Monday, December 26, 2011

Iowa Christmas

We had a lovely Christmas in Iowa this year. As you can see through the windows of this picture, we have no snow, which disappoints the boys, who'd love to go sledding. Still, it's sunny and pleasant outside, and there's a tree inside, which the kitty finds delightful.
She got a crocheted catnip mouse in her stocking, which got played with and chewed all day on Christmas.
Here's Robbie playing with the new computer the boys got from Santa. Mom and Dad said the old computer was perfectly fine, but Santa understood a teen boy's needs.
Eli's wearing the Vectrex sweatshirt he got for Christmas--Vectrex is a vintage gaming system. He likes the idea of old computers, but he also is glad to have that new one in the basement.

I could have included pictures of me reading my book about Broadway shows, or Bruce grinding coffee in his new coffee grinder, but I am terrible at remembering to take pictures!
The Dudeks visited us Christmas day--Mike, Susan, and Erik. It was so great to have them here! We had dinner together, opened gifts, and the boys had a great time talking about computers and--here--playing Magic. Eli's not playing; he's just goofing off.

Happy Boxing Day to all!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Thinking of Louie

I love this picture of my nephew Louie. In a way, it's not that great of a picture--you can't even see his face. Just his back (with "Dudek" on his sweatshirt) and my kids goofing around with him when they were little. That's Robbie in the red, and Eli in the background in green. The time stamp says 11-27-99.

But this is what I think of when I think of Louie: Visiting his family--my in-laws--in Chicago, and my boys having a great time playing with him and his older brother Erik. First they were supervised by the grownups; later, the boys would be off on their own playing with Legos and balls. Still later, video games and bikes. My boys loved their older cousins, and I was always thrilled that Louie and Erik played so nicely with my younger ones.

This weekend, Louie's friends and family are posting pictures of Louie on facebook. Today would have been his 19th birthday. He died last spring of lymphoma.

I won't see Louie again in this life. It's a physical sensation, this loss. When I think about Louie, it feels like someone kicked me in the chest.

Looking for this photo in my albums gave me a chance to think about those years before we knew about that lymphoma. There are pictures of the boys at the zoo, at various museums (visiting Chicago-land museums was OUR family's Black Friday tradition for many years), and playing in the Dudeks' home. I have a mental image--though no photos--of Susan, my sister-in-law, great with child (Louie) at Thanksgiving, 1992. He should have been born in late November. He wasn't in any hurry.

What if we had known what the future would bring for Louie, for us? The shock, the struggle, the loss, the grief? I think that's why I love those old photos so much: because in them, we didn't know. We were all just living, enjoying life.

The sermon at church this morning was on the Annunciation. Pastor Paul pointed out that it wasn't really an announcement, because the angel waited for a reply. "It was a proposal," he said. "Mary could have said 'no.'" Mary knew that accepting this proposal meant she could be in trouble as a young unmarried woman, pregnant. But what she didn't know was the real future: riding to Bethlehem at 9 months pregnant, fleeing to Egypt, watching her son's ministry grow, watching her son die.

She didn't really know the future. But she said yes.

Louie was on my mind this morning, so I interpreted the sermon in the light of his life and death. None of us knew the future when he was born, either. We just loved him. And when the future unfolded, we lost him.

But still. We don't yet know the rest. We don't know our future, and how Louie's life will impact us. God keeps urging us--Louie's friends and family--to go on. Despite the foot on the chest, we'll say "yes," too.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Picture-perfect Thanksgiving

Things have calmed down here after the pre- and post-Thanksgiving excitement--time for me to look at and share some photos.

OK, these aren't my pictures--they were taken by my sister-in-law and brother-in-law! But they are such a nice reminder of our lovely holiday together.

Here I am with Robbie, making pie crust. He's learning the family pie crust recipe, and does very well with it.
Uncle Bill carving the bird.
Sammy! He loved being read to. I was glad to oblige.
T-Day! That's Kim hiding behind the pendant lamp. :-)
Uncle Ken is a children's librarian in Atlanta. He's a great kids book reader, and did a lot of reading--to the delight of Sam.
Sammy and his aunties.
Smiley boy.
My boys requested that we visit the Atlanta Botanic Garden. It was great--both inside and outside there were beautiful things to see.
Here we are eating pizza and pasta (and gnocci for me) at a cute place in midtown Atlanta.
Sam and three of his favorite people: Uncle Ken, Gabi, and Sheena the kitty! What a great trip.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Reading and rereading

I read The Scarlet Letter this past week.

Actually, I re-read it. Last time I read it, I was in 11th grade.

This year, Robbie is reading it for 11th grade Humanities. "This is a really stupid book," he said. "I thought it was good," said I. "You're crazy--you don't remember it," he said. So I reread it.

It is a really good book.

I found the copy I read in 11th grade, which was also the copy my mom read in college.
"Lois Hoffman, Amer. Lit, Fall 1954" it says inside the cover. It also has some of her notes--in fountain pen ink--in the margins.
To help Robbie get through "dat book," as he called it, I read a few chapters aloud to him on a few evenings this week. It reads aloud nicely, as long as you're good with long-ish sentences.

Robbie didn't like the ending. "Why does Dimmsdale die? He met with Hester in the woods, and decided everything was OK, and he told Chillingworth to stop poisoning him. So why does he die?"

I told him I didn't think the book was completely realistic ("yeah, duh!") but more a symbolic romance. Experiment: what happens to different people when they are touched by sin?

I haven't been reading much recently. That's what happens during the term. But I did update the Book List widget on my blog--I haven't been completely illiterate. And I certainly enjoyed Scarlet Letter!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Apples in Iowa

We have been having a GORGEOUS fall here in Iowa. Bruce and I decided to take advantage of the weather, the fall colors, and the fact that the boys would be gone all afternoon and evening and into the night at a marching band contest--and we headed out for an apple/leaf-peeping tour.

As we drove across the countryside, we saw a number of farmers harvesting the corn. I'm glad some of it was still standing--it looks so handsome in the fields now, all light gold. The rape (canola) fields are a different color--darker gold, and kind of fuzzy looking. In between are green pastures and occasional oak and ash trees clustered around streams.

Our first stop was Sutliff Cider. They have converted an old barn into a cider-fermenting house and cider-tasting bar. We had a taste of their hard cider, which was good--not too sweet, and slightly redolent of the cider I liked to drink in England.

Some people sat and drank cider in the bar area or out on the patio. Bruce and I bought a bottle and headed on.

The next stop was Wilson's orchard, outside Iowa City. I used to stop there on my way home from grad school. They had samples of the apples, and the owner would pare off slices that you could try before buying. You could pick your own from the labelled trees in the orchard, or just grab some from the bins. It was a cute, quiet little out-of-the way place.

I was amazed when we visited this time. There were probably 40 cars parked all up and down the driveway. The tiny outbuilding had expanded, and inside, you could not only buy apples, but also t-shirts, apple butter, popcorn, soap, and various wonderful-smelling baked goods. There were two long lines of people buying stuff.

Luckily, they still had a nice variety of apples (despite a not-so-good year, we heard), so I bought some that looked good--and an apple-cider donut, too.

It's nice to have a fruit bin full of locally-grown apples. Was also great to get out and enjoy the beautiful day.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bike Swag

Yesterday I got a box in the mail filled with bike swag!

I got the swag from participating in Iowa Goes by Bicycle, a program that encourages bike riders in Iowa to record their rides and miles. I'm not sure of the exact purpose of the program--probably to get people to ride bikes plus get some statistics on when and where people are riding.

I have to admit I became lax about logging my rides . . . but I still rode enough to qualify for these nifty prizes:

Bike bag--fits under the seat. I have a basket, so I offered this to the boys.
Two lights. I have a flashing rear light (birthday gift from Paul Salamon who also put the fenders on my bike), so one of the boys can have that. Eli has already called dibs on the super-bright, super tiny headlight that can attach to a helmet or bike. "Good for exploring," he says . . .
My favorite: this handsome "extra pocket" that straps onto your ankle. I will use it instead of my usual nerdy rubber band to keep my pants cuffs from getting caught in the chain.
It's certainly been great biking weather here in Iowa. We're having a beautiful, dry, cool, and clear fall, with gorgeous fall color! All you sodden easterners--come on out to Iowa for your fall vacation!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pelicans and famous children

Couldn't miss PelicanFest today.

Down at Coralville lake, a number of bird and wildlife organizations put together a little festival to celebrate the migration of white pelicans through Iowa on their way to the gulf coast where they hang out in winter.

As soon as I heard about this, I knew I wanted to go. I love seeing pelicans fly overhead--and they do here, twice a year, going up or down the Mississippi flyway on their way to summer or winter residences. They fly in big Vs like geese, but they flap their wings less, and they're white with black wingtips. An awesome sight.

Often, I've seen them on our lake here in town, Cedar Lake. If they're there, I can even get a glimpse of them from my office!

I was glad we have Cedar Lake here because the pelican sightings were not great at the festival! The pelicans were on Coralville lake . . . but on the other shore from us, about a mile away! There were scopes set up so we could see them, but it was less satisfying than seeing them close up here.

Still, it was great being there, with other people who think pelicans are worth a festival! We saw some people from the local raptor center. They had wings from raptors that had died--beautiful, and a great way to see the feathers and shapes up close.
There was a big huggable pelican.
And a woman with some snakes from a nature center--wish I'd gotten a photo of the beautiful fox snake she had.

Lots of birding groups were there--Audubon groups and other ornithology groups--and I got lots of web addresses so I can see what they're up to. I'm especially excited about a listserv that lets people know what's been sighted where.

One of my favorite displays, though, was by the Prairie States mushroom group. I recognized them because we met a few of the mushroomers once a long time ago on a hike. I told the person who was there, and I told him I'd written a column about it for the local paper. The mushroom group (I think it was that guy!) had asked for permission to print it in their newsletter :-)

"Oh yes! I remember meeting you. I was at the Woodpecker Trail on my knees looking at a mushroom, and a little boy about 5 years old came up to me and said 'what are you doing?' I said 'I'm looking at this mushroom.' And he said 'That's a polypore!'"

That little boy was either Robbie or Eli!

As we drove home, I hoped that my boys will remember those early experiences in Nature and make the natural world a part of their lives. There are so many other options now--fancy phones, computers, the internet . . . will they stay in touch with nature?

And about an hour after I got back, Eli called here on his cell phone. He and Chris had "rescued" a baby rabbit that had gotten scared by a cat and run into the street. It couldn't get back up the curb and was panicking, so the boys scooped it up. It was tiny; it fit into Eli's hand.

They brought it home, and we placed it under a bush in our yard. We figured it was in shock from seeing the cat and from having trouble with the curb. The boys went back inside to get a piece of fleece to cover it, and by the time they got back, it was gone.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Magic and running

School has started, and the boys are getting settled in their routines. They're both at the high school this year.

They're getting into after school routines, too. Robbie had his trumpet lesson yesterday, and Eli had a piano and tympani lesson today (his piano teacher also teaches percussion!).

And for fun? Well, it's been Magic: the Gathering for Robbie.
It's a card game. What I figure is that it's like Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh, but for older kids. "It's been around LONGER than Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh," points out Robbie. It makes no sense to me.

In the summer, Robbie and his buddies would swim at the Bever Park Pool, then play Magic at our house. Now that school has started, they don't have much time. But they were here today (Friday) after school!
You can tell when they're at our house.
Eli is not interested in Magic: The Gathering. He and his buddy Chris have taken up running. I'm glad--Eli has always been a gifted runner. In elementary school, he was the fastest runner in his class. This despite the fact that he was also one of the smaller kids.

Eli and Chris have been running to Tomahawk park and back every evening. It's about 2 miles, roundtrip.

View Directions to Tomahawk Park, Cedar Rapids, IA in a larger map

I've asked Eli if he would like to run on the cross-country team and he is NOT interested. He's not a joiner! But as long and he and Chris are enjoying it together, that's fine.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wisconsin, Take 2

It's Band Camp week for the boys this week. This means they're at a sleep-away camp M-Th to learn their marching band routine for the fall.

This year, since BOTH boys were gone, Bruce and I decided to take advantage of the empty nest and go on a trip together!

This is the first time we've done this since the boys were born. That sounds pathetic, but we don't have relatives close by to take both of them overnight, and sleepovers never seemed to occur on the same weekend for both guys. Besides, we like to travel with them . . . most of the time.

Still, a trip without the boys meant a nice B&B instead of a hotel-with-a-pool. And it meant slow food and tours with tour guides!

We set off for Madison, WI after putting the boys on the bus Monday. The weather was perfect! After a picnic lunch in Belmont, IA, we drove to Spring Green to have a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin. We've been near there so many times on trips to see the APT, but have never done a tour.
Tours were definitely pricey, but great. There were fewer than a dozen in our group, and we had a 2 hour tour of the house and grounds.
We got greeted by Sherpa, official Taliesin cat . . .

I love the way Wright "framed" views of the landscape--and used Asian art. Above all, I loved his optimism--that there could be a new and exciting way to view nature and make things.

Next, we drove on to Madison, where we had a B&B booked--a room at the Arbor House, an "environmental inn" in a historic building. We loved the location of the B&B, in Madison's "near west side." As we walked to a restaurant for dinner, we saw some cool things, like this little free library

flags for pedestrians to carry so they wouldn't be hit by cars when they used a crosswalk (!),

The Belgian bistro we walked to for supper had great food. Though we did decide against the moules frites, the grass-fed burger (Bruce) and chicken-tarragon salad were great.

Just across the street from the restaurant was MadCat, a local boutique for cats!
I'd hoped to find one (it's a chain of 3 in Madison) because a former student worked there--and it looked fun. It turned out to be where Meagan worked, but she wasn't working that evening.

The next day, after mushroom/asparagus eggs, pear smoothies, and tea, we ventured downtown. We started at the Chazen Museum of Art on the UW campus--it had a really nice collection--and was free. There was a great exhibit on printmaking as rhetoric (how appropriate!) and some awesome ancient Greek vases (I'm reading a biography of Socrates now, so that was timely).
I also like looking at modern/contemporary art, and they had a whole floor of that. This one made me laugh--it's called Congress of Fools!
They look pretty foolish.

From there, we wandered up to one of Madison's lakes, Lake Mendota--the student union looks over it, and there were pleasant tables under the shade.
Oops, I must have been crooked when taking that photo!

I wanted to see the capital where all those people were protesting Governor Scott Walker. Inside, some people were gathering to sing protest songs under this beautiful dome.
There were still remnants of protest about.
We had lunch at an adorable Italian place, Porto Bella , which had a charming courtyard for dining.
After lunch, we headed to the Olbricht Botanical Garden, on Lake Monona. It's famous for having a Thai Pavilion, which we visited--very beautiful!

The plantings were really nice--and this garden was free to visitors!

We were pretty tired after that, so headed home--less than 3 hours away. For a 36-hour vacation just for us, Madison was just right.