Monday, August 3, 2015

Summer Reunions

One of the best things about summer is the gift of time.  There is time to breathe and spend time with people I don't see often.  Fortuitously,  summer is also when many families go on vacation. Because Utah is a central location for many of my friends who have family in the area, this summer has been full of opportunities to reconnect with many people I love!

 The first of June, Brie was in town for a wedding.  The four of us from Hampstead reunited for dinner at our usual location, Goodwood.  We lived together during the 2007-2008 school year and all graduated from BYU together! When we met, Brie and I were friends and Celeste and Angela were friends.  By the end of the year, we became very close! Brie and Angela even married two guys who were best friends.  They still get together with their spouses whenever they are in town! We are multiplying- there are four children between us and many more to come!

Kate's family moved to Arizona in June and passed through Provo on their way from Wyoming!  Melissa and I got to meet the darling twins for the first time!  It was a quick visit, but worth every second! We missed our Tessa May, but look forward to a reunion soon.  The four of us lived together in 2009 in the Millrace townhouses in Provo.  I knew Melissa from the music ed program at BYU.  Kate and I met our freshman year at BYU and we both met Tessa when we lived in Hampton court a few years later.  Destiny brought us all together for that blissful year!

When I lived in Millrace, I met someone who lived across the street who became one of my closest friends and confidants. His name is Daniel Sowards.  We take an annual trip to Park City to get a picture with the bear (and to celebrate birthdays!).  Whenever my heart is breaking over the difficulties life brings, Daniel always knows what to say.  I can call him, bawl for ten minutes, and then feel better.

When I entered the Music Ed program at BYU, these three ladies started at the same time. We became fast friends in Women's Chorus and enjoyed our friendship immensely as we worked to earn our degrees together. We even had a little notebook of funny stories we passed around between classes.  It was a blast! Right before my mission in 2005, we put on a recital together.  We sang "For Good" together at the end.  It was a wonderful experience. I left on my mission and the three of them graduated while I was gone.  When I came back, I did my pre-student teaching with Emily at Dixon Middle School.  When she had her first daughter and decided to be a stay-at-home mom, I was hired at Dixon.  I love and admire these women endlessly!

 When I was 6, Shilo came to live with my family for a summer as a nanny.  We became bosom friends! She was 18 years old and we were kindred spirits.  Even now, every time we get together, it's like there has been no passage of time.  We even served in the exact same mission in Brazil.  I've always looked up to her- I don't even know if she realizes how much! It was so wonderful to catch up with her and her sweet family.

When Tessa moved to Wyoming, Kate got married, and Melissa moved to Washington to get her master's degree, I stayed at Millrace and had the opportunity to party with these dear roommates!  I knew Sylvia from my mission and Krista and Kelsey were in the ward.  We had so much fun together. I miss those days! Sylvia was in town from Texas and we magically found a time to meet for dinner on just a couple days' notice.  I love being in their presence!

My first two years at Highland, Phaidra was the drama teacher. She is a kind, generous friend and she helped teach me the ropes at Highland!  I miss her now that we work at different schools. We met up this summer to see a former star of our HHS musicals in Twelfth Night at the U. She was playing a leading role as Viola and did an amazing job! Wish I could see Phaid more often.  Coincidentally, she is now the drama teacher at the school where Melissa teaches choir!

Dear Angela started teaching band and orchestra at HHS the same year I started teaching choir there. Even though we began together, I always looked to her as a mentor. She had lots of teaching experience and was extremely responsible. When she moved to Ohio, I realized I was going to have to learn how to function without her organizational skills! I leaned on her heavily the three years we worked together.  We also became great friends and I miss seeing her every day.  She and her husband were back in town celebrating their 4 year wedding anniversary in Park City where they were married.  We had a lovely lunch!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Short Story

The Maiden Flowers
By Katie Houston

Once upon a time, a little girl named Julia resided in a cottage with her family on the outskirts of a town that was part of a beautiful kingdom. The king and queen of the land were genuine, loving leaders.
Each year, the palace had a grand celebration honoring the calendar changing to a new year. It was called “The New Beginning.” Thousands of townspeople gathered outside the palace for the event.  The royal family selected one privileged young lady from each town in the kingdom to represent her village at the ceremony.  The chosen girl recited a speech about the blessings received during the passing year and offered one wish on behalf of her town for the New Year.  The New Beginning ceremony was the most anticipated event of the year and was treated with reverence and honor.  Countless hours were spent adorning the palace grounds with flowers of every color and variety that were picked from the famous royal gardens.    
In addition to the honor of presenting before the entire kingdom, the king and queen permitted the chosen young lady from each town to enter the gardens of the palace once a year and pick flowers for the table of her home.  The flowers from the royal gardens were rumored to bring a spirit of peace and contentment into the home of whomever possessed them.  No woman in the kingdom desired any greater gift than this. 
From the time she was a very small child, Julia dreamed of being chosen to represent her town in the prestigious ceremony.  As her childhood progressed, she and her friends spent many evenings imagining what it would be like. They sketched designs for fancy ball gowns they would wear for the occasion. They debated where in their homes they would place their first bouquet of flowers from the gardens of the palace.  They giggled as they practiced bowing and curtsying in all different manners for hours on end. 
One by one, starting at the age of ten years old, many of Julia’s friends were selected to represent their town in the New Beginning ceremony.  Every year, she noticed an increasing number of beautiful flower arrangements on the hearths and dining tables of her dearest friends.  At each ceremony, Julia happily watched her friends fulfill their shared dream; however, her heart tugged silently with longing for her chance.  But she did not lose hope.  She knew she was up to the task and her turn would come.  As the years passed, Julia practiced writing speeches and delivering them in front of her looking glass. She sought mentors to teach her grace and poise. She learned to weave intricate braids in her hair, which she painstakingly did every New Beginning ceremony, hoping to earn notice of the royal family.  She focused all her efforts on becoming worthy to complete the task of delivering the speech on behalf of her town.  But as each year came and went, Julia began to wonder if this job was really meant for her. 
After a time, Julia was determined not to dwell on the wave of disappointment that came when a new year began and she was not selected.  She began traveling from city to city, tutoring young children in reading and writing.  Though she still longed for a turn to represent her city at the annual celebration, she found purpose in looking outside herself.  She spent less time anticipating the ceremony every year and more time generating ideas to help the children she taught.  She hardly noticed any longer the changing of one year to the next.  There were no royal flowers adorning her table; yet, she felt contentment and peace in her home. 
Alas, there were many girls in the town and not enough New Beginning ceremonies before Julia’s youth ran out and the window of time to represent her town gently closed.  The leadership of the kingdom was eventually passed from the king and queen of her childhood to their son and his bride.  As the years passed, Julia grew to be an old woman with a rich and fulfilling life.  Though she was happy, she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of regret each time she saw a bouquet of palace flowers in someone else’s home.  Despite her own contentment, she couldn’t help but wonder if her life could have amounted to something greater.
One day in late winter, there was a knock at the door.  A palace messenger delivered a letter requesting her presence before the king and queen.  Nervously, she embarked on the two-day trip to the palace, with questions lingering in her mind the entire journey.  Upon her arrival, Julia was immediately brought to an ornate hall trimmed with sapphires and emeralds.  Never before had Julia seen anything so lovely. At the end of the hall sat the king and queen of the land.  “Your majesties,” Julia said, as she carefully lowered her old, aching body to the ground.  To her surprise, she found herself enveloped in the hug of the queen who had risen from her throne and knelt beside the older woman.  “Julia, how long we have waited to meet you!” the queen cried.  “Me?” Julia replied incredulously.  “How do you know who I am?”
The king then spoke. “My parents often spoke of you and your contributions to our humble kingdom.” Julia was aghast.  “I did not think they knew who I was,” she replied.  “I was never chosen to represent the kingdom at the New Beginning celebration, nor have I performed any act of heroism to garner their attention.”  The king offered Julia a chair as he and the queen returned to their thrones.  “Julia,” he asked, looking in to her eyes, “Do you know the process by which the royal family selects the young woman each year to lead the New Beginning ceremony on behalf of her village?”  Julia paused for a moment before answering. “I always assumed the honor must go to the fairest, most poised and elegant young lady from each town.”
The queen then spoke.  “My dear Julia! Beauty, grace, and poise are certainly admired when presenting a speech before thousands, but they do not determine if someone is worthy for the task.  Allow me to explain the process of selection.
“When a young lady is born in the kingdom, her first teardrop is preserved and used to water a seed that is planted in her honor. The seed grows as the child does.  The plant is unique from all others because of the teardrop that waters it in its infancy. When the plant is full of flowers and ready to be picked, the young lady for whom it was planted is chosen to represent her town in the ceremony. Though all the flowers are carefully tended, they do not all grow at the same rate.”
“Julia,” said the king, continuing where his wife left off, “I took a particular interest in your plant many years ago as a child.  The stems were a deep shade of green that caught my attention one day while playing in the gardens.  Every day, I would come check on your little plant.  A couple times, little pink buds appeared, and it seemed as though your turn to deliver a speech at the New Beginning ceremony was fast approaching.  I would bring my mother and father to the gardens and excitedly show them the progress.  But then, shortly before selection, a storm would come and tear the buds from the stem.  I mourned the loss of the tiny buds and worried about the resilience of your little plant.  Miraculously, however, the buds reappeared brighter in color after each storm, eventually becoming a deep, magnificent red.  The stems grew thicker, making the plant more sturdy and capable of weathering the storms that came.”
“During the time the king and I began to court,” continued the queen, ”We took take daily strolls in the garden and observed the progress of the plants.  Together, we noticed something interesting about yours.
“The roots began to nourish the ground surrounding it.  The other plants drew strength from its roots and grew faster and fuller.  Plants that once struggled to bloom flourished.  By the time your plant was full of flowers, it was serving an important purpose.  We did not wish for it to be harvested just yet.”
The king rose and took Julia’s hands in his, prompting her to stand.  “Julia, the time has now come.  Your plant has fed those around it and given them strength to thrive on their own.  It is now ready to be picked.  We wish for you to represent not only your town, but our entire kingdom by giving the opening address in this year’s New Beginning ceremony.”  Julia sank down in her chair and shook her head sadly. “But I am too old now, your highness.  My voice is no longer strong and I cannot stand as tall as I once could.  I am not fit for such a royal honor. I will surely trip and fall or stumble over my words.” As Julia looked down at her weathered hands and began to cry silently, the queen left the room.  She returned shortly with a vase full of magnificent red flowers. “Here are flowers grown from the seed that was watered with your tear so many years ago. Take the flowers and place them in your hair on the day of the ceremony.  You will draw strength from their petals. They will sustain you and enable you to complete the task before you.” 
Julia could not speak.  She carefully took the vase extended toward her and slowly bowed before the king and queen.  Her knees felt strong beneath her as the rose again.
After many years of waiting, hoping, learning, and growing, the day of Julia’s New Beginning ceremony arrived.  She was dressed in an exquisite cream-colored gown decorated with pearls and a crown of deep red flowers fit snuggly atop her graying hair.  Julia felt courage emanating through her body, just as the queen promised.  She looked over the crowd from the balcony of the great palace hall and calmly began delivering her speech about the many blessings bestowed upon the land during the past year. When it came time to beseech the king and queen for one thing on behalf of the kingdom, Julia’s eyes panned the crowd before her.  “My wish,” she began, “is that every individual in our kingdom will trust in the timing of the harvest.  Though raging storms will come that appear to banish hope, we must remember that the ground, firm and steady, will yield fruit in time.” She reached for the crown on her head and tossed it out in to the crowd.  The wreath fell at the feet of a surprised young girl, no more than twelve years of age.  The young maiden picked it up and, grasping it in her hands, looked up towards the old woman standing on the balcony with wonder in her eyes.  “Someday,” she thought to herself, “that will be me.”