Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mountains and Family

When we decided to go visit Utah, everyone asked us if we were excited to be going back home after 2 years away. I kept feeling like that what I should have been saying, "going back home to visit" instead of "going to Utah to visit."

But it doesn't feel like home. Not anymore.

I lived in Utah since I was in 5th grade until I moved here to Iowa nearly 2 years ago. After all those years, Utah should feel like home. But during that time, I lived in 8 different places. There was no one place that I set down roots. Since I moved to Iowa, my parents have moved twice. The house they live in now, the one that we stayed at while we were visiting, was one that I had never seen before.

It's hard to feel like you're going home when you don't know where the house is.

Our tenure in a small town really showed. The interstate intimidated me. The road felt crowded, the traffic felt terrible, the drivers felt aggressive. I kept wondering what people had against the perfect safe speed limit.

We had forgotten how spread out things were. There was no simple drive with everything so far away. It felt like 25% of our trip was spent commuting. Oh, those Utahns, how they love their commute. I remember when my previously 90 minute commute was reduced to 30 minutes, how fabulous that felt. Now, with my current 6 minute commute, I don't remember how I coped, spending so much of my life just driving. Not doing anything productive, not spending time with my family, just commuting.

It felt like everything was under construction. Roads we thought we knew were technically new ones. Neighborhoods we remembered were infiltrated with new shops and office buildings. On the surface, things looked the same, but everything felt different.

There were only two things that were just as wonderful as I remember.

First, the mountains. The glorious, snowcapped, unbelievably close mountains. They were just as tall and sharp silhouetted as my memory told me they were. Monkey, who did not remember mountains at all, was just amazed. It was good to be amazed by mountains again.

Second, but far more important, family. Nearly all of our time in Utah was spent with family. Crowded living rooms full of familiar, welcoming faces. Cars full of laughing people. Walks with more hands wanted to be held than I have hands to hold. Kitchens noisy with the hum of meals and conversation. It didn't matter that the rooms were all foreign, the walks all along unfamiliar paths. The family was the same, and it was comforting and welcoming and just as I remembered.

I kept having this feeling that everything is different. Everyone had changed. They had all either grown up, gotten married, had babies, or gotten divorced. There was too much new, too little the way I remember.

Maybe Utah isn't home anymore. Maybe I'm stuck with seeing Utah as a giant construction-laden, commute-filled desert.

But it doesn't matter. There will always be mountains and family. And they will always be just as wonderful as I remembered.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Boys on Planes

When we first started talking about going back to Utah to visit, the conversation went something like this.

We really should. It's been nearly 2 years.
I know.


You're right.

Okay, so we're going? Right?
It will be cheaper if we fly from Chicago instead of Cedar Rapids.

Fly? No, no. That's much too expensive. Let's drive.

Drive!? No, I'm not driving across Wyoming in the
Winter? It will be March.

Like I said...I'm not driving across Wyoming in the winter.
Well, I'm not sure we can afford it.

But it's been 2 years!


I'll let you decide who is who. Anyways, this conversation went on for over a month. Until finally, it was decided, we would fly (from Chicago) and we would finally go back to Utah.

I feel obliged to mention that this was the first time I had flown with my children. From the moment we booked the tickets, I started having mini panic attacks. What if Monkey decided he didn't like flying. If that happened, there would be no fixing it. It would just be the longest 4 hours of our fellow passengers' lives. That is what I had been dreading. What I got instead was a moment of parental irony.

Bug, who had been so excited about the airplane, and doing his best (from second hand stories) to explain to Monkey what flying would be like, had his own mini panic attack the second the plane started backing away from the gate. All his 8-year-old coolness melted into one large hysteric as we taxied to the runway.

Let me off! Stop the plane! You can't make me fly again! Let's drive home (honey, our car is in Chicago.) Let's take the train home! Never again! Stop the plane!

In addition to this, he wailed that he was going to be sick. Despite the pediatric dose of Dramamine I had given him, he held the puke bag in front of his face the entire flight. He refused to look out the window.

Although I did my best to be completely calming and sympathetic, I think the giggles that I tried to hide by turning my head cast doubt on my sincerity. And in Bug's defense, we did take off during a storm, resulting in quite a bit of turbulence.

Monkey, on the other hand, was completely delighted. He Oh'd and Ah'd loudly as we sped down the runway, only to cheer loudly "We're flying!" once we took off. This time, the giggles weren't just my own, but came from surrounding rows.

Every time Bug whimpered that he was going to be throw up, Monkey just gave him a superior look and announced, "Well, I like flying."

Between books and movies on the laptop, we managed to distract Bug from his terror.

However, it didn't stop him from reiterating every few minutes that he was never getting back on a plane.

However, since we are now back in Iowa, and I did not have to drive across Wyoming in the winter, I reassure you that, yes, he did in fact, get back on a plane.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Grown Up

When do you start being a grown-up? I keep thinking that surely I've passed that magical, invisible, but certainly real mile marker in my life. The one that separates childhood from adulthood, youth from age, naivety from experience. After all, I remember times in my life when I thought that 10 was so grown up, 16 was mature, 21 was unimaginable, and 29...well, 29 was just down right ancient.

Except that I'm 29 today. And I'm beginning to wonder if I'm actually grown up. I've managed to do a lot of grown up things, I guess. I'm married, I've moved across country, I've got a job, I've had two children, I've bought a house. And I'm now 29.

So for all intents and purposes, I can see no reason why I'm not a grown up. Except that I don't feel like one.

Most days, it just feels like I'm winging this whole thing. Making it up as I go along. And nearly every day, the more I've supposedly accomplished with my life, feeling younger, less experienced, and decidedly less grown up.

I'm starting to think that maybe there isn't a magical ribbon that you run though at the end of childhood, standing there cheering while someone places the award of adult around your neck. Maybe there isn't a certain age where suddenly, I stop feeling like a child in my own life and start feeling like the one in charge. Maybe there isn't this mystical point where everyone stops commenting about how very young I am.

Or maybe there is. Maybe next year. Because surely 30 is finally grown up.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Syruping...I'm pretty sure that's not really a word. But that's what we've been doing. And we've had a grand time of it. Although nearly each and every step has been a learning process.

I'm not sure that this is exactly how syrup is supposed to be made, but this is how we did it, and I'm quite pleased with the results.

First, get the sap out of the tree. No problem. Drill, spile, bucket.

This year we got 6 gallons of sap. (Actually, we got about 9 gallons, but it turns out that sap needs to be kept cold...or it turns into something funky that does not smell good at all. Like I said...a learning process.)

The sap starts out looking like this...

Crystal clear, with just the fainest sweet, woody taste.

After the sap is collected, we boiled it. And boiled it. And boiled it.

Then I got bored and played Angry Birds.

And then boiled it some more.

And did some laundry.

And boiled it some more.

Eventually, it starts look like syrup.

And then it needs to be boiled some more.

Supposedly, it's supposed to be boiled until it is 7 degrees above the temperature it started boiling at. Since it's mostly water, it should boil fairly close to 212 degrees, so a temperature of 219 should indicate that it's done. Well, our syrup started boiling at 202 degrees. I don't understand. I think our thermometer needs to be calibrated. If such a thing can be done.

Finally, it starts looking like syrup. At which point, it was strained into a jar.

I had three reactions when we were finally done. We actually made syrup! It's beautiful! And is that all it made?

We did get a nice surprise. At the bottom of the pan was a thin layer of very fine crystals - sugar sand. I poured this onto wax paper, let it dry, and then ground it up. And, voila, maple sugar.

100% natural, no artificial colorings or flavorings. Although I'm not deluding myself into thinking that makes it okay for my boys to eat this by the spoonful. Sugar is sugar - it's just that we made this ourselves. And it is just divine on hot oatmeal.

The entire time, I kept thinking how natural this was, now maple syrup was completely green...until I had to boil the bejeezus out of it. I think that any carbon bonus we got was offset by the amount of time this stuff sat on our stove.

But that's not going to stop me from making it next year. It's too much fun. And delicious. And seriously, how many kids can say they made maple syrup over Spring Break?

Monday, March 14, 2011

What I didn't put on my resolution list this year

My 2011 goals are going great. So much so that it actually surprises me. I don't think I've had such a productive 3 months...ever.

I've volunteered at the school, read books, visited new places, eaten new foods. And there are still so many exciting things to look forward to and try this year.

But there is something that I won't be crossing off my list this year. Because, for the first time in years, it's something that isn't even on my list.

Weight loss.

Year after year, ever since Bug was born and I had that extra baby weight, I've made it my goal to lose the weight and get back to my pre-baby body. At the time, I ran for miles, gave up sugar, biked obsessively. And I still never got back into those pre-Bug jeans. And then Monkey came, along with even more baby weight.

Once again I resolved to lose the weight. I did Pilates, yoga, aerobics, took up running again, gave up red meat, stopped eating ice cream.

And those pre-Monkey jeans just sat folded in the bottom drawer of my dresser, untouched, year after year. Right next to the even more ambitious pre-Bug jeans.

I've always felt bad about myself for not losing the weight. Like I wasn't committed enough, that I hadn't taken care of myself, that I had done something wrong during pregnancy to put the weight on to being with.

Last year, I had resolved to lose 10 pounds. I managed to lose 4. And I felt bad about myself for not doing it. It seemed like such a measly little goal, and I couldn't do it.

I kept thinking that if only I could just finally lose the weight, that finally I could start feeling good about myself.

And that's when I realized something.

All those years ago, before Monkey, I didn't feel good about myself, carrying around that post-Bug weight (even though now, I'd be delighted to be that size.) Going back years before that, before Bug, back when I was thin and finding clothes that fit was never an issue...Well, even going back that far, I didn't feel good about myself even then.

I keep thinking that losing the weight is the answer. But it's not.

I still want to be healthier. I try to watch what I eat. I try to fit in exercise when I can. But this year, I'm not resolving to lose weight.

And I feel good about that.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Mommy, how do you spell "tsunami?"

I was 4 years old when the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded. I was 7 years old when the Berlin Wall came down. I have absolutely no memory of either event. Partially, I think this was because I was so young and relatively carefree. The other reason, I'm guessing, is because of the protection of my parents.

I've felt that same protectiveness towards my own children. I want to shelter them from all the bad that happens in the world. I would prefer that we never have to have conversations about terrible things, because I wish those terrible things would never happen.

But they do happen, and I can't protect and shield my children from every unpleasant, unwanted thing.

Because of my children's young age, I've been spared many conversations. Bug was not even one year old when the war in Iraq started. He was only 2 years old when the Indian Ocean tsunami occurs. He was only 3 years old when Hurricane Katrina struck.

But now my boys are older. They are more aware.

The first conversation of this nature happened after the earthquake in Haiti. We talked a lot about the earthquake and the people of Haiti. But I didn't let them see any pictures.

Today, I left early enough that there was still no news of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan on NPR as I drove for work. I didn't hear about the disaster until around 6:30 this morning. There was no way for me to be the one to broach the subject with my children. I was at work and they were at home, getting ready for school.

The moment I got home from work, Bug asked me if I had heard about the tsunami. They had talked about it at school and seen videos of the devastation. He was visibly upset. Monkey wanted to know what Bug was so upset about. And so, after some hesitation, I put both boys on my lap, explained what had happened and showed them pictures and videos of the devastation. They were silent as we watched footage of the waves washing away cars, boats, roads, and homes.

And then we talked.

We talked about how sometimes, bad things happen and there is nothing we can do about it. We talked about finding some way to help. We talked about how we will pray for the people of Japan. We talked about how scary it was and how it's okay to be scared. We talked about continuing to talk about it.

It's hard, exposing my children to the devastation and destruction of the world. To know that with each event and subsequent conversation, that a little bit of their childhood naivety is chipped away.

While it is my responsibility to protect my children, I realize that I can't hide them away from all the hardships of the world. But I can keep talking to them. I can teach them how to cope. And hopefully, I can teach them how to care.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sugar Rush

Do you know what this is?

If so, then you know a little bit about the adventure we had this weekend.

I've already confessed that I love exploring and trying new things and finding new experiences for my boys. So when I heard someone at work mention the Maple Syrup Festival at a nature center near us, it sounded exactly like something we would enjoy.

We drove through the frosty, frozen morning to the nature center to enjoy pancakes and sausages right off the griddle and, of course, plenty of real maple syrup.

But we weren't there just to eat it.

We were there to see how maple syrup is made.

It turns out the weather right now is perfect maple syrup-ing weather - below freezing at night, above freezing at day.

The boys saw how maple syrup was made by Native Americans, and then by pioneers, and how it is gathered now.

They tried their hand at drilling holes and carrying buckets of syrup.

But we weren't content to let the adventure end there. See, we have a giant maple tree in our front yard.We talked some of the volunteers at the festival to see if it might be feasible to try this at home.

Turns out it is!

So, we brought one of these home.

Know what it is now? It's a spile, obviously!

With a little trepidation (since I don't want to hurt our beautiful maple tree), we drilled a hole in the tree and tapped the spile into place. Sap starting pouring out! So far, we've collected nearly half a gallon of sap.

The ultimate goal would be to boil it down until it looks like this.

But since it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, I doubt there will be much to go around.

Which is why I made sure to stock up before we left the festival.