Wednesday, December 27, 2006


That means Christmas Eve Dinner in Polish. My family had a Polish Christmas this year. Not because we’re Polish, but because for the past five Christmases our family chooses a country to pretend we’re from. There’s usually a reason behind the country of choice.

It all started in the year 2000 when we unconsciously kicked off the tradition by having a “Christmas around the world.” The following year my mom decided we should have a British Christmas because my parents go to England just about every year and English traditions were always a part of our upbringing anyway. The next year we did Germany because my mom was finishing up her MA in music and took German as her foreign language. The next year we had a Greek Christmas because my cousin Marissa studied Greece in grade school, and then last year we had a Feliz Navidad because my aunt and uncle went on an extended vacation to Mexico.

So this year we celebrated Polish traditions because my brother went on a mission to Poland (eight years ago). Christmas Eve is their big event, similar to our family. The dinner was interesting. We modified the traditional Wigilia seeing how carp didn’t sound appetizing. So we ate sausage, pork, pierogi, potatoes, dried fruit compote and bigos. My plate was really wanting a salad, but that wasn’t an option. I think my mom forgot the peas, but there was plenty to eat, even with 30 people at my parents’ house.

For dessert we ate this castle cake. My aunt Jill actually bought a mold especially for this occasion. Each year is quite the production. We could charge admission to our Christmas Eve parties. Everyone really gets into it. Whoever is hosting prepares a packet with Christmas traditions, histories, stories and carols from the country. My mom ordered these wafers online that all the men took and then passed around to everyone as we broke off a piece and exchanged well wishes. I kind of hated to eat them a) because they were so pretty with the design imprinted on them, and b) I knew they would be gross. They are similar to the communion wafer which tastes like Styrofoam. My mom also made stars on a stick for everyone that we held while singing Polish carols (there’s an old Polish tale about a lonely Polish star that ends up being the star of Bethlehem). I love my mom.

Carter talked about his two Christmases in Poland; about how his first one was miserable because he was sick, he had his worst companion ever and nobody at our house answered the phone when he called (we were all out in the garage checking out the new car my dad gave my mom). All the cousins (my generation cousins) each read a Polish superstition. Did you know that animals can speak at night but it’s bad luck to overhear them?

After the little Polish lesson and the singing, we moved downstairs for the second portion of the evening: My cousin Zach played a couple songs on his saxophone. He plays in the Davis High Marching Band, which is supposedly the best in the state. The best part though was when we jokingly asked my four year old niece Chloe if she wanted to dance and she went up there and danced for about eight minutes while he played. Half of us were on the floor laughing hysterically because it was the weirdest dancing we had ever seen and our laughing didn’t seem to embarrass or discourage her one bit.

Next was Uncle Lindsay’s movie clip game. He married into the family about ten years ago and felt a little out of place with our family’s focus on music. We used to do a program where just about everyone performed something. So Linsday decided his talent was movie trivia. The past two years my brother-in-law Josh won because he and Lindsay pretty much have the same taste in movies. But this year my sister-in-law Kelly and I dethroned Josh, tying for first place. I couldn’t have done it without the five-point bonus question where we had to guess which season of American Idol the clip was from. I don’t think I even saw it on TV, but if you follow Clay Aiken’s hairstyles it was clear the clip was his guest appearance on Season Five (last year).

I missed twelve movies, none of which I’ve seen:

Coming to America
The Jacket
Mr. Destiny
Broken Arrow
Must Love Dogs
Golden Child
The Right Stuff
The Dead Zone
Final Destination
Coach Carter
Men of Honor

I won a $30 gift card to Radio Shack, and Kelly won Cars on DVD. Lindsay always has a prize for the loser as well. One year it was a box of about 30 movies on VHS that he had recently upgraded to DVD. Lindsay has a ridiculous amount of DVDs. His entertainment room looks like a Hollywood Video.

The last activity was the White Elephant gift exchange. This year my aunt Susan put a twist on it by having us count off and then Carter told us our number in Polish which we had to memorize because when Carter said our number (in Polish) we had to jump up and grab a gift. There were a lot of us staring out into space whispering our number over and over again.

That’s all I really have time for and more than you need to know about I’m sure. I hope you enjoyed Christmas as much as I did!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Dinner with Sister Bailey

So tell me, did Chuck-a-Rama class up their buffet in the past ten years or is the 4th South location a cut above the rest? The last time I hit the buffet was a LONG time ago. I think my Grandma Durham resorted to taking us there when we refused eat her boiled kale, dandelions, and ghee.

The thought of going to Chuck a Rama the past several never even crossed my mind, and the only reason I went last night was because I was asked to attend “Dinner with Sister Bailey”. She bought dinner for all the international students in the stake. I’m not international, but I’m in the Relief Society Presidency and Sister Bailey asked Shanna and me to come and bring the international girls in our ward. So we brought Domonia from Madagascar.

I thought I would just go and eat some salad or something, but I ate much more. Oh, and apparently I hit the wrong side of the salad bar. Domonia started at the opposite side and met me at the end with a beautiful plate of spring greens, spinach, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries and poppy seed dressing. My arms dropped in disappointment when I looked down at my iceberg lettuce mixed with the typical red cabbage and shredded carrots, topped with Ranch dressing. Oh well. I tossed some spinach on there, blue cheese and called it good.

The dinner was a lot of fun. I would say about twenty people showed up. I met a bunch of girls from Peru, Puerto Rico, a guy from Hawaii (international enough, I suppose) and a guy from Bolivia named Diego. He sat across from me. The conversations were funny because accents were flying around everywhere. My favorite misunderstanding was when Shanna asked Diego what he does and he said, “I’m a teller.” Shanna shouted with surprising enthusiasm, “You’re a tailor!” In that split second she had plans for him to alter several of her dresses.

Another funny part of the night was when Diego asked me what I did. I explained I work for the Utah Arts Council and I schedule art exhibits, plan professional development seminars and do a lot of writing, editing and some design work. He was impressed with my job and asked me how long I’ve been working there. I said six years and he seemed quite surprised.

“Did you go to college?” he asked,
“Yes, I went to BYU.”
“Went…you are all done?”
“Uh huh.”
“When did you start your job?”
“Six years ago.”
“No, how old were you?”
“No, how old were you when you started your job”
“Twenty-two” I repeated.
“No,” he laughed, shaking his head as though I didn’t understand the question “when you first got your job how old were you?”

“Twenty-two, I’m twenty-eight now.” Shanna chimed in “Twenty-two…plus six years…”

Domonia started giggling and leaned in to me saying, “Guys are funny that way. They should just ask us how old we are.” Shanna seriously thought we were experiencing a language barrier, but really he was trying to figure out my age by formulating some algebraic equation. He thought I didn’t understand him, but really he couldn’t comprehend me being older than twenty-two. I know, I look young for my age. That’s always a nice compliment. Once you’re over twenty-one of course.

Domonia told me this guy she met recently went to all extremes asking her whether she went on a mission, if she graduated from college, how long has she been in the United States, does she have brothers and sisters, how old are they? Until she finally just said, “You know what, I’m thirty years old.”

I think it’s nice that Sister Bailey does this every year for the international students. She travels all over the world and loves getting to know people and their cultures.

I’m so excited it’s Friday. It has been a long week at work with very little to do. Things will pick up significantly after the New Year when I have a grant deadline and exhibit to gear up for.

Merry Christmas everyone! I don’t know if I’ll post something before Christmas so have a great time with your family and friends and enjoy the warmth and spirit of the season.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Few people can make me laugh so hard it’s uncontrollable. My mom is one of those.

My mom took me, my sister and my sister-in-law to see “The Queen” on Friday night at the Broadway. I really liked it. I thought the plot would be more general, kind of like a brief biography of the Queen of England, but it was focused on that one week in 1997 when Diana died. It was sort of like watching CNN or BBC but getting to see behind the scenes as well.

Anyway, we went to dinner at an Italian place right outside the theatre afterwards. While we were waiting to order, my sister grabbed my hand noting a little blood blister on my finger and asked me how I got it. I said, “cracking nuts with a nutcracker.” My mom nodded with seeming sympathy and then said, “Yeah, cracking nuts is such a waste of time.”

I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair. There’s really no telling what will get me going. It usually depends on the context and who it’s coming from. I watched this segment on TV giving tips on how to cut calories. One of their tips was to eat food that takes work and slows you down, such as nuts in their shells. So the thought of my mom completely disregarding that concept in favor of the immediate satisfaction that comes from shoveling pre-shelled nuts in your mouth was funny to me.

The last time I remember laughing that hard was about a year ago. I was sitting in my living room early one Sunday morning and this commercial came on. It was an LDS “Family…it’s about time” commercial. I tried to find it on the internet somewhere so you could see it for yourselves, but I couldn’t. I’ll attempt to describe:

You see a small choir in a cathedral, dressed in choir robes, rehearsing for a concert. They’re conducted by a man who can tell one of the voices is off key. The camera zooms in on a little boy (about ten years old), identifying him as the culprit, although he is singing with all his heart and loving every minute of it. Annoyed, the conductor cuts everyone off and says, “Son…son, you’re singing the wrong notes!” (or something to that effect). He shakes his head in disapproval and asks him to step aside while the choir rehearses without him.

The camera follows the boy, head hanging low as he slouches on a pew, feeling rejected and ostracized from the rest of his family who can sing better than he can. After rehearsal, the conductor (who I’m guessing is his father) goes to the shunned boy, gently puts his hand on his back and gives him a fatherly look.

Cut to performance night – the choir is singing their number and they sound great. The camera pans to the boy who apparently was invited to join the choir again. Only he’s not singing. He’s just standing there silently while everyone else sings. At the end of the song you see his arm rise up with glee as he rings a hand bell. His smile is big and his father nods in approval.

Come ON! That kid wanted to sing; he didn’t want to ring a bell! The father should have let him sing anyway. At least one song with other little kids where the cuteness factor outweighs sound quality. That one had me going well into the program I was watching. I don’t even remember what it was. I just remember watching that commercial, laughing tears, and wishing someone else was there to see it.

I guess I'll insert a picture in here. I took this last night at the annual Rick Durham Christmas Party. It’s the only time all the Durhams get together. I think the party has grown to four or five generations now. We wear nametags. Mine has to say my name, my dad’s name and my dad’s dad’s name. That is the only way people will know where I fit in. So my name last night was Laura Tom Lowell.

You can see my niece Piper’s nametag on her back. We figured that was the only way to stop her from peeling it off and handing it to us. I think these nametags are genius for the little, non-speaking kids especially because they tend to get lost in that huge house. So if she wanders downstairs in the theatre or the game room or some stranger Durham carries her off, sets her down and forgets about her, someone can read her nametag and figure out which Durham family to return her to.

Her nametag skips from Piper to Tom, even though my brother Carter is her dad. Probably because no one knows who Carter is.