Cars

(First of all “license” is a really tricky word to spell. I know there are c’s and s’s but I can’t ever remember which goes where. Same thing with “excersise”. Or is it “exercize”?  I’m really a good speller, I swear!)

Texas DPS

York, although being 16, was a bit of a dawdler about getting his driver’s permit and license. We signed India up for a driving school and she did all her stuff and got her license and it was not too hard. We decided to do the homeschool option for York because . . . we’re dumb and cheap. The homeschool version costs about $120 less than a driving school. The would-be driver has to do an online course but you do every speck of driving with the would-be driver.

Let me tell you, it’s most definitely worth $120 to make someone else learn to drive with your child. You eventually are the one who has to put in the major hours with them either way, but it’s nice having someone else show them the ropes at the beginning when they are know-nothing idiots. There isn’t anything more frustrating than a teenager who thinks he’s a great driver just because he’s played lots of driving video games. You can explain til you’re blue in the face that the very nature of Forza Motorsport is the complete opposite of driving in the real world (you have to obey speed limits, stay on the road and no running over pedestrians), but he’ll think he’s an expert already. Ah, the hubris of a teenage boy!

York did an online course for Driver’s Ed that was pretty straightforward. The rotten part was actually doing the driving.  Here in Texas you have to do about a million and a half hours of driving before you get your license (a bunch of it has to be done at night, too). This is definitely a great idea but it’s se emotionally taxing that I found myself giving York excuse after excuse about why he couldn’t drive. I had just been through the white knuckles with India, I needed a year or so to recover before I got to this business with York. Not to mention I didn’t want him to drive with his siblings in the car; if he was going to kill us I wanted him to take along as few people as possible. When there are six kids at home it’s quite difficult to find a time when only one person needs to go somewhere.

When you have toddlers and older people laugh and say, “wait until he’s a teenager” you look at them and think, “what’s worse than a meltdown in the middle of Target?”. You imagine a surly teenager and wonder “how hard can that be?”  The idea of not having to hire a babysitter anymore/make food other than chicken nuggets/wipe anyone’s bum makes the teenage years shine from afar with a rosy glow.

It’s things like teaching your kid how to drive that are simply too hideous to explain to a young mother. How do I communicate the frustration and terror of making sure my child understands how to not kill himself and others with this one ton mass of steel and soft Corinthian leather*.

York and I (I am the teacher of children learning to drive. Let’s just say that Mister’s temperament is not quite suited to patience in the driver’s seat. Plus I’m a better driver to begin with) muddled through our many hours of driving together until it was the magical day to get his driver’s license. Instead of getting it at the dumpy little office ten minutes from our house, everyone told us to go to the big fancy office way on the other side of town because it was so much easier to get an appointment. So York made an appointment–only a two-week wait!– to take the driving test way over there. I looked at the DPS† website to make sure we had the proper paperwork, although the website is as vague and unhelpful as possible (“Bring the Driver Safety Form”. Well, which of the eight hundred forms and papers that I’ve been given over the last few months is that? Why can’t they just say, “the form you got from the online driving school saying you finished all the lessons”??? Oh that’s right, this is the government. Why make something easy to understand when you can be cryptic and misleading instead?)

I pulled York out of school early (Of course driving tests are only given during school hours. Of course!) and toodled over to the DPS (a 35-minute drive and $2 in tolls) and got in line for his appointment. The lady who worked there was sweet but very insistent that we were missing a form. The form that I had left sitting on the table because I didn’t realize it was one we had needed. Naturally. It was too late to go get it and return before the office closed (an hour and ten minute round trip, remember!)   At this point York was about to lose it because he was not about to wait another two weeks for his driving test. The Prom was in two days and he wasn’t crazy about his mother driving him and his date around.

The sweet DPS lady assured us that if we arrived first thing in the morning we would be able to get a walk-in appointment. So we were on the road at 7:00 a.m. the next day to get to the DPS on the other side of town when it opened. We had all the correct paperwork and York and the driving instructor set off.

And they were back sixty seconds later.

Seems our safety sticker had expired a year earlier. In all fairness we were driving India’s car and I had no idea. So we drove around the surrounding area until we found a shop that could do a safety inspection. An hour later we were back at the DPS only to realize it wasn’t the safety sticker that had expired, but the car registration (which is a sticker on the dashboard so it’s very easy to tell when the date passes.)  There is no way we had time to drive over to a completely different government office to get a new registration so we decided to go back home and get my minivan.

Fast forward half an hour; we were about to get in my minivan when I realize that it too has an expired registration (really, people, I can’t be expected to stay abreast of everything). Our only other option was the giant pick-up we owned that mostly just sits in the driveway until Mister decides that he needs to take stuff to Goodwill. Only India had taken it to school that day because we’d been using her car for the driving test.

So we went to the High School and had her run the keys out to us in the parking lot. We swapped cars (registration and safety stickers were up to date!) and drove back to the DPS. York had never driven the truck in his life but that just made it all the more wonderful.

By this point it was noon. We’d originally left for the test at 7 a.m. Yay for missing another day of school!

York took his test and passed (hooray, because I really would have strangled him if we’d gone to all that trouble and he’d flunked), and it was very anti-climactic. We were just happy to be out of there. As we exited we passed a sulky teenage girl who was standing there with her mother while a DPS employee informed them that the license plates on their car were expired and they’d have to come back another day. “But I pulled her out of school for this! Now I’ll have to pull her out again!”, her mother wailed. I hear you, sister. I hear you.

So York got his driver’s license, hopped in the car all by himself and drove back for the last couple of hours of school.

The worst part of all of this is watching your child drive away alone for the very first time. Your heart has just driven off and you are sure this child will certainly die on the road. You spend the rest of the time praying every few minutes that he will be safe and not be killed. Like really, honest-to-God praying. For the first week you will nearly cry with sadness every time your boy wants to drive somewhere, certain are you that you will never see him again.

But then a few days later you find yourself making dinner and realize you forgot to buy an avocado. So you hand your son some money and have him run to the store and it’s like angels started singing and the world is bright and wonderful now that you can make somebody else run your errands.

Just like all the other things that happen when you’re a parent and your child goes through milestones, it is bittersweet. This one is the most bitter and sweet I’ve experienced, though. It’s so great to not have to pick people up from play practice at 10:00 at night. Or drive them across town at 6:30 am for the SAT. Or to have an extra set of wheels when one kid needs to be picked up from a birthday party at the exact moment when another kid needs to be at a soccer game. This is pure bliss. But now my child has the power to inflict death, whether on himself or someone else. I mean, I guess he could have stabbed somebody before but it’s not quite the same thing as a car crash. He also has the power to say he’ll be one place and be someplace else far, far away. That could mean trouble.

This parenting job, though, is all about letting go and hoping it all turns out semi-decently. It’s hard but it’s good.

Of course I’m saying all this now but let’s see how much of a basket-case I am when we take India to college next month.

 

 

 

†Here in Texas we have the Department of Public Safety not the DMV.

*You younger people won’t get this reference. But you should. I totally remember this car commercial starring the ever-suave Ricardo Montalban. Most people remember him saying “rich Corinthian leather”, but that is erroneous. Also erroneous? The leather that Chrysler used came from New Jersey, not Corinth.

Because today was Sunday we decided to start off at Nôtre Dame. This place is always mobbed with people (and you know I hate crowds) so we made sure we got up nice and early. Of course the bells were ringing. Was it Quasimodo?

There was a mass being performed in the Cathedral. India and York were quite fascinated since they haven’t ever been to Catholic services before.  We were very quiet as we looked at all the chapels and art around the church.

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There is one pitiful bathroom in the basement at Nôtre Dame. In case you were wondering.

Our next stop was the Musée d’Orsay. Nearly all the art here is from the 19th century.

Orsay sign Dar York

Most people like this art museum the best since it’s more user-friendly, popular art. Here is where you’ll find lots of Monets, Renoirs and Van Goghs. As a matter of fact, there was a Van Gogh exhibit which revolved around his mental illness and suicide. Very interesting take on Van Gogh.

Orsay hall

There was a ton of Van Gogh’s artwork from several different museums. He is York’s favorite painter so I was glad he had the chance to see so much artwork up close. Van Gogh’s work is really best appreciated in person. I think he was one of the first painters to use the paint itself as an element in the artwork, making the pieces tactile and not just about the visual. The thick brushstrokes and heavy textures of paint are quite a departure from the precise use of paint that had always been the norm up until then. It drives me super crazy to look and not be able to touch. It was a real thrill to see paintings up close that we’ve looked at a hundred times in books. Like this one, the Bedroom at Arles, which is in one of the picture books I’ve read to my kids over and over.

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And this one, The Ballet Class by Degas. It was in a little book I read to the children quite often called Can You Spot a Dog? Which is exactly what India said to me when she saw it. Moments like that–where you see a painting in real life that you’ve seen so many times in a book–are exactly why I wanted to take the kids to Europe in the first place.

Ballet class degas

 

After visiting so many museums I tend to get a bit silly. Despite all my Art History courses, sometimes art just seems a little ridiculous. Take, for example, this sculpture. I swear the girl is taking a selfie with her iPhone. No really, what is she supposed to be doing?

Statue Selfie

Or this painting. It was a great big huge thing with lots of stuff happening. The artist seems to be a talented fellow but he’s obviously never held a baby in his life. Perhaps he’s not aware that they’re quite heavy and wiggly. And what, pray tell, is holding up her skirt? Oh, artists! They’re so precious!

Lady holding baby weirdly

This relief was my favorite. I don’t know what it’s proper name is but I like to call it Just Breastfeeding My Twins While My Husband Kills an Alligator. No Big Deal.  I especially like that the lady looks very contemporary (and upset!) I get rather tired of everyone having such classical and perfect faces. It’s so generic.

Twins with alligator

The coolest part of the Musée D’Orsay is this giant clock that looks out over Paris. The museum used to be a train station so there are several large clocks around.

Orsay Clock

One of my favorite things is museum shops. They’re just the best. As I was perusing the postcards at the Musée d’Orsay shop I spied a postcard of super close-up painting of a woman’s cootchie. No clothing or anything, just a full-on crotch shot. It was not particularly attractive or nicely done*; just, you know, a crotch. Staring me right in the face. And my teenage son. So I picked up the postcard and turned it around and set it back on the shelf. No sooner had I walked away than a woman came hurrying over to turn the card back so that we would all be lucky enough to see such a lovely picture. No doubt she was cursing the prudish American. Am I repressed for not wanting someone’s pubes in my face? (Apparently so.)

After our time at the Musée d’Orsay we had some lunch at a mediocre resatuarant. The one we’d been planning to go to was closed because it was Sunday. Every shop and many restaurants are closed on Sundays in France. You might be surprised as I was because French people don’t seem all that religious. Quite the opposite, really. But this has nothing to do with going to church or keeping one of the Ten Commandments. It has to do with relaxation. The French are very fond of taking it easy. They’re not necessarily lazy like many Latin countries. But they do like their time off.  It rather reminds me of myself. I can work hard but I do need to relax on a regular basis. The Puritan work ethic is not particularly vibrant in me. Or in France. The law, as it was explained to me by Pepé, states that every shop must be closed one day per week. If it’s not Sunday than it must be Monday instead. They’d all rather take the weekend off, so everything–and I mean EVERYTHING– is locked up tight. The few shops I found open were ones catering strictly to tourists. I have no idea how they skirt the law, but they do. Moral of the story: save your museums for Sunday. That’s the day when they’ll be open but stores won’t.

We took the bus to a museum called the Musée de Nissim Comondo. It is out in the part of Paris where families actually live; not the suburbs but the more residential area. The museum is a gorgeous townhouse built by a very wealthy man in the 1800′s. He was very fond of 17th century stuff and furnished his house entirely in the most wonderful antiques. It is not huge but is so much nicer than Versailles. He left his house to the French government to be preserved as it was on the day of his death. So all of the original furnishings are just as they were when he died after WWI. The audio tour is quite detailed and fascinating.  The family’s existence was quite tragic and it illustrates the idea perfectly not to spend your time amassing a fortune while you’re alive and moth and rust doth corrupt. Life and possessions are both so fleeting.

This was the kitchen which I found just wonderful.

Nissim Comondo kitchen

The museum was staffed entirely by French Asians. I have no idea why this was but they were rather cross and refused to give us the head sets for the audio tour because we only had an hour left before the museum closed. I explained probably three times that I understood that we had an hour left but we would still like to listen to the audio tour as long as we could. The lady at the counter very begrudgingly handed them over.  While we had to skip over quite a lot of the commentary, we finished in an hour. I would say that if you listen to the whole tour, it would take 2-3 hours to get through the whole thing, even though there are maybe a dozen rooms. As I said, it’s very detailed. If you are a fan of decorative arts and antiques, this would be Heaven for you. Not only is there a tour describing each room, but lots of objects in the room have a separate number on the audio guide so you can hear an explanation of each object as well.

The Nissim Commondo house backs up to a lovely park called the Parc Monceau. Many of the parks in Paris are like the gardens at Versailles: very formal. Lots of trimmed hedges, wide gravel paths and very well kept grass. In several of the parks you aren’t even allowed on the grass, you may only sit on the benches.  Parks are always jammed with people. Of course we were there when the weather was absolute perfection; I imagine there aren’t a lot of people out when there’s icy rain.  But really, the parks are just jammed with people lying around on the grass. This seemed a bit odd to me until I thought about how small people’s apartments are. If you live in a tiny flat and want to get together with a bunch of friends and hang out you have very few options: one is restaurants and one is parks.

The Parc Monceau is the kind of Park that English and American people are familiar with: rolling grassy hills, a playground, a few pretty statues here and there and much less formality. There were mobs of families and young people all over the place. Children were having pony rides, there were a couple of games of frisbee and catch but most everyone was interested in talking and basking in the glorious sun. I had a hard time adjusting to the fact that I could sprawl out without worrying about fire ants (Texas, this is your biggest flaw!)

Parc Monceau

We decided we had better get back on our sightseeing schedule so we hopped on a bus. We rarely took the métro in Paris. It’s just not as convenient as taking a bus. And not nearly as scenic. Unlike the busses in London, you can buy tickets on the bus. Which is good because we ran out of tickets. Bus tickets cost 2€ each and you can’t do transfers in between lines, so that stinks. But it’s still way cheaper than a taxi.

We stopped at the Arc du Triomphe. It’s much bigger than I remember. And it was being restored so the top was covered with scaffolding. Not cool, Paris! When I arrive I expect all monuments to be in tip-top shape.

Hildie arc du triomphe

Of course we had to stroll down the Champs Elysées afterwards. There were lots of tourists everywhere but it wasn’t nearly as crowded as lots of other places we’d been. There are several car dealerships on the Champs Elysées which seems strange to me. Who would buy a car in the middle of Paris? Maybe Saudis or Russians. At any rate, we stopped in the Renault dealership (boring, but I suppose I deserved it after all the museums I dragged everyone to). York was enchanted by the Renault Twizy which is an electric car that is resembles a four-wheeled motorcycle with a roof.

*I’m not going to put a picture of it here, obviously. But if you want to google it, be my guest. It’s called the Origin of the World by Courbet who is a very, very well-respected artist (whether he was a decent person or a misogynistic letch as so many artists tend to be is another question for another day). I think it’s interesting to think about whether this counts as pornographic or not. You can’t go to a museum without seeing a million and a half naked people. Excuse me, nude people. Very rarely are they sexual. But I would have to say that this picture is most definitely sexual. There’s nothing else to it. Really, take my word for it. Nothing else is happening. You can’t even see the woman’s face. Is sexuality automatically pornographic? Is it pornographic even if there is no sexuality? Is nudity a must for pornography?  Kind of a large can of worms but it’s the sort of thing one thinks of in European museums. Especially when one has been raised in a religious culture where even the top two inches of a woman’s arm is seen as sexual (wait, it’s not sexual? Then why is it supposed to be covered up?)

 

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Our Big Tour of the South started out on July 3. The dates we could be gone were strictly dictated by a fancy choir that India is in this summer. She was allowed to miss no more than three rehearsals or she would be sacked. So we had to be very selective about where we went and what we saw. Starting out on this trip, I wanted to make sure we saw as many states as possible; my kids have seen very little of this country due to the fact that we go to the same places again and again, as dictated by where our extended family lives (Utah, Arizona and Oregon. Rinse and repeat).

Our first destination was North Carolina. We zipped through Arkansas and Tennesee on the way. Arkansas was flat and looked pretty much like Texas. (The town of Texarkana is pretty scuzzy, by the way. In case you wanted to form a mental picture.)

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My kids had to endure me singing “The Arkansas Traveler” about a hundred times. In particular every time we’d pass by a broken down shack. (You may think you don’t know this song but I promise you’ve hear the tune before; just click to listen.)

Arkansas Traveler

My grandparents lived in an adorable, quaint little town called Tryon. It is in the very hilly part of western North Carolina that skirts the border of South Carolina. Growing up it was my happy place. My grandparents loved antiques and had a couple of shops that I would spend as much time in as possible. They were filled to the rafters of interesting odds and ends. Even as a little child I used to wonder how many hands had opened the same dresser drawers that I was now opening.  Their house was almost as fun, being filled not only with interesting antiques, but closets bursting with old dresses and fur coats, drawers stacked with black and white pictures, perfume bottles and dainty white gloves. The musty rich smell of old things still makes me feel happiness and serenity.

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The strangest thing is that their town is not the same. Everything looks very much the same; even the sweet little hardware store downtown has stayed put. There is still a giant toy horse in the middle of downtown (it’s the town mascot). There are new coffee shops and boutiques in the old buildings where ladies clothing stores used to be, but for the most part it’s eerily similar to the way I remember it. But it just doesn’t feel the same. You know what I mean? It’s like listening to music that you haven’t heard in twenty years. The music might be the same but your life is completely different and that changes everything. My grandparents are gone and so is my reason for being there. They were quite old when they died and their friends have all passed on. I doubt anyone remembers them. Their antique shops are now other stores. We drove past their old houses which now seem impossibly small. It was nice to be there but I felt a melancholy and homesickness for a place in the past that is impossible to travel to.

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Tryon is still outlandishly lush and green, and is parked on the side of the poetically named Hogback Mountain. This is the street where my grandparents lived the longest. My kids all swear they want to live in North Carolina when they grow up.

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We showed up on the Fourth of July. Not only was everything closed up tight, including the pizza joint where I had planned on eating dinner, it was raining crazy cats and dogs (much worse than regular cats and dogs). My plan before I left Texas was to buy some flowers and visit my grandparents’ graves, have some dinner in town and find a local firework show. When we actually arrived in Tryon I forgot which church their ashes were at (Methodist? Presbyterian?), there are only local mom and pop stores and nobody selling flowers was open on a holiday, and all the fireworks were rained out.

I haven’t been to Tryon since my grandmother’s funeral over a decade ago and I don’t anticipate I’ll get back there in a very long time, so I was determined to show the kids their grandparents graves (they were cremated so their graves are quite small and consist mostly of a small metal plaque in a church garden).  We drove for twenty minutes until we found a grocery store that was open and I could buy some flowers, then we drove 20 minutes back to town. We spent the next hour searching for the right church (it was the fourth one on my list of possibilities). The rain let up when we got there, however the kids were stir crazy and acted like spazoids and generally it was nothing like the scenario I had imagined.

At this point let’s address the obvious: travelling nonstop in a car full of six children can be a bit . . . trying. I’m naturally a very patient person, but this pushed me to the limits. In some ways being without a husband can be nice–having a husband is sometimes like having another child (“what, you’re going to start complaining too???”), but on a car trip another adult is really nice to deflect the quarelling and squabbles. After twenty hours of being trapped with each other we were all rather testy. I completely lost it in The Pizza Hut parking lot (yes, Pizza Hut was the only restaurant we could find that was open) and uttered several choice words that may or may not have included the phrase “can’t you all just shut up for five minutes before I go insane?”. The guy in the car next to us with his window rolled down was probably a little worried for us, but he looked pretty redneck and I’m sure he’s seen worse things that that at the trailer park.

The next morning, we set out to to hike up the waterfall we used to visit when I was a child and my grandparents had gotten sick of us. We hadn’t brought any crappy shoes that I felt OK about ruining so we stopped and bought everyone a new pair at Dollar General ($6 each! Bargain!). In case you’ve never been to a small town, Dollar General is the closest you’ll get to one-stop shopping. It’s like a tiny WalMart, but grosser–if you can imagine such a thing.

Because the rain had been so bad the waterfall was closed. I was determined to show my kids how beautiful Pearson’s Falls is, and I found a spot where the barbed wire wasn’t attached to a pole. Wouldn’t you know it, my kids all refused to sneak in. Even after I explained that we totally had the right to go inside because how can anyone even own a waterfall, much less tell other people when they can and can’t see it? It’s nature, man!  But my kids were being all prissy and refused. I told them they were lame and that sneaking through barbed wire is exhilarating.

So we piled back in Betsy and headed off to Chimney Rock instead. Have you ever seen Last of the Mohicans? Chimney Rock is where the little sister throws herself off of at the very end. They even have one of Daniel Day-Lewis’ costumes from the movie on display. It’s a stunning place. I remember going there as a little girl and all I recall is one thing: fright. I have always been deathly afraid of heights. But as I am a grown-up now, things would be different.

The road was windy and I had to give several kids dramamine, but it didn’t take us much more than an hour to get there. Chimney rock is right in the middle of a very touristy little village. The kids wanted to stop and buy tacky crap as they always do, but I wanted to get started before it either 1) started raining again–or heaven forbid– 2) got sunny and hot.

So here’s how Chimney Rock works: you drive through the  little village of Chimney Rock to the entrance of the park. Then you drive up a super curvy little road for a couple of miles til you get to the ticket window. You buy your tickets, drive even higher on the road until you get to a parking lot. Then you park and have this view right in front of you. That lake down below is Lake Lure, where they filmed Dirty Dancing. Not a huge fan of Dirty Dancing, but maybe you are and might care.

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After you oooh and aaah, you walk into a cave and take an elevator 27 stories up through the middle of pure rock. Then you come out of the elevator into a gift shop and snack bar. You exit the snack bar onto a deck and immediately have a coronary because OHMYGOSH-it’s-so-high-up-and-what-was-I-thinking-I’m-still-totally-scared-of-heights. I almost fainted as my kids skipped off to hang over the railing completely unaware that the railing would most likely break at any second and they would plunge to their deaths. I was pretty much paralyzed with fright. Seriously, what was I thinking? There’s a rickety wooden bridge where you can climb up to this thing:

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The kids all climbed it but I stayed put. Lame. I was completely lame. But even the thought of going near the edge made my pulse speed up, my face sweat and my head start spinning. I just sat there praying that my kids wouldn’t die. Nobody died and then we went to wait in line for the elevator back down. Of course the elevator broke just as it was our turn. But don’t worry because there are stairs down to the bottom! Stairs barely clinging to the sheer rock face. My passel of mountain goats skipped happily down all 27 flights while I slowly trudged down, holding onto the railing with a death grip, never looking anywhere but at my feet. The strangest thing about being in a situation where I’m up high is the worry (mostly unreasonable, but you never know) that I will suddenly go insane and fling myself over the edge. This is so preposterous, but it runs though my mind the entire time.

Besides almost having a heart attack from fright, the worst thing about having to march down a thousand steps is that my calf muscles hurt so badly over the next three days that I could barely walk. Apparently I need to walk backwards on the stair-stepper at the gym sometimes too.

I’m back from our Grand Tour of the South. First things first: I managed to kill my laptop while I was travelling. So I am wearing black in mourning from destroying yet another computer. I’m beginning to thing I am made of magnets. How else to explain the destruction I bring upon all computers I touch? Mister tried all his tricks and my laptop (which I just got six months ago) is DEAD. I’m just praying that I didn’t kill the hard drive of my computer because you know I didn’t back up anything.  Who backs up stuff on a new computer that is working perfectly? Anyway, I’m back to using the kids’ computer. What a drag.

It’s going to take me a while to give you the details of our trip, but in a nutshell it was excellent. We spent two weeks travelling around in Betsy–my trusty Honda Odyssey who behaved perfectly–and seeing most of the South. We covered over 4000 miles. Because I like to kind of plan as I go and because I didn’t have access to a real computer most of the time, we didn’t see as much as I would have liked to. Planning a trip on an iphone is not the easiest thing to do. I’m sure some of you are pooh-poohing and thinking how if I’d planned everything meticulously before I went then I wouldn’t have been up a creek. But I do hate how planning excessively makes me feel very trapped and incredibly frustrated when the plans change. When there are six kids involved, plans most certainly do change.

But we hit all the high points. And saw lots of stuff.
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We ended up travelling through Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. I wish we could have spent several days in each place but, alas, our budget conspired against us. Plus we had to work around various kid activities so our scheduled departure and arrival times were completely inflexible.

As we drove across the Mississippi River (the first time) I realized that except for a couple of trips to DisneyWorld my kids had never been to the Eastern U.S. We have become Westerners. I was happy that I finally had the opportunity to show them this wonderful (and might I say it, best) part of America. (OK, slight correction: we took India to North Carolina when she was a baby to visit my Grandmother.)

Here are the most important things that I realized driving around on the trip:

1. I totally love to drive. Seriously love it. Except for a couple of hours when I turned the wheel over to India, I did all the driving. I love to look out the window, listen to music, eat junk food and hang out with my kids. This is the perfect marriage of all four things. I like the quickness of airplanes, but my heart belongs in a car. (That’s what happens when you’re born in Detroit, I guess.)

2. I really, really miss hills and trees. I’ve spent many years living in places that either don’t have a ton of greenery or are very flat (Utah has obnoxious mountains but most of it is flat as can be. I’m more of a rolling hill kind of person). I had forgotten how beautiful greenery can be. I was constantly trying to take pictures from my moving car because I simply could not get over how gorgeous the scenery was. Especially in North Carolina and Virginia. I won’t lie, I was looking at Zillow a lot.

3. Books on CD are worth their weight in gold. We got through four Harry Potter books on our drive. We might have killed each other if not for JK Rowling and Jim Dale.

4, Being a single parent is a drag. With six kids I can’t exactly say I was lonely, but I missed having someone to discuss everything with. Also, someone to take the reins when I was done. Instead I lost my temper a few times. But there are pros to be a single parent too; namely one less opinion to consider. We were all pretty thrilled to see Mister when we got back to Texas.

 

I’ll have more details to give you later, but I wanted to check in and say hi first. Hi!

 

P.S. Mister just came in and told me that the hard drive on my computer is fried. Crap! crap, crap, crap.

 

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Since our car trip to Arizona in March was such a roaring success (meaning nobody killed anyone else and I only had to scream at the kids to shut up a dozen times), I decided that we shall take another car trip. Mister will hold down the fort while I travel with all six children in a shoebox minivan all over the South. My hatred of planning things in advance is fighting madly with my fear of getting lost, and I have developed only the loosest skeleton of a plan for the next two weeks.

First off let me say that I love the South. It’s my favorite. There’s a constant debate over whether Texas is the South (I think that Austin technically isn’t–it’s got way more of a Western vibe–but people say “yes, ma’am” so it’s close enough.)  If I had piles of money I would spend the entire rest of the summer exploring the nooks and crannies around that South. But I don’t. So instead I will go and freeload on all my friends in that part of the country.

We’ll stay with some old friends of ours who used to live near us in Utah but now have a farm in North Carolina with a dozen yaks and a hundred chickens. I know. I’m so excited. Visiting someone else’s farm is even better than having your own.

At some point we’ll also stop by Tryon, the town in North Carolina where my grandparents lived. It’s probably my favorite place on earth. I haven’t been back there in 14 years since my grandma died and I’m sure lots has changed and it will make me horribly sad. The bad thing about Tryon is that it’s in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere. Seriously. But I won’t have a husband telling me what a waste of gas every little detour will be.

I’m purposely not telling him our agenda and he’s purposely not asking. Also, I don’t actually know what our agenda is.

I do know that we will be stopping in Washington DC, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia (I need to spend some time with my BFF Tiffany), Alabama, Mississisppi, and Louisiana.  I feel like I need to paint a confederate flag onto my car à la the Dukes of Hazzard.

I’m pretty excited. There is such a sense of history that you just don’t get anywhere else in our country. Well, there sort of is in New England, but the South is just  . . . what’s the word? Better.

 

Mister finally bought a Prius after thinking about it for about five years. Now he needs a new license plate. Here in Texas we have about a jillion different plate designs and I had fun looking for one. I also found out that the name Hildie is available! I should totally get a personalized plate, shouldn’t I? They’re $150 per year so I doubt I will, but I had fun trying out some designs. This one is my favorite. I do love a good cheeseburger.

 

Mister is a big Dr. Pepper fan. Me, notsomuch but this would certainly be a unique plate. In case you’re thinking that it’s a totally random license plate design, Dr. Pepper was invented in Waco, TX.

 

Of course, Texans love Jesus too. You’d better be a nice driver if you commit to this license plate. If you feel like your Jesus fish on the back of your car isn’t hardcore enough, consider this one.(Or you could just let your kind Christian behavior speak for itself.)

 

Say you’re really into NASCAR. Texas has not one, not two, but four NASCAR designs.  Why does that not surprise me.

 

And let’s not forget the hunters. If you are super into killing wild Turkeys, now you can inform everyone behind you at the stoplight. You wouldn’t want people to think you kill deer or boar or something. Make sure you let everyone know that shooting turkeys is where it’s at. And you don’t kill those tame turkeys either; only crazy wild ones. Hey, there’s is an actual federation dedicated to them! I’ll bet those are some rootin-tootin conventions.

 

This one just plain confused me. BYU is in Utah. But I can have a Texas plate with a Utah school on it? That’s like ordering a Steak Gordita at McDonalds. Weird.

 

If you have a tribal tattoo you’d probably like this plate as well. That way people know you’re a badass even though you’re driving a Corolla.

 

This design is my favorite but I have to say I was a little disconcerted with the way they split up my name:

 

Suddenly Texas is telling me they want me dead? Although I have to say I love the tagline, “Texas 4 Ever”. Did you guys watch Friday Night Lights? Did you see the show’s finale when Tim is looking over his property and says, “Texas Forever”, just like in the very first episode? Man, I was doing the ugly cry. Texas forever, indeed.

Our Spring Break is officially underway! York is at track practice and India’s taking the SAT but soon all the kids will be FREE! For the first time ever we will actually be going somewhere over Spring Break. Just to Grandma and Grandpa’s vacation house in Arizona, so it’s not terribly fancy. The grandparents won’t be there so it’s just us. Well, Mister can’t get away from work so by “us” I mean “the kids and I”. And India’s friend, Summer. She only has one sibling so her head might just explode after spending the week amidst our noisy chaos. (Mister’s brother and his wife will be showing up at some point too, with a bunch of their friends.)

Oh yeah, I should also mention that we will be driving. We never drive anywhere. We do little day trips all the time but as for driving more than three hours in a row? Hasn’t happened since we moved to Texas, lo these many years ago. I’m a little nervous but I think we have enough ipads and electronic gadgets to make sure that there is as little interpersonal involvement as possible.

The temperatures look great next week so my days will consist of sleeping in, lying by the pool (in the shade! Don’t want to lose that vampirish pallor), taking naps and watching lots of TV (There is cable! Such a luxury for us!). I might cook some food. Or we might just eat quite a lot of cereal.

Right now I’m hollering at the kids to keep cleaning out the car. One is Windexing the inside of the windows, one is vaccuming, and one is on petrified-chicken-nugget patrol. I suppose I should think about packing. What am I talking about? I’ve got two new pairs of yoga pants and my bathing suit. I’m totally set!

Snacks for the drive are already parceled out. Yes, I do this myself rather than buying prepackaged snack-sized stuff; What do you think I am, made of money? Pretty much everything is totally sugar-y. I’m quite a mastermind and have decided to pump the kids full of sugar while keeping them confined to an incredibly small space in close proximity to the people they fight with the most in the entire world. Brilliant plan, no? Wish us all well!

 

Mister owns a truck. It’s not the hugest truck but it’s big. Big trucks are fine for the country or even the suburbs but notsogreat in downtown areas. He’s cursed it when he’s worked downtown because it’s rather like being an elephant in a movie theatre. It’s simply too big. Parking is a nightmare and driving on skinny one-way streets is almost as bad.

Mister found out that his company will be relocating from just-outside-downtown Austin (where parking and traffic are reasonable) to downtown Austin in the next couple of months. The time has come, we have decided, to move away from a truck and onto something more manageable.

While he doesn’t want something small (he carries equipment pretty often due to his job as a video producer), he does want something with good gas mileage. And it has to be reliable.

Mister has been wanting a Prius since they first came out and has taken me to test drive them probably a dozen times (all I really care about are cupholders and how easy it is to listen to my songs). But last week we went to test drive a Prius–again–and I told him I wanted to drive it. While Mister and the lady selling the car were talking, I took the key and tried to start the car; “tried” to start the car. These newfangled cars!  They’ve changed a lot! (Obviously we haven’t bought a new car in ages).

Now you don’t even need a key for the ignition. You just press a button. That seems utterly crazy to me but I guess that’s how it’s done these days. I tried and tried to start the stupid Prius. I could not get it to drive. I could start it but not get it to go into “D”. After then tenth time of turning it off and then on again, I got out of the car in a huff. As usual, it turns out I am just dense when it comes to all things technical. Nobody mentioned you have to press the brake before you even start the car! Picky, picky!

Here’s a weird thing about driving a hybrid car: every time you come to a stoplight or slow down to make a turn, the car engine turns off and the battery turns on. Meaning the car goes from sounding like a normal car to sounding like nothing. In other words, I kept thinking that the car had just died. I grew up driving absolute crap cars that regularly died at intersections. I suppose I have some sort of residual Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder regarding this. After the fourth time the Prius went quiet at an intersection I gave up. I was sweating and panicky and I made Mister drive the rest of the time. I like my cars quiet all the time or noisy all the time. None of this half and half business.

The lady showing us the car mentioned that Prius drivers are 35% more likely to get tickets and break the speed limits than other drivers. She wasn’t sure why. I think it’s because there are too many air bags and seat belts. I think if there were a giant dagger in the middle of everyone’s steering wheels that we’d all be much more cautious drivers. Instead we have these airbags and sensors that make us feel all cuddly and safe inside our cars. We need something to make us feel edgy and unsafe all the time. That’s how to improve people’s driving.

Perhaps I’ll jot a note:

Dear Toyota,

Please make your cars noisier, more unsafe and more understandable for technologically idiotic people.

Thanks in advance,

J. Hildegard

stretch prius

Awww, look at India with her new car. “New” car, I should say. It’s a Toyota Corolla that is ten years old but does not have a dent or ding anywhere.

India Car

She has had it for not quite two weeks.

Let me digress right here to tell you about my greatest weakness in life: the inability to look before I back up a car (Second weakness: hatred of laundry). I even have a camera on the back of my minivan that (supposedly) shows me what is behind me. But when I start my car I have to wait a whole twenty seconds for it to start working. Twenty seconds! Pssht, who has that kind of time??? And I then I actually have to look at it. So unreasonable!

I try to make myself not back up until the camera turns on but yesterday I had a Relief Society “emergency” (one of our very sick sisters needed a Coke. Now that’s the kind of service I can get behind!)  So I hopped in my minivan without realizing that Mister had parked India’s car behind me in the driveway (in my defense, I did look out the back window but the car was too short to see). So really it was only 90% my fault.

And now India’s bumper looks like this:

bumper

India cried. Mister is still fuming. I, of course, feel awful. I hear all these dreadful stories about people backing up over children. It is only by the grace of God that has never happened. I will let this be a warning to me. You have my solemn promise that I will always look before backing up AND wait for my camera to turn on.

Not that any of this matters to my car. Betsy wears her battle scars proudly. I have never bothered getting any dents fixed because it’s only a matter of time before something else meets with my bumper.

dented car


Today is How-To Tuesday. And all my photographs for tutorials are stuck on my hard drive. The hard drive that is having an existential crisis and simply won’t start because even though it’s less than a year old, what’s the point. What is the point of it all? That’s what I imagine my hard drive is saying because why else would it not behave itself? It could also be evil. That’s another possibility.

We have been an Apple computer family since way back in the early 90s. Way before ipods or even those really brightly colored Macs. Mister liked Apple products so much he would go to MacWorld every year and wait excitedly to hear Steve Jobs (We shall not remark on the nerdiness or non-nerdiness of my husband). Eventually he started his own Mac store. And then a second one. (Those were the good old days. We always had new computers.) But he has since sold both stores. And so now I have my Macbook Air which is almost four years old. And it’s kind of a lemon.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am extremely hard on my computers. My computers have always taken a beating. But this MacBook Air has had more than its share of problems (you will recall this post where I personally replaced the speaker wiring a few months ago. Yet another repair!) But I got it the first year it came out and that’s always an issue with any product; it takes a while to get the kinks out.

The first year we were married we got a brand new VW Passat. I was so excited, having never gotten a brand new car in my entire life. Unfortunately it was the first year the Passat was being made and there were issues: the windows would spontaneously roll down on their own, it would stall as we were driving, and their air conditioning was seriously messed up. It was terrible and I swore I would never again get a car in the first year of production. And I never have.

Now I’m having that realization about computers too. And I had to remind Mister about our bad luck when he was making me watch the entire multi-hour announcement about the new Macs and drooling all over the place (Ok, they’re super thin. I get it).

I’ve given my computer several days to get itself together and have an attitude adjustment. (That and Mister has finally taken pity on me trying to write blog posts on my phone.) We shall attempt to fix my laptop again today. Please keep us in your prayers.