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 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

This Girl is My Hero.


This girl is my hero. 

I had the privilege of a front row seat this past summer as she worked hard, getting up extra early, on her feet all morning teaching children with special needs. Never mind that she was eight-plus months pregnant, it was 100 degrees outside, and her husband was away on an internship in San Francisco for the summer.  

I watched her hit the gym on a regular basis, research every possible baby contraption, and purchase an online breast-feeding course. I watched her continue to grow and improve daily in preparation for the all-important role she’d be assuming.

But when her husband announced that he was coming home that weekend (a week early),  she burst into tears. That was when I realized just how strenuous it had been for her all summer without him here.

This girl also has an iron will. Not only did her husband return a week earlier than scheduled. On August 27th she decided she was well and truly DONE with being pregnant. And her water broke that afternoon. Right on her due date! The next thing we knew she was checked into the hospital's labor and delivery and issued a blue gown. It was go time!

We dropped by to see how she was doing, and the nurse commented on her great sense of humor as they cranked up the pitocin. We even played a round or two of cards. Then suddenly she asked for her epidural RIGHT NOW (again, with that iron will) and we knew that was our cue to leave.

She labored all through the night, with Austin faithfully by her side, attending to any need he possibly could. Sixteen hours later (after a dutiful and detailed thread of updates all night and morning from Austin) we got word that the our grandson had arrived!

Watching her, I can only say that what she did was positively heroic. It is such an extraordinary feat to bring a brand new human into the world. Even though I did it four times myself, twenty-something years ago, I am still in awe.

Within a couple of hours we were there at the hospital visiting our very first grandchild.  Oh, my heart!

In the days that followed, I have had the enormous privilege of watching our daughter step into the role of Mother. It is so humbling and beautiful to observe her natural nurturing instincts surface, and see her step up to the plate...and knock it right out of the ballpark.  

Through a set of heroic acts she and has made her husband a father, made me a grandmother, made my husband a grandfather,  made my father a great-grandfather....and on and on it goes....


(And if you remember how much your love for your husband grew when he became a father, and you saw him loving and interacting with your children...just you WAIT until he becomes a grandpa! Get ready to swoon!)

Monday, July 23, 2018

In Honor of Those who Paved the Way

     Yesterday I was baking cakes for my husband's birthday and a big family dinner. Waiting for a cake to come out of the oven, I checked my email, and noticed a message from FamilySearch. It said, “You have a pioneer ancestor!” Honestly, my first thought was “Duh!” 

     But then I clicked on the link, because the ancestor they named was John Foster Bennett, my great-grandfather. I was so surprised, and a little curious. I thought he was way too young to be a pioneer. It turned out he was just one year old when he crossed the plains, following a sea voyage from England. It took him and his family 66 days to make the journey. I thought of the empire he eventually built in the Salt Lake Valley, and wondered if his surviving all that hardship as a baby contributed to his later success.

     I scrolled to review the details on his parents, and instead was taken to another pioneer ancestor, Oscar Winters. He is my dad’s great-grandpa. He had gone ahead to build a house for his mother in the Salt Lake Valley, but she died of cholera along the way, and was buried in Scotts Bluff, Nebraska.  Can you imagine Oscar's heartache when he found out his mother didn't survive the journey? Oscar made a second trek a few years later when he went to aid in the rescue of a perishing handcart company.

     I kept scrolling and they kept showing me more and more pioneer ancestors. Many I knew about, and knew their stories well. Others I hadn’t even heard of. 

     The final tally? (Which may not be final at all) I have 20 pioneer ancestors, at least one from every single bloodline. As I read each name, looked at each face, and reviewed the dates, along with some details of their journey, I was overcome with emotion. My heart expanded with love and appreciation. So many have sacrificed so much so that we can be where we are right now. I was flooded with a powerful sense of connection and gratitude that spilled into tears and sobs

     I imagine these amazing people, stalwart examples of courage and commitment, would roll their eyes a little if they saw us continuing to don pioneer bonnets and march around in celebration of their hardships and journeys. Instead, I find it most fitting to walk in the company of others and find joy in the journey, to notice others in distress and run to their aid, to practice tolerance of those with differing views and beliefs rather than turn them away. 
     I think it's important to add that whether you came from this sort of pioneer stock doesn't matter at all. If your ancestors fled a foreign country to escape persecution, they are pioneers. If they immigrated here or anywhere with hope for the future, and more faith than fear, they are pioneers. If they were the first to join the church in their family, their town or their country, they are pioneers. If you yourself did any of these things, you are a pioneer.  And I salute you.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Neal A. Maxwell on Patriotism

When I was a young girl, I grew up about a block away from this amazing man. And I can't begin to describe the amount of influence this genuine disciple had on my growing intellect, as well as my young heart and fledgling faith. It was an extraordinary opportunity to experience the way he lived in the day-to-day, not just at the pulpit. He walked the walked, served with deep, deliberate compassion, and inspired as much through his simplest actions as he did through his eloquent sermons.

For example, I heard how gently and affably he responded when a zealous troop of scouts found his suits freshly delivered from the dry cleaners on his front porch, and assumed they were placed there for the neighborhood Deseret Industries Drive (basically the Utah version of Goodwill) and hauled them away! (Yes, he eventually got them back.)  I saw him jog over with a plate of brownies on a Saturday morning for a missionary farewell, just like any other good neighbor might have done. I watched as he and his wife, Colleen, reached out to a family on the fringes of the ward and invite them over to dinner to form a friendship. I received kindly personal letters from him on my mission, simply signed, "Neal." I often observed tears streaming down his cheeks as he sang the sacrament hymns about our wounded Savior. All had an enormous impact on me. I think I can honestly say that I see the image of Christ in his loving face, more than in the countenance of anyone I've ever met.

A couple of times this week (leading up to Independence Day), I took the opportunity to relisten to "Our Need for True Patriotism," a devotional he gave on July 4, 1993 — a full twenty-five years ago — and was amazed by how prescient it was and relevant it still is today.

Here are a few choice nuggets I transcribed:

 Today, we cannot seem to see beyond the political moment, let alone “beyond the years.” By contrast, James Wilson, one of our founding fathers, urged the delegates to the constitutional convention of 1787 to “look beyond their own time and constituencies to the needs of generations yet unborn.” They did it! and all succeeding generations were blessed. Patriotism which sees beyond the years leaves legacies to rising generations.... It leaves a clean turf, not the debris of a selfish society.

More than we realize, our whole society really rests on the capacity of its citizens to give what is called “obedience to the unenforceable.” We do this by complying willingly with the law, and behaving voluntarily according to time-tested standards… In contrast, widespread and sustained lack of self-control will bring either severe external controls, or anarchy.

The quality of self-control is best grown in healthy family gardens…Healthy families are the first places we learn to balance rights and responsibilities, and to take turns.

Instead of increasing brotherhood, there is increasing separatism in America. There is even rising racism. There is also a decrease in the respect among our citizens for each other.

George Washington’s biographer wrote: “In all history few men who possessed unassailable power have used that power so gently and self-effacingly for what their best instincts told them was the welfare of their neighbors and all mankind.”As one thinks about Washington and power, it reminds us that power is most safe with those…who are not in love with power.

Perhaps you can see why he remains one of my spiritual and intellectual heroes!
There is no transcription available, but you can listen to the devotional in its entirety here:
I think you too will see how timely his counsel is for today's political arena and society at large.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Embarrassing -- but true -- Story of What Happened the First Time I Opened This Book

I have been following this blog for quite a while, and I have never prepared anything from Jenn that we didn’t absolutely love. I pre-ordered her cookbook as soon as she announced it. This was months ago, and I have been very impatiently awaiting its arrival. The Amazon box finally came, (thank you, Amazon!) and I promptly ran off to teach a class and forgot about it. 

[This never happens. Amazon boxes are like Christmas — I can’t wait to tear open the packages and see what’s inside — even if I only ordered it two days ago! But for some reason this package got swept aside and tucked in a dark corner of the basement.]

Long story short — Mother’s Day is approaching, and I started wondering what happened to my book. And then I remembered that abandoned box in the basement (and since we’re not at the airport, I felt completely fine about opening it.)

First of all, I was impressed with the heft. This is no flimsy leaflet. It is more than 300 pages, beautifully bound in a hard cover and dust jacket. It feels SIGNIFICANT. 

I immediately opened it up and started thumbing through the pages. As fate would have it, I landed on Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding. Okay, forget about the Mother’s Day Brunch. Can I pease just have this right now?!?

There was beautiful photography throughout. Dozens of amazing-looking recipes I can’t wait to try. And a few favorites from her blog I’ve already been enjoying. The book includes fun, chatty side notes about her former job, her kids, and her kitchen. I noticed there were official looking stamps on certain pages, marking each as a “recipe tester favorite.”  She includes her "Pro Tips" in the margins. Likewise, “Sourcing Savvy” and "Heads-up" advice.

But what really just kept me spellbound was the photos and their accompanying recipes:
Blueberry Scones with Tart Lemon Glaze. Pan-seared halibut with cherry tomatoes & basil. Cauliflower puree with thyme. Toffee Almond Sandies. Fiery Roasted Tomato Soup. Thai Crunch Salad with peanut dressing. Baja Fish Tacos. Red, White, and Blue summer berry trifle. Steak Au Poivre. Curried Roasted Carrots. Classic Chocolate Lover’s Birthday Cake. They all look and sound amazing!

Now for the embarrassing part: The next thing I knew I was shocked to see a little string of saliva escape my mouth and land on my blouse. That’s right. I drooled. Not just figuratively. I did the deed. Oh, my. (T.M.I.) I guess the cookbook is just that good. 

I raced upstairs and made Blueberry Scones with Tart Lemon Glaze before my husband left for work. They were as delicious as promised. (Thanks, in part, to the 2/3 cup of cream.) The lemon zest in the glaze is a perfect addition. I may have eaten more than one two. Someone please save me from my baking addiction!

The last time I reviewed a cookbook here was way back in, oh, 2009! Since then I have bought, perused, and cooked from at least a dozen cookbooks (probably more.) And exactly zero of them have made me drool. Until today. Enjoy!  If it makes you drool, you don't have to tell anyone.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Making the Leap

A few years ago our son Josh was looking at some of my artwork and said he wanted to write some music that would inspire me while I paint. I told him I love to work to instrumental acoustic music. That December he wrote me a really beautiful piece of music–soothing harp, soaring trumpets, the works–and gave me the finished recording for Christmas. To this day it is one of my most memorable and treasured gifts! I'm pretty sure I cried when he played it for me that Christmas morning.

Since then every once in a while Josh would send us some new music he was working on...the soundtrack to a buddy's movie, some "beats" for rappers to use,  a silly Beatles-esque song about the name he picked out for his baby brother, etc. It became very clear that music was his passion. And I love that.

About nine months ago, Josh quit his full-time job, rented a U-Haul Trailer, and drove across the country in his Ford Mustang, with all his possessions trailing behind. He had a couple thousand dollars in a savings account, the address of a friend in Massachusetts, and the dream of becoming a music producer.

His story took several twists and turns, involving:
  • A roommate who came home drunk and tried to beat him up
  • Lovely people at the church in that small MA town who listened to him, fed him, and tried to help find him a new place to stay
  • A strong whisper of a feeling that he was supposed to move to Brooklyn
  • A church housing list in Brooklyn that miraculously had someone with a spare bedroom
  • Driving a U-Haul trailer through Manhattan (I love this image)
  • A kind branch president who helped him move in, invited him to dinner
  • A funny freelance job removing wrinkles from sheets in photoshop for hours on end
  • A guy at a storytelling event who just happened to need a lead guitarist for his band
  • Interning at Electric Lady a couple of times
  • Eating lots of ramen and dollar pizza
  • Finding a terrific full-time job in Midtown working for with some jewelry photographers
  • Still doing the freelance job with the sheets at night
  • Moving two more times in two months
  • Finding a great brownstone apartment in Brooklyn with space for all his sound equipment
  • Getting up at 5 am to work on his music before riding the train to his day job
  • So many miracles, and so. much. work.

I am so proud of him. It's been awesome to have a front row-seat for all this drama in his life...and then slowly watch the miracles unfold and see our boy work hard, trust his intuition, and learn how to make his way in the big, beautiful, scary world.

Today he released his first album. How cool is that? It's available on every possible streaming service and device. To my great delight, it is nearly all instrumental–my ideal painting music. (WARNING: I guess it also sports an explicit label–but he assured me it is only one song that got the explicit rating–and I'll be skipping that one.) Here's the link, since I know you're interested:

No matter what else happens, I believe he has accomplished something extraordinary! May we all so courageously follow our passions and bring our dreams to reality.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

I was looking for an old set of scriptures with some notes in the back, and stumbled across this:

It made me smile inside, reminding me of a sweet, humbling experience that happened about 20 years ago:

When our daughter (now almost 23) was a toddler, I caught her scribbling all over the inside covers of my leather scriptures. She had been extremely intentional and diligent--using a combination of ballpoint pen and two different markers. (See proof above). I was mildly horrified.

"Sweetie, those are very special books, those are my scriptures! Let's not draw in there!" I said, gently taking the books and the pens away and handing her a sheet of paper.

Her response stopped me, stunned.

"But I want to be like you, Mommy. I'm marking my scriptures!"

I had no idea she was watching me....paying any attention at all to what I was doing when I could steal a quiet moment or two.

I will always think of her sweet response whenever I see those "marks" on this book. There are plenty of behaviors our daughter could have chosen to imitate, many of them unattractive and embarrassing, or involving bad words, but I'm so grateful that at that moment she was mimicking something actually worthy of imitation—studying the scriptures.

She didn't know that I was searching for answers and inspiration, singling out specific verses, making notes in the margins about what struck me as meaningful and powerful. But she saw me with these books, and an array of pens, every day. And she must have felt it was something good that she wanted to do too.

That was one of those moments when I realized I was doing at least one thing right.

If you're interested —like our daughter was — in what I do every day with those books and those pens, head on over to Feasting on Small Plates, where I have an entire blog dedicated to my personal scripture study and sharing the insights and truths I mine there. I'd love to hear your insights too.