18 February 2014

Humble Pride

Today I feel like Ammon at the end of his 14 year mission among the Lamanites. I find myself feeling this way a lot recently.
"And now, I ask, what great blessings has he bestowed upon us? Can ye tell? Behold, I answer for you..." (Alma 26:2-3)
An opportunity to apply for a full scholarship to an intensive summer school program arose in my department at the University... they announced that they could sponsor one PhD student and one Masters student, and all who were interested were invited to apply. By the end there were 11 people from my program all competing for the one scholarship. I was hesitant to apply for several reasons, but ultimately my mother convinced I should. At about midnight on Sunday night. So I looked at the email again giving the brief instructions, and I realized the application was due at 9am Monday (yesterday)... as in I had 8 hours to do it. So I worked on my essay for about 30 minutes and sent it off at about 2am. This afternoon, I received an email telling me that I was chosen as the full scholarship recipient. I had to read the email about 3-4 times before it actually sunk in. I'm so flabbergasted I don't even know what to do with myself.

Did I mention that the program is at the University of Antwerp? As in BELGIUM! So I'll be going to Belgium for the first 2 weeks of June... and then the week after I'll probably be leaving on my summer fieldwork for my dissertation, which I'm currently planning to do in Kenya.

I really don't even recognize my life right now. It is unbelievable. Who am I?

I asked the BFF that when I gave her the news this afternoon. Her response: "You are freaking Dana RenĂ© Blackburn, and you are literally living the dream." She's right. I am living the dream. My dream. God keeps pouring out these miracles and tender mercies in my life, and I have yet to really comprehend why that is. But for now I'm too busy basking in overwhelming love, gratitude, and joy for my Heavenly Father.
"I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.
"Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel. 
"Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go... and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success.
 "Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name.
"Now if this is boasting, even so will I boast; for this is my life and my light, my joy and my salvation, and my redemption from everlasting wo.... yea, I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land.
 "Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea... and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth. Now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. Amen." 
(Alma 26:12-13, 16, 27, 35-37)

Amen, Ammon. AMEN.

I love love.


It's a beautiful thing.

It's one of the main reasons why Valentine's Day is my favorite holiday. Another reason is because growing up my mom always made a big deal out of it. A typical Valentine's Day growing up would go something like this:

  • My mom's specialty hot breakfast: heart-shaped pancakes with berries and cool whip and/or chocolate chips, eggs, hash browns, bacon, toast, hot chocolate... the WORKS. 
  • A Valentine present on each of our seats... mine was normally a pair of V-day socks. Yes... I now own a plethora of V-day socks. 
  • An envelope full of candy and some money (about $5 usually) from my grandmother, who lived with us.
  • Delicious packed lunches complete with our favorite candy or homemade goodies. Of course our sandwiches would be heart-shaped. And they ALWAYS included a love note from my mom.
  • Homemade goodies (normally chocolate chip cookies or something like that) waiting for us when we got home from school as a snack to tie us over til dinner.
  • A fancy dinner which we ate in the dining room (the only other time we ate in there was on Thanksgiving, so you KNEW it was a big deal. haha)... sometimes steak or roast or something a bit fancier than what we usually had.
  • Delicious desserts... normally something chocolatey and something fruity.
  • Raspberries. I remember lots of raspberries on Valentine's Day, which we didn't have very often bc they're so expensive. I love raspberries. For this fact alone, Valentine's Day was bound to be my favorite.
It's pretty obvious now why Valentine's Day would be my favorite holiday, right?

Well, I always initiate new roommates into celebrating Valentine's Day 'Blackburn style' as it were. Sarah and Chloe were the lucky participants this year. They loved it, obviously.

We made homemade pizza for dinner... DELISH. Even managed to make one heart-shaped.

Sarah concentrating on perfectly placing the toppings.

After devouring our dinner we proceeded to play Valentine Scrabble, meaning that all the words had to somehow relate to Valentine's Day or love in someway... it was hard. But so fun! And I FINALLY won a game of scrabble. haha Not that you'd know that by my latest attempt...

The final board shot

We finished off the night by watching Some Like It Hot, which is an old black and white Marilyn Monroe movie. Hilarious! I love old movies, and this one is in my top 10, so I was glad to introduce the girls to it.

After the movie I gave the girls their Valentines which I'd gotten on my trip: scarves (obviously pink) and chocolate, along with funny V-day cards.

Friday morning I woke up and found that my food cupboard had been heart attacked by Sarah, with a few puns thrown in for added pleasure. Friday evening Chloe gave me a cute jar full of crafty notes that she'd made of things she loves about me, or memories we've made together.

It really was a delightful celebration of love, and I was happy that they got into it with me. Because, really,
What's not to love about love?

Family History Trip: Day 3 Cromford

I had to leave Cromford the next morning because I had a class to get back for that afternoon. It was another gorgeous day and it was SO HARD to leave. I just wanted to spend the whole day exploring, especially since I didn't get to see much of Matlock the day before. But I took a leisurely stroll around some of the castle grounds and enjoyed the sunshine before walking to the train station. I really am going back as soon as I can.

Willersley Castle, where I stayed

Family History Trip: Day 2 Matlock

The second day of my trip I took the train a couple miles north to Matlock. I think Heavenly Father knew I would spend the ENTIRE day in the records office, so He didn't really bother about the weather. It was cold and rainy and incredibly windy... so business as usual really.

From about 9:30-16:00 I squinted over microfiches going through the original records of the area from the 17th and 18th centuries. I really loved it, but it was definitely painstaking at times. One of the employees printed out lists of Waltons during the time period, and between that and the information I found in the records I've almost completely pieced together another 5 generations back in the family line! There is still some confusion on which woman was the step-mother and which woman was the wife, since this man and his father both had the same name and both couples married within 3 years of each other. Helpful. You'd think they could specify in the records, but no. I have a gut feeling I know which woman married which man, but I need records to verify. So next time I go up I'll look through land records, wills, copyholds, etc. and hopefully be able to find SOMETHING more specific. These are the mysteries and puzzles that make family history so exciting, and also make it a lot of work. So worth it, though!

The funniest part of the day was when an older couple sat down next to me and asked if I was Mormon... I think what they really meant was "You are the youngest one in here by several decades, and there is only one explanation for why someone your age would be working on Family History... must be Mormon." haha We had a nice little chat though, and they told me where to stop for dinner before heading back to Cromford.

Because it was getting dark by the time I left, I wasn't able to see St. Giles parish church or the cemetery there, so I don't really have any pictures from Matlock this time around. Though I did take a couple pictures of the train stations... so that'll have to suffice for now.

Cromford Train station... so charming.

17 February 2014

Family History Trip: Day 1 Wirksworth

*If you only want to see the pictures, scroll down to the bottom you lazy bums. There are plenty of them, just for you.*

I'm obsessed. With Family History. But to be fair, the Spirit of Elijah is a bit addicting, so I don't think it's entirely my fault. Whatever it is though, I've had it on my bucket list for years to visit some of my family history sites, especially those here in the UK. And since January I've been feeling the push to start making it more of a priority. Since basically everything in my life is currently a priority, I wasn't sure how to do this.

However with the start of the new term came the start of new institute classes. The second hour classes didn't really interest me, though, so I worked it out that I would do family history at the church for that hour while everyone else was in institute. That way I would have a set time every week to work on it, I wouldn't feel like institute is a complete waste of my time, and I would still be able to socialize with the YSA during the week. PERFECT.

This term it so happens that I don't have classes on Tuesday and most Wednesdays, but that's really my only break during the week since all of my weekends are now booked through mid-April. Well the Spirit made me feel like I really couldn't wait that long to start going on these research trips. Now I know it's because there are several people waiting up there for me to search through the records, find them, and help get their Temple work done. I don't know who is the driving force behind the urgency I feel about this, but I know at least one person has been anxiously waiting for hundreds of years and they are tired of waiting.

After checking around I found that a short research trip up to the Peak District was actually affordable for my tight student budget, so I booked it. The Peak District, where several generations of my mother's family comes from, is in central England, just about 60 miles north of where I live, so it wasn't too difficult to get there. The cheapest place I could find to stay in the area happened to be the Willersley Castle in Cromford. It might be the most charming place I've ever stayed. 

I was worried about the weather, since it was surprised to be miserable the entire time I was there. But God loves me, and He works miracles on behalf of those who do family history, and boy did He really go all out for me. It didn't just stop raining and snowing. The skies cleared and I had the most glorious day I've experienced in a long time.

I took advantage of the amazing tender mercy and explored Cromford and Wirksworth until it got dark. I fell in love with the area at first sight. It just felt so much like home. It reminded me so much of Pennsylvania where I grew up, so maybe that's why it felt like My Place. Or perhaps it was my ancestors helping me feel the love that they have for the area, and they helped me feel that Their Place was also part of me. I really can't explain why I fell so in love, but I am completely charmed and can't wait to go back!

I told a friend that I was in at least 7 different kinds of heaven that day. He didn't really get it, but here's what I meant by that:
  1. 'I'm finally out of Birmingham' Heaven! (Not that I don't love it, but a girl needs a break every now and then. And I definitely needed one now.)
  2. 'I'm fulfilling a lifelong dream!' Heaven
  3. 'The sun is finally shining, and I'm convinced it's especially for me!' Heaven
  4. 'I'm doing Family History work!' Heaven
  5. 'I'm in adventure/exploration' Heaven
  6. 'I feel so loved by my Heavenly Father!' Heaven
  7. 'I'm staying in a castle!' Heaven
I want to remember these feelings and tender mercies forever, and this is really the only way I document my experiences these days. But here are all the photos you've been waiting for.
River Derwent
Cromford Canal

Since Heavenly Father had so generously turned it into the PERFECT DAY for me, I decided to walk the 2 miles to Wirksworth. Of course I didn't realize that it was almost entirely up a hill of 12% grade... but it was still a delightful journey. Plus I got some great pics along the way.

Girl, your future's so bright you need shades.
A memorial to soldiers of the World Wars, but I thought it was a fitting motto for my trip: They died that we might live.

Eventually I reached the summit and finally got to walk DOWNhill for a bit.

While I was walking I came across this old cemetery that I originally had just assumed was the cemetery I'd been looking for. I really love cemeteries. Quirky I know, and I can't explain why. I guess I just love reading the inscriptions and the different ways people choose to mark the lives of those they love. Maybe because it makes the Spirit World feel more tangible, or helps me feel closer to my father. Or maybe it is just the appreciation for the perfect Plan of Happiness that is for ALL of God's children, whether they knew it here or not. Whatever it is, I love exploring cemeteries. And even more so when I have names to look for.

So look I did. But after about an hour the thought came to mind that I wasn't in the right cemetery at all. haha Whoops. No matter. I got some beautiful pictures regardless.

"And if Christ had not risen from the dead, or have broken the bands of death that the grave should have no victory, and that death should have no sting, there could have been no resurrection...."
"... But there IS a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ."
-Mosiah 16:7-8

Well, after a bit more exploration of Wirksworth, I finally found what I'd been looking for: St. Mary's Parish church, the original church for the town, with sections of it dating back to the 12th Century. It is beautiful! Absolutely magnificent, really.

Finally found a readable headstone of an ancestor, though she wasn't in our direct line. Doesn't matter. I was thrilled!!!
Told ya it is magnificent!

Another headstone for an ancestor, but it is almost entirely unreadable except for a couple names: Mary, Hannah, and William Wall. Hannah and William Wall are direct ancestors, though their daughter Mary is not.
I really wanted to get closer to read as much as I could, but it was fenced off. And I'm short. Not a good combo. :/
Happy to know that she is buried in such a picturesque and peaceful place.

The way the sun was hitting the stones made them look all different colors. So lovely.

I didn't get to spend much time exploring the inside of the church, so that's on my list for next time. I didn't want to be walking back in the dark, so I decided to head back to Cromford. Luckily I got back just in time, because within about 20 minutes of being back another storm blew in and it rained all night. See! I KNEW the weather was just for me!

Riber Castle on the hill that separates Cromford from Matlock to the north. I hear they are in the process of turning it into luxury apartments... Maybe one day I'll have the time to hike to the top. I bet the view is incredible!
You can see Willersley Castle, where I stayed,  in the lower center of the photo (between the roofs and the trees), with Riber Castle above it.