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Dear Baby Girl,

There are a lot of mommyblogs out there where mothers write to their children. I have always thought this was a great idea. I love the image of you coming upon this blog and reading my thoughts about you. Words, sentences, ideas, language. Communication. These are extremely important concepts.  I suspect you’ll find these letters in the next year or so, because I have a weird feeling you’ll learn how to navigate the internet and read very quickly. Your parents are geniuses, you know.

You are at 34 weeks gestation. That’s something like T minus six weeks before your arrival. Last night after Sunday dinner at your grandparents’ I was feeling really full. So full that I turned down dessert. And I don’t really turn down dessert, even if it’s just a sliver of what’s offered. And Baby Girl, dessert last night was strawberry shortcake. You’ve had it before, and I’m sure you like it. But for some reason if I overeat my back aches and I can’t get comfortable and I have to stretch and breathe, though some relief does come when I fart. Sorry if that’s crude, but you try make more space for yourself, and who am I to get in your way?

Which leads to repeating the point that I turned down dessert. There just wasn’t any room for more food. And because I turned down dessert, it means that you’re grounded. Of course it’s not your fault: you’re a growing baby and I’m short with a narrow ribcage and discomfort is inevitable. But look here at the difference of my insides with you in it: Can you begin to understand?How can you possibly be aware of what’s going on inside my body? And it’s not your problem, really. As long as you’re cozy and eating and growing, you know I don’t have any beef with you. You know that I love you anyway. As long as there’s yoga and warm baths and massages, I’ll be fine.

You know what though? You and I need to talk about you letting me sleep. When I get a good night’s rest, I feel refreshed for most of the day. But when I get very lousy sleep, my back stays cramped and my brain stays fuzzy. Again, not really your fault — just the way things are. And not for too much longer. But you know, on those nights when I wake up after sleeping for four hours, I can work on homework because the night is still and I can somewhat focus, so maybe I should thank you for helping me along in my masters program.

I may unground you today after seeing the doctor. Depends on how I feel.

Have I mentioned how much I’m in love with you? I love the way you move around and feel your way inside my womb. We are becoming very familiar with each other and getting a sense of each other’s personalities. I like to guess what certain protrusions are from my tummy are and imagine how you’re oriented. Your father and I watch my tummy as you shift around. He always assumes any hard surface is your head, while I go between thinking it might be a sitbone or a foot. Yesterday at church I wore a dress that accentuated my tummy and we spent Sunday school watching you. The lesson was about the Abrahamic covenant and we didn’t think it would be a huge distraction to contemplate our posterity by watching you. It’s one of our favorite things to do, besides reading stories and singing to you.

Your Utah grandma and aunt threw a baby shower for you on Saturday. I’m pretty sure you could hear the commotion, but there were a lot of people there to show their excitement and support for you! You got some really cute clothes and a lot of diapers and other very cute things. Just know there’s a world out here that can’t wait to see you.

Your Florida grandma and her husband will be coming to visit. They want to be here around the time you arrive. Your uncle–my brother–wants to visit sometime this summer. Your uncle is quite a character and I know you’ll love him.

A woman stopped me in the hall yesterday after church. She told me about how excited your father is about you. This thrills me to no end. Several people have told me he gets this sparkle in his eye and a huge smile across his face and that makes my heart want to burst with joy. He marvels at the sheer miracle of you growing inside me. He points to my tummy and says, “There’s a baby in there” in a cute voice and no matter how I feel, it makes me smile.  He’s quite in love with you, too. Of course.

It’s important for you to see how much your father and I love each other. We have promised to take care of you and teach you what you need to know to thrive in this world. We also accept that you’ll probably teach us quite a few things. You’ve already taught us a lot about patience. We hope you’ll be patient with us, not only as we raise you, but during the next few weeks. We still haven’t decided on a name for you. Please don’t ground us.

Dear sweet child, our Baby Girl, thank you for blessing our lives. Your father and I can’t wait to start a new journey with you.

Love, Mom

This past month has found so many of you in the hospital.

I have a friend who gave birth at the beginning of the month to a baby boy with HLHS. He recently underwent surgery and seems to be doing well. If he’s as determined and courageous and faithful as his mom, he’ll do just fine. You can follow their journey here.

A couple weeks ago, one of my best friends from high school was feeling some odd sensations in her chest and went to the ER to have it checked out, just in case. She found out that she had a heart attack and would be staying in the hospital to have a coronary spontaneous dissection monitored. She’s home now and seems to be doing much better.

Then some of you have checked into the hospital with chest pain or fevers or respiratory issues or brain surgery. Some time ago one of you went in for spine surgery. Someone I know is undergoing chemotherapy and may have had her kidney removed. Some of you have been in accidents and are going through rehab.

Some of you still need a flu shot.

My dad has a weak heart and dementia and won’t take his medicine, though from what I hear, he likes where he’s staying right now.

Mom and my brother seem especially susceptible to pneumonia and bronchitis, respectively. And mom’s husband still seems to be recovering from knee surgery he had a while back.

And there are lots of friends who have delivered babies or are due within the next few months. Some of them have experienced post-partum depression. Some of them work really hard to meet the needs of their families. Some of them are struggling a lot with motherhood in general.

There are some whose afflictions I don’t know anything about at all.

But I think about you. I’m here if you need a listening ear.

And I pray for all of you.

Normally, I’m a strict back sleeper. It’s the most comfortable position for me, and I find that I don’t move at this position as I slumber.

Ahh, this is so comfortable and cozy.

Ahh, this is so comfortable and cozy.

Early on in my pregnancy, I taught myself to sleep on my side. I’ve read different things on why sleeping on one’s side is good for the baby, but I like what my doctor said: Your body will tell you when you need to move. And I really like the idea of listening to one’s body. The side position is a good position, but I don’t like the feeling of sleeping on one shoulder. I also don’t like the way my back hurts in the morning.

This position isn't as comfortable.

This position isn’t as comfortable.

As I got further along in pregnancy, I kept sleeping on my back, because it continued being a comfortable position. It’s just that sometimes Baby’s position would dictate whether I should shift to my side.

Still comfy as long as Baby likes it for the moment.

Still comfy as long as Baby likes it for the moment.

As I began sleeping more often on my side, I decided to sleep with a small pillow between my knees to keep my hips aligned. I also wedged a pillow under my belly to support Baby. This seemed to help for a while.

It's not that the pillows are uncomfortable. Well, they are. Sort of.

It’s not that the pillows are uncomfortable. Well, they are. Sort of.

There was a week or two when I could sleep throughout the night. It felt amazing, and my energy levels soared. Lately, though, it seems that Baby has figured out not only where my bladder is, but she uses it to practice for the trampoline gymnastics event in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Practice does make perfect.

Practice does make perfect.

Wee! This is so fun!

Wee! This is so fun!

Wow! So many tricks!

Wow! So many tricks!

Of course all these little antics wake me up in the middle of the night and I end up getting out of bed to use the bathroom.

I used to be able to sleep straight through the night.

I used to be able to sleep straight through the night. It’s time to pee again.

After a while, the three pillows I used became less comfortable and my sleep suffered. I wasn’t as well rested, my back constantly hurt even though I stretched and exercised to alleviate some of the pressure throughout the day and right before bed.

About a week ago, we received a package that Reilly ordered for me. He heard about the Snoogle from a friend who got one for his expecting wife. It’s a body pillow that’s supposed to support the back, hips, and tummy.

Here’s a commercial with an annoying lady who could sound a little more excited about the product:

This pillow is so very comfortable. And even though I still have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, instead of staying up for two to three more hours after getting back into bed, I can snuggle into the Snoogle and return to sleep much sooner. My body feels a lot better in the morning, too.

SO MUCH BETTER.

SO MUCH BETTER.

It used to bother me when people offered advice I clearly didn’t ask for. And that makes me a giant hypocrite, because I do that to other people all the time. It’s a condition I think, where I start talking and I come across as a big, blubbering know-it-all. I can see it in other people’s faces as the words spew from my mouth. Something I say rubs them the wrong way, their eyes register annoyance then glaze over, then they let the subject drop because they don’t want me talking anymore. I recognize the technique because I do the very same thing.

Now I’ve become more accepting of people and their opinions. Because people are always going to have opinions. And they’re often going to present them as fact. But the thing is now that instead of those imposed opinions ruffling my feathers, I’ll maintain an underlying level of doubt about what they say. When people say something like, “Babies pee purple until they’re three months old” or “Dancing will not only hasten delivery but make the baby more coordinated coming out of the womb” they can be sure that I won’t wholeheartedly believe them.

Nobody’s said those things yet, but there’s still time.

But I’ve mellowed out quite a bit, because I’ve recognized my own vast ignorance on the subjects of pregnancy and parenting. It doesn’t bother me as much when parents look at us and make the strangest remarks about what seems to be rather predictable things.

“Just you wait.” Wait for what? We are waiting. I’m closing in on my sixth of nine months. And while we’re waiting, we’re talking, reading, asking people what their experience has been. Are we waiting for a baby that pops out like a jack-in-the-box? Are we waiting for a labor that requires more waiting, except more intense? Are we waiting for Baby’s first blow-outs and spit-ups? Wait until our child starts smarting off at us? Wait until she’s a teenager? Or until she goes to college?  Or until she starts spouting advice of her own? There’s a difference between waiting for some big surprise to completely blindside us and anticipating possibilities in development and preparing accordingly. Or are you saying we’ll never be prepared? Because I can prepare myself for that kind of news, too. Or maybe you’re saying to wait for the constant feeling of failure as a parent. We plan on doing our very best all the time, and maybe you are too, but that doesn’t mean you have to  be so negative about it.

third trimester. Next month begins my third trimester, and I feel whatever you’re warning me against falls under the “just you wait” category. We’re taking everything in stride, just like we did when we decided against guessing at the baby’s gender. We would have been just as thrilled for a boy.

Second trimester has been a relative breeze, except for occasional lower back pain. Reilly and I have watched my tummy grow; I’ve felt our daughter moving around. I’ve played my clarinet for her and Reilly has told her stories.

Third semester promises swelling, more back pain, and the resurgence of tinkle frequency. Third semester also promises a wonderful baby in our arms.

pregnancy brain. Why people feel compelled to warn us about this, I will never know. It’s true that I have lapses: I forget to turn out the lights; I forget the name of a movie or song or actor or book. But there are other cognitive thingamabobs that seem to have gotten better: certain reasoning skills and the connection between my heart and brain. This connection helps to explain why I cry at nearly everything, like Hallmark Channel movies and these videos:

“It’ll change your life forever.” Really? Devoting attention and energy as parents to a brand new human being while maintaining our relationship as husband and wife will make our life different forever? Someone, please explain this to me, because I thought we’d be able to continue every single aspect of our life as usual.

“Have you thought of names?” We are going to leave a big blank on the birth certificate. And then maybe we’ll call her Blanky, not to be confused with the nickname Blanket, formally Prince Michael Jackson II.

People are thoughtful enough to tell us to be careful of the names we choose. And then we decide not to name our daughter after these people.

“Girls are so awesome!” People declare this to us because:

  • girls seem to have calmer dispositions
  • girls as first children can be very helpful with raising subsequent children
  • girls are funner to dress

I guess those reasons are legit? People tell us boys are awesome, too, because:

  • boys can be calm, too
  • oldest boys can protect their younger siblings
  • boys can be just as fun to dress

Again, we would have been thrilled either way.

doctor/hospital vs. midwife/homebirth. Boy howdy, I’ve researched both sides of what seems a pretty heated debate. And I’ve asked people about their experience, which has spanned the entire spectrum. There are parents who’ve had horrible and wonderful home births, and there are parents I’ve spoken to who’ve had amazing and terrifying hospital deliveries. And there are studies upon studies upon studies. And then there’s a ton of fearmongering.

vaccines. Some people just love to debate and attack people for thinking differently. Or just plain thinking.

breastfeeding. Same.

“I’ve done a lot of research  into [important subject]. [Or I haven't, but...] If you have any questions, we can talk.” I love this, and I think more productive conversations would happen if people used this approach more often. There are entire communities out there who engage in important parenting discussions and gain insight about their abilities as parents as well as their children.

I heartily admit that we don’t know everything about being parents, but we’re also not complete idiots. We’re not totally oblivious and unobservant. We’re not going to let an army of ants carry her away into their anthill to crown her the queen ant. That would make me jealous.

I appreciate parents who are passionate enough to share what has worked for them. And I’m willing to listen and try to see what will work for our daughter. But we will also trust in our own intuition and be specifically attuned to Baby’s unique needs. We have been fervently praying to be as prepared as possible, and if that preparation comes in the form of wide-eyed, über-zealous parents trying to tell us what to do, we can deal with that. But if it comes in the form of people who know what it’s like but want to let us figure some things out on our own, we’ll take that, too.

I must confess that I only caught the last 15 minutes of last Thursday’s live broadcast. But let me tell you that I enjoyed reading various comments on Facebook about the production. Some people tore Carrie Underwood and the overall production apart, but others adamantly defended her and presented reasons why you shouldn’t expect a reproduction of the movie, but a unique experience that stands on its own, much like if you had gone to a playhouse on Broadway.

I mean, when I first heard that Carrie Underwood would be playing Maria, I thought, well, she doesn’t have any acting/theater experience, so it should be interesting, but I bet she’ll sound great. I mean, I really like Carrie Underwood. I love her discipline both with her voice training and exercise routine; I love that she went to college; I love how she can sing “How Great Thou Art” and make me cry. And I love that she ventured into Broadway, because why not see if you can transfer sheer stage presence from a live music concert to something more tempered like a live Broadway musical? For three hours?

Look at the casting. Cast someone purely Broadway as Maria, and you’ll attract the Broadway buffs, but the Broadway buffs would have gone to Broadway and paid for a show anyway. But with Carrie on LIVE television, you also attract the country buffs (and also a fair number of haters). And with Steven Moyer, you attract the vampire buffs. And with Audra McDonald, if there’s anything that’s right with the world, you attract everyone.

I’m so sad I missed her.

My first encounter with Audra was when I first watched the movie Wit. This was a movie adapted from a stage production, but mostly, it’s a movie staged as a play with a camera in front of it. Audra plays a compassionate nurse as a foil to both Emma Thompson’s and Christopher Lloyd’s stern academic dispositions. The first thing I thought when I saw her was, “She’s so perfect.” Then I looked her up on the mighty internet and found out about her theater experience and parts she’s played on television.

Then a few years ago, I found out she was coming to the Hale Center Theater in Orem to perform 110 in the Shade and that she’d give a master class to theater students at BYU. Why would she come to Utah? I mean, Utah’s increasingly becoming a cultural arts landscape, but then I found out she’d be marrying this guy:

I’ve actually never seen this movie. I guess I’m remiss in my research.

Audra McDonald’s practically almost a non-practicing Mormon. What a thrill!

Then one day in October around the government shutdown I was watching the Colbert Report, and Stephen Colbert announced that he’d be officiating a wedding originally planned to take place in Monticello, but the national landmark was closed. So he invited the couple and the wedding party to his studio, and since he’s an ordained minister, he united the eager couple on television. A couple of guests performed, including Audra McDonald. She appears in this video around 4:35:

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/429522/october-03-2013/the-2013-government-shutdown-wedding-of-the-century-pt–2?xrs=share_copy

Reilly watched this with me, and while he wasn’t as familiar with Audra as I was (as if we’re best friends or something), when he heard her sing “White Wedding,” he had an immense newfound respect for her.  Who wouldn’t?

Wit was also where my love for Emma Thompson increased. And this movie is where I discovered composer Arvo Pärt. If you don’t know either of these artists, you should. And if you don’t know about the movie, please fix that.

So you can imagine how different my 15-minute experience with the Sound of Music Live! was than watching the original movie with Julie Andrews. The acting wasn’t great, but I still liked the songs. The associations with Carrie and Audra and Wit and Arvo Pärt and all the accompanying awesome feelings made me experience this live television event differently than if I had expected a mere live remake of everyone’s movie normalform.

This morning I looked at my newsfeed and out of over 120 articles, 20 of them were about damage or relief or something about the typhoon that struck the Philippines.

headlines

I’ve been thinking about my mom’s family who still live there. Because they’re my mom’s family, they’re also my family, even though I haven’t met very many of them. Aunts, uncles, cousins. I’ve been worrying the past few days if everyone is okay.

The LDS Church issued a statement that all its missionaries serving in the Philippines are accounted for. Definitely good news.

But I’ve been thinking more about the 10,000 or so who are missing or did not survive. This morning I called my mom and asked if she heard anything about her family. Mom lives in Florida, but she spoke with a cousin who keeps in touch more often with our relatives in the Philippines. Mom said that everyone is fine; they live in a more northwestern part and the typhoon did most of its damage in another part of the country.

map

Mom said she’s sure her family got a lot of wind and rain, since the typhoon was as big as or bigger than the country itself, but she’s relieved that her family are safe. I’m relieved, too.

One of the things I found encouraging about the headlines above is the clarion call to the world to get moving and help the Filipino citizens. Times like this remind us that we know how to reach out and be good people. These times motivate us to think about humanity and nudge our hearts to beat again, three times bigger.

If I could fly over there and start separating debris and hugging people, I would. I’ll have to find another way. Find your favorite organization, and see what you can do to help.

Keep praying.

Manalangin para sa Pilipinas.

Monday afternoon I stood on the Frontrunner platform, waiting for the train home. The train arrived, and as the doors opened, I stood to the side, because I have a very useful habit of courtesy when it comes to public transportation.

I waited for any deboarding passengers while I watched two patrons get on without waiting. The first passenger was an Asian-looking man, and the second passenger was a Caucasian-looking woman. When the man boarded first, the woman called out to him, “Hey, ladies first!” The man briefly looked over his shoulder and mumbled that he was sorry. Then the woman replied, “That’s okay; it’s the American culture.”

Maybe it was because the news of inaccurately racist comments toward the newly crowned Miss America was fresh on my mind (for instance, instead of hearing spelling bee jokes [which is somehow less offensive to me because Indian Americans have dominated spelling bees recently, and I love it], all I read were terrorist/Muslim remarks) that this little scenario rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it’s my slightly progressive way of thinking where I never assume “ladies first”; there are times that I’ll let men on the train before me just because I feel like being kind.

I don’t know anything about these two individuals. It’s interesting that the woman assumed the man wasn’t American, when it could be that the man just didn’t see her, or that he didn’t feel like being kind at that moment, or any number of reasons. It’s also interesting that with whatever assumptions the woman made, she felt prompted to “teach” the man about American culture, which: is this type of etiquette/courtesy a strictly American thing? Why was what the woman said so disparaging to me? Maybe the woman was trying to demonstrate to the man that she was trying to be more understanding, that she was trying to make up for yelling at him.

Am I assuming American exceptionalism where it wasn’t there, and maybe I should just conclude that the woman was trying to be more understanding of someone who wasn’t like her? Do I assume that she thought she was extending a kindness when she did not know its core was offensive (then, offensive according to whom)? Is that closer to the “American” culture?

At the same time, if I had an experience where someone had not observed an “American” custom with me, I would try to be more understanding and think that person perhaps came from a different culture.  Maybe that person wasn’t raised that way, but that doesn’t mean the behavior isn’t necessarily American. And then I’m still left wondering what counts as American, and what doesn’t.

Therein lies so many more assumptions.

Lots of great acts come to Utah. Just this past weekend, James Taylor performed with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Utah Symphony Orchestra. This summer’s Twilight Concert Series welcomed bands like The National, Grizzly Bear, Ludacris, and MGMT. All those shows were up in Salt Lake City, and I didn’t go. But when I saw that Richard Marx was performing in Orem, mere minutes from where I live, I felt strongly about going.

On August 28, Reilly and I happened to drive by the Scera Theater where the marquis listed Richard Marx performing on August 29. We agreed that that would be a fun concert, and I looked up ticket prices that night when we got home. It looked like all the reserved seating were filled, but general admission tickets were still available. Since I’ve been in a nostalgic mood this year, I decided to wait until the next morning to see if I still wanted to go. I often don’t make a lot of spontaneous decisions.

The next morning, I bought two tickets, and I texted Reilly our plans for that night.

Before the concert, we went to dinner then headed over to the Scera complex. The concert was outdoors at the Scera Shell, which reminds me of a bigger version of Central Park Summerstage but a smaller version of Usana Amphitheatre.

The evening offered cooling air and clear skies as well as mountain views behind the stage. The night couldn’t have been more perfect.

Richard Marx played all the songs. The hits. He told funny stories that went with the songs. He charmed and delighted us. He even got the audience to sing “Happy Birthday” to an audience member’s wife. He sang new songs, but only a few, because he said he goes to concerts, too, and he knows that we want to hear all his old stuff from when he had an awesome mullet. Other than the new songs, I sang along (or moved my mouth, because I’m sure singing along the whole time would have annoyed Reilly) to everything else.

He sang songs he wrote for/with Keith Urban and ‘NSync. He talked about how he writes songs as his main job (giving concerts is his “fun” job), and how fortunate he’s been to work within different genres. I admit that sounds like a pretty cool job.

Reilly likes this picture of Richard Marx:

Richard Marx jams

Here’s a video of his final encore song, “Right Here Waiting.” It’s 7:00 minutes long. First, I apologize for the shaky camera. I was sitting on the ground and using my knees as a tripod. Then I’d get uncomfortable and try to shift my weight. 1:50 gets bad.  There’s also a point around 2:45 where it looks like I’m just waving the camera around for at least 30 seconds. If you get motion sick, you may want to look away. But at least he still sounds good. Second, I’m sorry that you can totally hear me singing along. Also, his striped shirt and the stage lighting wash out his face and make him look like a French mime. That is not my fault, so I can’t apologize for that.

Here’s a selfie video of Richard Marx thanking Orem for a good concert. He may as well have been talking to me directly. Now he’s talking to you.

That was a really fun concert. I’m glad we decided to go at the last minute in late August 2013, so that we could travel back to those memorable minutes from the ’80s and ’90s and just sway and smile and sing along.

We look at the menu, but we both order the buffet. This buffet isn’t like Golden Corral with its vast selection of mediocre food; the heated food island at Lady & Sons carries fewer items cooked to perfection. Workers from the kitchen are constantly replacing empty trays with hot full ones with aromatic food vapors rising from them. All the food represents true Southern cooking: barbecue pork, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, black-eyed peas, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, caramelized sweet potatoes. We want to try everything, but we also want to pace ourselves.

Reilly returns from the buffet with a fully loaded plate. We made a reservation that day before, because Lady & Sons often has long lines. Savannah charms with its old houses and trees dressed in Spanish moss, with branches sprawling toward the sky. The town sits along a river with the same name. We had been observing the sauntering citizens and anxious tourists during our walk to the restaurant. It is nice to sit down, and we are starving.

Southern cookin'

Everything I try is delicious. Reilly and I go back for a second plate, and we know early on that we’re almost done. The food tastes so good, but we don’t know if our stomachs have any more space. We start to slow down, but we still want to experience all the textures and tastes on our plates.

We have been on vacation for almost a week; we have been indulging for nearly every meal. Our stomachs should have been sufficiently stretched for a good buffet. But I have gotten to the point where I can barely lift my fork, and all I want to do is put my head down on the table or lie on the floor and wait for someone to step on my stomach and make me barf.

At first, I don’t understand why I got so full that quickly, but then it hits me: butter. If you know Paula Deen’s style of cooking, you know that she uses butter in everything. I tasted it in all the food on my plate. Butter makes everything delicious, but it also coats everything. It adds an invisible layer that makes you think you can eat more than your stomach can hold. The next time we eat at a restaurant like Paula Deen’s, I have to remember that food prepared with butter triples the volume of food without butter.

And then there is dessert. I take a tiny taste of the peach cobbler and the banana pudding, and then I’m done. I’m beyond done. I have packed my digestive system to nearly bursting. We take a few pictures outside and shuffle to a nearby square to recuperate and for Reilly to ask John Wesley for forgiveness for eating too much.

Lucky to lift the camera to take this picture.

Forgive us for eating too much, sir.

Sometime in the weeks after we return from Savannah, we hear news of a lawsuit. Headlines are everywhere. There are sexual harassment charges. There is a deposition with racial slurs.  There is vilification and a crumbling empire.

I feel bad for Paula Deen. She built her company from virtually nothing. She’s best known for cooking everything with butter and she was even coming out with her own brand of butter. She’s tackled her diabetes gracefully in the public, and she has all but completely disarmed America with her thick Southern accent, her strong personality, and her delicious food.

It’s a shame that instead of presenting a mighty dynasty before us, she has now reminded us that racism is alive and well in today’s society. It may be that she testified to saying certain things decades ago, and we may argue that because she said those things a long time ago doesn’t mean she’s racist now. And we can’t necessarily know Ms. Deen’s thoughts from moment to moment.

Yet, the instant that people reacted to Paula Deen’s statements or the media’s treatment of her is when the story became bigger than the icon. Racism is bigger than Paula Deen and her apologists.

A few days ago, I read this blog post that uses deposition excerpts to explain how a lot of reactionaries still hold on to a racist mentality. The author makes a good argument for a civil conversation. Like Ms. Deen’s butter-style of cooking, many of her defenders coat current racism in slippery justification that seems more appealing and more palatable. They ingest each dangerous illusion. Their guts fill quickly with these exquisite excuses, but they eat more. And more. Over time they become diabetic, and they lose circulation, then limbs, and ultimately, sight. They don’t see that Paula Deen has become the whipping boy for racism, and they’re going to keep saying and thinking racist thoughts as if it’s not the same.

Or maybe they’ll learn and improve themselves for a change. Maybe they can take an antacid or something and reduce the bloating and the blindness. Let’s hope.

Last month Reilly and I visited family and friends in Florida. Part of that trip included three days at Universal Studios in Orlando. Everyone who has visited Universal Studios since June 2010 has explored the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

If you’ve never been, it’s as amazing as everyone says it is. Even those who haven’t been enchanted by this ubiquitous enterprise will have a wonderful time at the park. The Hogwarts ride is inside a giant Hogwarts-looking castle. Portraits of various HP personalities adorn the heavy stone walls, and a lot of the people in the paintings move and talk to you, just like in the books/movies. Harry, Hermione, and Ron holograms come out to tell us what to expect during the ride. The effects impress, the ride thrills, and I talked to (at?) Harry during the whole ride experience. Both times.

We also rode the Dragon Challenge roller coaster twice. Two dragons go out at the same time on different tracks, and they chase each other, twist around, and pass each other at high speeds. It’s one of my favorite rides.

Harry Potter World teemed with lots of British tourists. Some may ask why British people would come to a place that simulates where they come from, but having so many of them around actually added to the authenticity of that part of the park, especially the Londony town. You can wander the town and browse various toy and souvenir shops. Ollivander’s wand shop is very popular because many children buy into the idea of a wand choosing its wizard. (We didn’t go inside the shop; the line stretched endlessly, and I wasn’t sure about the open carry laws for magic wands in Utah.)

After our first time riding the Hogwarts ride, we decided to split a butterbeer. You can find butterbeer stands scattered throughout the town, and you can choose to drink it hot or cold in a throwaway plastic cup ($3.75) or a souvenir mug ($7.50-ish). I remember from the books how delicious butterbeer seemed. It sounded so creamy and sweet, and it was one of the most popular beverages the Hogwarts students drank whenever they visited London. I got the impression that because butter was so delicious, it was also very addicting, and kids would drink it until they nearly exploded. This was my impression. Butterbeer was magical because its bubbles tickled the taste buds, and the sugar went straight to the brain.

However, I did not know about the intoxicating effects of butterbeer. Your brain does not recognize the tipsiness it causes, but apparently you can capture proof of being utterly lit on camera. Neither Reilly nor I felt drunk while we drank the butterbeer; we walked in straight lines, we didn’t pocket-dial anyone; we felt no nausea, we woke up without hangovers the next day. As much as we wish we could deny being under the influence, we know that the camera doesn’t lie. The camera has no mercy. While Reilly and I are generally a photogenic couple, the camera caught us quite out of sorts while we drank butterbeer:

Exhibit 1

Exhibit 2Doesn’t it look like we were having a great time? Notice the level of the butterbeer in the cup, and you can figure out what lightweights we are. (Remember that we split that cup between us!) I mean, we did arrive at the park around 9:15 that morning, and we had been standing in line in ponchos so we wouldn’t get soaked from the rain for nearly an hour. So while I didn’t know we’d get sloshed at the time, I’m glad we treated ourselves so early in the morning.

I just don’t know why it didn’t affect any of the kids around us that way.

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