Texas

(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.

Y’all know how much I love snacks, right? A lot. A super lot. I would much rather eat snacks all day than have a meal. Even a really delicious meal. Are you like that too or is it just me? Far and away my favorite place to by snacks is at H•E•B. It’s my favorite grocery store. They’re only in Texas which is sad for you if you don’t live here. But chances are you know someone who lives in Texas so you should pass this along. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve eaten lately:

I have spurts of paleo where I don’t eat flour. And I have a jillion friends who don’t eat flour (some have better reasons than others but I’m not going to give you a hard time if you want to jump on that bandwagon). It always makes me sad that I can’t bake for my gluten-free friends because baking is my love language. Well guess what! Now I can! H•E•B has a new gluten-free chocolate chip cookie mix that is to die for. Seriously, they taste like honest-to-goodness chocolate chip cookies and they puff up nicely. You would never guess that they’re gluten-free. Color me impressed.

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Snacking in December would not be complete without some peppermint. As Buddy the Elf says, candy canes are one of the four elf food groups. Oreos are one of the few store-bought cookies I will eat and H•E•B does a dandy version of Oreo-type cookies with peppermint filling. They’ve got actual pieces of chopped up candy canes which makes them extra yummy. My kids will eat a package of these in about fifteen minutes. They’re like locusts where cookies are concerned. It’s a bit frightening.

H•E•B also has some Sun Chip-type snacks. They’re called, vaguely, “whole grain chips”. I tried the Smoked Gouda and they’re delicious. Mister took one bite and said, “holy crap, these are good!” I’m not a huge fan of cheese, especially on my snacks (Cheetos?Barf. A million times barf.) but these are more smoky than cheesy. For reals, you need to try these! Worth a trip to the store just to pick up a bag.

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You know what I also got at H•E•B that’s really cool? A tortilla warmer. Not one of those weird plastic things like they have at Mexican restaurants; this is soft and made of fabric. It’s for heating tortillas in the microwave and keeping them warm on the table. We eat a ton of tortillas. The best ones are freshly made. Sometimes I make my own and sometimes I buy them. But this warmer is a really nice way to keep them warm on the table (and it’s not very expensive either). Look how holidayish this one is. Christmas in Texas, folks!

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Before the New Year hits and you’re all healthy and eating right, get on over to H•E•B and pick up some of their Primo Picks snacks. They’re worth every pound you’ll gain!  Check out some of their other yummy foods here!

When I was growing up if I saw something European at the grocery store I would almost always buy it. This was back in the day when Evian was considered exotic and nobody had even heard of Nutella. Nowadays you can find American knock-offs of most foreign products but my heart still goes pitter-pat when I find things that are actually imported from Europe.

My local HEB grocery store has been cornering the market on Italian stuff lately. They have a ton of Primo Picks that are fresh off the boat from the Old World. Yes, you can get American pasta anywhere, but I swear there is just something more magical when you eat pasta that was actually made in Italy. I like to imagine the beautiful castle where the pasta is made, artfully draped on wood racks that have been used for centuries. What? You mean to tell me that Italian pasta is made in factories, not in castles? Whatever. Don’t rain on my Italian parade. The nice thing is that authentic Italian pasta is actually not very expensive (and there are all sorts of cool unusual shapes!) so you can spring for some fancy sauce too and not break the bank. We tried the Orti de Calabria vodka sauce. Talk about flavor! Yummmm! It’s a pretty affordable dinner and it beats drab old spaghetti with Prego.

HEB was kind enough to send me a fantastic goodie bag of some of the Italian products they are carrying right now. You guys, this is not mamby-pamby Americanized crap; this is full-flavored authentic stuff.  Before I even opened the box I could smell it. In particular the Sabatini Tartufi truffle salt. This is like garlic salt but a million times better (and swankier!). Here’s what you can do: defrost some frozen bread dough, roll it all out, then slather it with melted butter and sprinkle with truffle salt. Cut the dough in slices, bake it and you have some super easy but molto delizioso breadsticks. Plus you can be all braggy to your friends and say, “Oh those just have a bit of truffles on them.” Hopefully your friends are smart enough to know you mean mushroom-y truffles and not chocolate truffles.

Italian Primo Picks

Italy is nothing without olives and I am madly in love with them so we’re a good pair, olives and I. The Central Market olive oil is actually from Tuscany (pressed outside of the aforementioned castle, no doubt) and is superb. I eat a lot of olive oil and this is one I will definitely be buying again. The Taggiasca olives are also fantastic. They are sweet but a little tangy and would make a great muffaletta sandwich. Listen, I like plain old black olives from a can too, but these are ooh-la-la so good. Perfect for an appetizer platter for the upcoming holidays, hint hint.

You’ve watched It’s A Wonderful Life, right? We watch it a couple of times every Christmas and there’s this scene where Mr. Potter (the jerk!) is telling George Bailey to stop wasting his time helping those poor immigrants. He calls them “garlic-eaters” in the most sneering tone imaginable. Every time he says that I’m all, “Mr. Potter you are truly a psycho.” Italian food is where it’s at, man! If you live in Texas head on over to HEB and pick up some yummy Italian goods. They’ve got you and all the other garlic-eaters covered!

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.

Hatch chiles, that is! It’s time for Hatch chile season. Last year I showed you how to roast your own chiles here (you can roast any pepper this way, not just Hatchs). But you might not feel like roasting your own. If you are lucky enough to live in Texas near an HEB grocery store, you can find them roasting big drums of Hatch chiles over an open fire in front of the store. You should smell the air! It would make you drool, even if you’re not a big chile lover. Right now is the Hatch Chile Festival so get on over.

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HEB has you covered if you’d like to try products with Hatch chiles but you don’t feel like cooking. Hatch chiles are kind of spicy but the products they carry that are made from Hatch peppers are pretty mild. I tried their Hatch chips and both their red and green salsas and they are really, really good. They all have a lovely flavor full of spices without being spicy. You know what I mean? Lots of taste without sizzling your tongue. The green salsa, ironically enough, has a little bit of zing but nothing to make you feel like your mouth is on fire. My boys polished off the chips in about twenty minutes and keep reminding me to get another bag.

India is eating paleo these days so she was happy to have some new salsas to jazz up her meat. There’s only so much you can do with chicken, right? The Hatch salsas are mighty tasty slathered over eggs too. Go India!

We also tried the tortilla soup and Green Chile Stew. We’ve bought the Tortilla soup several times already because my husband is a big fan of it. The Hatch chips crumbled over the top make a nice addition, as does a bit of canned chicken to make it a little heartier. It’s not necessary but I like soup to be super filling so my kids don’t get hungry an hour later.

 

Make sure you stop by HEB this week to catch the rest of the Hatch Chile Fest. It’s definitely a Texas thing! (Although technically Hatch peppers come from New Mexico. But like everything else, we Texans make everything better.) And don’t forget some truly texas sodas like Dr. Pepper or Big Red to wash it all down.

 

 

I was compensated for trying these products but the opinions are totally my own. I’m not about to lie to help anybody out.

 

 

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

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

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

Arkansas Traveler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HEB (the best grocery store in Texas, hence the World) sent me some new Primo Picks to try out. Primo Picks are interesting/cool/extra awesome products that they feature at the store. Since I am always game to try new things, I was pretty jazzed.

I waited until the kids got home from school before I tried anything. I wanted to have more than one opinion than just my own. The clear favorites for them were these yummy things:

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The Lacey’s cookies are halfway between candy and a cookie. They’re two of toffee-esque cookies with a slather of dark chocolate in-between. I’ve seen them around before but never tried them. Ohhhh man, I wish I had never tried them. They’re now what I fantasize about when I have my cheat day. Since you can’t really send your kids to school with such sugar bombs (save those for Mommy, please), This Snacklemouth Salty Chocolate Clusters is a little more appropriate for every day. The kids snarfed down this stuff which is kind of like moist, chocolatey granola. It’s gluten-free and not very high in sugar. A perfect addition to the lunch boxes. Or at least it would have been if we hadn’t promptly eaten it all. Plus, don’t you dig the funky box? The guys has chocolate dripping from his mustache and eyeballs! Sweeeet!

The chips were also a big hit. As much as I love sweets, I love a nice salty potato chip as well (with a coke, naturally). I like the big crunch of Kettle Chips and these don’t disappoint. They have a really pronounced potato flavor which I appreciate when I eat chips; I don’t want to taste a bunch of chemicals, thankyouverymuch. Plus the bag is cute. I like the fonts. Yes, fonts matter!

I really appreciated the coconut oil and coconut water. Despite appearances to the contrary, I’m actually trying to make healthier choices for my family. Lately when I’ve cooked stuff in the frying pan I’ve been using olive oil. I’ve heard amazing things about coconut oil, so I was very happy to give HEB’s virgin Coconut Oil a try. I cooked up some Basa fish (have you heard of it? It’s some new kind of fish and it’s superyum) in the coconut oil and slathered it with guacamole (you don’t eat guacamole on your fish? What’s the matter with you?) The coconut oil gave it a subtle tropical-ish flavor. I like it. And it’s fantastically healthy (for a fat, I mean. It’s not healthier than a handful of fresh carrots.)

 

My whole family was very excited to try the three flavors of BBQ sauce. Let me give you a little background, though. We used to always buy grocery store BBQ sauce and it’s always tasted fine. That’s because we didn’t live in Texas. Now we live in Texas where BBQ is taken terribly seriously. We usually buy a bottle of sauce at our favorite restaurants (I prefer the sauce at Southside in Elgin, TX and Mister Prefers the sauce at Rudy’s.) One time we ran out of restaurant sauce and I bought the same old BBQ sauce at the store like we used to buy. Only this time it was inedible. It tasted all wrong. It was weirdly sweet and had nasty chemical overtones. (I complain about food tasting like chemicals a lot. That’s because I’m spoiled and like homemade-tasting food. Unless it’s Funyons.) We scraped the sauce off and ate our dry meat without. So I was intrigued by the trio of sauces that HEB provided. If nothing else, it gave us an excuse to buy a heaping lot of brisket. The verdict? All three sauces were mighty good. No chemical flavors whatsoever.  Finn, Arabella and I preferred the Better Than Good Traditional Texas sauce. Mister and India like Mama’s Original sauce the best. York Preferred the Better Than Good Texas Moppin’ Sauce, and Ada doesn’t like meat at all so she just had a salad.  The Texas Moppin’ Sauce has a definite mustard overtone. I think mustard is simply the most disgusting condiment in the world so I didn’t care for it at all.  I was more than happy to find some grocery store sauces that I can be happy about using. Now I don’t have to buy spendy bottles at restaurants any more.

I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the Primo Picks at HEB. Pick up a few next time you’re at HEB. And if you don’t live in Texas, poor you.

 

 

I was compensated by HEB but, trust me, the opinions are all mine. You can’t buy my taste buds.

It’s been so sad to hear about all the tornados in Oklahoma and Texas. Growing up in Michigan, which is part of the Midwest, we had tornadoes pretty often. We were thoroughly familiar with tornado drills and hiding in the basement. I remember tornado warnings to be more of a pain than actually being scary; you know how kids are, never believing that bad things will ever happen to them. My nightmares, though, often featured tornadoes. They still do occasionally.

We have tornadoes from time to time here in Central Texas. Nothing like northeastern Texas, though, which is flatter and wetter. We have some tornadoes brewing today, though. Golfball-sized hail too. Naturally there’s hail forecasted; we just had a bunch of our roof fixed due to a windstorm. Still, there’s not nearly the risk of something happening like happened in Oklahoma.

Not to sound petty, but I was planning to buy a new harp from a lady that lives about seven hours away. We were supposed to meet up halfway on Thursday. I just realized that she lives in Moore, Oklahoma. I hope the lady (and her harp!) are ok.

Every time I hear the word “Oklahoma” I can’t help but think of one of the most awesome scenes in movie history. Gather your children around to watch one of our family’s most beloved movie clips (Steve Martin has never been funnier than in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).

 

 

Picking strawberries in an annual tradition in our family. It’s one of my favorite things to do not only because it makes me feel like a farmer, but I just flat out love strawberries. There’s a u-pick farm near Austin that we go to every Spring. Well, “near” meaning an hour away in a lackluster town called Marble Falls. We travel to Sweet Berry Farm to pick strawberries first thing in the morning, then head over afterwards to Peete Mesquite, a really excellent hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint (Texas has a jillion of those).

Yes, the boys picked strawberries too. But they don’t like to stick near their mom. Especially when there are pet goats nearby.

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We aim to pick about 14 lbs of berries. I’m an avid jam-maker and this will make between 25-30 jars of jam. That’s enough to last us all year.

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The kids are put to good use. Ada’s especially good at hulling strawberries.

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It takes me about a million years to chop everything up and make the jam, but eventually I get these jewels all ready to be put up in the pantry. I don’t do freezer jam for a few reasons: it’s kind of watery and I don’t care for the texture; freezer space is at a premium in my house. I can’t waste the square footage on jam!; the preparedness person in me insists on something self-stable.

 

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These jars are made by a German company called Weck. They’re a little spendier than the ho-hum jars available at the grocery store but look how crazy cute they are! I’ve had these for about eight years and I’ve totally gotten my money’s worth out of them. I do a few Mason jars too, for giving away to friends/teachers. I’m not about to part with my Weck jars! You can get Weck jars from the company website here –which is the cheapest option. (I use the 1/5 litre Deco jars. If you buy Weck jars, they work a little differently than regular canning jars. You’ll need rubber gaskets instead of flat lids and and metal clips instead of screw-on rings.I happen to think Weck jars are superior to Ball or Kerr brands. And not just because they’re European!)