Wednesday, December 31, 2008

There's No Place Like Home

Melanie and I learned a lot while visiting Utah this year. One of the most important things we learned is this: there’s no place like home—our home, which is no longer in Utah. While it’s great to visit family that we rarely get to see, nothing compares to being in your own place, with your own things, on your own schedule. Anything else is emotionally and psychologically (not to mention physically) draining. With a growing family, this has become all the more obvious. Edison in particular had regular emotional meltdowns while we were in Utah, meltdowns unlike any he’s experienced before. I can only assume it’s because of the abrupt shift in … well, everything! And so it is that, in all likelihood, we have just spent our final Christmas in Utah.

This is not to say that we did not have a wonderful time. We had a very white Christmas, which never would have happened here in Tallahassee. And Edison actually did enjoy playing with his aunts and uncles, his grandparents, and various dogs. But in many respects, it was an exhausting trip. 12 days seems a bit much to be away from home, and traveling during winter and the holidays only accentuates the difficulties. Perhaps we’re just spoiled now, but neither I nor my children enjoyed their being bundled up in so many layers of clothes before we went anywhere. And what a pain it is to stuff an overly puffy child into a car seat! I won’t miss that. Then, once you’re finally settled into the car and the temperature has increased enough for you to drive, you slip and slide all over the road. All this, and because it’s the holidays, you’re trying extra hard to see everyone you love and care about. So you’re pushing harder and harder, and you’re constantly shoving your children into what (in their eyes) are complete strangers’ faces, generally half a dozen or so new ones at a time. It’s a bit too much, too fast. At times—sadly, at times that come too frequently—it does not quite seem worth it.

The good news: Melanie and I hope to start visiting Utah in the summertime. Though it may not seem like it, I expect that doing so would make a world of difference. It will be easier, calmer, and will carry less expectations. And, so long as we live in the South, it will likely be a pleasant weather experience to visit Utah in May or June rather than December. Of course, we’ll still want to shorten our stay—no more two week ordeals, I’d say. Maybe one week. But that’s probably the limit.

It’s good to realize these things. Realistically, the larger we become as a family, the less practical it will be to travel anyway. The adjustments had to come at some point or another, and I guess that time is now. It’s bittersweet to view this as the last Christmas with our families of origin, but it’s exciting too. It almost seems odd that Melanie and I just celebrated our fourth married Christmas together, and yet we still talk about what traditions we’d like to carry on once we’re celebrating Christmas with our own children. It sounds like some future consideration, yet we have two children! Shouldn’t we be starting these things now? Yes, indeed. And so we will.

Here’s looking forward to an exciting 2009, and to our continued leaps into adulthood.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

So This is Christmas

Melanie, Edison, Peter, and I were blessed to have two Christmases this year. We celebrated as a small family on December 16th, the day before we flew out to Utah. Then, on December 25th, we had Christmas again, this time with “extended” family—that is, the families we grew up in.

We took plenty of pictures of our December 16th Christmas, but because I'm in Utah, I only have access to photos from our trip. I thought I'd share some with those of you who are interested. And so, here is a photographic tour of our Utah Christmas, 2008.

In Melanie's childhood home, as in my own, as in many others I suspect, oranges are standard at Christmas. Here is Peter getting ready to take a bite out of one.

Eddie got a bowling set from his Uncle Mark and soon-to-be Aunt Trina. The ball looks like a cow and moos when you roll it, and the “pins” are milk bottles. So far, Eddie prefers having the pins set up and then running and jumping into them himself rather than rolling the ball into them.

Eddie also received some cars, which are one of his favorite things. Here you can see a Mickey Mouse car that drives away if you push down the engine. Just below it, you can see an Elmo car.

Here is Eddie, playing with Peter's gift. I'm not sure what to call it, but it has balls inside and when you push the button on top, as Eddie is here doing, the balls inside start spinning around. It's a pretty cool gift, once again from Uncle Mark and Aunt Trina.

Here is Peter, playing with Eddie's gift. A set of three Curious George books were the perfect gift for Edison, who is quite the Curious George fan at the moment.

Grandma and Grandpa seemed to think Eddie needed a pair of really sharp knives for Christmas.

After opening presents at Melanie's parents' house, we headed to my parents' house. Here's Aunt Khrystine, holding Peter.

Eddie enjoyed the perfect sized glass of hot chocolate that Grandma prepared for him.

We then enjoyed heading to my brother's house, where Peter had the chance to play with his cousin, Hunter, who is just 11 days younger.

The day after Christmas, we decided to go sledding. Peter fell asleep in the car, so I stayed with him while Melanie dragged Edison on a sled to a hill next to a nearby elementary school. It had snowed quite a bit, and the truck we were borrowing did not have functioning four-wheel drive, so we weren't able to pull into the school parking lot. Thus, Melanie ended up having to walk quite a way through deep snow in order to even begin sledding. It wore her out before they'd even begun. (That's Uncle Tom on the right, if you're wondering.)

Edison was worn out after just two trips down the hill. He didn't like the snow flying up in his face as he descended the hill, so he made Melanie bring him back to the truck fairly soon. Due to the depth of the snow, Melanie carried him the whole way. I was happy to be on sleeping-baby watch duty.

My family and I in front of the Christmas Tree at Melanie's parents' house. We did actually get a photo with everyone looking at the camera, but it didn't turn out quite as well as this one. So here you go.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I Need a (Guitar) Hero

In my youth, I was, like many children of my generation, a video game fanatic. Video games were my foremost form of entertainment. I subscribed to two different video game magazines, and my allowances were typically reserved for purchasing new games. Somehow, despite all this, I failed to advance beyond the Super Nintendo. When the N64 arrived, I did not rush out and get one. I did not request one for my birthday, nor for Christmas. And that was that. Video games no longer dominated my life.

Years passed and the game systems evolved. When I again attempted to play video games with my friends as a high schooler and beyond, I found myself crippled by inexperience. The number of buttons on a typical controller had doubled since the last time I owned a game console, and I lacked the “depth-perception” necessary for traversing the 3-D video game landscapes. The side-scrolling games of yore had given me no trouble in estimating how far my on-screen character needed to jump in order to successfully clear a pit, but I couldn't last for 30 seconds in Crash Bandicoot's world.

Several systems later, and the video game industry seems to be taking a new turn. While previous games relied on the skillful manipulation of the control pad and the deft precision of button pressing, the hand-eye coordination that was once only the means of playing the game has now become an extension of—nay, the very focus of—the game itself. Dance Dance Revolution seemed to instigate this trend, while Nintendo's Wii has extended the concept beyond a single game and made it the focus of an entire game system and all of its supported titles (with great commercial success). And what's the latest smash hit? Guitar Hero, which Melanie and I played for the first time just two nights ago.

Well, guess what? We both love the game. We're tempted—though nothing will come of it—to buy a game system just to buy this one game. It's that awesome. I can see just why so many people have become addicted to it. Rather than merely dancing to music, as you do with Dance Dance Revolution (which I also thought was great fun), Guitar Hero has you (fairly literally) performing the music. And we're talking about some fantastic music at times—Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Jimi Hendrix, Queen, Aerosmith, Guns n' Roses, Van Halen, Billy Idol, and much, much more. As a youngster, I would listen to CDs while playing my video games. Guitar Hero combines these activities by making some of the very same music to which I used to listen the very center of the game itself. Had this game come out when I was 14 or 15, it would have been the realization of all of the wildest dreams I never knew I had.

But aside from its addictive game play, I think Guitar Hero is a great video game for other reasons. I see this as a move in the right direction for the video game industry. Not only is Guitar Hero a more group oriented video game than many others (for example, you can have up to four players—one on guitar, one on bass, one on drums, and one on vocals), but it's bound to inspire many youth to pick up a real guitar and start learning to play. That can't be a bad thing. What's more, I appreciate the fact that many teenagers of today are being introduced to music—good music—that they might otherwise never hear. I'm thrilled to think of these teenagers being turned on to quality rock n' roll (which is not all rock n' roll, I admit) and listening to something other than the pop and hip-hop crap that has dominated over the last decade or so. Seriously, I think this is a very good thing.

Long live rock n' roll.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Father of Lies

The other day, Melanie got out our Christmas decorations. One of them is a tin, such as you might fill with candy. On the lid of the tin is an image of St. Nick himself. While Eddie was looking at the tin, I thought I would give my first attempt at explaining who the jolly fellow in red is. Thus far, Edison has no concept of Santa Claus (or scarcely of Christmas, for that matter). I didn’t think he’d get much out of my explanation of Santa Claus, but I thought it would at least familiarize him to the idea.

As I began to tell Eddie about Santa Claus, I felt this pang of sadness in realizing that I was lying to my son. I was incredibly surprised by this. I have always intended to raise my children with the myth of Santa Claus. No part of me has ever seriously questioned that I would do so. I never worried about it. And it is not as though, once I started explaining Santa Claus to my son, I thought about the fact that I was lying, and then felt sort of bad about it. I felt sad the second I started saying it. The sadness was immediate. Here is my boy, looking up at me, believing whatever I have to say, and for the first time I am blatantly saying things to him that are not true. I, on whom he has relied for his understanding of the world, am now deceiving him. For the first time, I am purposely causing him to believe something that is false. It honestly felt really sad.

I am betting that most of you who read this will think I am insane. Or you will think my reaction is some weird consequence of being a philosopher. Something like that. I disagree entirely. The reaction was so immediate and natural that I really believe it was rooted in nothing more than the fact that I was deceiving my sweet, loving, trusting child. The fact that this particular lie is customary and generally regarded to promote a sense of magic and fun does not change that. I admit that I still plan to carry on the Santa Claus tradition, but the fact is, because of Santa Claus, something that has never happened before has now happened—I have lied to my child. That is kind of sad, and those of you who want to sugar coat it fail to see that the innocence of my relationship with Edison has been lost. Yes, that’s a part of growing up, but until now, nothing was a lie. Does nobody sympathize?

(Note: this post from March 2005 may prove an interesting backdrop to today’s post.)

Friday, December 05, 2008

61 Down, 2 to Go

As I noted a couple of posts ago, the final week of the semester consists of nothing but grading and writing essays. Just a few days ago, I had approximately 60 essays that needed grading as part of my TA responsibilities and, for my own classes, three essays that needed writing. I'm happy to report, all of the essays that needed grading have been graded, and one of the essays I need to write has been written, printed, and submitted. That leaves two essays to be written between now and Thursday morning. Fortunately, I got an extension on one of the papers, since the professor who is requiring it is also the professor for whom I had to grade the 60-or-so essays. That got me some sympathy. If not for that, I'd have two essays due within two hours of each other early Monday evening. I'd be panicking if that were the case, especially because I'm not even sure what I'm writing for one of them.

I'm in relatively good spirits, all things considered. Usually, I'm so frazzled at this point that it's hard to look forward to the end of the semester. I can't even look that far ahead. But I'm incredibly excited to be done. I look forward to spending lots of time with my own family, lots of time with family and friends when we go home for Christmas, and lots of time not thinking about school. Funny enough, I almost bet I will be less likely to write once I am free of my school responsibilities, in part because I will not be looking for a distraction (which is often how a post gets written). I'll try, though, and I feel like I've had a lot of ideas for posts lately. So stay tuned and we'll see if something doesn't pop up. Until then, be wishing me luck over the next 120 hours or so. I'll be needing it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Gobbler Gobbling 2008

Never before has Thanksgiving dinner been entirely up to Melanie and me. We were a bit unsure of how everything would turn out, but it was fantastic. I’m incredibly proud of us! Well, I’m incredibly proud of Melanie, but I’m also proud of the itty little bit that I did. Absolutely everything was great. Learning that we have it in us to make Thanksgiving dinner—in its entirety!—is really amazing and, as Melanie noted, it seems to kick us one step further into adulthood. Yikes!

Looking back, I wish I had invited you all to join us. I had no idea it would turn out so splendidly, or perhaps I would have invited you. Well, allow me to offer a belated invitation. But for those of you who don’t have access to a time machine, I’ll offer you the next best thing—pictures. Here’s a photographic tour of Thanksgiving 2008:

Melanie wanted to make stuffing from scratch. I was a bit unsure it would be worth it, but luckily I didn’t make the call. Thanks to Melanie’s ambition, we dined on the delicious stuffing pictured above. (I helped cut up the bread!) The stuffing consisted of bread chunks, golden delicious apples, walnut pieces, sausage, and then some. The recipe called for sage sausage, which I had never heard of, but which is apparently a big Thanksgiving item, since it had sold out at Wal-Mart. To compensate, we added basil. Truly the best stuffing I have ever had.

The star of the show. No, not the meat thermometer, which we bought especially for Thanksgiving, but the turkey. In my opinion, turkey can only get so good, but I’m proud of the beautiful golden brown to which our turkey was cooked.

A couple of things to notice here. First is the vegetable tray. I mean the actual tray. It’s made from an old REO Speedwagon vinyl record. Literally. Isn’t that awesome? I got that from my parents for Christmas a few years ago, but this is the first time we’ve used it. We didn’t think to take a picture until some of the vegetables had been eaten, but you get the idea. Second thing to notice is the squishy looking thing in the upper right corner, just above the regular stick of butter. What is it? It’s homemade honey butter! It’s still wrapped in the plastic wrap we used to keep it in the fridge, which explains its appearance. But it was delicious and incredibly simple to make—you just add honey, cinnamon, and a bit of vanilla to regular butter and go to town with the mixer. It was delicious on the warm rolls we ate with dinner.

When we turned our backs to the table, Eddie decided to save everyone a step and dump all of the vegetables from the above pictured vegetable tray into the accompanying ranch dip. Efficient!

Yours truly, “carving” the turkey on too small of a plate with too small (and crappy) of a knife. It was more of a scraping than a carving.

I love when you have big meals and one of the side items is something sweet, perhaps even dessert like. I love the contrast between the sweet and the savory, and as you alternate between the two, it somehow refreshes your palate and makes every bite taste full-flavored and new. Thus, I insisted we have something sweet with our Thanksgiving dinner, and this was it—Jell-O salad. More specifically, blackberry/raspberry fusion Jell-O accentuated with blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries and topped with whipped cream. There’s always room for it!

Alas, Melanie’s homemade pies. Pumpkin in the back, pecan up front. Both were delicious, but I can’t get enough of Melanie’s pecan pie. She’s only made it a few times, which makes sense given its primary association with Thanksgiving and Christmas, but every time I’ve had it, I think about making it a part of our weekly menu. It’s just too good. Mmmmmmmmmmmm!

And after all that, we somehow failed to get any pictures of us as a family. Is that lame or what? Oh well. That’s pretty much the only part of Thanksgiving for which we weren’t entirely grateful. Not too shabby.