All About My Dad

Alex filled out a survey about me for Father’s Day. Posting for posterity!

My dad is 40 years old. My dad is 100 feet tall.
Every morning when we wakes up, the first thing he does is goes to the bathroom.
My dad is really good at doing things like making cereal .
When I grow up I want to be like him because he's weird .
My dad and I like to play robot together.
My favorite memory of my dad is when he well that's not really a memory because he's not dead or anything.
One thing my dad says a lot is snozzcumber .
If I could tell my dad one thing it would be can you please stop saying tickling and other words like that? And, can you let mommy put me to bed
?

Haven: Re-visited

Those of you who haven’t been following the blog for very long are possibly not familiar with The Haven, simply because we haven’t been there in quite some time! The last post I could find about it here was way back in 2014!

So The Haven is this remote piece of land we own, and we used to go up there and camp relatively frequently. There is nothing there in terms of shelter, bathrooms, electricity, or water, but what IS there is just this glorious old forest, with enormous trees, some sand dunes, a fire pit, and a lot of memories (and a whole lot of mosquitos!)

We’ve stopped by here and there in the past few years, but it was hard to do such primitive camping with an infant. We haven’t actually spent the night at The Haven since Alex was born, so this was his first trip! He has heard stories about it, and was pretty excited to go. Evelyn and Oliver were detailing all the best parts: the sandy area, the “clearing”, the blueberries, the place where Nala is buried (probably the part Alex was MOST excited about).

Luckily, I think it proved to be everything Alex was hoping for and more!

It was a quick trip, but it was absolutely just as wonderful as I remembered. It’s just a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively, and the kids had a great time.

One of the reasons we made this a shorter trip is that usually we spend a chunk of time in town, if for no better reason than to use real bathrooms. We decided not to go into town this time, due to Covid. That certainly makes it more difficult to stay a long time (including not having a place to fill up our water bottles!), but honestly it wasn’t really a big deal (did miss the farmer’s market and the coffee place we usually go to!)

The only downside continues to be the mosquitos. It wasn’t QUITE to the level of mosquito haven, but it does really make it difficult to enjoy a lot of time up there. I just don’t know what to do about it. We tried permethrin for our shoes, and plenty of bug spray of course, as well as some mosquito head netting, and that all made it…tolerable. Still looking to make it better than tolerable though!

We also stopped and grabbed some already-picked strawberries from a u-pick place (and since I am late in posting this, Sara has already turned all of this into many, many jars of jam!)

Even with just the little time we were there, all that outdoor time flat out wore Alex out! Despite getting a decent night’s sleep, he took a 2 1/2 hour nap the next day!! I just take this as a sign of how good it is to get out into nature, with all that stimulation.

So now that we’re back in the habit, I’m hoping to get up there more often. It’s still a pain to load up everything in the car that we need for even a short trip, but totally worth it. A short trip is also nice from the mosquito point of view: you’re kind of in and out before it gets too bad. And hey, with all this quarantine stuff going on, it gets us out of the city and it’s something different to look forward to!

Hero Daddy

Sometimes the heroic thing is not what you do, but what you choose not to do.

So tonight I was putting the kids to bed, and while they were getting ready, I was working on laundry. I came back and tucked Ollie in, and Evelyn was in the bathroom. So I did what anybody would do in that situation: I sprinted into her room and dove behind her bed, the better to jump-scare her.

Now, this all happened in a split second, so I didn’t really have time to formulate a plan: when you see an opportunity, you have to seize it! As I crouched there, hiding, I vaguely thought maybe I would wait until she got into bed and then reach up under her covers and grab her leg.

Except the minute she came in the room and tentatively called, “Daddy…?” I realized I had made a terrible mistake. Grabbing her leg after she was in bed would be TERRIFYING! What was I thinking? Who would even do that?? She would never be able to sleep again! I was hiding on the side where the closet is, which is already terrifying enough on its own; even to jump out and say, “boo!” would probably scar her for life.

She was already coming into the room, and now I was trapped. It was getting to the point that if I moved, or even so much as breathed, it was going to be just as scary. I wracked my brain for any kind of non-threatening way to notify her of my presence, crouched on the other side of her bed. Not even to explain why I was there — that train had left the station — but even to just get over the initial, “Hey, it’s me crouching over here on the side of your bed trying to scare you, not some axe murderer or monster or anything!”

And apparently what my brain came up with was to make a high-pitched, “merp!” (Evelyn later said, “Were you trying to make a guinea pig noise??”)

And it was so ridiculous and non-threatening that it totally worked, and we both had a good laugh over it, and nobody peed their pants, and nobody got scarred for life, so basically I am a hero who single-handedly saved my daughter from a lifetime of PTSD and therapy YOU’RE WELCOME EVELYN.

The Night Alinea Came To Us

Those of you not from Chicago might not be familiar with the restaurant Alinea. Basically it is THE restaurant in Chicago. It’s the only restaurant in Chicago with three Michelin stars. It’s got a AAA Five Diamond, has won a James Beard award, and routinely makes lists of top 10 restaurants in the world. People fly to Chicago just to go to Alinea.

I’m sure eating there would be an amazing experience, but it is also an expensive experience. For just me and Sara to go, we’d be looking at between $800 and $1000, minimum. For that price, the meal would literally have to change my life. And on top of that, this is like the fanciest of fancy dining….what if I didn’t like it? What if I accidentally used the wrong fork, or wore the wrong tie, or just stood up in the middle of the meal and screamed, “I AM AN IMPOSTER, HOW DID I EVEN GET IN HERE??” and ran out the door?

HOWEVER!

Thanks to everything that is going on right now with Coronavirus and restaurant restrictions, Alinea began, for a very limited time, offering take out for $50 per person!! Needless to say, Sara and I jumped on it immediately.

Fresh off our winning A Labyrinth and looking to celebrate, we originally planned to include the kids. As we excitedly described to them what an awesome opportunity this was to have an experience from possibly the best chef in the United States, their response was, “UGH, can’t we just have hamburgers??” And Sara and I said, “You know what? Yes. Yes you can.”

So the kids got Medici and an early bedtime, and Sara and I had probably the first “date night” we’ve had in, what, 3 months?

I’ll get into the specifics below, but I don’t want to bury the lede: it was everything I could have hoped for, and more.

The dinner came with FOUR PAGES of instructions on how to properly prepare and plate everything, but honestly that was part of the fun. It was so relaxing to do it at home too, where I didn’t have to worry if I licked my fingers.

Blis Steelhead Roe, with Coconut Pudding, Carrot, Turmeric, and Passionfruit Gel

Okay, so right out of the gate, we had something that I think is safe to say is out of my normal wheelhouse, but it was AMAZING. Each of the flavors was very strong, but very complimentary. This might have been my favorite course, actually. I just couldn’t help thinking about how I definitely, definitely am not a world class chef because how could you think to pair all of these different things and have them go together just so absolutely perfectly?

Along those lines, you know we were just drinking our own wine with this, and once I tasted this dish for the first time in my life I realized what it meant for everything to pair together the way it is supposed to, and how very, very wrong the wine was with it. A moment before I had been thinking it was a perfectly good wine, but all of these things were just so perfectly balanced, and the wine was very discordant with it.

But hey, that’s what you get when you do it at home!

Anyway, I can’t tell if I loved this course because it really was that good, or if it was because it was just the first one and right away I knew we were in for a treat. It exemplified how a good chef really is on another level, it was out of my comfort zone but still good, and it really just did set the stage for everything that was to come.

Chilled English Pea Soup with Chamomile Compressed Cantaloupe, Yogurt Custard, and Nueske’s Ham

So at this point I was thinking, “Chilled pea soup? Seriously?” I mean the first course seemed so fancy, and this sounded like unheated leftovers.

But of course, I was wrong, because it was amazing. The soup was almost peanut buttery, with a great texture, and once again, everything went so well together. This was a pretty decent sized portion, and Sara and I both finished every last bite.

Spicy Gulf Prawn with Cucumber, Thai Curry Sauce, and Thai Aromatic Salt

This was probably my least favorite course, but mostly only because I dislike cucumber, and that was a strong flavor. It was still really good, though, and I ate every last bite (even the cucumber itself).

The best part about this course is that it came with a container of aromatic salts to be heated and presented with the course, so that the aroma could heighten the experience of the dish. This was exactly the weird kind of fancy dining thing that I hoped for! I don’t know if it made a difference in my enjoyment or not, but it was hilarious.

“Rootbeer” of Braised Beef Short Rib, with Fennel, Vanilla scented 50/50 Potatoes, and Dark Dried Fruits

Okay, this one was absolutely amazing. So the “rootbeer” flavor was a combination of various seasonings, anise, raisins, and a plum, and, combined with the creamiest vanilla potatoes in the world, it absolutely reminded me of a rootbeer float. It was wild.

But also after this course, I was definitely full. And we had two more courses to go!!

Wild Mushrooms and Green Asparagus with Lapsang Souchong Tea Emulsion and Pickled Shallots

I thought this course was only okay. It was fine, in fact, better than most things I’ve ever ordered in a restaurant. But at this point, 5 courses in, just a good, regular dish wasn’t cutting it anymore! I thought that the mushrooms were really good, but Sara is not a fan of mushrooms, so I think this one didn’t do much for her either.

It also wasn’t helped by the fact that I was seriously getting stuffed at this point!

Chocolate 64% on Your Table with Strawberry, Vanilla, Hazelnut Praline, Blueberry, and Lemon

Alright, desert is tough to beat at any time, but this desert was just unreal. In addition to the instructions, we had to watch a youtube video on how to properly prepare this one, but honestly I feel pretty proud of how it turned out! It looked great, and it tasted better. It was a lot of desert for two people, but honestly it was pretty light! It would have been hard to eat that much if it were all heavy chocolate or something, but flavors, as usual, were all perfectly balanced.

We finished the whole thing in, I think, just under 2 hours.

I feel like I am repeating myself a bit, but it was just a great, great experience, and Sara and I had so much fun doing it. I highly recommend anybody who can to take advantage of it while they can; I don’t think they’re going to be offering it for long. I see they’ve already rotated out the menu we had, but they have some new options up.

In fact, I would say it’s a once in a lifetime experience but…did I mention they have some new options up? 🙂

A Labyrinth

About a month ago, we got an email through the kids’ school saying there was a….game? Contest? Escape room? Thing? we could be a part of. It was called A Labyrinth, you had to be associated with the University to participate, and we qualified. It was all sort of confusing, but I got the impression it was something designed for University students. At that point, quarantine was already starting to wear thin and it was already starting to come out in creative ways around the house (see the Getty Challenge), so we figured we might as well sign ourselves up as a team. Hence, “The Oracles” were born (named after our logo, the Getty Challenge we did based on the painting “The Oracle”, and also thematically appropriate for a labyrinth-themed game!)

The Oracle

LITTLE DID WE KNOW WHAT WE WERE GETTING INTO!

It’s hard to explain how exactly it all worked. Basically there were various kinds of “quests” or activities that you could complete. Each week more quests would be released, and you could do the activities described and turn them in for points. Some quests had potential for bonus points if you were one of the best submissions, or if you included a certain element in your submission, or…well, or anything. You really never knew what a quest was going to be until you opened it up.

There were seven types of quests:

quest types

But within those types you never knew what you were going to get. It might be running a mile, or making a meme, or writing a research paper, or solving a puzzle, or building something, or drawing something, or making a workout video, or reenacting a scene from Shakespeare, or having a dance party, or planning a heist, or playing a whole D&D campaign set in our neighborhood, or…or anything at all. They were suitably vague enough that half of the fun was in figuring out how exactly you wanted to fulfill the quest! Most of the quests assumed your team was not quarantining together (though we happened to be, since we were entering as a family), and so they were often designed to take place remotely, for example, over Zoom. Sometimes that added an extra degree of difficulty for us personally, since we did happen to be together, but sometimes we were able to play with that and work that into our quests.

On top of the quests there was a weekly livestream which was kind of a combination choose-your-own-adventure movie and chat, where we could work with other people to help navigate a “labyrinth” on campus by controlling a Minotaur named “Taur”. Depending on the choices we made, we could unlock additional quests, including more involved “hub quests” that were worth 4+ points. The kids enjoyed this part quite a bit, and really looked forward to Sundays, even Alex.

Many of the quests were (Greek) Labyrinth themed, and some of them were (Bowie) Labyrinth themed, two types of Labyrinths of which I am VERY, VERY familiar.

There was also a theme of what the world might look like in 2050, but they generally insisted on utopias; no distopias allowed!

In short, all of this was ABSOLUTELY PERFECT IN EVERY WAY. Not only did it keep us occupied for 4 weeks with a never ending stream of creative activities, but it was also just a force of positivity. Research something new! Imagine a better future! Learn how to paint! Be a better you!

Not for nothing, I TAUGHT MYSELF HOW TO JUGGLE!

The entire experience was absolutely perfect for me. I have an absolute need to express myself creatively, and there is not a creative muscle that I did not stretch as part of this. I composed songs, I played guitar and accordion, I used photoshop, I wrote poetry, I learned how to program in Twine. I loved every second of it.

However, that is not to say the kids did not enjoy it as least as much! Certainly there is some part of me that hopes they grow up to be just like me, but I  absolutely loved to see them participating in just this explosion of creativity. Ollie was a wiz with the art and creating games, and Evelyn seriously has a knack for creating songs and poems. I mean seriously, she can create an absolutely stunning song in less than ten minutes! Even Alex got in on the game, and participated way more than I expected him to! (There may have been the occasional bribe with gummy bears…)

Evelyn in particular was truly the Taskmaster of the whole thing. If one even DARED to spend their free time doing something unrelated to a quest, oooh you better believe she was on them. She was really the one driving us forward (see the song “Evelyn the Taskmaster” in our musical, below!). And she had some tough editors, too! I can’t tell you the number of quests Sara and I sent back to her, saying, “it’s not good enough, you didn’t understand what they were asking, it needs to be longer!” The Oracles have high standards!

But it was so fun to just come together as a family and figure out how we were going to work together, figure out what it was going to take to pull off a quest, and then to execute on it.

On top of everything else that we’ve done, we also wrote and composed a 5 song musical! WE WROTE AND PERFORMED AN ENTIRE MUSICAL. This is something that I think we’re all pretty proud of, especially considering how quickly we had to put it together. Everybody contributed (even Alex!), and I think our family’s love of musicals really shows through.

You can listen below:

I kept telling the kids, “This is a fun thing we are doing, but we can’t win. We’re just in it for the fun. This is designed for college students; we’re just in it to have fun.” So much so, that it became a running joke. “We can’t win guys, seriously. We can’t win. Just enjoy doing the quests.”

So…imagine my surprise when we won the whole thing!

final score

73 teams, ranging from 4 to 24 members, and the five of us beat them all!!! I still can’t believe it, to be honest. Not to say we didn’t try hard, and not to say we didn’t do some phenomenal work, but…us! Our little family! Beating teams twice our size and twice our combined ages!

victory

A lot of the best stuff we cross-posted on our regular social media accounts, but you can see additional stuff at our Instagram account for The Oracles. Additionally, there are just a few quests that are just too good not to share here!

Of course, who could forget the Robot Dance?

Or the Pandemic Pentathlon?

Honestly I am struggling to even decide which quests to show on here. There are soooo many good ones! How can I pick and choose? Here is a SMALL sampling of some of my favorites:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

button pushers

The Halbachs, pushing the buttons we most like to push around the house

Oh my goodness, I could go on and on. Where do you draw the line? With our Tik Tok dance? (song and choreography by Evelyn, of course)

My argument with Ryan Gosling?

With the lullabye Evelyn wrote to an imaginary Minotaur?

My “spooky coronaviris” story?

Any way you look at it, it was a blast! Not only did we have a great time (and we won!!), but we made so many memories. Years from now, when we look back at this weird Corona-spring, A Labyrinth will be all tied up with our memories of this time. It really did make an unbearable time bearable, and we are so, so happy to have been a part of it!