Nine Years

Of all the things my father taught me, the trick of switching time scales to put present troubles in perspective is the one on my mind today.  The whole of human history is but a blink of the cosmic eye, each of our own lives so infinitessimal.

As a child, I was both terrified and fascinated by the astonishing vastness of space and time which he described.  When I feared the implosion of the sun or the final fate of the whole universe, his idea of comfort was to calmly point out that we and everyone else would be very long dead by then, so why bother worrying?  When I understood the threat of nuclear war, I was supposed to be calmed by the idea that we'd be instantly vaporized and never know it happened.

I doubt this is the standard advice for soothing an anxious child.  I don't think it soothed me much at the time, in fact, but I definitely internalized the idea that it should be calming.  And by now I understand the lighthearted but purposeful approach to life that can come from embracing the dizzying terror of it all. 

On that note, a short video this week that I loved and which I think Dad would have loved, too:

Also, an article that is long but absolutely worth the time to read:  Neanderthals Were People, Too  by Jon Mooallem for the New York Times. 



It's a rainy, midwinter morning.  Bayboh has climbed into bed with me to say hello.  He would like a "cuddle".

Hugging him, I say, "I love you."

He furrows his brow and then grins, "Love. kocolate!"

Points at me, "You. love. kocolate!"

Warming to his theme, "Shmoogie. love. kocolate!  Mr. P. love. kocolate!  Daddy. love. kocolate!"


There was a time in our history when “reasonable people” could disagree on the question of whether some people should be allowed to own other people.  The question was argued passionately on both sides, election campaigns were run with the question front and center.  A war was fought.

But today, that question is settled.  Reasonable people cannot disagree on that question.  Reasonable people do not consider the question at all.  If any political party decided to run on an explicitly pro-slavery platform, the vast majority of Americans would be shocked.

How many other settled questions can you think of?  It's an interesting exercise.  Should children be employed in factories?  Should women be allowed to own property?  Should people who do not own their house be allowed to vote?   Should witchcraft be a legal offense?  Is human sacrifice necessary to appease the gods?

These are moral questions that were (are, in some other places) considered worthy of debate.  Reasonable people disagreed.

But now these questions are settled.  Reasonable people do not disagree about them.  Reasonable people do not consider them at all.

Imagine, though, how those debates played out over decades, maybe generations, at dinner tables, around fire circles.  By what process did they become settled questions?  How did it feel to be one person in one family, one community, living through one of those shifts?  How did it feel when the question first arose?  Who asked it and what happened to them?  How did it feel to watch your community split apart over the question?  How long did you spend in the height of rancor, roughly evenly divided?  When the “right side of history” started to win, how fast and how enthusiastically did the losing side’s supporters change their minds?  How many holdouts took their beliefs to their graves?  How many generations did they touch who hardly knew the question had ever been asked?

This is where my thoughts have gone in the past few weeks as I try to understand the powerful grief brought on by this election.  Especially as I try to understand why so many people seem to not comprehend that grief.  And this is where I’ve gotten so far:  we are grieving the world we thought we lived in, a world where we believed several ugly questions* were well settled or very nearly so.

As for those who don’t understand the grief, I think it’s clear that some wanted these questions reopened because they didn’t like the trending answers.  I have the sense that a larger number  thought these questions were so settled that they had no fear of voting for the person openly asking them.  He must have been joking, they felt, or he won’t really act on them (although his appointments and statements so far say he will).  But I’m guessing the biggest group of all just believed these questions were still unsettled and therefore, no matter which side they lean towards, aren’t greatly troubled.  “Reasonable people,” after all, “can disagree.”

For the moment, this realization is helping me to pull myself together and look to the future with a galvanizing if uncomfortable clarity.  So the moral tasks at hand aren’t what we thought they were.  No matter.  We’re still here, still with nothing to do but work and hope to bend the arc of history toward justice.

* Questions like, are there certain types of people that just don’t belong in our country?  Should law enforcement be allowed to treat certain types of people with more violence and suspicion than others?  Should men be able to grab women with impunity?  Is it OK for states to actively discourage certain types of citizens from voting?  Is it OK to mock a person’s disability or trauma?  Even — and I slightly hesitate to add this one since it feels over the top, but it did get raised by the candidate himself — is nuclear proliferation a good thing?

Number 68

Amongst the memories of civics classes that wander dimly through my brain these days, there is the year we were expecting Puerto Rico to become the 51st state.  We all had to draw flags that squeezed one extra star into that field of blue.  It’s hard to draw a few stars nicely, let alone 51 of them.  And it’s even harder to color in around them with a blunt crayon.  My edges were not crisp.

There is the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which I think I only remember because of the reaction I got when I exclaimed in horror to some grownup of my acquaintance, “You don’t remember the Glorious Revolution of 1688??!”  It does have rather a catchy name, though, so I might have remembered it anyway.  It was Glorious because it was bloodless.

And, of course, who can forget the impassioned essays we all wrote about the Electoral College?  How elitist! we grumbled.  How dumb!  How UNFAIR!  Let the people decide by simple majority!

I remember somehow avoiding having to read the Federalist Papers.

Thus, when I found Number 68 of said Papers on the Internet last week, I was reading it for the first time.  It’s dry writing and a dry subject, but in this horror of a post-election, distraught over the future of the republic, I heard the words of Alexander Hamilton speaking to me from a not-so-distant past brimming with confidence and excitement.  I recognized his passion for a well-designed system and wondered if, today, he might have been a software engineer.  I heard his worries for the safety of the nation and realized that human nature has not changed in 227 years.  I saw his trust in the protections of time and distance and realized that everything else has changed.

You can read the original words at Yale's Avalon Project.  Or you can read my own modernized version below, because I always love a translation job.

Federalist Papers Number 68, expressed in modern language

original believed to be by Alexander Hamilton

To the People of the State of New York:

Of all the elements of the new Constitution, the system for selecting the President is just about the only one that no one has criticized.  In fact, the strongest opponent of the new Constitution has even admitted that the election of the President is pretty well guarded.  I would go so far as to say that the system is excellent, possibly even perfect.  It impressively combines all the most wished-for advantages, as I will now explain.

It was important to us that the people should have a voice in the selection of the person who would be given so much trust.  For this reason, we gave the choice of President not to any preexisting body (such as the Congress), but instead to a temporary body chosen by the people for only this one purpose.

We felt it was equally important that the actual selection of the President should be made by people most capable of considering the character traits needed in the office.  We wanted those people to make the choice under circumstances that would encourage deliberation and keep them free from improper influence.  We decided that a small number of representatives, selected by their fellow citizens, would be most likely to have the knowledge and wisdom to investigate such a complicated matter.

It was also extremely important to avoid tumult and disorder, which was obviously a risk when choosing someone to hold such an important office as President of the United States.  Happily, we came up with a system that will almost certainly prevent such troubles.  Firstly, choosing a group of electors for the Electoral College will be much less likely to rile people up than directly choosing the actual President would.  Secondly, since the electors will be chosen by each state and will meet and vote only with the other electors from their state, they are more likely to stay calm themselves than if they were all to come together in one place to make the decision.  Which is good, because we all know if they start fighting, disorder could easily spread to the general public.

Above all, we had to guard against cabal, intrigue, and corruption, which are deadly to our republican form of government.  We expect these threats to come from many directions, but we were most especially concerned about foreign powers wanting to gain influence in our government.  Could a foreign power do any better than to put their own puppet in the Presidency?  So we have carefully designed the Electoral College to avoid this danger.  For one thing, the Electoral College is selected by the people immediately before the choice of President is made and the College exists for that purpose only.  A temporary body like this will be much harder to unfairly influence than a permanent body like Congress.   We’ve also tried to exclude anyone who might be or appear to be too close to the sitting President.  No senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States can be an elector.  So, as long as the general public isn’t corrupted, the people making the actual choice of President should begin the process free from sinister bias.  And the key features of the Electoral College which I have already explained — that it is only a temporary body and that each state’s electors meet separately — offer the best assurance that the electors will remain uncorrupted throughout the process.  It will be nearly impossible for anyone to bribe, mislead, or otherwise unfairly influence so many people spread out across so much distance.  To attempt it would require too much money and far too much time.

Finally, the key features of the system are also intended to ensure that the President depends only on the people for his/her continuance in office.  Because each election is in the hands of a special body of the people’s deputies, their identities unknowable beforehand, the President will not be tempted to sacrifice his/her duty to the nation during his/her term by favoring a few individuals who would next keep him/her in office or turn her/him out.

All these advantages which I have laid out are happily combined in the plan devised by the Constitutional Convention.  Specifically, the people of each state shall choose electors, their number equal to the number of senators and representatives of that state in the national government.  Those electors will meet somewhere within their state and vote for some fit person as President.  Their votes will be sent to the seat of the national government and the person who happens to have a majority of the votes will become President.  Of course, it might happen that no one person will receive a majority of the votes.  Since it might be unsafe to allow the President to be selected by less than a majority, in that case the House of Representatives will select (from the five leading candidates) the one that they believe is best qualified for the office.

This electoral process gives a moral certainty that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any one who is not clearly well qualified.  It is easy to imagine that talents for low intrigue and the little arts of popularity might win a single state for an unfit candidate, but it will require other talents and a different kind of merit to gain the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or a majority of it.  I am confident there will always be a strong probability of seeing the Presidency filled by characters outstanding in ability and virtue.  This system will be seen as one of the strongest arguments for the Constitution by all who understand the importance of the executive role in any government’s success or failure.  Rather than agree with the simplistic poet who says: “For forms of government let fools contest That which is best administered is best,” we say instead that the true test of a good government is its ability and tendency to produce a good administration.

The Vice-President is chosen in the same way as the President except that if the Electoral College does not reach a majority, the Senate will choose the Vice President rather than the House.

Some have complained that appointing an extraordinary person as Vice-President is unnecessary, or even likely to cause trouble.  They say that it would be better for the Senate to choose one of their own members to serve that role.  In response, I offer two reasons to justify the ideas of the convention in this respect:  First, it is necessary for the President of the Senate to have only a tie-breaking vote, so that a clear decision can always be achieved.  Choosing a senator to serve this role would exchange the constant vote of that senator’s state into a contingent one.  Second, since the Vice-President may have to act as the President of the United States, it is obvious that all the arguments for the special selection of the President laid out above should also apply to appointing the Vice-President.  I would also point out that objecting to this method of choosing the Vice-President goes against the way even our state is governed.  After all, we have a Lieutenant-Governor, chosen by the people at large, who presides in the Senate, and is also the next in line to the Governor, just as the Vice-President is for the President.


We all have stories we tell ourselves, consciously or not, about who we are and what our place is in the world.  Stories that give meaning to our struggles and our achievements.  Stories that tell us how to know we are good people.

We need these stories as much as food and shelter and basic human connection, so is it shocking that we so often cling to them longer than is wise?  Is it surprising that we suffer when they fall to pieces in our hands?

I lost more than one of my most precious stories last week, smashed to smithereens in a matter of hours.  Maybe you did, too.  It hurts like hell.

Or maybe you’ve been watching your stories slowly crumble, worn down by the changing times.  Maybe you saw someone holding out a tube of the strongest glue, marked “GUARANTEED FIX”, and grabbed it with relief, telling yourself not to mind the “CAUTION: FLAMMABLE. MAY CAUSE RESPIRATORY DISTRESS, BURNING EYES, DEATH TO SOME IN THE VICINITY” emblazoned on the other side.

What if we had a way to grieve our disintegrating stories instead of desperately pouring on glue?  What if there was somewhere to look for help constructing new stories when our old ones were blowing away?


Let me tell you a story.

It is Halloween, a beautiful Monday, and the high school band is forming up in the parking lot of my kids’ elementary school.  There are clusters of parents chatting sociably, parents alone jostling the strollers of younger children at nap time, a set of quiet smiling grandparents dressed as, I think, a brain surgeon and patient.  Two police cars are blocking traffic on the quiet street and school administrators, friendly witches, are striding purposefully from bus driver to band leader to police to teachers, often catching the eye of a parent or a student to wave and smile, ask “How are you?” or compliment a costume.

The music starts, a percussion extravaganza, and the band begins to move, instruments glinting in the sun.  Caught unawares by emotion, I fight back tears as the band flows past and the little kids follow.  Pre-K, then Kindergarten, 1st grade (Shmoogie is thrilled to see me and thrilled with her “Minecraft Chicken” costume assembled the day before) and on up (Mr. P punching the air with excitement in his freshly black-sprayed hair and Percy Jackson costume — clever, you understand, because a “Camp Half-Blood” t-shirt and blue jeans can be worn all day at school without breaking the rules).  Parents are taking pictures, smiling and waving at their kids.  A mother leans in to straighten her daughter’s witch hat as she goes by, and the band plays on.

Now let me share some details that might explain my misty eyes.

The band is led by two majorettes, not one.  Black and brown, they march with their arms interlocked because, I realize, one of them is blind.  The clusters of cheerful parents are chatting not just in English, but also Spanish, and I know the grinning, strutting students say good morning and good night in dozens of other languages.  The witch-hat adjusting mom is wearing a hijab. 

I know it sounds like I made that up, like I'm conjuring some ridiculous liberal dream of the future, but this nouveau Norman Rockwell spread is real.  I was standing in it on Monday.  It has already been conjured by the courage of people who came before us, many who still walk with us now.  It is my America, the America of hope and openness and simple human joy.  It is so beautiful.  And it feels so fragile right now.

Now let me confess something to you.

In the first weeks of school, it was disconcerting for my kids' to be some of just a few white faces in the student body.  It was not an experience they or I had really had before.  When I am the one to pick them up in the afternoon, my primate brain reacts a bit to the otherness of the faces and the clothes and the smells of this united nations of parents before my rational brain smiles and says, Hello!

"We owe it to other people not to be afraid of them."  What a profound idea, that fear of the other is not something that just happens to us, it is something we choose to indulge or to let go.  Our daily lives offer chances to make that choice over and over, with all its moral weight, but on Tuesday we have the rare chance to make that choice resoundingly together.

I cannot wait to mark my ballot.


When Bayboh woke up this morning, I thought we'd have a chat about yesterday's adventure apple picking and petting farm animals. "What did we do yesterday?"


Slow smile.  "Play.  Ground."  His thing is saying each word as clearly as he can and pausing (to make sure you got it?) between each one.

"Playground? I think we went to a farm! And now you know why we say the cow says... What does the cow say?"



"Big. One."

"Yeah! It was a big cow.  Cows are big."

"Get? One?"

"You want to get a cow?"


"No, we can't get a cow, sorry."

"Buy? One?"


I grew up in a family that discussed politics as a matter of course.  It wasn't maybe so hard for us to do, because aside from possibly some vague leanings in the primaries (not even sure about that, though), both the voting age members of the household were casting their ballots the same way (although I do remember some emotional arguments about how we should respond to the Bosnian war and there were probably a few other non-voting issues that caused some true disagreement).  But I've learned in adulthood that even in undivided houses, a lot of people don't talk about politics at all.

I do wonder then if it's an innate personality thing, or more a product of this way of growing up, but either way, I love discussing politics and policy with other adults, even if the conversation gets a little heated, and I love the challenge of discussing these things with my kids in ways that they can understand and find interesting.  It's not that I want them to agree with me no matter what; I actually spend a lot of energy trying to clarify for them why some people, even people close to us, have different views than I do (and I have encouraged those with different leanings to share their thoughts with the kids).  I do want them to grow up to be engaged in our democracy.  To be interested in and feel obligated to be informed, to think things through, to make decisions, and to vote.  Maybe even volunteer for a campaign.  Maybe even run for office.

So it might be to my credit that they have all wanted to stay up to watch the debates (even Bayboh, tearfully put to bed pleading "Watch!  'Bate!"), or it might just be that we're all night owls and any chance to stay up late watching anything sounds like fun.

The first debate, Shmoogie fell asleep early on.  Mr. P watched the whole thing and when I asked him what he thought of it the next day, his assessment was quite reasonable but delivered with a tone of near-disbelief: "He kept blurting out and saying the wrong words."

Before the vice presidential debate, we had some prep about who was going to be on stage and what the role of a Vice President is and why we should care at least a little but also why the debate probably won't affect the election much.  Shmoogie was tired but more awake this time, which meant she shifted rapidly towards bored and cranky instead of asleep.  She was rolling around next to me on the couch, wanting an arm around her, then throwing it off, wanting to go to bed but refusing to take herself, wanting a blanket (Mr. P kindly gave her one, then went back to focusing on the screen and telling me that Pence looks "creepy"... I did ask him if he thought he'd have the same feeling if I hadn't told him ahead of time who I was rooting for...).  Finally, Shmoogie had had enough.  "Ugh!  We might not even need to USE the Vice Presidents!!!"

Deep Story

I listened to Arlie Hochschild interviewed on the Ezra Klein Show recently while snatching a few minutes of exercise trying to keep myself out of a slump of despair (it took me a few days to finish the interview that way; jury still out on whether this particular slump of despair is a safe distance away yet).  The interview focused on her recent book, Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, for which she lived in Louisiana for five years, reaching out to Tea Party supporters and listening to what they had to say.

Her approach, she calls it “turning off my alarm system”, is to “take as my challenge and joy and task… to really stand in the shoes of this other person”.  She focuses on trying to find what she calls the “deep story”, the story that “feels to be true”.

We all have a deep story, she says, and we can reach across divides by listening to them.

It's a big thing to ask.  I know that as much as I truly want to understand the emotional currents driving the political decisions of people I know, it's hard for me to listen and respond in a way that feels constructive instead of feeling either like an attack (to them) or like seething silence (to me).  Maybe I'd do better with people I didn't know.

Anyway, lucky for you, I’m not in the right frame of mind to try to explicate my own deep story today.  I’m not even sure what it is and maybe that’s part of the point.  It isn't the people being interviewed that say “this is my deep story,” it's Hochschild who pulls it out of the hours of interviews and holds it up to them to ask, “Does this feel true to you?”

What I'm offering instead are some podcast links, to some episodes that have meant so much to me, they must resonate with my deep story somehow:

Tribes and Traitors (29 min) (Hidden Brain ep. 24, 3/22/2016)  I’ve noticed this dynamic lots of times.  It feels especially common lately, whether the topic is terrorism or politics or race.  And it dovetails nicely with a sub-theme of the Hochschild interview.

Our Politics, Our Parenting (23 min) (Hidden Brain ep. 44, 9/13/2016)  The ending.  Wait for it.

Terrorism (27 min) (Hidden Brain ep. 13, 12/15/2015)  What I remember sticking out to me here was the idea that when it comes to destructive movements of all kinds, it is the leaders that are psychologically abnormal.  The followers are pretty seriously normal.

Flip the Script (1 hr) (Invisibilia, 7/15/2016)  Fascinating stories, well told.  And goes well with both the Terrorism episode above and the Tribes and Traitors one.

I didn’t realize until I had this all typed up that most of those episodes are from Hidden Brain.  It’s a good podcast.  :)

I need to get back to exercising again, but I will admit watching the debate did help me feel somewhat better.  If that feels true for you, too,  you might enjoy the Hillary Shimmy Song by Jonathan Mann, just for fun.


 "Moar," says Bayboh from his highchair, serious and pleading at the same time.

"More cake?" I ask.

"Yeah," he furrows his brow in concentration, staring me down, daring me to refuse him.

"Ok, or... Are you hungry?"


"Do you want some rice and lentils?"


"No? Are you hungry or do you just like the cake?"


I look at him.

"Cake.  Moar!  CAKE!"


I don’t clearly remember how it started.  It could have been because I was bored and wanted to add a bit of extra mental challenge to reading the same book to Bayboh for the 100th time.  It could have been because I suddenly noticed, reading to Shmoogie, that we didn’t have many books with girls as the main character and I felt bad about it but didn't have the time to go hunting a whole new library. 

It could have been because I was reading The Borrowers to the older kids, a series which I remembered as utterly enchanting and full of female characters (it was written by a woman, after all, Mary Norton).  Reading it aloud, though, I experienced the slowly dawning horror that has become sadly familiar when I share beloved books with the kids without having cracked their covers since my own childhood.  There were female characters, sure, and the protagonist is an independent-minded, interesting girl.  But the rest of them were grownups (mostly mothers) molded (with some sympathy, to be fair, but there’s only so much you can do with such raw material) from demeaning stereotypes of the era (the first book was published in 1952, although the time period described is a generation previous).

At any rate, I don’t clearly remember which of these situations gave me the idea, but I started flipping the gender of every character as I read bedtime stories.  It takes more mental attention than you might think, so I don’t do it absolutely all of the time.  (It also sometimes irritates the children, Shmoogie in particular.)  And the truth is that while I did it pretty consistently at first, I’ve fallen into habits now and have books that I do it for all the time (becaue I might throw them out otherwise) and books that I never do (because it's too hard or they aren't that bad —some are even great — or I know them too well and it's too jarring).  So nothing I’ve gleaned from this is statistically sound or anything like that (but I’m sure other people have done more rigorous analysis).  I’ve also done it almost exclusively with picture books, although it’s also become the trusty hammer that I’ll hit a scene in a longer book with if the gender roles are driving me really nuts and I can figure out how to keep some semblance of the story intact.

All that said, it’s been extremely interesting in several ways.  One thing is, that it is so difficult to do, like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time.  I slip up frequently, although it’s getting much easier with books I’ve read this way quite a few times.

Another thing is, that it is notably uncomfortable.  Like I said, it bothers Shmoogie the most (Bayboh doesn’t seem to notice and Mr. P isn’t reading with us so often anymore, but when he does, he’s at that point where he enjoys being unconventional and fighting arbitrary social boundaries).  I do wonder, for Shmoogie, is it her age?  Her personality?  Or her own already-developed investment in socially acceptable gender roles?

But it also makes *me* uncomfortable often enough, which I find fascinating.  I encourage you to give it a go and try to reserve some brain power to pay attention to how it makes you feel.  If you’re uncomfortable, what seems to trigger that?  Is it all the women and girls suddenly having ideas, speaking authoritatively and being listened to and admired by remarkably passive boys?  Or the number of boys who seem to enjoy hanging out all on their own with a bunch of girls?  Is it the shear number of books that suddenly have no men or boys in them at all, excepting a kind, loving, selfless (and quite possibly mute) father?  Is it the grouchy, scary, ugly woman, utterly villainous yet inexplicably treated with deference and sympathy by a man or boy who calmly puts up with any amount of crap until his sympathy and goodness finally cause a change of heart (though probably not an actual apology)?  Is it the flipped roles themselves that bother you (and does that surprise or disappoint you)?  Or is it what they reveal about the air we’ve all breathed from birth, the water we’ve given our children to swim in (knowingly or not… it's hard for a parent to change the composition of the ocean)?

It’s all those things, and probably more, for me (shocking, I know, since I wrote that list!), but the one that really gets me is how many books we own that, as written, have only “he”s in them (I feel like talking animal books are the worst offenders).  Or only “he”s and one inhumanly kind, loving, and unindividuated mother.

Oh, look at that!  I was right about the blasted talking animals.  (I wish that article had been more critical at the end; I love Harry Potter immensely, but just because it’s written by a woman and I love Hermione’s character and several others doesn’t mean it smashes gender roles (look at The Borrowers!).  It’s actually chock full of gender stereotypes.  In fact, I can’t think of a character in that sprawling universe that significantly pushes the bounds of a familiar gendered archetype (except possibly Harry himself, with his empathy and grief, which we pretty much only have access to because he is the protagonist).  The new play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, was so awful in that regard that I had a hard time enjoying it.)

First Day

Tramping up the hill with Bayboh on my back and a huge bag of school supplies in each hand, chirping "Come on!  We want to be on time!" with an undertone of desperation, I was both ridiculously pleased with myself that I thought to do a dry run the day before (we bested our time by 5 minutes today, meaning we were ever so slightly early!) and seriously annoyed with the universe that all that planning and effort and good idea-ness hadn't magically gifted me a morning where we arrived with 20 minutes to calmly meander to the classrooms, take a photo, wave at some other parents, that kind of thing.  I didn't take a photo until they were in their pajamas this evening.

But we were close enough to on time, personal hygiene needs had been taken care of, and everyone was dressed in clothes that looked passably the right size and not like they'd been through a mauling by a large cat, which you'd think would be a low bar, but there had been some question as to whether we would clear it merely a quarter hour earlier.  So.

They made some inspirational back to school posters yesterday.


"Build your Knowledge," proclaims Mr. P, "Do Boring Stuff."


"School is here," Shmoogie is at least a little excited, "School."  (She explains that is pavement and sun.  Which seems a little odd until I realize that's a lot of what stood out about school when I was a kid, too.) 


And finally... 


"Fight The Bully," we'll take the swords dripping with blood in the metaphorical sense.  At least, when he did get home and told me about his day, it was mostly postive and the only bully story was about someone putting boogers on a carrot and throwing it in his lunch box.  Kids are so gross.  But he didn't seem to upset and says he just removed the carrot from his box and it wasn't a big deal.

I thought it was kind of a big deal that I boiled three separate eggs for Shmoogie's lunch this evening (7 pm was the one I made and put it in the fridge, 7:30 pm was the one I made while Bayboh was eating that one, 8 pm was the one I made after the second one fell on the floor because I tried to put it in the fridge balanced on top of the sandwich container with only one hand because the other hand was holding Bayboh, who had recently fallen on his face while playing gleefully with his older siblings.)  But, really, booger-smeared carrots might be worse.  And smacking your face on the floor is definitely worse.  And, really, the second one was probably rubbish anyway because I forgot to set the timer.

Day 9

Mile 3623.  On the road again. Family reunion, ho!  Everyone's a little cranky nine days in, but we had a nice visit with uncle and aunt-to-be last night and home is in sight.  We can do this.

Mile 3675.  Talking with Shmoogie about having only one day left in our trip.  She wants to leave early tomorrow so we get home early.  We agree.  "Will it be a long drive tomorrow?"  "A little long, but not so long."

Mile 3712.  Starting to think ahead.  What to do with the kids while everything we own is being unloaded into the house?

Mile 3783.  Family reunions are amazing.  Leaving three short hours later, I ask the kids how was that? and they grin and say "Happy!"

Mile 3898.  Pit stop at McDonald's.  Still toying with the idea of driving straight through today.  Shmoogie and Mr. P are both in favor.  We tell them we'll get as far as we can safely.  Shmoogie says, "We want to get there safely but we also want to get there as fast as possible."  We get back on the highway going west.  This is not a good sign.

Mile 3904.  Back on the highway heading east.

Mile 4055. Final clock change accomplished.

Mile 4107. West Virginia!!!

Mile 4121.  Kids so excited to get happy meals for dinner.  I didn't know McDonald's won't give you a happy meal without knowing if it's for a boy or a girl.  Can we just stop it with all that crap already?

Mile 4138. A deer leaps into the highway not too far ahead and my brain is whirring trying to determine how to react (a deer leapt into the front of my car once, the day after I got my license; it's not a good thing to have happen to you) but the deer's brain is whirring too.  It springs straight up in the air, twists 180 degrees, and bounds right off the highway again.

Mile 4440.  Well out of the mountains now.  I've had a nap.  The roads have been so empty tonight.

Mile 4517.  Last state boundary!  Feeling like road tripping across the county is actually more surreal than flying.  Especially when you're ending up on familiar ground.

Mile 4531.  Drive by home.

Mile 4533.  Hotel.  Everyone awake.  Bayboh a little wild, tumbling on the bed while Shmoogie looks miserably put upon trying to sleep next to him while I get the pack n play set up.  Then, very quickly, everyone asleep again.

Day 8

Mile 3103.  The time change is working against us this morning.  Also, Shmoogie has been feeling sick and seems to have a slight fever.

Mile 3107.  Billboard "Oklahoma schools:  Funded by wind energy."

Mile 3169.8.  Changed the dashboard clock by two hours to get on local time.

Mile 3170.  Mr. P pipes up from the back seat: "Hey!  It's 10:55!"  (We've been enforcing a no screens until 10:30 rule.)

Mile 3194.  We realize we will run out of gas in 8 miles.

Mile 3195.  It's lucky we're on a reasonably populated stretch of highway.  Tank is full again.

Mile 3230.  Realize that the package I ordered yesterday has the wrong address on it, flipped two numbers.  Call customer service.  They're amazing.  Might be ok afterall.  Or not.  We'll see. 

Mile 3306.  Children peaceful.  Grown ups cranky.  Shmoogie seems to be feeling fine.

Mile 3317.  Pit stop in the hope Bayboh will soon nap.  It's only 90 degrees but feels more oppressively hot than the desert did a few days ago.  We must be in the humid parts of the country.

Mile 3330.  Billboard for "Precious Moments Chapel".  How interesting

Mile 3386.  Missouri is so green.  The grass is so tall.  There are so many trees!  Also, Missouri loves fireworks.

Mile 3418.  The Candy Store would like us to stop at "The World's Largest Gift Store".  We would not. 

Mile 3463.  Bayboh awake.  Decent nap, there.

Mile 3498.  Still green.  Still trees.  A lot cooler, though.  Bet it's still humid.

Mile 3561. Time for Raffi

Mile 3566. I see a sign for Seamless Sweaters... er... no, wait... Gutters... ;)

Mile 3622.  Made it.  Bayboh is happily toddling around and around.  Loves the cat.  Shmoogie and Mr. P enjoying a few games of chess under the tutelage of their uncle.


Day 6

Mile 1766. Passing Ivanpah concentrated solar power plant. The tops of the towers are painfully bright. Very interesting technology.  Turns out the wind farm we passed yesterday is the largest in the US.  More on both those in a minute.


Mile 1771. Crossing into Nevada! Sudden burst of civilization, Las Vegas style.
Mile 1825. CONDOS FOR RENT. ONE MONTH FREE! They look pretty nice, too. Bit different than Seattle.

Mile 1837. Sight of Lake Meade

Mile 1846. It's 100 degrees and no shade anywhere and I'm more than a little relieved that we're not allowed to take the full Hoover Dam tour with children under 8. The shorter, inside-only tour is great.  Our guide has a great dry sense of humor. Shmoogie's a little nervous at the mention that we're in a tunnel carved from bedrock because apparently "bedrock" in Minecraft means you're about to hit lava and die. Everyone's a little rattled when the gigantic pipe under us roars to life, but the guide explains it's just a generator got turned on so the water started to flow. Bayboh wants up, wants down, wants a nap, wants down, wants out, wants up, wants a nap. We drive across the dam on our way to the Grand Canyon!


Mile 1847.  We drive back across the dam because it turns out the road out this way is closed.

Mile 1851.  This means we have to cross that super high bridge behind the dam.

Mile 1852.  The sides of the bridge are so high that you can't see out, so it's not as scary as it looks.  And now we're in Arizona!

And I have a minute to write a bit more about the dam.  I read up on it a little before we came and had formed a sense of it as an astounding feat of engineering, but also as a compete alteration of the lower river ecosystem and a dangerous construction process that killed hundreds of workers (and reported numerous probable asphyxiations as "pneumonia" deaths to avoid paying benefits) and drew thousands of desperate families out here to the desert during the Depression in hopes of a job.  The museum at the end of the tour makes some reference to the difficulty of the job and of life out here, but mostly in service of continuing to tell the heroic story of the dam controlling the "dangerous" and "destructive" river to create a "good life" in the desert for many people and irrigation for crops for many more.

I'll admit to being very skeptical of dams ever since reading When the Rivers Run Dry (really really good book), but mostly I just find complicated stories more interesting than unalloyed-good stories.

The desert is still the desert and now we're being quiet for Bayboh's nap, so let's talk a bit about power generation.  I knew all these things at one point in my life, but to answer Shmoogie's questions, I need to do a little research and it looks like you're coming along for the ride...

I think we all have a sense that power is measured in Watts.  But what is a Watt?  Wikipedia is probably right on this kind of thing: "The unit is defined as 1 joule per second[1] and can be used to express the rate of energy conversion or transfer with respect to time. It has dimensions of Mass·LengthTime−3."  Reaching back to high school physics and reading some other stuff on the Internet, I'm going to think about it this way:  force is measured in mass*length*time^-2, which is the same as mass times acceleration (velocity is distance/time, acceleration is increase in velocity over time, so distance/(time*time). Gravity causes acceleration of things that have mass, so when you feel the weight of a rock in your hand, you are feeling force.  "Work," in the technical physics sense, is force times distance.  When you lift a rock, you are doing "work" (against the force of gravity).  That's how we get from the force units mass*length/(time*time) to the work units mass*length*length/(time*time).  Work and energy are measured in the same units because energy does work and work can create energy.  The rock you lifted now stores that work you did in lifting it as potential energy, which will be released if you drop the rock.

We're really close now.  (Is this simple enough my kids will get it?)  Power is work or energy per time unit, which is how we get to mass*length*length/(time*time*time), which is what a Watt measures!  But one more thing... because factoring out time like that isn't actually the way we use or pay for power, it makes more sense to talk about energy than power.  So we multiply by time again, go back to just (time * time) in the denominator, and have a unit like gigawatt-hours (GWh).  Got it?  I wish I had the time and stamina to edit that further, but for now that's what I can do.

Now for the comparison.

The Ivanpah towers aren't expected to achieve peak generation for another year or two and I couldn't find really recent data, but the site produced 108 GWh in the first quarter of 2014. It cost $2.2 billion to build (I'm not going to hunt for maintenance costs right now) and it burns some natural gas (that is, carbon) as part of normal operations.

The Alta Wind Energy Center (aka the Mojave Wind Farm) produces 2,680 GWh according to Wikipedia and I'm going to assume that's per year.  So, 670 GWh per quarter on average.  It looks like it cost $1.85 billion to build and I'm sure there are fossil fuel costs to its operation in repairs, bringing in equipment, that kind of thing, but there isn't any required for the actual power generation.

Finally, Hoover Dam.  Power generation here depends on the flow of the Colorado River.  Its production peaked in 1984 at 10,348 GWh and was lowest in 1956, at 2,648 GWh.  Wikipedia quotes 4,200 GWh per year in recent years (I recall reading more like 3,500  GWh, but hey), so we can estimate about 1,000 GWh per quarter.  And Marketplace reported it cost $750 million dollars to build in 2010 dollars.

So.  Stuff to think about.  It looks like the wind farm produces roughly 50% (a bit more, really) what Hoover Dam produces.  And the solar furnace only produces one sixth what the wind farm does.

And, because I wanted to know, it looks like new electric cars are getting about 30 miles per kWh.

Also, it shouldn't be this frigging hard to accurately compare production of various power facilities!  Just quote everything in GWh per year, please!  I could forgive the Hoover Dam site quoting in TWh to make things simple, but they use kWh so they can say "billions" and that feels deceptive.  (Or maybe they're just trying to be accessible to people used to seeing kWh on their electric bills.)

Mile 1920.  Moving the chocolate stash to the cool box.  Better late than never.  

Mile 1999.  A loud bump in the road wakes Bayboh.

Mile 2030.  So this is Route 66.

Mile 2035.  Oh.  Trees.

Mile 2036.  Late lunch early dinner.  We are all a bit fried.

Mile 2050.  More wind turbines.  :)

Mile 2095.  The Grand Canyon.  Wow.  It's not as scary as I had feared, although I'm definitely on alert even though the kids are being really good, unlike a bunch of other people that I'm trying not to worry about.  It starts to rain and we catch the last 15 minutes of the gift shop to stamp passports and let Bayboh fall in love with a stuffed mountain lion, which he calls "cat", smiles at shyly, and hugs.  Because it's just been his birthday and because so far the older kids have both gotten stuffies on the trip, we get it for him.  He is very happy.


Mile 2100. Driving a bit along the rim of the canyon. When a view opens up, there's a curtain of rain pouring down right in the middle, which is really far away.

Mile 2218. Desert View. Wow. Wow. Storm and lightning and right at the edge of the canyon with a view of the river. Wow.

Bayboh is done with all this.  The snack bar here is open and has milk and cheese.  Bayboh is feeling better.

Mile 2186. Bayboh is asleep. The other two are claiming to be asleep and bitterly complaining any time we "wake them up" by talking quietly to each other or stopping to view a herd of mule deer grazing and crossing the road. It's nearly dark and the canyon is full of rain, you can only see the outlines of the cliffs on this side.

Day 5

Mile 1353.  Grant's Grove.  Hard to believe we're going to see an even bigger tree in a few hours.  The fallen trunk tunnel part of the trail is really cool. 


Mile 1354. We finally locate Shmoogie's park passport, lost for the second time so far, under my seat.

Mile 1369.  Entering Sequoia National Park!

Mile 1376.  "I hate physics," says Mr. P, who wants to be traveling faster.

Mile 1386.  The kids are excited to climb a big rock, but first we're going to see the largest tree in the world!  The forest service has very cleverly set this up as a steep trail from exactly the elevation of the tree top, so you get a sense of the scale of the thing.  Especially effective while you're trudging back up with a toddler on your back and a 9 year old tugging on your hand and whining about how he doesn't want to do another hike.

Mile 1390. We visit the Giant Forest Museum, are amazed, and decide that with nap approaching and a long drive ahead and tempers short, we won't take that 400-steps-carved-into-rock hike after all.  No one is very upset about this at the moment.


Mile 1398.  Feeling a little carsick.  Bayboh still awake.

Mile 1401.  Still with the impressive winding road going down down down.  Twenty degrees hotter.  Bayboh still awake.

Mile 1406.  Exiting the park. It's now 103 degrees outside. Bayboh is giggling like crazy because Shmoogie is being silly for him.

Mile 1418. A big lake in dry country.  It's a reservoir, you can see the tops of drowned trees sticking out of the water and rings of higher past water levels.  Bayboh still awake.  Not so happy.

Mile 1421.  Houseboats on the reservoir!

Mile 1433.  Bayboh seems to finally be asleep.

Mile 1521.  Turned East.

Mile 1531.  Field full of apricot (?) trees and pumps.  Only one of the pumps seems to be working.  50 more minutes to chosen food stop.  Bayboh still sleeping.

Mile 1533. Solar panels!!

Mile 1539.  Looking back on the valley, it looks so green.

Mile 1545.  Passing the town of Caliente.  It's way over 100 degrees right now. 

Mile 1558.  The grown ups have a lengthy conversation about whether today is Wednesday or Tuesday.  It's Wednesday.

Mile 1560.  A huge, beautiful wind farm!  I love wind farms!


 Mile 1580.  Bayboh's nap must end because this looks like about our last chance for food today.  The wind is steady, strong, and hot.  Shmoogie drops a marker getting out of the car and it lands so far under the car we can't reach it.  By the time we get back, it's resting in a crack two parking spaces over.

Mile 1582.  Shmoogie is singing "The Wind is Called Mariah," her favorite song from preschool, since I called her attention to a hotel called Mariah.

Mile 1622.  Realize the funny looking tree things we've been seeing are Joshua Trees.

Mile 1645.  We cross what's labeled as the Mojave River.  It has no water.  It doesn't even have any mud.  It's a slight depression barely distinguishable from the surrounding area.  Wikipedia says most of its flow is underground most of the time.

Mile 1677.  Shmoogie's battery has run out.  Luckily the view out the window is pretty interesting, with the sun getting low and cloud shadows besides.


Mile 1717.  I have finally knitted back all the yarn I ripped out the first day of this trip (row gauge wasn't what I'd expected, had to switch to an increase every 7 rows instead of every 6).

 Mile 1727.  I wish I could still read in a moving car like I did as a kid.  Gripped with a sudden desire to read all the SpriteKit documentation.

Mile 1734. We're 72 miles from Las Vegas.  We're not going to Las Vegas.

Mile 1747.  "Downgrade next ten miles.  Trucks check brakes."  Mr. P wants a bathroom stop.  Bayboh wants out.  We just want to get through the last 20 minutes of the drive...

Mile 1754.  Bayboh says, "Out!  Out!"  Shmoogie says, "We're just letting Mr. P out because he really really needs to pee."

Mile 1759.  A tiny outpost in the desert.  Beautiful sunset, some stars.  I'm apparently the only one who couldn't sleep through the four freight trains running by 30 yards from our rooms.


Day 4

Mile 1152. A nice breakfast and an anger-tinged repacking job.  Road trips are stressful.

Mile 1162. Shmoogie is reading about the Wawona tree, the one they cut a tunnel through for tourists to drive their cars. Tried to give her a reference point for the year it fell by relating it to Daddy's age. "Daddy, you really were born a long time ago."

Mile 1184. I have just finished reading the health and safety information from the Yosemite visitor guide. Mr. P decides, "I'm not even getting out of the car. It's too dangerous." We laugh and tell him it's not. "Yes, it is! There's currents and plague and lions and dangerous mouse poop."

Mile 1185. "I think I saw mouse poop."

Mile 1187. We are still trying to talk Mr. P down from his new found fear of plague. He has a song now, "It's scary, it's scary, it's scary. Not fun, not fun, not fun." I am the best mother.

Mile 1188. "I think I saw mouse poop. Why are there red trees?"

Mile 1193. We arrive at the Ahwahnee Lodge (currently called the Majestic Yosemite Lodge, because someone let the service company that last had the contract trademark the name) thinking we'll have an early lunch before nap time, and find that Bayboh is asleep. Mr. P is still worrying about the plague and about mouse poop. We keep stressing that plague is very treatable (and avoiding the fact that mouse poop gives you Hanta virus, which isn't).

Mile 1202. On our way out of Yosemite. Another wow. Even Mr. P enjoyed it in the end. Hot and crowded, though! 101 degrees right now.


Mile 1210.  We briefly consider adding an hour or more to today's car time by going out to Glacier Point, but decide against it.

Mile 1224.  Mr. P claims to have seen a bear. "I consider myself lucky.  It's too bad you guys didn't... Oh! I see another one!"

Mile 1225.  Mr. P has now claimed to have seen 5 bears and a mountain lion.  Shmoogie is rapidly catching up.  We are ignoring.

Mile 1242.  Emergency pee stop for Mr. P

Mile 1268.  Worried Bayboh may be fixing to take a nap again, right before we arrive in Fresno for late lunch.

Mile 1277.  Palm trees in front of vineyards.

Mile 1286.  Excellent dönner sandwiches at the Berlin Street Grill in Fresno.  Bayboh still awake, jealously guarding an enormous pile of french fries, which he likes to dip in hummus.  First meal we've gotten water in plastic cups instead of styrofoam in California.  What is it with California and styrofoam cups???

Mile 1306.  So many nut trees.  Big nut trees.  Little nut trees.  Tiny baby nut trees.  I should relisten to that Planet Money episode about the perverse incentives for water use during drought.

Mile 1309.  Fruit stand!


Mile 1324.  Bayboh, who has been an absolute champ so far, wants to get "OUT!"  Twenty miles to go....

Mile 1343.  6000 ft elevation.  The temperature has dropped 29 degrees since we left Fresno.


Those fruit stand peaches plums and nectarines were amazing.  Also, the dried apricots.  Which Bayboh adores.  "Cat! Cat!"

We finally saw a sunset... from an amazing panoramic view point... that faces east.  The fireball sun light through a thick evergreen screen was pretty cool, though.


Bayboh and Shmoogie love dirt. They were covered in it.  Mr. P loves running ahead heedless of mountain lion warnings.


How have I never heard of an It's-It before?!


The water pipes in this lodge sound like thunder when someone turns on the shower.

Day 3

Mile 675. Abortion rights upheld 5-3!  Finally some sense.  Hyper aware of what's at stake in November.

Mile 679. "How many miles have we gone so far?"

Mile 691. Coffee stop at Nellie's Lemonade and Espresso because Daddy is sure he would be better with coffee.  Attendant: "Normally I'd put 3 shots in an Americano that size."  Daddy: "Two is probably fine."  Attendant: "Oh.  I already put 3 in, I was going to offer you a 4th!"  She was super nice, wished us lots of luck on our trip (I don't think she'd even seen the 2yo in the car).

Mile 770.  We finally stop by the side of the road for a desperate pee break for Shmoogie.

Mile 771.  The town of Adin has a cute general store.  With a bathroom.


Mile 806.  Back in cell service!

Mile 840.  Bayboh is falling asleep 5 miles short of lunch.  We frantically chat at him to keep him awake and it works.  The sun ship only takes cash, so we cross the street to an ATM with three California Fire officers.

Mile 844. Swarm of grasshoppers hits the windshield for a mile!!! No other signs of the apocalypse.

Mile 894. Lone large tree on the side of US 395 is hung with hundreds of pairs of shoes.

Mile 960.  Bathroom stop at a playground with facilities outside of Carson City.  We park in the shade of a cottonwood but the hot wind blasts the sunglasses off my face as soon as I open the door.  Mr. P declares it too hot to play at the playground.  They haven't been in temps over 95 in a long time.

Mile 969.  Spooner Summit, 7,140 ft.  Ten degrees cooler.

Mile 971.  Sight of Lake Tahoe.  After all that hot dry terrain...  Wow!


Mile 1000. Lighted highway sign: "SEVERE DROUGHT. LIMIT OUTDOOR WATER USE."

Mile 1019.  "Ebbett's Pass ahead.  Very steep, narrow, winding road.  Vehicles over 25' not advisable."  Hmm.

Mile 1023.  Wondering if we've already been through the narrow windy steep part?  It wasn't that bad.

Mile 1025.  Oh.

Mile 1026.  Eep!

Mile 1027.  Whew.  Over the crest now.

Mile 1029. A little lake!


Mile 1030.  Ebbett's Pass. 8,730 ft

Mile 1038.  Eep!  And then another beautiful tiny lake.  Lake Mosquito.

Mile 1055.  False alarm poopy diaper change at a peaceful picnic area.  Toilets not so great, but the flies seem really happy with them.

Mile 1061. Wonder when we'll have cell service again.

Mile 1063.  Bayboh wants a "cookie".  No, not that cookie. That cookie is "done."  That cookie is "trash".  Actually, he wants a "cracker".  No, not that cracker!  This cracker?  Maybe.  This cracker might be acceptable.

Mile 1084.  Mr. P is upset because his ears have been pressurized ever since the pass.  He's also sick of being in the car.  Half an hour left, we tell him, and we're thinking of having pizza for dinner.  Bayboh knows his favorite food when he hears it.  "Peetie!  Peetie.  Peetie."

Pizza is a hit, so is the canopy bed at the historic hotel.  Playground pretty nice as the evening cools off, but we leave when the guy who'd been lying sick on a park bench stands up and starts to wobble in our direction.