Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

Storm Trooper Takes LA

A couple of weeks ago, a friend pointed out that I need to blog more. True. This is me backblogging to the end of November when Brooks took a business trip to LA for a video shoot. As is customary, Brahm sent him packing with a Lego figure (this time, a Storm Trooper) to document the trip. I present the following:

On the set

"Pull focus!"

You can't see him because he's behind the lens on this one.

Out on the town

Lunch break at the Griddle Cafe

Bumping into Alan Tudyk at the airport ("Wash" of Firefly fame, a favorite of Brooks and mine)

Good-bye coastline, hello inversions!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Makin' Treehugger Mama Proud

Brahm and Oliver got "Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans" in their stockings. After sampling "booger" flavor, Oliver made sounds of throwing-up while declaring how disgusting it was. Knowing my children's habits as I do, this surprises me.

"Wait a second," I say looking at Oliver. "I thought you guys liked the taste of boogers."

"Yeah," he says, "but this is artificial."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Solstice

Today is the first day of winter, the day in which we have the least amount of daylight hours of the whole year (9 hours, 14 minutes and 53 seconds where I live, to be exact). We celebrated last night since winter technically arrived around 9:30 PM. Every year we get together with a couple of friends and loosely celebrate with food, a reading of the poem "The Shortest Day", then more food after that. This year I did some informal research on Solstice traditions around the world so I could embellish the celebration and up our credibility a bit.

Citrus bath for purification
Before supper, the boys and I drew a bath for them. Apparently in some Asian cultures, this time of year calls for a citrus bath that holds purification properties. Shopping for the fruit was one of the funnest parts, letting them choose among the assortment in the produce section. Pomelo, kumquat, lemon, lime, tangerine, grapefruit, orange and blood orange is what we ended up with. They set out tea lights all over the bathroom, lit them and with a handful of salt (also for purification), jumped in. This really was a beautiful sight and what was even more wonderful was how they were really into it. They wound up cutting most of the fruit in half and sampling it all. It ended when Oliver's belly button started stinging too much from the citric acid in the water.

Today is one of those days I wish I had more time to myself to finish this entry. I'd like to write about the bonfire we lit outside and the yule logs we threw on (the boys were champs and dug the pit for it in the rock hard soil) and other meaningful observations. It's already 10:30 in the morning and as soon as the boys come in from shoveling the walk (something to keep them busy while I'm writing), they'll be chomping at the bit for something fun to do. Christmas break can be a strain for all of us at times since we are not accustomed to spending hours upon hours together.

So I'll end with the poem that is read every year. Reading it is not the same as hearing the vocal rendition but for that, you'll have to show up at our house on December 21, 2012.

"The Shortest Day" by Susan Cooper

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fruit of the Harvest

 Lately I've been sinking into a lot of books on mythology, dreams and Jungian psychology. I would say that this photo is unrelated visual interest but, maybe it's not. I took it last week after Brooks and I pulled up the garden's tomato plants and put the beds to winter rest. This tree grows on the adjacent property (the owner has generously offered as many as I want) so we sat underneath it and gathered a few.

Here's what one book says an apple can represent: "In dreams, the apple is often seen as a symbol of wrongdoing, dating back to the the apple offered to Adam. In waking life, who, or what, has tempted you?" It hasn't showed up recently in my dreams but we've sure had our fair share of apple pie, apple crisps, apple sauce and eating them plain (fresh and baked).

Well. perhaps I have fallen into temptation of sorts since some of our harvest has come from what I like to call "orphaned" trees - trees whose fruit is falling to the ground and going to waste either because the property is abandoned or the owner is overwhelmed by sheer quantity of fruit and can't keep up. Brahm refuses to help pick if I haven't received explicit permission and Oliver will help but "only because you're forcing me to do it." Now there's an interesting psychoanalytical opportunity, eh?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Special Price for You, Pretty Lady

Hendrik Winkel with his bakery cart, 1900.
In his younger years, my great-grandpa Winkel sold baked goods from a horse-drawn cart in Holland, his country of origin. Later, he came to America with his wife and children, settled in Richfield, Utah and opened up a bakery with a proper storefront. Most of his children emerged with a similar entrepreneurial spirit, including Francis Benjamin, my grandfather. Francis left Utah for California in his twenties and, after trying his hand at a few things, also settled into the bakery business. A true entrepreneur usually has his hand in several pies (no pun intended) so it was no surprise that Grandpa went into real estate investment and also opened up a lumber company, one my father eventually took over and ran successfully for many years. I've seen this spirit in my father and in myself, as well (starting up the community garden in our neighborhood was an entrepreneurial endeavor in many ways). And so it came as absolutely no surprise that Oliver Briggs showed up on this planet with an obvious desire to go into business for himself.

Take yesterday, for example. After months of growing and tending heirloom tomato seedlings he planted himself, Oliver finally opened his doors to the public in the form of a simple vegetable stand we set up on the side of a busy road here in Sandy.

Oliver Briggs at his tomato stand, 2011.

"This one is called Striped Cavern," he explained to one customer. "It's hollow inside so it's great for stuffing with rice or cheese."

His tomatoes come in an array of colors, shapes and sizes - Green Sausage, Cherokee Purple, Moonglow, Brandywine and Green Grape, to name a few.

The road to glory hasn't always been smooth. Some of his seedlings bit the dust from disease or a missed watering schedule. He'll be the first to tell you that weeding his plants on a hot July afternoon is not one of his favorite things to do, either. But any seasoned entrepreneur has stories to tell of the low points along the way.

My sense is that his lows were quickly forgotten yesterday as he lined his pockets with dollar bills.

"Why do you work so hard to take care of your plants?" I asked him one day back in April.

"Because I want money," was his simple answer.

Ah, yes. "And because you like a challenge, too," I thought to myself. For most entrepreneurs, the two together are hard to resist.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Where Am I?

Emerald Bay

(Written Wednesday, July 27))

I'm sitting at the kitchen table of my cousin's cabin in South Lake Tahoe. I'm alone. Like, very alone. My nearest husband and children are 600 miles away. And I feel fine about that.

OK, that's a lie. The first two days of my vacation I felt like crap about that. Not like guilt crap but like actual "I miss you" crap. Which is so unlike me. Maybe all this meditation mumbo jumbo is backfiring and my raisin heart is graduating to prune status. I don't think I'm ready for that.

But I digress. I'm sitting at the kitchen table on the last of my four days here. I stink from beach, suntan oil and sweat. I'm procrastinating filling the bathtub mostly because I'm so tired. And I'm reflective. So I write.

In the cold of Utah winter I started hatching plans for this vacation. My cousin David and his wife Amy had bought a cabin here and generously offered it as a place to get away. At first I modestly declined but as the winter grew longer and longer (and longer and longer), a warm place to go seemed like a good idea. Originally it was going to be a family vacation but I had a sudden change of heart a few weeks ago and decided to come by myself. We all went to Legoland together in April and had a good time, Brooks had suggested I might need a vacation (that may be his way of saying he needs a vacation, if you know what I mean) so plans were revised and here I am.

I haven't had so much solitude since, well, I actually can't remember when the last time I spent four days by myself. In fact, have I ever done this? No. Therefore, I had a long list of things I wanted to do with my alone time. I anticipated going out into the woods all day long and being deeply spiritual. You know, profound meditation with short snack breaks. Well, on Monday I sat around all day in my pajamas, cried while watching Legends of the Fall, and alternately ate from five different flavors of ice cream in between dread-grooming sessions. That's spiritual. Kind of. Keep reading if you are curious as to what kind of discovery and enlightenment the getaway did, in fact, bestow.

• Silence is rejuvenating. I don't think I need to say much more than that.

• In a true mosquito crisis, I will quickly abandon my homemade essential oil formula for good old-fashioned DDT.

• I pack around too much stuff in life, literally and figuratively speaking. What am I saving up for? I don't need that much to be happy.

• Brooks is my best friend. I take his companionship for granted. I take a lot of things for granted.

• Contrary to what I have often believed over the years, a life of care-free bliss would not make me happy. It would be oppressive, if it existed at all.

• I need to drive at least 500 miles to truly get away. This is essential, psychologically-speaking. I do not need to drive that far, however, to enjoy many of the things I have been doing out here. There are so many mountain lakes and trails (both hiking and mountain biking) in my own backyard that I've never explored. What am I waiting for?

• I do not need to go to the gym in order to get exercise.

• Speaking in terms of garbage, I create a lot of waste. I'm pretty sure I can 1) back on consumption in general and 2) minimize what I personally put into the landfill by more carefully selecting what kind of products I buy. I notice that this is something I'd like to change because I desire it, not because I think I should.

• I am easily distracted in my everyday life with things that are ultimately of little consequence.

• I want to try extending the garden season using hoop houses and row covers. Don't ask me how that factored in.

• The night sky here is so black that the stars shine all the brighter. Lying on my back looking up, I see God there.

• Nature is enduring. It kind of feels like when all is said and done, She's probably going to have the last word.

• I need to get out more.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

In Praise of Meditation

I started meditating as a daily practice almost a year and a half ago. For me this consists of sitting in silence for twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes at night (sometimes more but rarely less). I'm usually on the floor mattress in my "office", propped up by the wall and a bunch of throw pillows. At first I followed the Christian Contemplative model of letting the mind go blank, allowing the layers of my ego to dissolve in order to commune with God from my core. Then I realized this style was too advanced for me. The Zen Buddhist tradition of mindfulness has become the way I "sit". It simply involves paying attention in a non-judgmental way to whatever comes up in the moment. When my mind begins to wander into the past or future I can use my breath (or any of my five senses) to bring me back into the present. The non-judgmental part can say, "Oh, look - my mind has drifted" without getting frustrated that I am not "doing it right". In fact, non-striving is a key element of mindfulness. The Taoists say that by not striving to achieve anything, everything is achieved.

Many people who mediate in earnest call it a “practice”. I have come to understand it in the way that we say “I will practice the piano” or “I’m going to a dance practice”. For me, being mindful in my daily activities does not come naturally – it takes practice. So I do.

Maybe I will write another day about how I came to meditation or how unfamiliar it seemed at first. Today I am thinking of how the quality of my life is different all these hours of practice later. Take the present moment, for example.

I’m sitting at the computer journaling this and Oliver comes in and points a homemade Lego gun in my face. I stop what I am doing and give him my attention simply by looking down the barrel into his eyes. I see mischief. Normally I would be irritated by this “intrusion” but in this moment I feel curious. I feel mindful.

“I am going to attack the Jennicita,” he informs me in an alien voice. 

I continue my gaze.

“Do you think this can really shoot you?” he asks, pressing the gun a little closer to my face. I admit aloud that, indeed, I am wondering that very thing. He pulls the trigger. The bullet misses and lands somewhere in my hair.

“Oh, no!” he shrieks. “Now I’ll never find it!”

Meditation has enlarged my capacity to connect to moments like these. In this moment with Oliver, my heart feels at home, I feel an eternal connection to my child. I am not worried about how we are supposed to be packing the car right now to head out of town for the Fourth. There is more stillness, less angst.

The angst and irritation still happen but I am a hostage to them less and less. Mindfulness acknowledges heartbreak, sadness, fear, and anger – they don’t just magically disappear because I meditate. It’s that somehow the container that holds them is larger so they occupy less of the space. I have been able to sit with them and acknowledge them as guests – I know they will not stay forever. With no small measure of grace I can even wonder what I can learn from them, tune into what they are teaching me and be the wiser for it.

Let’s be clear here: the inner Godzilla is alive and well. I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon. I think the difference is that now I can make room for that part of me as well. I know that it’s there (and still makes plenty of messes) but I also know that it doesn’t have to run the show all the time.  Practice has cultivated an ability to say, “Hmm, look at that. Godzilla just showed up” and trust that Tokyo will still be there in the morning.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

It's the Little Things That Count

So, we're driving up to the movie theater tonight to See Kung Fu Panda 2. Brooks had been at a writer's group this afternoon and while he was gone the boys and I cleaned up the driveway - weeding, blowing out dead leaves, etc. In the car Brooks complimented the boys on all their efforts.

"Thank you, boys, for all your hard work today."

Encouraging the spirit of gratitude I say, "And thanks, Love, for taking us to the movie."

"Brahm catches on and adds in a wry tone, "And thanks, Mom, for giving birth to us."

Knowing it's his turn and not wanting to come up empty-handed, Oliver says, "Yeah, and thanks, Dad, for that Y chromosome."

Monday, May 2, 2011

I've Been Updated

(Written 4/25/11)

My friend Lizzie Young paid me a visit today. I didn't recognize her when I opened the door, probably because I knew her best ten years ago when she was nine. She and her family lived a block down the street from us before they moved back east. Liz used to babysit Brahm on occasion when he was just a peanut. She is a couple of days away from going back home after finishing her second year at BYU. She was in the neighborhood and dropped in to say hello.

I'm glad she did.

One of the funny things about getting older is that it's not so apparent to me as it's happening but becomes increasingly so in the company of younger people. Like Lizzie. She wondered if I was still doing photography and if I had the pictures I took of her and her sisters when they were children.

"I know I still have the negatives, at least, " I tell her.

"Negatives? What are negatives?" she wants to know.

I look at her intently. "You're kidding, right?" I ask. Her tone sounds sincere enough but it might be a playful jab.

She's not kidding.

Later she says in an upfront manner, "Jenny, you need to be on facebook." This is the equivalent of saying, "I want to keep in touch with you, just not in the archaic ways you might be accustomed to. Like phone. Email. Live conversation. You know." We texted on and off for the next couple of days so at least we were able to communicate somehow non faceboci.

Another thing I noticed about the way Lizzie and I reconnected was that most of it (minus a quick tour of the remodel) took place around the computer and cell phone. She showed me pictures of her family and friends and we did some music sharing, all via applications and internet sites.

Liz and I in a photo taken on a camera phone.

Look, I'm not at all against technology or staying current with the times. I'm only admitting that my reptilian brain does not evolve as quickly as, say, other people's. Or maybe that goes without saying for most aging humans. It's just that I really enjoy spending a good hour of conversation with someone I can see face-to-face. I like planting a tomato seedling into soil I can sink my hands into. A hands-on massage feels really good to me, whether I'm the giver or receiver. I can think more clearly if I can sit down with a few minutes and a good, hot cup of tea. I don't wear a watch. My friend Bekki laughs at me because I refer to Lowe's as "the hardware store". I prefer getting a cookbook off the shelf versus opening the Betty Crocker app Brooks put on (and I deleted off) my iPhone. I still send thank-you notes via snail mail (Lizzie, if you're reading this, "snail mail" is a modern term referring to the paper-and-envelope messages that US Mail couriers hand deliver to your house. For more info, refer to the Wikipedia app on your phone).

The upside is that she showed me how to install a playlist on my blog here. So far I only have a few songs and I'll have to figure out how to place it in the sidebar where you can actually see it (it's down at the bottom for now so start scrolling). But, hey, it's a place to start.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Tidings

I called Matty yesterday to see if he wanted to attend an Easter mass with me today. Every year I say I'm going to go to experience what it's like but I never do. Matt is not religious at all but I thought he might be up for it. He was so we went.

He found an early morning service at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in down town Salt Lake we could attend. Thinking it might be crowded, we got there early and were surprised to get good parking and seating. I warned him on the way there that I woke up with a sticky eye and so not to be surprised if I kept my distance.

A woman on the way in offered to take our picture. "I'm doing the rounds of Easter worship this morning," she said frankly. "I'm Unitarian by faith but I know Deacon Dodge here very well. I think you will enjoy the service."

Regarding the building itself, I learned that the exterior has a Roman style but is Gothic on the inside. Construction began in 1900, was completed nine years later and cost around $344,000 to build. The frescoes, windows, statues, font - everything - was absolutely stunning. This wasn't he first time I had ever been inside but it was the first time I had sat through a service. When I was a child, we lived within walking distance from the Mission San Jose de Guadalupe. I was raised a Mormon but, even so, there was so much Catholic influence in the history and culture of where I grew up that going into a Catholic church stirs up some nostalgia. Today was no exception.

I don't resonate with the vibe of the Catholic faith but I have to say that they observe some of the most beautiful traditions. I love the way the priest swings the censer that diffuses smoke into the air (the smell is incense-like and somewhat comforting), the sung portions of mass are haunting - especially the way the sound echoes up to the high ceilings, I like how the stained-glass windows tell stories from the Bible, and the organ accompaniment is concert-hall-worthy. I observed the devotion and conviction in members of the congregation. Most of all I liked being able to absorb new things about Easter simply by hearing it in someone else's language.

On our way out, I asked Matt what he thought of the service. Referring to the part where you turn to your neighbor, shake hands and wish them peace, he said, "My favorite part was when you gave pink eye to everyone around us."

Happy Easter.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Playing with Food

Brahm experiments with the culinary arts.

Friday, April 8, 2011

My Boy is Ten

Wow. Ten years ago this past Wednesday, Brahm Briggs made his foray into my life. I grabbed some photos from the first few years and posted them here - there's no way to do a compilation of the last decade. There's also probably no way to sum up the ways in which this little human has changed my life.

Does anyone even remember our kitchen looking like that?

An early sign of his persistent interest in space

Loading snowballs into his beloved dump truck Brooks found at DI

Fall leaves at the park across the street

Few people are prepared for parenthood. I thought I was - I mean my pregnancy with Brahm was a decision (yeah, even though by the time I decided we should start "trying" I was already pregnant and didn't even know it!). The first year was hard - I'm not going to lie. Making the transition from a self-centered life doing things I was good at to a life revolving around a creature that challenged every insecurity was tough. People told me not to blink or I would miss his childhood. My waking hours were much longer now - how could that be true? Well, I won't say it all happened in the blink of an eye - I have so many memories of first steps, first day of school, transition from trike to bike, first loose tooth to now braces - and yet here we are at the end of his fourth grade year. It strikes me that he is more than halfway to graduation from Brinkel University.

Like most parents, I sometimes I go into his room at night and watch him sleep. It's funny how his face has changed so much since he was a child and yet when he is asleep he has the same aspect of the nine-month-old I used to lay down for a nap: his cheeks go rosy, his eyelids have a pale lavender cast and his lips are full and smooth. Even his face is the round shape it used to be. When I look at him I marvel at the patience in his growing body, at the supply of second-chances for a woman who could use them. I see how he has opened me up to the wisdom of yin, to remembering what a less linear view of the universe is like. I get chances to admit that I don't know the answers but that I am willing to help him find them. Knowing him is learning and respecting the power of sovereignty, it's enjoying the journey more and worrying about the destination less.

I thank God for the classroom that being Brahm's mom has been.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

In No Particular Order

Thumbs Up

1. Survivorman: Les Stroud reality series on Netflix. Man survives in remote areas on the planet with harmonica, multitool and crushed corn chips in pocket.

2. Lunch with gay boyfriend Matty at new pho restaurant in town. (Double-thumbs up: Dad spots me a twenty - lunch is on him).

3. Settlers of Catan. Jenny finally concedes to play and likes it!

4. Monster Truck Rally with Aunt Vicki, Uncle Mark and Cousin Emmett.

5. Babysitting Nonah and Zuggie.

6. Oliver: "What I need is a little more Monchichi in my life."

7. Sister Mindy's new music video:

8. Spring Equinox Party with Elisa, Janelle, Chris, Amy and Peter. Rolling egg fortune game a pagan plus.

9. Buy Limited Edition Outback from in-laws. Fabu price and (heated) leather seats.

10. Kung Fu Panda 2, in theaters May 26.

Thumbs Down

1. Pet chicken Ozzie dies. $50 vet bill, prognosis: not good.

2. Whiplash, boys and I. (Prescribed massage therapy double-thumbs up. Tension headaches, double-thumbs down).

3. Cabbage farts. Not sayin' who.

4. Federal Taxes.

5. Brooks' lost wallet, April Trax pass included. (FYI: $5 reward).

6. Rough-housing on school bus = three staples in Oliver's melon. (Double-thumbs down: fifty-cent usage fee for photo.)

7. Jenny's ambulance trip to hospital ten days after auto accident. More expensive than vet bill but better prognosis.

8. Home domination of pesky houseplant gnats. They're everywhere.

9. Spotted: budding moustache hairs on Oliver's lip, not of peach-fuzz variety. Parents definitely not ready.

10. Snow storm today, at least four inches (more downed branches in back yard). Spring will just have to wait.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Indy and Snow Trooper #1476 Hit Boston

Brooks found out yesterday at 5:25 pm that he would be in Boston that night on business. He took the red-eye at 11:30 and comes home tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Oliver's Quote of the Day

Oliver jumps off the swivel chair, his face a knot of consternation. Behind him, Ebay glows on the computer monitor.

OLIVER: "Dad, I keep searching for swords but all I get are REAL swords that cut through bamboo and cost a lot of MONEY!"

You Have the Right to Remain Reverent

I'm pretty sure Oliver was the only kid bringing handcuffs to church this week.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

In With the New

Our life as a dream,
Our time as a stream
Glide swiftly away,
And the fugitive moment refuses to stay;

For the arrow has flown and the moments are gone.
The millennial year presses on to our view,
And eternity's here.

- Charles Wesley