I don't purport to know all the rules about the handling of American flags. (Most of what I do know, I learned in elementary school as we took turns hoisting, lowering, and folding the flag in a perfect triangular shape.)

I know:

  1. There are no rules about burning them, but some people would like there to be.
  2. If it's raining, you should bring your flag in to protect it from the elements. (At least that's what we did in school).
  3. You shouldn't let the flag touch the ground.
  4. Flags are sometimes raised only to half-mast to show respect and grief.

I'm not sure what the occasion could be for this particular American flag display:

Origami American Flag

Celebrating American Flag Origami Day? (A new holiday perhaps?)

Whatever the meaning, someone in our neighborhood has maintained this flag display for the last few days.

It's interesting, but I think it's the wind that should take all the credit. Yes, that Texas wind can be quite creative.

But I don't think the West Hurley Elementary School teachers would approve. They would have sent us out in the elements to fold up that flag and bring it in.

Click here to find out actual Flag Rules and Regulations

Sorry for the alarmist title, but I thought "New Restaurant at The Arboretum Uses Peanut Oil and Serves Peanuts in the Shell, so Parents of Peanut-Allergy Kids Should Be Careful at the Park" was a little long.

That's about it in a nutshell, a peanut shell.

Fives Guys Burgers and Fries opened recently at The Arboretum, right around the corner from Amy's Ice Cream. For those of you who know The Arboretum area, that's very close to the outside eating area, which is right next to the fountains and the cow sculptures where many kids play.

Five Guys is proud of using peanut oil to fry their food and for serving peanuts in the shell. They say so on their website:

Q: If so many people are allergic to peanuts, why does Five Guys continue to offer them?

A: Over the past 20 years, peanuts have become part of the Five Guys identity. We by no means want to exclude guests from our store, but at the same time we would not want to disappoint our peanut eating guests. We make sure that we have signage on our doors and in our restaurants about the fact that we serve peanuts in bulk containers as we would never want someone to risk their health by coming into our restaurants.

(Five Guys FAQ)

They do have signage in the form of white boxes piled by the windows that state that they serve peanuts and that the peanuts should not be removed from the restaurant. And they are prominent enough that I noticed and read them, but I'm an observant person. (If I were a cat, my curiosity would have done me in by now.) But I wonder how many people will miss or ignore the signage. The same people who smoke in hospitals and park in handicapped spots and let their untrained dogs run leashless in parks.

Our little guy's favorite park has suddenly become a much more dangerous place for him to visit. I guess there was always the chance of families picnicking with peanut butter sandwiches or peanut M&Ms or beef satay. (For all I know there is peanut butter smeared all over the legs of those cow sculptures.)

But it's kind of like having a stagnant pool of water at the edge of the park; it's more likely that you'll be bitten by mosquitoes that way. The odds of peanut exposure have increased to the same levels that we have to worry about when we travel by plane. (They won't serve peanuts on our flight, but left over peanut bits are everywhere. I saw some between my seat and the wall on just my last trip.) Air travel is a peanut-allergic child's parent's nightmare - as is visiting The Arboretum now.

On the other hand, our guard definitely won't be down. We'll be sponging down cows with sanitary wipes. We won't be more than 3 inches behind our child and his exploring fingers, ready to tackle, sanitize, and Benadryl him at a moment's notice. We'll run interference with friendly children, subjecting them to dietary history questions (When was the last time you ate a nut product and when did you last have a thorough bath - with soap?), and covering their little hands with sanitizing foam. (We'll be ready for secret service work after a few trips to the park, and we'll do an amazing job if potential threats are in the form of something small and legume-shaped.)

The Arboretum may no longer be a fun, relaxing, restful (well, as much of those things as it can be with a toddler anyway), but my son should be safe with his extra-vigilant parents by his side.

What about the places that we think are safe? The bead table at the library? The trains at Barnes and Nobles? The swings at the playground? The little girl who likes to give hugs at the grocery store? Shopping carts? The list goes on. Because for a food-allergic kid the world is a mine-field.

Have you checked the list of ingredients on your foods lately? There are nut products hidden in everything, and if not in the food you actually purchased, probably somewhere at the processing plant where that food was made. This makes grocery shopping longer and more tedious, reading those teeny tiny labels for one more thing to avoid.

Do we want nuts eradicated from The Arboretum, the playground, the restaurants, the grocery store? Sure, it would make our lives easier. We could relax and stay maybe four steps behind our inquisitive toddler (There are many dangers beyond his food allergy), but nuts are a good source of protein and tasty. I miss eating my nuts. I love peanut sauces on spring rolls. I love peanut M&Ms and Peanut Butter Cups and Mr. Goodbars.

In fact, those are the candies I usually purchase to hand out at Halloween (hoping no trick-or-treaters show up, and I can have them all to myself). But now I have to rethink Halloween completely. I don't want my kid getting candies he's allergic to. And I don't feel right handing them out anymore. I fear I'm going to become box-of-raisins-lady or fruit-roll-up-woman. But they're healthier, and the kids' dentists and maybe their parents too (if they aren't the primary treat eaters) will thank me. Meanwhile the trick-or-treaters will probably leave a "steaming goody bag" on my porch.

It's not easy to explain in a short meet-and-greet time:

Door opens.
Kids: Trick or treat!
Me: You look adorable. What's that a ghost? A monster? A pumpkin? Wow! Listen, my son is allergic to peanuts and possibly other nuts, and chocolates are produced in factories that handle nuts. And even artificial nut flavoring is made by stripping down peanuts. So long story short, no chocolates here. Please don't leave me any presents on my porch. Happy Halloween!"

I guess I could hand out Skittles or Starbursts. I'll have to check the ingredients and make sure there aren't any hidden ingredients: peanut flour, groundnuts, made on machinery that also processes peanuts. You just never know.

Which is why we are three steps behind our toddler, ready to tackle, sanitize, and Benadryl.

Oh no! Out of the way! I see a green peanut M&M on the sidewalk! Clear the area! Clear the area! Oh wait, it's a leaf. False alarm. I'll just get up from the ground now. Wait! What's that over by the tree? Got to go find out! Look out!

We received a call last Saturday. Well, actually we didn't receive a call last Saturday, because sadly every phone in the house was dead.

The phone downstairs just stopped recharging for no reason recently and finally gave up the ghost for good about a week before. The upstairs phone had been left downstairs, out of its charger, after a marathon call that had lasted over an hour. And I'd forgotten to recharge my cell phone that had made a cheery little sound and then had shut itself off.

It's funny that we didn't even notice that we were phoneless until Monday morning when I needed to make a call.

We don't normally receive that many phone calls - unless it's a birthday, holiday, special occasion. Otherwise, it's a wrong number here, a solicitation there, another attempt by AT&T to sell us on their U-Verse service. And most calls out we make by cell phone, which are fewer in number when we have company - which we had.

So, when I needed to make a doctor's appointment on Monday, I tracked down the upstairs handset, abandoned downstairs next to the broken phone. When I placed it in its charger, it told me I should wait 6 hours before using it. My cell phone, I could use, while it was plugged in and charging - which I did.

But as I passed the landline phone, still on it's first hour in the charger, I saw that there was a voicemail. I didn't wait another 5 hours and checked the message.

It was from Wolf Camera and had been left Saturday afternoon. I wasn't surprised that they had called. We'd ordered a few prints online and then had gotten busy with life and hadn't had a chance to pick them up. I figured the call was a reminder.

It began: "I have two things to tell you. First, your photos are ready to be picked up. Second, this location is shutting down permanently, so if you don't pick up your order by tomorrow afternoon, it'll be sent to our Lamar location on Monday."

Since it was already Monday when I received the message, my prints were Lamar-bound.

I was surprised the location closed, but didn't realize the extent of the problems the company was experiencing until I received the following in an email:

Over the past few months, most of us have become painfully aware that the U.S. economy has tumbled into very turbulent times. As a result, Ritz Camera filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. However, unlike several major retail chains that have since closed, Ritz Camera has successfully emerged from bankruptcy stronger than ever, and will continue to offer our exceptional service to you, our customer. We are as committed as ever to providing you with the best possible online imaging experience, and we are happy to say that Ritzpix.com is here to stay.

As an unfortunate consequence of these economic times and our emergence from bankruptcy, a store you have ordered to sometime within the past year (Wolf Camera 1784 , 10900-B Lakeline Mall Drive, Austin, TX) has closed.

Please use our Location Selector to find another store conveniently located in your area of work, shopping, or home.

When I used the Location Selector, I discovered that there were only two Wolf Camera stores left in Austin.

I wondered what consumer cutbacks had led to the company's bankruptcy. Had people stopped printing photos altogether? Were pictures now a luxury? Or were former customers printing them at Wal-mart or on their home printers? Or had camera equipment been Wolf Camera's bread and butter? Was the problem people who were duct-taping the battery compartments of their cameras together instead of splurging on new equipment?

Yes, that's a rather specific musing, isn't it? It just came to mind as I gazed across the room at my own camera, adorned in silver duct tape.

Hmmmm... Maybe Wolf Camera should start stocking rolls of duct tape. Then they'll be in the black in no time.


Real Shoes

Our little guy had some cute MiniStar elephant shoes with soft bottoms that his grandma bought him. They were adorable. They were unscuffed, because little guy usually did his crawling indoors - and often shoeless.

Then those lovely long toes (that showed up so well on the ultrasound) grew a bit more, and we had to get him some MiniStar shoes in a size large with red trucks. (The only large ones they had in the store.) These shoes lasted him a mere two weeks, because little guy not only began crawling outside the house but walking too (with the support of mommy's or daddy's fingers).

He crawled on the driveway and through the grass. He grabbed the bottom of his stroller with one hand and spun it in circles as he crawled around it, scuffing the red hoods right off those shoe cars.

Our little guy walked in the grass. He walked on the sidewalk. He walked on pebbled and mulched paths. He walked through wet grass. He walked up steps to slide down slides. And he walked a medium-sized hole straight through the bottom of his right shoe. (Teething could have contributed to this hole as well.)

Since his little car shoes were in ruins, we decided we couldn't delay. It was time for new shoes.

Our stop gap measure was a trip to Target for shoes he could wear to the water playscape at Brushy Creek Park.

Since these weren't elastic slip-on shoes we were looking at and since our little guy was now extremely mobile, we spent our time searching through the mid-sale rubble for anything that we thought might be his size, trying to compare shoe soles against a moving footsie, and pinning our son down long enough to wrestle his foot into the possibly-right-sized shoes one by one.

We were all exhausted by the end of it. And frustrated. (Although the little guy was frustrated for very different reasons than his parents were. We were interrupting his exploring to squish his feet and press on his toes. He didn't really see the point when there were so many fun things to grab and swing and toss. And there was a lot more in the store to see than smelly shoes.)

Ronak and I settled for a 2/3 pair of water shoes and some size 5 shoes he might grow into some day.

I told my mother about our adventures, and she suggested we visit a real shoe store for real shoes now that our little guy was doing some real walking. I had pleasant childhood memories of visiting uptown Kingston for my annual Buster Browns when I was a little girl, but not knowing this area very well, I had no idea if such a store specializing in kiddies existed.

I got on the internet and found Sandy's Shoes on Yelp. The reviews were positive, but "pricey" and "not cheap" had us on the fence. How long would he be wearing these shoes? Was it really worth it to spend the extra money? Couldn't we just find something at a Rack Room Shoes or some place like that?

I pictured us chasing our little guy around a Rack Room, tackling him, shoving his feet in shoes too big and too small, shoe boxes and their contents strewn everywhere.

I decided we should at least get his feet properly measured at a store that specializes in such things. Let their salespeople try to keep his feet from moving long enough to figure out his size.

So we visited Sandy's Shoes. (It's in the same plaza as Terra Toys, which we thought would be a fun place to go after the stressful shoe sizing.)

I had been forewarned by Yelp reviewers that we would need to sign in and wait (amid fun puzzles and puppets) but still wait - especially on a Saturday.

Perhaps it was the rain or the fact that we were actually out the door early on a Saturday, but there was no wait and a salesman helped us as soon as we walked in.

He said that the little guy could sit on my lap while he was measured. And my ten-month-old boy sat in awe. He didn't move a muscle as his foot was expertly placed against the metal show sizer and proclaimed to be almost the size of an 18-month old child.

While the salesman was in the back getting shoes, the spell was broken, however, and our little guy decided to use the man's stool as a walker and began pushing it around the room and into the wall.

The salesman brought back two pairs of shoes in size 5 (a size which we mistakenly thought would be too large for him in our exhausting ordeal at Target). He said they were two of the more popular shoes, sturdy but with flexible bottoms. But he also had some that beeped in the heel while the child walked. (Ronak vetoed the beeping shoe idea, as he imagined our little guy contorting his body while he walked, stumbling, distracted by the mysterious sound emanating from his heels.)

The sandal was a See Kai Run, and the sneaker (with an antibacterial coating inside so it could be worn with or without socks) was a Tsukihoshi. They fit our little guy beautifully, and he enjoyed trying them out.

Ecstatic, relieved, we didn't look any further. Ronak said, "We'll take them." And we asked if our son could walk out in one of them.

Which he did, happily, to Terra Toys where he gave the shoes an extensive breaking in test, crawling on the floor with push toys, racing around the store with walker toys (and anything else he found with wheels that he could push), and climbing up on the sofa in the kid's section.

And at the end of the toy shopping, when we didn't see toes poking out of any newly-formed holes, Ronak and I were very pleased with our real shoe expedition - which was not only successful, but surprisingly relaxing - especially when compared to our wrestling adventure at Target's shoe department.

Becoming a parent gives you a better appreciation for your own parents - especially your mom.

You always thought 24 hours of labor was a long time, but now that you have gone through it yourself (and then some), you really understand. Only, your mom was alone in the delivery room, because husbands weren't allowed to be with you at that time.

You are frustrated, because your child takes short naps, and your mom sighs. "Oh, yes. There was that period when you only took 20 minute naps." And you are suddenly grateful for the extra ten minutes your son stays asleep. Then she tells you that you gave up your morning nap at the age of one, and your afternoon nap at two. And you realize you don't have many little breaks left, and you should enjoy those thirty minute naps while you can. You also might want to rethink that whole homeschooling idea too...

You call her up to talk about teething and rashes and coughs. And you wonder how she survived your fevers, your accidents, your trips to the emergency room. Because your heart stops every time your own child has a bad fall or makes a strange sound. And you know that each bump and bruise won't be the last one, and you never stop being a mother. And you think, "Kudos, Mom."

You share the new words, the new teeth, the first steps, the first chuckles with her, and you wish your mom lived closer. Your son thinks Grandma lives inside the big box on the desk. He touches her pixelated face and hears her sing his favorite song with a slight delay. And you wonder why you moved so far away.

Because having a child makes you long for your family. You want your child to play with his cousins. You want your mom to see the rash in person, not just hear it described over the phone (or view it on a web cam). You want your parents to see his first teeth and his first steps. You want your dad to come over and help install the ceiling fan that is collecting dust in its box, because one of you is always watching the baby. You want your mom to babysit, so you can go out on a date and see a movie, because you can't remember what it's like to be a couple anymore. You want your entire family eating cake at your son's first birthday party.

But your family lives over 1800 miles away. And you don't want to live like this anymore, but it's a bad economy and not a good time to move. So you suck it up.

Then you remember that your own mom lived 760 miles away from her parents when you were a baby, back before cell phones and web cams and online photo albums. Back when you had to talk to an operator to make a long distance call. And your dad wasn't able to telecommute. He was working the night shift, sleeping all day, and your mom had to take care of you all by herself, and introduce you to your father on weekends when you were both awake at the same time. And she used cloth diapers with safety pins, sewed all your clothes, and made all your baby food in a blender.

And all you have to say then is "Kudos, Mom."

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In 2007, we moved to Austin, and this blog chronicled our adaptation to Texas life: festivals, wildflowers, and bats - oh my! Then we had a baby, and that changed everything, so now, we blog about where to buy organic food, what parks are fun for babies, which exterminator is taking care of our scorpion problem. (You know, the usual parental concerns.)


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