An Epic Odyssey (in the Odyssey)
In November, our family embarked on a six-stop, 16-day road trip across the southeast US. Our kids were great travelers, and it was a blast to introduce God’s gift of our Mystery to some friends and family.
The first stop was Tallahassee, home of Supergrands Gaga and Papa, who are well-known to our readers. Gaga taught the boys to play Chinese Checkers, and Papa gave them the garden tour, including a fruit sampling from his calamondin bush.
In Louisiana on her half birthday, Mystery enjoyed her first taste of soft-serve ice cream. She gave it two thumbs up.
On the Texas legs of our road trip we visited friends whom we met during three different stages of our adult lives. The first is our friend from college, Michelle, who went on to marry John’s best friend. He later died of brain cancer about a month after we lost James. We have remained close to Michelle and their two kids, vacationing together occasionally. Michelle has lots of wisdom and a grace-saturated perspective on life, and her kids are older than ours, so we always come away enriched with a preview of what parenting challenges lie ahead (in this case, dating and drivers’ permits!).
Michelle took us to this breathtaking Oxford-style private theological library which had original C.S. Lewis documents and first editions, and ancient Bible-related artifacts—even a fragment of a Dead Sea scroll! It made Abby want to lose herself in a stack of books at one of the wooden study nooks.
Out in the lawn there were even some relics from the Time War.
During this trip I managed to eat at our favorite street taco chain, Torchy’s, three separate times. Hard to pick a favorite, but I enjoyed the Matador (from the secret menu): chopped brisket with grilled jalapeno, pickled onions, shredded jack cheese, avocado, sour cream and cilantro on a crisp corn tortilla wrapped in a flour tortilla.
Michelle also brought out the scientists in us at an ice cream bar called Sub Zero that uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the ice cream. When Valor asked for the scientific explanation, Abby could not believe she (as an English major) was the only one of the four Rice grads present who had taken a chemistry class in college. Thankfully the ice cream flavor did not need much explaining—it was terrific! And the boys were so excited about it, as you can see!
That evening we also had a chance to eat dinner with Andrea & Chris, Abby’s sister and brother-in-law and the family’s extremely well-read technical geniuses. We talked about books under the Super Moon.
The Houston weather was ideal while we were there. One day we picnicked on po’ boys and baklava from Droubi’s, our favorite Middle Eastern deli when we were in college. We took the food to the Waterwall in the Galleria district before checking out the Houston Children’s Museum.
11,000 gallons of water are recirculated every minute at the Waterwall. It invigorated the kids with its motion, energy, magnitude, and gentle spray. Valor said when we stood in the middle, it felt like we were going up because all the water surrounding us was going down.
Percy has been out of daytime diapers for several months, but potty perfection has been a work in progress for this four-year-old. A sub-plot of our road trip was both our kids working on their Seven Day Challenge. I’ve had a pair of Nexo Knight Lego sets for a few months waiting as rewards if both boys could stay completely dry and clean for seven consecutive days. Although there is plenty of individual effort, they have to both pass seven days to win the Legos. We took the Legos with us on the road trip, but while we were at the Houston Children’s Museum, Percy reset the count back to Day Zero in spectacular fashion. 🙁
We met our friends Aaron and Lindsay in Orlando while Aaron was a seminary student, and now he pastors a church near Austin. They are awesome board/card gamers, and we played until late every night there. Their son Ezra is between Valor and Percy’s age, and through a remarkable providence of adoption, Ezra has a new baby brother, Abram. Both our families have endured difficult seasons of reproductive challenges, so it was a double blessing to each have a little one to praise God for! We have jokingly already arranged Mystery’s marriage to Abram, but we forgot to get a photo of them together (their nap schedules are not synced up as well as they will be someday).
Valor and Percy got to sleep on Ezra’s floor, which was super exciting. The last one to fall asleep, Percy came out and told me that he couldn’t sleep because Ezra was “honking.” It turned out he was snoring. When he was awake, Ezra introduced the boys to Minecraft, which became All They Wanted to Do.
Since Austin is the food truck capital of the country, we had to check out Hey, You Gonna Eat or What?, which served up Zagat-rated Monte Cristos: Shiner Bock-battered and fried sandwiches made with pit-smoked ham and mesquite-smoked turkey, cheddar and provolone cheese. Powdered with sugar and served with a homemade cherry fig jelly.
Our final Texas destination was Denton (as we learned, pronounced DENT’n, as in “oh no you dent’n!”), the new home to our New Bern BFFs Ole and Margaret, who broke our hearts back in early September when they left Eastern NC. What started with a simple “Do you guys play board games?” five-and-a-half years ago, turned into the closest friends we have. We found an awesome Airbnb house that would accommodate both our families, filled wall-to-wall with vintage eclectic decor and a nice yard out back. Ole & Margaret’s bedroom had a fireplace with a big table to play board games on after the kids went down. Sweet!
While we were visiting, Ole & Margaret found out that their recent bid on a house was accepted! Woohoo! (Meanwhile, our boys were killing it on Day Four of the Potty Challenge.)
On Sunday, we visited Redeemer Church of Denton, and in the sunny fall afternoon made s’mores.
Afterwards the guys played a card game called Star Realms using a scorekeeping app Valor coded in Hopscotch, which we highly recommend for teaching coding to kids.
After another late night of game playing, we said goodbye and began our long journey back east.
The only hotel we stayed in on the trip was in Jackson, Mississippi. We booked a room with a partitioned area for the kids, complete with a rustic woodland bunk bed and little LED stars in the ceiling. Bonus: we found a Lego minifig under the bed!
We checked out the the Mississippi Children’s Museum before leaving Jackson.
The highlight was a crawl-through digestive system, where kids could climb in a mouth (amid chewing sounds), through the esophagus, into the stomach (gurgling sounds), through the small and large intestines, and down an anal slide (flushing and flatulence sounds) into a toilet seat-shaped cushioned area. Genius! Falling into the “potty” was hugely entertaining for Percy.
It was an appropriately-themed attraction, because that day was Day Seven. The first time they had ever made it that long without “accidents.” And Day Seven turned out to be The Potty Training Crucible. The climax was our regrettable decision to stop at a playground in Alabama, which, as it turned out, had locked up all its bathrooms. I had to tell Percy to poop on the grass due to the lack of facilities. Meanwhile Valor threw up on the side of the van while Abby was feeding the baby. Despite the extreme circumstances, both our kids reacted with poise and control. They made it to the end of the day with “clean” records.
They went to bed that night at Abby’s aunt and uncle’s home in Georgia, knowing they had conquered Day Seven, and woke up the next morning to receive their rewards.
We were joined there by Gaga and Papa, who drove up for Thanksgiving, and more of Abby’s extended family. We played corn hole, lots of Trivial Pursuit, and Valor’s first game of Monopoly. Uncle Alan showed the boys his beekeeping hives and gave them walking staffs (Percy was shocked that an adult gave him a stick instead of taking it away from him). Valor and Percy also watched The Wizard of Oz for the first time. Percy was scared at some parts and Valor was not. They were the perfect ages to feel the magic and not notice the primitive special effects.
Mystery was a doll through everything, even the GI bug that she had, too. Flexible and cheerful.
The giant Scrabble board in the Mississippi Children’s Museum got me in the mood to play Scrabble, and Abby’s Aunt Dora is renowned for her Scrabble skills. Somehow I managed a game where I scored four “bingos” (50 point bonuses for using all seven tiles) in a single game: DECREED, ZONINGS, TAMALES, and UPGRADE. I’ll have to see if I’m invited back.
After three days in Rockmart, we embarked on the last leg of our road trip: the road home.
We had an outstanding vacation on a number of fronts: Percy was successful at potty training while on the road, we spent quality time with people that we love, ate brisket and/or Tex-Mex in some form just about every day we were in Texas, Abby and I read a book aloud in the car together, and we all played lots and lots of games. I feel a mix of rested, recharged, and ready to do it all again!