Family

Does any parent ever get used to their child growing up? When I think of this sullen little girl who rarely smiled (but also rarely cried) . . .

Ada Crying

 

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. . . it’s hard for me to imagine that that solemn little baby is now a spunky, laughing, opinionated big girl who is turning nine today.

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Adelaide Amelia Clementine is my one child out of six who got her father’s blue eyes. Only now they’ve changed to a greenish grey. Mister doesn’t have very dominant genes. Except where his chin dimple is concerned. All the kids have a cleft chin. Especially Ada.

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She also has a few freckles around her mouth that make it look like she always has crumbs on her face. It took me months to realize that she does not.

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Because I am totally insane I make every single food that the kids want to eat on their birthdays. This morning I was up long before the sun, making Cinnamon Roll Pancakes with Cream Cheese Glaze (sugar to the max! So, so fantastic but a lot of work. You can get the recipe here.)

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Ada wants Subway for lunch (ew, but whatever. It’s her birthday. At lease I don’t have to make it.) I will dutifully deliver said sandwich to school and make small-talk with her and her silly friends while they eat. Then I will race home to finish the cake pops I started a little while ago (made of orange cake. She wanted them covered in blue but I talked her into white chocolate instead). Unlike most states, Texas lives recklessly so parents are legally allowed to bake treats for their kids. I know, way to live on the edge! I could talk Ada into donuts probably but then I think of all the chemicals in store-bought food and I just can’t bear the thought of it. So cake pops it is. (Although the white chocolate is hardly chemical-free. Just humor me, OK?) Plus she told all the other kids that she’d be bringing cake pops so lucky me. She’s turned into a little baking snob already and won’t eat a bite of store-bought cake.

Fortunately Ada wants Mexican food for dinner so I will get a blessed rest from the kitchen at dinner-time. But then I’ve got to squeeze in making a red velvet birthday cake at some point too. Only it’s got to be purple velvet. Because why would a 9-year-old pick red when she could pick purple instead? Actually, Ada’s favorite color is red so I have no idea what’s going on. But purple velvet has been requested and that is what I shall make.

At some point I need to run to the store to pick up a few more pairs of jeans shorts. (“Mom, all I like to wear are jeans shorts and crappy t-shirts. I can’t help it.”)  At lease she doesn’t want to wear silky basketball shorts. Tender mercies, folks!

So I shall bid you adieu and get my birthday preparations on. Here’s hoping I survive!

 

PC240599Whew! What a Christmas! It’s taken me a whole week just to recover from our vacation. We went to The Motherland (Utah), where several relatives on both sides met us. We spent the entire time going from family to family with tiny interludes of seeing old friends. Relaxing, it was not. Not even close. But it was still a good vacation because we got to spend so much time with the people we love the most. I always have this crazy notion that vacations are meant for relaxation and if that doesn’t happen then I feel gypped and angry. And of course when I feel angry I like to take it out on Mister and vice versa, so there were a lot of fun moments where we sent daggers from our eyes to each other.

I may or may not have also taken my lack of sleep and stress about the holidays out on my mother-in-law.  We had a little “incident” over a lemon pie (formerly Lemon Truffle Pie but hereafter known as The Pie That Ruined Christmas) that ended with me being unpleasant and my mother-in-law sobbing at the kitchen table. If you want to know how to make my husband madder than he’s ever been, try being mean to his mom. On second thought, don’t.

But, like I said, it was a good trip because we got to spend time with our relatives; all of whom we adore. These are all the cousins who were in Utah from Mister’s side. A whole bunch are missing but hopefully we’ll see them soon.

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The kids also got to go skiing. It was the first time Ada and Jasper had seen snow since they were babies. Nothing beats that Utah snow. I, of course, did not go skiing because I don’t go outside when it’s that cold unless the house is on fire. There’s not enough hot chocolate in the world to make outdoor sports worth it.

On the second day of skiing Arabella and India ended up stranded at the top of a “terrifying ski run” (from the way they made it sound it was a black diamond, but turned out to only be a green. But they’re newbies, OK?). The Ski Patrol tried to lead them down but they preferred to sit at the top of the mountain and cry for over an hour. Finally one of their grown-up cousins tracked them down and coaxed them down the hill, reassuring them the entire time that they weren’t about to die.

Skiing at Park City

We flew to/from Utah on Southwest Airlines. This was necessary because of the two free bags that are allowed for each person. When Christmas presents and winter clothes are involved, you need all the baggage you can get. The trip north was fine (only nine suitcases!) but the trip home was a little iffier. We ended up with two additional suitcases and a box of beautiful wreaths that I bought the day after Christmas (yay for sales! And yay for Tai Pan Trading!).*

We required our own shuttle out to the airport parking lot when we got back to Austin, we had so much stuff and people. Mister had actually come to Utah on a later flight than the rest of us so he brought the near-empty minivan to the airport when he left. He had the brilliant idea to throw the rooftop luggage rack in the car at the last minute since he knew we’d be short on space.

Only it turns out the luggage rack doesn’t fit our car. It was for our old minivan. He swore up and down that we’ve used it on Betsy, my current minivan. But evidence proved otherwise and there we were with not only a million bags but a giant roof rack that didn’t come close to fitting on the top of my car. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and with the help of a luggage strap and some yarn from a knitting project, we strapped that roof rack on the top of my car. It jiggled and rocked precariously the whole way home and I expected it to go flying off onto the car behind us at any moment. But we drove 45 mph on the freeway the whole way home. It took us an extra 15 minutes but nobody behind us was decapitated. Success!

We did manage to get all the bags in the car but everyone had to sit Indian style so we could put bags under the kids’ feet. And then we all had to pile suitcases in our laps.  You should probably know that by this point I was screaming, “shut up!” anytime someone tried to speak. Never has anyone been so glad to pull into their driveway. I made a quick dinner, took a sleeping pill and was in bed with earplugs by 8:30. And I slept until 8:00 the next morning.  The perfect way to end any vacation.

I’m quite sure we won’t be taking our show on the road for Christmas again. Although it was lovely to spend the holidays with our relatives, the stress and trouble are simply too much. Unless our relatives want to spend Christmas in Hawaii. I’m pretty sure we could make that work.

*I’m going to overdo it on decorating next year. I have to make up for this year; Although I decorated my house, I didn’t put up the Christmas tree. We wouldn’t be home for Christmas! Can you blame me?  The sad thing is that I bought a new star and a new tree skirt and didn’t even try them out. I’m so lame sometimes that I shock myself.

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I hope you are all having a wonderful Thanksgiving. Every year of my adult life I’ve been up in the wee hours making Thanksgiving dinner. Some years it’s been at Mister’s parent’s house and there have been lots of people helping out. Some years it’s been me doing the whole thing. This year we decided to do a Pie Party and make all our pies the day before Thanksgiving and invite people over for that (And have pizza too, which also counts as pie sort of). I spent a day and a half making several pies. It was really nice to get it done early. And since dessert is way more important than the rest of Thanksgiving dinner it was nice to be able to eat it while we all still had room in our stomachs.  It was lovely to have people over that we actually are friends with instead of relatives who fall all over the likeability spectrum. Although most of our friends are at the beach because the kids get out of school for a whole week. Why would you visit family someplace cold when the beach is just a few hours away? But we–losers apparently–remain home. But we certainly are making the best of it.

But back to Thanksgiving dinner. We are buying it this year. From Cracker Barrell. It was Mister’s idea. I have eaten at Cracker Barrell exactly once in my entire life but Mister takes the kids to breakfast there all the time. He claims it’s good. After a jillion hours in the kitchen already, I’m more than thrilled to not be cooking right now. Especially since it’s just the same group of people I cook dinner for every single day of my life.  Mister wrapped a little turkey with bacon and threw it on the smoker this morning so we’d have some extra meat (turkey is my favorite!). But otherwise I am leaving it to somebody else to feed me. And that is what I am thankful for today.

Have a super Thanksgiving!

P.S. I like to call the above picture, “Sure you can wear my bonnet, Tom! I’ll just get it back tomorrow when we cut your head off.”

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You might not believe this since I’m the mother of six, but it’s is my first year being a soccer mom. I’ve avoided the stigma of soccer mom-dom for many years, for the same reasons that many mothers refuse to drive minivans: you feel like you have lost every bit of cool-ness and are now nothing but a slave to your children. Unlike a minivan, which is pretty much the greatest thing ever invented, soccer is a life-sucking drag. OK, it’s not really that bad. But somehow I ended up sitting on a soccer field three nights per week and for a few hours on Saturday.

Listen, I don’t hate team sports. Well, I kind of do, but my children–Adelaide especially–have been begging to play soccer for years. Yes, years. And when my friend Anna called saying her son and Jasper could carpool, I threw caution to the wind and signed up Ada and Jasper for the local soccer club.

Now I finally get it when people ask me incredulously how I juggle everything. Before we did soccer, life was pretty much a cake-walk, schedule-wise. We really only did piano lessons and those lessons were mostly before school. After school we just all hung out, I helped kids with homework, listened to tattling/fighting children and made dinner.  Once soccer started I was required to drop everything right at Prime Time and head over to practice. That meant that dinner became a pre-made thrown-together affair. If I was on top of things (ever so rare) I’d have some sort of crock pot thing ready. Most of the time, though, it was easy-to-heat up food like Kirkland pulled pork tacos (it is sublime meat, by the way). Better than McDonalds but I think feeding a family is a job that mothers need to take seriously.

Toward the end of the season I just dropped the kids off and went home, picking them up later. The field is only 5 minutes away so it’s not a huge commute. But then they feel bad that I never watch so I’d get sucked into staying. While I’m complaining let me just remind you that September and October are hot here in Texas, even at night, and sitting outside was definitely torture.

And then there were the games on Saturday. Saturday morning is my special time. My laze about time. Not my hustle-up-and-find-team-shirts-and-remember-that-it’s-our-turn-for-snacks-and-then-sit-in-the-hot-sun-for-three-hours time. And if you even suggest that I’m being selfish, pardon me while I laugh in your face. You can accuse me of being lots of things but when you’re a mom of this many kids, selfish is one thing that is simply not possible.

By the end of the season (which was last week) I realized that the whole family was suffering. Yes, two children got to do something fun but ultimately playing soccer wasn’t the biggest deal to them. I felt like it added a whole new layer of craziness to our lives. I wasn’t able to spend as much time helping the older kids with homework (and yes, older kids need help with homework and it’s way harder than learning times tables). I didn’t have that down-time to connect with everybody.

When I stopped to think about it, why were even playing soccer in the first place? Yes, the kids wanted to. But they also want to drink Hershey’s syrup straight from the bottle and stay up tip 11 pm. In other words, who cares what they want? But maybe they were soccer prodigies that would never have a chance to develop their talents? Uhhh, yeah. If they were born to play soccer we would have figured that out years ago.  Maybe so they could learn teamwork? They’re already on a team. Team Hildie and they’re on this team for eternity. Because they’re the only kids who’ve never played soccer and I’m starting to feel like a loser mom? Ahhh, now we have the real reason. It’s just the grown up form of peer pressure. Heaven forbid your kids aren’t the only ones taking dance/soccer/gymnastics. Kids don’t see the benefit of eating a nice dinner as a family every night. But experts have been saying that this is the one thing that determines whether kids take drugs or become successful. Not soccer.

It may make me sound like I should live in Communist China but what is good for the individual is less important to me than what is good for the whole. And soccer hasn’t been good for the whole. So toodle-oo shin guards, may we never meet again!

This Halloween, more than all the others, has really driven home the fact that my kids are growing up. On one hand it’s really nice because teenagers are much more fun to talk to than babies. They also clean up the house (theoretically) and do chores.  But most of the time it’s just kind of sad.  We did our usual dinner at Chipotle ($3 per person if you’re in a costume!). We hardly ever eat out as a family because it’s just too expensive so this is a nice treat for us. Plus Chipotle is a nice healthy start to the sugar-fest.

After we were done eating the older four kids scattered to the wind to hang out with friends. I didn’t even make it home with all the kids before they started taking off. Which means that I didn’t get any pictures of the whole family together. Naturally the older kids went trick or treating because FREE CANDY! But they weren’t interested in going with their super lame mom. Even Arabella went with a friend for the first time. She said they just “didn’t click tonight” so it ended up being a little awkward.

Which left me with just the babies. So easy. No need to holler ahead the whole time and tell the older kids to slow down. Once you have six kids, just hanging with two is very odd, though. It seems super lonely and quiet. So we all went over to my friend Anna’s house and sorted our candy with her kids. It was much noisier and I felt a lot more at ease.

The older kids finally showed up around 10. They don’t bother sorting or trading anymore and the whole thing is just sad, sad, sad.

Here are the photos I did get. Arabella wore the same costume as last year because it was really difficult to make and expensive so she’d better get some use out of it. The only difference is that this year Martha Washington/Marie Antoinette has braces. Totally authentic.

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Jasper and Ada were cowboys. Ada has been telling me for months that she wanted to be a cowgirl with red boots. So I had plenty of time to prepare. Jasper was unsure what he wanted to be up until the last minute, when he saw Ada’s costume and decided to get in on the wild west fun. Fortunately I had extra fabric left over and it took literally twenty minutes to make another vest. And Target had cowboy boots on sale so we were all set.

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It was a quiet Halloween and we were a little cold since it was only 70°. That’s practically arctic by Texas standards. But it was much less hectic than usual so I have to give it a thumbs up.

I don’t suppose I need to tell you about all the drama that conspired when I was trying to fix up India’s Homecoming dress. When you are Mormon you can almost never find a formal dress that is modest enough. Since all high school girls are out to look as trampy as possible, that’s what designers cater to. India went out shopping at the mall and had zero luck. She finally stopped by Ross and found a dress that was semi-modest and only cost $17. But it was about 5 inches too short and had no sleeves. While I personally don’t have a problem with sleeveless dresses, their are a lot of Mormons who do. The technical rule is that “shoulders must be covered”. Some people read into that and decide that a girl must be able to wear a hanes t-shirt underneath for it to be qualified as modest. But I have a more liberal view. Ultimately I left the choice up to India who decided that the dress needed some small sleeves; she wants to be a good example for all the younger Mormon girls. Which meant more work for me. And then there’s the whole skirt-length issue (who are these parents who let their daughters out of the house looking so slutty?) But I’m just sewing my way to a mansion in Heaven, right?

After finishing the version 1 of “India’s Modest Homecoming Dress” I realized that it looked terrible. The fabric I chose to add on–a lovely organza–was simply too stiff and made the skirt look preposterous. So at 2 pm (she had to be at the football stadium, fully dressed at 6:30) I went back to the fabric store and started at square one. I guess the Lord was throwing me a bone because I found some matching lace that looked pretty darn good. I managed to modestize the dress, do India’s hair and makeup and have her out the door on time. Phew! If I had actually been using my brain I would have bought a second dress at Ross and cannibalized it so the fabric would have matched perfectly. But like most days I forgot to turn my brain on.

In the evening we took all the kids, plus my sister in law who was in town (and her sister, and her niece) and went to the high school football game. During halftime Mister walked India out onto the field, along with the other Homecoming Royalty. The King and Queen are chosen from among the Princes and Princesses and crowned at the game. They gave us no idea ahead of time who would win. Some of the kids (the football players and cheerleaders) got really huge cheers from the crowd when they walked out which made me kind of sad inside because how can normal people like India compete against that? I mean, I would take India over a cheerleader any day. No offense to you cheerleaders and football players out there, but I would be pretty disappointed if one of my kids chose that path. Here in Texas it’s considered The Best Thing In The World. It really is like becoming royalty. And although we know a couple of great cheerleaders and football players, for the most part they are bratty jerks. It’s the culture that reinforces that behavior. It’s especially sad since you know a lot of those people peak in high school.

Anyway, Mister and India walked out with the other royalty. Eventually the king was announced and it was India’s boyfriend! Which meant that most likely that India would be the queen. But not necessarily. I mean, it would be super awkward to have another girl be the queen but it certainly is a possibility.  But then the announcer boomed over the loudspeaker, “and now the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the 2013 Homecoming Queen is  . . . . . [he waited about 30 seceonds]. . . . India!”

She won!!! I almost passed out! Never in my imagination would I have guessed that India would be a Homecoming Queen. Don’t get me wrong, as a child she is pretty much the ideal. She’s obedient and studious and never complains. She’s also funny, kind, pretty and incredibly smart. But those sorts of qualities rarely are acknowledged in high school.  And add to that the fact that she’s a choir girl (the choir president, to be exact) and her boyfriend is in the marching band; not exactly your typical Queen and King. But there aren’t two kids at school who are nicer and who deserve it more.

As we left the game she was a little hestiant to walk by “the cool kids”. When I asked her why, she replied, “they’ll probably say ‘Why did India win?’”. I stopped and looked and her. “India, you won because the most people voted for you. You have every right to be Homecoming Queen. And if anyone even suggest that you don’t deserve to win just look them in the eyes and say, “talk to the crown!”

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PS. Of course my iphone is a piece of crap that won’t focus anymore so I have only the most terrible shots from the actual Homecoming game. (And I forgot the charge the battery of my good camera.)  So I had to rely on some of the other parents who have it more together than I do. Story of my life.

Homecoming royalty 2013

P.P.S. The ultimate bummer is that the Homecoming King had a band competition in Houston the next day and she had to go to the dance all by herself.

Today is our school’s Homecoming. The football game is this evening and the dance is tomorrow. The game is, obviously, the big deal but there’s another big deal: the Homecoming Mum. That’s mum as in Chrysanthemum, not mum as in mother. It’s basically a Corsage of Insanity. They’re a tradition all over Texas but not anywhere else. And like most Texas traditions they’re completely over the top. Not only is there a giant fake mum, there are ribbons in the school colors, and all sorts of dangly things hanging from the ribbons: little footballs/musical notes/cheerleading things depending on the interests of the person. And of course cowbells. Smallish cowbells are hung from ribbons so it sounds like Santa is coming down the hallway. India says that the teachers get pretty fed up by all the noisy mums but it’s only one day a year. Some of the girls get pretty carried away and will have up to four giant mums all clumped together, resembling a flowery breastplate with feather boas hanging from them to complete the classy look.

Here are India and her boyfriend modelling theirs:
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Oh yeah, the guy wears one too. Only it’s smaller and goes around his arm. It’s called a garter and the girl makes one for her homecoming date/boyfriend and he makes the mum for the girl (or sometimes parents make them for kids or kids make them for themselves. It’s all socially acceptable.)  Only It’s usually the moms that get roped into these things. But Ethan and India decided to do theirs all on their own. So crafty! Even though these are corsages, they aren’t worn to the dance; only to school and to the game.

Homecoming mum green

A lot of people stick little teddy bears in the middle of the mum flower (for real), but my kids aren’t into that sort of cheese so they actually glued plastic animals into the middle after the photos were taken. It turned out pretty funny and different than all the other mums. Seriously, if you want your jaw to drop, just google “Homecoming mums” and take a look at the pictures. Usually it’s the smallest towns that go the most overboard. Some schools have strict rules about mums: one mum per grade (so a freshman would have one flower in her mum but a senior would have four), Juniors wear silver mums and Seniors wear gold. But I guess our school doesn’t have quite that much school spirit. Plus that seems like more of a Dallas-y thing. And you know those Dallas people!

Our exciting news about homecoming is that India was elected a Homecoming Princess. Tonight during halftime at the football game, Mister has to walk her out and present her. And then the Homecoming Queen is announced (she’ll be chosen from among the Princesses). It’s all pretty surreal since India–with her steady uniform of Dr. Who T-shirts and Converse tennies–isn’t really the sort of girl that I imagine as being in the Homecoming Court, but she is pretty cool. Apparently the kids at school recognize awesomeness after all.

The bad news is that orginially I had talked India into skipping the dance. It is such a pain trying to find a modest dress! But now that she’s in the homecoming court she has to go. So we’ve been trying to modest-ize a dress all week and it’s really not turning out how I was hoping. And she has to wear the stupid thing in front of an entire crowd tonight so I’ve got to whip it into shape.

York announced yesterday that he’s going to Homecoming now too. Fortunately he can just wear his black suit. But his date was most emphatic about not wanting a mum, so we’re off the hook. Which is lucky for us because mum supplies go fast. All the craft stores carry mum junk around here.

Not gone gone. Just gone to school. And not a moment too soon. I’ve been stacking up errand to do once they went back and I’m just barely making a dent in my list. Today I need to go buy a new microwave and have a meeting with my Relief Society Presidency. We’ve got over a dozen little kids between us, so it’s nice to get together without many people tattling and begging for snacks while we try to discuss the needs of the women at church. I also need to mop the floor, but I’ve been putting that off for . . . well, let’s just say “a while”.

This year promises to be an exciting one since I have three High Schoolers. Fortunately they can either drive or ride their bikes where they need to go, so it’s not quite as hectic as having a bunch of toddlers and preschoolers. Although it seems like about five minutes ago when they were that little. I remember those days of having four children, none of whom were in school yet. Each day stretched like a barren desert of nothing to do but change diapers and clean up crayons/spilled cereal/tupperware lids that the baby threw out of the drawer again.  Now my days are full of lists and places to go. I have to say that I like it a lot better the way it is now.

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Arabella is my lone Middle Schooler. She’s in 7th grade and seems to be my most well-adjusted, socially decent child so far. At last as far as 12-year-olds are concerned. She’s my first child who really cares what they looked like at that age. Probably a lot of parents moan and groan about a child who always wants her hair and nails to look nice, but after a steady diet of children who are happy wearing silky basketball shorts day after day, I’m pretty excited.

Ada and Jasper are in elementary school. Ada bounces out of bed, excited to go to school every day. She loves everything about learning. Jasper, on the other hand, tells me he hates school because now he can’t sleep in anymore. The ridiculous thing is that he never slept past 7:30 so he’s not waking up that much earlier. But now it isn’t his choice and I guess he’s a little peeved about that.

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At any rate, we’re trying to get used to our new schedule and figure out our groove. It’s a little tricky with so many kids going in so many directions, but we’ll get it ironed out soon enough. If not I will just spend the day in bed recovering from the controlled chaos of the school year.

 

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Our car trip around the South continued on from western North Carolina to the eastern part of the state–to the farm of our friends, the Browns. Heather and Craig Brown (and especially their kids) were good friends of ours when we all lived in Utah.

lillie and india

They have since moved to North Carolina and traded their subdivision split-level for a gorgeous, sprawling farm. Way back when I was first getting the itch for livestock, I convinced Heather to get some baby chicks from the local farm store with me. We each got three. Now Heather has over a hundred and I have none. The kids spent hours playing with the chickens and I think it might be time to sneak some into our neighborhood.

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Heather was a lovely hostess and insisted I just chill out while we visited. So nice, considering all the cooking and stuff I’m normally swamped with. In addition to all their chickens, the Browns also have a dairy calf, three goats, a dozen yaks, six dogs and a horse. Quite the menagerie. In case you’re wondering about the yaks, yak meat is the healthiest meat there is; even more Omega acids than salmon. They’re not terribly friendly but that’s ok. The goats make up for it.

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The Browns had a rooster that had escaped the most recent round of chicken slaughter. One of their children had taken pity on him and set him free at the last minute. The rooster was a terrible bully and crowed his head off all the cotton-pickin’ day long, so my boys volunteered to butcher him. None of us have ever killed anything (except an assortment of goldfish), but we are eager learners in regards to all things homesteadish.

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The boys flipped a coin and York won the opportunity to slit the rooster’s throat. Here’s an interesting tidbit: if you plan on killing a chicken (usually it’s roosters, they have more meat and are pretty much worthless; the hens being the ones who lay the eggs) you have to keep it from eating for twelve hours before its death, otherwise there will be food all over in its digestive tract–meaning lots of yuck. So the boys caught the wiley rooster and put it in a cage. Unfortunatly the cage was right outside my bedroom window. I did not realize this until 4:45 the next morning when that rotten monster started crowing. Since roosters keep going all morning, I knew something must be done. The Browns are late sleepers, despite being farmers, and their bedrooms were on the other side of the house anyway. They couldn’t hear it.

So I threw on my shoes, went outside amidst all the dogs, excited to see somebody up so early, and grabbed the huge unwieldy cage. I thought of ripping the rooster’s head off out of spite, but the boys would have been disappointed. Where could I put this dreadful thing where I wouldn’t hear it anymore??? I came up with the perfect solution: into my minivan he went, cage and all.  I went back to bed in blissful peace for three more hours. When I woke up, I took the rooster out of my car and put his cage back in the yard. Perfect. And guess who wasn’t the slightest bit sad to see that rooster meet his maker later that afternoon?

The rooster death later that day was not at all as bloody and gory as I anticipated. It was quite civilized, although I left the gross parts to York and Finn. Craig and Lillie were excellent chicken-killing teachers.

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The best way to kill a chicken is to put it upside-down in a cone so that its head hangs out of the bottom. Chickens become completely mellow when they’re hung upside-down so you don’t have to worry about the whole “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” scenario. Then you slit its throat and let the blood drain into a bucket underneath. The cone we used was improvised out of a box and nailed to a tree. Very hillbilly-esque.

The head of the chicken is finally cut off and the bird gets swirled in some boiling hot water for a minute or two. This loosens the feathers. Plucking the chicken is slightly creepy and odd. Plus wet feathers stick to everything. It wasn’t my favorite thing to do but I wasn’t about to act all squeamish and sissified.

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The boys finished taking out the rooster’s entrails and all that weird stuff. They loved it.

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The only thing I got to do was to scrape its lungs out with my fingernails, which was as fun as it sounds. Jasper spent the rest of the day playing with the rooster’s feet. In other words, more time than he spent playing with his birthday presents.

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We all had so much fun with the Browns, although it was quite a shock living in the Country. There wasn’t so much as a convenience store within 15 minutes. And church was 40 minutes each way. But when you look out on the rolling green hills, dotted with animals; the lovely little pond and lightning bugs flying all over the place at dusk, it’s hard not to mind being in Nowheresville.

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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.)

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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.