Sunday, August 31, 2008

Timpanogos Storytelling Festival

This weekend I attended the Timpanogas Storytelling Festival, and it was FABULOUS! There's something magical about finding yourself totally engaged and immersed in a's like watching a movie, except better, because the images are playing directly in your head.

One of my favorite tellers was Kevin Kling. He's a young man from Minnesota, who could be a stand-up comic. He had us rolling in the aisles as he told about his experience of running a marathon without bothering to train for it. He told about going to a baseball game with his buddies, and them making a bet about whether a particular teenage spectator a few rows away would lick the last of the nacho cheese directly out the container when he finished the chips. They bet money on it, and then other guys nearby wanted a piece of the action, and then the bet spread throughout the stadium like wildfire, with all eyes, even the baseball players, eventually on the "young man of destiny"...who did happen to lick the last of the cheese out of the container to a great cheer from the crowd!

I loved Kevin's fun sense of humor, but then was also touched by his humanity. He is disabled, born with an incomplete left hand and arm. Later, he was in a motorcycle accident that severed the nerves going to his right arm. In a tender, moving, and humorous way, he talked about being in a coma, how frustrating it is to be disabled, and how various people react to him. He said that once something is broken...whether it be our arms or our hearts or other parts of our lives...the truth is that that broken part will never be the same again. But, as we work around our broken parts, we find that we develop in other, unexpected areas, and that we still have the opportunity to choose what we'll be.

I loved Rex Ellis, a black man who had worked at Williamsburg Virginia and at the Smithsonian. He told stories from his childhood, about his attempts to woo a girl in his 4th grade class, and about how he came to God (when as a child he broke the screen door for a second time and was sure his father was going to kill him!). During one hour, he played on his banjo, preached a sermon on liberty that had been given to slaves before the civil war, and then shared an African prayer. He told a true story about a slave who escaped by being nailed in a wooden box and getting mailed to Philadelphia...he told the story by relating the dialog between the slave and his mother as he planned the escape. His mother thought he was crazy and didn't want him to go. He reassured her, and told her that the first thing he would do when he got out of that box, was sing a song for her. And, the history books show that that's exactly what he did.

Carmen Deedy is a little spunky Cuban woman, who grew up in the American South and used several accents...Cuban, Appalachian, refined Georgian lady, and she told hilarious stories about her life there.

Two of the storytellers were also mimes....Motoko is a young Japanese lady and had us laughing our heads off at the stories she told as she mimed the actions. Antonio Rocha is a Brazilian of African descent who told several Africa-related stories...I was amazed at his ability to move like an animal so much that you believed it as he told his stories. One of his stories used no words at was a pantomime of a fearful flier on an airplane, and was hilarious.

There are too many tellers to tell about, so I'll just have to say that I highly recommend this event. It's held in Orem every Labor Day weekend. It's going to be my new Labor Day tradition....maybe I'll see you there sometime!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Pergola Party

This past Saturday my good neighbors, faithful home teachers, and kind family helped me finish a project I've been putting off for a couple of years...they helped me put up a pergola in my back yard.

The word "pergola" isn't familiar to many people, so first I'll post a photo of the finished product, so you'll know what I'm talking about. (And, I just realized that I've been mis-pronouncing the's not per-GO-la, but PER-guh-la).

I am so appreciative to all the people who helped!!
From left to right, there's
  • me,
  • Pete and Lee Skolmoski (who live across the street and are the best neighbors I've ever had--they are always looking out for me. Their wife/mother Danielle is taking the photo),
  • McKay, Spencer, and John Downs. John is one of my home teachers and also a great scout leader to my nephew Parker. McKay and Spencer are in the Sunday School class I teach, and always know the answers and are helpful and respectful to all in the class.
  • Steve Baldridge, the one holding the level, is my other faithful home teacher. Steve was the driving force behind actually getting this project done. I mentioned it to him a few months ago, and he took the responsibility to organize a crew and get the work done...I was the one dragging my feet!
  • Tracy and Parker Schofield, my sister and her son. Tracy took the initiative to plan and cook a beautiful breakfast for all the people who came to help.
  • Suzy and Rick Dooley, my sister and her husband, who live nearby with their three daughters. Suzy, Rick, and Tracy helped me slowly assemble the pergola piece by piece over the past few years, until we got stuck at the step that required 8 people to place the top on the pillars.

I also owe gratitute to LaVon Driggs, who borrowed a truck to help me haul the pergola from Costco to my house when I bought it a few years ago.

Here are a few more photos from the day.

Here's a photo of my neice Mallory (seated, Tracy's daughter), with Anna, Lily Beth, and Debbie (Suzy's daughters).

Here's Parker and McKay showing off their "gravel slinging" skills:

Here are my faithful home teachers:

Here are the wives of my faithful home teachers:

Here's Steve, Pete, and Tracy, planning how we were going to do this.

Thanks to everone who helped! Now I just need to figure out what I'm going to do with this area. I've thought of growing grapes over the pergola, or maybe roses. Or making a rock garden. Or, painting the cinderblock fence with a garden scene of a fountain and potted plants and putting a few real potted plants around. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I'd love to hear them!

AJ in the hospital

On Friday night, I received a phone call from my brother Joe. His son AJ, who is 8 or 10 months old, was having serious breathing problems and was in the hospital in Tooele. The hospital wanted to transfer AJ to Primary Children's Medical Center for treatment, and so I spent the night at Joe's home in Tooele with his three other children so that he and Phyllisa could get AJ situated in the other hospital.

When I arrived at Joe's home, a sweet young lady from their ward had been there babysitting. She was so very kind and was unwilling to accept any payment for her services during an emergency like that. Shortly after I arrived, her father and their dog came to walk her home, since she had ridden her bike there. I was touched by their helpful attitudes.

Nathan, who is 8 years old, was still up when I arrived at 10:30 p.m. and was a wonderful host to me. He is still a little too small to pull out the hide-a-bed by himself, but tried hard at it until we could do it together. He went and found the sheets for me, and carefully tucked them in around the corners of the bed. He helped me unload the dishwasher and do the dishes, and helped me find an outlet to re-charge my cell phone. He was so sweet and helpful, it made me love him all the more.

Daniel and Hannah were already asleep when I arrived, and I had to leave early to get home to help host a breakfast for people who were coming to put up my pergola, so I didn't get a chance to interact with them.

As of Saturday night, AJ was still in the hospital. They've given him treatments to reduce the inflammation in his lungs and help his breathing, he seems to be responding well. They won't release him until he can go 12 hours without needing oxygen.

Please join me in praying for AJ and his family.

Here's a photo of AJ sitting on his Aunt Suzy's lap a few weeks ago:

An unexpected package

One evening this past week, I came home from work to see an unexpected package on my front porch. It was from Mads & Shirley Cottrell.

Hmmm. I had to think a minute. I think I'd met Mads Cottrell once in my life. When I was 10 years old. At a Jensen family reunion in Wyoming. I met lots of distant relatives that day, and Mads is the only one I remembered because he looked just like my Dad. He's my Dad's cousin.

I opened the package, which had a book and a letter in it. The book was a spiral bound "History of Mads 'C' Jensen Family". The letter was so tender, it made me cry. Here's an excerpt from it:

"Since all of our parents and many cousins have left to reap their heavenly rewards, I have had the good fortune of receiving some very important information to all of us I would like to share with you. What made me think of this was after we had recently laid to rest another dear sister-in-law, reality hit me that we are of the older generation now and one day I am going to be gone also. I am not complaining, because I know this is part of the plan of salvation and we all must eventually reap what we have sown.

"As far as I know there was just one copy of the original information I have sent you. It frightened me to think someone, after my passing, would not realize the worth of this information and it might be thrown out, and destroyed. Therefore, I have had prepared 20 copies, one for each of you .... With these 20 copies scattered with each of us and still the original, I hope our children and grandchildren and on, can find a copy if they want one.

"I am very happy you are my cousin and I am part of the Jensen Family. I pray each of us will hold to the iron rod and live lives that it will make it possible for us to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost at all times. Hopefully we will remember, and live the 3rd Article of Faith we learned while we were in Primary: WE BELIEVE THAT THROUGH THE ATONEMENT OF CHRIST, ALL MANKIND MAY BE SAVED BY OBEDIENCE TO THE LAWS AND ORDINANCES OF THE GOSPEL.

"Love you, Mads"

I was touched that Mads would go to the effort and expense to make and distribute these copies of this family history information. I plan to write him and express my appreciation. My mother had already given me and each of my siblings a copy of this history, and so if any of you who are descendants of Mads Jensen would like a copy of this and don't have one already, please do let me know and I will send you the copy Mads Cottrell sent me.

I took some time to review the life histories, and found them uplifting. I especially loved reading the life history of my grandmother Ada Jensen Conlin, since I had grown up in the same town where she lived and knew her well. My mother, who is a very talented writer, had helped my Grandma Ada write her history in a very vivid way. I just wanted to share some of my favorite passages with you.

My Grandma Ada's mother died when she was only 8 years old, and she really struggled without a mother. She was the youngest of 12 children, and so was at the bottom of the pecking order without a mother to protect her. When she was 12, her father married again, to a wonderful woman. Here's what she said about it:

"I'll never forget what I thought when I first saw Mary Ann Hansen. She had come on the train to Greybull and then on the stage 25 miles to home. Roads weren't too good in those days, so naturally she was tired. She was kind of homely like Abraham Lincoln. I went in the kitchen and I whispered to brother Lynn "Gosh, she is ugly!"

"The next morning we got up and she was fixing breakfast. She didn't look like the same person. She was actually pretty. She grew more beautiful every day of her life. O how I loved her. She didn't let the other children boss me. She was the best Mother in the whole world. We kids would do anything to please her. We called her Aunt Mary Ann. That soon changed to Aunt Mary, which meant Mother to me. What a difference she made in my home. "

I loved that phrase...."she grew more beautiful every day of her life"! I think that does happen to people who love greatly. What an amazing woman Mary Ann Hansen was, to be willing to be a loving stepmother to 12 children, and what a huge impact she had on these children!

My Grandma Ada and Grandpa Bill weren't always active in the Church, but they always were very devoted to their family and loved each other greatly. I was touched by this passage:

"Bill was asked to be the Superintendent of the Mutual. They gave him two weeks to quit smoking. It was a real challenge for him, but he did it. Every time he was ready to give up, one of the boys [my Dad or one of my two uncles] would walk in and say, "I am sure proud of my Pop today. He has gone this many days without smoking." They seemed to know his weak moments. He was always proud of this hard accomplishment. He never tasted a cigarette again."

Anyway, what a treat it was to receive an unexpected, uplifting package in the mail! I appreciate my heritage and loving family.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Utah Olympic Park

I've been trying to see all the fun things around Utah, and today that took me and my friends Jared and Adriana to the Utah Olympic Park, near Park City.

This is one of two places in the United States (the other is in Lake Placid, New York) where acrobatic ski-jumpers can train.

Today we saw their "Flying Aces" show where some of the athletes take a break from training to show off their's a video of some of the jumps.

The athletes learn to do flips on a trampoline first. Once they are comfortable with controlling their movement in the air, they do the ski-jumps into a pool of water. Just as they are landing in the water, a guy pushes a button that causes jets in the pool to start running that softens their landings. Once they've mastered jumping into pools, they do the jumps that require them to land on the ground. I am amazed at people who have the guts to do that!

While the jumpers are climbing back up the steps for their next jump, they entertain you by having the the little kids (like 8 and 10 years old) who are in the Park City ski jumping club jump off a smaller ramp. They're really cute.

While you are there, you can also ride zip lines, an alpine slide, or even a bobsled. Since the bobsled ride was $60 for about a minute of fun, we decided to take a cheaper route and do this simulated bobsled ride instead:

They have a fun museum with exhibits from the 2002 Winter Olympics. Here's Adriana with the Olympic Torch.

Here's me, looking entirely too smiley for this photo to look anywhere near realistic! Next time I'll do my "intense concentration" look instead!

Nathan's 8th Birthday

Last weekend my nephew Nathan turned 8 years old. Since my sister Suzy and I will both be out of town for Nathan's baptism, we threw a special "Jungle Expedition" birthday party to help him celebrate! Suzy came up with all sorts of fun games.

There was the "stick a frog to the wall" contest, which clearly delighted my niece Hannah in the video here:

The kids enjoyed finding toy snakes, frogs, and bugs that Suzy had hidden around the yard. Here's a photo of them sharing the loot after their bug gathering expedition:

Suzy had a brown paper map that showed the way to a lost treasure, but which required braving the rock ledge of death, walking on a beam over an alligator pond, running through a bat cave, jumping over a piranha pool, crawling under a poisonous vine and over a quicksand pit, jumping over spiders' nests, and finally running through a field of giant mosquitoes. (I didn't realize I had all that stuff in my backyard...I guess I just didn't have the imagination to see it before!) The kids loved it! Here's a video of the kids finding the hidden treasure, with my brother-in-law Rick providing the deadly mosquitoes:

The kids (and some of the adults too!) enjoyed batting the piƱata that my brother Joe and his wife Phyllisa brought. We were grateful that the hornets that were nesting in the basketball hoop we were using didn't sting anybody (and I made it a point to get rid of them as soon as I could later)!

Suzy made another of her amazing cakes. I loved this photo of Nathan blowing out the candles, with his sister Hannah and cousins Debbie and Anna vicariously blowing out the candles too!

It was fun day!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Sheep and Shakespeare in Cedar City

My friend Jann Nishimoto organized a trip to Cedar City to attend the Utah Shakespearean Festival, and I was lucky enough to tag along. Geri Nishimoto, Flora Santiago, and Julie Gardner also joined in the fun.

One of the plays we attended was "The Two Gentlemen of Verona". The playbill said that this was one of Shakespeare's least enjoyed or appreciated comedies, but I found it quite entertaining. It's a story of two young men--best friends--who end up falling in love with the same woman. One of them betrays the other and acts very badly, but learns important lessons, changes, and is forgiven by all at the end.

It has some very delightful dialog...I enjoy how Shakespeare uses his fools, clowns, and servants to make profound statements about the nature of life and love. This play is where the statement "Love is blind"'s in the middle of a very amusing conversation between one of the young men and his servants.

I was impressed with the actors' ability to memorize the complex dialog, and to project their voices throughout the theatre without microphones. (We were sitting on the 4th row, which was close enough to see them spit as they worked hard to speak loud enough to be heard by people on the last row of the balcony).

Another play we attended was "The Taming of the Shrew". We watched a version that had been adapted to happen near the time of World War II. Although I enjoyed Shakespeare's great dialog here again, I found the play very distasteful. Katherine, an ill-tempered woman, is given in an arranged marriage to a husband who withholds food and sleep and otherwise abuses her. She turns into a sweet, submissive wife and the play ends with her lecturing the other women on how they are their husband's property and they exist to serve him.

The story line just doesn't ring true to me. Abusing someone is not an effective way to make them sweet and submissive. You may get your way in the short run, but definitely not in the long run. And, the misogynistic ideas just don't sit well with my modern "women-are-people-too" sensibilities. I think I'll skip this one in the future...

The other plays being shown this year include:

  • Cyrano de Bergerac
  • Othello
  • The School for Wives (which Jann and Geri saw and enjoyed)
  • Fiddler on the Roof

The festival ends August 30, so you've still got a little time if you'd like to check it out!

So, I've told you about Shakespeare, but are you wondering where the sheep come in? That happened the next day, when we took a little drive to see the unique places in the area. We spent the night at Brian Head ski resort, and then headed to see the Cedar Breaks canyon, pictured below:

From there, we headed towards Bryce Canyon, until we were stopped by a traffic jam (or more precisely, a "sheep jam"). Here's a little video of the experience:

As we neared Bryce Canyon, we got to drive through the unique Red Canyon, which has two rock tunnels you can drive your car through, just like in the movie "Cars".

Finally, we spent a few minutes admiring the Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon. Here's a few shots from there:

Here's Jann and I, not wanting to stand too close to the edge! Later we were interested to read about the top causes of death at Bryce Canyon. They are:

  • Heart attacks (we figured that happened when people tried to climb up the steep slopes out of the canyon. Walking down is so fun and kind of get lured into going deeper than you realize...)
  • Falling off cliffs (fortunately, we avoided that one)
  • Lightening (we did get sprinkled on, and thought it would be cool to get some photos of lightening over the canyon, but decided it's better to buy a "lightening over Bryce" post card instead!)
  • Vehicle accidents

We thought that the roots of this tree, which were a foot above ground, were pretty cool:

Here's one last shot: