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.
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.
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!