My Seven-Year-Old

The birthday girl, out for a birthday pizza dinner.

My child has progressed from baby to toddler to preschooler to kindergartner to what I am looking at today: a full-fledged little kid. I am acutely aware of this kid stage, more so than I was of baby or toddler or preschooler. The line Dick Van Dyke sings in Mary Poppins, “though childhood slips like sand through a sieve” makes me cry. It’s a scene that didn’t even register with me when I was a kid and now I get it. I really do. Put down your work and your screens and pay attention for a few minutes. Make some memories because what else do we have?

Like any expectant parent, I wanted certain things for my child. For example, I wanted her to have her father’s thick, lustrous hair. That did not happen. Instead, she got my thin, electro-staticky mess. I wanted her to be smart, and somehow that seemed like a given. What did not seem like a given, however, was musicality.

There are so many ways in which we want our children to be like us, or to share our interests. You think, before becoming a parent, that you’ll get a little mini-me, and you don’t. My daughter doesn’t even look like me. (Except for the hair.) But while her interests and activities are being formed, I’m taking advantage of the opportunities I have to shape her way of thinking.

I really wanted my kid to be musical. I actually tried to sign her up for piano lessons in utero, but I was turned away. No phalanges yet, they said. Although I am musical now, it was a hard row to hoe for me, albeit an enjoyable one. I wanted my child to have all of the fun I had with less of a struggle.

Ask my kid to sing you a song. I dare you. There’s no struggle there. No struggle at all. Just an innate sense of pitch. Her accuracy is overwhelming. I tell her she’s going to be the next Julie Andrews and I mean it. She’s taking piano lessons and is enjoying it more and more as she learns how to play some of her favorite songs. She’s still working on reading music but she can memorize a song. I show her how to play it and she goes about practicing. Inevitably, she’ll forget and hit some wrong notes, which she immediately realizes. She’ll go back and peck out the section, note by note, by ear, until she’s got it right. It absolutely floors me. I couldn’t do that when I was her age, I’m not sure I could do it now. It is all very exciting and I look forward to many years of being piano mom or voice mom or band mom or whatever. All of the fun, none of the struggle.

In addition to music, we’ve just finished what I like to call the summer of media literacy. It began by my mentioning that Tom Hanks was the voice of Woody in Toy Story. We must’ve been watching something else with Tom Hanks, and I called attention to it. I put an actor’s name to a character. Then we watched several more Tom Hanks movies, to further cement our love for him. We watched the original Jurassic Park because dinosaurs, and because Mom wanted to see the new one. The new ones have Chris Pratt, who she knows from Parks and Rec because we watched that together last year. Sonja now proclaims that she likes Chris Pratt, because she thinks he is a good actor. It carried on like this all summer. Thank God, after all that, she still likes to read. I suspect, like her mother, she just likes stories.

Imitating the cat

So with an ear for music and a head for story, we move on to age seven. There are still vestiges of babyhood. Children’s birthday parties and Halloween are nightmares because whatever cake or candy other people have is not the kind she likes, because she doesn’t like either of those things. But instead of thinking, “oh that’s okay, I’ll have a cookie when I get home,” which is what I want her to think, she stops whatever she’s doing and screams her head off like she’s just lost a limb. She just wants to join in on the fun, I know. She sees that this is a food obsessed culture, but what she doesn’t see is that she is not food obsessed. She barely tolerates food. I’ve seen kids who are gluten and lactose-free, whose dinners probably consist of a chiclet and a plate of dust, who are heavier than she is. It’s frustrating to me as a parent, but not because I don’t understand it. I do. I was never big on candy and I was a picky eater. But I learned how to deal with it and I want her to, too. It’s not like I’m insisting she eat kale at home for every meal and sending her to bed without dessert. I’m overly generous with sweets. The grandmas even more so. There’s no deprivation, except the deprivation of the joy the other kids are getting from eating sugar for sugar’s sake. She can’t do that. She wants to but she can’t. She won’t. She sees some candy and looks at it with large, hungry eyes and says she’s going to devour the whole bag. It’s in the very script of childhood and she can recite it with conviction. But whereas if her friends were left alone in a room with a tub full of Smarties (a candy she professes to like), the entire bag would be gone in a matter of minutes. I leave her unattended with candy all the time only to find half a dum-dum stuck back in its wrapper or three gummy bears missing from an entire pack. The only time food is devoured is when she leaves it at a height that the dog can reach. Oh, she’ll scream and cry about that too, but inside, I know she’s just happy she doesn’t have to actually finish it.

Over the past quarter, we went to Disneyland, Seattle and Spokane and Leavenworth. We went to Vancouver a couple of times, and had lots of playdates.

Pretty princesses

She did the library summer reading program and her school’s. She did a quick and forgettable 6-week ballet class at the local rec center.

Say hey, it’s the first day of ballet!

She took swim lessons at a cool and, because this is Washington state, sometimes very cold, outdoor pool, and finally made some progress with learning how to swim.

Last day of swim lessons.

She lost two teeth, and another is on the brink.

Second lost tooth.

We went to the state fair for a few hours one Friday night, which was enough.

State fair antics

And after a brief teacher’s strike, we got back to the business of being educated.

It was three days late, but some schools in the state are still striking.

She’ll have a party in a few days and then it’s back to work for me as we settle in to the fall schedule. I hope we’re able to find a nice groove and enjoy the routine, so that we might slow this sieve a little bit.

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My Swanky Suite

How to Stay in a Swanky Hotel Suite:

  1. First and foremost, to stay in a swanky hotel suite, you must turn 40. You must turn 40 because you will be somewhat despondent about such a large, round number staring you in your face that you will spend money that you do, in fact, have, because you’re 40, but which you should possibly also save for other adult-type things you have to pay for in your 40s, like that roof that is currently being installed above your house.
  2. Next, be sure to drive five hours from your home to the second-largest city in your state, which is but half the size of the largest city, so that the money you spend on the swanky hotel suite is on the sane side of exorbitant instead of the other side of outrageous.

    Spokane

  3. Ask the front desk for the kids’ hotel detective game they advertised on their website, so they can send you across the street to their sister hotel to pick up said game, and then have your old-enough-to-know-better child throw a massive hissy fit because the game wasn’t exactly what she was expecting.
  4. If at all possible, make sure your super swanky suite has a separate bedroom, and a pull-out couch in the living area on which your child can sleep. That way you and your spouse can get some much needed exercise dragging the pull-out mattress into the bedroom every night, because said child is too scared to sleep alone in a strange place, and back again in the morning, so the maids don’t think you’re weird.

    Hotel Living Room

    Hotel Bedroom

  5. Take advantage of the super swanky hotel spa, and pay extra for a “deep tissue” massage, which you’re pretty sure is just a regular massage that costs an extra 20 bucks. Take in, with genuine awe, the beauty of the spa’s surroundings, then pull out the communal hair dryer and recoil at the plug, which has been Frankensteined with a bungee-cord to make it longer and/or to fix the areas where the wire is exposed. Put the hair dryer back because you don’t want to get electrocuted. Recoil again when you see the flat-iron has the same fix.

    Super swanky spa water fountain

  6. Take some time to get out and enjoy the city, but not too much time, because the city is sleepy and you don’t want to miss time in that expensive room you’re paying for. When you’re out, make sure to take your 6-year-old to the toy store that all the tourist websites hyped up, and notice as you walk in that every other item in the store is emblazoned with the “F” word, and that really, this is more of a Spencer’s Gifts than a Toys ‘R Us.

    Wagon slide

    Whee!

    Selfie on wagon slide

    Blocks. City of Spokane.

    Clock tower in distance

    Spokane falls

    I’m on a gondola!

    Through the looking glass

    Spokane’s claim to fame, the garbage goat

    Tiny ice cream at hoity toity dream store

    Blowing bubbles at the children’s museum

    Excavating at the children’s museum

    Eep.

    Rocket flying

    Face painting

  7. At some point, decide that dammit, it’s your birthday, and you want a milkshake. Then go to Ben and Jerry’s and sheepishly ask the teenager behind the counter for the allergy menu, because you’ve recently been diagnosed with an egg-allergy and you know that sometimes, ice cream has eggs. Leaf through the book and let the expression on your face droop as you find that ALL of their ice cream has eggs in it. Leave, dejected, while your 6-year old cackles with delight because she thinks it’s hilarious that she can eat things with eggs and Mommy can’t.

    City of Spokane

  8. On your way home, stop in a little tourist town decorated like a Bavarian village. Eat at the hamburger joint you always go to in this little town, and finally get your kid to eat a hamburger instead of the kids’ menu chicken nuggets, which not only does she not like, but which the proprietors of the restaurant say that most children don’t like, because they are coated in cornmeal. (Why even have it on the menu?!?) Have everybody in the family declare that it is their favorite restaurant in said little town. Order a milkshake and drink it and don’t ask anyone if there’s egg in it. Then, go to the oil & vinegar shop and pick up that shallot oil you should’ve bought last time you were there. Do some other quick and fantastic zero-waste shopping, and then realize that you and your family must really like this quirky little town since it’s the second time you’ve been there this year.

    Our favorite “Bavarian” town, Leavenworth, WA

    Our favorite burger place

    At a cute farmer’s market shop just outside Leavenworh

    Zero waste! I’ve had that bag in the picture for two years, and the snap just broke off. I’m having my mom fix it, but because I have loved this one more than any other reusable bag I have, I had to buy a second.

  9. Finally, the secret to staying in a super swanky hotel suite and having a great 40th birthday is to download a free trial of an audiobook service, buy Tom Papa’s new book, “Your Dad Stole My Rake” and laugh your ass off for the entirety of the trip. Listen intently to him when he tells you not to worry about being more successful or skinnier or a better person, because your are, in fact, just fine. Even if you are now an old lady.

Driving home, listening to Tom Papa (not pictured)

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The Midpoint of My Summer

It is nearly impossible to believe that we are (more than-I really hafta start writing faster) halfway through summer. It feels as if this time is slipping through my fingers like sand through a sieve. I have so much that I want to do that I’m afraid I will not get to, I thought I should document what we have done, besides, of course, Disneyland.

We took a day to explore the neighboring city of Seattle. Shaun works there everyday, and I used to, hence my general insistence to never, ever drive there. However, Sonja has only been a couple of times so we decided it would be worth it to take her to the Pacific Science Center and the Seattle Great Wheel. Naturally, the day we wanted to go, a large portion of I-5 North was completely shut down for renovation. (See my earlier comment about never, ever driving to Seattle.) We drove to Tukwila instead and took the light rail, which worked pretty well. We also decided to go on a rare 90 degree day, so that was fun. The trip went pretty much as I expected, though the most surprising thing was it was, with exception of the food, more expensive than Disneyland.

Pacific Science Center

Music in Motion at the Pacific Science Center

Inside a guitar

Trying to generate hydroelectricity is hard work.

That blue sky tho, c'mon

Pacific Science Center Seattle, WA

On the Seattle Great Wheel at the end of the day

Too cool on a hot day

We took a day to visit our friends in Vancouver (south). Somehow we always manage to plan this trip for the hottest day of the year. As such, we usually end up in the Columbia river. It’s a good little day trip that we enjoy making.

Practicing her glide from swim lessons in the Columbia

Friends

Ice cream. I look very happy because I am eating my very favorite flavor, Mississippi Mud.

 

We started swimming lessons at a cool, outdoor pool. I chose this pool not only because I think swimming outdoors in summer is a grand idea, but because the lessons are five days a week. We have had a lot of trouble getting Sonja to be comfortable in the water, and so far, I consider my plan a complete success. With the aid of a swim cap to keep her hair out of her face and goggles to keep water out of her eyes, she’s gotten over her fear of bobs. She’s still quite fearful of new things, which is unusual for her but when she does decide she’s afraid of something, she’s stubborn and very vocal about it. I decided that I would go swimming with her to demonstrate that mom had no fear of water. She asked me before we went what my favorite part of swimming was, and I said I liked doing underwater somersaults and handstands. She said she wanted me to teach her. I was worried that I’d be able to remember, having not done such a thing in maybe 20 years. We went earlier today and the good news is, I remember! And it’s still fun.

Say hey, it’s the first day of swim lessons!

We also started ballet, and the tables have turned. Ballet, once our very favorite, has fallen in the ranks. She has fun while she’s there but she’s not as excited about it as swimming. She continues to insist on never missing a swim lesson, even when it’s cloudy and 60 degrees.

Say hey, it’s the first day of ballet!

Somehow this has also become a summer of, let’s call it cultural literacy, as I’ve been showing Sonja some of my favorite (age-appropriate) movies. We watched a slew of the old Disney classics before heading to Disneyland. We’ve watched Apollo 13, That Thing You Do, and Saving Mr. Banks, and now we are big fans of Tom Hanks.

We have been reading Matilda by Roald Dahl and Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary. Although she loves Dahl, it took a couple of tries to get her into Matilda. But as soon as she discovered the girl’s love of reading, she was all for it. The Ramona books were my favorite as a kid, and I can see why. It’s character-centered and the prose is snappy. My only complaint as an adult/English teacher is she needed a better editor.

There have of course been all the little things. We been to the splash park and a puppet show at the library. I’ve turned Friday into out weekly lunch date. Not because I don’t see her enough but because I like lunch.

On Fridays we eat FroYo and play.

We had a little garage sale that Sonja was super excited about. Far more so than I. She sold mini-muffins, and agreed to part with a grand total of 5 of her toys in order to make some money. She was, as I suspected, disappointed when she didn’t sell any of her toys. The muffins were a big hit, though, and kind, elderly women gave her money for nothing. I didn’t sell much either. Every time I have a garage sale I say that it will be the last, but I mean it this time. Everything about it makes me uncomfortable. I said kind, elderly women gave Sonja money, but one woman was not kind. She came in and ragged on me for not having enough signage, then ragged on my rolling pin for being too heavy. I was actually selling it because I just found a marble pin at another garage sale that outweighed mine by 10 times. Wouldn’t it just make sense that the heavier the pin, the less work you have to put in? Anyway, I guess the impulse to sell your junk cheap is the same as the impulse to buy cheap junk, and both impulses should be ignored.

Now it’s on to the last few weeks of summer before we light the candles on the birthday cakes and wait for the school bus to show. Enjoy it while it lasts, kids, ’cause it won’t last long.

 

 

 

 

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Our 2018 Family Vacation

Preface

The vacation blogs – usually posted weeks after our actual vacations – are truly labors of love. They represent hours and hours of writing, editing and photograph/video uploading time. I write the most detailed representations of the trips that I can, knowing that I will enjoy looking back on them in the near and far future (I am my own biggest fan), and hoping that Sonja will be grateful for the memories someday too. I thank anyone who stops by and takes the time to share in the memories with us.

Prologue

My child has thrown up three times in her life. Once, when she was an infant and had norovirus, once when she had a bad cold and couldn’t get a hold of her coughing, and once, thirty minutes before boarding a flight to California.

I’m no good with vomit. I’m petrified of it. I’m (unwillingly) obsessed with it to the point that I count instances of it. Yet I’d like to think that what I did in this situation, faced with a small child covered in barf-soaked clothes, the smell of which is particularly satanic, was the same thing that any reasonable person would have done. I threw the clothes away in the airport trash can. It felt weird, and definitely not #zerowaste, but it was that or travel around with them for a week. I got very little pushback from Sonja; she only said she’d miss the clothes.

Luckily, my child was not actually sick, just sick with excitement. After the “incident,” she said she felt much better, and she returned to practicing “the floss.”

On the plane, after the “incident.”

Introduction

We decided very soon after returning from our vacation last year, which included Disneyland, Legoland and the San Diego zoo, that we’d return this year for an exclusive Disney vacation. Since we were in the park for five days and I did not take notes, I cannot assign specific events to specific days, so instead I have decided to recall the experience in categories, the first of which is:

Deep (Disney) Thoughts

I have always loved Disneyland even though I was never, at any time in my life, obsessed with Disney movies or Disney characters. I never wanted to be a princess, and I never drew Minnie Mouse in my school notebooks. To tell you the truth, I find Minnie Mouse a little obnoxious.

The Disneyland Entrance

But Disneyland. I should live there. I’ve lived in the same place for nearly 40 years and I still can’t remember, if I want to take the back road the bank, do I turn at the first light after the frozen yogurt shop or the second? (Navigating by landmarks is surely part of the problem.) But the instant I step foot in Disneyland, I know exactly where I am and where everything else is in relation to me. I know how to get where I’m going and I never get lost. If that isn’t Disney magic, I don’t know what is.

In front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. If you are facing this direction, go right for Frontier and Adventure Lands, left for Tomorrowland, and through the Castle for Fantasyland.

I’ll admit that the prospect of going to Disney two years in a row seemed like it might be excessive, but it allowed us to plan for things that we always forgot in previous years, like making reservations to eat at Blue Bayou, the restaurant inside The Pirates of the Caribbean ride. And we knew that, having experienced it once already, Sonja would have a much better time than she did the previous year.

Reading the menu in Blue Bayou.

The menus have their own little flashlights!

I was not prepared for the level of pushback we got on the rides last year. I think of Disneyland as a kid paradise and I figured she would love all of it. I knew that during my first visit, at age 5, I was scared of most everything, but my daughter is much braver and more excited about new experiences than I was. Or am. But it is also true that Disneyland is an overwhelming place to be. For example, though I do not consider it necessarily loud within the park, I could not understand a single thing any family member said without asking them to repeat it at least once, which was exhausting for everyone. I spent a lot of time regrettably chastising Sonja that she needed to look directly at me when she was talking.

While we’re on the subject of noise – the rides. Some of them are too loud. The rest are way too loud. The worst offender is the Indiana Jones ride, which Sonja was luckily too short to go on, but which, for some reason* even though I’ve never favored that ride, I went on anyway.

In front of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad which is a nice, smooth, fun roller coaster. And yes, it is too loud, but only in parts.

Then there’s the crowds. It was busier this time than when we went last year, due to the opening of Pixar Pier in California Adventure. Having been in DisneyWorld when Magic Kingdom hit capacity, this was nowhere near that bad. However, trying to keep track of your child and look at your phone for ride wait times or MaxPass return times while navigating to your next destination is enough to make your head spin. It’s hard to walk without bumping into someone even if your attention is focused solely on walking. All credit to Disney though, they know this. It’s why there are multiple people operating each ride, using traffic controller motions to get you to move in the right direction at the right time. The same with parades. With the exception of the restaurants, Disney is ridiculously efficient. If it were up to all these dazed, glazed and exhausted tourists to navigate on to the rides themselves, the lines would never move.

A view of the new Pixar Pier, formerly Paradise Pier.

The restaurants in Disneyland are very good with food allergies but they were still the places where we were at our most dazed, glazed and confused.

However, if you’re able to get past the overwhelm, then you can start to see all of the details. There are so many details. And this is at the heart of what I love about Disney. They care about design. They care about a person’s experience within the park. Everywhere you go, you think, “someone thought this through.” Paying attention to details makes me so happy.

Look at this. A hedge of tires in front of Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters ride in Cars Land.

In Minnie’s house in ToonTown, her blender with settings for off, low, high, too much, and much too high.

Specialized bottles of Coke that you can only get in the park. I know these are plastic and that soda isn’t good for you, but I still love them. Coca-Cola and Disney are marketing geniuses.

Themed Trash Cans in every land in Disney. Each can is about two feet from the next, because Disney wants you to throw your trash away, not on the ground.

The Rides

Speaking of details, Sonja and I made up a list of all the rides and attractions in Dinseyland and California Adventure with the intent that we would go on all of them, except the two for which she was too short – Indiana Jones and Incredicoaster. Well, that was my intent, anyway. We missed only a few things. We couldn’t convince her to get on Pirates of the Caribbean, even though she went on it last year. But, we tricked her onto Haunted Mansion, which she refused in spectacular fashion to go on last year. You may be thinking that tricking your kid onto a ride they do not want to go on is not very nice, and you’re probably right. But the confluence of events that led us to be able to do that was such a perfect storm that it had to be done.

First, Shaun and I decided to take advantage of rider switch (if one parent needs to stay with a child while the other rides, Disney lets you do so, then lets the other parent on the ride immediately after the first exits) so that we could finally go on Guardians of the Galaxy, which we missed last year. Sonja was actually tall enough to go on the ride, so we were able to take her through the entire queue with us. The line starts off with a holding room, where Rocket Raccoon tells you about your mission. Then you wait through a longer line within the ride, until finally getting onto the platform that lets you on the ride vehicle. When we said we were going to go on Haunted Mansion, Sonja said she wanted to do rider switch, and we didn’t really say anything. But we stood in line, and what’s the first thing you do on the Haunted Mansion ride? You get in an elevator. It looks kind of like a holding room and I think it’s officially named the stretching room. So we step into the stretching room, one of the last groups to be let on. A man in a concierge costume says in his loudest voice, right next to our ears, “Ladies and Gentleman!” This is as far as he got before Sonja let out a blood-curdling, Janet Leigh scream, right in his ear. I got the impression he wasn’t super happy about that. It was hysterical. Then she started crying, which was less funny, but at that point we were in it. The other people in the elevator seemed sympathetic, but just before the lights went out we heard the concierge say, “don’t scream.” Sonja still thought we were doing rider switch so Shaun had to carry her onto the ride. She closed her eyes for most of it. We got her to open them for the scene with the dancing ghosts in the dining room, and she continually tells people that that was the only part of the ride she liked. Of course, that was the only part she saw, so we try to get her to follow the logic that perhaps there would’ve been other parts she would’ve liked if she’d opened her eyes more often. She’s not buying it.

My Guardians of the Galaxy ride photo. I look very sanguine in this photo.

Shaun’s Guardians of the Galaxy ride photo

Speaking of opening her eyes, that was something she didn’t do on Star Tours last year. She was too scared. This year, I told her that Star Tours was just like Soarin’ Around the World, but in space, and she kept her eyes open and immediately declared it her favorite ride ever. We went on it three times this trip. The final time, yours truly got to be the Rebel spy.

Spending five days in the parks allowed us to go on Soarin’, Radiator Springs Racers, Autopia, Mad Tea Party, Toy Story Midway Mania, Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters and Mater’s Junkyard jamboree multiple times. Shaun and I used rider switch on Guardians of the Galaxy, Indiana Jones, and the Matterhorn, while Shaun went on Space Mountain solo and I went on Grizzly River Rapids solo. We coaxed Sonja onto Goofy’s Sky School, a little mad mouse roller coaster that she was too short for last year. She was scared, but like everything else she was scared of, she loved it. The Disney Railroad and Mark Twain Riverboat, both out of commission last year, were up and running this year. We took advantage of the Railroad but skipped the Mark Twain.

The Disneyland Railroad pulls into the station

On the Disneyland Railroad

The car of the future? The line for this one was much shorter this year.

She loves Autopia.

In line for Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters

On Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters

Outside Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree

On the Golden Zephyr, which was actually silver.

Silly Symphony Swings. We rode this one twice as well; It was another one of Sonja’s favorites.

Making silly faces in line for Finding Nemo. This submarine ride, no matter the theme, is always terrible.

Our chariot awaits. Nice shot of the Matterhorn in the background.

The exit of Toy Story Midway Mania

Last year, the Toy Story Midway Mania broke down at several spots and we got tons of opporutnity to practice the games. Despite crossing my fingers really hard that that would happen again, it didn’t. This year, it was the Monster’s Inc. ride that left us in the lurch. Just as our car was making its way into Monstropolis, the whole operation came to a screeching halt and we had to walk off. This was my first time walking off a ride in Disney, so scratch that off the bucket list. As we were explaining the situation to Sonja, she hung her head and said, “Now I’m sad,” to which every other person in our vehicle, at the exact same time, said, “awww….” Fortunately, we were able to go back after the parade, when the ride was operating again, and got immediate entry through the exit. The story of walking off the ride is, of course, another of Sonja’s favorites to tell.

Three times on Radiator Springs Racers and this is the best photo we could get of Sonja. She is front and center.

In front of Grizzly River Rapids. I love this ride, but nobody else wanted to get wet.

Me getting soaked on Grizzly River Rapids at Disney California Adventure. Sonja is the one screaming, “Mommy!” I hear her at the end of the video and wave.

Shows & Other (Non-Ride) Attractions

We also got a chance to see Frozen – Live at the Hyperion in California Adventure. It was not showing when we were there last year, and all I can say is I’m so glad we had time to do this. It was amazing. They had projections on the curtains to expand the scenes from the stage, and digital effects that gave Elsa’s hands their icy powers and, most impressively, during the Let It Go number, changed her dress just as it happens in the movie. No joke – the entire audience gasped. At that point I wished it was a movie because I wanted to rewind and see how they did it.

We played the boardwalk games on Pixar Pier. Last year, Sonja had a meltdown when she fished the large prize token out of a fishing game because she wanted the small prize. This year, one of the ducks was floating upside down and you could clearly see the green dot on the bottom, indicating it was the small prize. Sonja deliberately fished this one out of the pond and won herself another small star.

Getting ready to play games

Another game was giving away stuffed Wall-Es, which she really wanted. It was the game where you shoot a water gun at a target and try to get your “guy” to the top of the tower first.

Here’s what I mean. A picture is worth a thousand rambling words.

There are five seats and I said if the three of us all played at the same time, leaving only two other people to compete against, Shaun would surely win, being that he is very good at games, especially ones where you have to aim at and/or shoot things. So we sat down together as a family and in a surprising twist of events, I won Wall-E. I could not be more proud of myself.

Wall-E and a Pixar Pier star.

We also took her to the Main Street Magic Shop, which is where Steve Martin got his start. Sonja loved this store. She’s at that age where magic is really impressive, and the people that work there actually perform the tricks, reveal how they are done and then sell them to you so you can do them yourself. It is absolutely the least Disney thing in Disney. She bought a magic coloring book and a magic wand there.

Main Street Magic Shop

One of the (perhaps) lesser-known attractions that we took advantage of was the Animation Academy, where an artist teaches you how to draw a Disney character. I’m not much into drawing, but sitting in a classroom and listening to a teacher? Yes, please.

Shaun’s Minnie Mouse. Very good, indeed.

My first time drawing Minnie Mouse. I really can’t draw and I wouldn’t take up drawing for fun, but somehow this was, in fact, fun. Even though I find Minnie obnoxious.

Sonja’s Minnie Mouse. She likes to draw and shows promise if she decides it interests her later on.

We saw the Pixar Play Parade, the Paint the Night Parade (a Main Street Electrical Parade Redux), Together Forever: A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular fireworks show, and part of Fantasmic! The fireworks show was spectacular and I really loved it. I asked Sonja if she thought Tinkerbell was still flying across the night sky before the show and she said no. She was right! It was Buzz Lightyear instead. And later on in the show, the house from Up went down the lineIt will do the show no justice for me to describe it here, so I won’t. I have a short video that also doesn’t do it justice, but it gives you an idea of what was going on. The two parades were fine, and Sonja loved them. Fantasmic is perpetually too loud and story-wise, I find it nonsensical. I cannot follow the thread at all. Sonja had to go to the bathroom halfway through so we left and got out of the park before the crowds.

9 o’clock straight up. Still half an hour until the fireworks begin.

If you’ve seen one firework, you’ve seen them all, but this really was a show.

From the Pixar Play Parade

She loved it.

From the Paint the Night Parade.

We also took some time on the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, which is a large playground with rope bridges and tunnels and places to find your spirit animal. There are a few other play areas like this at Disneyland and while they are not particularly busy at any given time, they seem to be super popular among the children. Almost anywhere you turn in Disneyland, you can find a crying child, but not within these play areas. Here, the only screams are from happiness. The lesson is that the children would like the adults to stop forcing them on the dark, loud, scary “children’s” rides and just let them use their imagination in a park.

Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island. This is essentially another play area. I’d never been to this part of the park before. We went through a pirate-y cave that scared Sonja to tears and we had to leave right away. So I guess I’m wrong about the “no crying children” in play areas. It sounded good though.

At the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail

Conclusions

Although we did explore the trail last year as well, these are the places that can be easy to miss if you have a limited time in the parks. I’m glad that we took extra time this year. If only because after the first two days of speedwalking through the parks trying to make sure you don’t miss anything, you realize you’ve seen a lot of things and still have time left, so you can slow down. Having five days in the park felt a lot more luxiourious than three, maybe because of Sonja’s diminishing interest in meeting all of the characters. Last year, we waited in line for ages to see and get autographs from characters. This year, she was less interested. She was very excited to meet Mater, though, having watched some of the Cars films before we left.

Having the cars drive through Cars Land is such a clever idea. More than any other themed ride or land in Disney, Cars Land makes you feel like you’re in the movie.

Meeting Mater

Cars Land at Night

We stopped to say hi to Nick from Zootopia.

So we had a great time, and I’m glad we had the extra time. I’m glad Sonja did indeed have a much better time than the year before, which does not mean that it was a walk in the park for us. By the end of it, Shaun and I were both thinking that we won’t need to go again next year. A year off will allow time for Sonja to build up some defenses against the overwhelm, which will save the two of us a lot of work. Yes, we definitely felt like, “we’re good on Disney for a while.” Now that we’ve been back a few weeks, I miss it already. It is undoubtedly wise to skip this trip next year as 2019 will see the opening of Star Wars land, and it will be a circus. However, if an opportunity came up to go again during off-peak season, I wouldn’t say no. And that, my friends, is Disney magic. Or possibly a sign of clinical insanity. You decide.

The three of us on the Pixar Pal-A-Round Ferris Wheel. Picture taken by a fellow tourist whose four-year-old son told the Disney workers he was seven so he could get on Grizzly River Rapids alone, and it worked! Craziest story I heard all vacation, and it also clued me into the fact that there was a single rider line on that ride.

The Pixar Pal-A-Round. Formerly Mickey’s Fun Wheel.

In front of Tomorrowland on a bright afternoon in the warm California sun.

In Toon Town.

Trying to pull the sword from the stone.

Outside of the Alice in Wonderland ride

Epilogue

We flew the same airline both ways, so we returned to the same terminal from which we departed. We stopped to hit the loo, the same one we used before we left. Before entering a stall, Sonja paused to peer into the trash can. She was looking for her clothes. They were obviously not there, but she was sporting a new and already beloved Toy Story T-shirt she got in the parks which she – thank God – did not throw up on.

 

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My Six-and-Three-Quarters Year-Old

I don’t remember the last time I blogged about a milestone, but I have a doozy to share this time. First lost tooth. Sonja jumped off the bus one afternoon and ran at me, screaming, “Mommy! Mommy! I have exciting news!” She told me that she had a wiggly tooth, which is something I’d heard many times before, except this time it was true. Not only did she have a legit wiggly tooth, she had the permanent tooth already halfway grown-in, hiding behind the wiggly tooth. A dual set of teeth. It was really freaky, and she wouldn’t let me take a picture.

She waited about a week for the wiggly tooth to fall out, which it did while she was eating a quesadilla at Grandma’s. I told Sonja I wanted to keep the tooth for the baby book (this was something that was done when I was small, but there really isn’t a place for the tooth in her baby book, so maybe it’s not done anymore? Is it too gross? It seems like there is a level of grossness about it, but it doesn’t bother me, of all people, so it can’t be that bad.) She was on board with keeping the tooth when I told her we could leave a note for the tooth fairy, and the tooth fairy would probably give her money anyway. Which the tooth fairy did. One whole dollar. Apparently, the tooth fairy has not heard of inflation.

One lost tooth.

In other milestone news, Sonja will be “graduating” kindergarten in just a few days. She is NOT happy about this. She wants to stay in kindergarten forever. I can see why – she had a good teacher and liked all of her classmates. There were lots of art projects to do and books to read, P.E. classes and music classes and library, rules to follow and things to do. She walked in to kindergarten knowing how to read and focused her efforts on learning how to spell things on her own. She’s pretty darn good for six, but the words she sounds out and then misspells are at once completely adorable and utterly logical. English spelling is bizarre. She likes to brag about how much her handwriting has improved since she was younger. She likes to watch the educational videos they watch in school at home, and she can find them herself on YouTube. She tries to set up her desk exactly as it is at school, and make calendars and folders exactly as they do in school. I’ve tried to reassure her that first grade will be just as awesome as Kindergarten, but she seems to be uncharacteristically stressed out about it.

I am preparing a bag of goodies for her last day to say congratulations and to jump start summer. Honestly, this is such a cute idea I can’t believe I came up with it. I am already envisioning it as a tradition.

And now for what we did this quarter…

We had some fun in April with a quick trip to Leavenworth.

Fun in Leavenworth.

There was a visit from a friend at a very cute café.

Eating café snacks.

Dancing under the archway. 

 

Sonja went on her first Kindergarten field trip to the “rocky beach shore,” which she loved.

Sonja and I both made this face for pretty much the entire field trip.

She also had her first piano recital. She volunteered to go first, and she played Chim Chim Cher-ee from Mary Poppins. Unfortunately piano lessons aren’t continuing this summer, but hopefully I can keep her interested and playing at least a little until fall.

The best.

There was Mother’s Day which came with this cuteness…

All About Mom. That word is supposed to be baking.

A bookmark. I always need these.

…and Father’s Day which came with this cuteness.

All About Dad

I love you, Dad, because you are silly!

As far as entertainment goes, we had a very, very long streak of watching the Cat in the Hat series, and have recently switched over to Animaniacs. At least there are more episodes of that. I’ve been renting all of the Disney movies I can think of in anticipation of our trip. I think things will go more smoothly if she is more familiar with the characters. We’ve been watching a lot of old classics that have a big presence in the park, like Sleeping Beauty and Alice in Wonderland. She has loved all of them, but I have to say, we’ve really come a long way in animation and storytelling.

And now we head into the first noticed summer of her childhood, where she’s not in school but she knows it’s coming around again. I hope we are able to make the most of it. I asked her what she wanted to do on her summer vacation, and she said, “maybe we could play school.”

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My Waste Matters (and So Does Yours)

I’ll be honest here – I’ve tried and failed to write this post so many times I’ve lost count. The problem is I don’t know where to start. I’ve blogged extensively about my love of Marie Kondo and decluttering, which seems as good a place to start as any, but somehow the line between those books and my obsession with zero-waste YouTube videos is blurry.

Zero waste is a lifestyle in which people try to produce as little trash as possible, and that includes recycling. Recycling is a very good thing to do, but it takes resources. Plus, plastics have a very short recycling life and eventually wind up in the landfill or our oceans and are generally a real scourge on our planet.

I do not remember how I found these zero-waste YouTube videos or even learned the term zero-waste, even though it wasn’t that long ago. That’s how entangled I’ve become. I should say right off the bat that I am not zero waste nor am I under any delusions that I can make that happen. I am, however, trying to rid my life of plastics. My motivation for making the changes I’ve made is one part environmental concern, one part user interface. I can’t save the environment on my own – no one can. Business has to take an interest and be held responsible for the of impact the materials they use. But I can do some things, and the things that I can do make my life sometimes easier, sometimes more enjoyable. If you think of the big picture, stuff does wear out (albeit quicker now than it used to, in most cases.) Stuff does become obsolete (see previous parenthetical.) Stuff does go to the dump. I think the zero-wasters who brag about fitting their waste into a mason jar are underestimating their impact. Yes, you can flit from apartment to apartment, leaving your wear and tear behind. When you’ve lived in a house for 11 years as I have, you know at some point you’re going to be throwing away a few broken pipes and worn out washing machines. Continue reading

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My Spring Break

Two-and-a-half years ago, in the middle of summer, we took a day trip to Leavenworth, WA, about a 3 hour drive from our hometown. It was a fun day, and afterwards we discussed potentially staying overnight in the winter, when the town is decked out for Christmas. That we found ourselves there on a family weekend getaway in the middle of April was, as Judy Moody would say, “rare.”

It was a bit of a last minute decision, when my husband had to take or lose vacation time. (Always take vacation time!) He timed it with my daughter’s spring break. “Too bad you’re not on spring break too, we could take a trip.” This suggestion floored me, because I basically spend half my waking life thinking about traveling, whereas my husband spends most of his thinking of ways to stay home. I digress. I was not on break from work, but I do have Fridays off, so we planned a little trip.

If you are unfamiliar with the lay of Washington land, but you are a cynic at heart, then you would definitely consider Leavenworth a tourist trap. It’s a small town in the middle of the Cascades decorated to look like a Bavarian town. It was a last ditch effort to save the town from financial ruin after the railroad left town and the local mill closed. It worked, and now people go there to see the sights, pretend they’re in Germany when they’re not, and spend money. So yeah, it’s a tourist trap, but a very pretty one.

Our first morning there, I left the hotel and walked across the street to the Starbucks to get breakfast. It was about 8:30 in the morning. The normally busy main street was empty. It was quiet. I looked up past the steepled building at the frothy, low hanging clouds and snow-capped mountains that surrounded me. It was serene, for two reasons. First, it is a beautiful sight to behold, and second, I was able to behold it and also be at Starbucks.

Bavarian Starbucks

This strange dichotomy is close to my heart. I want the serenity of a quiet, removed location and the convenience of being able to walk everywhere I want to go. I want to be away from the poisonous busy-ness that plagues modern-day living, but not so far away that I’m inconvenienced in any way.

On Saturday, we went to a farm so Sonja could try horseback riding. Driving there on a narrow, unpainted back road, we saw houses so few and far between, you’d almost need a car to get to your neighbor’s. These are the houses that are featured in Nancy Myers movies. I want to live in these houses.

Just not on a farm. Sonja had a great time horseback riding, though. She was very adamant before we went that she wanted to know the horse’s name. It was Cinnamon Sugar. She rode Cinnamon around the farm. There was only one other trail open this early in the year, and it was a 90-minute ride. She assured me she wanted to do this, but aside from the fact I had no real desire to be on a horse for 90-minutes, I knew she would get bored and whiny halfway through. The ten-minute trek was a perfect introduction.

Cinnamon Sugar & Sonja

There was plenty that Sonja was not happy about on the trip. I’ve been trying some new parenting techniques to thwart meltdowns, when I have the energy. I managed at least one victory on our last night in town, when she was throwing a fit about being too tired to walk back to the hotel, which was less than a block away. I suggested we walk backwards the entire way; the meltdown was thwarted and a grand time was had by all, us and onlookers wondering what the hell we were doing. But I had to ask myself why she is so good on the traveling part of our trips – you can barely tell she’s in the car, and that’s whether she’s playing a video game or just staring out the window – but so very temperamental when we get there. I asked her about it, and it seems our plans did not mesh up with her vision of the trip. She thought when we went back to the hotel after being out in the city, we would be staying at the hotel for the night. But we went back several times during the day because we could. It was very convenient On most of our other vacations, that has not been an option. I see trip-planning and to-do lists in our future.

Stupid hard mini-golf course. Clubs were thrown.

All in all, it was a lovely little getaway. The mountain air was clean and, surprisingly, not as cold or as rainy as it is here. I got to test out my new suitcase before our big summer vacation. Our motel was adorable and allergen-friendly with a wood floor. The shops were unspeakably cute. I was very surprised and happy to come home with some sustainable purchases that I have been unable to find in my own, much more populated suburb. (I will talk more extensively on that in another post.) The mini-golf course was laughably hard. Even the windy-roaded drive was fun. We stopped many places along the way and way back, including the small town of Roslyn, famous for playing the part of Alaska in the show Northern Exposure.

Our adorable motel. Sonja is putting on what she calls her, “hotel socks.” You couldn’t pay this kid to put on socks in the dead of winter, but apparently they are a must at hotels.

My lunch at Roslyn Cafe.

Roslyn Cafe, aka Roslyn’s Cafe

I see more weekend getaways in my future. They are good for the soul. A hotel across from Starbucks may be a requirement.

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My Six-and-a-Half Year Old

Six-and-a-half. Six-and-a-half. Six-and-a-half.

I’ve said this before and I’m going to say it again because I don’t know what else to say. The and-a-half updates are always slow. January through March is not my favorite time of year.

Ah, here we go. Sonja continues to take piano lessons. It has been difficult to get her to practice, especially since practicing is not something I want her to see as a power struggle. (Not that I want her to see anything that way, but least of all this.) She knows this intrinsically and uses it to fuck with me. After telling me she doesn’t want to practice, she’ll tell me how she hates music and lessons. I volunteer to go in her place. She screams no. The teacher held a students-only recital a few weeks ago which I was forced privileged to stay for. I sat at the back of the room. Sonja sat in the front row. The teacher asked the students to introduce themselves and say one thing they liked about music. Without waiting her turn, Sonja said, “I love everything about music. It’s my favorite thing in the whole wide world.”

We had some unexpected February snow. Nothing too special about that but I have pictures. If you’re reading this from the east coast…sorry?

Sonja made a friend on the bus, and that friend stayed overnight a few weeks ago. Sonja’s first sleepover. We made pizza and they watched Pete’s Dragon. I gave them a bucket of candy while they watched, and this was an excellent reminder for me that children who are not mine will eat all of the candy if not instructed otherwise.

For a minute, Sonja really wanted to have a family night, so we taught her how to play Carcasonne. She did really well for her age, and seemed to enjoy it. We have so many fun and unusual board games and I am looking forward to more family nights playing them together.

Kindergarten is a grand time. From spirit days to making leprechaun traps to being asked to read announcements to the whole school, she doesn’t want to miss a thing. When I tell her she has early dismissal on a particular day, I have to reassure her it’s early dismissal for the whole school and not just her. I took her out early once and she missed making the giant letter of the week. Tragedy ensued.

After failing to convince Sonja to see Coco when it was in the theaters, I convinced her to watch it on DVD. She cried a couple of times. It was intense. But she liked it and so did I. For some reason, she has taken to watching Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with me. The day after her sleepover she was so tired, she could do nothing but argue with me and cry. She insisted that she did NOT want to watch something. I glanced over at our DVD shelf and saw, to my surprise, Journey to the Center of the Earth (the Brendan Fraser one). I thought it might be just the ticket. Boy oh boy, did she have fun watching that one. How we came to actually own Journey to the Center of the Earth I do not know, but surely that day it served its purpose. After completing the library’s summer reading challenge, I steered her towards a Roald Dahl story called The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me for her prize. It was difficult to get her to let me read it to her, but as soon as I did, she fell in love. We then read Fantastic Mr. Fox and watched the film and the love continued. I’m not sure at what point she watched The BFG, but she loved it and now we’re reading the book. We also recently watched Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes on Netflix, and it’s safe to say we’re big fans.

And that’s really all she wrote for six-and-a-half. Here’s to a lively spring.

 

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On Using Up My Stuff

It’s been nearly two years since I began my decluttering journey after reading the master manifesto The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Journey is definitely the correct word here. After my initial decluttering, I continued to work on the minimalist mindset, and, as author Marie Kondo said would happen, realized places and spaces where I’d made mistakes, some by decluttering too little, some by decluttering too much.

It is the places where I did too little that I have begun tackling recently. For example, when I was first decluttering, I kept all of my candles. In general, they just seemed useful. Some of them had specific memories attached to them. But they were tucked away in a cabinet in the kitchen. Though I lit them all up once for fun, when the power went out, it hardly seemed worth the storage space to keep them for just those occasions. Since we were short on daylight anyway, I decided to put some Danish hygge into practice and burn them all to the ground.

 

A gaggle of candles.

As the wax has slowly melted away the past couple of weeks, I have felt particularly accomplished. The table looks pretty. The house smells great. And I’m getting value out of something that was otherwise just gathering dust. My fear is that I may have inadvertently created a new habit. Candlelight is definitely not unpleasant. I have decided that it will be okay, after using up most of these candles, to keep one or two handy in case of a power outage or for the extra coziness it can provide in winter. A few more that were actually on display, being used as decorations, will stay that way.

A peace candle, dating all the way back to my college years. Even though I did not go to college in the ’60s.

We found this candle upon moving into our first apartment in 2005, a gift from management.

A French gel candle, sent to me by a friend. When I received this candle maybe twenty years ago, it was blue. Or purple. Green, maybe? I don’t remember, but it was definitely a better color than the puke brown it turned into sitting in my cabinet.

Another French candle. I will keep this one.

A funky canned candle from the Daiso store. Never opened.

Until now!

A pretty purple candle.

An autumn candle.

A candle that my husband and I agreed smelled good.

A summery candle that lives in my home office, even on the darkest winter days.

Speaking of inadvertently creating new habits… Next up, I want to rid myself of the rest of  my excess household cleaners. I still have toilet bowl cleaners and Pledge leftover from multipacks that I bought at Costco before we moved into the house. 11 years ago. Hello spring cleaning!

A little bit of hygge.

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My Sensitivities

Orthorexia (noun): An obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy.

A few days ago, my daughter had a playdate with a new friend whose family I had never met. Within five minutes of our arrival at their house, the conversation had turned – through no fault of my own – to this family’s efforts to eat healthier. These people had no idea that the idea of eating healthier is one that I consider myself unhealthily obsessed with. And in a way, that made me feel a little saner. It’s not my fault. It’s a national conversation.

It’s a conversation that needs to be had. But in this conversation where everybody has an opinion on what’s right and what’s wrong and nobody is either, poor little obsessive-compulsives like me get caught up in the winds.

My obsession with healthy food does not stem from a particular fear of obesity or disease, but bends towards a generic cure for what ails me. What ails me? Migraines. Stomachaches. Things that can be correlated to food. I have been on elimination diet after elimination diet to no avail. I can’t tell if I’m just doing it wrong or there isn’t any relation between what I’m eating and the way I feel. Having brought this issue up with my physician previously, I decided to bring it up again and to insist on a referral to the allergy specialist.

The allergy specialist decided to do a food panel scratch test – 72 foods in all. My fear in requesting a referral and talking up these complaints to someone in the medical field is that the test results will come back negative, and I’ll just seem like another crazy white lady on a quest for the cure for wellness.

Preparing the test: 72 pristine droplets of potential food allergens. (This looks like the set up to a really great mobile game.)

It was quite a shock to my system then, when this happened:

Scratch testing in action

Instead of turning up no results, I turned up ALL of the results. I reacted to nearly every food they tested me for, including the negative control. So then it was a matter of deciding what was a real reaction and what was “normal.”

The two foods that gave the greatest reactions were eggs and barley. With the allergy specialist, we focused on eggs, which are much more prominent in my (or anyone’s) diet than barley. Here’s the thing about eggs: If I had not been tested, I could have lived to be a thousand before I suspected or eliminated eggs from my diet. I can’t think of any elimination diet that does not allow eggs. And I was very skeptical that this could actually be a thing. Part of the reason I wouldn’t have thought of eggs is that I’m not particularly fond of eggs. I’ll use them in baking and cooking when necessary, but I’m not big on breakfast. Except for the occasional breakfast sandwich, eggs just don’t seem to be a big part of my life.

The specialist told me to go without eggs for a week, then reintroduce and see if I could provoke a reaction. My first thought was, “this will be the easiest elimination diet ever!” He said if I had a reaction to do it again, and again, to make sure it’s not a coincidence. So after a week, I ate some homemade egg noodles. And I got a two-day migraine. For some reason, I was not expecting that. But no, it couldn’t have been the noodles. There isn’t much egg in egg noodles. It must’ve been MSG or something else. So I waited two more weeks. Weeks that were free of migraines, by the way. Then I used egg as a binder in a crumb coating and made brownies with my daughter. And I got a another migraine.

Suddenly, it all started to make sense. Eggs are not something I see as a big part of my diet, but they are present in a lot of things that I eat. If other potential offenders weren’t provoking a consistent reaction, maybe that’s because I was accusing innocent foods.

There was one other food that provoked a pretty big reaction. Bigger on the flare and the same on the wheal as the control. That was wheat. I told the doctor that I had toyed with gluten-free for a couple of weeks and felt some improvement in migraines, but that it absolutely destroyed my stomach. He told me that I should try going wheat-free, not gluten free. That would mean that I could still have grains that had gluten. But the barley caused the biggest reaction. Which I told him. And he just said, “well, that throws a wrench in it, doesn’t it?” Well, yeah. I don’t have a medical degree, but I would think wheat + barley = gluten. I’ve thought about asking for a celiac test, but I’m not sure I want to open that can of worms.

And so I continue the obsessions. I’m really good at eliminating things from my diet without necessarily eating healthy, and frequently I’m not as interested in eating healthy as I’d like to be. I mean, I probably do pretty well, but I could do better. The cultural conversation continually hammers home the point that if we don’t eat well, we’re going to die, so eating continues to be stressful and I continue to search for the diet that will make me feel the best.

I still don’t have the answers. The allergy tests could still be a fluke. But one thing is for sure: I am not eating eggs again until after I get another migraine.

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