Thursday, April 25, 2013

Taking My Turn as a Tourist

I don't really like theme parks. 

I know it sounds almost sacrilegious to live in Orlando and say that. 

I know people travel here from all over the world to visit them. 

I know they're supposed to be the happiest places on earth. 

But I’m not crazy about them. It wasn’t always this way. I used to like them when I first moved here. 

About 25 years ago. 

But now just thinking about going to a theme park makes me feel hot. And crowded. And very grouchy. 

I’ve stood in my fair share of snaking lines of humanity, listening to quarreling families, sweat dripping down my back, wondering if the three minutes of whatever I’m about to experience is really worth it. 

My favorite spot at a theme park is usually under a shaded awning away from the glaring sun with a cool drink in my hand. 

I feel like it's okay that I don’t like theme parks since I don’t have kids. But since I am also an auntie, I have to hide what I really think about theme parks from my niece and nephew. 

Because they love them.

Where's the dolphin?
A few weeks ago my sister said she was going to SeaWorld to kick off my niece and nephew’s spring break. 

She called and said everyone was going. “Well, are you in or not?” she asked.

The kids love SeaWorld and I love seeing them love it, so of course I had to go.

Of all the Orlando parks, SeaWorld is one of the easiest to get into – as in you don’t have to take a boat, monorail or bus to get there once you park your car. 

You can actually walk a reasonable distance from the parking lot to the gates without needing a tram to transport you. 

Once we got inside, the kids passed out park maps to us so we could all take part in a lively debate about what we’ll do next and the quickest way to get there. 

We raced to our first stop, the dolphin show, where the kids wanted to sit close to the front. Within seconds of the morning sun blazing on me, I was hot and sweaty. 

I was already tired of being a tourist and the day had just begun.

There's the dolphin!
Tourists are the lifeblood of Central Florida. Although we locals love having them here, sometimes they try our patience. 

They drive slowly as they peer at road signs and consult their maps. 

They get in the automatic pay toll booth lanes and at the last minute veer toward the cash booths, finally realizing they don’t have toll passes. 

They talk loudly on their cell phones, “Yes! I’m in Florida! Can you believe it’s (fill in the blank, depending on the month) degrees and sunny here? What’s the weather like there?” 

They ask for their regional specialties in our grocery stores and say they can’t believe we don’t have that item here. 

They ask, “Is it always this (hot), (rainy), (humid) here?” 

But next week it’s my turn to be a tourist. 

I’m going to New York City. 

I’m going to annoy people hurrying around me as I stop and stare at the sights. 

I’m going to get lost and have to ask for directions. 

I’m not going to know how to take the subway. 

I’m going to carry my camera around my neck that will clearly identify me as a tourist. 

I’m going to take pictures of everything. 

I’m going to exclaim how cool the weather is this time of year and that it’s nothing like the weather back home. 

And I hope the locals I happen to meet are patient with me while I'm a tourist in their town.

My day of SeaWorld turned out to be quite enjoyable since the day became beautifully cloudy. 

And I got to spend the hottest part of the afternoon watching cats, dogs and a rat open doors, jump through windows and run on wires over my head. 

All while I relaxed in my seat a few rows from the stage. 

Did I mention this amazing pet show takes place inside? 

I highly recommend it for any tourist planning a visit to SeaWorld. It’s the coolest show in the entire park.

The kids pretend they're underwater sea divers.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

All in Good Time

I've lost 15 minutes of time in my day. Or maybe I've gained 15 minutes. I’m not sure. Every spring and fall, the time change always confuses me. In the spring, are you early or late if you forget to move your clocks forward? I can never remember. Time has always been a little bit of a family problem. Growing up, every clock in our house was set 15 minutes fast. The kitchen clock, our bedroom clocks – every single one. I thought that was normal. I thought everyone did that to make sure they were on time. Until I heard my mother explaining to visitors, who were puzzled looking at our clocks and then at their watches, that we set our clocks fast so we wouldn’t be late. But we still were. Almost always late. But we were never as late as my grandmother and aunt.

L-R: My mother, my two aunts and my grandmother
It was a family joke to tell them an event was starting an hour ahead of when it was actually scheduled, to increase the chances that they might be on time. They eventually caught on to these schemes and continued to arrive habitually late. I grew up thinking it was just a family characteristic to be late. Except that it caused a lot of arguments. My mother says she hated attending weddings as a child because my grandmother would arrive just as the bride was walking down the aisle. Or worse, she remembers arriving as the wedding party was walking out of the church and the wedding was over before they even arrived.

When I went off to college, being late was no longer an issue since it was simply not tolerated. My school was meticulous about rules and warning bells rang throughout the dorms, alerting us for mealtimes, class times, curfew times and just about every other time imaginable. There was no need to set my clocks fast while I was there. Actually, I didn't even need a clock my entire four years there, as I just timed my life by the tolling of the bells. But when I got a place of my own, I reverted to my family tradition of setting my clocks 15 minutes ahead. I especially liked glancing at the clock in my car, knowing if I was stuck in traffic on my way to work that I had 15 minutes more before I was really late.

But a few weeks ago as I reset the clocks in my house to daylight savings time, I decided I was going to live my life in real-time. Each clock in my house was set to slightly different variations, with my bedroom clock advanced a puzzling 23 minutes ahead, causing me to use considerable brain power to figure out the correct time. I wasn't sure why I needed to go to such lengths to avoid the actual time. My cell phone and computer reflected the actual time and it didn’t seem to alarm me, so maybe I could cope with viewing the actual time on all of my clocks. I considered this a companion step to keeping my New Year's resolution for last year.

I decided I was tired of not being a morning person. I would snooze the alarm. Wait until the last minute to get out of bed. And I was always racing the clock to get to work. To encourage myself with a little reward, I started brewing coffee at home instead of at the office. I started looking forward to my cup of coffee and a few minutes of Scripture study before heading out the door. After shocking myself the first few mornings of actually doing it, I started to enjoy it. Some days I had more minutes than others, but making myself get up earlier changed my outlook. And proved I could really change if I wanted to.

I think time has run out for me to use the excuse that being late just gets passed on from generation to generation. Now I’m trying to be mostly on time. But from time to time, I am still late. I think it's about time that I live in real-time. As time goes on, maybe I’ll figure out if I was behind the times, losing 15 minutes of my life or did I get with the times, and gain 15 minutes? Maybe I was actually ahead of my time. I guess only time will tell.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

How Many Lines Are There Around the Sun?

Every weekend, I ask my six-year-old niece Devon to give me the highlights of her school week. She tells me about the elaborate plans she and her friend Sammy make to call each other when they get home from school. (Devon is all business as she takes these calls on the rotary phone in her room.) She tries to pronounce the latest words for me that she's learned in Spanish. (But she can't remember what they mean.) Last week she said her teacher asked the class to draw pictures of what they would ask Jesus if they got to sit on his lap. I asked her what she drew. “Well, first I would tell him that I love him SO much and that he is the king of kings,” Devon says. “But what I really want to ask him is how many lines are there around the sun.” She means that she wants to know exactly how many lines she should draw on her art pictures representing the sun’s rays. She said she asked her brother how many there were and he said twelve, but she’s still not sure and she would like the final word from Jesus himself. 

"Mary Most Holy" by Charles Bosseron Chambers
I was enthralled by the miniseries, “The Bible” that aired on the History channel recently and concluded on Easter. As I watched the stories of the Bible portrayed with a fresh perspective, I thought about them differently. I grew up in the church. I’ve been going to Sunday school since I was a baby. The stories of the Bible are so familiar to me that I sometimes forget these ordinary people had questions too, for God. Moses asked God if he was sure he chose the right person to lead Israel when he was such a poor speaker. Mary wondered why God chose a simple girl like her to be the mother of the son of God. These ordinary people living their everyday lives were changed by their extraordinary experiences with God. But it still didn't answer all their questions.

When I was growing up, my questions for God were more like requests. I asked God why I didn’t have a best friend like I read about in my favorite books. Like Trixie Belden and her best friend Honey. And Nancy Drew and her best friends Bess and George. These girl heroines and their friends solved mysteries, traveled the world on exciting adventures and belonged to secret clubs. That was the kind of best friend I wanted. And I didn't think any of my friends were candidates to meet these unrealistic requirements.   

"Light of the World" by Charles Bosseron Chambers

Now my questions for God are different. I want to know if the direction I’m heading – personally, professionally and spiritually – is the right one. I want to know why things don't work out the way I think they should. My heart is pulled to what I think is missing. When actually nothing is. Just like the friends who were there all along while I was growing up. Even if one of them didn’t live up to my schoolgirl image of the perfect best friend. God isn't fazed by my questions. Even though I might not find the answers. I can’t stop trusting. And I can't stop moving forward. I don’t know how many lines there are around the sun. Devon asks me if I know and I tell her I don’t. But she draws them anyhow. Even though she doesn’t know the answer. She picks up a crayon and keeps on coloring.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Unfolding the Nut Roll Recipe

I’ve been trying to recreate my grandmother’s nut roll recipe for about 10 years now. 

Last weekend I made them for Easter and they were as close as I’ve ever gotten them, but still not quite right. 

My grandmother’s nut roll – pastry dough with a sweet mixture of walnuts inside – was her specialty from her Eastern European/Bohemian heritage. 

But she knew the recipe by heart and never wrote it down. 

Every time she visited, I told her I wanted her to show me how to make them but she’d roll her eyes and say they were a lot of work and we needed a lot of time. Somehow we never got around to it.

After my grandmother died, my mother found recipe cards tucked in her purse with my aunt’s version of nut roll, which was a little different from hers. 

I’m not quite sure why she carried recipes for nut roll in her purse. 

Maybe she just never knew when the urge to make a quick nut roll would strike her and she wanted to be prepared. 

All I have of my grandmother’s recipe is a faded, barely legible, pencil-scrawled paper that my mother wrote years ago as my grandmother obviously dictated it to her. 

Even though my mother made an effort to record the recipe, she has never attempted to make nut roll. She says she ate it so often growing up that she never wanted to make it and paid little attention to how it was made. 

So I searched online for similar recipes and found the dough and nut mixture have more variations than I would have thought possible.

My grandmother’s nut rolls were incredibly soft and chock-full of nuts. 

But her instructions are vague and just a little bit crazy. 

She says to put 2 pats of butter and some lard in a little skillet and heat it, always keeping the skillet full. 

She says to smoosh (is that even a word?) the cake of yeast. 

She says to beat the eggs until they are the color of lemons. 

She says to add a scant cup of sugar. 

She says to heat the milk until the chill is off. 

She says after you add the milk to the dough, there should be a half-inch of milk left in the pan. 

She says to beat the dough until it’s satin-y and she notes in parentheses, "a long time." 

She says after the dough is mixed, to cover it with a coat and put it in the oven to rise. 

She says you’ll know the dough has raised enough when it hits the top of the pan. 

The real miracle is that I can even come close to any imitation of her nut roll after following such a sketchy recipe.

This time, I decided to use the ingredients my grandmother used (substituting butter for lard) and follow the directions of my aunt’s recipe. 

To make it even trickier for myself, I cut the recipe in half since it makes a mind-boggling eight rolls. 

I rolled the nuts in the dough and then let them rise for an hour. 

I still mess up the yeast part. 

It didn’t look like they raised at all to me. But I baked them anyway after an hour and surprisingly, they weren't quite right but pretty close. 

I know my nut rolls will never taste exactly like hers did. And if she knew how hard I try to recreate them, she would probably laugh and say they aren’t worth the trouble.

But I can remember exactly how her nut rolls tasted. 

The dough was pillow-soft and baked a golden brown. 

The nuts were ground fine so the creamy, almost buttery, sweet nut mixture melted in your mouth. 

My memories of my grandmother and holidays and family are all folded into that nut roll. 

When as a little girl, I listened as my grandmother and aunt compared their nut rolls with critiques of dough that was too dry, nuts that were too sparse or yeast that didn’t rise. 

When I laughed when they said they should have thrown them out; they weren’t fit for anyone to eat. 

When I understood how passionate they were about making delicious food for our family gatherings because that’s how they showed their love for us. 

When I felt connected to them because no matter how young I was, they never told me to run out and play but granted me the gift of listening to them talk. 

A gift of a family identity that keeps unfurling over the years to show me where I came from. 

And when I make my version of nut roll, I unfold their tradition of past generations into the here and now so I won't forget about them tomorrow.