Monday, December 28, 2009

Off to Ammon's

At the beginning of the month I took a trip with my sister, Rachel, to visit my brother Ammon in Portland. For those who don't know, Ammon was recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and just started chemotherapy. He has a blog on if you care to follow it.

Now this wasn't a trip to bemoan the fact that our brother is living on borrowed time. Far from it. Rachel and I went there to WORK, but also to spread a little holiday magic with his family at this tender point in their lives. We had a great time.

Ammon's wife, Shelli, getting in on the cooking

While the rest of the family went about their normal routines, Rachel and I cooked up a storm, singing along to the holiday tunes and sharing conversation with anyone dropping down on a kitchen stool. For three days we fixed up dinners that could be frozen for later, and then baked all the goodies to deliver to neighbors for Christmas, saving Ammon and Shelli stress and time. We were lucky enough to attend a singing recital for one of our nieces, attend two Christmas parties, and watched the fun as all the kids got in on cookie decorating.

Every night we went away tired, and should have gone straight to bed, but with so few opportunities to see family (we're spread all over the country), Rachel and I would stay up even later talking. Ah, good times, though we both paid for it later.

Rachel with yet another batch of icing

But the best part was keeping Ammon busy. With him home on disability, he's feeling a bit restless, so we assigned him to design a gingerbread house. And he did. A big one. It took four batches of gingerbread and two and a half days to build! Was it worth it? Oh yeah. I haven't seen him that excited in a long time.

Can you find the shepherds, wise men, etc. ?

And then I flew home and had to bake all the goodies for my neighbors and do the gingerbread house tradition with my own family--by myself. Whew! I'm wiped out. So if you're wondering where your Christmas letter is . . . you'll be receiving it next week as New Year's spam.

Ammon's kids creating cookie magic

But back to Portland . . . Before flying back to Indiana, I got in a little driving around the old neighborhood (my family lived in Beaverton about 25 years ago), passing by the Portland Temple, which was announced just before we moved. It got me thinking about the progress that has been made, in the area and with me personally, since I left Oregon.

Aidukaitis kids constructing here in Indiana

Seeing all the places I used to go brought the memories of middle school and high school back, and the great friendship I had with my brother back then. There aren't many siblings who attend the same high school, share the same group of friends, and attend the same parties together, but we did. And it didn't bother us. There was no rivalry, and he wasn't embarrassed by me, for the most part. We got along fine. We would go to church dances, and if a good song came on and we didn't have a partner, we would dance with each other. It wasn't creepy or gross; it was simple. Ammon was fun. He was popular (student body president, on the track and water polo teams). He could drive--which meant going to football games, shopping at the mall, and TP-ing random friend's houses when our parents were away. And he was smart. A lot of kids admired him, including me, even though he wasn't the greatest math tutor: "Here, watch me do another problem. Get it now?" When he left to Stanford, and my family moved to California, I didn't just lose a brother, I lost part of my identity. He was the cool one, so easy to like; I couldn't be that way on my own. High school was a difficult time for me, as it is with many girls, but having a cool brother to share the experience with made it bearable.

More Indiana gingerbread

A couple decades have passed since then, resulting in differing life experiences and the addition of spouses and children. It's just not the same anymore. Life is so serious. Though we are still on good terms, I sometimes miss that energy, spontaneity and light-hearted fun we used to have. Some of my best memories come from humorous experiences I shared with Ammon. It was good to see some of that vitality again during my visit, with Ammon interacting with his kids. As teenagers, I hope they know what a cool person their dad is, and what a friend he can be. I'm sure he helps them just as much as he ever helped me.

Portland, Oregon Temple

Here's to hoping your positive attitude gets you through, Ammon! We're all cheering for you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Phil From Brazil

Phil Visits the Windy City

Hancock Observatory--2nd Highest Building in Chi-town

For the past four months we've had an exchange student living with us. Some of you might be scratching your heads over this: "What? An exchange student? They never mentioned an exchange student before!" So I have to mention here that this blog is not a great source for breaking news. Did you read my Thanksgiving post, about going to Chicago? No, because it hasn't been posted until now. See what I mean?

There are only two seasons in Chicago: Winter and Construction.
Typical Chicago.

We had no choice but to take Phil in, really. I mean, two of our kids moved out this fall, prefering a dorm room and a roommate to life at home, so we had to find a replacement. Hence, Phil from Brazil.

View From our Hotel Window

The goal was to learn about my husband's culture (he's half Brazilian), make more of a real life connection with the country, and in return teach a teenager about the United States. So how's it gone? Um, it's been a learning experience. And by that I mean, "How would you like to be responsible for a teenager you don't know, who answers every comment with, 'Oh yes, yes,' and smiles so big you start thinking you should count the silver?" Okay, it's not that bad, but there is a definite language gap that makes things interesting.

Shopping at Macy's on Black Friday

The day after he arrived, he asked if it's a good idea to ask someone at the airport where he can buy drugs. ??? After further questioning, I discovered he had done just that in Houston during his layover, because he needed aspirin for a headache. Duh, what else would you think he wanted? We had a good laugh when I explained to him what he had done.

Great Chicago-style pizza at Lou Malnatti's. Don't go to Uno or Gino's East; this place is good to the last bite, and the salad is to die for.

Animated Store Windows at Marshall-Fields (it will never be Macy's to true Chicagoans)

Brazilians don't hold food in their fingers to eat; they always use silverware. I knew this before, but it never dawned on me just how many foods we eat with our fingers: hamburgers, pizza, chicken, tacos . . . which brings up another interesting point. I assumed that everyone living south of say, Kansas, was familiar with Mexican food, including everyone in South America. They're all considered Hispanic, right? So why not lump all their cultures together like people do with Canadians and Americans? Uh, no. The second night Phil was at our house I prepared burritos for dinner, thinking to give him something familiar. No such luck. He had no idea what to do with the tortillas, or how to eat them (no finger foods, remember?).

German Christkindle Market at Daly Plaza

So, it's been an interesting time learning about Brazil, different customs, different ways of doing things, and getting past all those messy words. And even though Indiana may be the most boring place an exchange student could end up, we've managed to get him a look outside every now and then. Here are some pictures of our trip to Chicago over Thanksgiving. The best part? Everywhere we went sent home the message that America is still the biggest melting pot in the world. We're not just one culture, we're every culture! From hamburgers to Chinese food to pizza over an inch thick, you can find it all in America! I love this place.

View from Shedd Aquarium

Yeah, I know, the sweater makes me look dumpy. I'm throwing it out tomorrow. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!