Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Into the Woods

Am I the one who has been operating in a weird in-between state for the past TWENTY NINE DAYS in which no one has school and there is plenty of work to be done except NO TIME AT ALL and everyone is off their schedule and out of whack and man, that was really fun for the first TWENTY DAYS (TWEEENNNTTTYY!) but now, OMG someone just make me operate on a schedule again PLEASE. For all of our digestive system's sakes.

I got to that point this weekend (after my conference last week), and then we still had school off on Monday to contend with. Often Mary will have school when the boys are off and I use those days for things I consider to be Big Kid Activities, hiking or rock climbing or roller skating, but Mary was home with us too so I really wasn't sure what we would do with our day. I had just fired up the TV and settled into the upstairs couch with my laptop to try and squeeze in some work on one of my syllabi when my friend told me that Yes, we were absolutely going through with our plan to take the kids on a 3.5 mile hike today NO EXCUSES and I found myself gathering everyone into the car.

I am so glad I was forced into this situation because it was really lovely, even when we realized we were off the trail and accidentally turned our 3.5 mile hike into a 4 mile hike.

Seven children in the woods, what could go wrong?

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The kids were often miles ahead of the moms. We all got a workout, fresh air, AND alone time with our peers. Hiking is amazing.

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Kids? What kids?

There were numerous stream crossings. Surprisingly none of these ended in catastrophe.

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There was some fun and potentially dangerous rock scrambling. When we got to the top of one hill, Mary stopped me and pointed up. "Mama. Look at how close the sky is to us now" she said reverently.

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Mary was borderline amazing. I say borderline because she got pissed at mile 2.5 that she wasn't able to lead the pack of boys and refused to walk anymore. After some expert negotiating by my friend Cindy and some agreed-to turns and a stopwatch, we were finally able to proceed. But we still took turns carrying her a LOT.

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Expert negotiating in progress. I will store this away for the next time I attempt to convince children to do things using only volume and hysterical gesticulations.

On her turn she couldn't help it and took off at a run. All six boys ran along behind her.

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Many Dateline NBC jokes later, I was incredibly happy to see the car.

Amazingly we were all still smiling in the "after" picture.

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We decamped immediately for lunch at a restaurant with a playground and a nice beer list.

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And today the high was twenty five degrees and the thought that I was outside prancing around coatless and eating in the sunshine is ABSURD.

The kids and I had a snow day. Ryan stayed home to hold down the fort while I started digging out from work (the finals week, grading hell, Christmas prep to Christmas to New Years Gauntlet, followed by ANOTHER WEEK of kid vacation, followed by a week at a conference AND A SNOW DAY was a lot).

I took this picture of my coffee and candy wrappers that looks positively demure compared to the HUGE PILE of wrappers I just dumped into the bathroom trash can.

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Other benefits to working from home? Adorable interruptions.

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And now I must stop procrastinating and finish figuring out how to make grouped histograms in Matlab, which according to Stack Overflow is basically the white whale of scientific computing.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Shop Safety

Ryan was supposed to take the three boys to the Scout derby car workshop this morning, but he mentioned it to Mary and she asked if she could build a car too. OF COURSE SHE COULD, after all they have a sibling division and Wes was building cars at her age anyway. Ryan had an extra car (he's cubmaster), so he told Mary she was welcome to come along, but that she had to change into some work clothes (from the sparkly Christmas dress she had originally chosen). Mary, who despises all pants and only deigns to wear leggings when it is below 50 degrees, FLEW up the stairs and returned with a pair of jeans and a tshirt, then changed right there in the kitchen. Ryan still was going to take all the kids by himself but taking four kids to work with power tools all morning while I sat by the fire in my pajamas working on my syllabi and eating leftover cake seemed like a lot to ask. I was SO GLAD I went (even though the first thing I did was abandon everyone and go inside to have a cup of coffee with my friend M, whose husband was hosting the workshop).

Charley's group is the oldest kids in the pack, so that means they get to use the power tools alone, as long as an adult is watching. I didn't realize this when I was eleven, but eleven year olds are basically adults. It was all I could do to not nudge all the other adults and say "Look at how amazing he is on that drill press, JUST LOOK." That wouldn't be weird, would it?

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Mary and James: Plus one for safety googles. Minus one for bare feet.

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Charley helped Mary with the belt sander.

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Wes and James played a violent game on the trampoline and James came away with giant claw marks on either side of his ear.

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Mary was an experiment in static electricity.

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And then they started attacking each other for real so we adjourned to Whataburger to sit sullenly on a bench until our burgers were ready. (LOOK AT HOW OLD THEY LOOK STAAAAAHHHPPP)

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Conference conference

I am riding the train back up north after a conference this week and it occurred to me that since I am not sitting on the highway yelling at all the other drivers I have time to write to you!

 Conferences are a funny thing. Possibly it is not like this in all of the sciences but conferences in atmospheric science leave you overwhelmed with input in every possible way. Not just new knowledge and questions, but also coffee, food, and alcohol.

This morning I chased the cup of coffee and half bagel I ate at home with a piece of pumpkin bread covered in chocolate ganache, a fruit cup, and another cup of coffee, then went on to share a sun soaked outdoor lunch of chicken and mozzarella crepes with friends. Yesterday I had a muffalatta and a beer after my talk, then still managed to eat a large soft pretzel with extra mustard and an enormous chocolate chip cookie. Then I went home and made myself some scrambled eggs and a huge glass of wine.

I also made a four-page to-do list based on all the great scientific talks I went to and the (probably more influential) great conversations I had with people at my poster, my student's poster, at meals, and in the hallway. The last day of talks was definitely the most important one for me to hear. I have like five paper ideas now and somehow have to gather all of this information into some kind of useable form while also planning the entire semester for two classes.

Should be no problem since I have like five hours to work tomorrow before a three day weekend with the kids.

 Ryan has been managing things at home better than I ever have. They have been eating great meals and getting places on time and last night he found a stray dog and returned it to its family. I am loving having this conference in town this year because going home every night and starting the day with the (often incredibly crabby) kids has been really nice. It also eliminated one opportunity each day for overindulging so I feel refreshed instead of like I just endured a week-long science bachelor party.

 On that note, I did go to a networking reception for the Earth Science Women's Network and got to talk to someone who I really admire (in a slightly fangirl kind of way, she's kind of a big deal). I was so proud of my ability to appear to be a normal professional adult and did not accidentally discuss bodily functions or swear (man do I sound like fun at parties).

 I followed that with another university's alumni reception, because I am a fun gate crasher and my friend is the department chair. I always have a great time at that party because small Midwestern meteorology peeps are SUPER nice and fun and talented.

And the next night (after my poster which went greater than my wildest expectations and for whom the snack offerings were sliders and grilled cheese sandwiches, had both) I went to my own university's alumni dinner. I met a few new people there and it was gratifying to have three interesting research projects to talk about since word got out that I had a thousand kids and started working at a SLAC (small liberal arts college) and I think most people assumed I spend my days making soup and knitting and having long conversations about books (also true).

 My poster went really well and my talk was good and my student did amazing and there was a giant wall of pretzels so really it was the perfect week.


Now to retrain my body that we do not need a cup of coffee and a snack once an hour.

Also also the temperature has dropped 20 degrees since I left my house this morning and it is super windy and IT IS TIME TO GO PUT ON MY JAMMIES.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

New Year Incrementally Improved Me

I've spent a lot of time thinking about some goals I want to set for myself for this next year and I am hoping that writing them down to be immortalized on the internet will help me stick to it. It seems like a lot of goals, but since many of them involve things I should be doing anyway, hopefully it won't be too arduous. It's not like I want to learn Mandarin and climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Hopefully these are somewhere between that and "Taco a Day in 2018!!" Hmmm.

1. Spend less time on the $#$#Qing internet. Off to a good start aren't we?! I like Sarah's idea of no Facebook between 9 and 5 on weekdays. I might modify slightly to include a quick check in at lunchtime, but otherwise I could really be spending my time more wisely. This will help with numbers 2 through 7 and also have the bonus benefit of reducing my FOMO and the visceral terror I feel every time I read the news.

2. Hike the whole Barton Creek Greenbelt with the kids. It is a little over twelve miles. We will do it in chunks, obviously. One chunk a month seems reasonable and it is always nice to have a framework for finding weekend activities.

3. Submit one or two papers SOMEWHERE. Hopefully the first one will be in the next week or two! This is really a double/triple/quadruple goal because it will require doing some serious work on my imposter syndrome, which tells me daily that I suck at this and should sell coffee instead. There is another post brewing about how academic rank and advancement is designed to make you feel inferior and stupid. Someday. For now we will focus on positive goals!

4. Row twice a week. This means that even if we cancel for freezing/terrible weather I need to row on the machine. This giant rowing badonkadonk isn't going to maintain itself and apparently I now live in Duluth Minnesota because the temperature has not gotten above freezing since sometime last year.

5. Two other workouts per week. I hope to start swimming again but the schedule at the campus pool is tricky with my class schedule. The rest of the gym is open all day though and I really have no excuse since it is not THAT hard to make the five minute trek across campus.

6. Tweet one professional tweet per day. Not just retweets, but real things I find interesting with grown up sounding text that came from my brain. This might be the hardest one of them all.

7. Finish my yard sale sampler (cross stitch) project. Begin (complete?) the amazing cactus cross stitch chart my mom gave me for Christmas. I am SO excited about this.

Off to go make some progress on number 3!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

A little hiking, a little criminal mischeif

We are squarely in the middle of Christmas Break and we have settled into an impressive routine of sloth and overeating that is going to be difficult to break once school and work start in approximately eighty-seven years.

This could be a short post because it is officially Too Cold for Texans outside so the children are blowing off steam by running in shrieky circles around the first floor. Dining room, kitchen living room, foyer. Around and around and around until either I scream at them, turn the TV back on, or have to take someone to the emergency room. All fantasies about living somewhere with seasons have been suspended indefinitely.

Yesterday was balmy and in the fifties and the kids were similarly restless and terrible so we decided to go hiking. Because Ryan knows how to get me to agree to getting in the car with the crazed honeybadgers, he suggested the trail whose trailhead is across the street from a taqueria.

Update: they are throwing a pair of Mary's undies back and forth and screaming "UNDERPANTS POWER!!!" and wrestling each other to the floor. Sadly, I forgot to buy rum for the rum balls I wanted to make for the NYE party we are attending until it was too late.

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FORCED MARCH TIME, MY DARLINGS. Also, Mary hikes in Mini Boden, always.

It has been a dry fall, so there was no actual water in the creek, but that didn't stop the kids from getting distracted by the dry creek bed and then complaining when we asked them to come back to the trail so we could go for an actual walk.

We had a really nice walk. Built some forts in the woods. Endured an inhuman amount of complaining. Played with a snail.

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And then had a nice taco lunch and headed to a playground we had promised the kids we would go to. After an hour or so of playing we decided to go to this urban graffiti park I've been wanting to check out. We found the place easily, but got stuck in two separate mini traffic jams where no cars could move in either direction and I had to back down the street and around the corner. Finally retreated and found a spot a few blocks away and we walked back over. I was feeling a lot of pressure at this point since it was all my idea and we'd already done so many fun things that day. We really could have gone home and called it a really good day, but we took the kids to an abandoned three-story concrete foundation covered in graffiti because I wanted to do it.

The website for the place said you have to have a pass to paint on the walls, so I had told the kids we were only there to look at the art, but when we walked up someone handed Wes a can of blue spray paint and before I knew it he was writing his name on a fence.

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Wholesome childhood activities.

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The kids all found paint cans they could still use. As I said to Ryan, "Of course you don't have to pay. Of course there are no rules. This is Austin. It all makes sense now."

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Future criminals at work.

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So sneaky.

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When we got home the kids were so exhausted they sat on the couch staring at the TV without even turning it on. We slapped together some dinner and got everyone in bed before eight.

(The kids have moved upstairs to make a fort in the family room. It is noisy, but it is not right next to my head, which is where James was standing loudly smacking a piece of watermelon gum before I glared at him with the eyes of death).

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The title is that emoticon with the huge eyeballs

Not sure how to best capture a week of extremely photo-heavy kind of days in one blog post, but since I've been studiously avoiding my computer (since when I am on my computer I feel like I should be working on something that I have been avoiding, making "studiously" a funny choice of adverb), this is where we are. We just got back from a nice trip to see Ryan's parents in Adjacent Large Metropolitan Area to the North where we ate great food, enjoyed great company, and went to see Coco. This is the first short road trip we have taken where we have deigned to use the mobile DVD player we bought for our huge summer road trip and I am here to tell you that I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT. As I said to Ryan, "If you bring that DVD player I will go ANYWHERE YOU WANT." I had no idea you could go on a road trip without almost surrendering a child at the fire station. Life changing. I even had time to finish the Mobius Strip cowl I started several weeks ago.

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Before that there were MANY OTHER THINGS to tell you about.

Friday we all headed downtown to the Capitol for Tuba Christmas, a yearly celebration of tubas and seasonal music that takes place outside. Having things outside in Texas in December is generally not a problem, but the forecast for Friday called for a strong cold front to pass through sometime during the concert. Not only would this front bring a twenty degree drop in temperature, it would also bring stinging wind and aggressive drizzle. BAH! I said. We will just bring our jackets. We will not MELT. This is totally fine.

It was seventy degrees when we got out of the car and walked over. It was in the lower fifties by the time Ryan returned with hot chocolate for everyone. It was FORTY SEVEN degrees and raining by the time the concert started.

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All I want for Christmas is walking pneumonia.

When it was time for the music to start someone loaned us an umbrella and I managed to cram myself and three kids underneath it using a concrete retaining wall as a wind break.

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The music was beautiful as always, I do love Tuba Christmas, but after about the ninth song we gave up and headed to the car. Changing into dry clothes was LIFE AFFIRMING.

Saturday we went to Wigilia, the Polish celebration of Christmas Eve, at my aunt and uncle's house.

Sadly, I only took one picture, and it's this one of my little matching Matryoshka dolls at the end of the table.

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But it was a great celebration with friends, wine, food, and lots and lots of delicious homemade pierogis. They had to make more twice because James and Wes kept polishing off the last of the platter.

And that night, Former Nanny/Current Honorary Aunt Nicki came over! So good to catch up and remark about the tallness of the children over sugar cookies and the world's spiciest pizza (Wes dared James to eat a bite of it without taking a drink of milk for one minute. He made it.). I really miss seeing her almost daily. I always want to tell her about how much she has helped our family in ways big and small (mostly big) but instead I just hug her an awkwardly long time and threaten to keep her from flying back to her (enviably cool life in) New York.

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Of course this meant that the next day was Christmas Eve, during which we spent approximately eight hours at church. Ryan wanted to go to the last regular Sunday morning Advent service (nerd) (like me), then we helped set up for the children's service, then we went to Starbucks because obviously, and then we had to be back at church to put on our costumes and get ready for the children's service.

Flanders Family Christmas is a go...
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Because why not?

In addition to helping kids participate in the spontaneous pageant, we also handed out bells and halos and crowns and candles. Wes played the prelude, Charley played the offeratory. We didn't sit down until the very end. I say this not to brag, but to document the level of sheer insanity that was this Christmas Eve. It was fun and exhausting and wonderful. Not peaceful. No no no.

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This part always makes me verklempt. Defiantly lighting candles in the dark. The way the room goes from dark to warm and cozy and bright. It was especially poignant this year. (And not just because next year Charley won't technically be in Children's Ministry any longer because he will be a Youth).

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So beautiful

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Nicki took a weirdly good family picture.

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When we finally got home, everyone was WRECKED. We turned on the original 1951 classic "Scrooge" because we are a family of nerds, plugged in the tree, and everyone relaxed while Ryan and I made a tamale dinner, two pans of cinnamon rolls, brownies with peppermint icing, and two breakfast stratas for the next morning.

When I looked over at the kids I saw the three boys all cuddled up together on one side of the couch. Mary walked over and Wes said "You can only be on this couch if you want to snuggle." Mary burrowed in and they covered her with the quilt and watched the whole movie like that. These kids, you guys. I love them.

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To continue the theme of Surreally Good Behavior, they did not wake us up until SEVEN THIRTY Christmas morning. In fact, Ryan and I woke up naturally and wondered aloud if there was some kind of problem. Ryan sneaked out of our bedroom and found the three boys PLAYING CHESS in the play room. He ran back to our room to report the news. Several minutes later, we heard Mary's door open and only then did all of them come into our room with their stockings. This was--not what I was expecting.

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After all that snuggling and considerate behavior, even I found the pre-coffee four-way harmonica concert charming.

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They led the way downstairs in a thundering hoarde.

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Yep, Santa came!

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Doesn't the tree look pretty here? I took it down already. Because I am a heartless monster who has two classes starting in two weeks and a conference to prepare for and I do not need to be looking at that thing on Valentine's (Memorial?) Day.

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The neighbors came out with new bikes and we played and drank champagne and shivered in our PJs and coats. My parents came over and we drank more champagne and had a second Christmas (My mom gave me an Instant Pot, which I am EXTREMELY excited about, so hit me with all your vegetarian recipes!)

And then we jumped in the car to head over to my aunt and uncle's house for the traditional Christmas meal of really delicious meat with béarnaise sauce, twice baked potatoes, fruit, and Christmas cookies. The little kids were each paired with a corresponding older cousin and all of them spent a lot of time hanging out on the couches looking at screens, making towers out of marshmallows and toothpicks, and tormenting the family dog. Dinner was delicious and we capped off the holiday by stripping the kids down to their undies and letting them get into the hot tub.

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Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

I will be forwarding the above to any student who dares greet me in the new year with "Did you see that email I sent you?"