Thursday, June 29, 2006

A giant among rabbits

You may be surprised to learn that I was an obnoxious teenager. It's true. At thirteen I organized a group of friends to "perform" Weird Al Yankovic's "Girls Just Want to Have Lunch," followed by a rousing rendition of "Fat" for a ward talent show. Our "performance" (I use that term loosely. We were on a stage, but there was no talent involved.) consisted of screaming, flying food, pillow-stuffed clothing, and general mayhem. To add insult to artistic injury, I declared that the ward members who'd found the skit to be in poor taste were simply lacking a sense of humor. Surely there could be nothing wrong with my own sense of true comedy!

So, yeah. That was me at 13. Not exactly the kind of kid you want tagging along with your friends to the movies, huh? But that's where my brother Harvey* defies expectation. I remember the summer before his mission as full of outings with Harvey and his friends--picnics, parties, movies. Probably the most remarkable part of my tagging along was that I didn't realize I was a tagalong. I assumed everyone thought I was as cool as Harvey made me feel.

Fast forward a few years. I'm a freshman in college. I am, perhaps, more obnoxious than I was at 13. I wear the black and orange "bridesmaid" jumper Harvey had his friend make for me (the one Dad said he "wouldn't mind if I stopped wearing") as often as I can. I ride a big wheel around the housing complex. I talk a little too loud. But Harvey still welcomes me into his circle, which now includes his lovely wife, Pooka, and their hardworking baby, LaundryMan. We have many delicious and festive family dinners in their bright blue living room.

I take in more than food in that room. I watch Harvey, the first of my siblings to marry, forge a new family. I see his kind and gentle ways with Pooka and LaundryMan (and later Peter the High King). Although his coursework is demanding, he never lets it overshadow his commitment to being a husband and father.

Fast forward another decade. Harvey's family grows (and grows), but his commitment does not wane. LaundryMan and Peter the High King are followed by an entourage of equally brilliant siblings. I see them each display kindness, generosity, humor--learned, no doubt, from from a dad (and mom) who's had a lot of practice.

Of course, there's lots more to Harvey. Anyone who's met him knows he's smart. Scary smart. Freaky smart. Don't make the mistake of wondering aloud how something works, because he probably knows. Playing Balderdash with him is likely to be a mistake too. And while I'm issuing warnings, I should tell you that you shouldn't challenge him to a Russian dancing contest either. But if you want to learn something while you hang out with the cool kids, Harvey's the one to call. Cause he's got that down.

I love you, Harvey! Happy birthday!

*Names have been changed.

Friday, June 23, 2006


Other than Iowa City, there are many things I will miss about living in this area. One is the frequent opportunity we've had to go to Chicago. And while the Windy City is a lot of fun, the Chicago Botanic Garden just outside the city is my favorite part. Last week I went to the botanic garden to say my goodbyes. It was perhaps more beautiful than I've ever seen it. Here are some photos.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Availability: Invention's Other Parent

Yesterday we attended a small picnic with a group of friends. We were asked to bring a salad to share, and because our kitchen was half packed, we opted to pick up a ready-made dish from the store. When our friend playfully teased us for not bringing homemade, we teased back that it was for their own good--they wouldn't want to eat anything we could concoct with the remaining contents of our pantry and fridge (e.g. canned corn and barbeque sauce).

But then, while eating Sam's animal crackers during church today (Shh! Don't tell!), culinary inspiration struck! The disparate items in my fridge and pantry swirled in my mind until I envisioned the following combined in one bowl:
Animal crackers
1 tub cool whip
whatever's left in the container of plain yogurt
1 can whole berry cranberry sauce
1 can crushed pineapple, drained
All the coconut left in the freezer
When I got home I tried it. Somewhat to our surprise, it was good. Now if I could only think of some way to use up that barbeque sauce. Corn, anyone?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Fathers' Day

Boss did a piece on her dear ol' dad not long ago. I didn't get much chance to chime in, so I'll start by saying I love and appreciate Ohio Dad as well, even though I personally have never seen him lick anybody. He's given me the greatest gift of my life (the Boss), and for that I have eternal gratitude. Thanks, Ohio Dad!

Utah Dad is my hero. He has shown me what it means to honor the priesthood throughout his life. He loves his wife and his children, and spends all his time and effort to serve them and others. Throughout my life my dad has exemplified a virtuous work ethic, given more of himself to his employment than was required, and spent loads of otherwise discretionary time in the service of the church and community. In the last several years I think he's been on 4 missions for the church. I could be wrong, what with him trying out a new one every time I turn around.

During graduation last month, my father visited to show his support despite the fact that traveling for my folks is somewhat burdensome right now. But they came anyway because they love me and knew that I would appreciate it. And although Utah Dad's silliness is not quite at the level of Ohio Dad's, he puts up with silliness he's subjected to all the time and remains a good sport despite great challenges to his dignity!

Not only that, but every time Dad has come to visit, our house is better off for it! For more than 2 years I've been dreading getting our rain gutters cleaned out. I have a ladder that is 15 feet or so, but our house is situated so that it is inadequate for getting to the gutters to clean them. And I have a compulsive need to avoid spending hundreds of dollars on a service that something deep inside me demands I can do myself. But, I would never have made it without Dad coming to my rescue. After being here a few days, not only were the rain gutters sparkling clean (having been tidied up during tornado weather!) but the circuit breaker was fixed, the bathtub drain worked again, and the kitchen sink no longer wiggled or leaked. And that's only the short list--he usually does much more than that but this time was limited with graduation!

Dad, I appreciate the great example of love and service you are and for the way you treat Mom with such respect and tenderness!

Happy Fathers' Day, dads.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Why don't you give Iowa a chance?

As our moving date draws near, I can't help but wax a little nostalgic about all the things we've enjoyed about living in Iowa City. I really think anyone who hasn't tried Iowa is totally missing out. (And I'd say that even without a modest kickback from the local Chamber of Commerce!)* So for those of you who are looking for a mid-sized midwestern college town to put down roots, let me just highlight a few of our favorite features.

First of all, the Iowa City Public Library is one of the best city libraries I've ever seen. It was renovated a few years ago, and the new space is open and inviting. They have a huge children's area complete with story room and puppet theater, plus lots of toddler-sized tables, chairs and toys. Just for fun, there's slide cut into a niche in the wall so kids can get their wiggles out.

The library sits on the Ped Mall. It's a downtown block with a playground, a fountain, several pieces of outdoor art, and lots of benches; it's really more of a park than a mall (although it is surrounded by lots of fun shops and restaurants). During the summer, the city sponsors free outdoor concerts every Friday night. One of our favorite summer activities is to check out a bunch of books and magazines from the library, grab a bite to eat from one of the nearby restaurants, and then sit on a park bench and read while we enjoy the music. There are always lots of people chatting, dancing, and singing along. Kids run through the fountain. It's a fun, casual atmosphere.

As for real malls, the Coral Ridge Mall is another favorite stop. It's designed with lots of family-friendly ammenities that make it a fun destination, even for people who don't really like to shop. In addition to a nursing room, family bathroom, and changing area, there are baby chairs in every bathroom stall. (This may seem inconsequential, but if you've ever looked at a typical mall floor and wondered where to park your child while you use the facilities, you know what a blessing this is!) There's an ice rink, a carosel, and a large children's play area. The last Friday of each month is Family Night, with free carosel rides and free admission to the Iowa Children's Museum. The Children's Museum is a fun destination in its own right. While there, kids can shop/work/play at a kid-sized grocery store, drive an ambulance, run a farm, and generally just have a good time.

Another regular stop, the Toy Library, is a work of genius. I can't believe it hasn't caught on everywhere! It's an ideal resource for families like us, who don't have a lot of money to spend on toys, nor the space to store bulky items after Sam loses interest. So we go once or twice a month and pick out a few items--like Little Tike cars, table train sets, puzzles, mega blocks, playground equipment, etc.--and take them home for a couple weeks. When Sam's tired of them, we return them and check out something new. There's lots to choose from, and it's hard to go wrong with new toys every couple weeks. Plus, as an added bonus for parents, you never have to live with the same annoying toy for very long. (Unless your child insists on checking it out over and over again. But what are the chances of that, right?)

Malcom and Sam both love City Park. For Malcom, there's a long walking path by the river. He likes to greet the ducks, investigate the river bank, and verify that dogs (still) can't breathe under water. For Sam, there are several play grounds, a super slide, and a cluster of carnival rides. He loves the train and the merry-go-round. Today, he was even brave enough to try out the flying ace ride. (After our trip to North Carolina, he's been talking a lot about airplanes. He seemed pretty excited to have a chance at the wheel. Unfortunately, flying solo was considerably scarier than flying on Mommy's lap, so, as he was the only rider, we asked the attendant to stop before he'd made it twice around.)

And finally, our most frequent stop of all: Wetherby Park. Because it's just two blocks away we end up there several times a week. Our almost-daily "w's" (we have to abbreviate because Malcom gets too excited when he hears the word "walk") prove that no matter how many times you've tried it before, swinging is still fun. And according to Malcom, so is sniffing.

Of course, more than any destination, we will miss the people. There are so many who have touched our lives, and it has been a pleasure to spend the last few years getting to know them--and Iowa City.


*Ahem. The kickback may not have been entirely modest.**

**Ahem. What's "modest" anyway? Nothing? Is nothing modest? Cause that's what I got! But don't hold that against Iowa City. Give it a try anyway.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Milkbones and crackers

Packing with a toddler is great fun. It's pretty much like packing twice. Maybe even three times. Sam is eager to help out wherever he can by chucking whatever he happens to have into the box currently being filled. "Here's this peanut butter jar, Dad. That should go well with the plates." But if you happen to be packing something that captures his attention and looks amusing, well, you'd better just accept that it's not going in a closed box anytime soon. Take for example, the smelly spices Sam found in a half-packed box. Well, at least we don't have to repack those.

Malcom has helped us pack a bit too. His dog food ran out last night and so he got a bowl of milkbones for dinner last night. Next thing we know, he's deposited them in nooks and crannies all over the house, no doubt including some of the partially filled boxes. He and Sam seem to have a common instinctive need to hoard the good snacks for a rainy day. Sam has taken to depositing one or two Ritz crackers in each box between layers of clothes or piles of papers. Thanks to the two of them, I'm pretty sure unpacking in Akron will be just like Christmas--full of surprises.

Monday, June 12, 2006

My week with Raisin, Sunny, and Jim

You may have heard about all the beautiful people and places to see in North Carolina from other bloggers. After being here six days, I can confirm that all of that is true. But I'd also like to mention one more selling point: North Carolina is fun, especially when you stay with my Aunt Sunny, her husband Jim, and their dog Raisin*.

There's lots to do here. We walk around the lake and feed the ducks, we swim in the pool, and play in the giant sandbox. When we're indoors I play with Raisin and practice my handstands.

Plus, the cuisine is excellent. This morning we had pancakes. I ate eight all by myself. My mom said I need to thank Uncle Mark for the recipe and Grandma for the syrup. Thanks ya'll!

It will be hard to say goodbye when leave in a couple days. But my daddy misses me, and I miss him too. So, I'll head home on Thursday, but only if Sunny and Jim promise I can come back again soon. I love you guys!

*Names have been changed by toddler whim.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Parts of speech

Sam's vocabulary has really exploded in the last few weeks. He knows most of his letters, numbers, colors, and all the verbs that keep his busy little self in motion. He knows the parts of the body and lots of prepositions. Perhaps most amazing is his use of adjectives. He can be quite descriptive--and not always in ways I expect. For example, yesterday I while changing a poopy diaper, I exclaimed "Woah! That's a big one!"

As if in agreement, he replied, "Big penis."

Monday, June 05, 2006

And they say kids never listen!


The scene: Coach and Boss's bed, just before Sam's bedtime. Sam is standing on Coach's pillow in a onesie, pressing buttons on the clock radio.

Boss (to Coach): Do you ever just look at him and think he's the most perfect little human ever? I mean, look at those chubby legs.

(Sam looks alarmed, glances down at legs, then looks at Boss, clearly insulted. He climbs off bed and leaves the room.)



The scene: The dinner table. The family is just finishing a meal of spaghetti and salad. Sam is shirtless and covered in noodles.

Sam: Messy hands. Messy messy messy messy messy hands.

Coach: Oh? Just your hands are messy? The rest of your body is pristine?

Boss: (laughs)

(Sam scowls at Coach.)

Coach: Don't scowl at me. Your Mommy's the one laughing at you.

Sam turns to Boss: Shhhhh! (Continues scowling.)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The faith of a pioneer; the courage of a hobbit

At church a few weeks ago, during a lesson on pioneers that may have rambled on a little too long, the Coach and I discussed a thought-provoking question: Which is heartier, pioneer stock or hobbit stock? Coach said hobbits. ("Mordor is tough terrain.") I said pioneers. ("Dude. Handcarts.") And then we wondered what would happen if the two were crossed? Could we create the ultimate in diminutive fortitude? A pioneer hobbit? A hobbit pioneer?

And then I realized: That miracle of genetics has already occurred in my own family. My youngest sister, Daisy Sandybanks of Frogmorton (also known as Teresa the Bookie) is just such a specimen.

I remember when Daisy was born. She was the most beautiful little girl, and her name (the real one, I mean), a combination of two grandmothers' names, just seemed to fit her. Her pioneer heritage showed from the start. Everything she did seemed prodigious. As a preschooler, she astounded people with her use of words like "actually." At 5 or 6 she memorized a three-minute talk and bravely recited it during the yearly children's primary presentation in sacrament meeting. As a child, she touched ward members with her earnest testimony, which she bore often. A few years later, she started writing sweet notes of encouragement to anyone she thought was having a hard time. Through the years, I've received many of those notes. I'm grateful for each one.

As an adult, Daisy's faith and fortitude are no less remarkable. Daisy spent last summer living in our basement--a situation which required all the courage she had to combat both the giant hobbit-eating spiders who shared her room, and my ever-changing moods. At the time I was seeing a therapist for depression, who recommended I make a list of things I'd enjoy doing and find a way to do as many of those things as possible. When I dragged my feet on the assignment, Daisy gently prodded. She made a list of her own. She coordinated outings to the Shire. She took care of Sam. She saved me from spending the summer hiding under a blanket. I was so grateful for her faith and patience as she eased me out of that dark period.

I wasn't the only one she helped last summer. For the few months she was here, she was called as a ward missionary for the student branch. She didn't know the area, the branch members, or the individuals she was asked to work with, but she threw herself into their service. She did everything in her power to share the gospel. Since that time, several members of the single's branch have moved into my ward. Upon hearing that I am of Frogmorton, each one has asked about Daisy, and expressed their great admiration for her. In one summer, she made an impression. She changed lives.

Yesterday we went to City Park. As we played on the swings and rode the train around the park, we couldn't help but reminisce about a similar outing with Daisy last summer. Her effervescent optimism made every activity fun. We miss her.

Daisy and Sam became great buddies last summer. She was a fun and doting aunt, and he was her eager little shadow. Sam has changed a lot in the last year, and sometimes I'm sad that Daisy isn't here to see her little buddy eagerly shout "Daisy" when he sees her picture. But near or far, I won't let him forget her great example of sacrifice and service.

Of course sacrifice and service are a way of life for a hobbit pioneer. Just as Jesus ministered to the sick and the afflicted, Daisy will spend the better part of the next couple years helping those less fortunate both temporally and spiritually. And when she returns to the USA, it will be more of the same as she cares for the sick and afflicted as a nurse.

We are blessed with many examples of caring and selfless family members, but Daisy Sandybanks of Frogmorton is remarkable in youthful faithfulness and generosity. (She is not entirely remarkable in her shortness. Or her hairy feet.)

I love you, Daisy! Happy birthday!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Financial fuss

Despite my starting school here with no educational loans at all, we're now pretty substantially in the red. The good news for us is that I consolidated the bulk of my loans when interest rates were at their historic low, fixing an interest rate less than 3%. Isn't that less than inflation? That seems to be a pretty good deal!

We went to a financial planning seminar especially for new graduates offered by a local business to attract new clients. There we were told that the "strategic" thing to do is enter the extended payment plan and continue payback over 30 years. Sure, your total interest paid goes up, but you have the advantage of capital on hand throughout those 30 years that you otherwise would have had to pay high interest on. Makes sense... but...

We had a special sacrament meeting the other day in which our bishop relayed a message from the stake presidency regarding assistance from public programs. It was not specifically directed at student loans, but is certainly applicable as the interest rates on those loans have been and will be subsidized directly by the federal government. In other words, the longer I draw out my payments for my educational debt, YOU, dear blog reader, get to pay my interest.

The talk reminded me that there is a big difference between what is ethical and what is legal. I've always known that, but occasionally I think I justify my feelings of entitlement for assistance programs thinking that although there exist other funding alternatives, I deserve to use the program funding for its ostensible purpose. For example, I could hit up family or fast offerings for help paying medical bills, but why not use Medicaid? I tell myself, that's what Medicaid is for. I'm going to be paying taxes my entire life, don't I have the right to use assistance programs now while I'm qualified? This sense of entitlement is repulsive to me when I recognize it, but insidious and compelling when not recognized.

The bishop was particularly emphatic that we must not judge one another in this regard because these decisions are personal and to be decided with regard to personal circumstances and the help of the spirit. I certainly don't mean to insult or criticize those who view the issue differently or come to different conclusions.

I'm interested to hear others' takes on this subject.