Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Thanks Grandma

Last night I blew off institute (again). And it was the best decision I’ve made for myself all week.

As you can tell from my last post, I haven’t been the most pleasant person lately. I decided yesterday morning as I was waking up too early (too early is when I make most of my decisions) that even though I should go to institute, I wanted to visit Grandma Durham instead. How and when visiting Grandma Durham shifted from the “should” column to the “want to” column I’m not sure, but I was looking forward to it.

Coincidentally, she called yesterday morning to ask how my dad was (she likes to call me every once in awhile to talk about various family members and her concern for them). I asked if I could come visit her around six o’clock. I certainly wasn’t expecting dinner, but she felt compelled to make me something. So she asked if I wanted to split a Lean Cuisine with her. I laughed and told her that would be just fine.

When I walked into her house she had two plates on her kitchen table. It looked like we were splitting some yams too. And some parsnips. And applesauce. As soon as dinner was ready she said, “What we’re going to do is pretend we said a prayer and then go in my bedroom and watch political coverage of the Florida primary. I am HOOKED on all this political stuff.” I love how Grandma is obsessed with the presidential campaign. When she took me to breakfast for my birthday she gave me a rundown of the candidates and how she felt about each one of them.

So we went into her room and sat on her bed.

“Do you like Keith Olbermann?” she asked,
“You know what, I don’t have cable so I haven’t watched much of him but he seems pretty intelligent.” She then added…
“I love Keith Olbermann. I think he’s handsome too, but he talks too fast.”

We watched some MSNBC and some Seinfeld. Then we talked about President Hinckley and how he used to be her stake president. She told me about the article written about him in the Deseret News since she knows I don’t get the paper. I had a really nice time with her. She scratched my back and played with my hair. There’s nothing like a Grandma to give you unconditional love and pampering. Of course I had to answer a series of questions:

“Who shovels your walks?”
"How many girls live with you?"
“Is your neighborhood safe?”
“Do you lock your door?”
“Do you turn on a light at night?”
“Are you worried about Lisa?”
“Are you worried about Josh?”
“Are you worried about Jack?”

Once I answered everything to her satisfaction I got up from her bed to leave. As we walked to the door she tried to give me things.

“Do you need any clothes?”
“Does Lisa need any clothes?”
“I have this jacket here.”
“Yeah, it’s not really my style Grandma, but thank you.”
“Would Lisa like…”
“It’s not Lisa’s style either.”
“Look at the fabric on the inside; you can wear it either way.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so.” She finally admitted,
“The inside is even worse isn’t it.”
“Yes it is.”

“Do you need any perfume?”
“Can I get you a glass of water?” At this point we’re standing at her kitchen table.
“What about a candle?” she laughed, as she pointed to the candles sitting on her table. I picked one up and smelled it -- not bad. I began to take it with me until she insisted, “Put that back.”

And then I was out the door. Grandma was definitely the cure for my bad mood. I’m lucky to have an 88 year-old Grandma that in addition to the general “how are you doing” conversation likes to talk about important things and current events. If it’s OK with her, I hope she’s around for a long time.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


This is a photograph of one of those coin-operated binoculars. I shot this almost two years ago when I went to Niagara Falls. I think this machine is a good metaphor for me and how I've been these past two or three days. Interpret as you will.

I've been in a bit of a crummy mood. I haven't posted anything for a week, so I thought I should put something up. I'll snap out of this funk soon. But in the meantime, I'm going to blame it on the cold weather. And my stupid, temperamental furnace.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lazy Scouts

Today I got an email from an employee of a certain Department titled “Girl Scout Cookies.” I rolled my eyes knowing it was someone taking advantage of the hundreds of email addresses at their disposal to sell cookies for their niece, sister or grand daughter or something. I opened it anyway. Yup – a grand daughter.


I remember an order form in the staff kitchen last year, taped to the refrigerator for me and all employees to order Girl Scout cookies. I don’t remember whose lazy kid that was.

Maybe this doesn’t bother you, but as a former girl scout who had to set time aside after getting her homework done to go door to door selling cookies, I resent this a little.

I remember getting in my little Brownie uniform, putting on my sash and walking up and down the neighborhood. I remember my dad dropping me off at the grocery store on 106th South (now the Living Planet Aquarium) and setting up a card table with boxes of cookies and selling them to people before they bought their groceries. I also remember setting up a station on the north side of my house where all the Junior High School kids walked past after school. That spot was golden.

Granted, reaching the masses via email wasn’t an option back then. But I never asked my dad to take an order form to his office and pass it around to his colleagues and students; I was expected to sell the cookies myself. I guess the thought of a 9 year-old making sales via Mommy and Daddy while she chills by the Pepperwood pool watching Hanna Montana on her video iPod pisses me off.

Or maybe I just had a lot of spoiled classmates growing up.

I don’t know, are these kids spoiled or are they smart to tap into every resource possible? I can’t decide. All I know is I’m not ordering from a faceless Girl Scout. I’ll buy from the girl who sets up shop outside Albertson’s or the girl who comes to my door wearing her uniform.

Or maybe I’ll jump on the “Cookie Ban” Bandwagon because they make kids fat:,2933,255421,00.html
(so ridiculous – yet entertaining).

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Musings on Mendelssohn

Every now and then I'm inspired by something that consumes me for several days. It either moves me to learn something new, or change my outlook and behavior. It's strange -- those two examples I linked and the one I'm writing about today are all related to music in one way or another. Which makes sense; music has been a foundation for my life. Growing up with musicians as parents (and grandparents) will do that to you.

I had a goal this year to learn and perform a new piano piece. The last few numbers I've performed in public have been in my portfolio since college so I can pull them out when asked and do pretty well. You'd think I would have those pieces memorized, but I don't. I have been so lazy. It's well past time to expand my measly repertoire.

A couple weeks ago I popped “Once” into the DVD player. There's this scene where Markéta Irglová plays a gorgeous piano piece. I was mesmerized and decided I was going to learn to play it. So I scrolled through the credits to find it was Mendelssohn's “Song Without Words.” A couple weeks ago I was asked to do the musical number in Sacrament Meeting for today. I went home last Sunday night to find the piano music for "Song Without Words" (my mom has everything). Little did I know, “Song Without Words” is an entire book filled with many wordless songs. I started playing a few until my mom said, “Which one do you want to play?” Without letting me answer she said, “I'll show you my favorite.” One of the reasons I love my mom and why I'll always need her is that if I see a song and want to know how it goes, she can sight read just about anything. I think it was “Meditation” she liked. I tried to play it but I knew it would take me more than a week to learn. So I played through several trying to find the piece from the movie. Turns out the piece is actually called “Venetian Boat Song No. 2.” I played through it all right and thought I could learn it. As I'm leaving, my mom asks me, “So what are you going to play?” When I told her the “Venetian Boat Song” she said, “That's a little haunting isn't it?”

The next day I had 5 emails from my mom, each with a different audio file from the Mendelssohn Book (I love how helpful she is). She included the one she played for me, the piece from “Once” and this other piece called “Elegy” which is what I ended up learning instead. I'll save the Venetian Boat Song for some other time. 

I've been listening to those audio files Mom sent me all week. So now that I'm in love with Mendelssohn, I've done some research. Young Felix was artistic in many areas and a bit precocious. Unlike most geniuses, he had a fairly normal and happy life. He grew up in a loving Jewish family who converted to Christianity when he and his three siblings were young, and he enjoyed a long and happy marriage. Some critics say he would have been another Bach or Mozart if he had suffered more in life, as the "tortured artist" cliché dictates. Although, nearly a hundred years after his death, the Nazis tried to discredit him, taking down his statue in Leipzig, and even going as far as forbidding the study and performance of his music. So...good thing he wasn't alive for that.

Playing the piano is one of the few things I truly, truly enjoy. I took violin lessons for several years, and I own a beautiful violin, but I remember after forcing myself to practice my violin, I would retreat to the piano, sometimes for two-hour sessions and play everything I could find in the piano bench or stacked on the sides of the keyboard. I was lucky to grow up with a beautiful baby grand in the house. I miss it. I really do. Every time I go to someone's home and see a piano, my heart aches a little. I think sometimes I stare at it, wondering if I would be allowed to play it. I've started a piano fund so someday I can afford to buy one for myself.

In the meantime, I will have to practice other people's pianos. My Grandma Durham likes it when I come and play her piano, so I went there Wednesday night to work on my piece. But around 9 PM she politely walked in and said, “Now it's time for you to go.” What she meant was it's time for her to get in bed and watch Jon Stewart. I can always practice at my parents' house in Sandy. But if I practice while they're there, I hear teaching voices coming from rooms all over the house. “Whoops, Laur!” or “E flat Laura!” or, “'re playing this tomorrow?” It's actually more helpful than annoying. This is how I learned the piano growing up. My mom gave me an occasional lesson but most of my instruction was just as I described. Yesterday I got an “Oooh!” and then silence. I didn't know what that meant so I said, “What? Isn't that the right note?” to which my mom answered, “No, but it should be.”

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"The least appealing creature on the planet-ee..."

The new exhibit at the Rio is a children's book illustrators show. This is different from any show we've ever done because a) we shipped it in from D.C. and b) it meanders from our mission which is to only exhibit Utah artists. This has one Utah artist and 79 other artists from other states and countries.

We have 80 original illustrations from 80 different children's books. We also have all the children's books. They're in my office. All over. I feel like I'm in a bookstore. I love children books, but so far, I've only taken the time to pick up one of these, and that is Jonathan Lithgow's "I'm a Manatee". (It made me think of my friend Scott who is obsessed with manatees -- like he collects figurines). Not only did Lithgow write this story, he included a CD where he sings the story. I just spent an hour trying to convert the m4a to an mp3 so I could upload the song to my blog, but too many things went wrong so I decided to forget it. Come to my office and I'll play it for you.

My cousin Monica told me about Jonathan Lithgow's books last year. Apparently he's won all these awards. I'm not in the loop when it comes to appropriate material for children because I don't have any, but apparently you need to be careful which children's books you buy -- especially when it comes to celebrity authors. And then there are the shows you let them watch. There are all these kids shows on that I hear people talking about. In fact, Sunday night I was at my niece's 5th birthday party and my family was sitting around talking about television. My brother Carter started the conversation. What used to be "So I was watching the Simpsons..." is now "I was watching Spongebob and it was the one where he..." and then my sister brought up the latest on Yo Gabba Gabba. Has anyone watched Yo Gabba Gabba? It's bizarre. But kids are crazy about it.

I'm familiar with only a few kid shows these days. I don't have cable, but everyone else does, so through them, I've been introduced to the Backyardigans (I still have the mermaid song memorized after singing it to Jack over and over and over) and my personal favorite, Wonder Pets. Lisa showed me Yo Gabba Gabba, but I don't get it.

Anyway, friends with kids, bring them to Gallery Stroll this Friday from 6-9 PM. I think they'll like this show. And if they don't, they can hang out in my office and look through all the picture books. And friends without kids, grown-ups will like it too -- all the workers in the building LOVE it (It's one of our more accessible shows). As always, there will be free food.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Old Things are Done Away

Last week I was watching the Today Show (my most referenced show when I bring up random information). They had this chef who said something about replacing all your spices and seasonings once a year. Uh...what? I thought spices kept for years and years. I don't know why I thought that...nobody told me that. I think I just thought that because I have spices that I've kept and used for years and years.

For example: This curry powder. Not only have I had this for years, I swiped it from my parents' house who have had it for years. I'm a little afraid to ask, but I'm pretty sure my mom got this as a wedding gift along with other expensive spices. That's 34 years ago. I'm not even kidding. There's no reason for me to have kept this for so long; a more current curry bottle sits in the cupboard.

This got me to thinking about other things I've held on to for much longer than I should have. I am NOT a pack rat. I like space and organization. I like to throw things away. In fact, I have a rule that if I have more clothes in my closet than hangers, something has to go (that's a loose rule, but it works pretty well).

But for some reason, after 7 years I still have these shoes. Owning shoes for 7 years isn't that strange, but owning THESE shoes for that long is. It's not like they're made from quality material -- they're not even cute. They cost me like $13 at Payless, but they've held up remarkably well. Except for the sole on the inside of the right shoe...I have to straighten it out every time I put it on, or else it bunches up. Why do I keep these? I have other shoes. Maybe I keep them because they're trashy and I don't care what happens to them. I should get rid of them.

Next we have these glasses of mine. Are they out of style? I don't even know anymore. I have two pairs of glasses: the newer ones I got about 3 years ago back when I paid for a vision plan. I probably wear those more often than these because the prescription is more accurate -- I guess, I can only assume so because I've had these black ones for about 6 years and one's prescription changes. I wear contact lenses about 75% of the time. A lot of my friends have joined the 21st century and gotten their eyes lasered. I've heard that pregnancy can change your vision and so I've been told to hold off until after I have kids. So I'm going to use that excuse instead of the real one which is that voluntarily having my eye cut open freaks me out.

Ah, the perfume. I don't even know how old this is. But Lisa probably does, because its hers. When she moved out of Mom and Dad's house (4 years ago?) she left this and so I adopted it into my possession. I've probably used it twice in the past 2 years. I'm not a big perfume wearer. I don't think perfume (in this form) is as popular as it used to be now that most girls slather themselves with smelly lotions. I also have Chanel Chance and Stila something or other. I remember a conversation with a couple guys last fall about perfume and how it smells different on different people. Maybe I should try it all on and have people smell me and let me know which ones I should get rid of. Of course, it's a matter of preference on the other end as well. Lis, if you want this perfume, its yours. Because it is. Yours.

OK, so this is a small blank book which I have no intention of getting rid of. I just can't believe I haven't filled it up yet. The first page is dated March 21, 2004 and I'm only about 30% through it. The reason I can't believe it's not used up is because I'm a big writer. I write a lot. Every day in fact. I started a daily journal when I was 21 and I would fill up a whole book in 3-4 months. I think I lapsed somewhere between 2005 and most of 2007 where I hardly wrote in my journal for reasons I'm not sure of. But I started again in November, and beginning in January I have been writing 3 lines every day in this 10-year journal I have. And then my blog keeps me writing about twice a week. But this book is different. I designated it as more of a church journal where I bring it to my Sunday meetings, institute, etc. and write down notes, impressions, etc. I guess I haven't been very good at that.

So those are some of my things that I just can't seem to get rid of. I'm giving Carri the curry canister because she wants to keep coins in it. Maybe I'll trash the shoes tonight. I'm going to keep the glasses because it would be stupid to throw them away. It's always a good idea to have a spare pair in case I lose or break the other ones. I have no reason to hold on to that perfume but I will. And I am committing myself to bring this little blank book to church every week and write something in it.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

“Welcome back to the State Capitol.”

I am thrilled to be a Capitol volunteer this week. Last night was my first shift. It was so much fun walking around and talking to all the visitors. I learned a lot about this building and was able to add some of my own knowledge from my years with the Arts Council to the fact mix. Every day at noon, there are lectures in the rotunda given by the architects, artists or other craftsmen.

My ward is actually visiting the Capitol tomorrow night for FHE. I'm still deciding if I'm going or not since I will be there every day this week.

Would you like a tour? Excellent.

My name is Laura. I will be your guide. Utah's Capitol has just undergone a $220 million renovation. This amount includes the seismic upgrades, the two new buildings to the north, art restoration, new sculpture commissions and landscaping. 510 cherry trees were planted this past fall (that's more than the D.C. Capitol) so in the spring it should be gorgeous.

First, I will take you to the Governor's Office. This is actually his “ceremonial” office. The governor sits behind this desk to sign bills and speak to the camera. His “working” office is behind that door straight ahead. The door to your left leads to an elevator that takes Gov. Huntsman directly down to his vehicle. Whether that's true or not we'll never know because neither you nor I am allowed to open that door. The frames around these doorways are really metal, painted to look like wood. However, the desk, table and bookshelf is actual wood. The furniture was carved from trees that fell as a result of the 1999 tornado that hit Capitol Hill and Memory Grove. The wood is sycamore maple and Japanese pagoda. But the paneling on the drawers is Lindon wood. Isn't that great? I would love to have a desk that was carved from something memorable like that. It sounds so much cooler than “I got this on clearance at Target.”

No, you may not sit in the Governor's chair.

You'll notice the gold wallpaper. This wallpaper is new with the renovation. It is pure silk imported from China. Please, do not touch the wallpaper. You'll also notice these light bulbs on the wall. They are replicas of the original Thomas Edison light bulb.

Let's step upstairs and across the rotunda to the House of Representatives, shall we? In the House, votes are recorded orally, but in the Senate they are written and tallied anonymously. Just tradition. I really don't know why. I'd make up a reason but someone would call me on it. Straight ahead and behind you are murals that are original to the building, but the murals to your right and to your left are new.

The mural to your right was painted by an artist in Logan. This portrays Seraph Young, a 23 year-old niece of Brigham Young, casting her ballot during municipal elections in Salt Lake City to become the first woman in the U.S. legally to vote. I think that's pretty cool.

Let's walk downstairs to the “Gold Room”. This is the State Reception room, where the Governor hosts national and international dignitaries, but people call it the Gold Room because it's so fancy. This is the most expensive room per square foot in the Capitol. There is $2 million worth of gold leafing. The style is very Rococo (ornate). The only other buildings in Salt Lake City with this style would be the Governor's Mansion and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. The tapestries are Italian, the table is Russian and the mirrors are imported from France.

If you want to step out into the Rotunda again, I'll tell you about these sculptures. These niches were made originally in the Capitol for this purpose, but the State didn't commission an artist to carve sculptures for them until these past few years. Before, we just stuck random busts in there. But now you will see four very large, allegorical sculptures. Each sculpture depicts a different concept and each has a larger figure mentoring a smaller, younger one. This one is Arts and Education.

Here is a picture of a picture of my stake president taking a picture of the sculptor at work.

It is 165 feet up to the dome from the floors in the rotunda. The seagulls painted in the dome are original to the building, but over the years, artists have added more seagulls. So during the renovation they took away all the "additional" ones. There were plenty in the first place if you ask me. The largest seagull has a wingspan of 4 feet, if that helps you comprehend the size.

Well, there is much more to see. I was sad to miss the re-dedication ceremony on Friday afternoon, but I wasn't invited, so it was pretty much out of my control. Fortunately, I have more important co-workers who got tickets to attend. Because they love me, they brought me a program and snagged a little commemorative bell for me too. Thank you Jim and Lila.

Being a volunteer is already a great experience though. I got a certificate signed by the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House, President of the Senate and my famous first cousin once removed, Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham.

All the volunteers and volunteer coordinators were great. They provided a break room for us with snacks and this soda fountain. You may not know this about me, but Dr. Pepper is one of my favorite drinks ever, but I don't allow myself to drink soda very often. I never order it when I'm out to eat, but if it's available for free, especially in fountain form, I'm ecstatic. However, when I dispensed myself a cup, to my shocking disappointment I couldn't taste it. That is when I knew my cold had gotten the better of me. The mucus has masked all my taste buds. I was in denial through that whole bag of tasteless Sun Chips a couple hours earlier, but now I believe it. I am officially sick. Hopefully I'll regain my senses in the next few days so I can take advantage of the sweetness of free Dr. Pepper.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Merry-thon Week

It’s been a great week. I don’t know about you but I went from celebration to celebration all week. Our Italian Christmas Eve was fun and then Christmas day was spent opening presents, making brunch for my family and then watching old cartoon Christmas specials with Lisa and Katie. Then there was the scaled down Durham Christmas Party (due to snow and sickness) on Wednesday and then my fabulous birthday party on Friday. I’ll have to bug Lisa to send me pictures from that because I didn’t have time to take any pictures. Or eat.

Last night was the "ward" New Years Eve Party. I’ve never really liked New Years Eve, I don't enjoy crowds where I have to push my way through a room, but it was fun because I had friends there. It felt like I was there for a really long time though. Probably because I was. My strategy was to go early so I could get a parking spot.

Now that 2007 is gone, I thought I would make a list of products I discovered this year. I wrote about my loyalties to products awhile ago, so here is a list of new products that I not only liked, but I plan to remain loyal to.


Burt’s Bees Tomato Toner and Radiance Day Cream: I love skin care products, but I typically try out new ones all the time. But I plan to remain loyal to Burt’s Bees. I actually noticed a difference in my skin using these, so I’m going to stick with it.

Crest Pro-Health Mouthwash: My dental hygienist recommended this to me when I asked about the effectiveness of mouthwash, because swishing my Listerine actually gives me pain. This mouthwash doesn’t burn my mouth, so I’m converted. Simple as that.

Green Giant Weight Control Vegetable Medley: This is a recommendation from my sister-in-law Kelly. With the exception of peas and corn, I really don’t like the taste of frozen vegetables (I prefer fresh), but this vegetable medley of sugar snap peas and black beans and something else is really tasty. I went to Target and stocked up.

Microplane: My favorite kitchen gadget ever. It’s like a grater but way better. It transforms hard parmesan cheese into a beautiful snow like substance. It’s also great for lemon zest and chocolate.

The Greek Gods Honey Yogurt: After eating yogurt in London and Paris I was convinced I couldn’t find good yogurt in the states, but I tried this, and it was pretty darn close. Thank you Wild Oats.

Propel Individual Drink Mix Packs: I’m trying to save the environment by not buying a lot of bottled water. So this nice product helps me drink my favorite flavored water without having to buy more bottles. But they need to make it in more flavors than lemon and kiwi-strawberry. I don’t like the lemon and I’m getting tired of the kiwi-strawberry.