Places to go, Things to eat

Our travels have come to a close and we are at home again, unpacking our lives out of our suitcases and rooting around for clean clothes. I think you can expect a post or two about travel tips in the near future. We didn’t lose anybody, so we must be doing something right.

Before I leave our southwestern escapades behind, though, I’d be doing you, Dear Reader, a disservice if I failed to mention a few eateries we discovered.

The first is Mi Casa in Benson, Arizona, a humble Mexican restaurant in a small yellow house about a minute off the interstate. If you’re just being touristy in southern Arizona, I don’t know of a reason to go to Benson but it’s easy enough to pass through it if you’re headed between Tucson and Tombstone, and it’s worth going a little out of your way to have lunch here. I found their fare delicious and the Wife  declared it to have the best Mexican food she’d ever eaten — and she’s had a lot more than Yours Truly.

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I wouldn’t say they’re specifically kid friendly, but they’re not kid unfriendly, either. They’ve got at least a couple of high chairs and did just fine by our offspring. They close at 7, though, so don’t plan on having a late dinner there.

Did I mention it's a pretty small place?
Did I mention it’s a pretty small place?

We must shift to the Texas portion of the trip for the second restaurant that’s worthy of note: Two Bros BBQ. Located about ten minutes from San Antonio’s airport, Two Bros can be a little tricky to find since you can’t see it from the main road. Once you arrive, however, you’ll find a wonderfully family-friendly place to relax and enjoy some good food.

The best feature of Two Bros BBQ is its large, shady outdoor seating area. Beyond several, well-spaced picnic tables is a large play structure with an adjacent sand box. For a family that had been traveling as much as we were, cooped up in airplanes and vans and hotel rooms, it was nirvana. Just to be able to sit under the shade trees and let the kids play was terrific enough, but they have food there, too!

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Bacon-wrapped cream cheese-stuffed peppers!
Bacon-wrapped cream cheese-stuffed peppers!

The food is the second-best feature at Two Bros, but it’s a real close second. We had just been to Lockhart, TX — the locus of the Texas BBQ universe — so I may not be able to render an accurate judgment on the brisket, which was good but didn’t blow me away. However, Two Bros does have a small array of sauces which, we found, undergo subtle but real flavor changes depending upon the type of meat they accompany. You truly can’t pick which sauce you need just by tasting a bit off your pinkie finger.

Plus, they have fried pies!

We enjoyed many good meals during our travels but these two places stuck out as being excellent, yet easily-overlooked. If you, Dear Reader, have any recommendations for good family-friendly restaurants, especially ones that might fly under the radar, please mention them in the comments section.

The Many Trials of MeToo, Part 3: The Naked Carseat

Thanks to our practice of using Elimination Communication MeToo has been essentially potty trained for, lo, these many months. Sort of. She’s only two years old — and newly two — so there are accidents. In fact, sometimes it seems as though we go through phases where she has lots of accidents, and we’ve had quite a few recently.

It’s normal for there to be some regression in a toddler when there’s a new baby in the household, so that may be some of it. Our chiropractor has put an end to more than one series of pants-wettings, informing us that they can sometimes be caused by MeToo’s frequent spills and tumbles knocking her out of alignment. She still wears a diaper overnight, so if she doses off (in the car, let’s say) then she might go in her sleep. She can also just get out of the habit if you let her. There’s an hourly play-care place that we will probably stop taking the girls to because after MeToo wet herself there several times, they seem to have just started putting her in pull-ups as soon as she gets dropped off.

Even now, it’s important to stay consistent with taking her potty, regardless of any cues from her or lack thereof. MeToo doesn’t make it easy on us because isn’t consistent with giving us warning and she’s taken to saying she needs to go potty when she just wants to get out of her carseat or down from her highchair for a minute. Just to complicate things even further, sometimes she will say she has to potty, then just play around (or immediately say she’s done) even though she really does need to pee. It’s like she’s just setting you up for when she says she has to go again not five minutes later — if you don’t take her she might wet herself but if you do take her and she’s just messing with you, then you’ve reinforced the idea that the “phony pee-pee” gambit works.

Whatever the case, MeToo created a nightmare of urination on our previous vacation, when we drove down to Disney. [Cue flashback.] Unlike some long car trips we’d taken in the past, we decided that we wouldn’t put a diaper on her while she was in her carseat, lest she get lazy and just start going whenever she felt like it. All too soon, however, she had begun to wet herself and her carseat. It seemed as though she couldn’t sense when she needed to pee ahead of time; she would only say “Gotta go potty!” right when it was happening. With a wet MeToo and, worse, a wet carseat the van soon smelled like a rolling latrine.

The urine really hit the van, though, once we’d made it to where we were staying in Florida and MeToo continued to have “accidents.” It was as if she’d forgotten how to go in a toilet. I’d put her on and she’d giggle and wriggle and say she was all done even though nothing had happened, then be wet not ten minutes later. Finally, on a day when the girls were being particularly wild in the room, running around and yelling like crazy, MeToo ran into the shower and peed herself with her pajamas on. Now that was deliberate. And once MeToo had lost her pee, the Wife lost her shit.

The Wife hauled MeToo out of the shower and explained to her — in the way that Gunnery Sergeant Hartman would explain to a slovenly new recruit exactly what’s wrong with every facet of his existence — that only babies go potty in their clothes. Big girls like MeToo potty in the potty. Not on the floor. Not in the carseat. Not in the stroller. If MeToo was going to wet herself like a baby, then she would be treated like a baby. Babies don’t get chocolate milk. Babies wear diapers all the time. Did MeToo want to be a baby? Or was she going to stop having accidents and go in the potty like a big girl? [End flashback.]

It worked. MeToo shaped up.

Until this trip.

She went in her carseat on the airplane. We were able to wash it the next evening at the hotel, but after the second day of our trip we moved to another hotel for the rest of the stay in Tucson that didn’t have laundry facilities. Obviously, MeToo made a mess in her carseat a few more times. We washed her seat cover and yuck clothes while visiting at a friend’s house. The Wife did some washing at two — count ‘em, two — different laundromats in the Tucson area. For those keeping score at home, this is the number of times we washed MeToo’s carseat, not the number of accidents she had. Not even the number of accidents she had in the seat. This was all in the space of a week.

In case you’ve never had to wash a carseat cover before, allow me to explain the process. First, you have to remove the thing from the carseat frame. This is a difficult procedure for every model of seat I’ve encountered. For the one we had her in on this trip, it involves unhooking the straps from the back, then unthreading them through the seat and cover, twice. You can’t just pull the cover up off the buckle; instead, you must reach underneath and fiddle around until you can slip the buckle off the seat entirely (don’t lose that). None of these operations are actually possible with the seat fully installed — at least, not by me in the space we had in that van, not without some bodily injury.

Having removed the seat cover, washing it is nothing special. It’s got to air-dry, though, which takes about a day. As if a day without a useable carseat is no biggie (actually, the dry air where we were helped quite a bit here). Then you’ve got to put the seat back on, which not only involves reversing all of the above steps but also probably requires you to turn the seat upside down to fish out the thingee the shoulder straps have to reattach to.

Of course, the whole ensemble isn’t really clean until you’ve rinsed and squeezed out the foam rubber pad under the seat cover. It’s been soaking up all that toddler urine like an unhappy sponge. That’s a piece you absolutely have to wash by hand — careful, it’s easy to tear if you twist it — and takes forever to dry.

Now, imagine trying to do that every other day while on a vacation that requires daily road trips.

Having done said imagining, you probably won’t be surprised when I tell you that by the time we flew to San Antonio, the cover wasn’t even on the seat. In fact, MeToo’s carseat probably spent more time in Texas uncovered than not. We had a changing pad for baby Z that we put over the foam rubber piece — never had time to even attempt washing that. MeToo never complained about it being uncomfortable. Come to think of it, I don’t think she ever had an accident in the seat while it was like that, either.

We did end up washing the cover a couple of times in Texas, but after the last time I still didn’t put it back on until we were headed to the airport for the flight home.

The seat was wet again within five minutes.

"Nobody knows the trouble I've seen..."
“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen…”

The Many Trials of MeToo, Part 2: The Environment Strikes Back

Just a few minutes south of the city of Tucson, lies the ASARCO Mission Copper Mine. The site boasts a small (and free) Mineral Discovery Center and (not free) tours of the facility. If you ever wanted to learn about copper mining or your kids like huge machines (170-ton trucks!) this is the place to go. Our kids are not especially interested in either of those things, but they’re usually up for anything new if we act enthusiastic enough. And where else are we going to get to tour an enormous mining operation? Therefore, we decided to check it out along with a local friend of ours and her two adolescent boys.

We first had a picnic at the tables outside the Discovery Center. Our girls adored the older boys, wanting to hold their hands rather than an adult’s. After lunch, they all played around in the dirt and gravel while we waited for our tour time.

Now, there are lots of cacti in Arizona. From what we had seen, they are a pretty common feature of the environment and any time we were outside the kids were at most 30 feet away from having their day ruined. Usually much closer, like right there next to where we’ve parked.

Have I mentioned that MeToo stumbles around a lot?

Fortunately, we read up on the subject of cactus needle removal before we left home. Some cacti have large spines but the most annoying kind have tons of tiny, hair-thin barbs. Apparently, the best method for removing any type involves putting a bandage soaked in Elmer’s glue on the injured area, which you pull off once the glue dries. Duct tape is almost as good and you don’t need to wait ten minutes for it to dry. Either way, you will need to tweeze out the 5-10% of needles that get left behind. Make sure you use gloves and don’t touch them with your bare hands. Don’t ever put the injured area up to your mouth.

However well-educated we may have been, we neglected to actually pack any duct tape or gloves. Did we have tweezers? Of course. Did we ever bring them with us on our excursions? Of course not.

So there we were in the Sonoran Desert with the kids careening about the place. I monitored their trajectory whenever something else didn’t demand my attention and by the time we needed to get moving, neither MeToo nor RU had impaled themselves on the local flora.

As we head inside for the start of the tour, however, I feel a paper-cut like pain on a spot on my hand. Darned if it doesn’t feel like a tiny needle in my skin. I just use my fingers to pull it out — more by touch than by sight — and wonder where I picked it up from. I had been careful not to brush up against any plants. Then I feel it again in another place on my hand. What the heck? Well, maybe I had gotten into something and not noticed, or maybe they’re small enough to get blown around by the breeze. It was a momentary annoyance, nothing more, so I soon forgot about it.

MeToo, feeling tired during what is usually her nap time, isn’t particularly interested in the videos or exhibits in the Mineral Discovery Center. We’d brought along her Tula, so it looks as though I will be wearing her for the tour. Being sleepy, she wants to be up on my front. No problem; most of the tour will involve a bus ride, anyway.

MeToo dozes on my chest for the first half of the bus ride then suddenly squirms around in the carrier and cries out in pain. I try to get my hand in between us to feel around for anything that could be bothering her, but all I can figure is that she scratched or pinched herself with either the buttons on my shirt or the ones on her sweater. She settles back down and seems fine for the rest of the day.

That night, while getting her pj’s on, I notice what looks like a scratch on her belly. There are some tiny pricks in her skin connected by a red line. I’d almost think they looked like marks from cactus needles, except I was wearing her when she felt them. Her belly was right against me. Must have just hurt herself on my shirt somehow.

The next evening, the line is gone and the remaining pricks look a lot like tiny bug bites. Good thing I know better, right? At one point in the day, she complains that her belly hurts. However, ever since RU’s rather intense stomach bug last month, both the girls occasionally trot that line out just to watch their parents turn white and rush them to the toilet. Good thing I knew better, huh?

Finally, the Wife gets a look at MeToo’s belly. “Where did she get these bug bites?” I confidently explain that, although they sure look like bug bites or cactus sticks, MeToo must have hurt herself on my shirt somehow during the mine tour… Which sounds really dumb when said out loud while looking at a three-day-old sore place clearly not caused by anything other than spines or stingers. Indeed, taking a closer look with her electron-microscope-like Mom Vision, the Wife declares that she can see the cactus needles still in MeToo’s skin. This is three days and at least two baths after the incident.

I suddenly recall the mysterious cactus attack on my own hand not an hour prior to MeToo’s sudden cry of pain while on the tour. Whatever mechanism delivered those spines to my hand may have also deposited some on my, or MeToo’s, clothing. The tiny spurs lingered unnoticed until they were worked through the weave of her sweater by the motion of the tour bus until they pierced her vulnerable toddler-flesh. Elementary, my dear Watson!

After we find the tweezers, the Wife plays Operation on poor MeToo, extracting the needles.

"Give me the tweezers back, there's still some in her belly!"
“Give me the tweezers back, there’s still some in her belly!”

Though no longer pained by them, the marks of the cactus bite (as RU calls it) are still visible nearly a week later.

The procedure, though long overdue, is successful.
The procedure, though long overdue, is successful.

Follow-ups (Boom)

Just some quick updates today. “The Many Trials of MeToo” and other chronicles of our vacation will return in a day or two.

First, because I know everyone’s been hanging on the edge of their seat for weeks and weeks, we believe we’ve solved The Case of MeToo’s Bling. Apparently, that particular Jamberry nail decal-thingeedoodle has two layers .The bottom layer is silver sparkle, even though it doesn’t show through or add to the effect of the top layer whatsoever. Somehow, only the top layer of MeToo’s Jamberrys (Jamberries?) peeled off. No relatives, mysterious strangers, or fictional characters secretly applied cosmetics to our child. But I’ve still got my eye on that Caillou kid.

I’ve made a couple of slight changes to the site. There’s now a spot on the left-hand column where you can subscribe — handy if you want your Blog of the Dad posts delivered straight to your e-mail when they go up. In that same patch of real estate, a little further down, you’ll see that I’ve become a twit. You can follow me on Twitter, or just glance at the recent tweets here on the website. I don’t tweeddle that often, but it’s been handy for recording amusing things the kids say that might not merit their own blog post.

Little Z is through his near back-to-back wonder weeks (until the next one) and, as promised, is like a whole new baby. He is wiggly, rolly, and will probably be sitting up as soon as he gets his big ol’ bobble-head under control. Last night, he rolled onto his tummy and was trying to lift himself onto his hands and knees. We quickly flipped him on his back again before he made any progress. I’m not prepared for him to be mobile yet.

Finally, RU’s version of “Let It Go” continues to evolve. She has added a lyric that sounds like “can’t ride like a door” and now ends the song by saying “boom.” I assumed the closing sound effect was meant to simulate a mic drop — not that I had any clue where she would have picked that up from (after all, yours truly had to look the practice up on Urban Dictionary just to make sure I had the right term). The Wife explained it’s from some “tribal” cover of the song that ends in a drum beat. (That’s less interesting, though, so I’m going to continue to imagine it the other way.) However, the other day I also heard her sing the chorus from “American Pie” with perfect accuracy. It only took me singing it to her as a lullaby nearly every night for two weeks straight. Take that, pop culture!

The Many Trials of MeToo, Part 1: Out in the Great Wide Open

Our first full day on vacation. Eventually, after we all get ourselves together and have a second breakfast (a real one this time), we headed out to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. MeToo nodded off on the way up, thereby missing the view as we headed out of Tucson. RU, on the other hand, got lessons on the types of cacti we could spot along the road. The Wife and I decided that later we’d turn MeToo’s carseat around so she could face forward for the duration of the trip. That way she won’t miss any of the scenery the rest of us are talking about.

The Museum was a good time. It’s mostly outdoors, so the Wife put Z in a wrap, I put MeToo on my back in a Tula (for the first time in quite a while), and we walked the desert trails.

Afterward, we turned MeToo’s seat around and headed back towards civilization and lunch. The landscape stretched away before us, the road running straight to the distant horizon, where jagged mountains loomed. What a view!

Then MeToo started shouting. “Stop the car, stop the car! Too much! It’s too much!”

We pulled over. She was clearly distressed. MeToo has never said the words “too much” before — I didn’t think she even understood the concept. The thing is, there wasn’t anything she could be having too much of, except for the amazing, wide-open scenery.

I turned her seat to face backwards again, but the view was just as big out the rear. I twisted around as much as I could and held her hand while we drove.

With my other hand, I used my phone to read up on agoraphobia.

(“Isn’t that the fear of people,” the Wife asks.

“No,” I say, “it’s the fear of open spaces.”

“Agoraphobia is a social anxiety disorder. It’s the fear of being in crowds or crowded places. I know it is.”

“Then what’s the fear of open places? I was sure that was it.”)

Agoraphobia (it turns out) is a condition where the sufferers feel anxiety about their environment. This might be due to its openness or crowdedness, or it could be focused more on social situations.

Now, I don’t really think that MeToo is agoraphobic. However, it was interesting to me to learn that in some cases there seems to be a link between agoraphobia and problems with spatial orientation. Normally, human beings orient themselves by combining input from their sense of balance, visual cues, and their proprioceptive sense. Some research suggests that agoraphobics rely more on their vision and less on the other inputs. When put in, say, a wide, open space (like the outskirts of Tucson) where there aren’t many visual cues, they become disoriented.

The Wife has a friend here in Arizona who happens to be blind, and we mentioned all this to her during a visit. She asked if MeToo stomps her feet when she walks. Yes… we think that sounds right. MeToo’s a lot like a bicycle in that she’s much more stable at higher speeds; at a walking pace, she tends to fall over a lot. If your feet are on the same floor she’s walking on, she will either step on them or trip over them. Even though she seems to fall down and bump into things a bunch, she has liked to climb since she could pull herself upright. Well, our friend says, it could be that she stomps when she walks because she needs that sensory feedback or it feels reassuring. She likes to climb because it gives her more points of contact.

Well, food for thought.

We’ve had other incidents since then where she has gotten panicky and, so far as we can tell, the only source of her distress is a particularly open panorama. There have been fewer and fewer of them, though, so maybe the landscape out here was just so different that she had to get used to it.

I hope that’s the case. We’ve been having a good time, and the amazing visuals have been the best part.IMG_1019.JPG

At Least it’s a Dry Humor

It was after dark when our flight landed in Arizona. If they were awake during the drive to the hotel, what they would have seen out of the rental van’s windows looked like any other city at night: blackness broken by headlights and fast food signs. The hotel looked like any other hotel they’ve stayed at. So far, they had not laid eyes on the Southwestern landscape of flat plains and rugged mountains thrown together in an impossibly panoramic scope.

The next morning, RU and MeToo woke up early as always, so I took them downstairs for Free Hotel Breakfast while the Wife slept in a bit longer. After eating half their breakfast, they both spilled their drinks and then started a paint-with-yogurt art project on the table while I was trying to clean up. They were loud and squirmy and messy, and they seemed to be mostly done with eating before I’d even had a sip of coffee.

They were probably just excited to be on vacation, but it was just too early for me to deal well with that, so I hauled them back up to the room. As we passed by, an older woman who had been having her Free Hotel Breakfast nearby said to me, “I just wanted to tell you that your girls behave so well for such a young age. They’re just lovely.”

Well, thanks, Random Stranger. I usually appreciate it when people compliment my kids but now I’m left wondering if that was utterly deadpan sarcasm, because I thought they were kinda abominable. So either she’s really Dennis Leary wearing a friendly grandmother costume or I’m the asshole for being too easily irritated by my lovely children.

Getting There is Half the Fun

Here we are in Arizona!

We took a late afternoon flight from our hometown of [Undisclosed], carrying only a diaper bag, laptop satchel, kid’s backpack, double stroller, three carseats, and five suitcases. MeToo was the only one who needed a carseat on the plane as RU is big enough to do without and Z is lap-baby-size. Her enormous Britax doesn’t fit on any aircraft smaller than the Spruce Goose, but we’d long ago found a terrific deal on a smaller seat that we use for this sort of thing. Even so, the only way it fits down the aisle is if I lift it up above the level of the seats. Of course, there’s not enough headroom for me to hold it any higher than directly in front of my face, so I can’t see if the person boarding ahead of me has stopped. Since our boarding method is for the Wife to manage the kids (and maybe one small bag), that leaves me to have all our carry-ons strapped to my body while I wrestle the carseat all the way to the first completely empty row.

This means that if you are sitting in an aisle seat, you will get clocked in the head as I go by. It’s just a question of whether you get the soft leather of the laptop bag or the hard plastic edge of a carseat coming in at about the level of your eye. Sorry. Kids, you know. No help for it.

At least we’ve solved getting it through the airport. In addition to the travel carseat, we’d found a wheeled folding/telescoping frame that a seat with latch mechanisms can “install” onto so you can pull it around like a bag of luggage. As a bonus, you can then use the seat to transport a bag or — if you’re a real daredevil — a child. (I will note that you can usually pile more luggage on top of a stroller if you have your kid somewhere else.)

It’s important to have something for your kids to do on a flight of any duration. Normally, I do not feel that my children constantly need to be distracted. I don’t give them my cell phone to play a game on while waiting at a restaurant or let them watch videos on car trips. Mostly, this is because the more you do that the more they’ll need it. I’d rather my kids’ default state not require them to be totally absorbed in an electronic device. But something about being on an airplane is inherently boring. It’s true for everyone. Ever notice how many people on an airplane are reading something? Have you ever looked around anywhere else and seen that many open books?

If they can’t read yet, the in-flight magazine and safety information card will keep a kid occupied until just after take-off (or about twice as long as they interest someone who is literate). This means that in addition to all the other extra necessities you have to bring along because you are traveling with children you must also pack toys and, probably, a picnic. There’s no book or toy that will hold their attention for the entire flight. Bringing more won’t help; knowing there’s something else to move on to just makes them discard their current bauble that much faster. A truly inspired selection of just a few favorite toys and books can add several minutes to the total amount of time they can be occupied. Maybe enough for a short trip, once you add in snacks.

Really, the only thing that can provide degree and variety of entertainment in a single, compact package is an electronic device. Man, I hate to resort to that. We only have about five toys in the house that take batteries – and only two actually have the batteries in them. Fortunately, we have some decent educational apps on the iPad. One of these days, I’ll probably write a review of some of them. For now, the Montessori apps that RU uses to “do school work” in these situations — and MeToo uses to pretend to do school work — seem pretty good but we haven’t used them enough for me to give you a proper evaluation yet. For the sake of everyone around you, make sure whatever game/app/device you’ll use can be entertaining with the volume off. (There were a couple of adults with a laptop behind us who apparently failed to understand that the rest of us in the plane didn’t want to hear what they were watching; I resisted the temptation to turn MeToo’s alphabet game up to drown them out. Hey, I’m always happy to have someone on board who is more annoying than my own children. It just usually isn’t a pair of grown women.)

Obviously, if you’ll be using a tablet or other such device, you’ll need to make sure you charge it up the night before so it won’t crap out on you 35 minutes into a four-hour experience. Like mine did.

RU Sings “Frozen”

My girls love Frozen. Despite the fact that we don’t own the movie or soundtrack, only took them to see it in the theater once, and have fought a losing battle against having any related merchandise in the house they spend a full 15% of their day running around and belting out “Let It Go” at the top of their lungs. They sing it at home, in the car, at the grocery, while any adult nearby is on the phone, and if they start singing it in their sleep, I wouldn’t be surprised.

The thing is, they don’t really know the lyrics. RU had to decipher the words to the song before she had the tubes put in her ears. So whether it was lack of understanding, difficulty hearing, misremembering, or what, the version she pieced together (and refined over many months) deviates from anything you’ll hear from Idina Menzel.

I have attempted to record RU’s lyrics to the best of my ability. In a couple of places, I’m sure I’ve tried to turn pure gibberish into words. But that last line is absolutely what comes out of their mouths.

Here, then, are RU’s lyrics to “Let It Go” (or “Frozen,” as she sometimes calls it; MeToo sometimes calls it “Cin’erella”):

Strange consolation
And everything you want.
It shows me, can’t get to me at alllll.
Time to see what I can do,
Test the wish come true.
Hoda (?) meeeee and brie!
Let it goooo, let it go!
The perfect girl inside;
And I don’t caaaare what they’re going to saaaaay.
The ho never bothered me anyway.