Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Creating a Sacred Space

Years ago, when I was in the presidency of our children's organization at church, I was assigned to make a decoration for the bulletin board at the front of the room. These bulletin boards are designed to help the children focus on a theme for the year, with words and pictures to beautify and liven up the room, and give the children something attractive to look at when their little minds start to wander.

Well, as a graphic designer and a fine artist, the very idea of a bulletin board kind of makes my skin crawl. I don't want to spend my time cutting out construction paper letters or corrugated cardboard scalloped borders when I can do that in a fraction of the time on my computer. More important, I don't want to create something busy and cluttered when there is real peace to be found.

I decided to create something truly beautiful for the room that would engender reverence--not by distracting the children with dozens of words and photos but by creating a painting of a beautiful, peaceful place--the sacred grove. I recruited a talented young friend, Katie Hamblin (now Kate Baxter), and we made a plan.

I bought big tubes of acrylic paint. I assembled photos and sketches, and then bought a piece of canvas big enough to cover the entire bulletin board. Katie and I rolled it out on my kitchen floor and made our initial drawing. But there were kids and a dog running through the kitchen, so we ultimately decided the best place to do the actual painting was in the cultural hall at the church.

So we schlepped everything over to the church the next time we arranged to work. We got the canvas rolled out and taped down, all the paints arranged and got to work, happily talking and painting. All of a sudden we heard the most horrific noises. Rattling in the rafters. Pounding on the roof. Shaking. We paused, hoping it would stop. But it didn't. Terrified, we grabbed everything and ran out of the building, expecting to see dark storm clouds and thunder and lightning. Instead, outside it was completely still. We looked for repairmen on the roof. Nothing. After we stopped to catch our breath we realized what forces were at work. It was very clear the adversary did not want this painting to happen.

Metaphorically, we had experienced the same kind of resistance Joseph Smith initially encountered when he went into the woods to pray. The next time we went to work at the church we said a prayer before we started. (I don't know why we didn't think of that before!) We were able to finish our mural to cover the bulletin board in peace. And the primary children had something beautiful in the room to remind them that you can pray to heavenly Father anytime, anywhere, and he will hear you.

That was over ten years ago. The painting we created is still in the room, with the canvas stretched on  framing boards and hung on the south wall.

Since then I have both encountered and created many sacred spaces. Places so beautiful it takes your breath away. Places so peaceful it could only come from God. Places where God has spoken directly to me. They are as banal as the chenille blanket on the bed where I knelt as a child. As grand as Capitol Reef National Park, where twice I've spent a week teaching students how to paint. As quiet as a trail alongside a stream where I walked in the early morning with a friend. As illuminating as the light streaming through a leaded-glass window in an otherwise dark parish church.

My question to you now is this: Where are your sacred spaces? Where have you gone to talk to God? Where has God answered your cries?  Where do you feel a divine presence? Respond with a comment, a story, a picture, anything to represent your sacred space.

Monday, February 3, 2020

A Visit from Mary Penopause

At first she was a total stranger.  So why was I flying into bouts of rage whenever she was around? Suddenly everything was wrong, everyone was annoying. Who was putting me constantly on edge? It had to be Mary Penopause.

My husband asked how long this nightmare could go on. When I answered "ten years," his look surpassed dismay and bordered on despair. That’s way too long for any houseguest to stay, let alone one who leaves such misery and turmoil in her wake!

For one thing, she was a kleptomaniac—tip-toeing around the house, taking my things. Where was my phone? My glasses? The car keys? I had no idea. Later I’d find them stashed in illogical places. So she didn’t actually want my stuff, she was just messing with my mind?

And why was she erasing items from my calendar, my to-do-list, and my planner? It didn't matter how many times someone reminded me of a task or an event, this phantom menace deleted it from my brain. What kind of sick pleasure did she gain from watching me struggle to keep all the balls in the air, dropping them with increasing frequency? She wasn’t just a klepto; she was a sociopath.

She started following me around, playing her little mind games. I’d run into friends I hadn’t seen for awhile, and suddenly my evil companion would shout “LALALALALA!”  How could I possibly remember their names with all that racket going on in my head?

And she was so invasive! I’ll never forget that first night when I awoke, certain that someone was holding a space heater against my chest. I was burning up, frantically kicking off the covers, afraid I’d have to dial 911 and report a fire. Then I realized that my night clothes were dripping with sweat. The only thing burning up was me, thanks to Mary Penopause and her space heater. I wanted to wring her neck, but she was nowhere in sight. (Probably hiding just outside the door, still holding the heater and laughing.)

Soon, it wasn’t just at night that she taunted me. It was any time, any place, when she randomly cranked up the heat. What kind of sadist messes with the thermostat in someone else’s house? I’m burning up, while my husband complains it’s too cold.  It feels like 90 degrees to me, yet he’s pulling on a sweater. And then a parka. 

She also took control of my appetite, coercing me to eat vast amounts of sugar and chocolate, while adding equally vast inches to my waistline. My belly was expanding like a lump of bread dough set out to rise.

Because the number on the scale surged upward every morning, I finally set up a nanny cam in the bedroom to see if she was feeding me fats through an IV during the night. She must have army-crawled across the carpet to avoid detection, because the camera never picked anything up — but I know she was involved!

Mary Penopause was wearing me out! All this nonsense from her, and suddenly I was needing naps, slipping into a coma around 3 pm every day.  I was exhausted when I woke up in the morning and fatigued when I went to bed at night. When was this nonsense going to let up?

I did all the usual things to combat her sabotage tactics—eating better, ramping up my exercise, drinking half my weight in ounces of waterbut nothing worked the way it used to.

That's when I realized my intruder was making me crazy. Einstein's definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results." But Mary Penopause had the opposite effect. I was doing the same thing over and over, expecting the same results (like any normal person would), but she was giving me different results. Every time. Who could predict what would happen next? The rug was being pulled out from under my feet. By the worst visitor ever.

Once I realized she was at fault, it became quite convenient to blame her for all kinds of things. I thought this would make me feel better about myself. But that didn’t work. I didn't need a scapegoat. I needed solutions.

Things turned a corner when I discovered friends who were going through the same thing. Mary Penopause was wreaking havoc in their homes too. One friend had to get up and blow-dry her hair in the middle of the night after Mary Penopause drenched her, dumping a bucket of water over her head in bed! That made me feel better about my own space-heater scenario. Another friend got fired from her job at the local church because she was raging at their members. (Okay, and I almost got myself banned from a doctor’s office for launching missiles at the evil secretary!) Talking and laughing about the weight, the temperature, the brain fuzz and the rage helped a little. And sometimes a lot.

But at the end of the day, it didn’t matter how many of my friends she was visiting. I was stuck with her. —And for heaven knows how long. I decided there was nothing to do but embrace her. Make friends with her, no matter how troublesome and annoying she was. Be ready for whatever she throws at me next. Dress in removable layers and carry lots of water. Buy a cheap paper fan from a flea market and carry that too. Learn sanity-saving relaxation and breathing techniques.  Take naps. Spend half our monthly budget on nutritional supplements. And just say no when she chases me down with her cookies and cakes, urging me to eat not one, not two, but damn near all of them!

If I must have this infuriating guest for the foreseeable future, enough with being miserable! I have to trust these new coping mechanisms. Dare to be myself, despite her presence. Keep things in check, rather than check-mate. Find ways to reward my husband for putting up with her ridiculous antics.  And relish rare moments of Joy.

Yes, Joy. I thought she was on hiatus. But she still pops in every once in a while to remind me that even Mary Penopause can’t keep Joy away forever!

Many thanks to my friend (and UCLA writing instructor) Victoria Zackheim for helping me polish this essay. And kudos to my son Josh who worked magic on the illustration with his photoshop wizarding skills! And extra big thanks to my husband for putting up with me all these years! I love you!

Thursday, January 30, 2020

On Death, Memory, and Discovery

I just finished reading the most delightful book! The Likely Resolutions of Oliver Clock is written by Jane Riley, an Australian woman, and has quirky British humor throughout, even while dealing with things that could be considered morbid—and sometimes because of said morbidity. I read bits of it aloud to Jeff and we were laughing out loud together over the zany characters and descriptions. The main character is highly fastidious and leads a very regimented life. He runs the family funeral parlor and is obsessive about ironing his clothes, including his underwear. Practically an old man, although he’s only 39. Can he find himself and break free? I won’t give anything away, but this was one of those books I was sad to finish. I was so immersed in the story and in love with the characters I never wanted it to end.

Serendipitously, we watched a movie over the weekend that was a perfect match thematically. Both treated the topics of death and dying, relationships, and how we choose to keep and hold onto memories. Surprisingly, both also dealt with (slight spoiler alert) the discovery of being loved by someone who has already passed on.

The movie, called After Life, also dealt with the topic of death using a gentle sense of humor, and moments of sheer delight. It reminds me of how my friend Cari used to refer to the things that will become clear in the hereafter as, “the great DVD in the sky.” This movie has a similar take. A random group of people interview new intakes as they cross the threshold after death, and help them choose a favorite memory to capture on film before they move on to the next realm. 

The salient question is: If you could choose just one memory to hold onto forever, what would it be? Jeff and I asked each other this question after the movie ended. He talked about meeting me for the first time, pulling up to my missionary apartment in Burbank, and that first conversation we had, right there on the doorstep. I chose another favorite day, when we were dating. I found out he was back in town unexpectedly. He tracked me down at my grandma’s house, and I drove home to meet him. It’s the best story and totally makes me smile every time I think about it.Ironically, my second choice was the day my mom passed away. I literally felt the veil part, and experienced so much love and light and joy seep through, welcoming her on the other side. I’ll never forget the experience, which completely eclipsed my grief, and strengthened my faith in a higher power and the continuance of life beyond this mortal sphere.

I got an advance copy of The Likely Resolutions of Oliver Clock through Amazon Prime. The book’s official release (and when my audiobook will arrive, a little too late…haha) is February 2.

The movie was made back in 1998 but is still timely and relevant. It was directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, who also directed Like Father, Like Son and Shoplifters, two other great Japanese films.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Twelve (more) Gifts: #3 A MOVEABLE FEAST

I had been hosting the family for Thanksgiving in our California home ever since Mom got sick, and after she passed away it became a treasured and time-honored tradition. Our California Thanksgivings were wonderful -- besides all the delicious food (traditional fare with a gourmet twist) we had incorporated a whole weekend of annual activities -- going out to movies, spending an afternoon at the beach, shopping in the garment district in downtown Los Angeles, watching home movies, and even shopping in Tijuana! We lived for those Thanksgiving weekends!

But in the monumental year 2000, I delivered a beautiful but stillborn baby girl -- and I felt like a big part of me died with her.

Just a month later we were making plans for Thanksgiving. My heavy heart wondered if there was any way I could pull off dinner for fifteen, let alone the traditional outings and the day-trip to Mexico. My ever-sensitive younger sister somehow knew there was no way I could host a dinner (and multiple houseguests) that year. And she did something extraordinary.

She started researching restaurants in our area, and found a wonderful little spot in Montrose which offered Thanksgiving take-out in boxed dinners. She ordered a full meal for the five of us, and on Thanksgiving Day we picked up our boxes and drove to a shady little picnic area in Monrovia Canyon. We ate our delicious dinner al fresco, to an enchanting backdrop of breezes and birdsongs, then took a short hike along a lovely trail to a waterfall. It was pure heaven. And it in some ways felt more like a real Thanksgiving — or at least the original Thanksgiving — to be dining so simply outdoors.

That moveable feast is a gift of caring and  thoughtfulness I will never forget. I think of it every year with immense gratitude.

Monday, November 11, 2019

No Ordinary Flower

I remember discovering these lovely purple flowers for the first time. I think I was maybe four years old. The little pinkish-purple flowers were growing outside my grandma's kitchen door. I loved the color! I decided to pick a few and take them in to Grandma. She was ingenious at finding just the right vase for every flower-picking treasure. Imagining its perfume to be as lovely as its brilliant color, I got closer, and took a whiff. Peeyoo! What kind of flower is that?!? I was utterly shocked. Why do these flowers stink? Did God make them this way? I ran inside to ask my grandma.

She just laughed. "Those are chives!" she said. "I cut up the stems and sprinkle them on soups or deviled eggs. Take another whiff and imagine them adding extra flavor to something savory." I wasn't entirely convinced, but I took my grandma's word for it. Let's just say it was an acquired taste.

How many metaphorical chives are there in your life? --Things that appear to stink on the surface, until you find out they have a completely different purpose, nothing like your original mindset.

When I saw these lovely chive blossoms growing in the Herb Garden at Hampton Court, they instantly reminded me of my grandma, and I had to take a picture to paint from, to remember them.

Great news! This painting, Fresh Chives, laced with memories of my grandmother, on display in an upcoming show.  (Don't worry -- it's not scratch and sniff!) "Fresh Chives" is part of my latest series, 100 Days in Europe. #16/100 (84 to go!) I'm really excited about this show, called Small Treasures, opening this weekend. I have 24 small paintings in the show. Most are just 4x10 -- I love this new panoramic format! This is one of my most affordable series, ranging in price from $125 to $210, perfect for gift-giving, and a perfect size to tuck anywhere in your home or office and add some color and light.

Now, of course, I love chives. I cook with them all the time. In fact, they appear in my new cookbook (link at left), in the recipe for Hungarian Chicken and Dumplings, and in the recipe for Almond-Crusted Chicken and Nectarine Salad with Buttermilk-Chive dressing.

--My cookbook is on sale at Art Access too. (Because it's also an art book). Not local? Just give them a call. I'm sure they can work something out.

Art Access230 South 500 West, #125Salt Lake City, UT 84101  801-328-0703

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Holding the Sun Hostage

"Holding the Sun Hostage," original watercolor by Jana Winters Parkin, 10 x 14

It was a dark and stormy day. Our bus was held up on a narrow road in the middle of nowhere for 2.5 hours. A motorcyclist rider who was lying in the road after a collision, and no one could traverse the byway until an ambulance arrived. I made half a dozen sketches in my sketchbook while we waited. and waited. and waited. I was suddenly very grateful for healthcare in America, where waiting for an ambulance translates into minutes, not hours. The poor guy on the motorcycle literally could have passed away right there on the pavement. (Fortunately they arrived with a big enough ambulance to transport him to a hospital before that happened!)

Finally we made it to Stonehenge! —Or at least to the point where the buses drop you off, a mile and a half away from Stonehenge. We had been there as a family before. We have great photos of our kids stacked across our shoulders like posts and lintels, in imitation of the giant Stonehenge pillars, memories of our visit there 21 years ago. Yet I was still excited to go back.

When asked if we wanted to wait for a shuttle, or take the footpath to the circle of stones, that was a no-brainer for me! First of all, I'm completely enchanted by footpaths and love to pursue them, beckoned toward wherever they lead. Second, WE'D BEEN SITTING ON A STOPPED BUS FOR 2.5 HOURS! Surprisingly, I was the only one of our group who chose the footpath. 

So I set off on my own, following a light string of strangers down a soggy footpath, up a hill, then cresting across a meadow. Suddenly I desperately wished the rest of my family had come this way! The little  footpath opened alongside a field of rapeseed (the unfortunate British name for Canola), exploding with sunlight!

It was late April in England, and practically every piece of countryside we traversed was covered with these brilliant yellow flowers! Every time I saw them it would take my breath away! And today, on this lonely little footpath, they were all mine for this section of trail. There they were, holding the sun hostage, on a deserted field en route to Stonehenge.

Yes, I made it to the famed circle of prehistoric stones. And yes, I reunited with my family there, who hadn't arrived too far ahead of me. And of course, the rapeseed really was controlling the sun, because once we got to the stones the sky darkened completely. It dumped buckets of rain on us, heightening the sense of mystery surrounding the neolithic wonder! 

But my favorite image of the trip that day was my private showing of yellow rapeseed flowers, a burst of joy holding the sun in its grasp. 

*  *  *  *  *

This is #4 in a series of 100 watercolors based on our 100 days in Europe. See them all by following me on Facebook (Jana Winters Parkin and Jana Parkin Art) and Instagram (@janawparkin and @janaparkinart) and on my art blog ( Look for the hashtag #100daysinEurope. You never know where the next painting will show up!

#100daysinEurope #stonehenge #rapeseed #watercolor 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Watching our kids grappling with a newborn takes me back 27 years...

Suddenly it’s all so vivid. We were that couple proceeding so cautiously home from the hospital with the world’s most precious cargo in his rear-facing car seat.

Once home in our ghetto apartment, with all the help gone, we looked at each other thinking “when are this baby’s parents going to come pick him up?”— unable to quite wrap our brains around the idea that WE were the parents now. 

I remember the first time he awoke in the night, turning on all the lights and practically throwing a party we were so excited to get up and "do the baby thing" — change his diaper and feed him and snuggle him. I also remember how quickly the party died down as he woke several more times that night and the sleep deprivation set in!  

There we were, certain we had the most angelic baby ever born because he slept so sweetly most of the day, only to be jerked awake from our fantasy every 45 minutes all night long because he was experiencing day/night reversal. 

I was the one curling my toes in pain, wondering why no one ever told me that breastfeeding hurt so horribly at first! I remember setting a timer and gritting my teeth while he nursed for the requisite seven minutes per side, until I somehow toughened up, and breastfeeding became one of the sweetest bonding experiences imaginable.

The two of us gave him his first bath, shocked at how slippery a naked baby is as we held onto him for dear life over the bathroom sink, our laughter barely drowning out the ensuing panic.

I remember realizing for the first time, “My parents did all this for me when I was a baby, and I had no idea.”  And then, “Wow! This must be how much my parents loved me!”

Those early days with a newborn were some of the hardest, craziest times and some of the sweetest, most blissful times, all rolled into one. 

And now it’s their turn. They are loving and feeding and diapering and checking for bilirubin and all the things. They are fighting exhaustion, and overcome with love. Parenting is one of the most amazing, humbling, overwhelming, incredible journeys — and they've only just begun.