Category Archives: Up Close

An Inner-Height Love Story

Michelle Larson is:  wife, mom to 5, future adopted mom to a child from Ethiopia (waiting for referral), director of a non-profit called Grow.Learn.Give., sister of twenty-six (counting in-laws), daughter to four, teacher of lots of church kids, runner- skier- dancer- writer for herself, health teacher to anyone that will listen, chaeuffer and slave to five little piggies. ….all rolled up into 72 inches.

“I met the greatest guy at the ward service project today….too bad he’s short.” That’s how my love story began circa fall 1992. However, my roommate was the one who said it; she shares not only my Amazon-woman stature, but also my first name. We were the “Shellies,” one with one l-y and the other with two ll-ies. We went through many a date-less weekend together while our smaller-statured, less intimidating (so they say), more dateable roommates painted the Provo town red. Yes, we were tall, loud, opinionated, older (?), busy, and getting masters degrees. I can see why we could scare some folks. Continue reading

Unexpected Adventures

Today’s UP CLOSE post is from the trips and travels of Ellen Patton of Lexington, Mass. Late-night baking, antiquing and exploring New England are some of her loves.  She believes strongly in writing letters and mailing them with real stamps, spending time with friends, and enjoys photography. She adores her loft condo with 18 foot ceilings in a converted high school. During the day she works as an assistant to the President of MIT, and has word processing, photocard, and photography businesses on the side. Ellen has 3 brothers, 11 nieces and nephews, and a bus fleet of friends. She currently serves as RSP in the Arlington Ward. She is a daily blogger at
I had hoped, but never thought I’d be one of those people who traveled to exciting places in the world.  I grew up in Los Angeles, traveled the west coast and saw most of what there was to see in California.  I’ve been to all but seven states (driving from California to Boston added some in “the middle” that I probably never would have visited otherwise).  My mom took us to Mexico when we were kids and I went to Canada as a chaperone on a youth Temple trip.

I lucked out with two business trips to Europe while working for a start-up software company.  I had been responsible for running the office (making copies, phone calls, power point slides, etc.) in a window-less hotel room in Boston twice a year for our member meetings.  Then they asked me if I wanted to run the office–in Munich!  Two years later they asked about Brussels!  Both trips lasted two weeks with four days of work and exploring with coworkers and on my own.  I wasn’t sure I was ever going to get to Europe again so I took advantage and saw as much as I could.  From the Sound of Music tour to Neuschwanstein Castle, Hallstatt, Austria, driving on the autobahn, seeing Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower, buying lace in Bruges, riding trains, visiting friends in St. Die, France, seeing the Mona Lisa, eating croissants and wiener schnitzel, drinking soda from a beer mug at the Hofbrauhaus and visiting Olympic villages—both trips were great adventures!

In 1999 my friend Jennifer called and asked if I had always wanted to go to China.  In my dreams. Continue reading

Revisiting First Impressions

Rosalyn Collings Eves is our UP CLOSE Trips and Travels guest author today.  She enjoys traveling, although she hasn’t been able to do nearly as much of this since becoming a mother to two young children: a four-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl. When not trying to plan and execute child-friendly trips, she plays with her children, teaches the occasional composition class, reads, and writes (not as much as she would like).

I was twenty the first time I went to Europe. It seemed like the height of adventure at the time, navigating different railroad stations with my handy Eurail pass, a single, large, unwieldy backpack on my back. And I was in Europe, a land drenched with history, with old castles rising unexpectedly from hillsides as we sped past on the train, and uneven cobblestone streets branching off of paved modern roads as we walked through towns.
I was traveling with an acquaintance of mine, a slim, pretty blond girl who got whistled at constantly when we were in Italy. I say “acquaintance,” because I didn’t know her well when we started: we were coming off of a semester abroad in London where we had been friendly but not exactly friends, and our mothers, fearful of the potential fates awaiting single female travelers, had arranged our airfare together.

At first it was almost idyllic as we made our way through Germany, Bavaria, and Switzerland. And then we went to Budapest. The name itself conjured pure romance for me, although I knew little about the country other than it had been the last bastion to stand between the ravaging Turkish armies and the rest of Europe, and that Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady was thought to be a Hungarian princess because of her impeccable English. Our arrival wasn’t entirely auspicious: we arrived late in the day and were directed to a nearby hostel. We decided later that our guide must have had some kind of financial arrangement with the hostel, because it was so dirty. (We were too scared of the grime to even risk the showers.) At the time, though, that just seemed to be part of the adventure.

I was alone when I set out on my exploration of Budapest; Kirsten had a different agenda for that day. I stopped in a local grocery store to buy a yogurt and some bread. After eating, I brushed the crumbs off my lap and set off across one of the many squares that dotted the city. I held my map in my hands (an obvious tourist, I’m sure), the map itself creased and uneven, the edges beginning to stick slightly to my palms under the warm spring sun.
I felt, rather than saw, the shadow in front of me; I looked up to see a stranger looming before me scant seconds before he whacked me in the head with the flat of his hand. He hit me hard enough that I stopped, suddenly, forcing the stream of foot traffic to part around me. I’m still not sure why he hit me, if I was in his way or he was just feeling particularly grouchy about tourists that day. I do know that I was left feeling off-balance, shaky and suddenly unsure of my place.
I decided to abandon my exploration of the city itself and headed across one of the suspension bridges that cross the Danube (called the Duna in Hungary) at even intervals. I was heading toward higher ground, toward Gellért Hill (named, I found later, for an early Christian martyr who was put in a barrel and rolled down the hill into the Duna). The figure of a woman upholding a palm frond beckoned enticingly from the base of the hill; ironically enough, she figures prominently in a monument to the Soviet “liberation” of Hungary from the rule of Nazi Germany. (Anyone who knows any Hungarian families who fled Hungary in the 1950s under Soviet rule understands the irony here.)

The initial climb was refreshing; the trail was crisscrossed by the cool, green shadows of a heavily wooded area. Ahead of me I could see a young couple, a few paces behind me a young family. It was only after I’d been climbing for several minutes that I realized that the couple had outpaced me and I had outpaced the family. The only person within eyesight (or earshot) was a young man in his mid-twenties. The only thing I really remember about him was that he had dark hair.

“Excuse me?” He called to me.
Surprised to hear English, I stopped and turned to him. I heard the rustle of the wind in the trees and realized, my heart suddenly beating faster, that we were alone on the trail.
I don’t remember exactly what he said; I do remember that he offered to show me a part of his anatomy that I had no desire to see. I said (with what seems in retrospect a ridiculous politeness) “No. Thank you.” I put my head down and walked as fast as I could (without actually running) and prayed that he wouldn’t follow me.
He didn’t, thankfully. And serendipitously I found my friend Kirsten at the top of the hill, having decided separately to make the same pilgrimage. I was overjoyed to see her; I may have even cried a little. I’m sure she was surprised by both reactions.
That night, I wrote in my journal. I thought of the two unfriendly encounters, my futile attempts to order stamps at the post-office or to navigate the metro system (although everywhere else I’d managed just fine), and I wrote, “I don’t understand the language, I don’t understand the culture, I don’t understand the people. This is the first city in Europe where I really feel like an outsider.”
Flash forward five months. I’m sitting at my parents’ kitchen table, surrounded by my friends and family. In my hands, I hold a largish envelope with my mission papers. I rip the paper open, scan quickly until I find the important words. “You are hereby called to serve in the Hungary Budapest Mission . . .”
I thought back on my negative experience in Hungary and I felt a little afraid. But I went anyway.
And you know what? I learned to understand (and speak!) the language (which, by the way, is supposed to be the third hardest language for English speakers to learn, after Finnish and Chinese). I learned that the people were not actually that unfriendly (or that lewd)—that they were, in fact, some of the most generous people I’ve ever known. I fell in love with the country, with the seas of sunflowers stretching for yellow miles, with the intoxicating smell of linden trees in the summer. (Every summer, when the linden trees blossom in late June and early July, I’m transported back.) And that woman holding a peace offering atop the “Statue of Liberty”? The missionaries called her the Pizza Lady.
Are there places that (like some people) you found you misjudged on initial acquaintance? How did those places improve with additional exposure? Did you learn anything new about yourself through your changing association with that place?

Travels in the Islamic World

Today’s UP CLOSE trips and travels post comes from Melanie, who  lives and works in the Washington, DC area.  She loves planning trips almost as much as she loves taking them, and sometimes she has trouble remembering where she’s actually been and where she’s just dreamed of going. Most recently her travels took her to Egypt and Turkey.  Next she hopes to visit Niagara Falls, Peru, and Puerto Rico.  She publishes her random thoughts and ideas at

Allah u Akbar, Allah u Akbar

Ash-hadu al-la Ilaha ill Allah – Ash-hadu al-la Ilaha ill Allah

Allah is Great, Allah is Great

I bear witness that there is no divinity but Allah

 I experienced my first call to prayer in surround sound. The song burst forth from one mosque and then bounced and echoed from tower to tower in Cairo, the city of a thousand minarets.

 This summer several of my friends traveled to Jerusalem. I, on the other hand, used my hard-earned savings to visit the Muslim world–Egypt and Turkey, to be exact. I fell in love with Islamic art as a humanities major at BYU, and ever since I have longed to see the Shah (Imam) Mosque in Iran . . .or perhaps the more accessible mosques of countries a bit more friendly to Americans. Continue reading

A Moment of Clarity

Heather Olson Beal is guest posting for this week’s UP CLOSE – MAKING MARRIAGE WORK piece.  She is a mom of three kids who sometimes drive her nuts despite being genuinely great.  She lives in deep east Texas and is happy to finally be a professor and no longer a student!  She has a BA in Spanish from BYU, an MA in Spanish from Texas A & M University, and a Ph.D. in education from LSU.  Heather doesn’t cook, bake, sew, can, store, crochet, knit, quilt, garden, stamp or decoupage and doesn’t feel an ounce of guilt about it.

According to the muses at Segullah, marriage is “not all movie moments walking hand-in-hand along the beach to a beautiful sunset.” Their invitation for June guest posts even suggests that marriage is “less about romance and more about work and commitment.”  I’m not a blogger, and I’m not really even a writer, but this invitation spoke to me. You see, my husband and I haven’t been doing a whole lotta hand holding or walking on beaches. We’ve had less romance than usual, had lots of “discussions,” and we’ve done lots of work these last couple years. We seem to have had more than our fair share of crummy days, months–heck, even crummy quarters! So what’s our story? How are we sticking it out? Why are we sticking it out? Continue reading