Baby Oliver! Plus Ball Sagas and Tooth Horror Stories and Some Really Good Soup

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Look, you guys. Look at this big beautiful baby that my sister grew in her very own body. His name is Oliver, he is two weeks old, and I want to insert my whole face into his neck fat. That neck fat goes around to the back too, he’s got a little neck fat roll back there! Oliver, or Ollie, as his older and wiser sister Phinnie insists he be called, is a darling baby. He loves to be held and he dislikes farting. I’m so happy to get to live vicariously through my sister and hold this gorgeous baby from time to time but not have to do the staying up all night while simultaneously recovering from the messy process of getting the kid out of your body in the first place. Call your mom and thank her, cuz this shit is the worst. (Thank you, mom!) But worth it! Cuz, babies.

Oliver was born on a Tuesday, which, according to a rhyme that my mom knows, means that he is “full of grace.” This seems right. He is a kind and gentle spirit, I think. Relatedly, George was born on a Wednesday which means he is “full of woe” so I think there’s really something to this poem because he’s perpetually hurting himself in mind-boggling ways. Welcome to the world, and to the family, baby Oliver! We are so glad you’re here and we’re all excited to learn and grow with you.

Ollie is clearly the big news around here, but here’s some other stuff. I’ve been off Facebook for a month. I still hop on and dick around in there for no reason sometimes, when I’m looking for ways to procrastinate doing a task I don’t want to do, but there isn’t much to see and I hop off again pretty quickly. But it does still feel like I’m in the process of learning to live a life where I’m not constantly on my phone. I’m not there yet. Almost every night, after I read to the kids, I go for a long walk. I take my dear old dog, Adelaide, out with me for the first little jaunt of it, but she gets really tired really fast, trailing slowly behind me at the end of the leash, pretending to stop and smell the ground every four feet or so. So I just walk with her for about twenty minutes, then drop her off at home and continue on for another 40 minutes or so. I love walking at night and listening to podcasts (my favorites are Pod Save America and Pop Culture Happy Hour) and looking at all the houses in my neighborhood. I do not like men who insinuate themselves into this process. Every time I have strayed from my neighborhood on these walks, into the nearby strip mall, or onto Stassney or South First for a block to get to another part of the neighborhood, some stupid guy has bothered me. With cat calls or honking at me or, in one case, actually stopping his stupid mustang in the middle of the road to yell, ‘need a ride?’. No, fucker. I need you all to leave me alone so I can listen to my podcast. (Shitty) people say all the time that women who dress a certain way are asking for or inviting this behavior. But honestly, I am barely recognizable as female on these walks. It’s dark. My hair is up. I’m wearing a t-shirt and jeans. And they still bother me. Probably the same people who comment on women’s wardrobe choices will also say that a woman shouldn’t walk around alone at night, because that’s inviting this behavior too. That’s just not fair. I’m going to keep walking at night, but I’m mostly going to try to avoid the big busy streets near me. I shouldn’t have to do that though, and I wanted to go on record here to say that.

Other things. I turned 34 and I made some scones and a beastly loaf of bread and the best soup in the world to celebrate. I’ve spent a lot of time with my sister and brother-in-law Jordan and Phinnie and my mom. I’ve cooked. I’ve been in too many Walmarts. And I’ve coerced Andy into wearing a unicorn wig and joining me at a real-live party for grown up humans. Here we go.

Mrs-MFing-Larkin’s Blueberry Scones! These scones were one of the best things I ate in the past year and were a no-brainer birthday breakfast. They are glorious.

Sushi at Kome. With my mom and George! Isn’t my mom adorable? George too. (Andy and Henry were at Henry’s weekly math class). My mom and I split one hundred pieces of sushi and George got this fantastic $6 kids meal that had so many delicious things, including 2 pieces of fried chicken and 2 sweet and sour meatballs and a potato croquette. He only ate the rice and drank the tiny yogurt drink though, so I brought everything else home and ate it for lunch at Yawp the next day.

Obscene-looking but delicious and easy Milk Bread. I don’t know what the hell happened here- the recipe said it made two loaves of bread, so I put half the dough in a loaf pan and formed the other half into rolls. The loaf pan half exploded out of the pan into the grotesque form you see before you, but every bit of it was light and fluffy and rich and wonderful. We ate the whole loaf for dinner and I froze the rolls for later.

Creamy Tomato-Fennel Soup. My birthday dinner. And this soup! Remember that soup I loved at Duckfat when we were on vacation in Maine this summer? Well I went poking around for the recipe online and found that one of my two very favorite food bloggers had shared the recipe for it this winter! It turns out that the secret to what makes this soup incredible is a staggering full quart of heavy cream. Cooking fennel with onion and a lot of fennel seeds adds to the magic too, but I think it’s the ratio of cream to tomato that makes it so great. I have made it as written several times and I’ve also made a Whole 30 version by omitting the wine and (tiny amount of) sugar and replacing the heavy cream with coconut cream- it was really really delicious also. If you like creamy tomato soups and fennel and fat, I heartily encourage you to try this recipe. I love it so much.

Reading at Yawp! Henry has been devouring books. He’s on book nine of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. I haven’t read them, but judging by what Henry has shared with me, this Wimpy Kid seems like a real asshole. Henry loves them though, and said that he thinks that every book in the series should “get that award they give to the best chapter books.” He’s also read a whole lot of Magic Tree House books, the first Harry Potter book, and many others, all in the past month. Honestly, I feel like even if the only homeschooling-y thing I ever did for Henry was to bring him to the library, he’d do just fine.

Rosh Hashanah. We celebrated by eating some apples and honey as the sun went down, and then, inspired by the candlelight, we went around the table and told scary stories, and then we all blew our candles out at the same time and said “happy halloween!” which wasn’t entirely appropriate for the holiday, but it was George’s idea and it made him happy so we did it.

Lunch at The Leaning Pear. In the weeks leading up to Ollie’s birth, we tried a few things to kickstart Helen’s labor, including walking around in the sun in Wimberley. We loved our lunch at The Leaning Pear, and I fell in love with a little shop we stumbled into called Ceremony Botanicals which felt really Instagram-y but in a good way. And we walked by the water and threw bread crumbs in that represented our mistakes and fears from the past year and watched them drift away (a Rosh Hashanah tradition). Good times. Ollie didn’t get the memo that day, though.

He lost the other one too! This one came out when I was getting Henry dressed for bed and I pulled his shirt over his head and his very loose tooth got caught on it (horror of horrors!) and was yanked right out. The second front tooth came out when he bit into a pickled plum onigiri before math class last week. He didn’t swallow it.

Helen had contractions all weekend, and we were all on high alert, waiting for them to get closer together (they were about seven minutes apart for long stretches of time) but it didn’t happen. They kept her up all night but Ollie was still way high up and Helen wasn’t dilating. This was so much like what happened with Phinnie’s birth- Helen had days of contractions, worked and worked and tried to move Phinnie down with spinning babies, and in the end had to have an emergency c-section because nothing was working and Phinnie needed to come out. So after two days of contractions that weren’t intense enough to move Ollie down but were intense enough to make it so Helen couldn’t sleep at night, she called it and we went to the hospital and Ollie was born. To keep things as normal as possible for Phinnie after the birth, Jordan took her home at night and stayed with her, and so I got to spend three nights in the hospital with Helen and Ollie. I loved it! I’m so glad I got to spend that time with both of them. I never got to spend time like that with Phinnie when she was a baby because George was still a baby himself, but this time around George is a big capable 4 year old! And it was fun to spend the night with my sister, even if she was recovering from surgery, cuz she’s funny and we never get to hang out like that anymore! I’m proud of you, sister. You’re an amazing mom.

Grilled Chicken, Bruschetta, Okra Fries. One paragraph it’s c-sections and the next it’s chicken cuz that’s just how the pictures come out of my phone. The chicken is my favorite way to grill chicken. Bruschetta is a perfect side, because you can grill the bread and then rub it with garlic and douse it in olive oil and salt and pepper while the chicken is resting, and the okra fries are crisp and salty and not slimy at all. They’re so good that it’s even worth clicking the link for the recipe, even though that will take you to Rachael Ray’s website which also sports an auto-play video. Anyway, here’s this chicken recipe, which is based on how I think my brother Caleb does it:

Grilled Chicken Legs with Herbs de Provence and Brown Sugar

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons herbs de provence without lavender (or any combination of dried rosemary, thyme, sage, and fennel seeds to equal 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 pounds chicken leg quarters

Preparation

Prepare your grill for indirect grilling- if you have a charcoal grill, put the burning charcoal on one half of the grill and open all vents, for a gas grill, heat one half of the grill with a medium-high flame. Make the rub: mix the sugar, salt, herbs, garlic powder, and ground pepper in a bowl. On a cutting board, separate the thighs from the drumsticks by cutting along the line of fat that runs between them on the skinless side. Rub the sugar/herb mixture all over the chicken pieces. When the grill is hot, position the chicken pieces on the unheated half of the grill, open all vents, and cook over indirect heat for an hour, until the fat has rendered and dripped off and the chicken skin looks thin and roasty. You can move the chicken to the hot side of the grill to crisp it up a bit for a minute or two. Remove from the heat and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Chorizo with Crispy Potatoes and Kale. This is the recipe that got me through Whole 30. I recently typed up the chorizo recipe for Joanna cuz I think her ground pork makes the most wonderful chorizo, so I’m gonna share that here too. It’s adapted (to work with a pound of ground pork) from John Currence’s Big Bad Breakfast cookbook.

Chorizo

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons minced yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon hot Mexican-style chile powder
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preparation

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, mixing well to make sure the spices are evenly distributed.

Chorizo can be cooked fresh or rolled into a log in plastic wrap and frozen for later use. Chorizo is most frequently used cooked “loose” and scrambled into eggs, put in tacos or burritos, etc.

The ball saga. George has a friend at Yawp who sometimes brings a big giant rubber ball. She generously shares it with George every time, but he pines after one of his own. He asked for one for his birthday, in fact, and I totally forgot about it. He did too, I think, until the next time his friend brought her ball to Yawp, and then his lust for a giant ball of his own came back stronger than ever. So we went to Target the next day to look for one- they didn’t have any. So I went to a godforsaken Walmart and they didn’t have any, so I went to another Walmart and they didn’t have any. So I gave up and went home. The next day, at a third Walmart, this time in Kyle near Helen’s house, we struck gold. George had been hoping for a purple ball and they had several, so we picked out the biggest, tautest purple ball we could find. We took it home and he bounced it on the floor and the fucking thing popped instantly and spectacularly, exploding into two distinct hemispheres of flacid rubber. So I went back to the Walmart in Kyle the next day and got another purple ball, less big and less taut than the first, and as of this writing it’s still intact. In conclusion, I have nothing to say, this is just how I spend my time, I guess.

Not what I wear on my walks around the neighborhood at night. My friend Jen Meaux had a birthday party where we were all encouraged to dress up as Jen Meaux. There are very few people who could have a birthday party like this, because most people, myself included, dress in roughly the same boring shit every day. Not Jen, though! She’s got wigs of every color! She owns several pairs of hot pants! We should all aspire to dress like Jen and it was super fun to get to do it for an evening. I am really bad at selfies, so while Andy was at a game night with work friends the night before Jen’s party, I put this outfit together and then spent half an hour trying to take a picture of myself wearing it to text to my mom and Helen. This photo represents the very height of that enterprise.

Here’s me and Molly, pantsless, with the real Jen in the middle, who is wearing pants and looking fabulous as always. I didn’t smile for my picture because my work in front of the mirror the night before had convinced me that I look like a big toothy maniac when I smile, but now that I see this picture I think it’s sad that I didn’t. Better to be a toothy maniac than to look like you’re not happy to be somewhere in a pink wig with Harley Quinn hot pants. Next time!

I simply had to share this photo of Dustin and Andy, who gamely also dressed up as different versions of Jen. Andy reminded me more of Lucius Malfoy than the unicorn we were going for. Dustin is heartbreaking-ly endearing with his bowl haircut wig and oversized glasses. They’re good guys.

 

Old-School Baked Ziti. And here’s some ziti I made, cuz if I didn’t put one more picture in this post, the thumbnail image when I share this on Facebook would be of Andy the unicorn and he’s already met me more than halfway by agreeing to dress this way and put proof of it on the internet. It’s good ziti, even if it’s actually rigatoni.

That’s it! It’s back to babies and podcasts and watching TV with Andy (are you watching The Good Place? I hated the beginning of the first season because it seemed simple and stupid but things pick up quickly after that and now I love it so much!) and walking around at night while female and all the other parts of life’s rich tapestry. Thanks for reading, friends.

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Cherry Cake, Silver Lynels, a Facebook Liberation, and George’s Fourth Birthday

All my mornings start with George. He climbs out of his bed with Henry and into my bed with Andy, where I spoon him for 20 minutes or so and peel his cupped hand off of my elbow, which he has touched and rubbed so much in his four years of life, I don’t know why, that I can’t bear to be touched there anymore. When George feels sufficiently cuddled, he rolls out of bed, walks over to Andy’s side, and says he’s ready to get up. Andy takes him out of the room and closes the door behind him and I stay in bed for 20 or 30 minutes more. Sometimes I use this precious time to try to go back to sleep, but most often, I just pick up my phone and look at Facebook. I scroll through everything I haven’t seen yet and like and love things and then I get up. Throughout the rest of the whole long day, whenever I have any spare moment of time, even if it’s just a minute while I’m between steps in a recipe or stopped at a red light, my hand reaches for my phone and my thumb moves to the Facebook app and I scroll some more. When the kids are in bed and I’m done for the day, I lie on the couch and scroll some more, for a lot longer this time, before getting up to do whatever it is I have to do that night, and then I go to bed and scroll some more, staying up even after Andy has turned off the light to keep scrolling. In my case, this doesn’t feel like time well-spent. I almost never feel like I’ve gotten anything out of all this scrolling. I know this but I can’t stop. It’s an addiction or a compulsion or a habit or all three.

So, at George’s birthday party (I’ll get to this, I swear it’s what this post is really about!), our dear friend Raven talked to Andy about how she took Facebook off her phone and how liberating it was. Andy relayed this to me, so I reached out to her to talk about it. She said she was only on Facebook for 30ish minutes a day but that when she quit she felt like she had so much more time because it took up so much mental space even outside those 30 minutes. She was able to do more and think more and was just generally a lot happier. I don’t know how much time I spend on Facebook, but I’m guessing it’s an order of magnitude greater than 30 minutes when you add it all up. And I don’t want to spend this much time on something that isn’t making me happy. So Raven talked me through figuring out how to stop. I couldn’t just remove Facebook from my phone, because I’m an admin for the Austin Unschoolers group, and I need to follow what’s happening in the Austin Yawp group too. So I unfollowed every single person, organization, and entity outside of those two groups. To do this on your phone you click on Settings -> News Feed Preferences -> Unfollow people to hide their posts. And then you click on every single circle on that page. It was sad unfollowing some people but mostly it was overwhelming to see the astronomically long list of people and pages I have added to my feed over the years. It took many minutes to click on each and every one of those circles. I did all this a week and a half ago and I can honestly say it’s been amazing. For many days after, and maybe even still a little now, ten days later, I felt that compulsion to reach for my phone during each and every spare second of downtime. So I’ve stopped and recognized what I’m feeling and I’ve put something else in my hand instead- a broom to sweep the floor, a book to read a page or two- anything. When I stop at red lights I don’t pick up my phone, I look around. Or talk to my children. I got all my news from Facebook, which is a little embarrassing to admit, but now, instead of that, I listen to Pod Save America. I’ve been taking long walks with my dog at night, after the kids are asleep, and I listen to these funny, smart guys talk about what has happened in the last few days and what it means. I feel better informed than I was before and less sedentary, and both of those things make me happier. I get on Facebook a couple of times a day now, I check my notifications and I look at Austin Unschoolers stuff and then I’m out, cuz there’s nothing else to look at. It’s a little shitty, but I’m still going to get on Facebook to share these posts. If you want to boycott me cuz I’m asking you to look at my stuff and not looking at your stuff, that’s totally fair. I am doing that.

Raven also turned me on to the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up book, which I went out and bought from Half-Price Books the day after the great unfollowing episode. I feel like it goes hand-in-hand with the Facebook liberation. I’m working on simplifying and reducing my digital clutter and also the actual shit in my house. We have a huge amount of shit. I started with my clothes yesterday and I think I did an okay job on that, but there are still lots and lots of steps to go. But it’s exciting and I’m happy to be doing it.

Anyway, let’s get to the man of the hour- George turned four last week! Here’s how we celebrated this fantastic little person. Many many thanks to Helen and Jordan for taking all the pictures at George’s birthday party!

 

His face here is everything.

George wanted a Legend of Zelda-themed birthday party, and his requests were many and detailed. He wanted a monster cake, but he wanted it to be a cherry cake, not like the chocolate-y looking monster cake in Breath of the Wild.

Cherry Cake. I spent a lot of time on the internet reading a lot of different cherry cake recipes before settling on this one. Most of them just involve mixing a jar of maraschino cherries with a boxed cake mix, which seems kind of dumb, because if you were gonna use a boxed cake mix you could just pick the cherry cake mix and save a step. But this recipe was the real deal, plus it used a lot of egg whites, which meant I could make lemon bars too cuz I’d have a lot of egg yolks. The cake was a huge hit- everyone really liked it and I’d heartily recommend it if you’re looking for a cherry cake. Don’t skip the cherry extract- it’s essential. I used a bottle of cherry flavoring I found at Central Market.

The rest of the food, some of which is pictured here, was based directly off the foodstuffs in the Breath of the Wild video game. I made plain onigiri and onigiri stuffed with flaked smoked salmon. As you can see, the salmon ones were popular. There’s a pool of doraemon furikake in the middle of the cutting board so people could dip their rice balls into it.

Kale chips are kind of a cruel thing to serve at a party because then everyone has little green flecks stuck in their teeth. I did it anyway. This is dino kale rubbed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and roasted for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees.

Herbed Beef Skewers with Horseradish Cream. Link eats meat skewers and mushroom skewers in the game, so we had both.

These lemon bars, from The Everyday Baker, are one of George’s favorites.

Perfect Pork Chops. I didn’t take the time to plate this prettily but that didn’t matter- it disappeared quickly. Joanna turned me onto this pork chop recipe and it will change your life. You dry brine and air dry the chops before you slow roast them in the oven and then give them a final sear in a hot pan, or in my case, over a hot grill. They’re tender and juicy and perfectly seasoned. Really good.

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Doesn’t this beautiful baby look right into your soul? His mom is getting some chuchu jelly, aka homemade jiggly lemonade jello.

We did a real basic obstacle course of sorts, inspired by my friend Amanda (who always does them for her kids’ parties and in fact made them up for us when we were kids). The kids leapt off the great plateau, jumped over the lava, threw a bomb to knock over a brick wall, and finally shot an arrow at a balloon, collecting rupees along the way.

We did use a crossbow at my four-year-old’s birthday party. The kids were shockingly good at hitting the balloon targets.

George got an impromptu yo-yo lesson from Kyle, who is legitimately incredible at it. I love this photo so much.

Another of George’s detailed requests- a silver lynel pinata. I spilled hot glue on my thumb while making this thing and my instinct was to press all the fingers on my left hand together so I burned all of them.

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I’m probably the only person who wants to look at a half dozen pictures of kids hitting a pinata, but I’m putting them here anyway. I like the myriad styles of attack these kids used.

I’m so grateful to Helen for taking this video- it captures one of the most endearing things about George. He get’s this pursed-lip bashful smile when he feels proud about something, and I just feel like a weepy mess watching his face transform as he looks around the room at all the people singing to him.

Thanks to everyone for coming out to celebrate George!

Andy took the day off for George’s actual birthday and we told him he could do whatever he wanted during the day. We said, we can go get ice cream! Go to the trampoline place! Eat pancakes! Anything you want! He said, “for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, can I have a ham sandwich?” Whatever you say, kid!

After his breakfast ham sandwich we played around with his birthday presents and then went to Pinballz for lunch. It was locked and looked abandoned when we got there, but it was supposed to be open, so Andy called and the guy who answered was like, uh, yeah, we’re open. Aren’t we? He was inside and came and unlocked the doors for us. I guess there had been a problem with the city (can we call Buda a city?) turning off their water? Anyway, we had the run of the place and it was really fun.

George ate one slice of pizza and lots of Andy’s fries instead of his second ham sandwich.

Then we did this for a long time.

Cuban Sandwiches. I ran it by George first, and he approved, so we all had fancy ham sandwiches for dinner. When I cut the meat off the pork chops for the birthday party, I left lots of little bits sticking to the bones, so I had put those in the fridge to save for later. I pulled those bits off and shredded them and combined them with George’s favorite honey ham, swiss cheese, yellow mustard, and pickles and squashed it all together in a panini press. Even sandwich-hating Henry loved them.

George wanted ice cream with cherries for his birthday dessert, so we had a sundae bar. He put a literal dozen cherries on his ice cream.

Happy fourth birthday, George! I love your creativity, your imagination, your elegant and unique way of speaking, and all those early morning cuddles. You’re a beautiful person and I am so grateful for the art and passion you have brought to our lives. Many happy returns, dear George!

An Eclipse, Bones, a Hurricane, and Trump in Texas, Plus Kolaches

I counted eight dead armadillos on our 1600 mile trip up to Missouri and back to see the eclipse. George ate very little besides french fries and Gatorade, which he called “candy drink”, the whole time. We went to a delightfully gruesome bone museum in Oklahoma City, had an uncomfortable encounter with some nazi regalia in Gainesville, and fell in love with Lawrence, Kansas. Totality lasted 1 minute and 43 seconds where we were and it was so incredible that it made all those hours in the car absolutely worthwhile.

When we got home, Harvey hit, then Trump came to town. Here’s what that looked like, starting with our trip to see the eclipse.

Czech Stop in West, Texas. I like how the line snakes through the narrow shop and how the loaves of sweet bread are smeared with a sloppy coating of white sugar paste. It feels exciting and weird in there. The savory kolaches were okay, the sweet ones, lemon and cherry cream cheese-filled, were an undeniable delight. George only had eyes for a rainbow sprinkle-covered cake pop, and turned his nose up at the pulled pork puff we coerced him into trying, so he ate half a cake pop for lunch. Back in the car, his mood rapidly deteriorated, so we stopped for a second lunch in Gainesville, just before the Oklahoma border.

I didn’t enjoy my time in Gainesville. Andy and I read the history of the town before we arrived- the Wikipedia page for the Great Hanging at Gainesville is short and terrifying. We walked into a Dairy Queen and ordered food for George and a sundae for Henry and sat down. Looking around, I noticed that the fellow cooking our food was wearing an iron cross necklace. I told Andy and asked him if that meant that for sure that guy was a nazi? Or does that symbol represent things besides the complete annihilation of the non-Aryan races? Andy thought nazi, and I texted my mom and sister who thought it was a nazi thing too. So I sat there, twisted up, trying to think of whether I should say something about it, and if so to who? The assistant manager was taking orders, but she disappeared for long stretches of time. Should I not say anything in person and write to the store after we left? Or should I talk to the guy directly? George took a literal hour to slowly slowly eat his food so I had a lot of time to agonize over this. I watched the iron cross guy bring people their food, take orders and talk about the outrageous gun regulations in California, refill the ice machine. He seemed okay. When George was finally finished eating and we were ready to leave, Andy took the kids to the car and I stayed behind to talk to the guy wearing the necklace. He was the only one working out front at the time, and I had figured I ought to just say it directly to him anyway. So I walked up to the counter and asked if I could talk to him for a minute. I said, I know you’re really busy, and you seem like a really nice and hard-working guy, but I have to tell you- your necklace makes me really uncomfortable. He moved to put it in his shirt, where it wouldn’t be seen and said “It’s a World War I necklace, ma’am.” I said he didn’t have to do that, but I wanted him to know that I’m Jewish, that the iron cross was adopted by the Nazis and that it’s a hate symbol and that I didn’t want to get him in trouble, but I did want to tell him how uncomfortable I felt about it. He apologized for making me feel that way and told me that he had family members who had survived the holocaust and then he shook my hand. I said thank you and I left.  I spent a lot of time wondering, while George was very slowly eating his french fries, how many other people had noticed that guy’s necklace and felt the way I did about it. How many other Jewish people end up in that Dairy Queen in Gainesville? Probably not many. But I’m glad I said something. Because now, when/if he puts that necklace on, he’ll know what he’s doing. He’ll be making a choice, one way or another.

Iguana Mexican Grill in Oklahoma City. Onward and upward! I loved this restaurant, and the arty part of town it was in. They had two kinds of rice, red and green, so it was a big hit with the kids too.

Aunt Joanna flew to Asheville, NC to see the eclipse and she sent us a beautiful photo of her girls standing among a copse of tall trees on their journey. We replied with this photo of an impressive array of slurpee flavors- our roadtrip landscape was a lot less scenic. One of the flavors is Pina Colada Paridizzee! Thought you should know.

Meddy’s in Wichita, Kansas. Andy was combing google maps for places we could stop to eat. Our top picks were Spangles, where George could get a hot dog, and Meddy’s, a fast-casual Lebanese chain where everyone else wanted to eat. They had french fries too, so George acquiesced. It was pretty good! And what a delight to find a Kahlil Gibran quote on the wall of a fast food restaurant!

We made it to Lawrence! The main drag, Mass. St, reminded me of the Austin of yesteryear, like South Congress before all the shiny, corporate additions. The indie shops and restaurants all looked really fun and there was progressive art all over the place. I really liked the look of a store called Wonder Fair (Print Palace of the Great Plains!) but we were on our way to dinner, carrying a weary George, and didn’t stop.

Lucia Beer Garden and Grill in Lawrence, Kansas. Andy got a bright blue fruity alcohol drink. I very much enjoyed my fried plantain cups filled with mango, avocado, and black beans. Henry and George stayed on the solid grounds of their preferred food stuffs, rice+beans and french fries, respectively.

Sylas and Maddy’s Homemade Ice Cream in Lawrence, Kansas. I’d just eaten a lot of food at Lucia and wasn’t hungry, but I did hope the kids would pick good flavors so I could eat a few bites of theirs. But George picked strawberry and Henry picked blueberry cheesecake and neither of those had chocolate or cookies in it so I lost interest.

Eclipse Day! We had hoped to stay close to Lawrence for the eclipse, but the forecast said if you wanted a shot at a clear sky, your best bet was to drive east of Kansas City, Missouri. We weren’t about to have just spent two long days in the car with the kids to miss the eclipse, so we started driving.

When we got to Maple Leaf Lake, the parking lot was full of people tailgating the eclipse and the sky was completely overcast. We didn’t know if we should drive south, out of totality, but into clearer skies where we could at least see something, or stay put. The radar showed the clouds heading north about half an hour before totality, so we stayed.

And it was okay! The clouds moved off the sun a little before totality, and we had a completely unobstructed view.

George is checking out his shadow. It proved to be impossible for me to capture the weird quality of the light with my camera, but it was very cool in person. Everything felt a little askew. The colors were off, like they had been dialed down a little bit, duller and browner than normal, and the shadows looked shorter than they should have been.

A minute or two before totality, George fell on one of those concrete parking spot dividers and happened to land in the very spot where a piece of rebar was sticking up out of the concrete. He cut his shin and started screaming and it was awful. It looked painful but also, the total eclipse was seconds away. Thankfully, the eclipse was mesmerizing enough to make George stop crying and marvel at the sky- that’s why he says in the video that ‘it was so cool it made me feel better!’

But, yes. Do you know that scene in Contact, where the aliens make Jodie Foster a fake Pensacola beach and it’s all black and pink and purple and starry? That’s how the eclipse felt to me, with the sunset colors all around and the corona and the solar prominences glowing eerily and the planets you never get to see because they’re so close to the sun shining brilliantly. The temperature dropped and you could hear night time animal sounds and we got to see the diamond ring, just like we had seen in so many pictures. It was neat too, to hear everyone in that parking lot gasp and cheer when totality happened. Aren’t people incredible? That scientists know exactly when and exactly where this will happen, and then where you should drive if it’s cloudy in the first spot? And that people listened and gathered together to marvel at this amazing thing? I love that. I loved that my kids loved it too.

On our walk back to the car after the eclipse ended, George spotted this big, disoriented night crawler, who found himself in the middle of a suddenly sunny parking lot after a very short night. Andy put him back in the grass.

The drive from Kansas to Oklahoma takes you through several miles of that old Microsoft desktop image.

Warning: I’m about to show you a picture of beetles eating the flesh off a skull.

It belongs to a coyote. This is what greets you when you first enter Skeletons: The Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma City.

They have a collection of scavenger hunts for a variety of age groups that help kids explore the museum. Henry and George loved it!

The museum is one big room, two floors, so it’s the perfect size for kids- they get to see a lot of cool displays without it being too overwhelming.

The stuff of nightmares.

There was no way I wasn’t going to include this picture of a walrus’ giant penis bone in my blog post. Fun fact: the gift shop sells a wide variety of baculums! We opted for an owl pellet instead.

Did you know that elephant skulls were the source for the legend of cyclops? I didn’t! Thanks, Museum of Osteology!

Ya gotta stop at Sonic. We did, and then we drove the rest of the way home.

When we got there, the power had apparently gone out, because our clocks were flashing and the fridge felt warm. We figured it had just happened. So I went to the store and bought a lot of meat and vegetables and milk and things that weren’t rice and french fries and brought them home and discovered that the fridge was actually broken. Otto let us put all of our groceries in his fridge (neighbor of the year) and Andy researched refrigerators. The next day, he drove up to North Austin, bought a new circuit board, came home and replaced the old one, and fixed the damn fridge like a boss. Pretty neat! I’m going to take a few points off though because he did this with our oven a couple years ago too, fixing it when it was broken, I mean, and I fear this means I’ll be stuck with the same sort-of crappy but totally operational appliances for the rest of time because Andy knows how to fix everything.

Then Hurricane Harvey came.

This video is terrible and weird because I recorded through a screen so I could stay inside and watch listen to the kids while looking at my phone but I liked their conversation so I’m sharing it in spite of the crappy quality.

Sad chickens as viewed through a dirty window.

On the second day, we walked down to the normally dry creek that runs through our neighborhood. George was terrified that the wind was going to blow away his umbrella.
In Austin, Harvey brought much needed rain (we got 8.5 inches), and knocked down some trees and left some people without electricity. Joanna and Javi’s farm was in a wind tunnel that ripped a lot of the shingles off their roof which lead to several damaging leaks, but all their animals are okay and didn’t blow away, which is pretty amazing.
Andy’s brother Dan’s house in Houston is very luckily okay too, as is Uncle Dan. Friends of friends were not so lucky, including a young family with 4 kids, the youngest being 4 months old, whose house flooded. They’ll be in Austin while things get sorted out, but they’re lucky to be among the only 15% or so of Houstonians with flood insurance. It’s all so awful. What do people in the fifth ward do, whose homes were flooded and they lost their cars and they can’t get to work?
I want to drive down there and cut fallen trees up with a chainsaw, bring sacks of hot burgers and breakfast tacos to people working to fix their houses, give blankets and clothes to people who need them. The reality of my helpfulness probably wouldn’t match the dream, though. I can’t cut up trees because I don’t know how and my kids likely wouldn’t tolerate a trip to Houston to sit quietly and wait while I do things. Also I don’t own a chainsaw. I could maybe do the sacks of food delivery idea? And I have bought donations for trucks heading to Houston, but I’m not sure that was the best use of money either- I spent $50 on some non-perishable food and socks and deodorant but if I had just given $50 to the Houston food bank, they would have done a lot more with that money than one sackful of snacks from Target. I’m going to bake donations for the Austin Bakes for Harvey fundraiser, cuz baking things and buying baked goods is in my wheelhouse. We’re making welcome kits for Harvey evacuees in Austin at Yawp on Tuesday afternoon, and for that at least, I’m confident that my giving is less imperfect. Anyone who wants to is welcome to join that effort and kids are gonna be there too, so send me a message if you want the details. If you know of good ways to help or a charity that you really like, will you tell me please?

Then, last Tuesday, President Trump came to Austin and the kids and I went to protest him. I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that politics ends during a crisis. Trump is ending DACA today or some other day soon, he’s pushing for legislation that takes funds from FEMA and puts them into the construction of his border wall, he banned transgender-ed people from entering the military in spite of all the evidence that says they are an asset, and pardoned the racist monster Arpaio, and that’s all just stuff that’s happening RIGHT NOW.  Should he get to show up in Texas for his photo ops and only see people in MAGA hats cheering for him giddily? I don’t think so. I don’t think you get to, on a whim, plunge 800,000 people who were brought to the US as children, who are working and paying taxes here legally, into the chaos of being suddenly unable to work legally and face deportation to a country they might not even remember without a blip of protest.

In spite of all that reasoning, and knowing it was the right thing to do, I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to drive up to North Austin and stand in the sun for an hour with my kids. None of my friends could go and it was so tempting to just opt out too. We ended up going because of March.

Just before Charlottesville, there was a post in an unschooling facebook group where people were sharing their favorite novels for children. I shared mine and followed the thread and realized that all the books I read and loved as a kid were super white. Very few included people of color and none, I think, were written by people of color. We get lots of diverse picture books from the library, and have read a lot of books about the civil rights movement, but we don’t own many and we don’t have any novels like that. So I asked for recommendations on facebook and got a lot. We started reading March, John Lewis’ graphic novel about his experience in the civil rights movement, and I read book one to the kids. It was hard to get through the parts where the protesters at the lunch counters were pulled from their seats and beaten up, spit on, and then arrested, and the whole time, thanks to all their non-violence training, they just stay quiet and calm, finally singing ‘we shall overcome’ together on their way to the paddy wagons and jail. I said to the kids, can you imagine bravery like that? To be calm when someone is screaming at you and hurting you? I asked the kids, what would you do if you saw a white person treating someone like that? Henry said, “I would say, everyone has the potential for good, but you are giving up that potential.” George said he would say that too. So, when we were talking about whether or not we should go to the protest, we talked about March, and about how brave those civil rights protesters were, and how, if they could do what they did in the face of so much hate, we could show up at this Trump protest for a bit and hold our signs. My sign said “We Support DACA”, George’s said “Don’t do that, Donald Trump” (which I thought was brilliant, and worked for almost every application), and when I asked Henry what he wanted, he said Trump with a frog mouth with the words he would say to people who were being racist.

A couple hundred protesters came out that day, and we were with them and I’m glad of that.

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Our first set of books to expand our perspectives. We’re reading Brown Girl Dreaming now, and it’s been a really great follow up to March because it’s set in the same time, but from a little kid’s perspective. The Witch of Blackbird Pond might not fit in this mix, but it is about fear-based hatred so I bought it too (I’ve never read it).

If you have ideas for other books we should read, ways we can help with Harvey recovery efforts, or other ways to be good humans, I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading, friends.