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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Closing in on Two

We're in the final stretch of Mal's second year, and it seems like every day, he surprises us with something new.

He's still "behind" where he "should" be, verbally, if you go in for that sort of thing, which we don't. He communicates a lot with sign, and I understand what he means when he tries to talk, as long as there is some context. For instance, on the patio "mo-ee beebah" means "more bubbles." In the living room, "dee-dah" means "guitar." But in the bathroom, "dee-dah" means vitamins (which he calls "fruit snacks," which is also something that "dee-dah" means).

As, or perhaps, more importantly, he understands *everything*.

A couple of days ago, Mal was in the stroller as my sister and I were walking up a trail and chatting. She'd just helped me up a steep ravine and said it reminded her of being in China and getting the boys around. She mentioned reading her blogs from the time and remembering how much she just wanted to be home, because the kids were so new, and they were all so tired, and it was so hot (kind of like here, now), and everybody was staring at them. I said, "I get it on some level. I feel it on some level when we're just out and about and I don't think I can chase him down anymore. I want to go home, because at least there, I'm comfortable and the worst he can do is climb up on the cabinets--" "DIE!" Mal interrupted cheerfully. "That's right, Mal, you could die." It looks like that lesson is sticking, though I don't think he's taking it very seriously.

He also got onto one of the cats the other day when she hopped up onto the kitchen counter. "Die!" he warned her. She was nonplussed.

The other night, he cracked me up because I was sitting in his room playing with him, and I was having a protracted, though mild, asthma attack. I told him, "Mal, I'm going to have to go take a breathing treatment." He sucked up a lot of air and made an "o" shape with his mouth, laboring to breathe in and out. Um, I hope that's not how I look when I"m medicating, but it was very cute on him.

Today, he did several things that were funny.

We had gotten into the car to run to the office to switch our our gate remotes (yes, after ONE YEAR, it looks like they're fixing the gates), so I let him ride up front with me (save your comments; it's a private road and everyone else was at work). I was putting on some lipstick and Mal had already sat down and put on his seatbelt. I was listening to NPR's recap of the DNC last night, and some of the President's speech. Just as he got to a good part, Mal wriggled out of the seat belt, leaned forward, and pushed a button. The first channel was music, that's what he wanted, so he sat back, satisfied. 

I let him have his choice, then backed up to go. Mal kept saying, pretty agitatedly, "Bee bat, bee bat." I looked and he was pointing to my hip. I said, "Oh! I need to put on my seat belt!" He nodded and stopped as soon as I clicked in. What a sweet reminder.

Inside the office, he got a Jolly Rancher. I walked him around to where there's a trash can and said, "Let's throw away your wrapper." He dropped it on the ground. I said, "No, not on the ground. Please put it in the trash can." He picked it up, came around the corner, and put it in the can. The assistant manager was impressed, but he shouldn't have been. At home, Mal will pick up cat hair and trash, open the pantry, lift the trash can lid, and throw trash away all by himself.

After the office, I put him in his car seat (so you can relax now) and we went to his gym. He was jumping on the trampoline, and I noticed that his hair was kind of clumping together on top. He'd eaten a lollipop yesterday, and I'd noticed he'd gotten some of the sticky in his hair. I said, "Mal, we're going to have to wash your hair today. It's really yucky." He nodded, hopped down, went into the bathroom, got his hands wet, and threw water up onto his head, rubbing it in. Man, that kid is on top of things!

The nodding/head-shaking thing is such a great improvement over not knowing until we tried. In the past week, he's also added a strong, "No!" to his head-shaking, when something's really important.

He'll sign "poop" to me when he's pooped and wants to change his diaper. He'll sign "poop" and shake his head no when he's pooped and doesn't want to change his diaper.

Mal has been playing with Starfall for a while now, and he's getting old enough to appreciate some of the stories. There is one part at the beginning of Zac the Rat where Zac hums. It's just a silly little tune, but it used to crack D up so much that we'd watch it over and over again. Guess what? It has the same effect now on Mal!

This, to me, is the fun part of parenting. I don't miss the baby days. I don't miss the pre-semi-verbal and/or signing days. I like being able to interact with my kid and watch him develop into the person he's going to be.

In case you're interested, he still doesn't sleep through the night. He actually slept six hours in one stretch two nights ago, and it was the longest he's done in 22 months. I got about 4 and a half hours of sleep, so that was great. Otherwise, he sleeps 2-4 hours when he first goes down, then wakes multiple times per night after that. Whatever. We're used to it. He sleeps with us, so it's easy enough to get him back to sleep.

I find I keep buying more nursing clothes, because that doesn't seem to be likely to stop any time in the near future. I am letting him lead the way, and he's still very much a "boob monster."

He has started doing something different with his nighttime routine (but not the nap time, which is interesting). At night, he'll nurse, then unlatch and roll over, or crawl to the foot of the bed, get comfy, and then go the rest of the way to sleep. Last night, he did something new. He nursed, unlatched, played with this Melissa and Doug peekaboo panda for a few minutes, laid it down, rolled over, and went to sleep.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Super Simple Learning, Unschooling Style (or: A very creative meal)

My favorite of Mal's most-requested YouTube channels is Super Simple Songs from Super Simple Learning. I like it because it's not just fourteen variations on "The Wheels on the Bus" but actually has some fun original songs. Also, because it isn't just one style of animation (in fact, there are several live-action puppet songs), so it's a lot more interesting to watch. Their seasonal songs are fun, too; we keep watching the Halloween and Christmas specials, sweating our way through them in this decidedly un-fallish Austin summer.

One of my favorite things is that, even though it's a "learning" channel, the songs are more fun than "here, learn this." I REALLY hate the songs that talk about how much fun it is to count or say the ABCs. Listen, I'm a middle-aged lady who hasn't been away from her baby more than two hours in two years, and even I have enough of a life to know that counting and saying ABCs isn't "woo hoo" fun.

Anyway, the point is that we love Super Simple Songs. However, there is one song that, while it's tons of fun and we all love it, set off my "unschooling" alarm. (A worksheet D did once as a preschooler did it, too, twelve years ago or so, before I knew I was an unschooler.)

Watch this song, enjoy it, but see if you can tell what nagged at me:




Did you catch it?

Does anyone else have a mental policy of not being able to say you don't like a food unless you try it? (Even if, as a radical unschooler, you don't enforce it.) There's a difference in saying, "That doesn't sound tasty; I'd rather not." And in stating that something is "Yucky!" just because it has ingredients that might not seem compatible.

So I saw this as a challenge.

Tonight for dinner, we had three of the four items in the song. I didn't try the doughnut juice because isn't that basically just coffee? Actually, because it'd be a dessert item and we already have one legit dessert and an appetizer that leans to the sweet side, so that's enough.

A couple of other songs talk about:
1) carrot cereal -- which would probably be great; you can find lots of recipes online for carrot cake granola, and hot bran cereal with carrots
2) lasagna milkshakes -- James found a thread somewhere about not being able to eat solids and someone swore a lasagna milkshake was unparalleled; he had an idea for a milkshake lasagna, which is also tasty-sounding, but that's not what the song says
3) spaghetti yogurt -- that'd take some thought
4) tomato pancakes -- easy and likely delicious; think crepes
5) cookie salad -- sweet version with fruit and whipped cream, or using something like a ginger snap as a crouton in an Asain-type salad?
6) cauliflower cupcakes -- Jessica Seinfeld has made a fortune publishing cookbooks with stuff like this
7) avocado lollipops -- I'm totally going to make some in the future; I love avocado anything, including ice cream, cake, icing, and cookies
Then it seems they stepped up their game and came up with some legitimately "yucky" ideas.
7) mushroom popsicles -- that one sounds pretty terrifying
8) sushi smoothies -- I'd rather have the real thing, but "that's terrific bass!"
9) pickle pudding - does it have to be pickled cucumbers? pickled beets and ginger and a savory pudding might work; also, if you use the definition "a sweet OR SAVORY steamed dish made with flour," you open up all kinds of possibilities

But this evening, we focused on these dishes:

BANANA SOUP

I found a yummy-looking recipe that was basically a smoothie in a bowl, but then further research revealed that there is an actual traditional Vietnamese soup called Che Choui including either chopped banana or corn. So we went with the banana version.

I used the recipe here, except that I doubled it, because it looked fabulous.



It said this could be served hot, cold, or room temperature. I decided to refrigerate it so we would have our choices. Here it is, ready to go into the refrigerator, hanging out with the toasted sesame seeds.


This was the final product. It thickened up a lot in the refrigerator, and even though I heated mine up (and it was so much better than the cold, even though I LIKE rice pudding, which is what it was like), it was still pretty stout. My husband and I both liked the heated version enough that we want to make it again, and try it straight off of the stove (well, with reasonable cooling) and maybe use corn just to see the difference?

So, this is one dish we'd make again, because it was just really tasty!... Not "yucky!"

POPCORN PIZZA

This is another one that could be done backwards, as there are commercial versions and recipes all over for pizza popcorn. But we wanted to do the whole thing.


This seemed like a good match for pizza (I think I had some grease on the lens; sorry about that).


It was neat! It came in a somewhat see-through bag and had these two pouches with oil and flavoring.


Complete with on-packet instructions. I'd kind of planned to use both bags, but decided to save one because I wanted to eat it on its own. That was a good thing, because we ended up with PLENTY of popcorn on our pizza!

The bag itself even had a nice little pep talk. I'm glad to know I'm not dumber than a programmable appliance. Now I feel like I can do anything!


I just used a Pillsbury dough, and started off with light sauce and some sauteed mushrooms.


Actually, I baked the crust for about 8 minutes first, then put on the sauce, mushrooms, and most of the cheese and baked it 8 minutes, THEN I added the popcorn and the rest of the cheese and baked it until the Parmesan on the popcorn started browning.



You know what? My husband and I both really liked it. My fourteen-year-old pulled the popcorn off, but I think she thought it was burnt. My toddler, the reason for all of this, was having a dinnertime "no nap today" meltdown, so except for about three bites of the banana soup, he really didn't participate. He spent a great deal of time on the floor crying about various and sundry issues important to him. (Keeping it real, internets.)

If I made this again, I'd put more cheese on top to keep the popcorn from falling off so easily. I'd probably pre-cut the crust because getting even the biggest cutter in there without pushing the kernels around was a challenge. But it was tasty. Not quite as good as macaroni and cheese pizza, but definitely good... which is great because we have another meal's worth left over.

And finally, for dessert...

BROCCOLI ICE CREAM

Just as I suspected, there were lots of recipes for broccoli ice cream. Some were like the banana soup recipe I mentioned: Basically smoothies. We've had fruit/green smoothies, and that's not what we wanted. We wanted actual broccoli ice cream.

The two recipes I found that I liked best had something in common: a strong flavor profile meant to mask whatever mild broccoli flavor might be left behind after steaming. One was cocoa and cherries, and the other mint. Although both sounded excellent, I liked the idea of the green ice cream, and it was the one that actually went through an ice cream machine, so we went with that recipe.

Except.

You might notice that both of those recipes are healthy alternatives to full-on desserts, and I actually wanted a full-on dessert flavor, so I modified the Food and Yoga for Life recipe a bit. First, I used chocolate chips (I'd intended to use mini chips, but when you use Instacart, sometimes you're at the mercy of your shopper). Second, I used powdered sugar in place of the stevia and coconut syrup. Oh, and actual butter in the place of coconut butter. But it was the same idea.


I have to say that something was up in the pictures on that recipe site. Several options: 1) She has a much better food processor/blender than I do. 2) She has a lot more time than I do. 3) She trained the puree. 4) There was some food-styling license given. Because I had little tidbits of broccoli in the final product. I actually didn't mind at all. I wasn't trying to fool anyone, just our taste buds. So it helps you to see that this is legitimately broccoli ice cream.


Ready to hit the fridge!

Later, churning.

We ate it soft-serve consistency, straight out of the ice cream maker. It was extremely tasty, just like a mint chocolate chip ice cream with a bit of consistency.

I probably won't make this one again, just because making ice cream is a process and I kind of like to jump all over the place with it. If I were to use broccoli again, and I would, I'd do the cocoa cherry one.

In summary: We went through a lot of trouble to show Mal something he likely will never remember, so we'll have to do it again. Well, and the truth is that we have fun doing this kind of thing, so we have a good time planning challenges like this. I say "we" because I would have had a complete nervous breakdown trying to get all of this together (and REALLY for the clean-up process) with the state my child was in if James hadn't jumped in and done whatever he could. He's a great guy!

Anyway, the point is that we don't ever want to default to knee-jerk reactions to food or anything else that we might not have considered before.

But we *do* like making the faces and singing the songs. And we appreciate Super Simple Learning for putting this in front of us! Check out their website for fun coloring pages and cool caregiver/teacher ideas.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Review: Voodoo Doughnut V Austin

It's truly a shame that Voodoo Doughnut has been in Austin for nearly a year and I didn't make it over until yesterday. When we lived downtown, it would have been an easy (and dangerous!) jaunt that we probably would have made every month or so. Anyway, it was well overdue, and so we headed that way as soon as we were up and around.

6th Street Austin is very different at 8:30 AM on Saturday than it is during the weekdays or on weekend nights. Basically, it's dead. We could have parked right in front of the door but didn't because I didn't know this at the time and didn't feel like fighting for parking when the situation is what it is any other time, so I parked a couple of blocks away. Now I know, and now you know. Metered parking charges don't start until 11 AM, so as long as you're and and out by then, even if the storefront is full (as it was when we left a bit after 9), you can still park a few shops away and not pay.

The moon was out, even though the people weren't.
Actually, there *are* a few people out on the streets in downtown Austin at 8:30 on Saturday morning. They are: Fitness enthusiasts, homeless people (we've missed them since moving away), and other people going to Voodoo Donut.

Voodoo Donut started in Portland, Oregon, where there are now two outlets of the shop. There is another in Eugene, OR, and a fourth in Denver, Colorado. Austin is the fifth shop, and just so you know: all of them take cash only. There is a convenient (if spendy) ATM in the store, in case you forgot.


My first impression upon entering: This place is too cool and quirky for me to be allowed in. It's the kind of doughnut shop I'd like to be if I were a doughnut shop, but I'd probably only be like a Ken's Donuts or maybe a Donut Hole. Anyway, I was quickly put at ease by the number of families who were there getting their iced yeast bread fix. Again, I'm sure the clientele was totally different five hours before we got there, just after the bars closed. I'll bet those are some good times.


There are display carousels and menus around, in case you didn't memorize what you wanted before you got there. Each carousel has a shelf that is labeled vegan, so you know what to order if that's how you roll.
 
The vegan 'nuts
We ordered several we'd decided in advance we *had* to have. James: Voodoo (voodoo doll with a pretzel stake and chocolate icing, filled with raspberry jelly/blood), pothole (cream-filled bar, chocolate icing, crushed Oreos, and white icing "stripes" down the road), and bacon maple bar (just what it sounds like). Moi: mango tango (mango-filled, vanilla frosting, with Tang powder dusting the top) and Memphis Mafia (fried dough with bananas and cinnamon, topped with glaze, chocolate frosting, peanut butter, peanuts and chocolate chips... because I like to keep it subtle). Then we got a Voodoo for D and a plain chocolate doughnut for Mal.




I was not prepared for how big the Memphis Mafia was going to be. I took this as a comparison, but it was really about four times the size of the chocolate doughnut, if you add in the height and total spread. And the chocolate-iced doughnut isn't a mini, either.

After we sat down, I really looked around to appreciate the fun decor of the place. I especially liked their simulated trees with signature doughnuts adorning the limbs.




Another fun thing is the chalkboard paint in the stalls of the restroom. Kept my little 'un busy whilst I conducted some business. (This isn't what he drew, but I'm sure he was feelin' it.)


The doughnuts were excellent. I mean, doughnut dough should be doughnut dough, but it's tastier some places than others (like Round Rock Donuts has it down with their egg yolk base, whereas Krispy Kreme, though fine, is just like puffy air coated with different toppings or pumped with fillings, and it doesn't really taste like you've eaten anything other than sugary air). And some places must not fry their doughnuts in hot enough oil because they're greasy (not mentioning any names) or the opposite of Krispy Kreme, where they're so dense (not in a good cake donut way, but like a day-old smooshed donut that used to be maybe good), they're easy to dismiss as "not real food."

The doughnuts here are a good bread product by themselves. I'd eat one that wasn't iced or glazed. It is a yeasty, light (but not too airy) yellowish fried bread. They don't feel greasy (though our take-home box attests to some oil now that it's Day Two), and they don't taste heavy. And the icings and toppings don't seem to have been mass-produced three years ago, nor do they dry to a crunch on the top of the doughnuts.

I'd have taken one of each from this shelf, if I only had a week to live, anyway.

We have to go back! There are several more that I really want to try. One they have advertised in the store, but not their website: the viscous hibiscus, which has hibiscus frosting and is half-dipped in chocolate sprinkles. But I also want to sample the glazed buttermilk bar and the grape ape (vanilla frosting, grape "dust," and lavender sprinkles.)

That's one more thing: Thinking to use instant beverage powder (Tang, tea, lemonade, and grape, from what I can tell) is a stroke of genius that is so simple, I can't believe it wasn't utilized earlier. 

So, go ahead, even if you can't drive to downtown Austin at the moment (or Portland, Eugene, or Denver), look over here at their menu and see if you can't whip up the inspiration to do it soon! You'll be glad that you did.

The Austin Voodoo Donut is open 24 hours, and you can even get married there, if you really want do. Details on the website.

Dribs and Drabs from My Scattered Brain

I don't know whether it's the heat or the fact that I'm used to exorcising itty bitty mental grenades as Facebook statuses, but I find that the stupidest things are ricocheting around in my brain as I make my way through the day.

Here's a dumb one: Mal watches a lot of kiddie music videos: Little Baby Bum, Dave and Ava - more on that one in a minute - and Super Simple Songs. And he has a lot of books with nursery rhymes in them. It drives me bonkers and every single time he hears or reads "Humpty Dumpty," I feel the need to verbalize the caveat, "He's not an egg. It never says he's an egg."


I feel like creators are being lazy. Just because he was depicted as an egg somewhere back in the 19th Century doesn't mean he's an egg. The whole thing makes no sense. Why would the king give a rat's patootie about a broken egg?

See? I need to be somewhere where I can get outside and enjoy nature and not have these idiotic obsessions.

The second thing is that I think Americans need to get with the times and pick a different name for what we call "football." It ISN'T football anymore, and it makes so much more sense to use that name for soccer (or futbol, if you will). Mal has a lot of balls, including a so-called "football," so, yeah. I am confronted with this a lot.

Oh! So going back to the videos: I think my favorite "channel" is Super Simple Songs. Mal started with Little Baby Bum, and those are cute. I like how they reboot "Rock-a-Bye Baby" and make it less death-y. And their "Twinkle Twinkle" videos are beautiful (and ubiquitous; Mal calls stars "twinkle"). The Super Simple Songs are cute enough for Mal without being overly obnoxious to me. There is a set of videos called "Do You Like...?" that makes the unschooler in me chafe, but you'll see about that in a week or two when I have completed a fun project and blog about it. 

We discovered "Dave and Ava" when James' mom was here, and they caught Mal's attention immediately. Well, they're a little precious, but tolerable... EXCEPT for this. The main characters are two little kids who wear animal pajamas all of the time, and apparently live with a father (figure?), a dog, a cat, and a mouse, on a farm. Some of the animals are anthropomorphized a bit, especially seen dancing or walking upright. A few wear some clothes if the "story" of the song calls for it. BUT... There is a "family" in several videos. A family of monkeys. Fully dressed, except with no shoes, and with hairstyles that are overtly black. This is unmistakably a black family, represented as monkeys. It *might* be innocent, but how could the creative team not know? 


In all of the videos, the kids are mischievous, jumping on the bed in this song, rolling over and causing problems and being ornery in "There Were Ten in the Bed," stealing apples and bananas and making rude faces in "I Like Apples and Bananas." I mean, it literally makes me uncomfortable. I have looked around on the internets to see if anyone has called them out on this, and found exactly two instances on Facebook or YouTube where someone asked about what the heck they were thinking. The creators haven't responded. I know they're not absent, because they DID respond (in good humor, I think) to something I wrote pretty snarkily on their Facebook page.


The "cast" of Super Simple Songs is diverse almost to a technical precision; it was obviously intentional. I prefer that to this, which almost seems like a way to catch kids' attention, then subtly teach them to be racist. Mal loves their videos, though. So, again, I talk a lot while he's watching.

Okay, I don't remember where I was going with this post. I started it days ago and had a laundry list of things I was planning to "discuss," but have lost them all and keep not writing because I'm too tired to try to remember.

I'll end with this thing that Mal found this morning that is truly awful. It's the Videogyan YouTube channel and it's truly insufferable. They have about 14,000 versions of "Five Little Monkeys--" ahem, "Babies" and by the time it got to the eighth one in the compilation Mal was trying to watch, I had to stop it. They're written awfully, with lyrics like, "Five little babies playing with the toys. One tossed it up and it got broke. Mamma called the Daddy and the Daddy said, 'No more babies playing with the toy.'" Or, "Five little babies opening the eggs. One got a dino and it got scared. Mamma called the Daddy and the Daddy said, 'There are no dinos living in our house." Yeah. So if you hate yourself, watch a few. You're welcome.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Anxiety, My Child, and My Family: Things I'd Like You to Know

At least one of my kids has some extreme social and personal anxiety. She's had it about varying things over time, and as she hit puberty, it intensified. She works really hard at dealing with it on her own terms, but sometimes that's more effective than other times. This isn't a blog post about dealing with anxiety, because I don't really know how one would deal with it. I have been anxious in my life about different things, but it's not a persistent reality in my life. This also isn't a blog post about parents dealing with their kids' anxiety, because I'm making this up as I go, and I don't often do the "right" thing (if there is a "right" thing; maybe I don't always do the best thing). This is a blog post about you, since if you're reading this, you're probably a family member or close friend. This is about some things you might not know, and hopefully it will make things easier for all of us.

1. "Is she going to be okay?" (Something I've seriously been asked, in hushed tones and with looks of extreme concern.) Of course she will. She's okay now, or she'd be in the hospital. She might not be "typical," but that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with her. She handles stress about different situations more intensely and differently than a lot of people do. That's it. It's perplexing at times, because it's all new, but she's good. She's happy in her life. She is happiest doing the things she loves, and that isn't usually the same things that make other people happy (getting out, seeing friends, going shopping, taking a hike). She's artistic and has an extremely unique point of view. She is exceptionally empathetic... toward some people... and a lot toward animals. She takes pretty much everything to heart, even if it doesn't show on the outside. So, yes, she's a special snowflake, just like all of our kids, and I could not love her more.

2. Please don't tell me, "Just make her. You're the parent." (Something else people have said and/or implied when I mention that she doesn't want to go do something with the family.) There are several reasons this is a bad idea.

The first is basic respect. Sometimes, James wants to go to breakfast on Sunday morning. It's difficult for me to try to do that and THEN get Mal to sit through any of church, too. How would I feel if James said, "But I'm your husband and I want you to come have breakfast with me, so you will. Let's go. Oh, and be pleasant or else"?

We pick our "you have to"s very carefully. For example: When we go on vacation, she'd be perfectly happy staying home by herself, but since she's only 14, that's just not an option. So she goes with us, and sometimes she chooses to get out and about (she did quite often in San Antonio) but sometimes, she'd rather just hang out at the hotel (like she did on our most recent trip). Neither James nor I would INSIST that the other do something we didn't want to, just in the name of family togetherness. Sometimes, we willingly subject our preferences in the name of relationship, but that comes from a place of genuine love and some more maturity. We respect her "No"s. (It's taken a while, and sometimes I still get irritated, but more on that in a minute.) She needs to know that her declination means something to us, and it should mean something to people she encounters in the future. Might does not equal right (despite what Dolores Umbridge might have you believe).

The second reason I wouldn't just make her do something that she'd rather not is that it's not therapeutic and would likely reinforce her anxiety. Think about something you HATE. Let's say you don't like heights. Is it going to be helpful if someone pushes you out of an airplane to skydive against your will in order to face that fear? It might, but it might make you even MORE terrified. Are spiders your thing? Would it be kind and helpful for someone to sit you in a crate and dump a bunch of tarantulas, daddy long legs, wolf spiders, orb spiders, and a whole other host of arachnids on you in order to assist you with overcoming what some might see as an unreasonable fear? Of course not.

Some people want to face their fears to overcome them. Some people drive out of their way not to have to cross bridges. We adults typically get to choose how we deal with the things that cause us stress. My daughter gets the same privileges. She knows herself. She knows her limits. She knows how to care for herself better than I do. She has coping mechanisms, and I don't feel right removing those from her. I want her to eventually emerge into the world on her own terms, feeling comfortable and confident, having solidly made her way herself. She needs the time and space to do that. Otherwise, she just shuts down and there can be no progress.

The third reason I won't "just make her" is that I've done it and it doesn't work. It took me about a year after she started wanting to stay home to learn to let her. I'd say, "We're going out as a family; come on." And she'd go. Then she'd sit at the table at dinner, not order food, and look down with tears welling up in her eyes the whole time. My response to that wasn't always flattering. My response was, at first, something to the tune of, "You're bringing us all down! Can't you at least try to participate in the family?" I see now that was unfair. She hadn't chosen to participate, and she wasn't purposefully being a downer; she was overwhelmed and dealing with it.

Slowly but surely, I've learned to read her and know when her "I'd rather not" means NO and when it means "You're going to make me anyway, aren't you?" with a grin. And sometimes, especially if she wants something, she will request an outing. Then, she's emotionally up for it, prepared, even excited. It's just that typically, she'd rather be on her own. So I let her be. She's growing up so fast; I'd rather spend the time dealing with her on relaxed terms, with trust that runs both ways.

3. Just know that there won't be pictures. Social media is fun, and I post a lot of pictures... but there won't be many (if any) of her. She doesn't want it. I feel like every human being deserves the right to determine whether or not their picture is taken, and if taken, shown anywhere in public. For me, pictures are a way to preserve memories. I want them, and I enjoy looking at them ten minutes after I took them or six years later. For her, they're uncomfortable. She doesn't like looking at pictures from when she was younger, and she doesn't want pictures taken of her today. I don't understand it. But I don't have to understand it to respect it. Would I like vacation pictures with the four of us smiling in front of whatever we're seeing? Of course. I'd love an updated family portrait (our last one was taken in September 2013, so way before bebe). But I already look back on enough pictures and see my girl smiling, but feel stabbed in the gut knowing how much pain she was in, and how much she was faking it. I'm not forcing pictures.

4. It's not sad. We're not sad. We're not put upon or that much different than your family or anyone else's, so you don't need to feel sorry for us, or assume we'll be relieved when this "blows over" or whatever. We love each other. We relate. We have fun. We're happy. It just doesn't look like everyone else. But it works for us. Do I sometimes wish it were easier just to run out and have a good old time? Sure. But right now, that would mean having a totally different kid, and I want you to know one thing for damn sure (I'm trying to cuss less, but this warranted it): I do. not. want. a different kid. I want my kid. I want that kid how she is, however she is. So I don't spend much time wishing things were another way. They are this way, and she is amazing. She's such a gifted artist, and at this point, except for when we have our dinner together every week night, she pretty much takes care of herself. She's learning so much about managing her time, and the life skills of cooking and nutrition, and research, and... she's just incredible. She could move out tomorrow and be fine, if she had a source of income. I'm glad she doesn't. I want her around for at least another half decade; maybe much longer, if she opens up to the idea of babysitting.

5. No, she's not seeing a therapist right now. Therapy only works if the person involved is motivated, and she doesn't want this right now. I'm sure there are ways she could learn to deal with her anxiety with input from someone uninvolved, but just as she's done with her art, she's trying to make her own way. She picks out fiddle toys and things to do to distract her. She listens to music. She has security "blankets." She wants to understand herself and is trying to work with that. She did go to come counselling a couple of years ago, when I found out I was expecting and a lot was changing in her world. I thought it was nice for her to have someone to talk to, and the counselor gave me some good things to think about. But when I ask her if it helped, she shrugs and declines to have another go at it. No big deal. Her life at this point is such that she can avoid her "triggers" quite often, if allowed to do so. And maybe, just maybe, as she gets older, they'll stop stressing her so much. Or she'll figure out the perfect way to fold them up and tuck them away so that she can do the things she wants to do. Right now, she does exactly what she wants to do. I hear her in her room giggling as she reads or watches videos. When her favorite cousin comes over, they have raucous conversations (honestly, this mom might be a tad jealous) and a great time. So I think she's doing great.

6. I wish I were a better mom almost every second of every day.

When I was about 12, I remember telling a favorite relative, who had just gotten married, about a heartbreak I'd experienced at school. She said breezily, "Oh, you'll see in a few years that it wasn't that big of a deal." I just smiled, but inside, I thought, "Shut up. You just got married and you're happy. What do you know?" And I swore to myself that I would never belittle a young person's feelings just because they didn't "seem" big to me. I think I've done a pretty good job of that, and have never told my child, "That's not even a thing! Why are you so upset?" Because I don't believe that there's such a thing as objectively "not a big deal." If it feels like a big deal (like my son had an emotional breakdown FIVE DIFFERENT TIMES in half an hour last night as he asked for an apple and I told him we were out; it was just as upsetting to him the final time as the first, and he was destroyed by it), it's a big deal.

However, it takes way too long for me to think outside of my own point of view most of the time. I default to interpreting what my child does through my understanding, and that often makes me short, frustrated, and graceless. Also, sometimes, if people talk to me about her, I might come off as very rude (I believe my mom said once, "You can tell me what you mean to say without yelling," even though it didn't feel like I could at that moment). I don't mean to, so I apologize in advance for that. When you worry that you're not doing your best, everything anyone says, even things that might be benign, feels like an accusation.

I want my child to feel like her family is a safe place. I am certain that it is. I love her unconditionally, and I accept her the exact way that she is (even though she definitely doesn't need my approval). I don't think that always comes out in the things I say and do. But, Lord knows, I'm trying.

That's about it, at least for now. So many of these posts are ended out of necessity, as I have another child who is trying to wake up from a nap. I'm glad he stayed down long enough for me to share these things with you. Thanks for reading! <3

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ever have one of those days?

Yesterday, someone posted a set of pictures on a radical unschooling board of which I am a part. It was their "school" day (they call it "freeschooling," which I love because I feel like it is a much more realistic and colorful description of how everybody learns). It had a picture of an about-five-year-old outside on this very bucolic rural property, complete with a little pond and a barn. The first thing I noticed was that it didn't seem to be 515 degrees with 4000% humidity wherever they were. The second thing was that when this person asked, "What did your day look like?" I didn't want to share! Not pictures, anyway. We stayed home all day and basically did chores and nothing. I guess we did get out on the patio a bit in the afternoon, when it was shaded, but it was still pretty hot. The cicadas in the trees out back were cacophonous, though, so that was neat.

I'm in the middle of reading "How to Raise a Wild Child" and it's becoming ever more clear to me that if I'm going to foster a love of nature with my younger kid like I did with the older, we're going to have to end up somewhere that I can stand to be outside more than four months a year. I'm starting to have guilt pangs every time he wants to go outside and my first thought is "heatstroke and mosquito bites."

Anyway, my point is that most of our days don't look bucolic. Most of them look something like today, which was on the "grrr" side of normal, I'll admit, but still fairly typical.

Here it goes:

Mal got up and woke ME up by purposefully swan-diving over my lower legs onto the bed (from the bed). I was unprepared for such a game, but tried to shake off the sleep quickly so as to avoid his injuring himself.

We got up and I got pancakes ready. Mal ate some blueberries and played around, then after breakfast, was trying to climb back up onto the bar stool, lost his footing, and fell forward, smacking his temple on the side of our granite counter tops. Ouch!

After he settled from that, he told his daddy "goodbye" and we went into Mal's room to wave out the window and then to read some books. I hooked up a horse that walks with his pull dog toy so the horse could take the dog for a walk. This infuriated Mal, who screamed and tried to pull them apart until I unknotted the leash from the horse.

I was trying to get Mal ready to go to be at the library by 10, when it opens. We were planning to try story time for the first time. It's at 10:15, but you need a ticket and apparently they do get full. During preparations, I found a Texas redheaded centipede on the floor, thankfully dead, and after the scorpion I found in D's floor earlier this week, I called the office to request inside spraying when the pest control people come Friday. I think that's what made us "too" late.

We got into the car and left in time to get to the library by 10:05. Five minutes after the library opened. And the regular lot was full. There was a police officer directing cars to the roundabout by the book drop-off, and people were parking on the inside of it, where there isn't a red curb. Okay. I drove around it, but it was full by then, so the police officer directed me to one of the four "electric only" parking spots. Obviously, my 1997 Chevy Astro is not electric, but since she told me I could...

As an aside, I doubt there are ever four electric vehicles charging at that library ever. And I'm willing to bet that 99.5% of the time, there isn't even one.

Anyhoo, by the time I got parked, the lot was officially full, and the police office was having to tell people basically "I don't care where you park, but you can't park here." It was 10:11. Eleven minutes after the library had opened. As annoyed as I am that they'll be closing down for MONTHS in October, it looks like they definitely need some infrastructure work.

We got inside to be told, "Sorry, story time is full." Ugh. Fortunately, Mal didn't know what I was telling him would happen since he's never been, and he had fun running the aisles and messing with the catalog, which I let him. There were about half a dozen people who came in after me, and they got into story time. This means that their friends got tickets for their kids, which I think stinks. If you're going to cut people off, it should be first come/first served. You only get tickets for the kids with you. So I didn't feel too bad that Mal kept repeatedly adding the library search page to the browser's short cut bar. Have I mentioned how hot it is, and what a pain in my sweat glands it is to get out at all, much less on a pointless errand?

After that, I took him to the gym so he could get some energy out. He had fun, and got to do all of the things he wanted to, and didn't poop even once, much less twice like he has the past two times we've been to the gym. So that was good for everyone. Then suddenly, the place was PACKED. We made a quick exit for Chick-fil-A.

I usually park at the strip mall next to Chick-fil-A because their parking lot is bonkers. But for some reason (we'll see why), it was full. I parked at CFA, and fortunately got under a tree. While Mal played around in the van, rather than rushing him to get out, I decided to order from the newish app. I'm glad I did! My food was ready when I got inside, and I had forgotten that today is Dress Like a Cow Day, so that place was JAMMED WITH COWPEOPLE.

Mal and I sat down to eat, then he decided to go play in the playground. I watched him go in (it was on the other side of the restaurant; all of the tables near the door were taken, natch), then decided to head in there with him to free up our table. The line was just not stopping.

By the time I gathered up his book, his fries, his chicken nuggets, and both of our drinks (I was okay with them accidentally giving Mal a large soda, but it was a lot to carry) and got into the playground, Mal was scream/crying. He had partially climbed up on the lowest landing of the playground, then was trying to get back down, but couldn't feel the floor. His feet were dangling approximately 2 inches from the padded mat, but he wouldn't listen to me when I assured him he could drop.

So I laid down our drinks, the fries, the nuggets, the napkins, et. al., and grabbed him. By then, parents were giving me the "where were you?" stink eye. He's fast. Sorry. Can't do much about that.

Poor kid had tears streaming, but was calmer once he realized I was there. Sitting on the floor, I started getting claustrophobic. More and more people just kept coming, and there were at least 50 people in this little (smaller than standard) play area. I easily convinced Mal that it was time to go, picked up the nuggets, drinks, blah blah everything in the world, and we headed out.

Kids at two tables had spilled drinks, so there were mop buckets, chairs pushed back, and employees mopping both ways we needed to walk to get to an exit. People were gathered, waiting to get their tables back. People had high chairs in the same aisles, and had put regular chairs on the end of booth tables to allow for an extra kid. Somehow, we got out of there and into the parking lot, which was jammed.

I wanted to drop all of our stuff in the van before we walked across to Walmart to get D a few things, but there was one car at the front of the lot, parallel with the drive-through, who was holding up about 8 cars as it waited for a parking space. I would have felt bad exciting a parking space vulture, but also could not have backed out at that point, since there were cars behind my van... so we just walked over to the store.

Believe it or not, Walmart was kind of the highlight of the morning. Easy-peasy, we got chocolate milk, gummy worms, clear tape, and sugar, and were on our way.

Mal requests to see the fans now any time we go to Walmart. I think it's part of his air conditioning obsession. He signs "light" kind of when he means "fan" and says, "hot." I know what he means. One thing he has learned in the past two days is "off." He's always said "hot" for "on" or "off." Now he says "hot" and "oaffff." It's cute for real, guys!

On the way to the fans, though, I noticed that his finger was bleeding. No, it wasn't. His nose was bleeding. So my kid is Ralph Wiggums now.



When we got back out, I had to carry Mal and the groceries to the van in one trip, then go back to the buggy for our sodas. I have 25 bags in the van, but didn't want to stop to get them on our way because, you know, that situation up there.

FINALLY we were ready to come home, and were we ever. Mal stayed awake on the drive, which is always good when I have a load of stuff to get upstairs. He was sleepy, though, and wanted immediately to lay down and nurse. I put the milk in the fridge, which took too long for him, and needed to use the restroom. THAT was beyond the pale, and he required snuggles the whole time I was... busy. *sigh*

Nap time! We headed to the bed, and on the way, Mal noticed two quarters on the floor. He bent over to pick one up, smacking his forehead on the frame of our bed. And thus, he fell to sleep quickly but sadly.

I hope our afternoon is less eventful!

A couple of other things: My bike got stolen on Saturday! I'd unlocked it to get Mal's tricycle to go down to the pool at 5:20, and had left the chain unlatched. We've never had any problems here. Well, when I came back at 7:15, the bike (and ibert baby seat) were gone! Grr. People.

Here's an interesting (and a little gross, if you're sensitive) article on nose-picking, and eating boogers specifically. I was thinking about this this morning, before the nosebleed incident (which I think was because I can't seem to get the edges of Mal's nails smooth, so he's constantly nicking his facial region with his fingers, and I hate it!), that I don't smack Mal's hand away or tell him "no!" when I see him picking his nose. I'm GLAD he can do it. He has some serious production capabilities, he doesn't understand how to blow his nose yet, and I hate it when he's stopped up. So it's a relief to me. I've asked him not to wipe boogers on things, because they're very difficult to clean, not to mention disgusting. But I was wondering what I'd do if some other well-meaning adult told him not to pick his nose, or that it was gross. So I started warning him, and will remind him often, "That's fine. I don't care. It's not bad. Some people think it's gross and might tell you, or might stare at you, so you might want to do it in private." (Which, come to think of it, is the same advice I'll give when he's... you know... exploring another socially sensitive bodily region.)

Okay. I have a project I want to try to get done during Mal's nap, and I've already used up an hour! It probably won't happen, but a girl's gotta try!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Why I broke up with Facebook

It's been about three weeks since I decided to take a mental health break from Facebook.

What lead up to it was... well, several things.

First, I was just grumpy in general. I'd find myself thinking, "That should be a private message, not a status update." Or other judgy stuff like that.

Second, this is a politically charged time, with the upcoming election and the months of caucasus and primaries, and people are super opinionated. Those opinions often come forth with (often unfair and one-dimensional) characterizations of people who hold differing opinions. It's so much heat and rhetoric and anger that I was already being exhausted by it. And, truthfully, my own fears about how the election season would play out were being fed into by stuff that was posted.

Third, the Orlando shooting seemed to bring out a LOT of anger. And I get it. There's plenty about which to be angry. I just wanted to be very sad and grieve, though. Instead, I saw rage spew from across my very wide spectrum of friends, both personally and from news or opinion items posted: Anti-Muslim sentiment; gun control advocates holding this up as an example that assault weapons should be banned (honestly, I'm kind of with them on this one); gun rights activists (I have a CHL and am certainly not anti-gun-ownership) calling out all of the same old arguments about saving unarmed people's asses and how criminals don't obey laws; people wondering why we're upset about gays dying but not veterans; LGBT allies saying that James Dobson is just the same as the murderer because of his "hate speech" (I do not agree with his take on homosexuality, but know enough about Dobson to know he probably doesn't hate anyone except child molesters, and thinking or even saying someone's sexual activity is wrong isn't tantamount to gunning down a bunch of gay people); and people posting articles showing Tweets and posts by allegedly Christian people saying that at least gunmen were killing "perverts" now instead of innocent people (fortunately, literally no one I know appears to think that). It was all just ugliness. I wanted to grieve and mourn for those people who lost their lives. Maybe, in a big picture way, it's important that we know why the gunman did what he did. But I guess I didn't care enough to want the whole thing regurgitated and discussed and angrily opined on for weeks upon weeks.

Fourth and final, after that sweet baby was in that awful accident at Disney and people were posting not just opinions about the parents' and the resort's blame, but a freaking joke meme... I lost it. I couldn't. I just had to stop because I could feel the poison in my blood.

You know what? I haven't missed it. I actually haven't. I have been called "The Facebook Queen" and have used and loved Facebook for over nine years. I guess I'm kind of over it. I'm over having every news story (we don't have a TV and I usually don't know what's going on) broken down and used to further someone's world view or to put down a group of people or to see my sweet friends calling other of my sweet friends (directly or indirectly) ignorant, hateful, or anything else.

I also have spent a lot of time over the years imagining how events in my life will play out over Facebook, or how they will be taken, or what the best way is to present and frame something. It's dumb. For me. I don't need to do that.

I also don't need to create "the illusion of intimacy" (Mr. Robot) that I had. I had a really neat core group of friends who interacted with me on Facebook, but we don't actually interact in daily life, and although that's still something, I am seeing more and more that I need people. Like I need someone I can call when I'm just stressed out of my mind, and outside of my family, I don't have that. So maybe I need to be more out and in the world and purposefully incubating face-to-face friendships.

That's the other thing: If I know you and I care about you, I want to hear YOUR take on things. Not the take of someone who thinks a lot like you but writes with a sharpened pen. Because people's posting "This" and a link has come to exhaust me. I've done it! I really have read and read and found something that resonates with me and shared it. But I see that this doesn't usually change anyone else's thinking, only garnering accolades from people who already agreed with me.

This reminds me of an article a friend posted recently called "The 'Other Side' Is Not Dumb." I highly recommend that you read it. Read it and maybe think of it before you click "share" on the next article or web comic or political meme and ask yourself why you're sharing. Try to understand other people's opinions and respect that someone who disagrees with you might not hate our country or your God or any of those things that are often bandied about in online arguments.

I'm still on social media. I'm on Instagram because I do love seeing pictures of people's kids and meals and vacations and their visual perspective on things. I also unfollowed one of my favorites this week, The Libertarian Homeschooler, because although she's typically political in many of her posts, I bristled against the bombarding of reactions from a certain news item and started getting that hot feeling at the back of my neck again. I don't want to do that. Not anymore.

I'm on Snapchat because it's frivolous and ridiculous and just stupid fun.

But now I'm on something else. I'm on a path to try to do the thing that has exhausted me for years, but which I need and have needed for some time: I'm going to find a place and build a tribe and we're going to actually live life together. I don't know what that looks like, or who will be involved, or how I'll get there. But I'm working on that.

I still want to hear from people, I do. But if you're like me and you say, as I have for years, "Well, I post stuff on Facebook, so if you're not on there..." then I guess that just means it's not worth it to you to keep in touch with me. And that's fine. This way, I know. And if we ever run into each other in the world, we will have a lot to catch up on, because I won't have any idea what's going on in your life. It'll be fun.

Review: Amtrak cross-country travel

This is going to be a mixed review, because I think that traveling by passenger train as a means of actual transportation is not for me, but that doesn't mean it's not cool and that it isn't for some people. I'll tell you why it made me crazy, and why I think it's really cool and some people in different situations might love it. But I'll also tell you some objectively good and objectively bad stuff. Here we go:

THE GOOD
1. More room than on an airplane, and lots cheaper. ($307 for three people + baby, plus $95 for rental car as opposed to $1200 for just the airplane)
2. You can get up and move around, go to the bathroom, stretch your legs, etc. without having to stop like you would in a car.
3. Less stressful than driving in terms of not having to be alert all of the time, so you arrive less fatigued.
4. So much easier to arrive and park and board than at an airport.
5. The scenery.
6. You might get a great crew, and that makes the trip feel luxurious.
7. Generous bag policy.

Austin, as seen from the train.


THE BAD
1. You will not be on time. You can add 20 minutes per hour of posted travel and that will get you close to your actual arrival time.
2. It takes longer and is more expensive than driving. ($307 as opposed to less than $100 for gas)
3. People practically live on that thing, so the bathrooms can get nasty.
4. You might get a surly crew, and that puts a huge damper on the trip.
5. The routes are extremely limited, so you might not end up right where you want to be.
6. The scenery.
7. The midwest trains don't have wifi.

Okay, so that sounds pretty balanced, right? But if you're a Type A like me, and you keep watching the "arrival status" and it's dragging out longer and longer "12 minutes late," "26 minutes late," "43 minutes late" and you have NO IDEA WHY WE HAVE BEEN SITTING 50 FEET AWAY FROM THE STATION FOR THE LAST EIGHTEEN MINUTES, then this might not be for you.

I read something interesting just now about why the trains might not be on time. They run on freight lines, and are supposed to be given priority, but aren't. Also, if there is any work being done on the lines, you have to go more slowly. Or wait. AND if there is only one track, you often have to stop and let another train make it to where the track breaks into two before you can go. Etc.

However, there was a couple of what I assume were grandmothers traveling with two 'tweens, and those girls had board games to play in the lounge, and it looked like they were all having a great time. I can see how it'd be neat if you were meeting up with people with whom you hadn't gotten to chat in a long time and could use a 12-hour travel day of no internet distractions. It's just that when you have a toddler to try to keep entertained, it can get hairy.

Actually, the ride back, though longer overall, was much better. Maybe because said toddler knew what to expect and didn't keep signing "all done" at every stop past the third one. So no one in our party was that fussed by our being late, except for me.

The wifi thing isn't that big of a deal, except that I was keeping up with our trains' time because on the first leg, we were meeting my parents. Also, Mal wanted to video call Nana when we were on our way. So apparently, I blew through all of our fast data on the trip, even though I didn't really do much of anything, and certainly no streaming or gaming or anything like that.

The seats all have 120v outlets, so don't pack away your charger like I did. You can use that sucker.

Our actual and final destination was Fort Smith, Arkansas, to which we could have driven in just under 8 hours. Add in at least three stops, and it would have been a 12-hour travel day, had we chosen to do it in one day, just like the train was. However, with the train, we ended in OKC, so we still had to drive just under 3 hours to get to Ft. Smith. Also, we stayed in a nearby hotel because we arrived late (supposed to be 9:30, was 11 PM) and had to leave early (8:30 AM), so that plus the tickets were more expensive than driving. We were doing it mostly for the adventure and the possibility of seeing some of James' family in the OKC area (we ended up not, but not for lack of trying).

Some of the scenery was beautiful, like going over rivers when the rail is so thin, it looks like you're actually flying right over the water. And the farms. Mostly, in Texas, it's just a lot of flat and wheat (or corn?). But we got a neat crew the first leg of the trip, and he told us interesting facts about the things we were passing, like when we could see the house used in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, when we were crossing the Brazos (originally called "Brazos de Dios," or "arms of God"), and some Crawford, TX Bush-related anecdotes as we skirted that town.

I never saw the movie, but apparently this is the Hewitt House.

Some  of the scenery... well, you know how they say "the wrong side of the tracks"? I think any proximity to the tracks is pretty bad, unless you have a lot of land. We saw people coming out of houses with broken windows, climbing onto rusty bikes to start their morning. We saw yards with no grass, virtual junkyards stacked with worthless garbage. I saw one couple packing up sleeping bags and getting dressed in the middle of an abandoned parking lot, loading their belongings into their truck to clear out for the day.

Also, some of the people who choose to travel by train are crazy. There was a lady who was going to Puerto Rico next week, and she talked to us some but then on the phone so much and so loudly that I know her home address, her father's phone number, and that she deactivated her Facebook account because of something someone did to embarrass her and her family greatly. She also asked someone to wire her money (hence the address and phone number) because she'd brought "a lot" but wasn't sure that'd be enough. She also told someone that she hated traveling for several weeks when they were "going through all of this stuff," but she didn't seem to hate to be traveling. She was calling people in Fort Worth to get them to meet her at a bar where someone had promised her free drinks.

There was a drunk guy from Ft. Worth to OKC who had gotten on the train and stiffed the crew of $4 he promised he'd have once he broke a $20. The cafe worker had to close down the cafe because he wouldn't leave her alone. And he stopped to talk to us once, before another crew member shooed him off.

There was a lady and a guy who were traveling separately who had such intimate conversation, I felt like I was intruding for hearing, but I couldn't help it; I was right there! And yesterday, on the way back, another lady kept making call after call in the lounge, once saying, "I'd rather talk about it in private." I wanted to agree, "I want you to talk about it in private, too!"

It was interesting: They shunt you to different cars depending on where you're headed. When we were heading from Austin to Fort Worth, we had to walk through two cars to get to the lounge car. The one in front of us looked a lot like ours. Then I got to the car that had the people who were headed to Chicago. It was like I'd walked into a dorm room! Those people were serious. They had blankets and pillows and coolers full of drinks and cereal and computers with movies downloaded and stuffed animals and sleep masks and pajamas and all of the comforts of home you could possibly bring on a train.

Overall, the crew on the Texas Eagle was pleasant. Coming back, we stopped about 500 yards away from the Fort Worth station for them to do a ticket check, after they'd just checked us in. I didn't understand why; I'm sure there was a reason. But, gosh, it was annoying. And they didn't always announce where we were stopping on the trip back; definitely no fun facts or anything that time. For our Ft. Worth to Austin trip, we had a bigger train than the Austin to Fort Worth leg. The cafe was so much nicer, and Mal and I enjoyed spending some time down there sharing a soda and M&Ms (shh; we didn't share the candy with anyone else).

The Heartland Flyer doesn't have a lounge car, which is a bummer. The crew from Ft. Worth to OKC was positively surly. When we got on, the cafe car lady took literally 8 minutes to read through her rules. Like, James was trying to have a conversation with me, and this thing felt endless. "When you come into the cafe, come in on the left and leave on the right. The curtains are closed in the cafe car. Do not take it upon yourself to open them. It keeps the heat down in the kitchen. Do not let your children climb on our chairs or touch my condiments and put them in their mouths and make a mess. If you are going to buy alcohol or use a debit or credit card, you must present photo ID. The credit card must have your name embossed on it and the name must match your ID and your ID must match your face. You cannot use grandma's credit card. You must wear shoes. Socks do not count as shoes. This is an Amtrak policy that we follow very closely. Your children must wear shoes..." on and on, ad infinitum.

I guess that's it for now; my little keeps waking up from his nap and the next time will be the final time. Hope that helps you make a decision next time you're thinking of traveling on the train!

Oh, and, yes, you can take your own alcoholic beverages. Just consume them in your seat or sleeper car. You can't drink them in the lounge; you have to buy their drinks there.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Freedom Trail: Last Entry (Probably)

Thanks to everyone who pitied rather than panned my previous post. We really were having a good time, but, dang, those 3.5 hours were intense. And that was on top of traveling with a high-needs little, and just the logistics of trying to balance what a teen needs and wants with what a toddler needs and wants, and trying to have fun with both, and also the older one has a lot of social anxiety and blah blah blah... so travel is a little more complicated than when it was just me and my adventurous little girl. Still good. Just different.

So, that night I DID sleep reallllly hard... until Mal fell off of the bed, wedging himself head-down between the bed and the wall. *sigh* He woke frequently after that and I don't think I slept much at all because every time he rolled over, I flinched and felt for the edge of the bed. We solved that the next night by sleeping sideways, which we'd done in the king bed at the hotel the night before. James and I liked that so much, we're considering trying it at home.

Sunday morning, we had breakfast at the Super 8 which, although it was a lot scrawnier than at the Hampton Inn in OKC, was still not too bad. I walked over to the Walgreen's to get Daphne some bottled water and to get me a soda. They weren't open at 8:30, so even though it was raining, I walked a bit further to a neat newish gas station and got a fountain drink. By the time I walked back, it wasn't raining anymore, but when I got to the hotel, it really started pouring.

Mal played with the door open all morning, enjoying the deluge and his trucks. A bit before our friend Michael met us, I went in to wake Daphne up and she was sick. She typically gets ill on every trip we take, but usually it's the day we leave or the next. This time, she was disease-free for three whole days, so it's an improvement. She elected to stay home for the day to recoup.

Mike came over after church, then we drove over to the mall in Fort Smith to meet my "oldest" friend, Pam, and her family for lunch. Yeah, the food court at the mall might not be the classiest place, but it's that whole thing about teen needs and toddler needs. Playground for Mal, the mall for Pam's girls.

It was great catching up with Pam, sort of. Not sort of great. Sort of catching up. Between Michael catching her up with his life (they meet in the community here and there as he's a police officer and she's a nurse, so lots of the same circles), Mal running around, and acquiring and eating food, a lot of it was just the joy of hanging out for a couple of hours.

During all of this, James took Mal on an electric zebra ride, and I'm super bummed that I didn't get pictures! Mal played a lot on the playground, and then he found a mop bucket to push around. Unfortunately, it was one of a half dozen buckets placed strategically to collect drips from the leaky ceiling, so to distract him when we put it back, I had to take him on an electric monkey ride, and I had to keep myself from giggling and yelling, "Woo hoo!" while we rode around the mall.


When I was a kid and then a teenager walking around Central Mall, I am pretty sure I never envisioned a day when I'd be riding a motorized animal through there. I'm still pretty bummed that they took out the fountains, too.

After we said goodbye to Pam and her family, we drove around a bit. We drove by our house in Fort Smith ("You lived in the ghetto," Michael helpfully informed me. We did. I didn't know it at the time.), and then my old elementary school. The last time I was in town, five years ago or so, it looked just like it did when I was in school. They have since added tornado shelters at all of the elementary schools, and given them security updates to facilitate more security. I loved the old look of Morrison Elementary, but time marches on.

Then we drove out to where James used to live when we were in high school. I went there quite often but have no memory of where it was, even now that we've revisited it.

Mal started getting grumpy at that point, so I managed to nurse him to sleep in the car. Mike and James dropped me off and were going to head out to Michael's house, but Mal woke up as soon as I laid him down. I went ahead and hung out with him for a while at the hotel. I ordered D Chinese food delivery since she hadn't eaten yet, but she didn't feel well enough to eat more than an eggroll.

An hour or so later, Mal and I went out to Michael's. Mal loved jumping on the trampoline, and it was so good to get to see Mike's parents again.

We came back home, and Mal wanted to walk. We walked over to Geno's Pizza (I'd eaten at the one at the mall for lunch and thought it'd be AWESOME to do pizza-by-the-slice twice in one day!) but they were closed. I got James and me dinner at Taco Bell, then we walked back. Mal went to sleep around 9:30 or 10 and slept restlessly but at least he didn't fall out of bed that time.

Monday morning, I waited until after 9 and Mal and I walked to Walgreen's to get D some iron pills. Mal was playing with the big bouncy balls while I looked for the supplements. I walked around the corner and when I came back, couldn't see him. I called for him as I walked toward the balls, and when I got there realized... he'd climbed into the big ball holder and was just sitting there enjoying himself.

I got him a battery-operated bubble machine, checked the instructions, and saw that I needed to buy batteries, too. We got our stuff and walked back to the hotel.

Mal was excitedly saying, "Bee-buh!" while I opened the box... only to realize that we needed a tiny screwdriver to put the batteries in. James walked over to Walgreens to get an eyeglass repair kit for me to keep in my purse. He finally got the battery pack open... only to realize that we needed AA batteries, not the AAA that I'd bought. SO I WALKED BACK TO WALGREENS TO EXCHANGE THE BATTERIES. And, it turns out, Mal was scared of the machine, anyway. AND, it further turns out, I accidentally left it sitting on top of the TV in the hotel when we left, anyway. So.

I really hope a housekeeper took it home to her kid.

Yesterday at 11, we headed toward Gore to see James' dad's family. We hung out for a few hours and had a nice time visiting with everyone. Mal loved the daytime firecrackers! He liked the black cats and the smoke bombs and the snapping smoke bombs. He'd cover his own ears, but when the noise would stop, he'd clap and then sign "more." I'm glad he wasn't afraid. I know some kids are pathologically terrified.

Around 4:30, we started back toward OKC. We got into town before 7 and people were already gathering at Bricktown; we could tell there would be fireworks.

We dropped D and the bags off at the hotel, then James, Mal, and I drove the car back to Enterprise and dropped it off. We weren't the first people to do that. The parking lot was full, people had double-parked, and we took the third to the last (double-parked) spot.

I'd brought the carrier, so strapped Mal on to walk to the Memorial. I thought he might prefer to walk, having been in the car for two hours (he slept the whole way, praise the Lord), but he was ECSTATIC about my holding him. He kept putting his head on my chest and making happy noises.

It was hot, but the sun was setting and we had some good shade. We saw some beautiful churches and got to stretch our legs from the drive. The Memorial is lovely and haunting and sobering and peaceful and I'm so glad we got to experience it.


James is the one who first noticed the smaller chairs. So senseless. There have been so many terrorist attacks abroad this week. It's just evil and such a waste of life. I pray that there will be some peace in the hearts of those who plan destruction, that they would find it unnecessary and give up.

James was pretty parched, so we walked back to the hotel and he hydrated, Mal watched videos, and I went to get some dinner. Daphne seemed like she was ready to eat, so that was a good sign.

Mal was ready to go to sleep just as the fireworks were starting directly behind us. James watched them out the window, but I was nursing Mal and only got to hear the half-hour show. He was so tired, it didn't bother him one bit.

Although Mal woke up as usual over the night, he slept better than he has the rest of the trip. Today, we've just stayed at the hotel, resting. He's waking from a nap now, and we'll probably head outside to do something. Then again, maybe not. It's been awesome to have a day "off" before heading home tomorrow.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Freedom Trail, Part Deux

You know what I miss? The days when I could travel and not have a major emotional breakdown at least once during the trip. Seriously, what the heck?? I think it started with Haiti and has become my "thing" now. I don't like it!

So... after Mal's nap yesterday, we walked over to Bass Pro Shops. He was still so tired and didn't want to walk. so even though James is using his cane right now, we took turns carrying Mal because he just wouldn't budge... or he'd wrap himself around one of our legs so that no one could walk.

Ooh, look at the beautiful nature!
We had a neat time window-shopping at Bass Pro (I'd upload pictures, but the connection here stinks, so will wait until we're back in OKC). Then we went across the street to get Mal some "deedah" and French fries. After that, we serendipitously wandered into Triple Play Trailer Days or something sponsored by the Dodgers in the parking lot next to the Thunder baseball stadium. It was a bunch of food trucks, live music, and bounce houses. Mal danced around a lot, saw dogs, and had a good time. James got "Chicago-style" tacos which involve some kind of red meat and thin corn tortillas, and then we shared a slice of Southern Bourbon Buttermilk Pie. 

When we got back, Mal watched some videos before bedtime. Then he ignored bedtime and stayed awake pretty much all night, waking and crying soon after nodding off each time, so we all kind of slept like garbage.

This morning, we got up, had breakfast, tried to get Mal to swim, but he was just exhausted and unwilling, so I went to get our car while James packed up the room. We reserved and paid for a sedan, but ended up with a super sweet Chevy Tahoe! It has third-row seating, rear-view camera, and a ton of features James could tell you about because he read the entire owner's manual online on our way from OKC to Van Buren.

Okay, so here's what happened with me and my stupid hormones and stress and stuff. Last night, I got a really bad feeling about the hotel I'd booked five months ago for our Arkansas stay. Like really really "don't stay there" bad. So I canceled and booked a suite across the river.

First, stupid Priceline... they told me I'd have to cancel through their booking partner and, no you can't do it online, you have to call, and while I was on hold with the booking partner, I found the website and searched and found a place to cancel online, and told the chat help she was wrong, and she totally ignored that. I've always had good luck with Priceline, but this was just dumb.

But anyway, so today we got our car and headed out early. D was awesome, getting up and being ready to go super quickly. Her hours are so different from ours, but she's a trooper on trips and has said that even though she doesn't participate in everything we do, she thinks getting out of the house and having a change of pace is nice for her.

We got into town at 12:30, and stopped by the hotel to see if we could check in early. They said no, they'd been sold out last night and were sold out again tonight and just couldn't swing it. No worries, we'd be back at 2. I went to the restroom where Mal hung out with me. I wanted to freshen up, so I put on some powder and eyeliner. Mal started freaking out about the fan in the bathroom, so I gathered up my makeup and we went out to the car. I could tell that the eyeliner had smeared because of my having to carry Mal around (looking up and stuff, which I can't do until it dries) so when we got out to the car, I wiped my whole face with a baby wipe and decided to start over after I was cool enough not to be sweating. I had thrown my make-up into the passenger seat of the car, then shoved it over to sit down while James went into the restroom and we decided where to eat.

D had kind of fallen asleep, so we were waking her up and I was putting my makeup back into my purse when I realized I'd been sitting a bit on some bb cream I have that is in a pump, and a lot of it had squeezed out onto the (fortunately leather) seat and all over the left leg of my pants. We were supposed to see James' family later, I only have one outfit for each day, and I might have uttered the F word repeatedly as I jumped out of the car to assess the damage.

I chalked this up to having not had much sleep for the past two nights. I was just done, emotionally. We walked across the street (down the road and across the street, and it was 100 degrees and NASTY) to Braum's for lunch. That place was filthy and the people working there were either slow or inept or both. After we ate, we killed time in the grocery, then James and I decided to get ice cream. The guy had never made what James ordered, and kept looking at the menu to see what was supposed to be on it, and it took so long James just told him to forget it. This was after he dumped one of my scoops into the floor because he wasn't paying attention to how he was holding the cone.

My point is: we were all hot and tired and ready to relax in our hotel. We walked back at two and apparently our sheets weren't dry yet. We were told it'd be another 20 minutes (it was more than half an hour). We hung out on the stairs. D played a game on my phone, and Mal just played. It's all the same to him. But he was so up-and-down and we were ready to be comfy.

I finally asked if we could just move our bags from our car into the room, and when we started doing that, James asked me where I was going to put Daphne. I said, "In the bed in the room, and we can sleep on the pull-out couch." He said, "Which room? There's only one room. Come look." 

Well, the picture on the website shows the bed in a separate room, but apparently that's only the king suite with the hot tub. I told the lady we needed two rooms. They were sold out. I called another hotel in the area and they had rooms available tonight but not tomorrow night. I was exhausted and hopeless, and we were just going to get our bags, get back in the car, and figure out what to do.

The lady at the front desk, when told we were going to leave, said she'd show me one more room they had. It's a suite with two beds but they're just separated by a wall. We need a door. D has weird hours and she's a teenager who isn't related to James by blood. She needs her own space. I told the lady we'd rent another room, they didn't have to be connected. She said that she could have rented me the suite and its adjoining room, but they'd just sold it. But somehow, after being very concerned about how much I was crying, she managed to make it work and we were in our rooms by 4 PM, cranking down the functioning a/c. The suite where we were supposed to stay didn't seem to have a very effective unit, as it was set to 64 and pretty warm. D's room is set to 64 and it feels like a refrigerator case.

Finally, Mal got to watch his videos and I took a shower. Then the three of us headed out to see James' aunt and uncle. D stayed at the hotel to unwind. We actually tried to stop at Kopper Kettle Candies, but they're closed this weekend for the holiday.

Mal fell asleep in the car right before we got to James' family's house. He woke up when we got him out, but was just sort of whiny and "off" and nursing every five minutes for literally 6 seconds at a time, and asking for stuff we didn't understand, etc. He was sweet and cute and tried to be friendly and charming. He loved the dog, and was very interested in the bird. But he was spent. 

I ended up following him outside, and he walked down to the pond. We spent some time gathering duck or goose feathers before it was time to go out to dinner. On our way back into town, Mal fell asleep again. We decided to drop James off at the restaurant, and I brought Mal back to the hotel so he could sleep.

Turns out I only had the key to D's room, but she let us hang out with her for an hour. I think it helped that Mal was asleep. James got home, let us out of the meat closet, and Mal's been asleep ever since. I'm hoping he sleeps better tonight, and I definitely need to get to bed NOW to monopolize on his exhaustion.