Tuesday, June 30, 2009

She left her heart in Sam Clam’s Disco

My sister Abra used to tell this joke about Larry Lobster and Sam Clam. I totally didn’t get it until years and years after she told it to me, but that’s what she gets for having an audience so much younger than herself. Not that she seems old anymore, but she used to when I was younger.

Larry the Lobster and Sam Clam were friends and they did everything together. They even died together. The only problem was that Larry was good and Sam was bad.

Larry was happy in heaven but he missed his friend, so one day St. Peter told him that he could arrange to have him visit Sam Clam in you-know-where. There was just one condition: he couldn’t leave anything behind. Larry the Lobster thought that was a deal he could make, so the next day he went down the elevator to visit Sam Clam.

It turned out that they had a wonderful time together. Sam had opened a disco and business was booming. They spent the whole day dancing and singing and at the end of the day Sam walked Larry back to the elevator and Larry went back up to heaven.

St. Peter met him at the gate. “Aren’t you missing something, Larry?”

“Well, let’s see,” thought Larry, “I’ve got my halo. I’ve got my wings. I’ve got my…oh, no! I left my harp in Sam Clam’s Disco!”

You know, like the song…I Left my Heart in San Francisco

If you happen to be 10 and you understood that joke you are way better off than I was 14 years ago. I was like, “Oh, ha, ha…that’s…funny…I totally get it.” But I didn’t totally get it.

Anyway, Rachel’s friend Sam moved away and I think he may have taken her heart with him. They spent Sam’s last day in Cairo playing together all day. When I told her to say goodbye because he would be moving, she kind of freaked out.

“Moving?!” she gasped, “Like Finn?!”

“Yes, like Finn. Back to America. Forever.”

“Nooooooooo!” she wailed.

She screamed the whole time we were saying goodbye, pretty much, and much of the way home. Poor Andrew opened the door to find me carrying Rachel, both of us dripping in tears, from our walk home from the House’s house.


Rachel just hasn’t quite been the same since.

A few days ago Andrew put the movie Cars on before he left for school so that I could (hopefully) stay in bed a little longer. Ten minutes into the movie, Rachel ran into the bedroom. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.

“I’m ready!” she said.

“Ready for what?” I asked.

“I’m ready moving Nyutah,” she answered bravely, as if she even knew what kind of headache and preparation that entails. It’s not something we plan on doing spur of the moment, “I wanna go Mrita.”

Nyutah and Mrita are how she says Utah and America, respectively.

“Why do you want to move to Utah?” I asked her.

“Sam’s in Nyutah!” she wailed and the tears started running down her cheeks again, having burst the dam.

We had to turn off Cars. I don’t think we’ll try watching that for a while. It was Sam’s favorite movie, see.

When we draw pictures of our family she always tries to throw in a couple Lewises for good measure.

“Drawing Daddy,” she’ll say.

“Who else is in our family?” I’ll ask.

“Ummm…Jessie. And Sam. And Sam’s dad.”

“Ummm…nope. All those people are in Sam’s family. Try again.”

But I guess that’s kind of the role they filled while they were here. Family.

When I was worried Rachel might have the chicken pox, it was Sara who called to tell me about fever rashes. When I was worried about Rachel’s 1-year molars coming in, it was Sara I went to for advice.

It’s not that she completely took over the place my own mom and sisters hold, it’s just that she was a great friend…and in the same time zone. Going to her just made sense.

Rachel just fit in with the Lewis kids, too. It was like she was an extra little sister or cousin. They just meshed from day one—everyone loved her and she loved everyone. They’ve definitely left a void behind them. But, there’s always America.

One night when we were visiting at the Lewis’s after dinner or tutoring or something, Sara brought out some little Oreos.

“You can have two because you’re two, Sam!” she said.

That reminded me of a video we took of Rachel a while back. The first time I asked her, not while we were recording, was way cuter because there was no teleprompting involved, but she answered with a loud punk-rock-sounding, “TWO!” when I asked her how old she was going to turn. She put two fingers up and was yelling so hard that her little hands were shaking. It was hilarious.

So I told Sara about that and had Rachel tell her how old she was going to be in July.

“How old are you going to be in July?” I asked.

“TWO!” Rachel shouted.

“Then you can have two cookies, too,” she said, and handed Rachel two cookies.

Sam cocked his head. The light bulb that had turned on above him was almost palpable. He had had an idea.

His birthday is also in July. He’s going to be three. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something along the lines of the Brian Regan baseball scene

"Brian, what's the score?"

"Free snow cone! Free snow cone at the end of the game! If you play they're gonna give you a free snow cone, even if you play half game you get a... you don't get a half snow get a whole snow cone for half the game... people that play whole game get a whole snow cone and the people that play half game get a whole snow cone. So it's always whole snow cone. So, I'd rather play half game. Still get the whole snow cone..."

Sam stood there in shock for a moment, processing his idea.

“I’m gonna be THREE!” he shouted happily, “I want THREE cookies!”

We all started laughing and Sara put her hand back in the bag.

“Mommy, are you getting me three cookies?” Sam asked innocently.

Later, after the Lewis kids had gone to bed, we were still sitting around chatting. Rachel was up, but that’s because she doesn’t have a bed to go to at the Lewis house. We were talking about…something…and Rachel didn’t agree.

“No not!” she said firmly. (No not is a phrase she picked up straight from Sam), “No not!”

Back from the depths of the dark hallway we heard Sam’s little voice answer the opposing response,

“Yes, a-do!”

“No not!” Rachel insisted, indignant that she was being challenged, especially with the official response.

“Yes, a-do!” Sam’s voice echoed out to us again, equally stubborn.

They continued on like this until some grownup or another reminded him that he had been sent to bed.

It’s been fun to have such a nice little buddy around for Rachel—although “little” might be a bit of a stretch. He’s not really all that little at all considering he’s barely a year older than Rachel. He is, frankly, huge.

As good friends as they are, they were prone to fighting a little bit. It was not uncommon for either one of them to run out in tears tattling on the other for doing something mean. For the most part, though, Sam’s pretty gentle. This is a very good thing considering his size.

At first this concerned Jacob and when his parents called to check up on things while we were babysitting back in December, he said,

“Well, Sam’s being a little bit of a wimp with Rachel. He just lets her beat him up.”

Now, I don’t think it’s a good thing for anyone to be beating up anyone and we’re working on the no hitting / pushing / biting / scratching thing as much as the next parents. However, if anyone is going to be doing those things, it’s probably better that Rachel is doing them to Sam than if he is doing them to her.

He’s really surprised himself the few times he’s exerted physical strength against her.

Once he pushed her off the coffee table where they had been sitting, sharing snacks, and pretending to play the Wii, and she just flew off, still in sitting position. She landed a couple of feet away, on her bum, and started wailing.

I sent Sam to timeout to think about what he had done while I collected the sobbing heap that used to be Rachel. When he got out of time out he said, “I’m sorry Rachel.”

“For what Sam?”


“That’s right. We don’t push our friends, especially off tables.”

“Yeah, no pushing off tables,” he repeated.

Sometimes the rules that are formed come from the most interesting scenarios. (For example, we have a “No Yoga at the Dinner Table” rule. That’s not really a related story…but it is an example of a strange rule and I’m sure you can imagine how it came about.)

Another time Rachel came up and pushed Sam. He kind of moved his torso to one side, but didn’t lose his balance or anything. He’s easily twice Rachel’s side.

“No pushing, Rachel!” he said, shoving her away with one hand.

That casual, self-defending shove sent Rachel sprawling across the floor like human tumble weed. She rolled several times before she stopped, halfway across the room. Sam just stood there, staring at his hand, probably wondering what happened and where Rachel went.

For the most part, though, they got along well. It will be fun to see the Lewises again once we get back to Utah. Hopefully Rachel will still remember Sam (I need to get their Skype ID) because they are just so cute together and made up quite the pair.

She still sometimes sings Sam all the way to church, hoping that she’ll go up to the nursery room and find him there, and she often asks to go to Sam’s house.

Alas, poor Rachel. Her heart has been whisked away to “Mrita,” a stow-away in Sam’s carry-on luggage.

Monday, June 29, 2009

'Rillas, 'Matoes, and Counting

This morning Rachel brought me a toy gorilla.

"Pretty 'rilla," she said, because that's what she calls them.

I agreed with her that the gorilla was pretty, or at least as pretty as a gorilla can get.

"That's a very pretty gorilla." I told her.

"Oh, girl-rilla!" she cooed, "Where is boy-rilla? Hiding?"

I love it when she thinks words are compound words when they aren't. She does the same thing with tomatoes. I'll be preparing some tomatoes for dinner and she'll ask,

"Eat 'matoes?"

"Yes, we're going to have tomatoes with dinner." I'll answer.

"Oh, two 'matoes," she'll say, which is funny because she doesn't really understand the concept of counting yet.

She knows some numbers and she knows some letters but she doesn't really understand what they do. Last night we were talking with our families and Rachel was showing off her alphabet singing skills. Mostly she will sing A-B-C over and over and over again. Sometimes she'll throw more letters in there like F and G before going back to A again.

"I'm counting!" she declared to one of her grandparents before singing, "A-B-C-A-B-C-Arba!"

"1-2-3-D!" Andrew said.

Arba was the only number in there. And that's obviously not English, but that's alright because we encourage Arabic. Lately Rachel has been a little possessive of her English. We have an Arabic alphabet book and have read it so much that Rachel has basically memorized it, like most of her other story books.

I was reading it to her the other day--technically I was only almost reading it, because I had barely opened it to the first page when she said, "No not arnab! Rabbit!"

I didn't tell her it was an arnab. I didn't tell her it was a rabbit. But she wanted me to be sure, before I opened my mouth, that we'd be doing this in English. I was equally insistant about doing it in Arabic and she went through every letter, telling me, "No not timsah! Alligator! No not shams! Sun!"

It is so fun to see her language skills develop. Fun for me, at least.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Funny Foods

Sometimes we see things at the store and they just beg to have their picture taken.

Today we have Demy’s salad dressing which is “As good as it takes.”


Also, Spicy Trade’s “Onion Bowder.” Yum, yum, yum.


I always just wonder how difficult it would be for these companies to run their ideas past a native English speaker before marketing them. There are plenty of English speakers available around here. Ones that know that powder is spelled with a ‘p’ and that “as good as it takes” doesn’t really make sense.

I will admit that “as good as it takes” almost sounds catchy. That’s the problem, though: it only almost sounds catchy. After you think about it for a minute you realize you have no idea what they are trying to say.

As good as it gets? As good as it tastes?

They’re as good as it takes, so they aren’t interested in being the best? They want to get by with the least amount of effort required? Only as much as it takes and nothing more?

Sign me up for that salad dressing! They’re going for mediocrity.

Truthfully we usually make our own salad dressings because Demy’s is the only reasonably priced stuff out there—we tried it, and it’s not great. Everything else is imported and costs and arm and a leg, but you can buy olive oil and vinegar for relatively cheap, so when we need salad dressing that’s usually what we do.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Things we never thought we'd see

Most days in Cairo seem so normal now. Other days, though, still make us cock our heads and gaze on in wonder at this place we call home. Today was one of those days.

Andrew and Rachel went out to Tora again--to fix that blasted tire. The innertube was faulty so we just had to pick up a new one and it seems to be working better now. While they were there, though, they saw two billy goats going head-to-head in the street. They looked so aggressive that Andrew was afraid they'd start charging. They didn't and Andrew and Rachel were able to walk right on by, which meant that they also got to see a balcony-turned-pen housing a whole herd of goats. Andrew said there were like 15 or 20, and it was on a little balcony--part of someone's house!

Later we went grocery shopping to get some perishable food items and when we came out of the store we heard some obnoxious meowing and hissing. We looked under a car and saw a pair of cats mating. The female didn't look too happy about it, but the male was definitely dominating the situation. Seeing that wasn't exactly out of place and we tried to give them some privacy. The driver of the car, however, didn't notice those two were underneath his vehicle and threw his car in reverse and ran over the copulating felines. Meow! Hiss! Thud! Screech! Silence.

Andrew's in the middle of a big project--he's making a homemade air conditioner of sorts--and he had to run out to get another part since water was spraying all over the bedroom instead of running down the hose and into the street....On his way home he almost got attacked by two other cats who were fighting in the street. They started hunting him and he tried to make a break for it, but the cats were much more agile. Luckily, a bowab was out watering the street and he turned the hose on the cats, saving Andrew from being clawed to smithereens.

The Knapps threw a spur of the minute party at the Maadi House and we were invited to come along. When we were walking past the Arab Legue building we saw some men dressed in nice business suits, taking pictures of each of each other holding big machine guns. I don't know why. It kind of made me think of Paradise Now. At least they weren't dripping in bandoliers and waving some extremist/jihhadist flag while yelling profanities and cursing America. I felt silly for being so skittish after seeing that; it was like I had turned into a conspiracy-theory-loving local who whispers "spy" and "espionage" and "under cover" whenever I see people taking out a camera. Relax.

On the way home from the Maadi House we almost got hit by a bat. It wasn't one of the small mouse-sized bats that we see all the time, either. This one was like a small flying cat. We dodged it and it flew into (rather, it fell or crash-landed on) a car instead. And then it just sat there. At first we thought it was dead. We went to get a closer look and it started screeching and clawing its way around the roof of the vehicle. It was injured pretty badly. Its wing was all scratched up and its thumb was bleeding quite badly.

Our friend Hasan saw us stop walking home--he's always looking out for us and worries when he doesn't see us frequently enough--and came to see what we were looking at. We told him there was a "thing" on the roof of the car, but we didn't know what it was called. He went and pulled himself up so that he could see onto the roof of the car (more like an SUV, really) and found himself face to face with a bat. It flew at him and he jumped down. They were both pretty startled.

The poor thing couldn't fly to save its life at this point. It had no control, was all lopsided and crashed after going only a few feet. We were all looking at it on the ground when we were joined by some kids who had been hanging out by Hasan. No one seemed to know what to call it. One little girl called it a mouse (فأر/fa'r) and later Hasan asked Rachel if she had seen the swallow (عصفور/'usfur). A lot of words were thrown out, but they were all words for animals that we knew, and none of them meant bat.

The bat eventually crawled off into the dark of the bushes, probably to be at peace from our prying eyes, so we bid our friends goodbye and continued on our walk home. It was weird to see how a bat looks at things up close--seeing but unseeing. They aren't blind, but they certainly don't see the way we see. Not with the way this bat was looking at us.

When we got home I looked up the word bat in my handy-dandy Usborne picture dictionary. It has most words that I would want to know at this point, I think. The word is خفاش/khaffash.

Today was a fun day. We ran a lot of errands, got to go swimming, and were treated to a wonderful supper (thanks, Knapps!), but it was just one of those days when we said, "You know, I never imagined I'd ever see that," more than once to each other. An odd, odd day.

Father's Day, Scripture Stories, and B-E-D time

We celebrated Father's Day last Friday, a little early, I know, but if we tried to wait until Sunday we would have forgotten about it altogether (kind of how Andrew forgot about Mother's Day this year).

When we were getting ready for church in the morning, Rachel asked Daddy about his "blue tie." She often gets to pick out the tie he wears to church, so he thought that's what she was talking about. He went and got a blue tie and put it on, but she wasn't satisfied. So she came to ask me about Daddy's "blue tie."

I went and got the card we had made for him earlier that week and she gave it to him. We folded a big piece of paper like a shirt and used a blue paper to make a tie. She was so proud to hand him his tie.

In Primary we talked about our fathers for a little bit and decided which song we wanted to sing to them. We decided on "The Dearest Names," a song often sung on Mother's Day but rarely used on Father's Day. We also decided that we wanted to change the words a little. I couldn't really see a five year old describing her father as "noble, brave, and true."

I had the kids suggest adjectives for their fathers. Some very good words were suggested; my favorite ones, though, were suggested by Sarah, an almost-five-year-old girl in our primary. After her brother suggested several great words like patient and caring and smart, Sarah started reaching her hand so unnaturally high in the air that I thought she was about to get abducted by aliens. She was doing all she could to stay in her seat, but her waving arm told me she had a really, really great suggestion.

"Ummmm, let's see...Sarah. Do you have a wor...?" I started to ask.

"Helpish!" she blurted out before I could finish, "Because my dad likes to help me do things! Like, he's helping me learn to read stories! You know! He's helpish!"

"Okay, great! Helpish isn't really a word, but helpful is. Is it alright if I write that word down instead?"

She's too young to be embarrassed about using a nonexistant word. Personally, I love nonexistant words, but I didn't think it would be a good idea to encourage elementary students to use the word helpish. Elementary teachers are particularly anal prescriptivists for the most part, from my experience, anyway.

Later her older sister asked the funny be added to the list, since her dad is funny. I wrote funny down.

Sarah's arm started being yanked out of the solar system again.

"Sarah, do you have another wor...?"

"Weird! My dad is weird!"

"Hey!" Elisabeth inerjected, "I already said funny! Weird and funny are the same thing! I think having funny on the list counts as having weird on the list! They mean the same thing!"

Not quite. But I didn't want to get up in front of the entire branch and sing to all the men that we find them weird, either.

"Let's write down weird, anyway," I said, "But we probably don't want to put weird in our song because sometimes weird is a mean word and we want to say only nice words today."

After much deliberation we chose the best words on the list (by way of votes--they weren't necessarily my top picks) and went downstairs to sing to the men. It was supposed to be only the men since Father's Day was on an odd Friday, which meant it was a Priesthood/Relief Society Friday, but it ended up that we sang to the entire branch since Priesthood, Relief Society, Young Men and Young Women all ended up being combined for lack of teachers.

We walked into the chapel and the kids lined up in the front so they could see their fathers. I sat down in front of them to lead them. Rachel sat with me because she was too scared to stand with the kids in front of all those people. That worked out well since Andrew was teaching that week and escaped to the stand to sit behind the kids who were singing instead of walking down to sit in the congregational seating. So Rachel and I go to sing to our Daddy while the rest of the primary sang to theirs. We sang:

I know a name, a glorious name,
Dearer than any other.
Listen, I'll whisper the name to you.
It is the name of father.
Father so honest and nice and true,
I love you, I love you!
Father so patient and strong and true,
I love you!

I didn't want to bother trying to come up with a word to replace true and rhyme with you (we only had 10 minutes to prepare this song, including rewriting the lyrics) so we just left in true. And I think that's alright. Fathers are true, and honest, and nice, and patient, and strong. They are also noble and brave. And helpish and weird. Fathers are a lot of things! We're so glad to have such a wonderful father in our home!

He is so smart and works so hard at what he does. And on top of going to school fulltime and fulfilling his part-time committment on campus (doing the department website), he tutors and does programming and design work on the side to make sure that we can provide for his family. He's so supportive of my needs to do things besides play with Rachel all day and makes sure that I have the time I need to write or do whatever it is I want to do (I'm making a baby blanket right now). He's a good priesthood leader, too.

Usually he ends up reading the scriptures while I sit and cuddle Rachel. Sometimes I get to read, too, but she's started throwing fits when we read the scriptures so I can't really hold the book. We might need to switch from evening scripture study to morning scripture study so she stops associating scriptures with bedtime. She'll sit still as long as I'm holding her and shushing her.

It always amazes me when I realize that through all her fussing and thrashing, a little part of her brain is actually paying attention to what's being read.

We were reading in D&C section 58 a while ago (I don't remember how long ago, but not too long since we're only in section 64 now) and Andrew read verse 10:

First, the rich and the learned, the wise and the noble;

Rachel was goofing off so badly that I was hardly computing what he read. She, however, started singing "The Wise Man and the Foolish Man."

She tapped her head and said, "Wise man!"

She hammered her fists together and made a rooftop with her hands, "Build house!"

She clasped her hands to gether and said, "Rock!"

Then she went back to tapping her head and demanding, "Sing! Wise man! Sing wise man, sing wise man, sing wise man!" from me.

"Honey, what is she talking about?" I asked, "Did you say anything about a wise man?"

He couldn't remember, either. Rachel is very good at being distracting. He went back and found that he had said the word wise. And she heard him...despite all her shenaniganning.

A few days later when Andrew and I were both doing a better job at focusing on the scriptures, but Rachel was still not behaving ideally, she surprised us again. Andrew was reading section 60, which lists the names of Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, and Oliver Cowdery twice. Both times, after Andrew said Joseph Smith's name, Rachel would stop whatever she was doing and instead start repeating, "Joseph Smith, Joseph Smith, Joseph Smith."

At least this time we didn't have to wonder where she picked it up, but it was still hard to believe that she could be listening while simultaneously behaving so badly.

Bedtime certainly has become more of a challenge. We fight and fight and fight until she decides she's ready for bed and then she'll climb right on in, demand kisses, music, water, and "light off." Once she makes up her mind that she's going to bed nothing can stop her. Before that point, nothing can make her. She kicks against the pricks every step of the way.

"No not brush teeth!"

"No not potty!"

"No not diaper!"

"No not jammies!"

"No not scriptures!"

"No not fold arms!"

"No not pray!"

"No not story!"

"No not music!"

"No not B-E-D!"

That last one surprised us last night. We're going to have to come up with a new secret code because spelling isn't working anymore. She can spell bed just as well as we can. It was bound to happen some day.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Perfect Pancake

Rachel is in the kitchen helping Daddy make dinner right now. They're making pancakes. Andrew poured a perfectly round pancake and flipped it just so. It was the perfect pancake.

"Wow!" he said, "That's a perfect pancake! Can you say 'perfect pancake,' Rachel?"

Rachel looked at him and said, "No. Hard say, 'perfect pancake!'"

"But you just said perfect pancake!" he said.

Silly girl. She often declares that things are too hard to do and then does them, anyway. I don't know why she underestimates herself.

She also just touched the pan. Not like "don't touch the stove and/or pan and/or oven and/or anything in that vicinity" hasn't been a rule since forever ago. She handled things okay until I walked into the kitchen and then she burst into tears.

"Dachel touch stove!" she wailed, "Hurt singer!"

She was cradling her index finger and absolutely howling. I took her to the tap to run it under cold water.

"Seel better," Rachel said after a few minutes.

It can't be that bad of a burn because I can't see's hardly even redder than her other fingers. Still, she's continuing to baby it and can't stop talking about it.

"Dachel touch stove. Owie!" she said.

"Yeah, we don't touch the stove. How come?" I asked.

"How tome?"

"Yeah, why?"


"Why don't we touch the stove, Rachel?" Andrew asked.

"'Cuz--hot!" she answered right away.

Sure, sure, answer him and not me.

Potty Training Updates

Lately Rachel has been waking up around 5:30 in the morning just to tell me that she's dry.

When we started this whole potty-training-at-night business I told her that she could wake me up whenever she had to go potty in the middle of the night. 5:30 am is still pretty much the middle of the night, in my opinion. It is, at any rate, not an hour when I'm inclined to agree that playing Ring Around the Rosie or Memory is a great idea.

So even though Rachel wants to get up, we tell her to go back to bed for a little while.

I think that 5:30 am must be the time at which, if she is going to pee in her diaper, she pees. And that's why she wakes up, so that she doesn't pee in her diaper, so that she can get a sticker, so that she can get a prize (she's working on earning a ball right now). The solution to this sounds easy: get her to go potty and then put her back to bed.

Oddly enough, she doesn't ever want to go potty when she first wakes up. This morning I had to bribe her with gummy bears. She sat on the potty screaming "NO!" for 10 minutes and did nothing, but the minute I mentioned gummy bears she magically filled the pot. Filled--so obviously she had to go before gummy bears were involved. Then she got put back to bed.

She was dry when she woke up for church this morning. So she got a sticker.

A few nights ago, though, she woke up too early, again. I made Andrew get out of bed to deal with her. He tried to make her go potty, to no avail, so he just diapered her and put her back to bed. She woke up wet. And wanted a sticker because, as she put it,

"Inna morning, Dachel dry. Dachel say, 'Dachel dry!' Dada say, 'Good night.' Dachel pee pee inna bed now."

So she remembers waking up earlier, telling us she was dry, and us putting her back to bed...and then her peeing in her diaper. She thinks she still deserves a sticker because when she woke up she was dry. And it's not really her fault that she wound up back in bed because it's not like she didn't petition to stay up--she did, but only for about 2 minutes before she fell back asleep (because 9 PM to 5 AM isn't enough sleep for a baby, maybe).

It is kind of her fault for refusing to use the potty when she wakes up, though. Who wakes up because they have to use the washroom and then refuses to go? That's just not logical.

I haven't quite decided what to do about sticker rewards in this situation. I gave her one this time because, let's face it, that was some pretty awesome reasoning for a two-year-old. But I'm not sure if I can continue doing that because she did, in the end, wet the bed and that's not a behavior we're rewarding.

Does staying dry until 5 am, and coming to tell us so, and then later peeing the bed count as staying dry? In my mind it doesn't, but I can see how she would think it would count.

Oh, also, the rate at which she's receiving stickers has dwindled dramatically because she stopped taking naps again, which means she doesn't get stickers for staying dry during naps.

She took almost daily afternoon naps from mid-April to mid-June and I thought that, for once in her life, she had become a regularly-napping child. Alas! But those two months of napping were so lovely while they lasted and definitely coincided nicely with a time in my pregnancy when I desperately needed a regularly-napping child. I'm pretty spoiled when it comes right down to it.

Flashback Friday: The importance of airtight containers

Sometimes I get annoyed with the ants getting into our food all the time. One day I think I have everything they could possibly want packed away in air tight containers and the next day I see that they have gotten into something else I thought was safe from their prying and pinching.

It's like when I was baby proofing the house. One day I thought I have everything moved out of Rachel's reach and the next day she learned to climb the shelf and I had to rework our system once again.

The other day Andrew had grabbed a package of saltine crackers to put in his pocket to take to work iwth him. Just as he was going to put said crackers in said pocket, he realized the package was swarming with ants. There was a tiny hole, hardly even visible, and the ants were marching through that to get to the crackers. Luckily Andrew noticed and didn't end up with ants in his pants. Equally luckily the other packages in the big package (Egypt is all about over packaging, perhaps due to ants) are airtight and ant-free, at least as far as we can tell.

As bad as things are, though, I need to remember that things could always be worse.

Before the Olsons lived next door to us in High River, they lived on an acreage out by the hamlet of Aldersyde,* complete with a barn, some horses, hay and everything. I guess when they decided to go back to school, they moved into town to save money. They moved their family of seven into a little duplex with two small bedrooms, a master bedroom, and an unfinished basement. They hung up sheets to sequester little private areas for some of the kids (at least for Tacy and I think for Benton, too) down there, between food storage and a play area.

They must have felt a little cramped, moving from a nice, big house on an acreage to a little duplex with a tiny strip of lawn. I know our family felt a little cramped when my parents moved us from our big house in PoCo to a little duplex in Calgary, squeezing our family of eight into a living area built for 3 or 4.

The Olsons didn't live in those conditions long, though, before they were off on a grad-school adventure of their own. As I mentioned before, I helped them pack a lot. One day Trina gave Tacy and me the job of dumping the burlap sacks of wheat into big buckets. They had had the wheat for several years now and were working their way through it slowly, but figured that it would keep better in buckets than in porous sacks in a place as humid as Oklahoma (I don't know firsthand that Oklahoma is humid, but almost anywhere could be considered humid when compared to Alberta).

The first few bags of wheat went a little slowly. We'd open one up, dump it into the bucket, and pound the lid on. It took both of us working together to be able to lift the 25 kg bags of wheat high enough to dump them and it was sweaty, dusty work. Wheat dust, similar to what you get when you grind wheat, would puff up around us while we poured.

After a while we perfected our system and started working pretty fast. Open, dump, pound. Open, dump, pound. Open, dump, pound.

When we were a significant way through the stack of wheat bags, we ran across a "special" bag. There was nothing telling about the exterior of the bag. It looked identical to every other bag of wheat that we had transferred that day. When we opened it and started pouring, however, it was obvious that this bag was different.

Instead of the regular cloud of wheaty air we had been expecting, a putrid smelling, sickly grey plume of dust erupted from the bag when we started pouring.

Unfortunately we had reached the point of no return in our system of wheat-transfer. Tacy and I were so small that once we had lifted the huge bag of wheat high enough to start dumping it into the bucket there was no way we could put it down until we had emptied it that didn't involve losing our balance and spilling the nasty, smelly stuff all over the floor or getting in closer contact than we wanted to be with that sac of wheat. At least, there wasn't anything that we could think of to do. So instead we stood there, pouring the wheat and holding our breath.

While we were pouring, we saw the cause of all the stench fall into the bucket. Riding the wave of golden wheat was a very dead, little, grey field mouse.

We abruptly ended our task by heaving the bottom of the sack into the bucket along with the wheat without bothering to dump it out and ran to get Tacy's dad. He took the bucket outside, dumped it into a garbage bag, and left that in the alley to wait for garbage day. Tacy and I were excused from our task until the basement aired out.

So things could always be worse. Instead of ants milling around my kitchen, I could have mice.

I should mention that they formerly kept their wheat out in the barn so the mouse is probably from then and not from when they were living in town. Upon further inspection, there was a small tear in the burlap sack, which is probably how the mouse got in. It's amazing how something so small can lead to such a big (and stinky) problem!

Needless to say, I had no problem investing money in airtight containers when Andrew and I started our food storage after we were married. No problem at all!

* In Alberta, a hamlet is a community which has more than four dwellings, a specified boundary, a name, and land used for non-residential purposes. (from wikipedia)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Non-yellow rice and raw chicken

Last night's dinner was a complete disaster.

In my defense, I felt awful all day long. It was just one of those days when you have every pregnancy symptom possible at exactly the same time and just want to curl up in bed and go to sleep for the rest of your life, or at least until the pregnancy is over. But you can't. Because you're the mom. And two-year-olds have high expectations.

Andrew wasn't due home until 6 so I wanted to get something at least started.

I decided to make yellow rice. I threw all the ingredients into a pot and then went to lie down on the couch and didn't move until after Andrew got home.

"Will you stir the rice?" I asked him.

I had thrown a bullion cube but hadn't stirred long enough to dissolve it fully before I decided that being horizontal and doing nothing would be much more useful to my well-being than being vertical and stirring a pot ever would be.

"I can't," he said, "All the water is cooked out. Look's like dinner is ready. What is it?"

"It's yellow rice," I said.

"No, it's not."

"Whatever, will you make something to go with it? I can't think of anything."

Andrew microwaved some frozen chicken and peas and we sat down to eat dinner.

I looked at the pot. Andrew was right. It wasn't yellow. Turns out that instead of using saffron I had used some super-spicy-hot-dried-and-shredded-peppers that happened to look a lot like saffron.

The chicken that Andrew microwaved was not the fully-cooked kind. It was the you-really-do-need-to-cook-me-yourself kind. Packing here sometimes isn't very clear about this kind of think so we only discovered this detail when he went to cut a piece of chicken off to put on Rachel's plate and ended up with a yucky, half-cooked chicken mess.

The rice was little better. It was too spicy and either under salty or over salty depending on how close you scooped to where the bullion cube finally ended up dissolving.

Andrew and I both had seconds of rice--aside from being too spicy it wasn't too bad. The only thing Rachel kept asking for, though, was peas.

"More peas pease! More peas pease!"

Dinner was supplemented by peanut butter and honey sandwiches and left-over birthday cake.

Next time I feel that awful I'm not even going to attempt anything before Andrew gets home. No dinner is better than a completely neglected, haphazard dinner. It probably would have been so much better if Andrew had had to decide what to make all on his own because I can guarantee that he wouldn't have chosen chicken if I hadn't already made rice!

Monday, June 22, 2009

You’ve had a birthday, shout “Hooray!”

It happened. I got another year older somehow. According to a song I heard once that’s supposed to make me wiser, too.

I think I’m slowly turning into a real mom/adult. Today I didn’t really care about what I wanted and couldn’t really think of anything that I wanted, anyway. But Rachel knew it was my birthday and she had a whole list of fun things that she thought we should do together and so I let her plan my birthday for me. I was happy that she had so many things that she wanted to do to help me celebrate.

She was actually very well behaved today and let me write and crochet a lot while she played by herself. That was nice.

After she was finished playing it was time for cake, apparently.

Practically everything Rachel knows about birthdays comes from Winnie the Pooh and Clifford. That means all she knows is that you need cake and you need party hats.

“Eat cake!” she informed me, “Birthday!”

I told her we didn’t have cake and that we would need to make a cake. I went online and found an easy yellow cake recipe and told her that as soon as I wrote the recipe down, we could make the cake.

“Writing down recipe,” she repeated, “Make cake!”

When I was finished writing down the recipe, though, she had to go potty and then she needed me to help her put her underwear back on.

“Hold this for me,” I said, “Don’t lose it, it’s the recipe.”

And then I got down to help her. She started reading the paper.

“Recipe—make cake,” she said, “In bowl. Eggs. Sugar. Stirring. Eat. Yummy cake!”

I looked up. She was scanning along under the words with her index finger, obviously not reading, but doing a fantastic job pretending to while making up a recipe.

We went into the kitchen to make the cake. She did most of the stirring herself while I battled ants. They found their way to our sugar canister, and while they couldn’t get past the rubber seal on the lid, they were doing their very best. I shook off the lid and picked all the ants off the side of the container. A few ants made it all the way inside (after I had removed the lid) and I had to get those out, too. It was dangerous work because as little as these ants are, their bites are rather fiery.


It was nice to have a little helper continue to stir while I was murdering ants.

The flour also had a few ants trying to pry the lid off the container, but not as many as were around the sugar. Funny how that works. Ants are a lot like children in that respect. And Andrew.


We had finished the batter and done a fine job eliminating the ants in just 20 minutes. Rachel suggested that we add sprinkles to the batter at the last minute, so I let her do that.


Then we put the cake in the oven and she sat on the stool licking out the bowl until the cake had finished baking. She didn’t want to leave the cake unattended and the minute it was out of the oven she demanded to try it. I convinced her that it would be too hot to try until Daddy got home and helped her put icing on it. Then we could try it.


After we were finished in the kitchen, Rachel wanted to color. She colored just fine by herself until she decided that she wanted to make up a recipe.

“Heping writing recipe, Momma! Hep!”

So I took notes while she told me how to make a cake again. She drew some of the things that you need to make a cake. The actual recipe we used was this one. I’m not sure it turned out great, but I was too full to savor it when we tried it and Rachel probably over stirred it…but this is what she based her recipe on. I wouldn’t recommend trying Rachel’s recipe, but you could try the actual recipe that we used if you wanted.


After that she played nicely with her baby dolls for a while.

And then she wanted to make party hats.

Daddy came home from school soon after we had finished with our hats and he took Rachel into the kitchen to make icing when Sister Lindsay stopped by bearing ice cream. I love her! We sat and visited for a while, since she’s my visiting teacher and everything.

When she left, Andrew came to me with bad news. Our powdered sugar had been compromised. He figured it out only after he had measured 3 cups of it into a bowl on top of some butter. He turned his back to grab something, turned back to the bowl...and it was swarming with mad, little ants. They were pouring out of the pile of sugar in the bowl; it was like he had measured half sugar/half ants.

He turned to plan B—the internet—and found a flour/granulated sugar/cream cheese recipe and started making that. While he was in the middle of that he decided we should probably go out to dinner before bedtime, so we left for the Nile. Andrew took me to TGIFriday’s. Rachel was so excited to go to a restaurant.

Of course, every time we feed her she says, “Lucky Rachel!” as if we maybe we weren’t planning on feeding her and she just lucked out that we did. “Yes! They’re feeding me again today! Jackpot!”

Her excitement for life never ceases to amaze me.

We caught a cab and hopped inside and what should be playing but a jingle for TGIFriday’s. We had a good laugh about that and didn’t even have to argue about the taxi fare because we got out at a busy road and he had to start driving again before he could ask us for more money.


After we had eaten we went home for birthday cake. Andrew and Rachel disappeared into the kitchen again, leaving me to digest in rare and precious solitude.

Then they brought out my beautiful birthday cake. Rachel had learned to say “Happy Birthday” and she wished me so when I sat down at the table. In case you can’t tell, there is a tree (circle by the 2) and an elbow (squiggle above the 2) and another elbow (bottom right of the 4) on my cake. Rachel drew them. Andrew drew the 24, in case you were wondering how old I turned.

Rachel helped stick in the candles.

“You can probably tell where,” Andrew told me, “They’re bunched too close together.”

“You mean right here where the candles are upside down?” I asked.

“Oh! That’s going to be a problem…” he said before grabbing the two candles on the bottom left hand side of the cake. He licked them off and flipped them over.


We took a few pictures before we lit the candles, which was a very good idea because 24 candles is too many to light and the first ones lit were little, bitty stubs by the time we got around to singing. Rachel and I, of course, wore our party hats. They’re mandatory at any party thrown by Christopher Robin or Rachel Heiss.
IMG_0038 IMG_0044

There were three trick candles on the cake, which was kind of exciting since we’ve never used trick candles before. After I blew out the candles (which I did in one breath, save for one trick candle that didn’t go out), we all had fun blowing out the trick candles again and again. Rachel will be well practiced for her birthday next month.


Rachel was very excited for the cake and for the fact that we were having a party, in general. She hasn’t witnessed a birthday since Andrew’s, which was last September. She kept saying, “Happy Birthday!” and “Birthday party!” and “Making cake!” and “Candles!” and “Party hats!”


I think she’ll be very excited for her second birthday party, which I haven’t even begun planning yet, but which I know will involve cake and party hats. How could it not?

It was a good day. Andrew cleaned up the cake mess, so we’re going to play the game he got me for my birthday now to celebrate the final hours of my first day being 24.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

An Actual Eulogy: Grandpa Conrad

Apparently my sister and I don't communicate very well when she calls me at 5 o'clock in the morning. Go figure. It was my Grandpa Conrad that she wanted memories about. We have a Conrad Family Reunion coming up in July and she's been assigned to talk about my grandpa. Since I obviously won't be able to attend the family reunion, it will be nice to contribute a little bit.

I still remember the day my grandpa died. Wednesday, May 17, 2000. My brother David and I had been up at a Regional Band Competition (where we totally rocked, thank you very much) all day. We got back to the high school shortly before mutual was due to begin so my mom was there to pick us up and drive us across town to the church in our trendy, black cherry, 1987-style Chrysler mini-van. She looked so sad when we got into the van and it really put a damper on our victorious spirits.

"Grandpa died today," she informed us.

I sat there in stunned silence. Grandpa had been sick and declining my whole life, but he had always been there. Part of me knew that I should have known he was going to die, that I shouldn't be so surprised, that I should be happy that he wasn't suffering anymore. The other part of me was absolutely miserable. I was torn.

"I...don't know how to feel," I admitted.

"With your hands!" my mom choked out in an inseparable mixture of tears and laughter.

Anyone who could understand what my grandpa said knew that he was hilarious. You just had to learn to understand him, first.

Grandpa had a stroke long before I was even thought of. He lost speech abilities and some movement. He eventually had to give up farming and take up a cane to help him walk. My mom told me that he used to be rather bitter about the whole thing and wasn't very pleasant to be around, but I never knew him when he was like that. By the time I knew him he had accepted his fate and had decided to live a happy life. It seemed like every time something else in his body failed he just got happier.

One of his ongoing jokes was to answer, "With my hands!" to anyone who dared ask how he felt that day. I think Grandpa would have been happy that within minutes of being informed of his death we were all laughing our heads off again.

My first memories of Grandpa are being terrified of him. Grandma and Grandpa came out to visit us in PoCo once, before Grandpa couldn't travel, and I don't think I said a word to him the whole time. My mom bribed me with freezies in order to get me to give him a hug goodbye. He talked funny--his voice was raspy and his speech slurred--and, even worse, he drooled. He was scary!

Freezies were apparently worth the risk of being drooled on since I remember hugging him. I waited until the very last minute, though. He was already sitting down in the car, ready to go, and was just about to close the door when I ran over to give him a hug.

Grandma affectionately called his uncontrollable drooling "Grandpa Glue."

Grandpa read a lot. In the morning he could often be found reading the scriptures, and in the afternoon it would be the Reader's Digest--the big print version. There were stacks of old Reader's Digests in various places throughout the house. The grand kids would read them when we visited, telling the jokes to each other and scaring ourselves with stories of poisonous spiders and tragic shipwrecks. I think he liked to read so much because reading was still fluent for him. Sometimes when our conversations got too raucous, he'd slip away. I don't know if it was because he was frustrated at not being able to join in or if we were just too noisy for him.

There was some noise that he didn't mind, though, and that was when we would play the game PIT! There were a few times when the Torries and our family were visiting at the same time and someone would help Grandpa down the stairs so we could sit around the ping-pong table and yell to our hearts' content.

We would all sit in silence until the dealer declared that the market was open. And then...

"Three! Three! Three! I have three! Anybody? Three!"

"TWO!" someone else would bellow, "TWO!"

Cards would be switching hands faster than lightning. Hands waving, voices yelling, tension rising, until someone would yell, "Corner on the market!"

Then everyone would quiet down so we could see what grain closed that day's market, who had the cards we needed. We'd quickly jot down scores and begin another round. Grandpa was surprisingly energetic and vocal during these games, really in his element.

Another game he really enjoyed was crokinole. Grandpa's aim was always remarkably accurate his whole life. Impeccable, you might say. It was amazing to watch him play crokinole because he was so shaky. He would put his ring at the edge of the board, squint his eyes, cock his head, and raise his arm, fingers ready to flick and concentration pouring out of his soul.

His arm would be shaking 6 inches this way and 6 inches that way, up, down, side to side, and if you were watching him play for the first time you might wonder to yourself if he'd even be able to flick the ring, let alone make the shot he had set up. He would make the shot, though, almost every time. Those of us who knew him knew that. Some of us trusted his aim to the point of risking our lives.

Once at a Conrad Reunion, held on the Torrie farm around 1996, I remember watching my dad sit calmly with an apple on his head, across the yard from Grandpa who, like the gallant William Tell, sat poised with his bow--his arrow pointing at the apple balancing on Dad's head. Grandpa's arms were shaking so badly; I thought for sure my dad was a goner. But, of course, much to the crowd's relief, Grandpa's arrow sank deep into the apple.

Another sport that Grandpa enjoyed was hockey. I think that's the only thing I ever saw him watch on TV. He had a little Foosball-like hockey game featuring the Toronto Maple Leaves and the Montreal Canadiens, I believe. There was a little metal marble that acted as the hockey puck and players made of metal and painted with a red or blue jersey would twirl around in circles to hit the puck with their sticks. David and I used to go downstairs and play that. It was really old and sometimes the knobs to turn the players would come off and we'd have to call time out until we could get the knobs back on again. David always won, but I bet that if we had ever played with Grandpa he could have beaten David!

Grandpa had a workshop in the basement. There are a few, very faint memories that I have of him working on projects in there. Once when I was young enough that I was still scared of him I had a run-in with him in the hallway. He was coming out of the workshop and tried to say something to me, but instead he choked and some Grandpa Glue dripped onto the carpet. I ran upstairs crying and Grandma came down to clean up the Glue, but I think I spent the remainder of that visit jumping over that section of carpet, anyway.

There wasn't a whole lot of reason to visit Grandpa's old workroom. It was an unfinished room, with scraps of mismatched pieces of carpet on the floor and bare cement walls, beside Grandma's food storage room and led to the garage. Since Grandma used the stairs leading from the basement to the garage as a makeshift root cellar, we rarely went through the basement to get to the garage. The chest freezer was in that room, though, and whenever I was sent to retrieve something from the freezer I always dawdled, taking time to imagine Grandpa working with all those tools (which was about as hard to imagine as it was to imagine him being an archer) and sneaking a peak at the old calendars hanging up around the room and ogling the old, curious-looking telephone.

My grandpa used to volunteer with the local telephone line and would help repair the phone lines, once putting Uncle Bruce's life in serious jeopardy. I remember my mom telling me that Grandpa always wanted to work an office job, and that he tried it, but couldn't do it. This was before the days of smoking laws and all his coworkers smoked. He couldn't stand being in the office, so he went back to the farm.

Grandpa was such a daredevil that farm life probably suited him best. He had a few serious injuries, which my mom and uncle wrote about, involving a beet topper and his leg. Even with his second-choice occupation and various farming accidents, Grandpa was happy through life and he carried that with him through his trials of old age, as well.

When his mobility started failing more rapidly, he started using a walker. Grandma could often be found shadowing him to make sure that he didn't fall and to help him get settled at his next choice of location. She also made him do exercises--he had to do several laps up and down the long hallway from the living room to the bedrooms everyday. His balance was terrible, so it was a good thing Grandma was willing to follow him around everywhere.

Once when the "Grandpa Train," as Grandma sometimes called it, was coming down the hallway Grandpa lost his balance and fell, grasping desperately for the railing (Grandma and Grandpa had railings installed all over the house: all the way down the hallway, leading from the driveway to the front door, in the bathroom, all over). Unfortunately he had lost his balance at the top of the stairs and he tumbled right down them.

Everyone rushed over to see if he was alright. Abra was the first down the stairs to help him up. While she was lifting him, Grandpa pointed his shaky finger at Grandma in mock accusation.

"She pushed me!" he slurred with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

We all laughed, but Grandma was somewhat mortified and denied, several times, that she would ever push Grandpa down the stairs. She didn't have to worry; we knew Grandpa was kidding! We didn't always know if Grandpa was kidding, but that time it was fairly obvious. Other times it wasn't quite so obvious, but Grandpa definitely had a sense of humor.

Mealtime at Grandma and Grandpa's was sometimes more fun than others. Sometimes when we had larger get-togethers at Grandma and Grandpa's house, we would all bring food to share and meals were much more palatable than our more intimate meals with Grandma and Grandpa. Auntie Colleen would bring baked beans and buns and potato chips. Grandma would make her famous lemon fruit salad. And we would also contribute something, but obviously I didn't care what because I can't remember what my mom would usually make.

Grandma's fruit salad was to die for. All the grand kids loved it and would vie for second helpings and larger portions. We could usually have as much as we wanted until it was all gone, with one rule: everyone had to have firsts before we could go back for seconds.

Patrick once started reaching for the salad spoon either before he had finished his firsts (meaning he had to eat everything from his plate) or before everyone had had their firsts (meaning that his reaching for the spoon was completely taboo) and Grandpa noticed.

He tried to tell Patrick to stop, but Patrick simply wasn't understanding what he was saying. Grandpa was frustrated that Patrick wasn't listening, so he reached over and slapped Patrick's hand. Patrick was gravely offended and avoided going on visits to Grandma and Grandpa's house for months, maybe years. This made Grandpa so sad because he hadn't meant to hurt Patrick's feelings; he just wanted to be listened to. Eventually the two of them made up, but it took a lot of time, begging and coercing just to get Patrick to even go over there until they did!

When just our family was visiting meals were usually pretty simple. Grandpa had a hard time chewing and swallowing--we call it the Conrad Throat; we can choke on nothing--especially when his teeth started falling out. Because of this, vegetables were steamed until they virtually dissolved in your mouth (later, Grandma would actually puree Grandpa's food for him) and everything else was equally easy to chew. Instead of "real" meat, Grandma and Grandpa usually had canned chicken or something like that.

Once, Grandma had opened a can of chicken spam and cut it into pieces. It was passed around the table with the rest of the food and we all took some, to be polite. Josie really didn't want any, but he got served some, anyway. She ate nearly everything on her plate, except for the chicken spam, which she stared at in horror.

No one was really paying her any mind, but we had been talking about dental hygiene. That topic always seemed to come up when Grandpa would pop out his false teeth. Somehow Patrick, who wasn't present due to the hand-slapping incident, was outed as an anti-teethbrusher. He was just at that age where brushing his teeth seemed like the most horrible form of torture on the face of the planet.

So, while Josie was sitting there, nervously poking the chicken spam around on her plate, Grandpa thought he would take the time to express how important it is to take care of your teeth (because he didn't as a young man and now had precious few teeth left).

"Tell Patrick to brush his teeth," Grandpa said.

Much to our surprise, Josie picked up her fork and started gobbling up her chicken. As soon as she was done, she ran away from the table. Mom went to find her later and it was disclosed that Josie thought Grandpa had yelled for her to "Eat your meat!" and that she was in trouble.

But she wouldn't be, of course, because as much as Patrick and I were afraid of Grandpa when we were little, Josie was equally enamored. She had a walker and he had a walker. She had little hair and he had little hair. She had few teeth and he had few teeth. She drooled and he drooled. And everyone had a hard time understanding what either of them said. They were a match made in heaven.

Those two were so smiley together. Josie would climb up to sit with Grandpa and he'd pop his teeth out to make her giggle. She'd tug on her own teeth, trying to do the same thing, and would be so frustrated at never being able to.

Josie and Grandpa had such an understanding relationship from very early on; she was so used to having him around and was never once afraid of him. She was in kindergarten when Grandpa died and was absolutely crushed that her buddy had died.

Our family went out bowling sometime shortly after he died. Josie rolled her ball at the pins. It started heading down the lane ever so slowly, as bowling balls tend to when they have the force of a 5-year-old behind them, and it was wildly bent on ending up in the right hand gutter. We all watched the ball, waiting for it to drop into the gutter, ready to console Josie about yet another gutter ball.

Then, much to our surprise, when the ball was right on the edge of the lane and ready to drop into the gutter, it miraculously curved and started rolling safely down the lane again. We all watched curiously as the ball slowly, slowly, slowly crashed into the pins. I don't remember how many points Josie earned but it was a lot of points for a girl her age and the fact that she hit any pins at all was an absolute miracle.

We joked that it was Grandpa, her #1 buddy, nudging the ball in the right direction.

Grandpa was an avid fruit farmer. He enjoyed grafting apple trees and blending different kinds of apples to come up with new flavors. Grandma and Grandpa's yard in Raymond had several apple trees along the fence where we would sometimes climb up them to hide while playing Sardines and other games. Once, when I was in grade 5, I made Grandpa a card with a picture of a tree on it. As you unfolded the paper, the tree got taller and taller and taller. When you finished unfolding the paper there was a picture of a very tall tree, with one branch sticking out. There was a swing on the branch and on the swing was a girl.

The card said, "Grandpa, my love for you grows, and grows, and GROWS!"

Grandpa opened it and declared that the tree I drew was in desperate need of a good trim. That branch with the swing had to go; it was stealing water from the good part of the tree and was going to create a watersprout problem if it wasn't taken care of.

I didn't take the critique lightly, but noticed that my card made yearly encore appearances on Grandpa's birthday (or Father's Day, whichever I made it for), so either he or Grandma must have liked it to keep putting it up year after year.

We visited Grandma and Grandpa a lot when we lived in Alberta. When we left, Grandma and Grandpa would come outside (until Grandpa was too sick to) and they would wave and wave and wave until we were out of sight. We would all turn around in the van and wave back, and keep waving until we turned the corner and couldn't see their house anymore.

The Canada Day Parade route went right in front of Grandma and Grandpa's house. We would always set the lawn chairs out by the road, and sometimes would help move Grandpa outside so he could watch the parade with us instead of from the living room window.

Grandpa was such a good sport about being an invalid. He went to church in his wheelchair every week and Grandma would park him by the door of the chapel where he'd greet and be greeted by everyone in the ward. He also served diligently as a home teacher for years after some would consider him too sick to go. He and Grandma served a mission in Salt Lake City--I think in the Granite Vaults doing records. They went when I was really young, but I remember praying for them and drawing a few pictures to mail to them.

I'm so happy that they made the sacrifices they did to go on a mission. It's a wonderful example for their grandchildren!

Grandpa ended up living in a home for the elderly in the Raymond General Hospital (the same hospital I was born in) the last few months of his life. It was getting to difficult for Grandma to take care of him alone, so Sunday dinners were occasionally held under lock down. There was a code we had to use to get into the wing Grandpa was staying in and then our family would meet in a little conference room and eat dinner and visit together.

When just a few of us would visit, we'd sit in Grandpa's room to talk with him there. Mom was back to bribing me to perform songs and things for Grandpa's entertainment, just like she bribed me to give him hugs when I was little. It's not that I was scared to visit with Grandpa...but I was scared of the environment and how quickly he was dying. It was a hard process to watch.

I learned a lot more about Grandpa after he died. I helped my aunts, Mom, and Grandma put together some posters to display at the funeral. Pictures of my grandpa when he was young--he and his brothers were into trick photography and would develop their own pictures and play around with them; there's a picture of Grandpa walking down a path, carrying his own head--pictures of my grandpa and grandma's wedding, pictures of my grandpa as a young father, as a farmer, as a young grandfather. It was interesting to hear all the stories of the pictures be told.

My grandpa was such an interesting person and although I'm glad for the grandpa I knew and I'm glad for his example of enduring to the end, I sometimes wish that I could have known him when he was healthier. I wonder if things would have been any different. I guess I'll just have to wait to get to know him better until we meet on the other side.

A Living Eulogy: Grandpa Layton

My sister asked me to think of some memories about my grandpa and I figured I'd post them here, since this is basically our family history. We've been planning on laying out our blog in book format for a while but I write so much that the task seemed almost overwhelming. Andrew's been working on a script, since he isn't taking classes this summer and is just researching on his own and feels like he has a little spare time for such projects, that takes the blog (the whole thing) and switches it around to be in chronological order (instead of reverse chronological order as it is online). He even figured out how to bring the comments with it.

He's so smart! I could never figure something like that out.

That means that I don't have to go through and manually do all of that for the some-odd 1000+ posts that I've written either here or on our Jordan blog or elsewhere. All we have to do is insert pictures, but we were planning on doing that, anyway, since books require a higher DPI photo than a computer screen does.

When the script works properly we're planning on releasing it to the public on Andrew's techno-academic blog,'re welcome. Now onto my Grandpa.

I think the Grandpa my sister was referring to was my Grandpa Layton, since he's alive...and because it's Father's Day...I kind of figure she's compiling memories that we have of him for him. That makes sense.

The house that I associate with my grandpa is not the house they currently live in. I loved their old house. I was telling Andrew just yesterday how I think it would be cool to have a loft. My grandparents had a loft in their house. The stairs were right in the entry way and after going upstairs you could see down into the living room or the entry way. I loved to play up there while the grown ups either visited or watched a show together. It was like I was there with them but not at the same time.

It was even more neat when we got to sleep in the bedrooms just off the loft or on blow-up mattresses on the loft floor. Then it felt like we were sleeping in a tree house or something...or so my 7-year-old self imagined. It was exciting.

I also remember thinking their yard was amazing, or that it could be if it had a few improvements. I had it all planned out. The pool would go here. The swing set there. And the trampoline there...perfect.

After a few years, though, they moved into the basement suite and Uncle Cory and his family moved into the rest of the house. Visiting Grandma and Grandpa suddenly got a whole lot more crowded.

I remember once when I forgot my pyjamas and had to borrow one of Grandpa's t-shirts to sleep in. I was so embarrassed to ask. I have so many memories of forgetting my pyjamas when going places (usually visiting grandparents) and then being embarrassed to ask to borrow something to sleep in. It's now one of the first things I pack.

Whenever we visited Grandma and Grandpa, Dad made sure to take us to the Original Iceberg Drive-in in Salt Lake to get their thick, thick, thick shakes. Sometimes Grandpa would come with us, and if he did, we usually got to get burgers and onion rings, too. I was never able to finish those huge milkshakes. I don't know how many Iceberg cups Grandma found in her freezer over the years, forgotten, and full of refrozen, half-eaten milkshake. Those were mine.

I remember Grandpa's love for classical cars. He and Grandma had that old blue car...the interior was all original and I loved how fluffy the carpet was. It had really fluffy carpet!

Once Grandma and Grandpa came up to visit us in High River and we took them to George Lane Park. It was during a festival of sorts--perhaps Victoria Day or something--and there was a little car show. We had a hard time convincing Grandpa to take a walk with us on the trail by the river. He was old and his bones were tired...or so he said. Convincing him to go to the car show, though, was easy.

A few years later, Grandma and Grandpa moved into a new, smaller home--bigger than the basement suite, but smaller than their old house. The yard is humongous and they now have that trampoline and swing set (no swimming pool, though, darn it!). They also have a gigantic garden. I remember seeing Grandpa in the garden, watering the plants for Grandma. (I also remember the plastic chair that he sat on and had collapse right underneath him.)

He always seemed so helpful to me, rigging up a pulley system in the garage so that they could open the garbage can without having to go down the stairs, putting the glasses away after they had been washed...speaking of glasses, I always remember Grandpa putting ice in a big glass of milk. That was something I never understood.

I remember helping with the corn in the summers after we moved to Utah. That was a lot of work with a lot of helpers, but always worth it in the end with fresh corn on the cob and Grandma's creamed corn all year long as a reward! Grandpa was always right there, helping shuck the corn and break the cobs in half so that we could grate them easier.

Creamed corn was always featured at Thanksgiving. I believe I celebrated my first American Thanksgiving at Grandma and Grandpa's house. It was a little squishy, but cozy, with Grandma's southern cooking steaming on the table, some of which was familiar, some of which was not. She always made sure to have some "normal" vegetables for those of us who hadn't grown up on okra and turnip greens. I always wondered how Grandpa got used to eating that stuff and would chuckle to myself as I recalled the story of Grandpa's first time trying to make grits for Grandma and using almost every pot in the kitchen because he just couldn't get it right. Add a little water...add a little grits...add a little more water...add a little more grits...get a new pot...add a little water...add a little grits....He sure did love his Florida girl, but I'm sure it took him more than a couple of tries to really begin enjoying okra.

When I was little I loved visiting Grandma and Grandpa because that usually meant a visit to Temple Square. Grandpa was always willing to share his scriptural insights and his testimony of the gospel. I remember him joining in our family scripture when he was visiting us once and he started asking us questions about what we were reading and we all just stared at him. He had something to ask, something to point out, something he had learned, something he wanted us to learn after every verse. It really made me think about how much time I spent actually pondering the word of God. It was obvious that Grandpa had spent a long time doing so.

I remember a few times that we visited their ward on a fast Sunday and Grandpa would get up and bear his testimony, mentioning that he was so happy to have his family with him at church and that he wanted us to know that he had a testimony of the gospel and that we knew what his testimony was.

Grandpa was also a temple worker in the Jordan River Temple and I remember him mentioning that he really wanted to serve a mission, unfortunately Parkinson's got to him first and he never had the opportunity. He served in other ways, though. I can't remember how many years he served in the temple, but it was several consecutive years and was so important to him.

I appreciate the example he set of regular temple attendance. It was so wonderful to have him in the temple with me when I went through for my endowments, and to have him present at mine and Andrew's sealing.

He has such a testimony of the power of the priesthood, as well. When my dad ended up in the hospital with heart problems, Grandma and Grandpa came down to wait with us while he had a triple bypass. When the surgery was over they let us in to see Dad. It was past 4:00 AM and we were all tired. Dad was still under anesthesia. We all went in and looked at him and told him we loved him. It was scary to see my dad like that--all sick and fragile.

Most of us just popped in and out; we wanted to make sure that Dad really was alright and then we wanted to go home and go to bed. Grandpa, though, lagged behind. I thought it might just be his shuffling gait, due to Parkinson's, that was keeping him behind.

"Come on, Grandpa," I said, linking his arm and tugging gently, "Let's go."

"I want to give him a blessing." He said.

"He's already had a blessing," I said.

And that was true. Andrew and his dad had given my dad a blessing before he went in for the angioplasty earlier in the day. It was kind of a foreboding blessing...and now we knew why...but it was a blessing nonetheless and it said that everything would work out fine in the end and I was satisfied with that. I was tired and I had a newborn baby and I wanted to go home. But I needed to help Grandma and Grandpa out to their car, first.

"I want to give my son a blessing." He insisted.

My mom asked what the hold up was, and so I explained it to her, and she said that he had a right to exercise his priesthood and another blessing was probably a good idea. And I probably was being a little irrational.

We called in another priesthood holder--I don't remember if it was Andrew or my Uncle Bruce--and Grandpa gave Dad another blessing. This one was more peaceful and reassuring than the blessing Dad had received earlier. I'm so grateful that Grandpa insisted on giving Dad that blessing. And I'm so grateful that he was able to stand in the circle, in place of my Dad, to help give Rachel and name and a blessing that Sunday, just 29 hours after blessing my dad.

Grandpa wasn't always all serious, either, of course. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was always cracking jokes and playing tricks on the grand kids. But I already wrote about that.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Raised in a barn

When I was in grade four we moved away from Port Coquitlam, British Columbia—a city kind of swallowed up by Vancouver, which happens to be the largest city in British Columbia and all of Western Canada. PoCo is still it’s own little entity, but we would always tell people not from the area that we were from Vancouver.

We moved to Calgary, Alberta—the biggest city in Alberta—and lived there for the rest of the school year (January through June), through the summer, and into the next school year.

My mom, however, had gotten a job working for the Foothills School Division in the IMC, the Instructional Materials Center, a sort of warehouse/library for the books, movies, PE equipment, and other goods that circulated around the schools in the division. The IMC happened to be located in the town of High River, Alberta—a small town not swallowed up by a big city.

At the beginning of the school year we had the choice of either attending school in Calgary or attending school in High River. We chose to go to school in High River, which was a very natural choice if you had recently endured what my brother and I did at Alice M. Curtis Elementary school. Ugh.

High River had two public elementary schools back then—I believe they still do (the others are Catholic)—and since we hadn’t moved and didn’t know where we would be moving to, the zoning rules didn’t really apply to us so we basically got to handpick our school.

David had to go to Joe Clark because that’s where the middle school was that year (until they opened up Senator Riley the next year). Patrick and I preferred Spitzee, though, so we went there.

We did end up moving to High River eventually, but until we did we had to get up early and commute from Calgary to High River every morning. After school we’d hang out at friends’ houses or “help” out at Mom’s work until it was time to make the commute back to Calgary.

This only lasted until October sometime, so it wasn’t as if we were doing it for months. Still, the weeks we made the commute were long and tiring.

And that very long history was the preface to telling you that…

One morning while making the drive from the City through the prairie to the town we noticed that some cows had broken their way through a fence somewhere and were curiously surrounding a farmhouse, peeping in windows and exploring flower beds.

I remember finding this very entertaining. We all laughed about it, joking about what the cows were thinking while they were looking through the windows.

Cows belong in pastures, not front yards, or so I thought. But my formative years turned me into quite the city slicker.

Now I know that in North America farm animals can be found in the city. But usually there is a farm-like area for the animals to roam. Barns and pastures and fences, things like that. Things that keep the animals separated from traffic, from people, from the city.

Even in Russia, it is common to have farm animals around. To get to the Slinkov’s you had to walk through a large quasi-communal yard full of chicken coops and things like that.

But that’s my point, I guess. The chickens were in coops. They could be let out to stroll around the yard, but most of the time they spent locked up. There are no horses roaming free around Orem, that I know of. They’re all corralled up.

That is not how it is here. Here the animals and humans share habitat.

I read in Rodenbeck’s Cairo book that people sleep with boxes of pigeons under their beds. They keep goats in the corner. They keep chickens in the kitchen. During the day the animals go outside and mill around, eating what they can find, creating traffic hazards, and providing endless entertainment for Rachel. Perhaps one of the reasons Bird Flu is spreading so well in Egypt is because people sleep with pigeons under their beds and keep chickens in their kitchen. Just a guess.

Anyway, Rachel was so excited when we went to Tora today and saw some goats out in the road.

“See goats! See two goats!” she said.

And then said it again and again and again. In fact, she’s still saying it. She’s the walking definition of the phrase “broken record.”

We walked right by them and she was definitely interested in everything about them. She told us everything they were doing with passionate little squeals—not that the goats were doing anything exciting, unless you find walking and eating exciting. I thought for sure she would be terrified because the last time I took her to a zoo (over a year ago) she was more scared than interested…and she’s afraid of cats and dogs and everything. Perhaps this is a sign that taking her to the zoo won’t be such a waste of time anymore.

One little goat was picking though a pile of trash and found a piece of newspaper to nibble on. I have also seen cows staked to the side of the road, rummaging through garbage to find things to eat. That is one of the many reasons we try to stay away from meat here.


I find it interesting that pigs are still considered “unclean” in Islam—most often the reasoning that I hear for this is because pigs eat refuse so why on earth would we want to eat them. That is a good argument when you consider that the refuse the pigs picked through (or used to, before the government decided to kill them all) contains not only apple cores, corn cobs, and banana peels, but empty gasoline containers, animal carcasses, and old tires.

Slop, to me, is entirely different from plain, old garbage. Slop is basically compost for pigs—it’s organic and actually food. Garbage contains all that, sure, but also things that should probably never be eaten by anyone or anything, even accidentally.

Pigs aren’t the only ones here eating garbage, though. The goats and cows definitely do—I’ve seen it with my own eyes—and yet, the people still drink their milk and eat their meat without thinking of them as being unclean at all.

Fortunately, or not, there aren’t any pigs left in Cairo, so we don’t have to worry about that. It’s a little ridiculous that they were slaughtered since pigs weren’t exactly the cause of “Swine Flu.”

We were joking with the Lewises and Houses the other day about changing the name of Swine Flu to something more fitting, since that is what people seem to want to do. We thought that maybe “Stray Dog Flu” or “Rat and Cockroach Flu” or something like that would be a great name! Then the Egyptian government would go and kill all the pests around the city. Killing rats and cockroaches would probably help slow the spread of disease (any disease) more than killing all the pigs.

Some animals are luckier than others and get to live in little alleyways between buildings. Before I took this picture I saw a goat walk through the door and into the house. The woman inside didn’t shoo it out. It belonged there.


It made me wonder if mothers here ever use the phrase, “Were you raised in a barn?!” when their children are rude and acting like, well, barn animals.

Is it even applicable when you share your dwelling with goats and cows and chickens?

Or do animal mothers ask their children, “Were you raised in an apartment building?!” when they do something polite like wiping their feet on the welcome mat or not eating their owner’s favorite shirt?

Or is that even applicable when you are a goat but sleep in the living room and use the front door?