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In response to my recent Road Trip! post, several people mentioned snacks – a couple offered specifics; others were more general.

But it made me realize that I am Very Eager to discuss Road Trip! snacks. 

When I was a kid, my dad would buy rolls of Necco Wafers and hand them around. We had to take the wafer we were offered, so there was always the immense danger of getting the licorice flavored one. He was also a big fan of Planters Heat Peanuts. My mom, I seem to remember, perhaps incorrectly, enjoyed things like Chex Mix. 

For me, a Road Trip! is all about the chips. Aside from tortilla chips (which I eat occasionally), I hardly ever buy chips. This is because I LOVE chips and will eat an entire bag in one sitting. So chips are a real treat for me, and that’s my go-to snack for Road Trips. My favorites are Barbecue LaysMiss Vickie’s Jalapeno, and Doritos Salsa Verde, the latter being a variety I don’t see in gas stations that often anymore. 

I have also recently become… well, obsessed isn’t the right word for it. Infatuated with? Yes. I have recently become infatuated with Skinnypop, despite the irritating name. My daughter got me into it; I think parents often buy individual bags of Skinnypop for birthday party snacks, and maybe they offer Skinnypop as one of the snacks at school; I’m not quite sure about anything that goes on in my kid’s life when I’m not around. Anyway, she liked Skinnypop first and asked for it enough that I ended up trying it. Now we buy it by the giant package at Costco. I love it. Don’t get me wrong – I would much prefer a giant bowl of freshly popped popcorn drenched – drenched – in butter, but Skinnypop is really quite delicious. So I might consider adding it to my Road Trip! snack repertoire.

While I am much more interested in salty things than in sweet things, sometimes the best chaser for a bag of spicy chips is a bag of Twizzler Nibs. Or maybe a Milky Way Midnight bar. 

And I rarely ever drink soda these days, but I do love a nice frosty bottle of Diet Mountain Dew. 

I may or may not indulge in my traditional Road Trip! snacks on this particular Road Trip!. They are not, as you might have already intuited, keto friendly. But my husband has already decided that he is NOT sticking to keto while we are on our trip, and that makes it much harder for me to stick to it. 

If I stick to it, though, I will survive by eating copious amounts of Zero Sugar York Peppermint Patties and Zero Sugar Reese’s Miniature Cups which Swistle has been recommending for a long time and I just recently tried. They are SO GOOD and do not taste like keto food; they taste like treats.

(I have yet to find keto chips I like. I tried the Quest Chili Lime chips, which were WONDERFULLY crunchy and had a nice chili lime flavor. But the chili lime flavor, though strong, was not strong enough to disguise the flavor of the chips themselves which I find to be oddly bitter.)

Speaking of my husband: I feel like I should KNOW what kind of Road Trip! snacks are his favorite. But I… have no idea. Maybe he doesn’t have one or two repeat snacks that he always eats? Maybe he goes for a wide variety? Maybe I am so hyperfocused on my own snacking that I become completely oblivious to those around me? I am not sure. Honestly, I don’t even know what I would buy for him if he sent me into the gas station with instructions to pick him out a snack. Some.. Sun Chips? That seems like the wrong answer. 

My daughter LOVES snacks and LOVES treats, so you know she is going to have many, many requests. If I were to choose something for her, I’d probably pick a trifecta of Cheetos or Cheez-Its, something weird (like a plunger shaped lollipop that you dip into a toilet bowl filled with sugar – yes, this is something she purchased with her own money recently), and something sweet. She likes most (all???) sweets, so I’m not even sure what I would choose for her, but I think she would probably like it.

Now, I have been speaking mainly of gas station treats. But Road Trips! are an opportunity to eat fun fast food, too. If you like fast food. I don’t particularly care for it, I have to say. So usually I vote for Arby’s so I can at least order curly fries. When I was a kid, Subway was our fast food stop of choice, and I do enjoy a six inch Spicy Italian sub on whole wheat with no cheese, plenty of spicy mustard. I don’t know if I would enjoy it quite as much now. But I suppose we will have a chance to find out! 

So now it is your turn! Tell me, in detail, your FAVORITE Road Trip! snacks – sweet, savory, and any other category. 

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My husband and I are busy planning our Road Trip! for later this summer and a fun part of that is considering what we need (“need”) to buy to make the Road Trip! as fun as possible.  This is going to be a LONG road trip, taking place over the course of ten days. So it’s not your normal drive to Grandma’s house. Well, in our case, it IS a drive to Grandma’s house but Grandma’s house is on the other side of the country so it will take quite some time to get there and get home.

So far, here’s what we have bought:

A little backseat organizer for Carla. She can use it to set up her iPad, so she can watch without straining her neck (My current plan is to enforce the two-hours-of-screen-time-per-day restriction we have, even though she will be in the car. We’ll see how long this lasts. But I grew up with a father who continually asked me to look at the scenery while we were driving, and – despite the fact that I found it very irritating at the time – I seem to have absorbed that philosophy to a cellular level.) (Also, when I was a kid, I read books and played with a Gameboy on a teensy screen and never suffered from “neck strain,” so Carla doesn’t really NEED a specific organizer to address this non-problem.) Right. We are talking about the organizer, not about my inherited road trip ascetism. She can use it to store… things. Colored pencils? A stuffed animal? Masks? Snacks? I don’t really know WHAT things, but she does tend to accumulate a lot of stuff, and my husband cannot stand a messy car (I resigned myself to a messy car long ago), so the entire organizer is really for my husband’s sanity.  My husband really wanted to get one of the organizers that had a little fold down tray, but ***MORBID THOUGHTS ALERT*** my mind instantly went to decapitation in case of a car accident because that is how my brain works, and I managed to persuade him to find something else.

image from amazon.com

A foldable, waterproof trash can that can hang off the back of one of the front seats. Again, this is mainly for my husband’s sanity. My whole life, I have been perfectly fine using a plastic bag from a gas station to collect snack wrappers and soda cans, and tossing it at the next gas station where you inevitably pick up a new one. But my husband enjoys having the exact right thing for every situation, and if it is helping him feel excited about the trip, and if it helps reduce his stress/irritation during the trip, then I am all for it. 

image from amazon.com

Road trip journal. This is also for Carla. One thing that I do NOT have trouble spending money on is Fun Travel Treats. One thing I remember with such fond joy about trips with my parents is that my mom always made these little kits full of fun surprises that we could open during the trip. Usually they would include things like a fresh tablet of drawing paper and a brand-new package of colored pencils or markers, maybe a new Barbie, a new book, a workbook of some sort, or maybe a book of paper dolls. OMG – do paper dolls still exist? I don’t think Carla has ever encountered a paper doll, and I wonder if she would like them? Wow. I have gotten really off topic. Anyway: I LOVED these little treats, and they made the travel part of trips so much more fun, and so I like to get Carla little treats as well. My husband doesn’t really get this, though, so I have to wheedle a bit. Like, he would disapprove of a new pack of colored pencils because Carla already has a million colored pencils. He just doesn’t understand that part of the cache is that the pencils are NEW. ANYWAY I keep trying to redirect myself and it is like pulling a jumbo jet with a jump rope tied to its nose. We got this road trip journal for Carla as a Fun Travel Treat. She likes journals (at least, she likes the idea of journals; she is my daughter through and through) and I am hoping this will help her feel engaged with the trip. 

image from amazon.com

A family card game for the car. Admittedly, I may be the only one of the three of us who has any interest in this Loaded Questions game. But it sounds fun, to me, and I like the idea of being able to play a game together that doesn’t involve a screen. 

image from amazon.com

An audiobook. I think we have settled on A Wrinkle in Time or the fifth Harry Potter book. 

A fun snack. I chanced upon a display of vegan peanut butter caramel coated popcorn the last time I was at Trader Joe’s and grabbed a bag. I may end up kicking myself for not grabbing multiple bags. But we will SAVE IT for our Road Trip! and I am anticipating that at the very least it will be fun to try.

image from traderjoes.com

Things we are still considering, but haven’t yet purchased:

A fresh tablet of drawing paper. Carla loves to draw, and I know how absolutely wonderful it is to have a FRESH tablet of drawing paper, ready to be filled with creations. 

image from amazon.com

travel atlas. I think this would be fun, but am not 100% sure Carla would read most of it. Plus, how many giant books do we need rattling around in the car with us?

image from amazon.com

A cooler. My husband is CONVINCED that we need a cooler. Again, I direct you to my childhood, during which we never needed a cooler. Now, maybe a cooler would be nice, but in that case, I petition for a VERY CHEAP cooler. My husband, on the other hand, wants a Yeti cooler that costs – I SHIT YOU NOT – $350. My very blunt response to that was, “I will never be okay with spending $350 on a cooler.” I told him that my upper range for cooler expenditure is $50. It does not matter if the Yeti cooler keeps ice from melting for three weeks. We do not need that kind of cooling duration.  Now, I can fully imagine people for whom the $350 Yeti cooler is practical or a necessity. If you make your living as an ice fisherperson, perhaps; or if you live in the Australian Outback. And other situations, surely. But for me, it is a Startling Expense TM Swistle and I cannot do it. My husband has done extensive research – which involved us going to a sporting goods store and looking at physical coolers, so we could see which size would work best for our very limited needs – and I think we have landed on this one. It is within my $50 threshold, and I DO think having a cooler will be useful for other situations I have yet to consider. 

image from amazon.com

Another family game. Carla and her friends love playing Would You Rather? and it might be a fun way for the three of us to interact while we drive… but then again, it’s fairly easy to come up with questions on your own. I don’t know. Still debating. 

image from amazon.com

A travel pillow. I tend to fall asleep immediately in the car, but then my head continually sags forward onto my chest and then snaps up and then sags forward and then snaps up ad infinitum. I would LOVE to find a travel pillow that keeps my head from doing this, but I feel like I have tried ALL the travel pillows and I have yet to find one that works, so I am not terribly hopeful. 

A set of paper dolls. They DO still make paper dolls! I am not sure if Carla would like them – but at least she would find them briefly diverting. Now, do I go for the Anne of Green Gables version? The Little Women version? The Nancy Drew version? Carla might like this “fashions of Edith Head” version best – she is very into fashion design lately. Ah, but it looks like it requires scissors (rather than the pieces being perforated), and Carla isn’t going to know who any of the subjects are (Audrey Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Judy Garland). So maybe we won’t do paper dolls after all. At least not for this trip. 

What are some of the Utmost Necessities you’ve found useful on a Road Trip!? 

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My mom was visiting over Christmas and I was getting the table ready for dinner, filling water glasses, swooping bread into the bread basket, moving salt and pepper shakers from the counter to the table. You know. 

As I was filling up my mother’s glass with water from the fridge, she said, “I’m not a nice person.”

I was SHOCKED. Shocked. That she would say such a thing, of course. But that she would announce it like this, while we were all milling about in the kitchen before sitting down to eat. 

“What?!” I said. “That’s not true!”

She looked at me with confusion. Then realization dawned.

“I just meant I don’t want ice in my water,” she clarified. “I’m not an ICE person.”

Oh. 

This has since become family code for little misunderstandings. My husband out of nowhere says Carla is not allowed in the basement… but really he said she’s being loud in the basement. Once we clear up that confusion, one of us will say, “I’m not a nice person.” 

Or maybe my husband offers to bring me a snack, but I tell him I’m not in the mood for popcorn… when he brings me popcorn anyway, I will say, “I’m not a nice person.”

That kind of thing.

We have several little code words and phrases,  none of which would make sense to anyone beyond the two of us. Even Carla, I think, is a little perplexed by some of the little inside jokes. 

We were reading a book to her the other night, for instance, and my husband mispronounced the word “candelabra.” 

This is something he and I do automatically, any time it comes up, after watching an episode of The Amazing Race many many years ago in which a contestant mispronounced the word. (Can-DELL-uh-brah.) I don’t know why it struck us as so notable then (it’s not an intuitive word!), or why it’s something that’s had such staying power. 

The other thing we say all the time is, “Just switching things up.” This is something we say in response to someone – including one of us – doing something baffling. Like, why did you Venmo the old babysitter instead of the swim instructor? Just switching things up. Why did that person choose to turn left at a red light? They’re obviously just switching things up. That kind of thing. 

This derives from a road trip we went on with friends a million years ago. Our friend was driving the other car in our group, and he kept passing us on the freeway… and then slowing down so drastically that we had to pass him. When we reached our destination, my husband asked him why he didn’t maintain a constant speed and he shrugged and said, “I just like to switch things up.” It has stuck with us ever since. 

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My in-laws have left and my house is very, very quiet. I can walk around in my jammies again and eat a burrito for breakfast without feeling like my sanity is being questioned and I am hopeful that I will stop feeling quite so hateful toward my husband when I unload/rinse/load dishes. Overall, it was a pleasant visit; my in-laws are pretty amiable and easy, and it is not their fault at all that my husband and I are introverts for whom extended company is very wearying. Most importantly, my mother-in-law is finished with this phase of cancer treatment, and endured it very well, and we are all hopeful that the next phase will go just as smoothly.

I should be cleaning the guest room and the bathroom right now rather than eating toffee and writing, but I am not. Even though I know I will feel better once everything is freshly laundered and scrubbed with bleach, and especially once my daughter can revert from sharing our bathroom to using her own. (We have two sinks in our en suite, and for some reason my daughter refuses to use my husband’s. Even if she and I are brushing our teeth simultaneously and my husband is already at work.)

Okay, during that paragraph break, I put all the towels in the laundry and tossed the bar soap and half-empty hotel-size shampoo and conditioner into the garbage and emptied the trash. If you have a guest room, does it have a trash can in it? Do you expect a trash can when you stay in other people’s guest rooms? I have a trash can in the bathroom, but not in the guest room… but there was a little paper bag filled with trash on the floor by the dresser, which makes me wonder if I should buy one? I don’t have a trash can in my own bedroom; if I need to throw something away, I toss it in my bathroom trash can.

Okay, okay. I have now scrubbed out the powder room toilet and replaced the hand towel, scrubbed out Carla’s toilet, and moved the bathroom cleaning kit up to the hallway outside the bathroom. Baby steps. 

Spending so much time with my in-laws gave me ample opportunity to examine the differences between how my husband’s family of origin and my family of origin do things. Objectively, most of the differences are totally benign; both ways of going about things are fine and reasonable and I’m sure plenty of people do them that way. But hot ham is it difficult to see things objectively when you were raised doing things One Specific Way. Here are some examples; I have scrambled them up, so the first FOO mentioned is sometimes my FOO and sometimes my husband’s. 

  • One family of origin (FOO, from here on out), are cocktail drinkers; the other FOO are wine drinkers. 
  • One FOO eat mostly at restaurants, with occasional home-cooked meals; the other FOO make and eat the vast majority of their meals at home.
  • One FOO divide the household duties roughly evenly (although some tasks take on typically gendered lines, like dusting vs. changing the oil in the car; I would say these tasks break up based on interest and ability though); the other FOO are much more “traditional” in the sense that the housework nearly all falls to the woman, and the man will sit and read a newspaper while the woman scrubs dishes five feet away. 
  • One FOO eat most dinners together at the table as a family; the other FOO eats together in front of the TV just as often as they eat at the table. 
  • One FOO wants the food to be HOT when everyone sits down to eat, so you better sit down right away when it is ready; the other FOO doesn’t care a whit about food temperature, and takes their sweet time getting to the table, sometimes detouring to the bathroom or stopping to check on the progress of the jigsaw puzzle, even after they have been WARNED that dinner is about to be served, and then ASKED whether they are READY to eat, EVEN IF they have been married to a Hot Fooder for 10+ years. Bet you can’t guess whose FOO is whose in this one.
  • One FOO takes care of almost all household/car maintenance themselves (oil changes, lawn care, appliance/fixture/furniture repair); the other FOO outsources nearly everything (oil changes, lawn care, appliance/fixture/furniture repair).
  • One FOO always seems to be in the midst of renovations, with the newest trend in furniture and paint colors and appliances; the other FOO sets up house and only replaces furniture/appliances once it stops working. 
  • One FOO always has the latest technology (phones, computers, devices); the other FOO buys technology only once in awhile, and then often choose refurbished pieces or older models. 
  • One FOO accepts that a no is a no; the other FOO believes that it never hurts to ask. 
  • One FOO gives gifts of money and contributions to college funds; the other FOO gifts toys. 
  • One FOO buys the things they need and, after research, doesn’t think or talk about the price of the item; the other FOO is constantly fretting about price, and is delighted to find a good deal, and talks openly about how much things cost.
  • One FOO buys cars and uses them for decades until they wear out; the other FOO leases cars for a few years and then replaces them with the newest model. 
  • One FOO says goodbye and leaves; the other FOO says goodbye and lingers for several more hours. 
  • One FOO are kissers; the other FOO are huggers. 
  • One FOO prefers personal space and stays in hotels when they visit; the other FOO much prefers being together as a family. 
  • One FOO is staunchly Pro Thank-You Note, even if you thank them in person; the other FOO feels that a voiced thank-you is completely adequate. 
  • One FOO is very punctual; the other FOO has a more slippery grasp of time. 
  • One FOO is a soft-shell taco family; the other FOO prefers hard-shell tacos or taco salads. Why are so many of these bullets food related, hmm?
  • One FOO plans things out months, and in some cases years in advance; the other FOO is much more spontaneous about making plans. 
  • One FOO is a dessert-every-night family; the other FOO is a dessert-on-special-occasions family. 
  • One FOO is a silence is golden type; the other FOO is the hard-to-get-a-word-in-edgewise type. 
  • One FOO is a No Devices At The Table type; the other FOO has their phones by their plates at all times, and if the topic is boring to an individual, there is no hesitation in picking up the phone and disengaging from the conversation. (Carla raised her hand during one particularly drawn out discussion and asked, politely but pointedly, “Can I change the subject now?”) 
  • One FOO is a TV in the bedroom family; the other FOO is a no TVs in the bedroom family. 
  • One FOO is a church-every-Sunday family; the other FOO doesn’t observe any religion.
  • One FOO are Facetime/phone-call communicators; the other FOO prefer email and maybe occasional phone calls.
  • One FOO always has salt and pepper on the table; the other FOO trusts that all food is salted/peppered exactly right for every palate. 

Like I said, it’s hard to accept one way when you grew up doing things the exact opposite way. But I can see the merits of both sides. At least in most cases (hot food should be eaten while HOT). 

Then, of course, it is amusing to see the points where our FsOO overlap, and the family my husband and I have created diverges. 

  • Both FsOO believe in ironing, and both women iron their husbands’ shirts to this day; my husband and I operate a pro-wrinkles household and refuse to iron. 
  • Both FsOO are firmly shoes IN the house types; my husband and I are a SHOES OFF household. 
  • Along the same lines: My husband and I are immediate handwashers; we come into the house, from anywhere, and wash our hands before we touch anything. (Except our shoes, which we remove at the door.) Our FsOO seem disinclined toward handwashing unless they have recently used the restroom or are cooking/eating. 
  • Both FsOO prefer phone calls to text messages; my husband and I, like the good millennials we are, would prefer to never use a phone again.

Obviously, my husband and I are RIGHT.

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We had Carla’s eighth birthday party at a nature preserve. It took place outside, in an open-walled pavilion. The “entertainment” feature was to be a dinosaur-themed hike. 

Because Carla had requested a dinosaur theme, I bought dinosaur décor. I had first found some pink and purple dinosaur party supplies, but my husband thought they were too babyish, so we went with a more mature dino look

Very Mature image from amazon.com

It worked out very well for the venue, which had long picnic tables that I was glad we could cover up with tablecloths.  Although it was quite breezy so my mother-in-law had to spend a lot of time masking-taping the tablecloths to the tables. Bless her.

Note the enormous rock in the foreground that my father-in-law used to help keep the tablecloths in place. Added to the theme.

I set up the gift table with additional snacks – eight-year-olds can build up quite an appetite when they are out hiking. Plus, there is ALWAYS one kid who doesn’t want the cupcakes. So I packed Cheez-Its and the flavored raisins I mentioned recently and mandarin oranges and lots of bottled water. I also made sure we had tons of antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer; one can never be too careful, but especially during a pandemic. I also brought bug spray and spray sunscreen. I am nothing if not over prepared!

It looks quite sparse, but that’s because I forgot to tell my husband that half of the table would be for gifts.

My mother-in-law was such a HUGE help with the party, especially with the centerpieces. I wanted something to add a little visual interest to the tables. Yes, I know this is ridiculous; the kids don’t care. But * I * care. So I ordered these matching centerpieces, which were dinosaur cutouts that you affix to sticks and arrange artfully into vases or jars. 

This is what I expected them to look like:

image from amazon.com

My mother-in-law, bless her again, suggested the night before the party that we should set up the centerpieces in advance – for ease of carrying, and one less thing to worry about at the party. Thank goodness she did, because I could NOT get them to look right and was despairing. (My husband: “It doesn’t matter. The kids don’t care.”) But my mother-in-law persevered! She clipped greenery from our hedges and flowers from my flower pots and made the centerpieces look, I thought, quite lovely and wild. Did a single child comment on them? No. But I LOVED THEM. 

I am once again irritated that the decorations are one-sided.

I made cupcakes for the party, with colorful mismatched frosting. Per Carla’s request, they were vanilla cupcakes with lemon curd filling and lemon cream cheese frosting. When I ran out of lemon curd, I suggested we bring half plain, half filled, just in case some of her friends didn’t want lemon curd, and she was very amenable to that. 

Because it was SO HOT on the day of the party, I stuck my cupcake carrier into a big insulated bag and put ice packs under and on top of it. This worked very well, even though the cupcake carrier was too big to fit completely inside the bag. Not a single cupcake melted. (Better yet: no one got food poisoning from over-hot cream cheese frosting.) 

In classic me-making-things-as-difficult-as-possible-for-myself, I did not do all the frosting the same. But I rather like how colorful it turned out? I did three colors per frosting bag, trying out different combinations.

As I mentioned, the day of the party was HOT. And thunderstorms were predicted. I bought a book of dinosaur coloring pages – the kind where there’s a list of images to find in the picture – and a bunch of colored pencils, plus a couple of pads of drawing paper, just in case the storm prevented the hike from going through and we need to Do Something Else. Fortunately, it remained sunny and dry (and HOT) for the duration of the party. (It started pouring just as we were driving away, which was so lucky!)

I knew that the nature preserve staff allotted about thirty minutes between when the guests arrived and the hike began, so I brought some crafts to keep the kids busy. I found these dinosaur mask-making kits at Michael’s, and my in-laws helped each kid pick which mask they wanted to make, filled little plastic cups with glue, and distributed Q-tips and glue sticks. The kids seemed to enjoy the project, chatting with each other as they glued eyes and horns and spots to their masks, and making the masks took up the exact right amount of time. 

The hike leader was very sweet and friendly, but she seemed to have underestimated the amount of information kids today know about dinosaurs: every single time she tried to stump them with a question about dinosaurs, at least one child knew the answer. But the kids seemed to enjoy themselves, even if they weren’t learning anything new. It’s a PARTY, right? Not a college lecture series.

One of Carla’s friends told a delightful dinosaur joke: Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl go to the bathroom? Because the “p” is silent. Carla’s friends thought that was hilarious. 

I sneaked around and applied sunscreen to the kids while the staff member was giving her spiel. I mean, I tried to sneak – obviously I had to ask the kids if they needed sunscreen and then sprayed them with it, so I wasn’t invisible. 

One of the staff members led the kids on a hike through the woods, pointing out birds and turtles and plants. My husband and my father-in-law accompanied the group on the hike, to keep the kids together and watch out for stragglers. The kids collected seashells and answered trivia questions about dinosaurs.

My mother-in-law and I stayed behind to clean up the craft and wipe down the tables in preparation for cupcakes. The craft – which required the kids to peel white covers off of approximately six million tiny pieces – was awful to clean up. The breeze had carried the little peels into every corner of the pavilion, wedging them in between the boards of the benches and planks of the pavilion floor. But I got every last one of them (I hope). We wiped down the tables and then my mother-in-law and I went and sat in the car with the air conditioning blasting. 

That was the worst part of the party: being so hot. I am not a hot weather person and I was a melted candle well before the party began. When our friends dropped off their kids, one tried to hug me. “I’m too sweaty,” I told him. He stepped back and looked me over. “You sure are,” he said. That’s a good feeling. Being visibly, appreciably sweaty. 

After the hike, I herded the children – masked – into the nature center, where they were allowed to use the bathroom. (The nature center was still closed to the public.) They all washed (“washed”) their hands and hurried back to the pavilion. We handed out cupcakes (MANY kids rejected the lemon curd, so I’m glad we had the two options) and lit a candle on Carla’s cupcake and sang her happy birthday. 

These cupcake toppers were one-sided too, but still cute.

Then we handed out favor bags (which I apparently didn’t photograph?) and the kids’ parents collected them. It was a quick two hours but very satisfying. Carla and her friends seemed to have a great time. 

I DO wish we’d had dinosaur wrapping paper, but I can’t buy wrapping paper JUST to fit a theme.

For Carla’s actual birthday – a few days later – I carried on the dinosaur theme. We had one tablecloth remaining, and I added the centerpiece sticks to a vase of flowers, and I ordered a big dinosaur balloon. We always decorate the birthday table the night before, so the birthday girl (or man) sees it first thing when they come into the kitchen in the morning. (This is a tradition leftover from my childhood.)

Carla decided to stay home from camp. With all the birthday excitement, plus her grandparents being around, she’d been going to bed super late. So she wanted to sleep in and relax and I didn’t mind keeping her home. (I especially didn’t mind because her camp group was scheduled to go on a field trip that day, which required packing them all into a bus, during a pandemic, and driving them on a busy freeway. Two MAJOR anxiety points for me.) Carla didn’t mind missing her field trip and we decided to have a Girls’ Day. We put on dresses and makeup and did our hair fancy (she put an ornamental bird on her ponytail). Our first stop was a candy store. I gave Carla $5 and she was allowed to buy anything she wanted. I loved that we had nowhere to be, and absolutely no time pressure (I’d made her cake the day before, because it needed to be refrigerated overnight), so she could look at every single candy option on the shelves and take her time choosing. 

Then we went to a local bakery that sells macarons. I have taken Carla there twice since it opened, and each time, it was closed. But because we went this time so early in the day, it was finally open! The bakery has a little restaurant as well, and one of the tables is a beautiful Cinderella carriage. Because only two tables in the whole place had diners, I let her ask the manager if she could sit at the carriage table and get her picture taken. She wore her mask the whole time, but the photos are still really cute. She also told everyone we met that it was her birthday, and everyone was very charmed by her and wished her many happy returns. We got her a macaron to bring home and I asked what she wanted to do next.

Turns out, she wanted to go to Barnes and Noble and look at toys. (This despite the fact that she had JUST gotten a million new toys from her friends and had a million more family gifts to open later that night.) Fine! We spent a nice long time in the toy section, where she examined every Barbie and LOL and LEGO set and craft set and piece of Harry Potter merchandise in the entire store. Did we look at a single book? No. Again, it was lovely to be able to be as leisurely as possible, and let her take her time and enjoy herself. I took pictures of her holding things she wanted to buy, which I think gives her the same little thrill I get out of putting things I want in online shopping carts.

Then we stopped at a deli to pickup takeout sandwiches and headed home. 

For dinner, she requested homemade tacos. You KNOW I was happy to comply. And then we had raspberry cheesecake for dessert. 

It was a perfectly serviceable cheesecake. The crust was buttery and crunchy and the cheesecake had a good texture (except for the center, which was a little too soft for my taste). I had reserved some of the raspberry puree and we drizzled that over our slices. 

If only the entire theme could have been Sparkly Pink T-Rex. I would have really leaned into that.

Not my most beautiful or favorite cake, by a long shot, but it was what Carla wanted and I think it turned out okay. 

All in all, a satisfying – and surprisingly low-stress (once I secured the venue) – birthday celebration!

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The weather is wreaking havoc on my allergies. One day it’s 75 and sunny, the next we have thunderstorms, the next there’s a low of 38 degrees, the next it’s 55 and drizzly. Any time the weather changes, I wake up feeling like an elephant is standing with its forelegs on my brow furrows and its hind legs on my cheeks. The elephant has taken up permanent residence of late.

To add dust mites to injury, I skipped the thorough housecleaning this week. I did the bathrooms on Friday, but Sundays are for dusting and vacuuming and cleaning the floors and I just… didn’t do it this week. Listen, it was a grey, dreary Sunday and my family just wanted to sleep in and pursue solitary, quiet activities all day and I could not drum the energy it would have required to badger them into doing housework with me. Nor the energetic resentment it would have required to do the housework by myself. At the time, it felt like I was getting away with something, but now I have Regrets; apparently one week plus one day’s worth of dust is too much for my overly touchy immune system.

All this means that I’ve been sneezing a lot. A lot a lot.

Oh – and I have observed something interesting, which is that my sneezing habits have changed over time. I used to be a one-and-done sneezer. But in the past few years, it’s usually a one-two punch of sneezing. I’ve always felt a mix of sympathy and curiosity toward those people who sneeze multiple times in one go – you know, like five times in quick succession, and it’s always five on the dot. It must be so irritating/exhausting to be in a work environment and to KNOW that you will sneeze no fewer than X times and have coworkers say “bless you” after each one, thinking your sneezes are complete. Perhaps this is less of an issue now, in The Time of Zoom. I don’t know.

I do know that my family gets curiously irritated with me when I sneeze. Especially my husband. Look, I get it. Sneezes can be startling and they require a response, so you have to be on the alert when someone gets that watery-eyed look that means an achoo is imminent.  And I am also painfully aware that when my allergies are all hot under the collar, I can sneeze A LOT. Like… a dozen times. Not all in a row, but with a few seconds’/minutes’ pause between each one. 

My husband typically gets annoyed first. “Geez,” he might say. “What’s wrong with you?” But not in, like, a caring/concerned way. More like in the way he might say “What’s wrong with you?” if I started making a spit fountain with my Diet Coke in the middle of a restaurant. (We don’t go to restaurants anymore; this is just an example.) You know. A mix of disdain and annoyance. 

(He has also taken issue with the MANNER of my sneezing. I apparently don’t… let it out enough for him. And I admit, my sneezes are fairly contained. But that’s just the way I sneeze. While I maintain that my sneeze technique just bugs him for whatever reason, he claims that he’s afraid I will rupture an aneurysm in my brain or something; this is apparently a real thing; I just googled it. To appease him, I have tried to be more extravagant in my sneezing, but a) it’s very difficult to change the way you have been executing an involuntary function your entire life and b) it’s gross. It gets saliva and snot all over the place, and by “the place” I mean the interior of my elbow. If most people are sneezing like this, and you KNOW not everyone is making use of their elbow, no wonder colds and flus and other viruses get around so much. Ew.) 

I have pointed out to him that getting annoyed with my sneezing is a ridiculous response. The sneezing is involuntary. As soon as I start on one of my sneezing fits, I try to resolve the issue by blowing my nose and/or taking an allergy pill. He has eased up his cranky commentary with time. (But I’m betting he isn’t less annoyed; he is just biting his tongue.)

(And I get it – really, I do. Anyone who has been around a coworker or a family member with the sniffles or a persistent cough or a throat clearing understands that a repetitive sick noise is very grating indeed. But I kind of feel like the sneezing is slightly different? It’s not daily; even when I have a sneezing spasm, it goes on for minutes, not hours. And it – so far – has NEVER HAPPENED when either of us is trying to fall or stay asleep. Okay, maybe it IS super annoying but it’s TEMPORARY at least.)

Even Carla has to make some sort of comment when I get going. At least she’s not annoyed by me (yet). But she will pipe up with something like, “You’re sure sneezing a lot.” 

Yes, I know. Thank you. I had also noticed that I have just sneezed twelve times in the past three minutes. It’s not fun for ME EITHER, I ASSURE YOU. 

Maybe the REAL issue is what I mentioned before, that social convention requires a response to sneezing. (A POLITE response; “geez” doesn’t count.) And if you feel like you have to respond to every sneeze… and there are 15 sneezes… well, I can see how that would be indeed trying. 

We have a little tradition in our family where you say “bless you” for the first sneeze, and then, should there be a second, you say “gesundheit.” (And the sneezer responds in English to the first blessing and in German to the second. I know. We are weird.) I suppose we could do French for the third sneeze, but no one does. Instead, by the third sneeze, everyone is annoyed.

I propose that, universally, we should acknowledge the first two sneezes, and then – if others follow – we ignore them and move on with our lives. Honestly, I would be FINE without acknowledging them at all; after all, sneezes should belong to the category of other bodily emissions that come with being human – hiccups, gas, sweat – that we all pretty much pretend don’t exist when we encounter them in the wild. I don’t know why sneezes get special treatment; I think originally blessings were meant to ward off the plague, which, okay, perhaps we can all use ALL the blessings we can get these days.

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We are at the glorious age where Carla wakes up on weekend mornings and trots herself down to the living room and turns on the TV all by herself. My husband and I have been sleeping in until the grand old hour of EIGHT AM. It is lovely. (IT GETS BETTER!) But then she just wants to watch TV alllllll day long. Sometimes I want to give in to this, because TV is such a good babysitter. I can cook or clean or read books or look at my phone. It’s wonderful.

But. No amount of TV is ever enough. My child is addicted to TV. She looooooves it. I love it too, so I completely empathize. But I also want her to enjoy non-TV activities, like riding her bike and playing on our backyard playset and exploring nature and building LEGO creations etc. etc. etc. And… she gets a teeny bit mean after she’s been watching shows for a while. And… TV consumption makes her want to consume MORE TV.

Listen, I am no TV detractor! There is some great programming on TV, for kids and adults alike. You can learn things from TV, from concepts about friendship and self-control, to new vocabulary words, to famous operatic scores (I’m looking at you, Bugs Bunny).

But, because she truly seems addicted, and because she gets a little mean, and because she needs to occasionally do other things – like move her body and flex her brain – we limit her TV consumption. During the school year, there is no TV on school days. There are exceptions, of course. If we go out to dinner, we bring an ipad and she can watch TV after we order food. If we go on a car trip that’s longer than an hour, we bring the ipad. If it’s a vacation day or a weekend day, we limit TV to an hour or two, depending on various factors. This works for us. Other people have found other PERFECTLY REASONABLE media-consumption strategies. I do not care if your kids watch hours of TV a day if it works for your family.

Anyway, I have gotten off track from my original point. Which is that my kid and I both like TV. Yet I cannot stand most of the TV shows she likes. My Little Pony, yuck.Daniel Tiger, yawn. Puppy Dog Pals, eye glaze. Barbie, more like barf-y. And I am not going to settle in to watch Real Housewives of New York Cityor Stranger Things or even old episodes of Friends with Carla.

But I have found something that we can watch together! MasterChef Junior.

We picked a season at random on YouTube (season 6, I think), and watched the whole thing together, episode by episode, over a number of weeks. We had such a good time!

It’s about kids, so it’s geared toward kids. Which means there’s none of the yelling and cursing I associate with other Gordon Ramsey programs (he’s the host and one of the judges of MasterChef Junior). The premise, like all other competition reality shows on TV, is that you get a big group of contestants and then give them challenges, whittling the group down until you have one winner.

But all the contestants are age 8 to 13! Which makes them relatable to Carla. And they are all SO TALENTED. And, even better, they are all super articulate and kind and gracious. So even when they lose and get booted off the show, they have these really sweet, grateful things to say. Like, “I’m super sad to be going home, but I really learned so much while I was here! And I made so many friends! And I am just so lucky that I had this wonderful opportunity!” Seriously, they are more gracious losers than I’ve seen on ANY OTHER competition reality program.

The other thing I love about this show is that it has Life Lessons that Carla and I can talk about while and after watching. In one episode, a little girl gets overwhelmed and starts crying. The judges step in and help her recover her equilibrium, and she calms down and gets back to cooking. So Carla and I can discuss how awful it is to feel overwhelmed, and how it happens to everyone, and then we can talk through some strategies for recovering from that feeling and doing what you have to do.

And we can talk about losing, and how upsetting it is, but how there are really good things that come from trying your best at something, even if you don’t win. And how to behave in a gracious and sportspersonlike way, rather than allowing our hurt feelings to bubble over into anger and pouting and kicking things on the way out the door.

And we can talk about hard work, and putting in your very best effort. And how it takes really focused energy and a LOT of practice to become really good at something.

I like to think that these conversations have a decent chance of sticking, when she can apply them to what we’re watching.

Anyway, watching Season 6 together was a lot of fun. I think Carla got a little bit bored by the end (I think there were 14 episodes), so we haven’t started a new season. But maybe we’ll do so in the future. And I’m trying to think of other similar shows that we might try instead. I think she’d like So You Think You Can Dance or maybe evenProject Runway, but neither of those shows is geared toward kids, so I’d worry about adult topics or nasty language. (I loved the Christian Siriano season of Project Runway, but some of the very sassy trash talk that made him so charming is not really what I want to model for my five-year-old.) I’d also like a show where the contestants are as gracious about losing as the kids are on MasterChef Junior. But that may be a fool’s errand.

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