Sunday, May 19, 2019

"We're never going to be one of those overscheduled families!"

I used to talk a lot of shit about other families whose weekends were completely taken over by kids' activities because I had lots of high and mighty ideas about how kids need free time and some moments of boredom so their brains can develop. Now every Thursday afternoon Ryan and I shout a "Saving Private Ryan"-like barrage of scheduling instructions at each other as we leave for work in the morning just so we can get everyone to all of their places with all the appropriate equipment/music/two dozen homemade cookies*)

*I feel like I had an important moment with the kids as we chose nice cookies from the grocery store bakery instead of buying chocolate chips to make cookies as planned, since they were all shivering in their wet swimsuits (and were barefoot in two cases) and I said "We are choosing nice cookies for the recital instead of making them at home because we do not have enough time to both make cookies and also get the rest we need to feel good this afternoon." We may be *overscheduled*, but we do not need to be *frantic*.

The extra fun thing about this weekend was that Ryan was out of town for another Scout campout, this one with Charley, which meant that I was completely on my own for the following activities: Swim practice Friday night, including pizza picnic funtime (protip: get yourself a swim friend who will wordlessly slide an ice cold Dox Equis in a discrete coozie into your hand when she arrives at swim practice because that was amazing and well-timed), swim meet Saturday morning (including being a tent mom and also it being Mary's first meet so she was NONE TOO PLEASED to go wait in her tent with the other girls and instead tried to surgically affix herself to my body for the first half hour), piano recital Saturday afternoon, concurrent birthday party for Mary's friend Saturday afternoon (which if it had been one of the boys I could have easily skipped but since it was the female one I've been hearing "Charlotte's birthday party is at the Y on Saturday, May 18" for the past three weeks, there would be no skipping).

Fortunately a complete stranger agreed to take Mary to the party with her daughter, a girl who Mary mentions at least a few times every afternoon, so before the recital I drove her over there, made brief eye contact with the mom, and hoped for the best. She turned out to be awesome and not a kidnapper, so even better.

Last week I helped lead a research workshop on launching ozonesondes. Have I ever told you I love a messy board almost as much as eating raw cookie dough in front of the TV? #favorite things

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Teaching the workshop also meant I had to commute, which I don't normally do. Tuesday morning it took me nearly two hours to get there (would be 40 mins without traffic) and I thought I was going to cry. Fortunately for all of the other motorists, my family, and the workshop participants, I remembered to turn on my favorite angry girl music Spotify station and the rest of the days were much more relaxing (and the traffic was better too).

I've been going straight from work to school pickup to the pool and I'm going to have to remember to plan my outfits around this reality for the rest of this week so this doesn't happen again.

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James and his best bud are in the same practice and the same tent this year. WATCH. OUT. At the meet they were in adjacent lanes for the twenty-five free and James kept popping his head up to see where C was.

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I've never watched the six and under events before and I'm here to tell you that I have been missing out because it is HILARIOUS and ADORABLE. They start sitting on the edge and when the starting beep goes off they all just turn around and look at their coaches for further direction. Then some of them get tired halfway through the race and turn around to swim back to the start. Mary apparently has a wicked inner competitive streak because after spending a week in a group I'm calling the "special friends" or "the freaker outers" because she was SO NERVOUS, popped right in and charged across the pool doing her crazy front breathing freestyle move. She even won her heat. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen, probably because in my mind she is still an infant, despite the evidence to suggest she is actually a big girl.

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Swimmers take your marks.

(It occurs to me that our family viewing of "Miracle" last week was a good choice. AGAIN!)

I ran to the store for dinner stuff this afternoon and realized at the checkout that it had been a while since I'd eaten any produce and apparently my subconscious took the wheel.

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And this afternoon we had piano recital number two. Charley looks out of it because I had just awakened him from his post-campout coma to say "GET DRESSED, YOU HAVE A RECITAL IN THIRTY MINUTES!) All the kids did a great job. I'm always amazed to hear the results of their hard work.

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And finally, a story I'm sure I once would have woven into a thousand hilarious words. The other day I was making my favorite sheetpan meatball recipe when I sliced open the tip of my thumb chopping broccoli. I couldn't tell whether it made stitches, so I washed it out carefully, wrapped it tightly in a clean dishtowel, and held my hand over my heart while I continued to make two pounds worth of meatballs. I kept it tightly taped up for the rest of the week and happy news! I did not develop MRSA or bleed out AND I managed to avoid a $500 copay and also I might have a permanent notch taken out of my left thumb.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Good stuff and bad stuff

We have a BUNCH of ground to cover, my friends. It has been a MONTH. Between the end of the semester and all that entails (and that entails a lot when you have three classes) and my advocacy work at church, which is at once incredibly satisfying and extremely frustrating, a source of joy and pride and also something that sometimes makes me want to pull up stakes and become an Episcopalian. Or a nun. I could live in Nonatus house, I think. Though the British politeness would obviously be a significant personal challenge. And then there was the rain and a meeting with my research partner to get our summer work off the ground (surprise, let's plan a quick workshop!). Trying to get one more paper ready to submit. All of the THINGS with the KIDS and the MEETINGS. And then a week of what felt like nonstop endless rain that made me want to curl up with something cozy and a glass of something. I said rain twice but I think that's appropriate because that's how much it rained.

One rainy day I attempted to work at home. This worked marginally well until my parents brought the kids home.

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Hashtag: productivity.

(I am having trouble remembering which time it rained for these anecdotes. Was it the time the hurricane hit when I was taking a kid to a medcheck? Or was it the time lightning struck so close to my house that the BOOM was instantaneous and the power went out? Or was it the giant storm that hit while I was trying to run into a meeting at church? Seriously a lot of rain)

On Saturday of last week the author who has had perhaps more influence on my life than any other suddenly died at the age of thirty seven, leaving behind a husband, two small children, and an enormous community of admirers. I learned of her death last Saturday morning. I'd just spent a pleasant two hours grading at a coffeeshop and then picked James and Mary up at their choir rehearsal. We were headed to get Charley from the Scout pancake breakfast and I was flipping through Twitter while at an exceptionally long red light and saw the news. It was like someone had punched me in the stomach.

Charley came bouncing out of the pancake breakfast with a warm smile and held up the extra cupcakes he had saved for us. There was only one chocolate one, which he insisted I take. While we drove to the grocery store I told them that someone I admired had died and that I was feeling really sad. They asked a lot of questions and when I told them that she was only thirty-seven Charley abruptly announced that it was time to change the subject. After the store I took the kids to Home Depot to buy plants for our front garden. I went inside to make lunch when we got home and when I came back out, Charley was showing the little kids how to dig a big hole, mix in some new potting soil, then carefully take the plant out of its pot, and put it in the ground.

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I powered through the rest of the day, having a fun pool picnic with the kids (a WEIRD pool picnic because I hadn't planned to have a pool picnic so I just packed up our regular dinner, which was a quinoa salad, sliced bratwurst, and strawberries), and getting their tired bodies in bed early before numbly crocheting on the couch until one o'clock in the morning. Not sleeping sort of became the routine for the rest of the weekend and into early the next week which probably explains the barely-functioning stupor I was in until Wednesday or so. My friend Rosa can sense these things and so invited me to babysit her adorable toddler during her doctor's appointment before taking me out for tacos and cupcakes and a walk and the opportunity to talk about "my friend Rachel" as though she was a real life friend whose kitchen I'd hung out in before rather than a New York Times bestselling author and hero to women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. I think RHE would have approved of me seeking out a friend and sharing a meal and a walk and of saying "How the **** did this happen?!" as many times as it took. During our walk and conversation I had the oddest sensation that my brain was slowly coming back online. I am grateful.

In less deeply awful news, summer swim team started practicing and it is still amazing how happy it makes us all.

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I CANNOT EVEN.

Wes considerately placed his thermos on the counter and said to me "Please bring my dinner to swim. I am always hungry afterward." All four kids are swimming this year which means we will be at practice for approximately seventy five years ever day and meets will never end, which is fine because I am the 9-10 boys tent mom AGAIN (unsurprisingly the under six girls tent mom job filled quickly*) and bizarrely I am looking forward to it all.

*by someone with a cheerful email signature quote befitting the six and under girls' tent mom whereas my more, shall we say, assertive, personality is decidedly more well-suited for the 9-10 boys, not that I necessarily relish that kind of challenge.

The air temperature at Friday's practice was 64 degrees and the unheated pool was freezing. The coach got Wes out of the water when he started shivering violently.

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This Saturday was graduation (AND MORE RAIN) and then Ryan and I took six kids to brunch.

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Later we took six kids to the pool and met up with some other friends for dinner there and ended up spending four hours at the pool even though it was still like sixty four degrees outside. The kids all put fuzzy pajamas on once we got home and did not believe me when I told them that a mid sixties day in the summer was not that unusual when I was a kid in upstate New York (and I STILL had to jump in for swim lessons). This morning Ryan and the kids made me eggs benedict and a mimosa. I led our affirming song and prayer service at church and found myself singing "River of Jordan" by Peter, Paul, and Mary for the entire group. We went to brunch again after church (because obviously) and ran into two wonderful mom friends who sat by us and let our kids sit mixed in with their kids and we all drank sangria and laughed and complained about church politics and it was really really lovely. (I just came back here to add a few more "reallys" because it was the actual best--the weather, the sangria, the happy funny kids, the friends)

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I made them touch each other because it is Mothers' Day.

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The girls' side of the table.

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Did not suck.

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My friends!

Summer research starts tomorrow afternoon and then I am off to the races for eight weeks. Hopefully you will hear from me before then!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A tour of photos from my phone

WOW, so.  What's happening, friends?  I have thirty minutes before I have to leave and go to a string of student-parent-teacher conferences so I thought I'd dust off this old space and assure you that I have not been blown away by the Wizard of Oz-like weather we had last week.

(But only just, because I spent several hours sitting outside at Charley's swim meet in all that wind and my crochet project is never going to be the same.)

In old lady news, I've done something to my hand to where I cannot hold a coffee mug or open a jar of peanut butter or a door without wincing in pain.  I dealt with it for a week, hoping that applying liberal amounts of advil, wine, and icing with an old bag of frozen broccoli that it would magically get better on its own.  This did not help of course so I found myself going to the doctor (mostly because I also had to take James to the doctor because he had a very swollen thumb that he got caught in a folding Little Tykes slide.  He is OK) who recommended I continue the broccoli icing but switch to some veterinary-sized Advil three times a day in addition to taping my pinky finger to my ring finger and not using my right hand at all.  I am here to tell you that I can now open doors again.  Praise be!

I hung out with Charley all last weekend because the rest of the family had a Scout campout.  Charley had his swim meet and I had a choir concert so we had to stay behind.  Normally I would have loved to go on a campout with the family and I hope this isn't a disloyal thing to say but in the span of their forty-eight hours in the woods they experienced: a) torrential rain, b) lightning, c) thirty mile per hour winds with higher gusts, and d) overnight lows in the low forties.  It was a good campout to miss.

Here is my Crochet project. It's a heat map of the global temperature anomaly over the last one-hundred years and I am in love with it. Also, crochet is the opioid of the fibercraft world--I am completely preoccupied with this project and have fallen asleep mid-stitch multiple times in the last few weeks, completely shirking household responsibilities and sensible bedtimes in the name of just ONE MORE ROW.  This is an old picture because I am now twenty years in.

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Saturday night I sang with my choir (the student choir they let faculty join) in the chapel.  We sang a collection of masses from around the world, which absolutely delighted my geeky little heart.  Charley tagged along to the dress rehearsal on Friday and was so moved as the orchestra and organ wound down the last notes of the Faure that he leapt out of his seat.  The concert on Saturday night was the highlight of the entire academic year (Even if I was suffering from the zombie upper-respiratory crud of 2019 and even though for the Faure I was seated between two amazing singers from the chorale choir and was way, WAY out of my element).

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Just before a rehearsal in the chapel.  Am silently squeeing.

On the opposite side of the fun-coin, teaching dynamics this semester has led to all kinds of new self-knowledge regarding the deep unresolved loathing I felt for this material two decades ago when I earned a B in it by the SKIN of my TEETH.  All of that peppy can-do attitude I model for the students in class now?  IS A LIE.  For some reason, I thrived in my other classes, grad classes with mathematical symbols I'd never even seen before, teaching geology having NEVER TAKEN IT.  All fine.  This is triggering a bizarrely vivid kind of PTSD.  It's like PTSD and Imposter Syndrome had a baby and then sent it to summer camp at Mount Dreadmore.  But still, I'm hanging in there.

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We had friends over for dinner and the Final Four the other night and apparently I was so moved by the majesty of my veggie tray that I took a picture of it.  The details are hazy because 99% of that party was screaming at the TV in disbelief.

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In professional news I submitted a paper to a journal last week.  I am incredibly proud of this work and taking this leap made me equal parts thrilled and nauseous.  After I celebrated the moment on Twitter and via emails to colleagues the editor immediately responded that I would need to fix all of my special characters and resubmit the manuscript.  After two tries I finally figured that out and got it resubmitted and THEN I could celebrate (by driving a kid to swim lessons and then going home to cook baked potatoes).  In fact I still haven't had a proper celebration and there is a nice-ish bottle of red wine I should probably open when I get home to go with my crocheting and TV watching tonight.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Spring Break Part II

When we were not able to find a lifeguard for the family retreat this year I told the organizers that I'd be happy to take the lifeguarding class and get certified if it meant my kids could swim and thus not hassle me about not being able to swim at the retreat for two straight days like they did last year. This is how I found myself joining up with a class of twenty sixteen year olds at a nearby swim school the weekend before last. Something I learned about teenagers is that they view attempts to make small talk as an unforgivably aggressive act. It was like I'd sat down across from them at the table and greeted them with a hearty "Kiss my ass!" instead of "Hello, my name is Becca!" After that I played a little game with myself to see how many people I could make eye contact with. It was not easy. Also not easy was the class itself, or climbing out of the (seemingly bottomless) pool onto the pool deck. But I made it and I passed and I now I have a certificate and huge black bruises all up and down my legs and ankles.

Certified lifeguard here. Don't make me backboard you.

After the lifeguard class and two days of hiking and backpacking, it was finally time to go relax at the family retreat, AKA the highlight of the non-Maine year.

Since we were already in the area it only took an hour to get there, which made it feel like we got an entire extra day. As soon as we pulled up to the lodge, the kids disappeared and I didn't really see them again until Sunday afternoon.  Mary was so exhausted after the campout that she tucked herself into her sleeping bag around 7:30 and slept right through the night.  A few friends came over to our porch (including the PhD club, which has been gathering at the retreat for three years now) to hang out after dark, I paid Charley a dollar a kid to round up his siblings, and then they all passed out.  Pretty great night.

Mary woke up fresh as a daisy the next morning after more than twelve hours of sleep.  I love this picture so much and wish that it was in front of some flowers or something instead of the men's room and a trash can.

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I had to wade into the freezing river to rescue Charley's stuck fishing hook.  This was BEFORE the waterfront was open, which means I had to break my own rules right out of the gate.

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There are some organized activities Saturday morning, but I ended up spending a great hour talking to a friend, some other time holding people's babies, and then having lunch.  It was good to have this relaxing morning because after lunch it was SHOWTIME.

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This was just as fishing was wrapping up before word was out that the waterfront was open.  In other words, this picture is not representative of the ABSOLUTE CHAOS that ensued once fifty kids and their parents realized that it was time to swim.  It was the longest two hours EVAR.  I only had to yell at a couple of kids, one for diving and one who kept doing the dead man's float right in front of the lifeguard stand.  There were kids on kayaks and kids in canoes.  Kids in lifejackets.  Kids swimming back and forth across the river (the river of unknown depth).  Adults jumping in and trying to swim to the bottom.  And don't forget about the slide and the baby pool.  Thankfully there were two of us.


After I got a glass of water and a couple of Cadbury Eggs I joined Mary for some coloring time.

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The kids and I hung out inside for the rest of the afternoon until it was time for a yummy dinner and then smores time.  Wes takes smores very seriously.  His marshmallows are perfectly roasted.

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James likes his to catch on fire as quickly and completely as possible.

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Mary's still working on cooking the whole marshmallow.

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Our friend Rosa was ably handling passing out marshmallows and skewers to the teeming hoardes of children, so we manned her baby.

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Note that Ryan is in the background of this nice picture of Rosa in #peakdadmode, holding a toddler and correcting someone's smore technique.  #livinghisbestlife #happyplace  Rosa's also in her happy place, keeping kids organized and preventing them from stabbing each other with hot skewers.

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I looked over to see Charley eating cobbler by the fire looking so grown up it took my breath away.  Don't worry though, friends, later he jumped into the baby pool fully clothed to rescue a half dead fish, so he's still my baby boy!

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After smores the kids disappeared into the night and it was time for my favorite part, the sing-a-long.  I talked my way into helping lead the singing and what I lacked in vocal ability I made up for in enthusiasm.  The guitar player wondered aloud if we should cut a couple of verses of the Lord of the Dance and I said a little too emphatically "This song is the entire Gospel story!  Which part do you think we should cut?!"

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Our last song was "Let it Be."  PERFECTION.

After the sing-a-long some friends and I stayed up and talked church politics around the fire until I don't even know how late it was but it was LATE late.

And Sunday morning after breakfast and cleanup we have chapel.  It always cracks me up to see all the bikes and scooters gathered around the entrance to the chapel, the dining hall, the waterfront.  So many kids!

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And then, sadly, it was time to leave for another year.  Re-entry into our normal lives has not been easy to say the least.  Alarm clocks are so rude.  I should always have access to many of my friends all day every day.  Meals should be eaten in community.  Children should be raised by the collective.  And I'd love a nightly sing-a-long.  Only another twelve short months to wait.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Spring Break Part I

I think the sequence of the time change, followed by a week of chaos at school, followed by the complete and total upheaval of our schedule during Spring Break is more than my increasingly half-functioning brain can handle because this morning I forgot the following items in my gym bag: 1) A TOWEL, 2) shampoo, 3) soap 4) important foundation garment, the one not intended for working out in.

Normally in this situation I would just go home to get ready but this time I couldn't do that because after a week off I really needed the extra time in my office before class to get my ducks in a row slash remember the name of the class I am teaching and where I left off in the material thirty-seven years ago when we last had class.

Fortunately I found a brand new bar of soap in the lost and found and had remembered to bring a hair tie.

The first two days of the break were action packed and involved a street picnic, a rollerblading accident with broken bones (a friend's, but still awful), an unexpected sleepover, lunch for ten kids, a rowdy trip to Sonic for ice cream cones (also for ten kids), playgrounding, and a BUNCH of screen time. Since we were all so rested, we thought it would be fun to take the kids on a short backpacking trip.

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Hey, you know what would be fun? Taking four kids on a backpacking trip! Kids love walking and carrying heavy things! It will be amazing!

(Also I made the reservations while Charley was home sick with the flu and missing out on a REALLY FUN and long anticipated field trip and pretty much would have approved any spring break request he had short of sailing a catamaran to Guam for the weekend or something)

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Thee were many, many stream crossings.

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And a brief, violent thunderstorm that blew up just after we got our tents set up and right before we started cooking our dinner. We huddled inside our respective tents (James and Ryan were tentmates, I was with Mary, and the big boys were together) until it was over and then popped out to make Naan pizza around what I think was probably about nine PM. It was glorious.

The next day we left our campsite set up and did a not-so-quick five miles in a big loop that also included a GINORMOUS hill. Fortunately we did the hill after lunch when everyone was feeling rested and adventurous instead of whiny and miserable.

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Necessary.

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They are not wrong.

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We are highly serious outdoorspeople.

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Kids shown for scale. This is one of four switchbacks.

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We made it!

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With everyone!

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Worth it.

The aftermath.

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The next day we got up and "broke camp" (still feeling ridiculous using all "the lingo") after we made coffee and oatmeal on the tiny stove.

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We still had to walk another 1.2 miles back to the car, which was apparently QUITE the big ask for the kids, even though once we got rolling I started having a blast. It was such a pretty trail and the kids ran so far ahead that I actually got to have a conversation with Ryan for the first time in approximately four months.

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We discussed doing the other long trail, or at least part of it, since we had a bunch of time to kill before our next stop, but decided against it after we spent the last quarter mile bickering with the kids. It was a relief to get in the car, spend a few minutes cozying up with the wifi at the ranger station, and then heading out in search of a hamburger and a deck of cards, which we found at an adorable restaurant called "The Apple Store" about thirty minutes away. From there it was only a quick hour's drive to our next stop, the All Church Retreat or Family Camp as we usually call it. Our yearly trip to summer camp in the Hill Country. We were practically giddy when we pulled into the camp and it was everything we hoped it would be and more. Lots more pictures in the next installment, because as it turns out it's Monday and it's not spring break anymore and for me that meant rowing in the dark and teaching and prepping and grading exams and more teaching and probably the grocery store at some point and then this evening I have a meeting. ONWARD.