Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry and Bright!

Every year I say "This year they are at a GREAT age for Christmas!", but I think it's really true this year because, friends, it was magical. Everyone finally woke up AFTER SEVEN, but I had been lying awake since six, when I'd gotten up to get the casserole out of the fridge and was too excited to go back to sleep. Santa did it up big this year. He set the table with bananas and glitter and a handwritten note! He posed two Lego Bionacles to guard the present stash. He put dinosaurs next to the stockings by the kids' doors! But let me back up...

*****

We have Christmas Eve dinner at my aunt and uncle's house every year. She makes a traditional Polish Christmas Eve feast with borscht, pierogi, fish, a special dessert, and sometimes homemade lemon vodka. I look forward to it every year and this year the kids were looking forward to it too. Charlie said "The borscht and the fish and the perogi? I LOVE that meal!" Tradition, family, candles, warmth, a connection to the past, to another world. It makes my heart so happy.

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Dish towel borcht bibs also make my heart happy.

We went to church next, for the children's service. Partway though all the kids go up front in their shepherd, king, and angel hats and crowd around the Newborn King. They stay there until it's time to light the candles and sing Silent Night. It is delicious chaos every year. I lost sight of Charlie and Wes, but they found their way back with no trouble at the end. James slept through all of it, even the manic bell ringing during "Joy to the World".

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*****

After church and hot chocolate we spent some time tracking Santa on the NORAD website. He was in Portugal. The kids were electrified.

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Do you like my new dining room Space Shuttle? It was a gift from our babysitter. I joke about it, but I think it's the coolest thing in the whole house. I kind of want to sleep in it at night.

*****

We had several false starts Christmas morning. The first wake up was at three. Wes had a bad dream. Bears, I think.

The next wake up was around six-ten. Wes collapsed on our floor, crying. We have no idea why, but he went back to sleep after Ryan put him back in his bed.

Finally, everyone was awake and coherent. I asked Charlie if Santa had come and his eyes popped out of his head. HE BROUGHT US DINOSAURS! He couldn't believe it. I remembered being a kid and feeling Santa's presence in my own house Christmas morning, when I woke up with my stocking at the end of my bed, the Christmas tree lights turned on, the presents. I knew Charlie was picturing Santa walking around in our hallway, arranging the stockings. I was giddy just thinking about it. Wes caught on shortly after and they both tore into their stockings.

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Then we headed down the stairs and tried in vain to get them to eat something. We were really, really outmatched, mostly because we didn't want to wait around and eat bananas either. Santa had come through! Wes got his blue truck! Charlie got his walkie talkies (which are *awesome*. Today we took them to the park and let the kids walk all over the place and talk to us). James got his hand me down wooden stacking puzzle that we gave to Wes two years ago.

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Then James took a nap while the big boys put together the new Lego Space Shuttle and I milled around making mulled apple cider, listening to Bing Crosby (Santa put a CD in my stocking!), and gathering the wrapping paper together.

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Christmas dinner was at my aunt and uncle's house. It was a fabulous meal, as always. This year there were enough people to have a kids' table. My teenager cousin was especially thrilled to sit there.

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James was thrilled to get a brand new toy.

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My mom made costumes for all the kids to be in a Christmas pageant. THAT will be a new tradition because it was ADORABLE.



And this was the after-dinner entertainment. Charlie played so hard he woke up with sore muscles. I think there is a n XBox in our future.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Getaway

My sister organized a little mini-vacation for us all (Our family, her family, and my parents) this past weekend. She found the most perfect house. Quiet, remote, and close to the water. This was the view from Wes's bed.

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Fabulous.

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This was my view of Charlie, pretty much the whole time. After promising to not go in the water and not go anywhere but up the stairs to the house, he was given free reign of the (not very large) beach (yes, sometimes in his jammies). For a kid who is happiest being allowed to tinker outside by himself, it was absolute heaven. And when did he get so freaking grown up, I ask you??

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James loved the aquarium.

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This was a really sweet scene until Charlie screamed at Wes after Wes refused to respond to Charlie's attempts to teach him about sting rays.

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Then they got really rowdy so we locked them all in a cage.

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There was a touch tank and Ryan took this picture of me adjusting my glasses and James looking unacceptably grown-up and tall. This was right before Charlie casually asked the volunteer if the starfish he was petting had "regenerating limbs".

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Afterward we had lunch at the Rainforest Cafe, home of the most terrifying simulated indoor thunderstorm Wes has ever experienced.  He crawled over the top of the table and into my dad's lap after the first rumbling boom of thunder (Grandpa is Wes's favorite).

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We took a ferry ride across the bay and got to see dolphins and pelicans. It was very confusing to Wes, who had fallen asleep in the car, to wake up still in the car, but also on a boat. He got over it quickly and it turned out to be the highlight of his weekend. When we got home he burst into the house and yelled "WE GO ON A FERRY BOAT AND WE SEE DOLPHINS!!!"

Ryan assured me he was hanging onto James so tight in this picture that he thought he might be hurting him.

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After the ferry we drove to the beach for a picnic. I think the seagulls had more of a picnic than any of the kids. They do love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bananas!

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James was drawn to the ocean like a sea turtle hatchling. I followed him, curious where he would go, and he made it all the way to the water's edge and had to be scooped up seconds before he was soaked by a wave.

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We spent some time examining a mummified fish skeleton. It was not as disgusting as it sounds. It was really pretty cool, the fin bones were serrated! That was one bad-ass fish!

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After we all made a big fuss about how interesting it was, Charlie said quietly that he thought it was sad that the fish had died. Poor sweet boy! We buried the fish and Charlie said a prayer and marked the spot with some sticks.

I took this magical special picture when we stopped in the historic district on the way back to the house. Clearly, it was time to get those kids back into the house PRONTO. Charlie was being so ridiculous that Ryan had to take him to the car while Wes and I spent a lovely fifteen minutes picking out the very perfect treat at the candy store. I chose hot chocolate and Wes picked chocolate covered pretzels, which he shared with his oppressor Charlie once we got to the car. Wes is a nice kid.

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And speaking of boys who are all grown up, look who turned ONE while we were gone!

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He is SO BIG!*

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*There will be another post on this soon because HOW THE HECK IS HE ONE?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Welcome Home

Last week when I got home from San Francisco, the kids were already in bed.  I kissed their sweet faces, talked to Ryan for a few minutes, then went to bed myself, since it was nearly midnight.  Around 2:00 Charlie came wandering into our room.

He was cold and couldn't find Phent and he went to Ryan's side of the bed to ask for help.  He was all smiles when he saw me sit up in bed.  I led him back to his room and wrapped him in a quilt on the floor while I searched his bed for Phent.

As I smoothed the sheets and pulled the blanket and quilt up and tucked everything in tight he was talking, talking, talking.

"Mama, do you know what the biggest magnet is?  It's THE WHOLE WORLD.  The WHOLE WORLD is a magnet.  It has a north pole and a south pole just like a magnet.  And a compass needle sticks to the earth!  It sticks to the North Pole.  Santa doesn't live at the North Pole, that's just where the compass needle sticks.  The whole world is a magnet!"

I scooped him up and tucked him (and Phent) back into bed, rubbed his arms to warm him up, then leaned in to give him another hug.  He grabbed on and wouldn't let go.

"Night, night, Buddy!  See you in the morning!"

"The earth is a huge magnet!  'Grabbity' holds the moon in its ORBIT!"

"It's sleeping time, Sweetie, I'll see you tomorrow."

"And the compass needle sticks to the North Pole!"

"Night night, Charlie."

And then he was asleep.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

First Crush

Saturday afternoon we loaded up the family for a trip out for lunch and to Target for laundry detergent and hot dogs.  We all enjoyed a lunch of tacos and bean and cheese burritos at Rosa's before venturing back out into the frigid Central Texas winter weather (forty degrees).  Charlie declared that he wanted to walk to Target, which was a half-mile away, but it was cold and we were buying something heavy, so we compromised and parked really far away instead of walking the whole distance.

The kids happily held onto the sides of the cart and bobbed along as we made our way through the store, picking up all of the odds and ends on our list.  Hot dogs, thumb tacks, goodie bags, ribbon, flour, wipes!  One by one, into the cart.  Everyone was happy.  We were going to have plenty of time to get home and wrap the gift we were buying for our friend, whose birthday party we would attend later that afternoon.

The kids were bubbling over with excitement at the register, bouncing in place, climbing around each other and the cart, grappling over the plastic sticks that you use to separate your toilet paper and bananas from the next customer's DVDs and half and half.  So when Wes finally settled down underneath the shopping cart, on the place where you would put a large bag of dog food, or the big box of diapers, I was relieved.  One fewer kid bouncing around me like a crazed electron!  Hooray!

Ryan and I made a big stupid deal about "looking" for Wes before we left the store.  "Where's Wes?!" we asked each other, in mock confusion, "Did he go to the potty?  Is he at the water fountain?  I don't see him!  Where is he?"  Hysterical giggles came from under the cart.  "I'll sure miss Wes!  He was such a nice boy!"  Giggle, giggle, giggle.  Finally, with James in the baby seat, cart fully loaded, and Charlie bouncing along beside, we made our way out of the store and started down the aisle toward our car, which was, as you remember, parked Very Far Away because Charlie is trying to incorporate more cardiovascular activity into his daily routine or something.

About halfway down the aisle Wes began screaming.  SCREAMING screaming.  Charlie shrieked "HE RAN OVER HIS HAND WITH THE CART!"  And sure enough, when I peeled him off the parking lot, his left hand was covered in blood (and there was a situation with the nail on his middle finger that is too disgusting to detail here).

He cried.  OH did he cry.  He buried his head in my chest and cried and held his hand out at an awkward angle, shaking it from the terrible pain.  He couldn't even bear to hold Smelly with that hand.  We hobbled the rest of the way to the car and settled Wes in the passenger seat to investigate.  He could not calm down, his finger was dirty and bleeding and crushed.

Ryan got everyone settled in the car while I frantically ran back into Target for Something To Fix It--Toy Story Bandaids, gauze, children's Motrin, a bag full of ice, and M&Ms.  I planned to use the M&Ms to distract him while I dabbed the blood off his tiny little fingers and wrapped his whole body in Woody Bandaids.

Ryan was still trying to console him when I got back outside.  It was good I'd gotten the big bag of M&Ms; we all needed them, especially Charlie who went absolutely pale when he finally got a good look at the injury.  Even after administering candy and Motrin, it took two of us to get his middle and ring fingers wrapped in gauze and taped together with Bandaids.  I was on the phone with Urgent Care as we pulled out onto the main road.  They could get him in as soon as we could get there.

Not wanting to further the chaos, Ryan took Wes to the clinic while Charlie, James, and I went to the previously scheduled birthday party.  Charlie disappeared into the house as soon as we arrived, but ran through the kitchen multiple times to ask if I'd heard from Wes.  Ryan called right after they did the x-rays.  It wasn't broken, so they were going to clean it out really well and send him home with some antibiotic ointment and a splint to keep him from catching it on things.

Before we left the party, Charlie spent ten minutes crafting the Perfect Goodie Bag for Wes from the candy table, making sure he got AT LEAST five packs of Smarties, Wes's favorite.  He proudly carried it to Wes when we got home and found him in the playroom, sucking his thumb with his splinted middle finger in the air.  Wes was happy to see us and still a little tender about his finger.  We made sad faces together for a picture.



He was feeling much better today, but took a three hour nap this afternoon.  We all took a three hour nap this afternoon.  I'm going to need to toughen up before the two-wheeler years, the organized sports years, and, God-forbid, the skateboard years.  But he won't be such a snuggly little guy then, right?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It would be called a summary if it wasn't twenty pages long

Some highlights of my trip (the quick-ish version):

-Dinner and sightseeing with blog friend Kim.  I really can't do this justice with the time I have now, but we had a GREAT time.  It is not often you meet someone in so identical a life stage as you (especially when you are an early-career academic in the sciences with multiple small children) and we had lots to talk about.  She met me at my hotel at 3:00 and, when asked what I wanted to do, I said "let's walk!"  We saw EVERYTHING and returned to the hotel completely exhausted just before nine.  We had the most wonderful cup of hot chocolate at Ghiradelli and a delicious garlicky dinner at the Stinking Rose before walking through Chinatown on our way back.  When she got home she mapped our route and learned that we'd walked 5.6 miles!  It was the perfect not-too-cold night for it and her company was the best part.  You are welcome in South anytime, Kim!

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-Dinner and more Chinatown with blog friend Sarah!  Again, someone I met online who is now a real friend.  We last saw each other in person several years ago at BlogHer and were able to pick right up where we'd left off.  Which is to say, drinking wine in a swanky restaurant talking really, really loud.  I had the thought "Wow, I think I'm talking too loud" about ten seconds before she said "I feel like I'm being really loud!"  We covered a lot of ground, but I especially enjoyed talking politics.  We're two peas in a pod there.  Our Italian dinner was wonderful (including the best salad OF MY LIFE) and then we set out on foot for Chinatown so I could buy some souvenirs for the kids.  Most things were closed when we got there, but we had a really nice walk, including climbing the most enormous hill I have ever seen.

Seriously, it was ridiculous. And it just kept going and going.

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-Lunch with another blog friend, WhitMc!  She is lovely and also very helpfully reminded me to get a picture of us together before she had to go back to work, something I'd forgotten to do with Sarah and Kim.


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We had lunch with a view on top of Macy's in Union Square (this was taken from our table, it was spectacular).

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We compared notes about our awesome husbands and awesome kids and our jobs and future plans and priorities.  It was like we'd known each other far longer than the few months we've been online friends.  She is an ambitious attorney and had lots of great thoughts about the jobs vs. family question and was in general just really fun to talk to.  We had a great time.

-The conference.  OMG THE CONFERENCE.  I am so glad I came.  SO GLAD.  I am going to be processing this for weeks to come, but let me try to summarize it in one word for you now:

AWESOMESAUCE.

The AGU conference is HUGE, first of all, with physical scientists from every field imaginable.  When I say "huge", I mean there were 16,000 attendees, three large conference centers, and 20,000 talks, lectures, workshops, and posters!  Monday morning I stepped out of my hotel and into a throng of geoscientists that snaked its way the whole five blocks to the conference center, interrupted only by "don't walk" signs and the occasional open coffee shop door.  As I walked I heard snippets of conversation about this research project and that, this field trip to Antarctica, that crazy moment in South America, and the concentration of ozone over Greenland in 1990 vs 2012.  It was so energizing to be among the crowd of people so passionate about their work.  Everywhere I went in the city I played "spot the scientist" and it wasn't hard.  Some people even had their name tags on far from the conference center or were carrying their poster tubes around with them.  I loved it.

I especially enjoyed the sessions on global climate change education at the undergraduate level and the keynote address by author Simon Winchester (so, so good, will be buying and reading Atlantic very, very soon).

Two workshops were the absolute highlight of the conference for me.  Tuesday I spent the afternoon at one called "Starting a Research Program at a Primarily Undergraduate Institution," that sounded like a good fit after reading about it in the program.  The first part was a very informative series of talks about ways to involve undergrads in research, resources available to undergrad institutions, and that sort of thing and then we split into groups (groups of FOUR PEOPLE, I was not expecting this kind of one-on-one attention, it was a dream come true, honestly) and talked with NSF program officers about ideas and questions and ways to make our proposals better.  The NSF guy said he had remembered my proposal and we discussed some ways I could improve it for the next round, which was intimidating, but really, really helpful.  He was very approachable and helpful and not The Great And Powerful Oz, like I had been picturing in my mind.

The second workshop that proved extremely informative and helpful was called Integrating Quantitative Skills into your Geoscience Courses.  I thought it might be helpful as I prepare to teach Earth Science again this spring, but I did not realize how truly, mind-blowingly helpful it was going to be.  We were guided through website after website of educational modules that are exactly perfect for my class and lab.  And then, during the free time we had to work on our syllabi, I had a conversation with the person next to me who just happened to be teaching the same class, but with the benefit of multiple years of experience and a DEGREE IN PEDAGOGY.  She sent me her syllabus and walked me through her reasoning for structuring her course the way she did (which was much better than my method which was "the table of contents told me to do it this way").  Together we came up with some good in-class activities to reinforce quantitative skills while teaching earth science concepts relevant to the course.

I never expected to be surrounded by such a crowd of lovely, helpful people as I was here and I am so, so grateful.  My class, my research, and my career are going to be so much better for it.

On that note, I received an email while here that an abstract I submitted to another conference that's in October was accepted and that I should submit the accompanying twelve-page article by the end of April.  It is very exciting, but the energy and motivation I've gained here along with the prospect of totally rearranging my course and writing a new article (with yet-to-be complete analysis) gives me the feel of being on a runaway train and it will be interesting to see what happens when idealism and excitement of this week crashes up against the realities of my normal, extremely hectic life.  I really hope to continue the momentum I've gained here because it is worth it.  If there's one thing I can take away from this experience, it's that I love being a scientist, I love science education, and it's worth pushing through these awkward part-time years.

In fact, the only bad part about the week was that these guys weren't here to share it with me:

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I can't wait to get home!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

This is what a geoscientist looks like

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At 6:30 in the morning. After only a few sips of coffee. I'm on my way to San Francisco for a conference. A PROFESSIONAL CONFERENCE. Where I will be talking about things! Science things! And going to sessions on such interesting topics as getting NSF grants, including quantitative instruction in geoscience classes, and boundary layer fluxes in the sub-Saharan region and the effect of political instability in the region (that's not a real thing).

Anyway. I only cried a little bit after I kissed Ryan and Wes goodbye (everyone else was asleep) and climbed into the Neon for the harrowing thirty minute drive to the airport. Harrowing because I no longer drive in the dark, pretty much ever, and also because it was raining, which also never happens anymore (I'm also going to a session about that!).

I'm going to miss them like crazy. But I think I will learn a lot and have some fun.

And also sleep in a king-sized bed ALL BY MYSELF. Kinda looking forward to that part, especially after spending the morning curled up in a queen with a barely-potty trained three year old who is afraid of all precipitation.

On Friday we'll all be yelling at each other in the costume room for the church's Live Nativity and everything will be back to normal.  I'm kind of looking forward to that too.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Special Yuletide Memories!

This morning at my church's mom group my friend was in the middle of sharing a great thought about family and traditions and making your home a sanctuary for your family when I involuntarily snorted from the effort of holding in the giggles as I thought about this picture:

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In a nod to making our own traditions we made the assembling of the artificial, pre-lit tree as special as possible. Ryan was joking around and picked Wes up, along with the huge bushy mass of fake evergreen, so he could do the ceremonial putting on of the top third of the tree. "Come here, Tiny Tim!" he exclaimed as I stood ready with the camera. Wes started yelling "YOU'RE HURTING ME! OW OW OW, THE TREE IS HURTING ME!"

My life, it is an episode of "The Middle". Right down to the overflowing laundry basket on the dining room table.

But the rest of the tree trimming was very memorable and sweet, as we had intended all along. The kids were so thrilled to hang their homemade ornaments.

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Wes chose to focus his efforts on the bottom-most row of branches.

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Then Ryan plugged it in, accompanied by the Griswold Family Drumroll and the Hallelujah Chorus which serendipitously came on the internet radio at exactly the right moment, and the kids spent a few minutes figuring out if the lights were hot or not by touching every single one and giving us a report. "Red one's hot. Yellow one's hot. Blue one's hot. This red one's hot too."

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Then we had eggnog and cookies by tree-light.

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And read "This is the Stable" before bed. James wasted no time in removing half the ornaments this morning after breakfast. It's a good thing they're made of flour!