Things We’ve Done

My son Finn is a huge Navy Seal fan so you can imagine how excited he was to find that Chris Kyle–the ultimate Navy Seal–was buried here in Austin at the Texas State Cemetery. We’d heard lots of people say that visiting the cemetery is a cool thing to do. And we love cool things to do. So, after coercing a few members of the family, we headed to downtown Austin.

There was almost nobody around the cemetery except a bunch of little kids from a local daycare. (Who’s idea was that?)  And it was, indeed, pretty cool. We brought along some flowers and I let each of the kids have some to put on any grave they chose. Finn chose Chris Kyle’s. His grave is the most surprising because there nothing there. Just a little placard. Say what?


Apparently the family has something planned but as of now there is only a little makeshift shrine. The groundskeeper told us it’s the most visited grave by far. Also the only grave with offerings of chewing tobacco.



We found some interesting tombstones. This is where I laid my flower. How could I resist? Although it’s funny to note that Flora wanted to make sure everyone knew she was a Christian, not one of those crazy cult Mormons, no matter what her name was!


I always take a picture when I find something with “Davis” on it. It’s my maiden name and I still dream of the days when I was at the beginning of the alphabet and everyone could spell my name right on the first try.


This tombstone made me laugh. Of all the things a person could have on their gravestone this is what his relatives chose (it’s the last line).


This grave was both interesting (It’s not every day that you see a gravestone with a 3-D image of the dead person. But what I really liked was the guy’s first name. How awesome is that?


We saw most of the famous people’s grave (Stephen F. Austin and Bob Bullock–who I really only know because the local history museum is named after him). I wish we could have stayed longer but it was a bajillion degrees, as is so often the case in Austin;  It’s amazing how much I stop caring about things when the sweat starts to roll down my back. Let me just say that we particularly enjoyed the little cemetery history center which is both air conditioned and has bathrooms.

Then we went and had tacos at a food truck. The end.


I haven’t been writing much about our Texas Tuesdays this summer. Shame on me! I’ve got a whole pile of things to tell you about. One of our most favorite place we went was called Newman’s Castle. This is quite a drive from Austin–about an hour and a half (it’s just past Brenham), but it’s completely worth the trip. We went when all of the big kids were at camp or working so it was just the littles along with my niece, Avery. We also brought along some friends of ours. Because road trips are funner with friends!


Newman’s Castle is probably the coolest and oddest place we’ve visited. Mr. Newman owns a bakery in the very small town of Bellville, Texas. Many years ago he decided it would be pretty cool to build a house outside of Bellville that looks like a castle, so that’s just what he did. Now this isn’t a flashy Donald-Trump style palace that is meant to show off his dazzling wealth. It’s more of a modern ode to medieval times. Like if you thought, “wouldn’t it be cool to have house with a moat?”, so you built one.

And being a smart businessman, he decided to charge people admission to come and see his castle.

Newmans castle ada avery


Mr. Newman offers tours a few days a week and you have to call ahead to schedule one. Here’s his website to get more detailed info. The cost of the tour includes lunch as well (with lots of goodies from his bakery) and is $15. It was yummy but be forewarned: the sandwiches come pre made with the vilest of monstrosities: mustard. But that was really the only drawback of our visit.


The way it works is that you show up at the bakery, pay your admission, then are given a map to find the castle and you head over there in your car.

On the day of our tour it was us and a bus load of retirees. I don’t know if they enjoyed it as much as the kids did. Mr. Newman really knows how to engage children. He gave them all wooden swords (to borrow not to keep!) at the beginning of the tour and had them make a passageway over the drawbridge for us old folks to pass under.



Then we were shown around the castle. Naturally there was a torture chamber, complete with faux bloody appendages.



The kids were more than happy to be imprisoned We were tempted to leave them there but our husbands might have suspected something.



The thing to remember is that Newman’s castle really is somebody’s house. Mr. Newman is amazingly cool about letting total strangers wander all over the place.


You get to see the fancier rooms like the banquet hall



And living rooms




But you also get to wander into his bedroom and bathroom. Which seems oddly personal but is sort of awesome. He has armor and crowns and toy swords all over the place to keep the kids entertained ( you can see Ye Olde TV Sette here in the master bedroom). Unlike castles in Europe where the family lives in one wing and tourists are allowed in another wing, this castle is on the smaller side and you get to see all the nooks and crannies.



Most of the wooden pieces were crafted by Mr. Newman himself, including the armoires and these dandy bathroom faucets: (this would be the master bath, as you can tell from the toiletries on display. As I said, it’s his house, not a museum.)



The kitchen was pretty interesting too.



But the favorite thing that the kids got to do was to lower and raise the drawbridge. It’s got an old-school hamster-wheel mechanism. The caretaker of the castle showed the kids how to work it then set them loose. It was pretty entertaining for us to watch but the boys found it a bit intimidating.

We loved our visit to Newman’s Castle and would highly recommend it to anyone who loves quirky and interesting sights. It make a great day trip from either Austin or Houston.

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?”.


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

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

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


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

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

Skiing at Park City

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

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

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

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

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

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

  photo 71a0d0d0-21b2-41a8-8645-c34d3e29820f_zps11201555.jpg

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.)

 photo 402da0a3-ea7d-419c-a5bc-f5a8c4f4c9e9_zpse420d618.jpg


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.

 photo 37fd406f-10fd-4800-baf3-21e1c275de4a_zps4c163135.jpg

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.

 photo ec2300e8-a150-429c-a66c-fd29b832fcfd_zps737bbd56.jpg


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.

 photo 0c99c9ed-4d8a-4a0a-ae82-66cefd877c03_zpsf9959639.jpg

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.

 photo 07175571-2804-4c37-97d1-c927a08b71e5_zpsd52de8cf.jpg

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:



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

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

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

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

But we hit all the high points. And saw lots of stuff.
 photo f47475cb-c60b-4468-a093-816d1ba2df10_zps2e8251d4.jpg
We ended up travelling through Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. I wish we could have spent several days in each place but, alas, our budget conspired against us. Plus we had to work around various kid activities so our scheduled departure and arrival times were completely inflexible.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


This is one of my most popular posts and I like to repost it every year in case you’ve got a houseful of bored (hence, annoying) kids and need to know how to keep them occupied without relying on TVs/vieogames/ipads to babysit them. This is a great way to keep everyone in the house quiet and entertained. It’s really the best thing that’s happened to our summers! We’ve added a few changes to the system as our kids have gotten older. I’ll mention those at the end of the post.

My kids started driving me crazy the day after school got out. There was the constant squabbling, playfighting, and watching each other play video games for hours on end ( I loathe that, but it’s just so peaceful while they do it, that it’s hard to crack down and turn it off). Some people go cold turkey and turn off all screens during the summer, but I think it should still be a fun time of year (especially since we really limit TV and video games during the school year). I just needed to figure out some sort of system.

My friend Amy and I escaped for lunch a few weeks ago. She told me about the system she uses in her house and a giant light bulb went off over my head. I took her idea and ran with it, expanding on it to fit our family’s needs.

This is how it works:

–Our house is divided into six stations (Art, Reading, Computer, Puzzles, Academics, and TV).

–Each station is in a different part of the house (or in separate parts of the same room) so there is very little annoying and teasing of siblings going on.

–Stations last for 45 minutes each (sometimes if we have other plans for the day we’ll only do stations for 20-30 minutes a piece). Then the kids rotate to the next station. Each child goes to all of the six stations every day, Monday through Friday. We usually begin in the late morning after everyone has done their chores. Since we live in Texas which is HOT in the summer, we usually spend the mornings playing outside (after chores!) and don’t waste precious cool time indoors.

–Everyone gets a chance to choose which station they would like to start with. Yes, they will all have a chance at every station, but you know how much siblings like to compete with each other. Currently we are picking popsicle sticks labelled with the kids’ names. I draw one and that child picks where they’d like to begin.

–It’s helpful to have a list of activities available at Academics and art. We have things listed like “work on handwriting”. The kids all tell me they want to improve their handwriting but they forget. Their are workbooks for the littles but the older kids can do it on their own; they just need a reminder. Some of the art things we have are kept in my craft closet and the kids tend to forget about them. Having all the choices on a list makes a good reminder.

Here are the details:

Art (at the kitchen table):
Everyone has a sketch book, so there are minimal amounts of loose paper floating around. All coloring and watercolor go on sketchbook pages. We also have Shrinky Dinks, pipe cleaners, Sculpey clay (for the older kids), Play-Doh (for the younger ones), and brand new sets of watercolors, crayons and markers. I stocked up on the fabulous coloring books that Dover Publishing carries. We also have an assortment of drawing “how-to” books and creativity-building exercises.


Puzzles (on a card table set up in the Mudroom): I bought ten new puzzles of all different skill levels. I also got one of those roll-up puzzle savers so the older kids can work on the same puzzle day after day. We also have Sudoko, crossword, and word-search books of different skill levels. My friend Amy and I will be swapping puzzles after a while to keep things fresh.


Academics (on the coffee table in the family room):
There is a real variety here since Jasper barely knows his letters and India is taking AP classes. Probably our favorite item is the Flashmaster. It’s a fantastic gizmo that quizzes kids on their addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. They can be timed or not timed, and the computer remembers which problems they got wrong. It’s been wonderful since my younger kids have never been required to learn their math facts very well. You can get Flashmaster on Amazon for $50.

We also have a Geography Globe from Oregon Scientific, the Phonics Firefly (perfect for helping the younger kids learn their letters and sounds), and some educational Leap Pad sets.


In this category we also have workbooks (the great kind sold at Costco that are full of worksheets), handwriting practice sheets and spelling word quizzes. I try to get items that the kids can do on their own so I don’t have to sit there all day. The older kids are working on assignments they were given at school to complete over the summer.


(in the Living Room which is where our bookcases are):
This is read-alone time. Every few days I rotate the supply of kids’ books so they always have something new to look at. Library books stay in here too. The older kids usually have a novel they’re reading. This is a perfect time for teens to work on their summer reading assignments for school.

The kids can play whatever they want without someone claiming that “she took my turn!”; I don’t really care what it is, whether it’s Webkinz or something educational (Finn has been doing a teach-yourself-German program). This is their entire computer time for the day. This would probably include Nintendo DS time, if you have those at your house.

TV (in the playroom where our only TV is):
This includes video games and DVDs. Whatever takes place on a TV, this is the time to do it. The best part of this system is that you don’t have children sitting around watching their siblings play games (one of my major pet peeves). Occasionally we’ll watch a movie as a family in the evening, but for the most part this is their entire allotment of video games and shows.

You could tailor the stations to suit your family better. If you all play instruments, you could do music time, for example. Or you could do an outdoor station. With our blazing summer temps, though, the kids stay indoors most of the day but we spend evenings playing outside or swimming. This system would work with a smaller family, too. For the last week India and York have been visiting their grandparents in Oregon and we’ve been rotating four kids around the six stations. It’s been fine.

We have been doing Stations for a couple of weeks now and it has been phenomenal! The kids never complain about being bored and they bug each other so much less. My house is actually quiet during the day! It’s a miracle!

Jasper doing summer stations

UPDATE: now that our kids are getting older, we’ve made a few changes. We’ve combined academics with spiritual stuff. The kids all have goal programs that they’ve been working on at church and this is a great time to accomplish the tasks they’ve set for themselves. We’ve also made a reading plan to for the scriptures this summer and having time during a station for this works a lot better than expecting tired kids to read at night.

We are accumulating a lot of instruments around our house, my new harp being the most popular. So now along with puzzles, we have the option to play an instrument during that station. Not all of the kids are interested in this, though, which is why I didn’t just add another station. My children are finally old enough to use the instruments unsupervised. I would never have done this when I had preschoolers. It would have caused way too much trouble.

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.

 photo df1bf937-6d4c-426a-b50a-e597826ea688_zps246eca1d.jpg
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.

 photo b331ce91-91fa-4332-9833-7f1a846981f9_zps59557d91.jpg

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

 photo d5adfd9e-4c9c-4bc1-9446-c7d7d4a3a355_zps71341c42.jpg
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.


 photo 5d7c9617-88b0-40f5-b920-c2f6b1dbc3b2_zps7f064a69.jpg

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!)


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

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

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

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

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