Last Tuesday we said our final goodbyes to India and York as they head off to be missionaries in São Paulo, Brazil. It’s been surreal. Super surreal. I’ve felt like I need to spend every second with them even though they would much rather hang out with friends, not their lame parents. Eventually they just wanted to go and stop thinking about it anymore.  We managed to pack everything for two years into two suitcases and carry-ons and then it was time for goodbyes. You’d think I would have been all weepy but I was ready for it to be happening too. Also, I’m hard-hearted and almost never cry.

My Mom came down to visit the kids before they left.


And so did Mister’s parents.



Of course York will miss his great friends:


India will miss this guy most of all. Her boyfriend Ethan has been a frequent fixture at our house. I don’t know if I ever mentioned that he was baptized last year. He has decided to serve a mission too and will be going to Las Vegas next month. He’s such a great person and we’ve been thrilled that he’s been such a support for India.


York said his truest goodbyes to his best friend, the stupid dog Margaret.


The kids had to travel down to the Missionary Training Center in Brazil in full missionary attire. York wore the tie that Mister had worn on his mission, that his grandfather had worn too.


Finally it was off to the airport. We barely squeaked by on weight allowances for luggage. (This is pretty much what India always looks like when her brother is around. He can be a bit annoying to the family members.)


And then they were off through security. My first two babies. The ones who made me a mother. So many memories came flooding back: how India used to spend hours playing with toy animals and how York would haul the vacuum attachments around in a plastic shopping cart. How can they be old enough to go off and live in a semi-scary third-world country? In case you aren’t familiar with Mormon missions, they have to pay for their way down in Brazil and there won’t be any visits allowed home. We (and all relatives) won’t allowed to visit either.  There are phone calls/skype allowed only twice a year on Christmas and Mother’s Day. The rest of the time it’s emails and snail mail. And they only are allowed one day a week to do that.  It’s a big sacrifice but both India and York felt strongly that this is the right thing for them to do. It requires hard work and sacrifice but it will mold them into strong and powerful people with a great love for the Savior (I hope!).

I took this picture then turned around and burst into tears (guess there’s a softy in me somewhere). Mister and I cried all the way out to the parking garage then sat in the car and sobbed. It took us a good fifteen minutes to get it together enough to drive.

York India Brazil

Rumor has it that the time will fly by for our missionaries (but it crawls by for the parents. They’ve only been gone for one week but I swear it feels like they’ve been gone for a month!). They will be learning full-immersion Portuguese for six weeks and then they’ll go out to their respective missions: Interlagos and São Paulo South. I can hardly wait to hear all about Brazil!

If you want to keep up with the kids, they have missionary blogs where I’ll be putting up all their letters and photos. India’s is at–wait for this complicated address– India in Brazil.com and York’s is at York in Brazil.com.

This year we got our Big Summer Trip out of the way early on. We had a family reunion with most of Mister’s family out in San Diego. Mister’s Mother turned 80 this year and we all got together to celebrate. We rented a bunch of condos right on Mission Beach and had such a lovely time. The weather was in the 70’s the whole time and we hardly knew what to do without sweat running down our backs constantly. The ocean was mighty cold and it took the kids a while to get into the water.

San Diego Hildie (1 of 1)

I have been begging Mister to please let us have a trip to the beach for years but he finds the beach boring and much prefers traveling to cities where there are piles of things to do and see. But how could anyone hate this? Although the mornings in San Diego were a bit chilly, I liked nothing more than to sit on the balcony outside our bedroom and read a good book before everyone else woke up. Mister gave me a Kindle for our anniversary which was on the first day of our trip. I’ve resisted Kindles for many years but as I’ve entirely run out of bookshelf space, I’m having to rethink my view on e-readers.

San Diego Mission Beach Panorama


San Diego Bella Ada Beach


The place where we stayed was especially nice because it had a large outdoor terrace right on the boardwalk that runs along Mission Beach. The boardwalk was constantly full of people walking, biking, skateboarding and generally being completely fascinating.  We also had a lovely fire pit on the terrace that we sat around every night. It’s so fun to watch the cousins hang out now that they’re all getting older and the age differences don’t matter as much as they did when the kids were young.

San Diego Cousins Fire

Here is perhaps the most magical wonderful thing about this vacation: there were no bugs. None. Zero. I had completely forgotten that it’s possible to actually be outside in the evening without mosquito repellant. I guess it’s the strong winds coming off the ocean or whatever. But I was blessedly itch-free for a whole week.

Naturally we couldn’t go to Southern California and not hit Disneyland. We haven’t been there in forever. And we haven’t ever gone with cousins. We had a few issues with rides being mysteriously “shut down” off and on all day. It turns out Kim and Kanye were there for North’s birthday. And because they are the most special people in the galaxy, they didn’t have to wait like us rabble. No sireee, they got the whole ride shut down so that they and their cheesy entourage could go without waiting.

San Diego Disney Teacup


I made T-shirts for some of the younger cousins. They all requested their favorite Disney character. (Stitch? Really?) I’m truly proud that there wasn’t a single Princess.

San Diego Disney Cousins

We had Grandma’s birthday dinner at Ariel’s Grotto one night and were disappointed that they only do characters at breakfast and lunch. If you go for dinner you won’t get to do a conga line with Minnie Mouse and Pluto but you will get tickets for VIP seating at the cool evening show, World of Color. We enjoyed the show immensely (although I think the girls were secretly disappointed not to see Belle). Normally I hate crowds and all that stuff, but if you have a nice spot already it makes everything so much better.

Hanging out with Grandpa is the best of all, though.

San Diego Grandpa



Because we were in San Diego with so many relatives, we decided it would be nice for India and York to be able to go through the temple for the first time with their grandparents and aunts and uncles.  What a great experience! And that San Diego temple is sure impressive. (But, honestly, our little San Antonio temple is much, much prettier on the inside.)

San Diego Temple Kids


San Diego Temple Grandp


We had a remarkably great time on our trip. Most of the cousins are teenagers and older and we had all the single people stay in one condo together. It was the best idea we’ve ever had. Not only did the parents like it but so did the kids. Arabella and her cousin Daisy never get tired of having lots of time to hang out. And the trip was blessedly free of drama. When was the last time you could say that about your family reunion?

San Diego Arabella Deisy

Do you want to know the most incredible thing of all? We had all suitcases unpacked within one day of getting home. It’s a miracle!





York just graduated from High School over the weekend. It was . . . how shall I put this? Less than interesting?  I’m certainly glad he graduated.  I know high school was a big pain and we are very proud of York for making his four years there a success (he was voted Most Talented and Class Clown. Guess which one I’m more proud of?). But there are very few more boring events than graduation. Do we really need several perky girls talking about how fantastic they are and how their futures are going to be so awesome!!!!!!?(And yes, it was all girls in York’s grade. Out of the top ten students, only one was a boy. Naturally.) These are probably the same girls who wouldn’t dream of talking to most of the kids in their grade only a week earlier.

Instead of a bunch of boring speeches, how about an elaborate musical number, complete with a rotating stage and ostrich feathers? Now that would be entertaining!  And instead of just announcing the grads (all seven million of them), how about pre-recording each one introducing themselves with a little personality and verve, like they do at the beginning of the Miss America Pageant?  (“Representing the Lakeline Villas Apartment complex, my name is McKenzie Kay Larson!”)

Nowadays they have the graduates wear medals and tassels of different sorts. I guess it’s so that the kids all feel better about themselves, like it’s the Olympics or something. One of the medals means “I’m graduating!” For real. You get it just for showing up. As if the cap and gown didn’t tip everyone off.  Sadly, nobody knows what all the different accoutrements mean. There’s no explanation in the program. All I can assume when I see a graduate walk by with a bunch of medals and tassels is that she must be a really high-strung, Type-A person.

Naturally York couldn’t find his mortarboard when it was time to leave for the graduation. I asked him if he had it earlier  and he said, “no, my gowns been lying on the floor all week and I haven’t seen it.” Oh, super; wrinkled shiny polyester. But he had a cap by the time he walked across the stage so he must have found it. Or maybe they have extras for just such an occasion.

Because graduation ended at almost 11:00 pm (don’t even get me started!), we were pooped and York was antsy to get on with his Marvelous Future, he agreed to pose for one–and only one–picture with us. Naturally he used his his-ultra fake smile that he reserves for all the most important occasions.

York Graduation


Let me include one of his senior portraits where he looks a whole lot better. If you know us in real life, you’ll be getting your announcement soon! I like to wait til after the event (just kidding, I didn’t get them done in time.)

York grad serious-1-2-Edit


I remember when I had little kids. There was nothing quite like a Friday afternoon when I would anxiously count down the hours until the babysitter would arrive and then I would be FREE! I didn’t even care where I went as long as no children came with me.  I remember scrambling for a babsitter and wishing there were some way I could just find out who was available instead of calling a dozen girls every single week. (This was before texting, obviously, because I’m super old and so are my kids.)

Mister and I have always gone on a date every week. Always. Because if we didn’t have regular reconnect time, things would get ugly. There would be much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. I would get pretty upset too (ba-dum-ching). We always fit it into our budget because if you think babysitters are expensive, couples therapy and a divorce cost a wee bit more.

Then came the glorious time when our kids were old enough to take care of themselves. Gone were the days of laying out pajamas and trying to make our house look a little more presentable because for some reason I feel the need to impress a 14-year-old neighbor girl. Now I could just shout, “have some cereal for dinner and be in bed by 9!” while we walked out the door. I thought my life was home-free and I saw years of leisurely weekends in my future.

Oh, how wrong I was. Having teenagers makes the weekends crazy complicated.

Instead of going out with my husband, I am now chauffeuring children to and from parties and get-togethers.  It’s possible to beg other parents for rides sometimes, but the more kids you have the slimmer the chances of finding rides becomes.  Sure, Sally’s mom would be happy to take my daughter to the birthday party. But could I bring them back home? And what do you know, it’s also my turn to chaperone the dance! And then there are the times when a bunch of kids end up at our house and I find myself making cookies at 11:00 at night because I can’t just let a pile of hormonally-challenged adolescents go hungry.

Let’s not overlook all the productions and games they have too–one of which will always be on a Friday or Saturday night. If they aren’t playing in the football game they will be cheering at it or playing in the marching band or singing the National Anthem. And of course we must go and watch and be supportive because what kind of crappy parent doesn’t watch and cheer from the sidelines? You want your daughter to end up pregnant? Or on drugs? Because that’s how it happens! When parents don’t show up wearing blinged out t-shirts that say “band mom” in Curlz font, they’re asking for it! Ok, not really, but that’s how it feels.

Maybe the kids have a jazz ensemble concert or a chess tournament or a drama awards banquet. The list of things that teenagers do is eternal.

Some weekends we scramble to find a movie that will start after 7:45 and be done by 10 because that’s the window we have after, say, dropping Arabella off at her friend’s house and picking up Finn at the bowling alley.

As if this weren’t bad enough, we now cannot go to sleep at a decent hour on the weekends either. I used to have all these fantasies of going to bed early once I didn’t have pesky kids needing a drink of water every five minutes. Yeah, that’s never going to happen. Because now I have to wait for kids to show up when their curfew is over. It doesn’t matter how tired we are, we’ve got to stay up and wait. Mister and I are fond of playing a charming game called, “who is more tired”, the loser of which gets stuck on sofa duty waiting for children to come home, hopefully without car accidents being involved. This is even more nerve-wracking once the children have driver’s licenses. We are just positive that they will die before the night is over. If they don’t answer their cell phones it’s because they are dead in a ditch. If they are late it’s because they are at the Emergency Room. Probably the police will show up at any second to break the bad news.

Basically by the time Sunday rolls around we are physically and emotionally exhausted and the fun weekend we had in mind never actually materialized.

Yes, we didn’t have to pay a babysitter anything, but I’m just about to the point where I’d like to pay my kids to spend a quiet weekend at our house.

We live in a cul-de-sac which in real-estate terms is the equivalent of living in a wonderful dreamland. I don’t know why. When you live in a cul-de-sac there is never enough parking. We, and our guests, are all left to wonder do I park against the curb like a civilized American is supposed to? Or do I park face-in, like the spokes of a wagon wheel? Usually nobody can decide so if you pull into a cul-de-sac on a busy night, you’ll see cars crammed every which way. Which is frustrating and dumb. Especially for the kids who were told that living in a cul-de-sac would be dreamy because they could play without anyone running over them.  Apart from the thousands of people who took a wrong turn in the neighborhood and need a place to turn around and, hey look, there’s a cul-de-sac!

We also have kind of a steep driveway so we decided we out to put a big cement slab in our backyard so the kids could play basketball and ride bikes without being run over by the teenage boy next door who drives 80 mph while checking his text messages.  Our backyard is quite big but very awkwardly-shaped (thank you again, cul de sac!), so pouring a big pile of cement on one side of our house will use up space that has otherwise been reserved for broken gardening equipment, dandelions and misplaced flip-flops.

A neighbor of ours just built a cement pad in his backyard and gave us the name of his cement guy. The cement guy came over and gave us a quote and we thought it sounded ok so we hired him. Within a few days we had a bunch of guys building supports and getting ready to pour our cement. Only we had to fix all the broken sprinklers first. And you know that they were all broken, right? Every single one.  Mister fixed most of them, but I was left doing the last one by myself and let me just tell you, the glue for PVC pipes dries in about a nanosecond. And if you haven’t gotten the pipe pieces just right, you’ll have to cut the whole thing out and try again. And then you might still not get it right. Which means cutting out another larger section of pipe and trying once more. Let’s just say that after a couple of hours I had crossed “sprinkler repair person” off of careers I might pursue once my kids leave home.

The lucky day for the cement pouring finally came. I had expected something like Rolly from Bob the Builder but we had a full-sized cement mixer pull up in front of the house and a bunch of guys showed up, tromping around in big rubber boots. There was a little machine that showed up as well, kind of like a cross between a small dump truck and a zamboni. This little machine was mean to haul the cement from the truck into the backyard. Wheelbarrows are so yesterday, apparently.

The first couple of loads went down OK but then the zamboni dump truck got stuck in the grass on the side of the house. Even though we live in a place that has been having a drought for a few dozen years in a row, the ground on that side of the house stays perpetually damp. And under all that grass was a big sloshy pile of mud. The dump truck zamboni spun its wheels and ripped up a bunch of grass. Then it slid around and knocked down the gate into the backyard.  And then it got stuck. It spun it’s wheels and sprayed mud everywhere and refused to budge. Mister stood on the porch and shouted helpful suggestions to the workers who spoke approximately three words of English.

The cement guys eventually got the zamboni dump truck out of the mud only to have  it smash into the rest of the fence and knock it over. And then it got stuck again. The whole thing looked some sort of fake-hilarious scene from a romantic comedy. Only with a languid guy leaning on a cement truck, yelling in Spanish.

At this point Mister had to take a chill pill (literally) and I started to worry about all the cement. What would they do with it? What would happen if they couldn’t get it into the backyard? We offered wooden boards to help the little zamboni get some traction (helpful for about five seconds and then those too were covered with slippery mud).

Mister finally suggested we throw some kitty litter on the mud to see if that helped. It did! A tiny bit. So I drove wildly to the grocery store to load up all the kitty litter I could find (just the cheap stuff of course. No need for $20 rose-scented products.)  We tossed kitty litter all over the ground and the zamboni dump truck was able finally dump it’s load of cement and retreat, defeated, to the front yard.

By this point my boots were caked with filth and the side of our yard was utterly destroyed. The entire fence was lying on the ground and a big fat sow would have been in heaven at the sight of all that mud.

The man with the cement truck left–to do what with all that cement I can’t even imagine. It’s not like he could just pull up at the corner and offer to pour cement in some stranger’s driveway.

The cement guy apologized profusely and put the fence back together fairly well. The ground dry out some more and he has promised to come back and finish the job. But so far he has remained elusive. We gave him his last payment when the cement truck showed up because that’s usually the straight-forward conclusion of the job.

Now we have a bit of a cement slab and several nagging children who want to play hopscotch in the privacy of their own backyard.  What will happen? Will we get ripped off or will the nice cement guy come back when we’ve had a few more days of hot sunny weather? I will keep you posted. In the mean time I leave you with this picture; I especially like the way the shed looks like it’s about to fall off a little cliff.

Concrete mess

Kimmel Austin

In case you missed this little detail, I live in Austin, Texas. Right now in Austin it’s SXSW. Which, for those who live under a rock or are just over the age of 60, is a super-mega-gigantic movie/music/gaming/computer festival that lasts for a week and a half. It also transforms our rather small downtown into a raging cesspool of traffic, drunks and weirdos.  Everybody calls it “South By” (emphasis on the first syllable). It sounds semi-pretentious but “South by Southwest” is a redundant mouthful.

Mister is into the movie scene and because of his job as a video producer has employed pretty much every actor in the Central Texas area. So it’s always fun to see what the tykes have been up to. Also, it’s pretty fun going to see the movies when the directors and several of the stars are right there in the audience. He always gets a platinum pass which allows him first dibs on every event. And there are about a jillion events going on all over downtown at every hour of the day and night.  He manages to get fed several meals a day for free just by attending the right parties and get-togethers.

I am rather non-impressed with the entertainment industry. I don’t like how important they find themselves. At this point in my life I find it incredibly annoying how hard they try: to look good, to be “unique” and “edgy”, to pretend to be so much more awesome than they really are.  At one point I would have cared a lot too. But now I am old. Make that Old with a capital -O. And I know this because I crave authenticity. I really want people to be themselves and get rid of all the crap and façades. Just be who you really are, man!

Mister occasionally drags me out of the house to a movie he thinks sounds like something I’d be interested in. I have to wait in the pitiful “general admission” line which might as well have a sign that says “losers stand here”. He gets in first and saves me a seat while I wait there knitting and eavesdropping on everyone’s conversations. Yesterday’s foray into SXSW was a taping of the Jimmy Kimmel show. We were required to stand in line in the sun and heat for two hours which made me peevish beyond belief. I was ready to throw in the towel but I held on and it actually ended up being really fun and interesting. (Listen, I may complain about all this stuff but when I go out, I do it with enthusiasm. Because nothing is more annoying than self-conscious people who won’t cut loose.)

Mostly I stood and watched all the hipsters around us. And I saw them with their silly clothes that are supposed to be ironic but mostly make them look like rejects from 1989. A few years ago I would have felt super self-conscious like I wasn’t cool enough to stand outside and wait in a dumb line with all the stylish people.  This year I came straight from taking York to the oral surgeon to get his wisdom teeth out. I didn’t really care if my shirt was awesome (although it was St. Patrick’s Day so I did make sure it was green), or that I had trendy shoes or edgy accessories.

This year I feel fine with who I am. Am I thin? Heck no! I’m fatter now than when I was pregnant. Am I stylish? Not if you consider the fact that most of my clothes come from Steinmart or Costco. Is my hair awesome? Well, I’m 44 but I don’t have any greys so that fact alone makes me drip with pride. (Take that, all you people who must get your hair colored!) My hair is not super styling but I think it generally looks pretty decent.  I do have nice makeup so I have that going for me. You can wear awesome sunglasses and overall shorts (yes, they’re back) with high-heeled booties, but if you haven’t got on an attractive shade of lipstick, you really aren’t all that.

So I guess I’m really a grown up now. Or maybe I’m an old fogey. I don’t know. But I have to echo the sentiments of Jasper who announced after looking at everyone meandering around downtown Austin, “who are all these awful people?”.


I haven’t posted for over a month??? Wow. I hadn’t realized. I’ve just lost the mojo or something. I feel really bad because I didn’t even post any of the cool stuff that happened over the summer. Some of it made me sad. Like this:

Somebody flew the coop.

India Trees



India Jane senior


India Bluebonnets


Baby India graduated from high school. Mister’s parents came down, despite their health being not so great these days.

India Grands Graduation

I don’t know how that happened. I mean, one minute she was starting kindergarten and all of a sudden she was putting on her cap and gown. You know how old ladies at the store tell you when you’ve got your hands full of squirming kids that time flies and the kids will grow up so quickly? And you’re like, “yeah, right. Starting when?”  Because every day lasts for a hundred years when you’re children are small. You seriously wonder if you will ever not be wiping somebody’s butt and stepping on stray Legos.

It does go fast. Not until they get into school, though. Every year goes by a little quicker and by the time they’re Seniors in high school, the year lasts about seventeen minutes.

And then they’re leaving for school and you wish you could trap every day in a bottle because it’s the end of an era: the era of having your babies in your nest. Now they’re flying away and it’s exciting but it’s also terrifying.  People keep asking me how I’m doing and the answer is, “I’m kind of blue.” Not depressed, but just unmoored. Life is shifting and even though I knew it would happen, it’s unsettling.

I tell people I’m sad that India is gone but not half as sad as I’d be if she were still living in her bedroom with a lame future ahead of her. Because India is awesome she got a full-ride scholarship to college. And she got a couple of other scholarships too that are covering most of her room and board and books. So yay for that!

We dropped her off at Brigham Young in August and Mister sobbed the whole way back to the airport.  Real, blubbering loud sobs. I finally had to remind him that India is not dying. She’s just going to college and we’d see her at Thanksgiving. But he’s the softie in the marriage. I’m the mean, heartless one. But still it was sad leaving her there.

I can’t be too sad, though, because is there any time as full of excitement and awesomeness as the first time you leave for college? She’s got a shiny, spectacular future ahead of her and as sad and boo-boo as I feel for me, I feel happiness and excitement for her.



India Jane college


Plus it’s not like I don’t still have fifty million kids at home. York is in 12th grade this year so we get to do the whole thing all over again.

Here are some other milestones we had:

My baby, my littlest kiddle, turned eight. Jasper Presents


Because we’re Mormon we believe that little children who die go straight to Heaven. Thus we don’t baptize kids until they’re old enough to know right from wrong which is at age eight. So Jasper was baptized. Having your youngest child get baptized in another milestone. It means you’re not a young mother. For so long I’ve always had little kids and that means I’m a young mother. But with my youngest being old enough to get baptized I feel like those days of having little kids is ancient history. Again, more unmooring.

Mormons do baptism the old-fashioned way: immersion just like Jesus did. So the baptisee and the baptizer both dress in white, symbolic of being born again and forgiven of our sins.  Jasper was baptized by Mister and it was a lovely ceremony.


We had a bunch of fun Texas Tuesdays which I’ll tell you about later. Right now I’m just trying to keep afloat. Mister has gone back to school to get his Masters degree and I’m still as busy as ever. But I’ll be a little more diligent. I’ve got some cool new tutorials in the works; it’s going to be fun!


(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.

I originally wrote this series of blog posts as a “look what we did” sort of thing. But I keep having people ask questions about our trip because they’ll be doing something similar and want some advice. So I’ve decided to make these posts heavy on details. I know most of you won’t care and you’re welcome to skim all the wordiness. But I am a fan of details when I travel so I will give you my opinions and knowledge and you can gloss over what you don’t care about.



Because India is graduating this year and York is graduating next year, Mister and I decided to do a combined graduation trip and take both of them to London and Paris. Those poor kids have never been anywhere. (Oh wait, they did get that ultra-luxurious road trip around the South in my minivan last summer.) As any parent knows, the end of the school year is a complete joke and nothing happens in High School once all the AP and standardized testing has finished. May is also the perfect month to go to Europe since it’s not horrifically crowded and the weather is generally pleasant. Mister is in grad school and this ended up being the best time for him to take a little break too.

So off we went. Mister used to live in London (both on a church mission and as a student) and it is his favorite city in the whole world. It’s a great place to start a foreign trip because it’s different but not too different. You can get your feet wet with international travel without becoming overwhelmed.

We rented a flat through HomeAway instead of getting a hotel because we like a little breathing room. Also, it gets incredibly expensive to eat out for every meal, so we wanted a kitchen so we could at least make breakfast. And we wanted a washing machine (if you pack light you have to be able to wash clothes!). India and York weren’t about to share a bed so we needed at least three beds (one king-sized because there is a rule when I am asleep that I cannot be touched. I need as much space as possible. You have no idea how hard it is to find a king-sized bed in Europe.) and renting a flat can be cheaper than getting two hotel rooms. We found a great place in Bloomsbury (halfway between the British Museum and Kings Cross station). It was in a less-touristy area that had lots of shopping nearby and a tube stop a couple of blocks away. It looked like an old Victorian hospital. Maybe it used to be; I don’t know.

Bloomsbury flat

Our flight was on British Airways. They have nonstop service from Austin to London so the flight was only about nine hours. It makes such a difference, not having a connection! Because the tickets were el cheapo, we had the teensiest seats on the entire plane. It almost made me weep, walking by those spacious first class chaises longues. But when you consider that I could have bought a decent little car for the same amount of money as four first-class tickets, I wasn’t so sad. I can put up with all sorts of nonsense for nine hours. It was a new plane, which had all the bells and whistles like a USB port at every seat and tons of free movies and TV shows on our own personal little screens. (No wifi, though, which is beyond strange.)  Also the windows didn’t have shades that went up and down. They had dimmers, so the whole window got darker or brighter with the push of a button. It was a nice concept but felt really weird and didn’t work so well.

Anyway, we got to London bedraggled and cross, as is usually the case when you have to sleep sitting up. I tried out a new neck rest thingy called the Sky Siesta and I really liked it. I can’t stand those neck pillows that feel like somebody is choking me, so I tried this one. It worked a million times better than a traditional travel pillow or a wadded up sweater. I brought along ear plugs and fuzzy socks to make it a little better. I only got four hours of sleep but I think that’s about the best I can hope for.

Sky Siesta

We took the tube to our flat (it was on the same Underground line as Heathrow airport so we didn’t have to switch trains or anything. Phew). We bought Oyster cards at Heathrow Airport that were for one week of unlimited travel in zones 1-2 (which is where all the touristy stuff is). We added on one trip into London (about 45 minutes away). If you were flying out of Heathrow, you might need to add on another trip back. We left via the chunnel which is in the middle of London (close enough for us to walk to, actually) so we were set with just our travelcards. There are several electronic ticket kiosks at Heathrow where you can buy Underground tickets; however I didn’t want to buy the wrong thing so I opted to talk to a human at the huge ticket office (we were in Terminal 5. Not sure how it is in other terminals).

I was a little weirded out riding the Tube with my suitcase but tourists are a fact of life in London and people are always coming or going. There’s always somebody with a suitcase riding the tube. Nobody thinks much of it. And carrying a suitcase in the Tube is a good reason to pack light! European subways are not wheel-friendly. Whether you’ve got a suitcase, baby stroller or are in a wheelchair, good luck! The Underground was built over 100 years ago back when they didn’t give a thought about accessibility so lots of stations are completely unequipped for anything requiring wheels. There are stairs and escalators at every stop. Try to get everything in a carry-on. It really is possible!

While we were at Heathrow we got money out of the ATM. We landed with not a smidge of foreign currency on us (some people like a bit of money ahead of time. We figured that we were going to London, not Mars, so we’d get some currency when we arrived. That ended up being fine in London. Notsofine in Paris).  The worst exchange rates are at airports UNLESS you use the ATM (try to use an ATM associated with a bank. Travelex is notorious for having terrible exchange rates at their ATMs even at airports) . You will probably be charged a fee for using the ATM overseas but you’re going to be charged a fee to change your currency too, and the ATM fees are usually more reasonable.  Here is something I’ll explain in more detail in another post, but chances are your American credit card won’t work over there. 90% of the time they only take credit cards with a computer chip in them. Those are really rare in the U.S. (if you have one, you’ll know). However, your regular old American ATM card will work just fine for using at an ATM overseas but NOT for making purchases (and remember to tell your bank that you’ll be traveling overseas so they don’t wig out and suspend your card.)

Once we got settled into our flat we had lunch at a little Farmer’s Market that was going on nearby. I knew we’d be exhausted and figured a tour might keep us occupied and on our best behavior since Mister and I tend to quarrel when we’re dead-dog tired (or most anytime, really). So I arranged a sightseeing tour with London Black Taxi Tours. (Just to clarify, I booked all these tours months ago. The best tours book up fast.  Tripadvisor is really the most fantastic resource on finding things to do and whether they’re worthwhile or not.) Our driver was named Michael Churchill and he drove us around all afternoon in his honest-to-goodness black taxi.


Mr. Churchill knows everything about everything and we knocked out a bunch of sights in a few hours. It was very interesting and he was a great guide. I particularly wanted to see lots of sights to cross off of our “been there” list that I knew we wouldn’t have time to visit in-depth (like St. Paul’s, Big Ben, Tower of London, etc).


The weather, as you might have guessed, was rainy, cold and blustery. Spring in England is always anyone’s guess. At the last minute I threw a sweater in my bag as we were packing and I’m glad I did because I wore it–along with my unlined rain coat. Brrr!–for three days straight.





(I was going to photoshop my face because I look a bit frightful but then I realized that I’d been up for about a million hours and had zero makeup on. So I’m just going to keep it real.)

York was particularly thrilled to count all the Bentleys and Aston-Martins around town. There were dozens! We even saw a couple of Maybachs. I don’t know how all these people have so much money, but they do. I was particularly impressed with the sweet Mercedes minivans they have over there. Why can’t we get those in the U.S.? Then maybe those snooty SUV girls wouldn’t be turning up their noses at us lowly minivan people.


This here below is Leadenhall Market. It’s one of the earliest covered shopping areas and was where the entrance to Diagon Alley was shot in Harry Potter. We saw lots of Harry Potter sights but as I haven’t seen most of the movies, I really couldn’t appreciate them.



One thing that makes me truly sad about churches nowadays (especially in America) is that they never have bells. Church bells are one of my favorite sounds ever. I was very thrilled to hear so many church bells in London. This is St. Clement Danes church. I wish there hadn’t been so many green trees; you can barely see the church which was quite lovely.


We ended up our evening in Covent Garden which is an interesting but very touristy area. It was freezing and raining and we were starving. We had dinner in a little pub which was OK, but nothing great. We were exhausted enough that we barely cared. The tube station was closed so we caught a taxi back to our flat and fell asleep quite instantly.

Let me take a moment to talk about public transportation. The London Underground (known by Americans as the subway but British people always call it the Tube) is really the best in the world. It’s super easy to navigate and figure out. When we first came to England back in the 90’s we took the Tube exclusively. As a result I really never got my bearings and had no idea where things were in relation to each other. Buses were incredibly confusing and intimidating and Mister could hardly ever get me on one. We ended up lost a lot of the time when we took them so I gave up. Back in the day you had to use this huge confusing map and I just hated it. It’s too bad because buses are usually a lot more convenient than riding on subways. And buses are great for sightseeing and getting a feel for the city you’re in. With the London Travelcard, buses and the Tube are all included in the fee (of course, you have to stay in the zones you agreed to). And once you’ve got a great app on your phone to keep you from getting lost, you’re good to go anywhere in London!

Now we are in the era of the iphone and public transportation has never been easier. There are quite a few apps to help you figure out buses and subways. My favorite, hands down, is Citymapper. It can be used in London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, New York and Washington DC. You download the city you’re in and enter where you’re starting and where you want to end up (you don’t need actual addresses either. You can just put “the British Museum” and Citymapper will figure it out for you). Citymapper tells you exactly how to get there. You can decide whether you want to walk, take a bus, the subway or a taxi and how long (and how expensive) each option will be. It lists when the next bus/train will arrive and which way to walk to get to the stop. It takes all guesswork out of riding public transportation! And the best part is, Citymapper is free!  (You’ll need a data plan for overseas. It ain’t cheap but you absolutely, positively must be able to use your smartphone if for no other reason than to keep from getting lost.)

We woke up confused and jet-lagged on Sunday, meaning to go to church. But the Mormon church that Mister used to go to was a good 45 minutes away and all the Anglican churches have their lovely services beginning at 10:30 or 11. Since we had a walking tour scheduled at 11, that made church impossible. So we took a leisurely time getting to our walking tour which was with Jonnie at Bowl of Chalk Tours. It ended up not being rainy (hooray!) but was frighteningly cold.  Our tour was in East London around Hackney and Islington. This is not a part of London that I’ve ever spent much time in, which is a pity because it’s so fascinating. Jonnie was a fantastic tour guide–funny, knowledgeable and very charming–and I highly recommend one of his walks. They’re also “pay what you like” so anyone can afford them. Heeere’s Jonnie:


We saw such lovely sights! There are certainly a lot of ugly things in London, it being a city that was heavily bombed and then rebuilt in quite a nasty modern style. But so many quaint and lovely pockets remain.


Below is Bunhill Fields Cemetery. Daniel DeFoe and William Blake are both buried here (as is John Bunyan. Bonus points if you know what he wrote. Hint: it’s the second most published book after the Bible). One of these tombstones belongs to a certain Jabez Hornblower. Don’t know who he was but that’s the best name ever. (Also, the green! Everything was so green! )




This statue below is John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. It stands in front of the church he preached at. I assume it’s still a Methodist church. This one’s for you, How family!


We were fortunate to go on our tour on a Sunday when the Columbia Road Flower Market was happening. This is a long, narrow street of flower sellers that is so crazy crowded. The rest of the week it is a ghost-town. But when the flower market is on, watch out! You can barely get through. There are cut flowers and flowers to be planted; all beautiful. I don’t think any country rivals England for beautiful flowers. Well, maybe France. And Holland.






The best part of the Columbia Road Market is that the vendors are all hollering about what flowers they have and how much they cost, all in their cute cockney accents. I’m sorry my videos are all so short; I get very flustered and self-conscious when I start filming. Plus I hate videos that go too long; so I err on the other side and make them too short.

Our tour passed by Shoreditch church (officially known as St. Leonard’s) which is mentioned in the video that I’ll put in my Day 3 post tomorrow. It’s also the church featured in the BBC show called Rev, starring one of my favorite actors, Tom Hollander (who you would totally recognize if you saw because he is in every British show made in the last fifteen years). Rev is about an Anglican minister in modern-day London who has a dwindling little congregation. It’s funny in a dry British way and poignant and about someone who is actually religious and normal. There’s swearing in it sometimes, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. I think we actually had to pay money to watch it on Amazon Prime but I haven’t liked a show this much in years, so I thought it was worth it. Anyway, we passed by the church where the show is filmed. It really is quite a seedy area but the church is very lovely. Come to think of it, there’s not an ugly church in all of London.

Shreditch church

We stopped by Old Spitalfields Market after we were done with the tour. Spitalfields was probably my favorite place to shop in London. It’s a market that is mostly filled with craft vendors. Not touristy junk or knock-off  Prada bags but pretty things and cool things and unusual things. And there are lots of inexpensive food choices around the outside of the market too. It’s in a covered building (although the sides are open) so you won’t get rained on and the wind is not bad at all if it’s a blustery day like we had.  Each day features something different at Spitalfields, so make sure you check the schedule before you shop. Some days feature a lot of antiques, some are dedicated to fashion, but they’re all great.


We ended up the day at the Tate Britain Museum. When I was an Art History major in college, British art (the Pre-Raphaelites, in particular) were my thing. The Pre-Raphaelites are kind of an underdog in the art world. To us their works seem like rather ordinary Victorian art. But the Pre-Raphaelites were sort of ground-breaking in their time.  I particularly liked this painting of St. Eulalia by J.W. Waterhouse. Cool perspective.


Ophelia by John Everett Millais (another Pre-Raphaelite) is Mister’s very favorite painting. It’s supposed to be at the Tate Britain but every time we’ve gone there it’s been rotated out of the collection or on loan to another museum. I thought Mister was going to lose it this time when he didn’t get to see it again.


Now that I’ve gotten older I tend to like quieter paintings. I always hated still lifes because they were so boring, but now I really like them.  I find their calmness refreshing. All that melodramatic Italian art I used to love back in the day makes me roll my eyes. I guess I have enough drama in real life; I don’t want it in the stuff I look at as well. This painting was my favorite in the entire Tate Britain.

Cholmondeley Ladies

It’s called The Cholmondeley Ladies (pronounced “Chumley”, FYI). They were sisters born on the same day, married on the same day who gave birth on the same day. I like this portrait because it’s unusual. How many twins do you see in art? It’s also fancy but plain at the same time. And it has kind of a folksy feel to it. The sister’s faces and hands are simple even though they’ve got lace exploding all over the place.  The setting is austere but my gosh look at the baby clothes. We get it, you’re rich! This is one of those pieces of art where you’re walking through the gallery looking at the paintings thinking, “naked lady, rich nobleman, rich nobleman, naked lady, Baby Jesus” then you suddenly see this painting and stop right in your tracks: “Wow!”  I love when that happens.

We were very sorry to leave the Tate. Mostly because they have free wifi and it’s so nice to have free wifi when every map and bit of information you possess is all in your internet-dependant smartphone.

We had a nice dinner of Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding at some restaurant that I can’t remember the name of. I had treacle pudding for dessert which tasted like a very moist Twinkie, minus the cream filling. British people use the word “pudding” too much. It’s like the “aloha” of the food world over there; it means all sorts of different things. There is Yorkshire Pudding which is similar to a popover and not sweet at all. There is also “pudding” which means dessert in general. For instance you’d say, “who’d like pudding after supper?” which could mean cake or pie or whatever. There is also pudding like the treacle pudding I ate, which is a sponge cake soaked in liquid of some sort. But none of these is actual pudding as we Americans know it.  That is called custard usually. Or maybe mousse. At any rate just be aware that pudding means a lot of things in England, none of which means pudding as I know it.

Another meal-related quibble: I know it makes me seem like a spoiled, bratty American but I really do like to have ice in my drinks and although I put up with lukewarm cans of coke (no refills!) I thought to myself how superior ice is when you drink a pop. But I didn’t complain out loud. I only thought it. Because I am an American but I’m not a tacky American.