Friday, February 27, 2009

Worth Mentioning

My friend in the "WWSD?" entry asked me to make this clarification. The "I Accept It" technique is not meant to teach her kids they they must accept all of the bad things that have happened to them. It's a way in which she helps them to accept that there are rules to follow during their hospital stay, whether they feel like it or not.

Brahm Guest Blogs Today

testing-testing,oh,it's already on.Hi I'm brahm jenny's oldest son.I'm seven years old.

[Now I'm having my dad type for me.] I like Legos and Pokemon. I have over 400 Pokemon cards. And I build really cool creations. I can build really good ships and I can have little people on the ships. I have of lots of Lego Star Wars, no Lego City, but I have some creator blocks too. What would be similar to grown-ups would be Megablox. Legos are still some cool building blocks. I enjoy having my friend Austin over to build Legos with me. He likes to build with my Lego Indiana Jones. I have Yoda and I have Storm Troopers and I have some clones too. I have rebels with their speeder and I have the Temple of the Lost Ark and the Boulder Chase (with the lost idol). I have only one Lego Aqua Raider and they are usually not sold now. But there is new Lego pirates and new Lego Power Miners. They have Lego racers and on, someone made a Lego Pickachu!

I think that is cool! I have a Pokemon card called Pickachu, too. I have what it turns into, and its called Richou. [Jenny typing now] I have the Pokemon Dusknoir and it's first stage, second stage and Dusknoir itself is the third stage. I have two Steelix. My favorites are my high levels like Jirachi ex and I have levels that are like "ex" but are "level X". I have six of those. They are called "Dusknoir", "Gardevoir", "Regigigas", "Darkrai", "Mewtwo" and "Mesprit". My favorite are "Gyarados", "Magnezone", "Aggron", "Garchomp", "Ampharos", "Bellossom", "Kingdra", a Japanese "Nidoqueen", "Swamper" and "Torterra" and "Gengar". Those aren't all of my powerful Pokemon. I also have a "Machamp". It is really old. It is very strong. I have some wacky Pokemon names like "Wooper" and another weird one is "Numel". I have a really weak Pokemon. It has one life. It is called "Mysterious Fossil". It is a trainer. And I have a Pokemon cousin named "Phione" and it has another person named "Manaphee". They both look alike. They have a red jewel on their chest. I have a Pokemon that's similar to an ancient fish named soelacanths. The Pokemon name is "Relicanth".

That is probably all I want my mom to write except for doing this for me [he hugs gives me a hug when he says this].

Monday, February 23, 2009


I have a friend who works in a hospital with kids who have suffered some form of psychological trauma. When we talked a few weeks ago she mentioned a new technique she is using that helps the kids develop skills to mitigate defiance and resistance issues. You take a board game (Chutes and Ladders or Candyland, for example) and any time you land on a square with a consequence you don’t like, you simply say “I accept it”. The theory is that with repetition, this acceptance attitude will make it easier to let go of the small stuff in order free up your energy for more important matters.

The object of this game will make no sense to those of you who don’t mind losing or have no problem dealing with unlucky circumstances.

I, however, am not one of those people.

Anyone who knows me will agree that adjectives like “ambitious” “competitive” or “determined” are perhaps not quite strong enough to describe my personality. Look, I won’t even attempt to identify what makes us who we are — that's for the professionals. I will say this, however, and that is that my deepest fear is being powerless. It’s why I try to set the parameters for most every circumstance I might happen to be in. Some people call this "controlling". I like to think of it more as being prepared.

Saying, “I accept it” when something bad happens is admitting I screwed up, that I couldn’t anticipate the unexpected, couldn’t protect myself when it counted. It’s like standing around knowing I’m about to be pooped on by a bird and doing nothing to stop it.

•I race to be on time to a doctor’s appointment then wait 45 minutes only to leave before being seen so I can pick up Oliver on time. Splat.

•I didn’t click the “submit” button twice to make an online payment and get hit with a late fee, finance charge and a higher interest rate. Splat.

•Library fine for a book I didn’t lose. Splat.

•Brown hair when I told the stylist “Dark blonde, please.” Splat.

•Gain two pounds when I should have lost five. Splat splat.

Looking back, there was no one to show me the special way of playing Chutes and Ladders when I was a kid. Are you kidding? I had to learn my own set of survival skills and that acceptance phrase was definitely not in my repertoire. If I turned around and said, “I accept it” after getting my butt kicked on the playground, I’d have had ten more kids lined up waiting to take a turn. At home my motto was “I deflect it”: make it look like someone else did it then get the hell out.

“Why can’t you be more like Melanie Hamilton?” my mother would cry in exasperation. She’s referring to the demure gentlewoman who plays Scarlett O’Hara’s foil in Gone With the Wind, a movie staple in my house growing up.

Why? Why? I’ll tell you why. Yes, Melanie may have been the queen of accepting difficult circumstances (and with grace, to boot). But if it was left to her, everyone would have died at Tara after Atlanta. Remember that Union deserter? She thought she could fend him off with a sword that weighed more than she did. Hmph. And what about all that business pretending her husband wasn’t involved in a love affair? Good faith in those you love is admirable but in the end, denial never helped anyone. Then there's the part where she donates her gold wedding ring to "the cause” thinking it's going to make a difference for the South. Good heavens, girl! There's optimism and then there's reality.

That's where Scarlett comes in.

Mom, you can’t tell me “Gone With the Wind” is the number one movie of all time because of Melanie Hamilton! Scarlett was the one who birthed Mellie’s baby right before carrying them through a burning city to safety. It was Scarlett who kept the family alive on cotton earnings when they all would have starved otherwise. And whose pistol was it that took care of that deserter with one clean shot before Melanie even showed up? Yep, Scarlett’s. After the war, she made her comeback by starting up a profitable business then single-handedly restored Tara to its pre-war glory. Before the movie is done she survives an attack on her life, buries two husbands, both parents and a child. In short, the woman was a hero. (Now if you want to discuss her lack of scruples, empathy, maturity or selflessness, that's another entry...)

But I digress.

I know my therapist friend is sharing the “I accept it” technique because she knows I’m at a point where I could use a little more zen in my life. In other words, I’m getting too old to carry around so much piss-and-vinegar all the time. As with her kids in therapy, she’s just trying to show me all the energy I use up in defiance could be better spent elsewhere. And she’s right. Saying, “I accept it” is a simple way to end the battle before it even starts. No agonizing, no wrestling, no “if only I had….” Just, “I accept it” then move on.

There. That’s not too hard, is it?

Well... it was my persistence that reversed the late fee and other charges, a direct follow-up with the stylist that restored the blonde at no extra cost, a "stick-to-the-rules" deduction from the allowance that covered the library book and a little renewed determination to my exercise routine that will polish off the lingering holiday weight gain.

And while all of that is true, I haven’t given up on the zen thing. Not yet, anyway. I still try to meditate once a day, pick my battles when I can, go to yoga regularly and use visualization to clear out negative emotions. And while saying, “I accept it” still feels like getting pooped on, it doesn’t mean I can’t keep trying until it doesn’t.

After all, tomorrow is another day...

Monday, February 16, 2009

It's Almost Here

I can tell spring is coming by the way the daylight is shifting. I'm not talking so much about the length of the day, though that, too. It's just the color, the direction, the intensity. It's one of the reasons people say, "Spring is in the air."

I have mixed feelings about spring which is odd since I'm one of those people who suffers through the darkness of the winter months. But even though that's true, winter is a wonderful hibernation of sorts, a respite from the planting, tending and harvesting seasons that come with warmer months. In the final weeks of February, I cling to the what's left of the break, knowing it will soon be over.

The visual interest today is a photo taken last summer of Brahm. He's holding some carrots he planted a few months before that. They are a fuschia colored variety we ordered from a catalog. I'd tell you the name but it escapes me at the moment. Each spring the boys pick out a few seed packets from the catalogs I like best (Seed Savers and Seeds of Change) with names that interest them: Sweet Chocolate and Golden Treasure peppers, Strawberry spinach, Mountain Sweet Yellow watermelon, Double Rich tomatoes and Ten Commandment gourds are a few among them. (Brahm still remembers with relish the moment Oliver bit into a Sweet Chocolate only to be horribly disappointed.)

I'll pull out my starter mix and heat mat here shortly, but not yet. I'll squeeze a few more long naps out of winter before it's officially over - and that's not for another month. for a variety of rare and heirloom seeds for heirloom and organic choices

Here's my top 10 list of heirloom tomatoes in no particular order

1. Cherokee Purple
2. Kellogg's Breakfast
3. Hillbilly Potato Leaf
4. Federle Paste
5. Green Grape
6. Dr. Wyche's Yellow
7. Wapsipinicon Peach
8. Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter
9. Hawaiian Pineapple
10. Aunt Ruby's German Green

Oh, and the name of Brahm's carrot (I had to look it up) is Dragon. No wonder he added it to his list!

Friday, February 13, 2009

To Get You in the Mood...

We don't celebrate Valentine's Day around here much in the same way we didn't celebrate Thanksgiving the first year we were married. FX was broadcasting a 24-hour X-Files marathon that day and there was like, noooo way I was going to miss that. I mean, come on — it's Fox Moulder all day. I made the mistake of thinking that Brooks would be happy with a rotisserie chicken from Smith's. Wrong-o. I finally caved and we went to his folks' that night for the real thing.


But really — we don't celebrate Valentine's.

It must have been Brooks who set the tone early on in our relationship. We hadn't even been dating for a month when he presented me with a Valentine's gift. Bold move — or so I thought. On closer inspection, I was confused, no "troubled" is a better word for it.

See for yourself:

"poems about love
and other such things
master thespian

LEONARD NEMOY [aka Mr. Spock]
Jenny Winkel

edited [and appended] by brooks briggs"

Brooks Briggs, a man I hardly knew, had taken some awful poetry and inserted a few ad-libbed words of his own into it. He then presented the final product to me in the form of a hand-bound booklet. Hmmmm...

A peek inside, you say? Sure.

"I have learned again to trust myself
It isn't easy
Someone who seems to know
Someone who seems
to be wiser
Can convince me,
[that Fred on Scooby Doo
wasn't gay. But then
I watch it again, and I know
that he didn't wear ascots
Because they were cool.]"

Brooks and I came together more as an act of God than an active choice on our parts. He thought I was shallow and conceited (he was right) and I thought he was stiff and boring (because I didn't know him). He ran in intellectual circles and went to poetry readings, I put off Advanced Writing until my very last semester (a class he used to teach, no less), he loved discussing politics and current events, I thought NPR stood for "No Possible Refund" at ZCMI. He loved cycling and being outdoors, I preferred the small enclosure of a darkroom. He — soft and intelligently spoken, me — loud and opinionated. The only reason we were spending Valentine's together that year was because, after trying over and over not to go out with me, he finally gave in to Divine pressure and called me up.

(That and he thought I was hot.)

Take another peek:

"Love — from me to you.

My beauty — take my hand.
I'm so proud of you
The way people love you
The strength you offer
To those in need
[And the way you beat them
If they get too pushy about it]"

So, on Valentine's Day eve, ten years later I say to him, "Don't get me anything for tomorrow. I know you didn't but I don't want to be surprised. I didn't get anything for you and I don't want to feel like a jerk."

This sort of rhetoric pretty much defines a pragmatic relationship like ours. Is it because it's been ten years? Is it because we skipped the romantic beginning and went straight to "for time and all eternity"? Well, who knows. What I can say is this: even though I wasn't a fellow student in his grad program, I ain't no dummy neither. I don't care if Brooks married me because the Blue Fairy told him to, I'm runnin' with it.

Over the course of our marriage, Brooks has given me a fertile patch of soil in which to sink my roots and sprout, to discover the self I always knew was there but that just needed the right environment to grow. He listens, doesn't criticize, is patient, has a wealth of information in his brain, and is the only one who can calm my troubled waters. Brooks is the nurturing component of our parenthood, he reminds me that keeping perspective is essential, and was the one who finally told me that NPR is actually an acronym for "National Public Radio" - a station that is always on in the car when I drive.

OK, you have better things to do to celebrate the holiday so I'll finish here. Even though all of the above is true, what really sealed the deal in the end was that Brooks Briggs, from our very first date, made me laugh harder than I had in a very, very long time. From that moment I knew I never wanted to be without that feeling again. And if God could be so gracious as to make things work out between us, I would never let Him live to regret it.

Love does happen
like a touch
of grace

It falls
Into place
Where there used
To be
Empty space

When I hold your
In my hands
I ask
How did this happen
To me?
[I thought it was attached
Firmly to your head.]

A Tale of Two Teeth

"And don't let Buck anywhere near that!" I say to Brahm as he disappears into his bedroom.

"Buck" is what the little grandkids call my dad. He and my mom are due for a visit and Brahm's tooth is loose. This is a bad combination. When I was a little girl with a loose tooth of my own, my dad would say, "Here, let me wiggle it just a little," then pop it out of my mouth before I knew what was what. Somehow he knew that I would be too stunned by what he had done followed by complete absorption in the tooth itself to be too mad. And he was right (though I still give him a hard time about it to this day). So, having given Brahm a fair warning, I go to bed that night resting easy.

A loose tooth is a milestone in childhood. You wait for your first one to give any sign that it's on the way out and when it does, you can’t stop fiddling with it. Brahm’s first tooth came out a few months ago by accident when he and his brother were wrestling on their bed. Now that the second tooth is loose, it’s a big deal since it’s the first time he gets to go through the process start to finish. Like most kids, he’s excited to lose it but he’s also afraid it’s going to hurt when it comes out.

“Why don’t you tie it to the doorknob with some floss then slam it shut?” This was a popular technique with me after I got wise to Buck’s method. Brahm pulls a face to let me know he won’t consider it. I try a more a humane approach, also drawn from my childhood. “You can always tie it to the ladder by your bed. That way, as you toss and turn during the night your tooth will be pulled out without you even knowing.” He’s definitely open to this one and walks away considering it.

That night he announces his decision: he wants to tie it next to the bed and asks me to do the honors. We’re all on hand to witness the spectacle: Oliver agog practically on top of him, me tying the knot and Brooks with the camera. Once it’s done, I say good night and ascend to the kitchen.

It’s half hour later, however, that I hear a commotion and not two second later see Oliver and Brahm rush into the kitchen, with Brooks a few feet behind.

“His tooth came out!” Oliver yells preemptively.

“Well?” I ask.

The boys are too busy examining the tooth so Brooks filled me in.

“Brahm said he couldn’t sleep because the string in his mouth was bothering him. I went to untie it but decided to wiggle it a little first. Before I knew it, I had pulled a Buck on him.”

“You did what?” I blurted, caught off guard.

He shrugged his shoulders a little and that was that. I looked over at Brahm who was happy and relieved so I let it go. He was obviously way too absorbed in the tooth to care.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ode to Mr. Cupcake, Wherever He May Be

Brian Cupcake is what Amy and I called this man that did landscape work at the house where we grew up . His first name really was Brian but the appellation was one we invented. He said that if we did not stop pestering him, he would dig a deep hole in the ground, fill it with water, throw us in and only feed us cupcakes made out of mud, snails, and rocks. I guess it wasn’t much of a deterrent because we continued to plague him with various “traps” — you know, the sophisticated “leave-the-rake-lying-about” sort. Once, we stretched my pee-stained baby blanket between two trees fully expecting him to walk into it to be tortured by the scent of urine (never mind the fact that the blanket had been washed many times between my diaper-wearing stage and the present kindergarten year). We tossed marshmallow berries all over the sidewalk so he would step on them and release streams of berry juice into his eyes, blinding him forever. Didn’t we have homework or something to do?

photo: Christmas morning, probably 1976. I'm in front with the infamous binky in my mouth.

I can’t recall a childhood memory that doesn’t include my sister. Amy and I were born sixteen months and exactly one week apart (she’s older) so we were always close as kids. In fact, people would often mistake us for twins even though we didn’t look a lot alike. Maybe it’s because our mother dressed us in matching clothes anyway. Maybe it was the (usually) long, blond hair or sun-kissed skin. At any rate, if it was hard to tell us apart, it was even harder to keep us apart. Together we caught polliwogs in mayonnaise jars; built tree forts; played dolls, of course (“Joy” and “Noel” were Christmas presents one year); wrote, directed and starred in our own salad dressing commercials; took gymnastics and voice lessons; and screened the same “movie” over and over in the coat closet (which involved a flashlight and some faded Wizard of Oz stickers stuck to the wall). Our bike treads were worn thin from all the trips to the liquor store where we spent our quarters on Muncho's potato chips and demi cans of 7-Up.

As we grew older, we did less and less together. In fact, it became more apparent that we were very different people. She retained her free-spirited nature while I grew more serious. I focused on getting grades and beefing up a resume for college while she lived more in the moment. I was athletic, she poetic. Her friends were older and listened to alternative music. I liked it, too, but Top 40 was more my style.

photo: from a family picture taken around 1986. Amy (in red) has already finished junior high, I still have a year left.

But even as our life’s paths diverged, I always felt her love for me. During one particular rough patch in high school, I found the following written on plain white paper and slipped under my bedroom door (copied just as it is written):

I know how you feel
And if fudge had no fat
I would make you a bunch
And I’ve give you just that.

I’d send you some flowers
but in time they would wilt
And I can’t send you fudge
Cause of fat grams guilt.

I would give you a call
But my room's next to yours
And I could tell you I love you
By yelling through doors.

And the flowers would die
But my friendship would never
And the fudge is too fattening
And a phone call’s not clever.

But I wish you were happy
So I wrote you this letter
So you know I’ll be here
‘Till your problems are better.

As sisters do, we had our fair share of fights. When we were kids we had the knock-down, drag-out, hair-pulling kind. As teenagers they mostly took the form of arguments, hurt feelings and petty disagreements. But at the end of the day, whether I was six or sixteen, if I was too afraid to fall asleep by myself, I knew I could share a pillow with her.

We spent the first couple years of college in the same state but it wasn't long before our paths split again. She picked up and moved to New Orleans where I visited her once. I tried not to seem too out of place when she took me down to Bourbon Street one Friday night. I was a buttoned down BYU undergrad (and looked it, too), she a carefree artist out having a good time. "Hey, Sugar!" handsome men would call to her. "How about a little chocolate in your vanilla world?"

photo below: on my wedding day, July 1999

I didn't see or hear from her much after that. Whenever she did come to visit, everyone got excited. Her tales were so full of hilarity — impossibly mad capers she lived to tell about. If anything will get Amy by in a pinch, it's her sense of humor which is unrivaled in our family. And there's no one I know with more compassion for complete strangers than my sister.

After Louisiana she lived in Alaska for a time, then on to Illinois where she finished her degree. Eventually she moved to Boston where she met her husband and lives today.

I had a message on the answering machine Monday morning to tell me their first baby, a boy, had been born. "Hi, Jenny - it's Amy. I'm just calling to say that I had my baby all natural," she began. "And [he's] sooo cute," she cooed into the phone. I wish I was there and could see her. I wish I could pick up her sweet little beeb and whisper into his ear to tell him how much he is loved and about the wonderful childhood that awaits him. I can only hope his memories will be as rich as mine. With such a beautiful woman for a mother, I can't imagine it otherwise.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I Feel Robbed (Then Something About Ants)

I just shelled out $160 at OfficeMax to stock our printers and fax machine with ink cartridges. There has to be a better way! I'm asking any of you (whether you know me or not) to please leave a comment if you know of any online suppliers (or other venues) that you have used to get ink for less. Thank you!

To make up for the boring entry above, I'm adding some visual interest for the day which is a small colony of harvester ants. The boys got the ant habitat for Christmas two years ago but I only got around to ordering the actual ants last week. In my defense, I originally ordered them that same year but they arrived too early and would have died if we had waited until Christmas day. Instead we made a habitat with sand and a Kerr jar. It worked fine but of course was not nearly as cool as this one. This one is a clear container filled with a sugary gel which the ants both eat and tunnel with. Attached at the bottom is a lighting unit so the whole thing can be illuminated as shown. The truth is that Brooks and I are as into it as the boys are! It's so fascinating to watch the colony work together and to follow their progress in burrowing the tunnels.

You can go to to order both the habitat and ants. The housing is $21 (we paid $30 at a local shop) and the ants are $5 (including shipping when ordered alone).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

No, Seriously...

"Do some dads get children then make the woman leave?" Oliver asks. We're in the car together on the way to an appointment when he asks the question. It catches me off guard because it seems to come out of nowhere — that and it's phrased a little peculiarly, too.

"Do you mean, do some men get married just to have children then make their wife move out when they finally have all the kids they want?"


I'm suppressing a laugh, something I have to do often in this business. I try hard to make our home a place where open discussion can take place, where the boys feel free to ask Brooks and me anything. In fact, once I came out and said as much to them: "If you have the courage to ask me, I will have the courage to tell you." I said, referring to things they might hear at school but are too embarrassed to bring up. I had no idea my words would produce such instant results. Oliver comes straight up to me with his middle finger extended horizontally to the floor and says, "Did you know this is a swear word?" He is in total earnest, I in total suppression.

I am loving the stage of life Oliver is in right now. He is so full of curiosity but at the same time hasn't been socialized enough to edit his questions and comments. This makes for some very lively discussions. Take today, for example, when he tells me he's glad he's not a girl.

"Why's that?" I want to know, already thinking of my own reasons.

"Because then they'll never have to cut my tummy open to get the baby out."

"Sometimes that's how doctors have to deliver a baby but most of the time it doesn't happen that way," I say, apparently persuading him that being a girl wouldn't be so bad after all (?).

"Then how does the baby get out?"

When I explain how that biz all shakes out, I can see by the look on his face that he'd rather have his stomach cut open.

OK, so back to the car conversation.

I want to give his question a thoughtful response but all that comes to mind are images of what a baby-hungry predator might look like. Is he white collar? Does he congregate in communities of like-minded dads? Does he live next door to me? Really, such a specimen of irresponsibility could be anyone. While I'm thinking of it, I add this as reason #798 to my list of why I should not have another baby.

"Well, Oliver," I begin, as I usually do. I then go on about all the different shapes and sizes a family can take, different divorce scenarios and child-custody arrangements. This goes on for a few minutes with me blah-blah-blahing and him politely listening when suddenly I stop.

I totally get where he's coming from now.

"Hey," I ask, a hint of accusation in my voice. "Are you wanting to know if someday I'm going to move out so you and Brahm can live with Dad all by yourselves, just the boys?"

"Uh-huh." he replies, sounding as if today might be a good one to start packing.

I see how it is. Well, I guess this time the joke's on me!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Not Now

Three things I am currently avoiding:

1. Tiling the downstairs bathroom
2. Having a dental crown replaced
3. Going to bed