chocolate syrup on a pancake since I was like eight, but clearly that is exactly what these kids intended me to do.

Well, here we go, I thought, and lathered up my pancake with enough sugary syrup to make a diabetic cringe. I slowly, intentionally cut another big bite and put it in my mouth, with a loud Mmmm! just for show. After doing this a few times, my observers closely watching, I asked again if they were sure they didn’t want any.

Finally, the little boy with big innocent eyes and a wistful frown looked at me and slowly but deliberately nodded his head. “Do you want pineapple?” He nodded faster. “Chocolate??” He could hardly contain his enthusiasm. I skewered it all together on my fork, the biggest bite I could manage, and placed it right into his waiting mouth.

I will never forget what his little face looked like, chocolate on his mouth, cheeks so full he could barley chew, and a look of pure happiness.

We spent the rest of breakfast chatting with our new friends, sharing bites of pancake, and not one postcard or magnet was even brought up. As we left I decided that they deserved something, so I gave them each a dollar after they sang “If You’re Happy and You Know It” for me. Give a dollar and a pancake and get a song and some new friends! Win win.

I could go on for pages upon pages with stories like this. Like the two girls, Ned and Lisa, who told us of their dreams of becoming tour guides when they grow up and taught me a traditional Cambodian dance. Ned was beautiful and very bright, and Lisa had stained clothes and broken flip-flops, but a smile that light up her little brown face. She couldn’t believe how big Kindall’s hand was compared to hers. After noticing her eying my brown snap-on sandals, I told her to try them on and laughed as she danced around in sandals twice as big as her feet, wishing so bad that they fit so I could just give them to her.

Or the lone, three-year-old boy at the top of an empty temple who jumped into my arms and would not let go of my hand. When we finally climbed down the temple with him and his sister and told them we had to go, I was hoping that they had parents looking after them somewhere near by. As we watched, they ran to their blind mother, who was playing an instrument on the side of the road with a group of others who had been disabled by the horrific Cambodian landmines. It was the sweetest thing to see the mother’s sightless face, listening as her Eyes told her excitedly from her lap of the two tall foreigners they had just made friends with.

I was not only touched by the kids, but the adults too. I had never before met such a warm, congenial, and genuinely happy people.

The people of Cambodia taught me something. They opened my eyes to a glimpse of the real world, the world before it got so full of distractions and things that don’t really matter. Like family. Respect. Good manners. Charity. Smiles.

The correlation between material wealth and happiness is non-existent here. Happiness comes from within.

And I learned that, if nothing else, if I spent the rest of my days with Kindall feeding chocolate pancakes to Cambodian children, I think I would be happy.

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One big happy family. These kids wouldn’t stop smiling.

241A1883My first purchase

241A1894FOUR YEARS OLD!!! And quite a bit of sass.

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241A2221At the temple. The music was mesmerizing.

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241A2048Math time

241A2049You’re hand is huge!!!

241A2052Ned and Lisa. One day I will go back and see these two ladies as successful tour guides.

241A3057Surprise hug

241A3064I gave him a piece of candy, and he bowed in thanks

241A3075Kindall will be a good daddy one day

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241A3028They are beauties