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.
Sad chickens as viewed through a dirty window.
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.
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.
I am blown away by your gentle confrontation with the southern cross guy. I’m going to read this to Harry. He sees guts with southern cross tatoos at the gym almost every day.
Thank you, Barbara ❤ It's so hard to know the right thing to do in situations like this. Trickier for Harry at the gym I think, cuz he'd probably have to see those guys again and again. I had the benefit of being an anonymous outsider and knew I'd never see this guy again- that made it easier to approach him.
Of COURSE I am going to say you can always help APA! They have taken 500+ shelter dogs from areas affected by Harvey – (adults) can walk dogs, anyone can help sort donations, do laundry, fundraiser, you name it. Of course I am an A-Hole because I say that as I pack to leave for a 10 day vacation
Haha! Thank you, Abbie! This sounds like a great way to help! How was your vacation?!?
Thanks for the update. For books with boys of color, anything by Christopher Paul Curtis.
Thanks, Tyger! I’ve added the Watsons Go to Birmingham and The Mighty Miss Malone to my list!
My passionate brilliant friend. I am a better person after reading your blog. Thank you, Arielle
Thank you, dear Laura, for all the love and support. You’re a magical person ❤
You’re my hero. You’re an amazing person and an amazing mom. I miss you guys. I was trying to find an old recipe and got hooked in. Let’s catch up soon.
Thank you, dear friend ❤ You're a constant inspiration to me too. Gonna try to get a letter in the mail to you today! I just got a load of decomposed granite delivered to make a level base for my pond(!!!) this morning, and I've gotta cart that to the backyard first cuz there's a small chance of rain today.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond was my favorite book in 5th and 6th grade. I think I read it about four times. I read it as an adult, aloud to some kids I babysat for, and discovered that although the story is wonderful, something about the language makes it not flow well for read-aloud. Oh well. Still a great book. Also in 5th grade we read Bridge to Terabithia, which I don’t remember very well but it’s about social outcasts being friends, and one of them… well, I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t read it… but probably don’t read it to your kids til they’re older.
I read March (bought the last copy in town when it became suddenly popular last winter). Really powerful story. I had trouble following it sometimes — could be all the acronyms, or that the illustrations didn’t help illuminate the story as much as they should have… or it could just be because I was reading it a page or two at a time at the playground.
I love this, Martha! I don’t know how it has taken me this long to read WoBP- I’ve loved witchy books since I was little. That’s too bad to hear about the read-aloud quality of it, but if it doesn’t work I’ll just read it myself and Henry and George can get to it when they’re ready. Bridge to Terebithia is another classic I’ve never read, though I think I’ve been spoiled on it anyway. I’ll add it to my list!
March has been incredibly hard to read with Henry, but mostly just because it’s so devastating. I didn’t know how bloody things got in Birmingham during the freedom rides. We’re taking it slowly and reading it a little at a time too. Thanks for reaching out ❤