Monday night comedy

It’s definitely bedtime, but Mabel is playing at her dollhouse, totally immersed in a scenario that I am not privy to, muttering everyone’s lines and making it all up as she goes along. Usually she likes to keep the TV on in the background so nobody can hear her, but tonight it’s off. I let her play on.

She bounds over to me, the little drama all wrapped up, to announce that she’s hungry. No surprise there, since she barely ate any dinner. I let her take some goldfish crackers, though I’d rather she ate a banana. A banana is not on her list of acceptable options tonight, and we’re out of yogurts.

Dash is done with his homework and has had his bedtime snack. They fall on each other like puppies and I head up the stairs, picking up the basket of clean laundry for folding as I go, hoping that tonight, for once, they’ll follow me. They do, after a fashion, having decided that Mabel is a baby and Dash is her mother and I – oh joy – have been assigned the role of big brother. Such hilarity.

Whatever gets you through the bedtime routine, as my mantra goes when I’m solo-parenting it. My mantra also goes why is this still such an ordeal and aren’t they old enough to just put themselves to bed yet, but nobody answers my queries. This particular game got us all the way into pyjamas and through toothbrushing and bathroom necessities and into Mabel’s bed, where the three of us now sat as she orchestrated the next part.

Her lisping fake baby voice is nothing like the voice she really had as a baby, when she probably spoke a lot more sensibly than she’s doing now, but tonight, for the moment, I’m entertained by her clowning. She produces some baby board books and demands that her “mother” read them. I watch Dash gamely – and relatively fluently, for him – read the sight words. After a couple of books he tries to hand the job off to me, but she’s ready for that – “No! He’s dyswexic! He can’t wead them!” Then he decides to teach her to read, and sounds out “r-e-d” for her in the colors book. She picks up another at random and reads “wed, wed, wed; wed wed wed, weeeeeed”, and gives herself a round of applause. She’s a born comedian, but I’m not sure anyone beyond the immediate family will ever see this show. Maybe you had to be there anyway. I’m somewhat enchanted by the sight of the two of them in fits of giggles, huddled together in cute pyjamas, in perfect accord, in cahoots.

I leave them to it though, as it’s clear no real storytime is going to happen tonight, and go to fold the laundry in my bedroom. I’m about finished when they’ve done with all the hilarity her room affords and they appear at the door. We’re at that point where the fun is about to turn into hysterics. Actually, we may have left that point in the dust ten minutes ago. I push a load of Dash’s folded clothes into his arms and he retreats to his room before Mabel can run in there and lock him out. It’s every man for himself now – she’s about to bounce on my bed where the other clothes are in neat piles, because she knows that that, of all things, will push my buttons and turn me from mild-mannered pushover to rage-filled mother bear. I’m very protective of my folded laundry.

I pull her back to her room by the ankles. She’s still giggling, putting on the baby voice, but my goose is cooked, my hourglass of patience has run out, and it’s time for the fun to end. Time to sleep. I heave myself up again to her bunk and sit against the pillows to one side. Amazingly, she joins me, lies down, lets me pull the duvet over her fluffy new pyjamas.

Ten seconds later she asks me if I know how hard it is to fall asleep when you’re tired but you can’t go to sleep. “That’s because you haven’t tried yet,” I say, exasperated. It’s not the first time we’ve had this conversation. She harrumphs back at me, thrashes her legs demonstratively, wriggles. I hold my ground and close my eyes; let my mind drift – but not too far. I have things to do downstairs, my day can’t be done already. Besides, who knows whether her brother is going to sleep or fashioning paper aeroplanes in his room. At least he’s quiet, I think.

The legs are still. She turns onto her back and yawns. Her breathing changes. A few more minutes and I can go. Picking my way over the foot bumps, the bunched end of the duvet, the red fleece blanket. Down the creaking ladder, out the door where stepping on a floorboard makes her new shelving click unaccountably; it’s okay. I’m home free.

A quick check on the boy, who was in fact lying quietly with his light off. Hope I didn’t wake him up. Night night sleep tight close the door.

Nine-thirty and I’m out. Not bad going for a Monday night.



The food is not the point

I started reading the picky-eater book with a very defensive attitude. It had been recommended, and I felt ready to maybe tackle this thing again, but I didn’t want to. At every page turn I saw obstacles and roadblocks, reasons why I couldn’t do this, why it would never work for us. My inner monologue went something like this:

– But we can’t do that. He won’t even sit at the table.

– I don’t want to feed everyone together. I can’t get all that food ready at the same time.

– Think of the washing-up! All those serving plates! And we can’t fit all the food on the table in dishes as well as each person’s plate. We’d have to eat in the other room, where the table is covered in homework and filing, and where you have to walk a mile around the counter to bring everything there.

– How can I get us to sit down together? B comes home at 6 and the kids are yelling for dinner from about 4:30 on.

– This will never work. I don’t even see why I would want it to. What’s so great about sitting at the table? Sure, there are studies that say families that eat together every night have kids who are better behaved, more academically successful, more wonderful in every way… but my kids are pretty good already. Kinda. Why would I give myself all these headaches just to be “good”?

/Heaves giant sigh of put-upon-ness./

On the other hand, I have been starting to feel lately that, well, sometimes living here is like sharing a flat with short ungrateful people who never do their share of the cleaning up. What’s the point, really? When do we get to be a family, if we’re just the people who live in the same house as them and bring them to the places they need to be?

And I’m really sick of people announcing that they’re hungry, again, right when it’s bedtime or time to start their homework, or just when I’ve put away everything from dinner. All the separate dinners.

So maybe – just maybe – something wasn’t working so well after all. Maybe it was worth trying to make a change.

As I said yesterday, I really liked the fact that the authors said you can start a bit at a time. Going all-out with a totally new way of doing things is great sometimes, but I feel like that would be doomed to failure, for us. But small steps, when it’s easy-ish; I can maybe do that.

And the more I read the more I understood that what I’ve to aim for isn’t for Dash to be an adventurous eater. It’s not even, necessarily, for him to branch out much. It’s for us to all sit around the table and have a pleasant time. At the moment, that’s a big enough end-game to hope for, and also makes it seem a little more possible that this isn’t all a wild flight of fancy. Eating at the table is a social skill that both my kids lack right now, much as I pretend they don’t – and maybe it’s within my power to change that.

So I started out very small. I’d noticed that when Mabel goes to her friend’s house after school they have a snack at the table. I asked her how she’d feel about doing that at home. I figured if she was on board that would be a start, and maybe Dash would join in if there was no cooked food in the room with us at the time. She said it would be okay, she supposed. She sounded a little bit, secretly, happy about the prospect, even.

We had a snack at the table, served family style, sort of, as much as you can with apple slices and pretzels. Just me and her, and her brother for half a second before he flitted off. Since then we’ve had dinner at the table twice, the girl and her two parents and no brother, and snack at the table a couple more times. Dash says he can’t eat a sandwich at the table. It feels too weird. He runs away from french toast. He’s like a skittish kitten around humans for the first time. Maybe we’ll try pancakes over the weekend, because he likes those. (Not waffles. Won’t touch a waffle even though he knows the batter is practically identical.)

But the thing is, I think I get it. Mabel really likes it. I like it. It’s nice sitting at the dinner table having a conversation. It’s nice having Mabel there. It would be fun to have Dash there too, because he’s entertaining company. The food is not the point. I’m starting to understand.


The Picky-Eating Book – what you want to know

Well, I finished reading the book and I’m all fired up with renewed enthusiasm. I’m going to outline the basic plan from it in this post, and then I’ll write another post about what I’m thinking and planning and doing and how it’s going so far. (Very early days. But that’s why I have a “Best Intentions” tag.)

This is the book: Helping your Child with Picky Eating, by Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin.Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating - cover of book

When I showed it to Dash he spotted the flaw in the title’s phrasing immediately, and said he didn’t need any help with picky eating. Indeed: he’s an expert. But I read it anyway. And it was good.

This book is entirely complementary to everything Ellyn Satter wrote in How to Get Your Kid to Eat (and, I’m sure, her other books; that’s the one I’ve read). It takes Satter’s principles of Division of Responsibility (DOR) and draws them out to show you how to work it for an extremely picky eater, or a child who has physical problems that make it hard for them to eat, or even a child who’s been fed by a tube and is transitioning to solids. (And I thought I had it bad.)

Division of Responsibility, if you’re not familiar with it and didn’t just follow that link, means that you are responsible for where and when eating takes place, and what food is offered. The child is responsible for what and how much they eat.

The whole premise of the plan is that you get your child to the table, and once they’re there you take all the pressure off. You make the table a pleasant place to be, not one where they’re bugged and hounded and stressed about what they should and shouldn’t eat. You put a bunch of food on the table and everyone takes what they want and nobody talks about who’s eating what or how much. And your child always has at least one or two of their “safe” foods available, so they don’t have to go outside their comfort zone until they’re ready to.

The first part of the book basically lays to rest most parents’ fears and guilt about their child’s eating. It’s not your fault, it’s not something you did, and we can help you fix this without pressure or anxiety or making your kid cry. It talks about how if the dinner table is a place associated with stress and fear, your child is very unlikely to want to eat or to enjoy their food.

There are a few key points to the plan:

  • You schedule “eating opportunities” at regular intervals, following the same principles for snacks as for meals (and maybe offering something more nutritious then than you might have thought of; chicken nuggets, anyone?) So if they don’t eat much at dinner, they know there’ll be another chance for food in a little while.
  • You serve meals and snacks “family style”, meaning that you put everything on the table and each person helps themselves, or is helped if they can’t manage.
  • You put one or two of your child’s safe foods on the table, always available. If they eat nothing but bread rolls for days on end, say nothing.
  • You put the dessert on the table too. They can eat it whenever they want. No bribery, no “do this to get this.” It’s food, just like everything else.
  • You don’t encourage anyone to eat anything. You don’t say “Mmm, try some of this,” or “Just take a bite,” or “You need to eat some protein” or “That’s not enough to fill you up.” Just don’t. You can talk about how you like your food, and you can ask them not to “yuck someone else’s yum” – that is, not to say something on the table doesn’t look good, but mostly you’re there to enjoy a pleasant time with family. The food is not the focus.

The book goes on to show how you can plan meals that everyone will eat (at least some part of), and offers suggestions for ways to manage if you don’t have time for cooking or don’t want to cook much yourself. It also gives lots of advice for parents of children who have physical difficulties eating, and discusses types of therapy that might be useful and how to approach these. They also talk about how to deal with eating out of the home – at a restaurant, with other family members, or with friends.

My favourite part was near the end, when they said you don’t have to do this all at once. It’s not an approach that’s doomed to failure if you don’t go cold turkey on your old, bad ways and turn over a new leaf that never turns back. It accepts that maybe you can only commit to one step at a time, and that things might backslide for a while, but that you can keep going and this will become your new normal and it will work. I also really like that this is a plan for the whole family, not just something you’re doing for (or with, or especially to) the picky eater in your life.

Sounds good, eh? Come back for the next post to see what’s happening in real life.

Far-from-beige cauliflower and a discovery

I made Cauliflower with Romesco Sauce for dinner and it was so delicious that I’m going to give you the whole recipe, since I didn’t do it exactly the way the recipe I used told me to. I got this from Jill at Proper Fud, but I don’t think she ever blogged it, so here I am filling that gap.

First, put on some fancy wild rice mix to cook. Don’t boil it till it’s crunchy like I did. Or just use regular rice, whatever.
Then turn on the oven to 400 F and make the sauce while that heats up.

The sauce is exactly as given in the recipe:

  • ½ tsp sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 roasted red pepper (from a jar)
  • 40g fresh breadcrumbs
  • ½ garlic clove
  • 40g ground almonds
  • 1tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 50ml water

Sorry, Americans, for the metric. You’ll have to weigh stuff. (I love my digital scales. So handy.)

Whizz all that up in your food processor. I use the mini-blender attachment of my Braun Multimix that they don’t make any more so you can’t buy one – it’s just the right size and so much easier on the washing up than the big processor. First I ground the almonds in it, then added the bread to make the breadcrumbs, and then put in everything else and gave it a good blend. I end up with quite a dollop-y sauce, but if you wanted it more pour-y you could just add a bit more water, I’m sure.

Your oven is probably hot enough by now. Get a cauliflower and break it into florets. Spread them on an oiled baking sheet and sprinkle a teaspoon more of the smoked paprika over them, and a drizzle of oil. Into the oven with it.

After 20-25 mins the cauliflower will be roasted and a little charred around the edges. Try not to burn the rice like I did. Serve the cauliflower on the rice with dollops of sauce on top. The sauce really brings this whole thing to the next level and makes it a totally delicious dinner. A glass of wine  brings out even more facets of flavours, if you like that sort of thing.

Oh, and a discovery. Dash’s testing results came back with some helpful recommendations for all sorts of things, including his eating situation. The doctor mentioned a book called Helping Your Child With Extreme Picky Eating. I was sceptical because I’ve done all that, read the books – they just make me depressed and guilty – but I looked it up on Amazon anyway and checked out the reviews. One mentioned a website, so I took a look:

About 30 seconds later, all sorts of lightbulbs were going off in my brain. The website talks about Selective Eating Disorder, which is now called ARFID, and is an official thing people have. Here are some excerpts from the site.

Selective eating disorder was officially added to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in May 2013, and renamed Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is food refusal due to highly selective intake, lack of interest in eating, or fear of the unpleasant effects of eating without concerns of body image or weight.

“A selective eater will NOT “eat when they get hungry.” If you implement a technique designed to “wait them out” or “exert your parental control,” if you alter one of their 10-20 foods, you risk having that food drop out of their food list forever.

Children and adults with ARFID experience strong disgust reactions to the sight, smell and even the mere thought of eating unfamiliar food, which can create significant distress for eating in social settings.

Patients with ARFID are […] more likely to have a co-morbid anxiety disorder, learning disorder, or cognitive impairment […].

Therapy that focuses exclusively on the eating fails to consider the eating disturbance in its wider context as a relationship between the individual eating the food and the person who provides it.

DING DING DING!!! All the boxes, checked. All the Dash’s-eating things, making sense. I have joined the FB group and ordered the book. I read this entry and all the things I do, that are mostly for a quiet life and just because I hate causing, or suffering, angst, were suddenly validated and turn out to be okay.

So that’s a thing, and maybe it will lead to some developments. No cauliflower for him. Not yet.

Autumn light

Yesterday it rained all day, on and off, ranging from drizzle to steady fall. It was our edge of Hurricane Matthew, probably, and we were lucky to get off so lightly. I made chili for dinner, because it was definitely chili weather. This morning the skies were a deep blue etched high up with feathery clouds, the breeze was stiff, and the air was chilly.

Dash got dressed in the same shorts and t-shirt he was wearing yesterday. I suggested he rethink that, so he went full-on in the other direction, reappearing in cosy tracksuit bottoms, long-sleeved top, and – he announced – his ski socks.

Then he put on a hoodie and his jacket as well, and demanded mittens. Cue everyone running upstairs to ransack the cold-weather-accoutrements bag, where hats and scarves and gloves live in the summer. He got his mittens, Mabel pulled out earmuffs and a scarf and gloves, and they were well protected against the elements for a trip to the farmers’ market.

The sunshine is filtering through the trees behind the house, sending dancing shadows onto my yellow kitchen walls with every blast of the wind. The lawn is starting to collect this year’s ransom of yellow leaves; just a sprinkling so far. There are boys playing football at the front of the house and a girl drawing pictures inside it.

I made a tarte tatin with apples from the market for tonight, since the chili is already in the fridge. I usually save that recipe for special occasions, but maybe the first day of real autumn weather is enough.


Technology and me

The tube part of the hoover broke last week. B says he’s fixed it, but I don’t want to put any pressure on it and break it again. Probably best not to use it at all. It can just sit there in the corner, reassuringly not broken just now.


My fancy camera’s battery was discharging very quickly. Before it was even used, in fact. I ordered a new battery, but last time I looked it seemed to already need charging too, indicating that the problem may be not so much with the battery but actually with the camera. I put the whole thing away quickly before that turned out to be true. I can just use my little camera.

It’s no secret that my phone is crappy – it has a touch screen but otherwise is barely smart at all, and I really only use it for actual phone calls and text messages. (Not SMS messages. Only plain text. I can’t read the other sort.) The other day, though, I wondered why I didn’t even have Instagram on it. (I only have instagram on my kindle, which is rarely charged up because Mabel just uses it for Minecraft.) (You can’t use Instagram on a laptop, did you know? It’s mobile only.) But every time I tried to download Instagram to my phone, it froze. Finally I did the responsible thing and tried to delete some apps, except the phone wouldn’t even let me do that.

I went and found the charger for the Kindle.

Then my laptop started working horribly slowly, taking big whirly-beach-ball breaks every time I asked it to do anything taxing like, for instance, move the cursor on a document or open a new blog post. Left to myself my reaction would be, of course, to ignore this, and hope it would go away. Luckily, I married my very own IT department, and B did some detective work and found the place deep inside the machine where it says “Hard drive failure imminent” or some such. Not just a pretty face, he backed it up and ordered me a new hard drive on the spot.

I think we can take a few things away from all this.

1: The machines are winning.

2: When something goes wrong I prefer to remain in denial as long as possible.

3: Engineering is not my forte.

4: I think I’m getting a new phone.

I have a “Blathering” tag for a reason, you know

It’s not that the blog awards were over and suddenly I couldn’t be arsed blogging any more. It’s not even that I’m busy with real work, even though I am. I have at least three posts written in drafts, but they’re too boring to publish. I need some sort of random bulleted list kickstarter to just push me back in.

  • Yesterday for lunch I ate a salad of roasted golden beet with feta and maple-glazed roasted walnuts, in a dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Today I’m eating  instant noodles, because sometimes you just need the MSG, and sometimes having to constantly think of what to eat is so very tedious.
  • We got Dash’s latest testing results: still dyslexic. No surprise there, because I think if you grow out of being dyslexic you probably weren’t actually in the first place. He’s also still not ADHD, he just finds it hard to settle down and concentrate on his homework because reading is HARD for him. School is going very well and his math teacher in particular is very impressed with him.
  • Our babysitter has gone off to college and even though I have a number and a recommendation for someone else, the idea of having to actually put the whole new-babysitter concept into motion is so hideous to me just now that I wonder if never going out again wouldn’t be easier. Bad, maybe. But easier.
  • The weather has moved delightfully into autumn and I am now wearing socks and jeans and a cardigan and accessorizing with a scarf as threatened, and I’m very happy.

Oh, someone give me a writing prompt. I clearly need direction here.


Quietly booming

Well, the Blog Awards were on Thursday night and I didn’t win, but it’s all right because Fionnuala did, with her lovely blog from Germany, and I’m happy that the judges went for a catch-all parenting/lifestyle blog not so unlike my own (though clearly superior), because in previous years I always felt that they wanted something very touristy or “diaspora-y” for the Diaspora category, which I couldn’t possibly give them.

Anyway, head over to Three Sons Later and give her some love, not least because she was kind enough to give me a shout-out when she won, and I’m pretty sure that has something to do with the way WordPress has just informed me that my “stats are booming!” (Booming for me is more of a gentle nudge. But appreciated nonetheless.)

While I’m at it, you should check out The Airing Cupboard and Office Mum and also Department of Speculation because I’m giving them my very own Awards For Being Excellent At This and Robbed and also Very Supportive Commenters and Lovely People. Not that they need my puny referrals, but for what it’s worth.

We’ve been talking about introverts lately. I finally picked up a copy of Quiet, by Susan Cain, which had been recommended by a friend ages ago, and though I’m not far into it yet, it’s fascinating and illuminating reading.

Labels are something that I’m wary of giving my children, because I don’t want them to become self-fulfilling prophecies, to create self-imposed limits – but sometimes it’s important to feel that you have a tribe, and that you’re not just a lone outlier. (Oh, the irony, if you’re talking about introverts.) And it’s been clear to me for a long time that Mabel is an introvert. Dash is an extrovert, that’s not hard to divine; and B and I are both on the introvert side of the scale too, but fairly social ones.

Mabel, I think, is more than that. She’s shy as well, but it was the way even as a toddler she’d need to decompress after a social event with a good old solo imaginary-play session at the dollhouse that really clued me in. She couldn’t just head to bed, no matter how late we’d been out – she had to spend a while playing first. These days she gives me the evil eye if I’m in the same room, and likes to keep the TV on so that I can’t hear the voices she’s doing, but the compulsion to play is just the same.

Yesterday we went to a start-of-year potluck picnic for Dash’s school. Dash was in his element, happily buzzing around with his classmates, old and new, and B and I were chatting quietly to a few parents and teachers. I was happy that Mabel had headed into the fray of children, rather than hanging out of me the whole time as she had done last year. But she wasn’t really enjoying herself, and after a reasonable length of time we ducked out. She was tired and tetchy and I was on the alert for a meltdown, so nothing untoward happened. But in the car on the way home I started telling them about the book I was reading.

A short description of the characteristics of introverts and extroverts had Dash and Mabel instantly placing themselves, and wanting to know more. When we got home, Mabel wanted me to read bits of the book to her. We talked a bit about how our society favours extroverts and tries to make everyone think they should behave in the most outgoing way possible, but that it’s perfectly good and excellent and fruitful to have a more quiet, withdrawn, thoughtful personality.

I think, just as much as finding out we could say Dash was dyslexic was a good thing, letting Mabel define herself as an introvert will be helpful too.

And it’s so much more socially acceptable than saying you just don’t like people very much.


Summer’s end

The cicadas are so loud this time of year. When you go outside in the evening, there’s this almost electronic noise, rising to a crescendo and dying off, almost completely, before it starts again. It’s coming from the trees. A massive choral buzzing sort of chirp, a bit like a windup toy or a pullback car that you just let go.

Before I knew, I thought the noise was crickets, in the grass. But cicadas are not crickets. They’re like giant flying beetles, except you rarely see them fly, you just hear them. It’s the quintessential sound of summer in a hot climate.

If you go down to the lake, you hear the frogs and toads as well as the cicadas. Some of them peep, long or short; some of them have an amazing resonant low-toned twang. It sounds like the string of an electric bass guitar being plucked.

When I go out to the line to bring in the bone-dry washing, tiny crickets hop away from my feet with every step. The fireflies are gone – they’re an early summer thing, and it’s late, late summer now. There’s a shrivelled aloe plant in a plastic pot on my deck. A neighbour child gave it to us for no apparent reason, and I resent plants, so I put it out there and ignored it. It’s finally dying, but it took its time. Next-door’s cat ambles past. Cats are meant to be indoor-only here, but many people ignore that directive, and next-door’s cat spends much of his time lying on our front doorstep or under our cars. We don’t mind.

The air conditioning is working hard in the shops where the knitwear is already in stock. I nearly behaved inappropriately with a cardigan in Old Navy last week, because the smooth, soft wool felt so good against my bare arms. When I walk into the supermarket I’m hit by a waft of fake pumpkin spice, and the Halloween stock is on the shelves. The world is ready for autumn, but the weather hasn’t taken the hint just yet. Tomorrow they’re forecasting record September highs – temperatures in the 90s again.

Summer’s over. I’m ready for socks, and cups of tea that don’t make me sweat. I’d like to accessorize with a scarf again. Be done, summer. Go gracefully. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

orange flower with drooping petals

Presque – or maybe even Completement

Sometimes, all it takes is a road trip. Forced into a moving vehicle with no wi-fi access, in close proximity to your family members, on a sunny day… well, it’s either going to end well or really, really badly.

Our trip involved driving northwest for six hours for B to run a marathon, and then driving home. Our destination was exotic (no, it’s not) Erie, Pennsylvania. You may not have any preconceptions of what that would be like, but for me it was all quite a surprise (largely because I’d been busy with the book sale and recovering from the book sale and hadn’t given our trip a thought until about Thursday). Erie is in the top left-hand corner of the big rectangle that is Pennsylvania, and it’s on the coast of Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes. (Here’s a helpful map.)

Map showing northern Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Thank you, Google Maps. We came from halfway between Baltimore and Washington, drove along the bottom of PA, and up past Pittsburgh all the way to Erie.

I’ve been to Chicago, but otherwise haven’t experienced any of the lakes, and I never think of lakes as having beaches, even if they’re really darn big lakes. Not proper beaches. The website, when I finally looked at one, seemed to call Erie a beach town, but I was unconvinced.

We lived in Pennsylvania for a couple of years before we were married, and I think of it as a state of rolling, tree-covered hills punctuated with big red barns and domed grain silos. Amish and Mennonite people. Scrapple. Placenames that make you giggle. (Intercourse, Blue Knob, and Blue Ball, to cite a few.)

On the way we stopped at Fallingwater, which is a very famous house designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s. It’s tucked away on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, which is somewhere we’re not usually passing, so this was a good opportunity. B and I visited it once before, in 2000, which was a long time ago. The thing about Fallingwater is it’s a perfect time capsule, this ahead-of-its-time architecture right on top of a waterfall, with all the original furniture and fittings still in place. We did the tour and the kids acquitted themselves really well, managing not to touch or break or leap upon anything that was not meant to be touched, broken or leapt upon.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater

Look familiar?

(It’s so famous it even has a Lego incarnation.)

Anyway. That’s proper Pennsylvania. When we got to Erie,
it suddenly didn’t feel like Pennsylvania any more at all. (Okay, it takes way too long to type Pennsylvania. I’m just going to say PA now.) Erie may be PA but it felt a lot more like TX to me. Or maybe SC. It’s a beach town. (I’d say it’s like Florida but I haven’t actually been to Florida.) We didn’t see the city proper, we only saw the slightly scrubby suburb near the peninsula where the marathon took place, but its wide streets and cheap motels and tattoo shops and warm wind felt like nothing so much as South Padre Island, that we lived near in Texas.

So that was the first surprise.

We arrived after dinner on Friday so there was no time to explore. On Saturday morning we headed out for breakfast and a drive around, and found ourselves on the peninsula that’s almost an island (that’s its name: Presque Isle) where the marathon would be the next day. It’s a little blob that sticks out into the lake – except everything’s much bigger than you think when you’re talking about a Great Lake, so it’s actually a 13-mile drive around the little blob.

Map showing Presque Isle and Erie, PA

Nearly an island

Going up the inland side, we stopped about halfway along and got out to take in the bay. It was overcast and very choppy, though still warm. The kids scrubbed around for stones to throw in the water, and there were a couple of fishermen. It was pleasant to be out in the wind, but not what you’d call glorious, though the sun was starting to come out.

Kids playing by grey, choppy water

Crappy phone photo

Then we got back in the car and drove down to the end, around the tip, and started up the other side. The kids were grumpy and didn’t want to get out of the car again, but I convinced them that we should stop and see if we could wave across at Canada. (Or maybe we just stopped the car and said “Deal with it.”)

We stopped at a deserted parking area and crossed the small dunes to see what we could see. The wind had died down. The sun was shining. The water was bright blue fading to almost tropical green at the edges. There wasn’t another person in sight, just a few gulls and some artistically scattered driftwood. I felt as if we’d walked through a portal to the Caribbean. (I’ve never been to the Caribbean, though, so my impressions may be off.)

B and the kids on a beach with calm blue water and clear blue sky.

This is a proper beach. It really is.

It was so unexpectedly lovely, this magical Other Side of the Island, that I just stood there with a big grin plastered to my face while everyone else started paddling and skimming more stones and writing in the sand with sticks. Everything was just generally delightful and it was worth the six hour drive each way and the crappy motel room with no wi-fi there and then.

We went back in the afternoon and found a different beach, with a lifeguard and swimming. So, totally without planning it, we managed to bring the children to the beach this summer after all. Juuust under the wire.

Kids playing in sand at beach

Classic game of bury-your-father