Friday, December 2, 2011

Room in My Inn

Last Christmas a mother robin built her nest on our front porch, tucked away in the limbs of a little artificial pine tree we keep lit there during the holidays. I loved seeing Mama Bird swoop down and watch over her precious blue eggs. I loved hearing her sing to them in the mornings. But most of all I loved that she saw our home—our porch—as a safe place, a sheltering space.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to making space these days. In just a couple of weeks my younger sister and her family will be landing at our house for a night or two as she prepares to give birth to their sixth child, a baby boy. I love the idea of making space for them, making space for extended family, making space for the delivery of a newborn...especially at this time of year!
That same sister is contemplating making room herself. Not room in the inn, mind you, but room in the van! Their van seats seven...and baby makes eight. This is weighing heavily on me. I know they don’t have the means to purchase another car, no matter how used. Yet they have the faith to bring another child into the world. I’m racking my brain for any way I can think of to help them. I wish I could just give them my Honda Pilot. But life’s not that simple.
I have a particular affinity for this youngest sister. She is a hero in every sense of the word. She has overcome the most daunting of obstacles...smiling. She has born the most unbearable burdens...laughing. She has brought people together...remembering. She has created a beautiful home, a beautiful family, and a beautiful marriage...out of the shambles! She is amazing.

So the innkeeping I’m contemplating is this joyful expectation, this anticipation...and I’m grateful that we have enough room. And that we have wonderful people coming, in all shapes and sizes, to join us and fill our space.
I’m thinking about other spaces too. My inn these days is crowded—both with people and activity—most of the time. So is my car—both with people and junk, typically. But the most noticeably crowded space, and perhaps the one that matters most, is my time. One of my heroes declared, “In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e.” I am convinced that today’s metaphorical inn-where-there’s-no-room is not our homes or our hearts but our schedules. Another of my heroes stated:your sacrifice could be setting aside the time in your busy lives....” Making room involves a sacrifice.
I’m pledging today—on this first day of the last month, as we wait for miracles, and long for fulness, and anticipate gifts—to make room. Make room to worship, make room to ponder, make room to listen, make room to love, make room to pause, make room to forgive, make room to serve. Make room for Him. In the most crowded space in my life. So I can be filled.

“The Holy Ghost ‘satisfies and fills up every longing of the human heart, and fills up every vacuum. When I am filled with that Spirit, … my soul is satisfied.” 
Eliza R. Snow
Please chime in and tell me how you’re making room for Him this month.
—And if you have any ideas on how to make more room in my sister’s car, I’d love to hear that too!

Congratulations to Lara, who won my Book-for-Every-Person-on-your-Gift-List Giveaway! A box of ten books will be on its way to her shortly. (How fitting that I announce her win on this post about making room, since the name of her blog is Overstuffed!)  :)

And thank you—wonderful, generous, bloggers—for helping us meet and exceed our goal, raising over $10,000 (5.7 scholarships) for single parents last month. This will change lives. I promise.

Also, don't miss Luisa Perkins' excellent and unsolicited review of What Think Ye of Christmas, here.

And finally, I'm linking up with wonderful Heather of the EO who somehow keeps me writing with her Just Write series.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Because I have been given much...

It was one of those rare moments when time stands still. I was fifteen. An eighty-something-year-old voice on the other end of the line whispered furtively, "Grant's here."

The whisperer was my amazing piano teacher, Becky Almond. Becky had spent most of her life "concertizing" in New York. One of my favorite things about her apartment was a tablecloth on which she had embroidered all of the famous autographs she had collected over the decades: Arthur Rubenstein, Victor Borge, Leonard Bernstien, Count Basie, Carol Channing...virtually any big name you could think of from that era. This same woman loaned my family a Mason & Hamlin grand piano for me to practice on, because she saw promise (and because she loved my mother!).  "Grant" was Grant Johannesen, international concert pianist. He regularly stopped at her apartment whenever he was in town because he loved her pianos. They had become great friends. Becky had called to invite me to her downtown apartment early the next morning to listen to him practice the piano.

Somehow I got myself to her apartment at six o'clock on a Saturday morning. Becky met me at the door, still wearing her pink nightgown, and held her finger to her lips as she ushered me silently into the back bedroom. "He doesn't know you're here," she warned with a conspiratorial wink. She and I stood silently, leaning against the wall, listening to an undisputed genius work out difficult passages, preparing for his next performance. What I heard was awe-inspiring. But an even stronger lesson was how much Becky cared about me as her student.

It wasn't the first time a teacher had done something unexpected to show faith in me and my potential, but it was certainly the most memorable. Later, she hired Grant to give me a private master class, helping me refine a Beethoven concerto I was learning. She quoted my mother a reasonable price...then subsidized the rest of his fee herself. An amazing mentor.

Since then has come a long line of help to further my education: A four-year departmental art scholarship to University of Utah, a scholarship to Otis/Parsons, a scholarship to Cambridge, a scholarship to the Monterey Bay Watercolor Workshop. And I was helped along and encouraged by so many wonderful mentors.

Fittingly, I find myself in a mentor position now. I teach watermedia courses at Utah Valley University as well as privately. I love working with students -- seeing the light go on, seeing growth and progress. I love their energy and eagerness to learn.

One thing that surprised me about teaching was the number of non-traditional students—mostly mothers going back to school to finish their education. Another thing that surprised me is that this group of students would be among -- almost without exception -- my finest students. They work doubly hard, are extra enthusiastic, seem to appreciate their education more...and also in many cases have the biggest obstacles to overcome. Amazing.

In honor of my favorite teachers and favorite students,  I'm giving back this month. 
You'll want to take a peek at the gadget squished into my sidebar on the left. I'm donating to a scholarship fund for single parents at LDS Business College, and I encourage you to do the same.

And, in honor of Thanksgiving (and avoidance of Black Friday) I'm giving away. I'm once again giving away a copy of the lovely Christmas book I illustrated, What Think Ye of Christmas—not just to you, but to everyone on your gift list (up to ten). This is the deal of the year! Worth up to $100. To enter, you'll want to leave me your gift list in the comments below. (e.g. My sister, my BFF, my kid's piano teacher...etc.) For a second entry, click on the gadget and make a donation of any size to the scholarship fund there. Additional entries granted for Facebook statusing, twitter tweeting, blogposting, Amazon and Goodreads reviews of the book, and liking the book on Facebook (link at left). And one more bonus entry for reading and commenting on the story of how the books came to be, starting with the link in my sidebar titled, In the Beginning....

And finally, I'm announcing last week's giveaway winner: Luisa Perkins. Luisa was the first to respond to last week's post, and I find it so fitting that she was selected by Last week she gave so much, put so much energy into campaigning for Variant to benefit Rob, and now the Universe has conspired to answer that good karma and give back. Luisa is the winner of this giclée art print, currently selling for $95. (Gallery price $190.) Congratulations, Luisa!

"While Shepherds Watched", from What Think Ye of Christmas, by Jana Parkin

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Cannot Imagine a Home Without Story.

When I was a little girl, my beloved grandmother told us a favorite bedtime story every time we slept over. I loved listening to her silvery voice tell us the old-fashioned tale "Cozette" so much that I asked for a tape recording for my 25th birthday. Grandma also told us silly stories about our dad when he was growing up: how he got a baby chick for Easter and named it Hallelujah. How he put two kittens in the fridge, and a duck in the dryer, and rode a horse bareback. How he misbehaved. We LOVED this youngster image of our dad that only Grandma could share.
My grandpa told us stories that would raise the hair on the back of your neck: How he and his friends spit on a horseshoe for good luck, then he tossed it over his shoulder and sent it crashing through the school window! How he had a part-time job playing the organ at the silent movie theater. How great-grandpa Cort once shot a bear right between the eyes. How his father outsmarted a town official in order to gain restitution for a Japanese immigrant who’d been swindled. And how he himself spoke out against the Japanese internment camps during World War 2. 

My grandpa on my mom's side used to SING us his stories. He loved the Christopher Robin songs by A. A. Milne and delighted us over and over with his adorable boyish renditions. It was pure magic to hear him sing these timeless stories.
My mother told us stories of her own family: How she was raised by her grandmother, whom they affectionately called Marmee (Marmee, like the character she was nicknamed for, was a strong young widow with four spirited daughters); How her youngest brother spit out a now-famous string of the naughtiest words he could think of: P.O. Poop Out Stinker Bum!; how her father took them sailing on the Great Salt Lake, sang solos in the Messiah, had his own radio show; how her mother worked at an advertising agency in Los Angeles and how Grandpa called her his Happy Heart; how she wrote magazine articles under a pen name, and authored a children’s book. 

Mom also read to us night after night...The Cookie Tree and Miss Suzie and Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, plus timeless classics from her own childhood: Epaminondas and Thunder Cave.
My father told us stories of his own childhood adventures -- ones I’m sure he never told his mother: How he and his friends found a dead body on the capitol grounds; How he found a leather pouch full of money under a tree and inadvertently interrupted an FBI stakeout; how he and his friends let the air out of the tires of a whole fleet of police cars parked at the capitol building one night; how an unstable kid named Ikey threatened to kill him; and how he discovered a hermit cave—and the hermit who lived there!   Dad also made up hilarious bedtime stories about spaceships and astronauts.
My husband is the King of Story. He writes screenplays, teaches screenwriting, directs movies, creates webisodes, and exhausts every possible outlet for storytelling (as evidenced here). He reads wonderful books out loud to the family -- The Tale of Despereaux, Walk Two Moons, and Watership Down. He also makes up fabulous stories about our kids and their friends and their secret superpowers. He lives and breathes story.
Which is why he’s been invited to speak at this conference:
It’s presented by Cherish Bound.

And hosted by FamilySearch.
March 8-10, 2012.
Save the date, and I’ll save you a seat!

          --But wait, there’s more! (No Ginzu Knives...)
            I’m presenting there too. I’m speaking about balance. Or rather, how to juggle a lot of dangerous objects projects without maiming or injuring yourself. Something along those lines.  

I believe there are few things as powerful as STORY to unite us at home. I’m so
excited about this conference and a chance to explore something so important and
entertaining and beloved. I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Book Group Went All Stream-of-Consciousness On Me

—And it was awesome.

Instead of reading a book this month, our hostess (who teaches a writing class at BYU) decided we should all try our hands at writing. She came armed with fun, designer-ish notebooks for everyone, and a stash of ballpoint pens.

She had us try three free-writing exercises. The first was called I Am.
The assignment was to capture ourselves through objects, places, events that are important to us, define us. Here's one paragraph:

I am January 
I am newness and silent snowfall 
I am the glow of the firelight after the hustle and bustle of celebration fades 
I am fire and ice

The second was called Mirror, Mirror. We had to hold a hand mirror up to our face and close our eyes, then write about what first grabbed our attention.  I struggled with this one because most of the time I avoid mirrors and prefer to be invisible.  I finally allowed myself to focus on an eyebrow, and then an eye. Here's one paragraph  (after I wrote about the hiding and avoidance):

I see a round lifted arch with confidence and an air of mystery. There is a fringe of darkness surrounding a circle of blue. There is light and more light — a reflecting pool. There is a veil of cast shadow coming from the left, and expressiveness moving toward the light. There is seriousness and playfulness coming from the same source. There is wisdom and wit and a very strong will. ...A circle that finds beauty in unexpected places, sometimes sees what others miss.

The third one is called Childhood Place. We were to describe a place that was memorable and meaningful to us as a child. Here is my free-writing description of my earliest memories of place (about 10 minutes, long-hand):

There is a landing that feels like a cage at the top of the stairs. Standing there I can peer down at the people below. I should be napping but instead I am poking my face through the balustrade, peeking down into the entryway below. There are magical pieces of rainbow scattered across the rose-patterned carpet. Light pouring through cut glass. Prisms. I am suspended in time and place as this top-of-the-world view gives me perspective, makes me feel tall.  
The entry is Nana's, the staircase is Nana's, the carpet is Nana's, chosen for her mother, Rose. But the landing is mine and the prisms are God's come to greet me in this chapel of relics. 
The landing is lifted by columns with stairs rising up toward the sky. Some dolls and a rocking horse wait at the base of the stairs, as if to call out "suffer the little one" to sneak down and play awhile. 
Uncle is jolly and balding, roundish with glasses. We play a game where he fills his cheek up with air and I poke it, making a popping sound that bursts through the silence and pulls laughter up and out from deep inside me, bouncing against the walls and the wood and dancing with the prisms on the floor below.

Free-write. Zero editing. I'd love to have you join me. Try an I Am or a Mirror, Mirror or a Childhood Place. Even just a paragraph. This week, you can be part of our fabulous book group and free-write your inner world.

Just write.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Hour in Five Stages

Stage 1: DENIAL. I think to myself I SHOULD BE FEELING SOMETHING but I am completely numb. The Beatles are in the CD player and I sing along at the top of my lungs, “Paperback writer (writer, writer)” and even throw in the guitar lick...buhbuduheeee buhduh bombomduh... 
Comic relief: Around the point of the mountain I pass this car that is going WAY TOO SLOW in the center lane. Attempting to pass, I speak into an imaginary microphone, entertaining no one but myself: “Hello, officer? I’d like to report a CORPSE driving in the center lane on I-15...”  Then (I SWEAR I am not making this up!) I pass the alleged corpse-car only to discover that the driver does in fact appear to be dead (or at least asleep): Head tilted back, eyes closed, mouth wide open. AAHHHH! I try to keep a wide berth between me and the corpse-car, and continue to keep one eye on him in the rearview mirror, expecting him at any moment to crash right into the median. “Bang, bang, Johnny’s silver hammer comes down on his head...Bang, bang, Johnny’s silver hammer made sure he was dead....” (Miraculously, the corpse continues on autopilot, making all the curves and remaining in the center lane. Hmmm.) 
Stage 2: ANGER. I exit the freeway in plenty of time, giving me a straight shot to Huntsman Cancer Institute, and twelve minutes to park and go inside. Then everything starts going out of control, multiplying so rapidly I let it get the best of me. The directions on the iPhone map are wrong, and I spend twenty frustrating minutes cruising around a spaghetti-ish network of long driveways and one-way circles that makes Los Angeles at rush hour look like child’s play. “Help! I need somebody. He-ehelp me, help me-ee!”  I could feel my blood pressure rising with every wrong turn, until I was no longer singing along, but shouting, spitting out the lyrics like nails out of a gun. How did the music that was helping me feel fun-loving and free-wheeling just moments ago suddenly have me tied up in vicious knots? I turned off the stereo by slamming it down with my fist. Yes I did. Take that, Ringo! 
Stage 3: BARGAINING. I don’t know why arriving a few minutes late has sent me into such a tailspin, but I can feel myself starting to panic, wondering if they’ll even be able to see me if I’m 20 minutes late, if I made this drive for nothing, and will have to do it all again, and if it will take me another two months to get an appointment. I have crazy conversations in my head, making my plea. Finally, in desperation, I pull up to a construction worker and ask how to get to the hospital entrance. So simple. Why didn’t I do this right at the beginning? 
Help me if you can I’m feeling dow-ow-own. And I do appreciate you comin’ rou-ou-ound. Help me get my feet back on the grou-ou-ound.”  (Yeah, I turned it off, but it’s still playing softly in my head.)
Stage 4: DEPRESSION. I feel completely defeated as I enter the parking lot. The attendant is informative and kind, yet I feel a black hole in my heart as I look for a space to park and make my way through the looming glass doors. I am here but I am still lost. And I know it. I push elevator buttons, put one foot in front of the other, but my world is gray.
Stage 5: ACCEPTANCE. No one says a word or even raises an eyebrow about my late arrival. I am ushered into a back room before I even have a chance to take a seat in the waiting area. My genetic counselor and her grad-student assistant are the perfect combination of competent and compassionate. It is surreal to hear myself reciting details about my family history with utter calm, like reading numbers off a report: My mother found a lump at age 47. She was diagnosed at age 49. She died of breast cancer at age 53. Her sister battled breast cancer three times over several decades and finally passed away at age 83. More questions: Yes. No. I don’t know. 
I realize I have passed through the five stages of grief in the hour it took me to arrive at this place, just footsteps away from the room where my mother took her final breaths. I think I may also have been grieving my own mortality as I approached that place and draw closer to that age, seeking clues to my what own future holds. I received no concrete answers, but every ounce of knowledge I acquire empowers me. I journey home, fast-forwarding through Fool On A Hill and Yesterday, ultimately landing on Across the Universe. Which takes me home.

Note of clarification: I was just in for genetic counseling and DNA testing. I have no signs of breast cancer, other than my marked family history. I do want to remind everyone that October is breast cancer awareness month. 

This post is inspired by  Just Write, an exercise in free writing{Please see the details here.}  Not sure if I'm following all the rules, or if there even ARE any rules to a free-write, but at least it keeps me writing!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Carpool Lane?

I ask myself Why on a Saturday? and Why in the middle of the afternoon? as I pry myself away from The Kid On the Lawnmower and The Overworked Husband and The Babysitting Teenager and The Newborn Puppymania and climb into the car. I am late and I do not want to go and I get in the car anyway, all by myself, because it’s the right thing to do. 
I call my dad one more time. Are you sure they’re still going to hold this thing in the rain? I ask, secretly hoping it’s been rescheduled. What? he asks, just slightly annoyed. “It’s pouring rain,” I say. “Well it’s sunny up here,” he replies. “Where are you?” I ask. “In Bountiful.” Oh my gosh, he’s already there. I don’t want him to know I’m just getting in my car.  I balance an onion bagel on my knee as I back down the driveway.  Because 62 miles sounds like a long way to go on no lunch. 
As I enter the freeway and pray for no construction today I try to push the leftover laundry and nagging, unmopped floors out of my head, to no avail. Outside, the storm clouds follow me. It’s like a race. Sometimes I can stay just ahead of the rain. Sometimes it catches up to me. 
I push the iPhone connector into its jack and Pandora defaults to Earth Wind and Fire. I’m not sure 70s funk is exactly the mood I’m in, but I’m whizzing down the freeway at breakneck speed, and not quite reckless enough to look for another station.  In minutes, without even realizing it, I’m singing my heart out to “September” (one of our favorites) and suddenly I see our whole family standing at the Hollywood Bowl, swaying and cheering and smiling and having the time of our lives as fireworks literally fill the sky overhead. It was a spur-of-the moment roadtrip last summer that ended up being one of our family’s favorite memories. I think of how Josh still texts me out of the blue to say, “Thanks for taking me on that roadtrip to see Earth Wind and Fire!”  --Something we did that was NOT a mistake! (yay!

I remind myself, Family is EVERYTHING! 
I can see downtown Salt Lake creeping up on my right, in the distance. On the hill behind Temple Square is the Capitol Building, where my grandpa worked. I think of how he walked home every single day so he could have lunch with his sweetheart, my Mrs. Santa Claus grandma. (Who wouldn’t?) Suddenly I’m reminded that it’s BECAUSE OF HER that I’m doing this, that I’m driving to far-off Bountiful to see the plaque erected in honor of her parents. I think about how she taught us in a million different ways that family is EVERYTHING! How this event would be her absolute top priority if she were still here. How happy she’d be that I’m going. Suddenly I’m flooded with tears. She would LOVE this reunion. The sun pops up from behind the clouds as if to underscore my thoughts, buoying me with a stronger sense of purpose.
I focus on the yellow lines in the center of the highway as the signs whiz by...I-80, Ogden, Beck Street. As I approach the park where the reunion takes place, the rain returns, streaking the windshield as the tears streak my face all the way to Bountiful. 

Oh my gosh, THIS is the park? These beautiful acres of lawn and trees in the center of the city, with a rec center and a pavilion great-grandparents' fields and orchards provided this sanctuary.

The clouds are still heavy, the sky wet, and I slosh across the lawn under my polka-dot umbrella toward the picnic area where people are gathering. I see my first piano teacher, still so elegant...Dad's first cousin. Another of Dad's cousins, Jim, is there with his wife Betty, who has unforgettable deep blue eyes. I remember riding their horses in Heber when I was a kid. My aunt is setting up bushels of fresh peaches for centerpieces, old people are shuffling around, trying to get the sound system to work. (It doesn't.)  My dad is the youngest, but he is becoming one of the Old People. I am so proud of him. One cousin circulates platters of all the fresh fruits and vegetables our great-grandparents grew. Pieces of our family history. A beautiful gesture. We gather and sing as rain patters on the roof. What is happening here is, to steal some words from my friend Heather, both ordinary and extraordinary.

This whole thing is bigger than I am. Bigger than football practice and yardwork and chores. Bigger than a hundred Saturdays. Bigger than any of us realize. I feel eternity stretched out like the handstitched quilt on her old hand-carved oak bed, wrapping me in its linked-together pieces, simultaneously adding to and wiping away my tears. I feel HER, and all those linked to her. I feel as though I picked up my grandmother way back at that point along the freeway and carried her all the way to this reunion, this honoring-place, to be with the people she loves most. I am grateful she did not want me to go there alone.

This is me with my grandma. This photo appeared on the cover of the Salt Lake Tribune on Thanksgiving Day a long, long time ago. :)

This post is inspired by  Just Write, an exercise in free writing{Please see the details here.} 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I didn't chop her head off after all!

A few months ago my daughter committed a capital offense. She was on my computer one evening and logged onto my facebook account at the exact same moment as a notice appeared announcing my upcoming (gasp!)  30-year high school reunion. Oh, but it gets better than that! She REPLIED, masquerading AS ME, saying something along the lines of “That sounds great! I’m excited to see everyone, and I’d love to help on the committee. Here is all my contact info.” (not exaggerating!)  

So out of the blue I get an email from our class president thanking me for my offer to help, (what the...?) and could I please create the invitation and a memory page for people to fill out. I was stuck. I felt like I had to follow through. But I wasn’t very excited about it. My daughter is a social networking machine! I, on the other hand, am a little bit of an introvert. I’m great in front of a class full of college students, and pretty good one-on-one, but I’m miserable at small talk, and an event like this foreboded LOTS of uncomfortable small-talk.

Me in full uniform (my first pair of Nikes!)
As the date approached, my dread increased. To the point that I had a mini-breakdown one night and spilled my guts to my dear, long-suffering husband: Most of my friends graduated early, like I did. I was invisible in high school. No one would miss me. I wasn’t up to reliving any of it...the cliques, the drama, the awkward insecurity. Worse, I felt stifled in high school. I tried too hard to follow the unwritten rules, to blend in, so I ultimately felt like I sold my soul for a stupid pep club uniform. As soon as I got to college I was liberated. Freed from the shackles of superficiality. Reborn with the courage to be myself. Why would I want to go back? And yet I felt obligated...since I’d helped with the invitation and stuff. 
I realized I was falling into that old high school mentality. I was having a minor identity crisis over things that are completely shallow! Like worrying about the fact that I don't weigh 97 pounds any more. Instead of celebrating the fact that I've finally gained enough weight to have cleavage! The question, To go, or not to go? was sending me spiraling into a vortex. 
Finally the class president sent me another email: “I’m trying to get a final head count. Are you coming to the reunion? A lot of your friends are coming...blah, blah, blah.”  It was all I could do not to write back, “What friends?” But I stopped just short of that, and at 11:45 p.m. on the last possible date to RSVP, I sent back a simple Yes. I needed to confront my trepidation. Besides, it was the right thing to do.
Luckily, a great guy from my graduating class married one of my favorite people ever, and we decided to carpool to the reunion. So in addition to my handsome, hilarious husband, at least I’d have two friends there, I consoled myself. 

Then right before the reunion, as I was getting in the shower, I got the worst stomach cramps of my life. I was doubled over, feeling a little dizzy, and breaking into a cold sweat. I had visions of fainting right there in the shower and bumping my head on the glass door. I still don’t know if it was psychosomatic or pure coincidence. But it took me long enough to recover that we were nearly an hour late. 
That turned out to be perfect timing. Plenty of people were still arriving, and they hadn't started dinner yet. At first, standing in line at the registration table, I felt a little shell-shocked and still wasn’t sure I wanted to be there. Then the guy in front of us in line suddenly turned around and threw his arms around me. It was Geoff Lee, a guy I’d known since junior high, who had also worked with me at a regional magazine during college. I have to admit, I love the guy, he’s hilarious, and I’d missed him. 
The rest of the evening went pretty much like that...I kept running into people I hadn’t seen...or even thought decades, and was completely surprised that they remembered me, were excited to see me. And *shocking revelation* I was genuinely thrilled to see them too--all of them. It was like rereading a favorite book, a classic, and rediscovering all your favorite characters, but with the added perspective maturity brings.
Something about three decades separating us from our high school years seemed to make all the difference. Three decades is long enough to humble us, let life knock us around a bit, make us appreciate each other in a new light. By this age, nearly everyone has lost a parent, a child, a spouse, or a sibling. Many had suffered through a divorce. Still others never married, or never had children. Life had leveled the playing-field and made us all kinder, wiser, deeper, stronger.
I realized I cared very deeply about these people. I loved them. I wanted to become a gatherer...find the ones who were lost, or chose not to come, and tell them, “Things are different now. It’s safe to come back. You’ll be amazed.”  Sure, some still had designer clothes, foreign sports cars, and looked like supermodels. But none of that seemed to matter. Instead there was an abundance of caring and sharing, hugging and mugging (for the camera), and a rare sense of unity. 
When I got home my teenage daughter actually complimented me on my outfit *small miracle* -- and then asked the big question -- “Aren’t you glad I signed you up?” I hate to admit it, but I’m glad I went, even glad I got involved...and I’m already looking forward to the next one. 

Me -- straight from my junior year East High yearbook.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Ultimate Girls' Weekend

The invitation came wrapped as a gift. And that was just the beginning.
It opened like a little book, bound with stitches.
Inside was page after page of what awaited us at this getaway in the mountains...

I'm not a photographer, but I want you to get the feel of this, so I shot each page...

Can you imagine how over-the-moon excited I was?
To top it off, if you read the text, this amazing friend of mine hired me to teach a watercolor workshop at her mountain retreat. Most of my trip was paid for, and I got to do what I love best.

The whole weekend unfolded just as magically as the invitation promised.

As soon as I pulled up to the cabin, Allison waltzed out to greet me, and a swarm of friends grabbed my bags and showed me where I'd be sleeping (upstairs in the dormer, where she had eight matching wooden beds, all with matching wool blankets. It honestly looked like something right out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs To my great joy, all of the guests were a collection of favorite people!

We sat on the deck in the evening breeze, relaxing in big adirondack chairs and laughing and talking like we'd never been apart. The time flew by, and we could barely stand to pry ourselves back indoors when Allison announced it was time for dinner. She had fixed the most simple food, beautifully prepared and perfectly seasoned: Salmon fillets, Israeli couscous, and green beans. Heaven!  Then everybody started breaking out the snacks...caramel popcorn, mud pie, Trader Joe's mints...and (as promised) we watched THREE Jane Eyre movies back to back, starting with the old black-and-white Orson Welles version and ending with William Hurt, so we could decide once and for all who was the best Mr. Rochester! (The jury's still out, by the way.)

The next morning we awoke to the most fabulous aroma...Allison had baked a giant tomato and basil strata for breakfast, complete with beautiful sweeter-than-candy plums and apricots she'd grown herself. Then it was my turn. My watercolor workshop was the main event. I started by sending everyone off into the woods to collect flowers and leaves to paint, then explored some principles of abstract underpainting (to capture the growth pattern).

Once that dried we followed up with layer upon layer of negative painting (painting around objects)
which is a very calming way to paint.  

The women were amazed as they saw their floral subjects gradually appear, and with so much depth. (Some called it magic, and one who has a PhD in microbiology exclaimed, “It’s like fractals!” which was a surprisingly cool observation.) While I was teaching, Nikki the masseuse would pull people out one at a time for their individual foot massages. At the end we had a mini-exhibit and put everyone’s paintings up on the wall to enjoy the diversity of results and applaud the finished products. So great!

The unsurpassed weekend in Lake Arrowhead was over...but my summer roadtrip with my daughter continued. Here.

Wind and water. Mountains and ocean. Friends that are family. Healing and peace.

I am so much better for having gone.

Where has this summer taken you?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

So I Married a Genius. A Handsome, Hilarious Genius.

This? Is my husband. Speaking at a TEDx conference. (Sorry, people. He's taken.) But if you click right here, or press play below, you can see his presentation on Trans-Media Storytelling, plus some of the millions of reasons I'm crazy about him. (Starting with the red shoes.) LOVE!

Monday, June 13, 2011

THE LIST. Plus Two More Lists of My Own.

I read this book quite awhile ago...almost the second it came out. Why? Because my friend wrote it. And because I adore her, it had to be good! 

I'll be honest — Initially I had the hardest time getting over the idea that the main character had supposedly been a missionary, and yet she was SO SHALLOW.  In fact, I tried as hard as I could not to like the main character, because she was too pretty, and too knew-she-was-pretty, and then, you know, the shallow thing.  I spent about 2/3 of the book being mad at this person who doesn't even exist! But then I kept not being able to not like her (yeah, I rock double negatives when I have to) because she is also SO FUNNY. Like laugh-out-loud, clever, Gilmore Girls funny. I was totally sucked in. I couldn't put it down.

So what fuels the plot is sort of a bucket list—a list of all the things she solidly MUST DO before she gets married. (And again, some of these items are respectable, and others are completely shallow, like Get A Sports Car.) And the list has this power over her that is other-worldly. I kept thinking, Wait — you wouldn't PRAY about finding the right guy, and try to listen to the spirit? Something that makes more sense in my world? So I also tried not to like The List itself. (Not the book. Just the list.)

And then I realized that, list or not, I had checked off a majority of the exact same items myself before I got married. So I mentally started checking off The List. And then I pulled out some sticky notes and started writing in my own checkmarks, and here's what I came up with:

Items on The List I Somehow Managed to Check Off Myself Before I Got Married:  
(even though I didn't have a List, per se)
1. Climb a mountain: Check - Angel's Landing
2. See a show on Broadway: Check, plus one better: two shows in London
3. Sing Karaoke: Didn't exist back then?
4. Read all the standard works: Check
5. Get a master's Degree: Nope.
6. Study Abroad: Check
7. Serve a mission: Check (although it seems sort of glib and irreverent to check off something as life-changing as a mission.)
8. Learn to make sushi: Almost. I had an offer.
9. Own a pair of Louboutins: Never heard of 'em
10. Complete a triathlon: No.
11. Snowboard on a black diamond trail: No (snowboarding wasn't even born yet)
12. Read a Russian classic: Check
13. Learn to surf: No desire. I saw the gory goose-egg my dad got surfing!
14. Visit Europe: Check
15. Do an (overseas) humanitarian project: Still my lifelong dream...I even have a savings account devoted to it
16. Get a sports car: Check (Toyota Celica—looked like a speeding bullet)
17. Have a summer fling: Check  (During #6, above)
18. Take a cruise: Was supposed to be our honeymoon, but we cashed it in and did the I-15 honeymoon instead...St George, Las Vegas, Los Angeles...
19. Skydive: No desire. (Plus, Im rather fond of being alive.)
20. Learn a foreign language: Check
21. Publish a poem: Check
22. Learn to play guitar: Nope (I wish)
23. Be a movie extra: Check. (Does a student film count?)
24. Try internet dating: Didn't exist...
25. Learn to tango. Check (sort of)

So? I surrendered. In a big, big way. And now I proudly present:

Lounging in Laguna, by Jana Winters Parkin
25 Things I love about The List: (The whole book)
1.  Star Wars Band-Aid 
(plus the first line that cracked me up: "Nice band-aid.")
2.  Naturally curly hair that doesn't always cooperate

3.  Not a blonde bimbo
4.  Gilmore Girls-esque dialogue
5.  Megan's colored pencils
6.  Frayed shorts
7.  Awkward wetsuit dance
8.  Witty comebacks I wish I 
had said
9.  Laguna Beach
10. The fascinating deaf girl (especially knowing where Melanie got the inspiration for her.)
11. "Dude, nice doilies!" (hahaha!)
12. "Insincerity dripped like venom from her invisible fangs."
13. "I surrender the title of Loser Magnet. It's yours."
14. "Chasing after babies in a full body cast seems like an awful lot of trouble."
15.  Cap'n Crunch Peanut Butter: "Your cereal's gross." 
16. "You can't have any no matter how nicely you ask."
17. "That's why I'm a dictatorship of one."
18. "Come over to the dark side." (brunette
19.  Hiding chocolate behind wheat germ
20. Hallelujah chorus
21. "It was exhausting to miss him so much."
22. Kenny! 
23. And his band!
24. Kissing and more kissing
25. Redemption

And see? there were so many, I didn't even have to add: My friend wrote it! (I'm so excited for her.)
So...What should top your vacation packing list?
The List. By Melanie Jacobson. Perfect Summer Read. 

(And she doesn't even know I'm posting this!)

p.s. Summer is now in session!