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Ode to the Honda

Ode to the Honda

The kids practicing their driving.
The kids practicing their driving.

If Noel hadn’t caught the front bumper of the Honda on the fence of our apartment complex, our first date might not have ever happened. Because if he hadn’t been out in the parking lot that April afternoon trying to fix it, I might not have had the opportunity to flirt with him and he probably wouldn’t have asked me if I was doing anything that night and we never would have gone out to dinner. That’s how integral the Honda has been in our lives.

A rose hitching a ride back to Logan, UT following our "babymoon" to Monterey, CA.
A rose hitching a ride back to Logan, UT following our “babymoon” to Monterey, CA.

When we bought our Volkswagen a year ago, the Honda mostly sat out on the curb. When it stopped working in October and we didn’t do anything about it for three months, we realized having two cars definitely isn’t a necessity for us. Then when we had a buyer almost literally fall into our laps who legitimately needed the car and would be able to give it the care it needs in its old age, we knew it was time to say goodbye.

Getaway Car

The Honda spent nine of its twenty years with us. While part of our family, it bore the plates of three states, was the getaway car for our honeymoon, safely carried both our babies home from the hospital, moved us to Colorado, and accompanied us on countless adventures all over Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, Wyoming, Idaho, and Colorado.

Baby Cooper riding in style.
Baby Cooper riding in style.

The Honda proudly displayed the badges of some of our greatest running accomplishments and quietly bore the shame of being booted, ticketed, high centered, and left running with the keys locked inside. (In case you were wondering ALL of those things happened the year we were dating. Sometimes it seemed there were powerful forces trying to keep us from getting together.)

Running Badges

The Honda proved that we didn’t need a truck and we strapped everything imaginable on it. Mattresses, kayaks, ladders, jogging strollers, buggies, lumber, christmas trees, furniture, and so much more.

Honda

We also tetrised as many things in it as possible. Dining room sets, mulch, plants, rafting gear, and kids to name a few.

Moving to 20th Place

Sure it had it’s quirks (you had to pop the hood and manually turn it from heating to cooling and there were separate keys for the doors and the ignition), but we loved it. Thanks for all the memories Honda!

The day we sold it.
The day we sold it.
In sickness and in health

In sickness and in health

Just days after buying our new car, we got to take it on an unplanned road trip back to the heartland (aka Utah). My sister Vanessa’s husband, Chris, came down with a terrible bout of the flu that has been going around. Normally that would be a good reason not to go visit, but this was different. When I say the flu, I don’t mean he ran a fever, had a cough and a sniffly nose, and felt crummy for a week or even two. I mean he nearly died. By the time we arrived he had been in the ICU for just over a week unconscious and on life support.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that if you haven’t gotten your flu shot this year, stop reading this right now, get in the car and go take care of that immediately. I’ll wait for you.

No, seriously, do it now. Don’t put your family through the hell that my sister has had to endure for the past several weeks.

Okay, now that you’ve taken care of that. There was a silver lining in that we got to be there for my cousin’s wedding as well. That was great fun. We’re so happy for them. It was an interesting juxtaposition being reminded of the eternal nature of marriage and how life together is this rich mixture of exquisitely happy and excruciatingly painful moments.

It was great to see family that we rarely get to see all at the same time and place. Audrey’s parents and family were so kind too in helping with the kids. As of this writing, Chris is on the long road to recovery. He’s made great progress, and we are all hopeful he’ll graduate from the ICU soon.

Here are some pictures of our trip (not the ICU).

 

Miksi minä olen niin kaunis?

Miksi minä olen niin kaunis?

The Finnish FlagA few years ago I bought a t-shirt at a little Finnish shop in Astoria, OR. The shirt said, “Miksi minä olen niin kaunis? [Why am I so beautiful?] Because I’m Finnish.”  I’m 1/4 Finn thanks to my grandma; needless to say, she got a kick out of that shirt. My grandma was always kind enough to tell me I was beautiful and if being part Finnish had anything to do with it, she was fine taking credit for that.

Ellen with Great Grandma McConkie and Grandpa Wayne.
Ellen with Great Grandma McConkie and Grandpa Wayne.

 

***

This morning I was proofreading my grandmother’s obituary through hazy, tear-filled eyes. It was a draft she’d written herself and my father had polished for publication. The final line read, “In lieu of flowers, take a loved one to a movie or out to dinner” and I couldn’t help but smile.

One of the things I liked most about my grandma was how special she made me feel. She would bring me flowers when she came to see me in a play or send me the sweetest card with a generous check after I’d had a baby with explicit instructions that the money was to be used for a new outfit for me and NOT for anything else. When I was younger and had the privilege of visiting by myself, she’d take me out for a fancy lunch and tell everyone how lucky she was to be there with her oldest granddaughter. Back in her kitchen, she’d share her Laughing Cow Cheese with me and maybe give me some Finnish chocolate which were things she didn’t usually share when all the grandchildren were around.

She was a gracious hostess and loved putting together a party. There is much about etiquette and social propriety that I should have learned from her. She gave Noel and I a key to her house and told me I was welcome to come stay anytime and she meant it. If she and my grandfather were in town there would be chocolates on the pillows and a full breakfast in the morning. Even if she was gone, she’d have something set aside in the freezer for us to heat up.

She taught me silly Finnish songs, instructed me in the art of making “leaf hats,” and told stories about picking wild berries as a child. She told me that the reason why Santa Claus was skinny in Finland was because he’d just started his journey when he left presents there, but by the time he reached the US he’d eaten a lot of cookies and that was why we had a fat Santa. It wasn’t until I moved to Colorado and we became email pen pals of sorts that I realized how hard her childhood must have been – her father dying when she was five and Finland being bombed for a significant part of her school-aged days. With me, she was always so cheerful that I couldn’t imagine anything terrible had ever happened to her.

As a person who’s never even had a passport, I always admired how fearless she was about traveling and loved the little souvenirs she’d bring back. I especially admired how brave she was to move to the US by herself in her early twenties, just a few years after joining the LDS church. Though she didn’t talk about it a lot, her faith will always be an inspiration to me.

Rakastan sinua,* Grandma.

~Audrey

Great Grandma McConkie making Cooper giggle with a giant dog puppet. How funny that she's wearing the same shirt in this picture.
Great Grandma McConkie making Cooper giggle with a giant dog puppet. How funny that she’s wearing the same shirt in this picture.
*I am 95% certain that this is how she taught me to say “I love you” in Finnish. Dad, if I’m wrong I’m sure you’ll correct me.
Getting Close to Nature

Getting Close to Nature

Screeeeech! Crash!

I was torn from a restful sleep instantly. Whatever that was, it sounded heavy. It wasn’t someone tripping over a lantern on the way to the bathroom.

Beep! Honk! Beep! Honk! Beep! Honk!

Audrey stirred next to me looking a bit annoyed at the ruckus. We lay frozen in our sleeping bags listening to car horns blaring throughout the campground. After a few moments the car horns stopped and it was eerily silent. Outside the tent I could hear what I thought was a stick snap and some snorting noises. Oh, wait, that was Ellen snoring. Somehow she and Cooper were miraculously still asleep.

Another crash erupted nearby quickly followed by hurried footsteps and someone banging furiously on a door. Our muscles tensed and we alternated between praying and making mental plans of how we’d scare a bear away from our tent by yelling and flashing our headlamps. The chorus of Beep! Honk!s started up again and a few cars and their passengers drove away into the night. As the sound of honking horns gradually got quieter and further away, our muscles slowly relaxed.

I whispered to Audrey, “I have to pee.”

“I don’t think now is a good time.”

I pushed the Indiglo button on my watch. 3:40am. I laid there on my partially deflated REI knock off ThermaRest trying to get comfortable with a full bladder and frazzled nerves. After quite some time the pre-dawn gray began to lighten the sky and I ventured out to make a cautious trip to the bathroom.

No bears in sight. Good. The car was also still in one piece. Also good. The dumpster by the bathroom had been toppled, but the bear proof lid remained closed. This made the chipmunk jumping into our car earlier seem like no big deal. I reported back to Audrey and finally fell back asleep.

* * * *

Camping has long been the ideal vacation for us. Cheap, plenty of fresh air, and the harder things you do the less people you have to deal with. One of our favorite vacations was a backpacking trip to Escalante, UT where a flash flood chased everyone away and we slept in a cave. (Don’t worry, it was a wide canyon so our lives weren’t in danger, it was just really wet.) Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether we’re super awesome or just plain crazy.

We’ve made a point to go camping with the kids several times each year. Every time we go people tell us how brave we are to take such young kids camping, but we’re sure cultivating a love for nature in them. Camping with tiny ones can definitely be trying. Bedtime can be a nightmare and any unexpected event of nature (rain, bears, chipmunks eating food in your trunk, getting stuck in a traffic jam at the end of a very long weekend, etc) can make things quickly unravel as epic whining ensues. However, it can be fun too. I guess you can say we’re beginning to understand what it means to “Come What May and Love it.

In spite or maybe because of all the crazy stuff that happened this weekend (and the bear was only part of it) we had some good laughs and enjoyed some of this beautiful world we live in. Photographic evidence to follow.

 

Mud Run

Mud Run

The memory isn’t as crisp as I would like it, but it was back when jelly shoes were popular the first time.  I was five or six and had a pair that were orange and smelled as much like strawberries as a piece of PVC plastic could. When a downpour visited us one spring or summer afternoon, I slipped them on and stepped out of our apartment. The thick rain had quickly swelled the gutters and dips in the pavement. Awestruck, I hesitated on the porch taking it all in before gingerly dipping a jellied toe into the nearest puddle. The chill water rushed around my partially protected feet. Satisfied, I plunged in, the water erupting around me. I was soaked through in less than a minute, but I giggled instead of shivered as I leapt from puddle to puddle choreographing my water ballet. I’m sure my parents watched me from the window as I splashed my way to utter sogginess. Perhaps they laughed or worried I’d catch a cold or planned what they’d do when I inevitably created a puddle in their entryway, but whatever they thought or worried about was irrelevant to me.

Rain CoupleMaybe it’s because I grew up in a desert, but I’ve always loved rain. The fresh smell, how its sound drowns out ambient noise, the lightning that often accompanies it – I love it all. As the years have passed I’ve shied away from that carefree-puddle-jumping girl I used to be and traded her in for a more sensible version of me who enjoys the pitter-patter of rain on my roof from the inside of my warm house. Spring seems to have finally made it’s way to Colorado and it brought along the rain that both the land and my soul long for. When Noel came home from work yesterday and asked if I wanted to go for a run with him (since my brother is visiting and could watch the kids) I made a list of a million sensible excuses for why this was a bad idea. It would surely be cold, I had to make dinner, it would be such a hassle to clean all of our soggy, muddy clothes, et cetera. Maybe it’s because Noel inadvertently pointed out how boring I’ve become when I recently tried to convince him that yard work is a perfectly wonderful form of leisure or maybe it’s because I’ve been reading The Happiness Project for book club and giving a great deal of thought to what it means to “Be Audrey,” but after only a little thought I relented.

This is how muddy we still were after puddle jumping washed most of it away.
This is how muddy we still were after puddle jumping washed most of it away.

We zipped up our rain jackets and headed out into the rain to a nearby trail.  We made slow progress up the mountain since our footing was incredibly unstable in the slick mud. The rest of the world was taking the sensible route, so we were alone in our hysterical laughter at our comical ascent. Once on top, we enjoyed a short period of normal running before we began our slip-sliding descent where we practically skied down the side of the mesa. We emerged from the trail looking like swamp monsters – our hair matted to our faces, our bodies splattered with mud. The last half mile was a paved route back to our house. Squealing with glee, I jumped in every puddle we came across and Noel soon joined me. Back at the house we hosed our shoes off and took quick showers. Dinner was indeed delayed which made the children a little testy, but I felt an invigorating exuberance that made their pre-dinner whining more bearable than usual. There is something respectable about being sensible, but every once in a while a lack of sensibility can make life a lot more enjoyable.

Last Minute Trip

Last Minute Trip

We went on a last minute trip to Las Vegas over the weekend, but it wasn’t for why most people go there. Noel’s grandpa passed away, so we were going for his funeral.  It was of course our duty to bring along the little people so we could remind everyone to laugh and smile. It was a little awkward whenever any fellow travelers asked, “So what plans do you have in Vegas . . . ,” but in spite of the stammered apologies we weren’t sad we were making the trip.

Noel’s grandpa when he was younger.

I feel like I am the least qualified to write any sort of memoriam about him, so I’ll only say two things. (You can read one from Noel’s sister and Noel’s cousin if you’d like.) First, he was such a great man that we named our first child after him. Second, I’m told Noel is a lot like him, so I’ll be forever grateful for all the wonderful characteristics he passed on. At first many of us were sad that he didn’t hang in there long enough to go to Vanessa Joy‘s wedding (Noel’s youngest sister), but when we started to think about it we realized this is actually better because now he can attend pain free with his wife. He didn’t send an official RSVP, but we’re pretty sure he’ll be there.

Time Goes Marching On

Time Goes Marching On

Time is funny.  It’s supposedly consistent with each minute only being 60 seconds long, but it rarely feels that way. Sometimes it forces you to count the seconds, other times it hurtles and you can barely hang on, and sometimes it just slips peacefully by.  Even in retrospect, the days that seemed like years and the months that flew by too quickly all get rammed together becoming timeless. Moments both long and short run into each other. Nine long months of pregnancy are instantly overshadowed by two hours of labor and just as quickly passed by mere moments of looking into a newborn’s eyes. The memory, whether of misery or ecstasy, is still there, but the duration suddenly becomes irrelevant the very second it passes by.

I look at my husband sitting next to me on our porch swing and simultaneously think I can’t believe we’ve been together for six years, it’s only been six years?  My no longer little siblings are all growing up. Dating, going to college, getting married and generally turning out to be really great people. I’m a parent, my parents are grandparents, and my grandparents are great grandparents. One single event, a matter of seconds, pushed all of us back a generation. 

When I tell my little boy his “Binky went bye-bye” and he doesn’t beg for it, I feel surprised that I’m the one who’s close to tears. Suddenly, he’s not my baby anymore. For two years his cries in the night had me counting the seconds to keep from losing my temper, wondering if I would ever sleep again. Now that his nighttime wakings are less frequent, I find myself hugging him tighter and lingering in his bedroom longer than I used to.

Ellen has started to roll over to get to things she wants. She’s grabbing at toys and almost wrestled a Popsicle out of my hand and into her mouth the other day. With Cooper, I was always urging him to tackle the next developmental feat, but he always seemed too content with where he was and did things on his own schedule. Now I look at Ellen and think, Baby Girl, slow down. Don’t grow up so fast. Then when she spits up all over me I think Geez, this stage can’t pass fast enough. 

I anticipate some day I’m going to wake up and be surprised to find that I am old. I just hope that I can look back and say I made the most of the time that I was given.

 

Making It Ours

Making It Ours

I just realized that it’s been exactly one year since we got the keys to our house. I enjoy moments like this when I stop and realize how much we’ve done instead of lamenting over all the to-dos that haven’t been crossed off our list yet.*

The little girl that lived here before us was quite the artist.  I’ve painted over her artwork in several closets and just last week I finally painted over her permanent marker signature on the front of the house. I really don’t know why a 5 minute job took me so long to get to, especially since the previous owners left a can of touch-up paint in the garage. Maybe it’s just because I’m lazy or maybe in some weird sentimental way I felt bad destroying the evidence of another girl’s life here. Only a few days later I walked into our front room and found Cooper scribbling on our hardwood floor with a permanent marker. A large part of me was mad (mostly at myself for leaving a permanent marker within his reach), but a small part of me butted in with the thought that this place really is ours now. Right now it’s ours to mark up with memories. Over time those memories may be covered up (or sanded out) perhaps by us or someone else, but it’s the making that’s the important thing. **

 

One of our chief memory makers.

 

Our other chief memory maker.

 

*An article on why lamenting over unfinished to-do lists is actually a mark of a successful person from one of our favorite finance blogs.

**I am not sentimental enough to leave my son’s art on our living room floor forever though, so if anyone has tips on cleaning permanent marker before I have to turn to a belt sander, I’d love to hear them.

Brownie Bottom Cheesecake

Brownie Bottom Cheesecake

Well this post definitely isn’t about healthy food. With Cooper’s birthday coming up I’ve been thinking a lot about cake and the associations they create. Growing up I always chose the same cake for my birthday: cheesecake.

My parents make a mean cheesecake. They’ve become quite skilled at this dish since they make at least twenty different kinds every year for the running camp they put on. (They coach the cross-country team at my old high school.) For over four years I attended this camp and on the last day after completing the Mega Woman Run (longest run of the season) I’d binge eat cheesecake with my sweaty, exhausted comrades.  We’d laugh, talk, and eat to our hearts’ content. Calories meant nothing.

When I got married I wanted cheesecake at my reception, so in the months leading up to my marriage my father made enough cheesecakes to fill their deep freeze. He researched techniques on freezing and bought special bakery boxes so that when the cakes were sliced and served to guests they would have thought they were fresh baked. After our Spring Break honeymoon, Noel and I came back to a fridge full of cheesecake that kept us going as we got back to the drudgery of school.

Monday, I whipped up cheesecake for some dinner guests and I thought back on all these memories. To me, cheesecake is a symbol of hard work and love. It is something that is NEVER made from a box and a reminder that it’s okay to indulge once in awhile.  I wish I could serve you up a slice today and make your day a little more special, but at the least I can share a recipe.

I put a border of raspberries and chocolate chips on this one.

Brownie Bottom Cheesecake

Brownie Bottom:
1 stick butter
4 squares chocolate
1 ½ C sugar
2 eggs
¼ C mik
1 tsp vanilla
1 C flour
½ tsp salt
Cheesecake:
3 8oz packages cream cheese
¾ C sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
½ C sour cream
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees
2. Melt butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring slowly. Once fully melted remove from heat and allow to cool then add the sugar and eggs. Blend in milk and vanilla.
3. Stir in the rest of the brownie ingredients, spread into the bottom of a greased and floured spring form pan and bake for approximately 25 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time. Blend in sour cream.
5. Pour over brownie bottom and bake an additional 55-60 minutes or until center is almost set.
6. Run knife or metal spatula around rim of pan to loosen cake; cool before removing rim of pan. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Let stand at room temperature 30 min. before serving. Store leftover cheesecake in refrigerator.

 

Oreos

Oreos

Image from smittenkitchen.com

Growing up, both of my grandmas had freezers full of things that little kids love. One of my favorites that my McConkie grandma often had was homemade Oreo cookies. They were so much better than actual Oreos, and not just because they were homemade, but because they had cream cheese icing. When I got older I learned the best part, they weren’t even that difficult to make – all you needed was a cake mix, 3/4 C shortening, and 2 eggs for the cookie part.

Lately, we’ve become sort of . . . particular about the foods we eat and have been doing our best to avoid processed foods, which means that for the most part we’ve said goodbye to deliciously addictive things like cookies made out of cake mixes and shortening. Since making this change we’ve made many, many delicious recipes from scratch, but there’s kind of been this tiny hole in my heart where homemade Oreos used to live. Recently I’ve been searching for a more natural recipe for the beloved cookie and after a few overly complicated and disastrous attempts where I actually threw cookies away, I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen with one simple google search. I only made the cookie part because it’s my opinion that cream cheese icing is the only way to go with homemade Oreos, but I think that little hole in my heart can heal now. Yum.

PS I am in no way saying that these cookies are nutritionally healthier than the cookies of my youth, but you’ll recognize and be able to pronounce all of the ingredients.