Sunday, December 20, 2015

My family, doing the things my family does.

We had a really fun weekend with Ryan's parents, who came down to take us all on the Santa train, an old steam train that takes you out in the country and back while providing hot chocolate, cookies, story time, and Santa.  It was SO FUN.  James keeps telling people we had to take a really long train ride to see Santa and when we got back to the same station we'd left and walked through a different door he was convinced we were in a new town.  I love him so much.

After the train ride and lunch we had a bunch of James's buddies over for bike fun and cupcakes for his fifth birthday.  Everyone brought their bikes and we completely took over our little street for a couple of hours of mass chaos.  James was thrilled to see his buddies and the big kids were thrilled that they all brought their older brothers.  (Note: this party was slapped together at the absolute last minute because James was super sad that he wasn't "having a party" on Friday morning over breakfast.  The last-minute cupcake and outside-play party is RAPIDLY becoming my favorite kind of party because it is both EASY and FUN and did I mention EASY?  The kids love it.  Win win win.  Win.  Win.)

That party seamlessly transitioned into James's birthday dinner, which we had a day early and also combined with our final fancy Advent Sunday Dinner dinner (also a day early). My parents came over and Ryan's parents were there and we had a FEAST of BBQ chicken, hot dogs, cilantro lime rice, challah, baked sweet potatoes, and salad plus wine and Italian soda all spread out on an overflowing table crowded with people, just the way I like it.



This morning James turned FIVE and we had our traditional cupcake breakfast. I asked him to hold up five fingers and this is what I got. The other kids gave him a fishing pole and then spent so much time showing him how it works that we had to skip Sunday School and go straight to big church an hour later. I honestly can't believe he is five and starting kindergarten next year. HE STILL HAS A BABY HEAD! Even Charley has noticed this--he said to me the other day about James "He looks so cute with his little round head sticking out of his sweater!" CAN HE GO TO KINDERGARTEN WITH A LITTLE ROUND HEAD? But seriously. He is adorable. The other day I had him and Mary at the store and he was being so loveable I said to him "Did you take cute pills this morning? Because I think you're even cuter than normal" and he got really shy and serious and wanted to know what cute pills are, where you get them, why you take them. I finally convinced him that I was kidding about the cute pills, but he just laughed nervously and wrapped his limbs around my leg.

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And now for a series of special, special moments I want to remember forever:

Today we had brunch with Ryan's parents at a nice restaurant.  Ryan and I were talking about making Yorkshire pudding.  I said to him "I'll have to ask the butcher for a roast beef that has a lot of fat on it" because the usual offerings at our grocery store don't yield enough juices for Yorkshire pudding.  Charley piped up loudly, "If you go to the butcher, can you get me a sheep bone?"  Without missing a beat, I responded "Oh that's right, you wanted to use it to make a weapon."  Ryan and his parents looked concerned but unsurprised.

Tonight we went to a party at my aunt and uncle's house.  It was a Christmas sing-a-long, complete with a fancy buffet meal, eggnog punch, and lots of good old fashioned benign neglect of the children, who were doing who knows what upstairs.  The singing part lasted about an hour, during which Ryan and Mary and I sat back and enjoyed ourselves with nary a care in the world.  When I got up to refill my drink I noticed James talking to someone in an adjacent room.  Later that man came over just bursting to tell me that James had said "I told Santa I want a knife to kill bad animals for Christmas."

After the singing ended, Ryan and I were getting ready to go when suddenly, Mary disappeared.  We were frantically running around the first floor looking for her, on the front porch, on the back porch, in the kitchen, out in the back yard, upstairs.  Finally I was coming back inside when someone yelled "She's in the bathroom!" and I walked into the master bedroom to find Mary walking out of the bathroom with her tights around her ankles and skirt in hand, proudly announcing "I GO POTTY.  PEE PEE.  I GO POTTY-PEE PEE. Terrifying. Also, yay?

Shortly after Charley asked me for a sheep bone to make a weapon with, Wes proudly ordered "pancakes and fries" from the waitress.  When the food came he poured syrup all over everything.  I asked him how ketchup and syrup mixed together tasted on fries he beamed at me proudly and encouraged "try it!!"  It wasn't bad!

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Tonight at the sing-a-long two of the kids there played Christmas carols for everyone to sing. Charley played "Angels We Have Heard on High". I'll let you watch the video (like I have approximately six-thousand times). It is amazing to me to watch them do Hard Things with grace and confidence. Playing the piano for a packed room of unfamiliar adults? Not something I could do. Charley? No problem. I love his little smile at the end. And the way he stuck with it when he had a bit of trouble in the second verse (not to keep making comparisons to myself, but there would have been tears and awkward running from the room).

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Totally makes up for him accidentally knocking a Santa figurine off the second floor landing onto the first floor where it landed in and broke someone's coffee cup. Win some/lose some. But seriously, it was a really, really fun weekend.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The blog equivalent of stepping out into the sun, squinting at the brightness

Wow guys, it's been so long since I posted that Mary turned into a Tween!

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No but seriously, soon I will be able to tell you all about the time last weekend when I got my hand snagged by a fishing lure in my garage and had to be cut out and driven to the emergency room by my neighbor. I'm almost ready to laugh about it. Almost.

But how can you get hooked (by a fishing lure) and stuck to an upholstered chair in the garage and have to be freed by your neighbor and then go on to write about more ordinary things without mentioning it? It's like a big, fishhook shaped elephant in the room.

The other thing that happened was finals week, but who really wants to hear me complain about my hard, hard job that I can do from my couch while eating Christmas candy?

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(But HOLY S*** you guys it was the PERFECT STORM of grading because I (stupidly?) gave them an extra week to work on their climate lab reports, a fifteen to twenty page document that they ended up turning in THE SAME DAY AS THE FINAL which meant I had twenty lab reports, sixty finals, and sixty final essays to grade OVER THE WEEKEND. The weekend we had plans EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. I got the lab reports done on Friday, BARELY, which meant I did the multiple choice Saturday night, short answer and most of the essays Sunday night until I lapsed into unconsciousness, more essays Monday morning, the last two straggler finals also Monday mid-morning, then the totaling and entering and calculating and spreadsheeting and entering into the online system in a frantic two hour period immediately before I had to pick the kids up today. So that was awesome. Probably could have saved some time by not documenting the experience via live Facebook updating.)

Friday night was the annual Live Nativity at our church. We were all signed up to be shepherds.

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But then Wes and James wanted to try out ALL THE PARTS and were in three more shows. I heart them.

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Saturday afternoon I spent baking three kinds of cookies/Christmas desserty things for the party we were going to that night and the kids played outside (because it was IN THE MID-SEVENTIES, which is doing NOTHING for my baseline climate change anxiety level).

Saturday night we had my work holiday dinner and then a friend holiday party and Charley and Wes had their piano studio party ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Thankfully my parents were free to help make that bit of schedule magic happen. Sunday morning we lit the Advent candles at church as a family and no one picked his nose or fell into the handbells. Charley read the passage, Wes lit the candles. It was peaceful and lovely and MAYBE WE'RE GETTING THE HANG OF THIS GOING OUT IN PUBLIC THING (although James and Mary had to be taken to the nursery afterward because they were too wild even for the casual service we were attending, so no).

Sunday afternoon was cozy and filled with cooking. I've been making fancy Advent dinners on Sundays this month and this week we had London broil, baked sweet potatoes, and asparagus and for dessert I made this gingerbread trifle with cranberry custard and whipped cream thing I saw on the Food Network while I was running on the elliptical (COUNTERPRODUCTIVE).

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(Pre whipped cream)

Looks a little weird, but HOLY COW YOU GUYS it was amazeballs. It was like bread pudding except gingerbread and without all the stupid raisins. Want more right now, but no--eight egg yolks and an entire stick of butter. Yum. O.

Apropos of nothing, here's a picture of the wall behind our TV. We finally got our grown up TV and hung it on the wall and there was a big empty space around it, so I set out to fill the empty with something that would come close to my budget of zero dollars. Fortunately for me, the $130 shelf I'd been eyeing at Ikea was painted the wrong color and instead I found a different, smaller shelf at Lowes for THIRTEEN DOLLARS! Then I went to the Goodwill and picked up all the knickknacks that caught my eye and an embroidered table runner that I decided to hang vertically on the wall in a moment of inspiration.

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And finally, the tree in our front yard turned really pretty on Friday.

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You are all up to date. I am going to go sleep like a dead person now because WOW.

Friday, December 4, 2015

This is not in the grateful holiday spirit, not at all

A few days ago the Pandora app on my phone stopped working. Instead of filling my workout with delightful delightful inappropriate rap and hip hop music, it produced a series of empty spaces, skips, beeps, and partial songs that made me feel like my head was going to launch off of my body like a roman candle. No amount of gentle whacking or shaking (gentle because Ryan just bought me this phone after Mary and I destroyed my old one) would fix it. Neither did threatening it with profanity under my breath.

I gave up on my workout in disgust after fifteen minutes. In addition to my spine not going into lockdown, Pandora is the only reason I have continued my Olympic racewalking regimen. I didn't know how much I looked forward to disappearing into my headphones for thirty minutes each day until it was rudely taken away from me. To add insult to injury, when I got off the elliptical, in a giant huff, and reached for my coat, something weird happened and I banged my hip so hard on the neighboring elliptical that I saw stars and now have a deep bruise that kills every time my purse bumps it. Happy holidays.

Naturally after all of this frustration the only thing to do was go directly to Sonic for a breakfast taco and a huge cup of tea.

Yesterday, I tried again. This time I went for a walk in my neighborhood. Pandora worked fine all morning while I folded laundry but as soon as I struck out on foot it started behaving stupidly again. This time I determined not to let it make me angry, but staying calm and rational in the face of malfunctioning electronics has never been my strong suit. This time it took a cake pop from Starbucks before I could face the rest of my day. OK two cake pops from Starbucks.

Last night Ryan messed around with it and tried to fix it and it seemed to be fixed this morning, UNTIL I GOT TO THE Y and then it started DOING THE SAME STUPID THING. I reinstalled it multiple times and did everything the Android user forum suggested to fix THIS EXACT PROBLEM that apparently was also happening IN 2011!!! No luck. So, I finally just uninstalled it and resigned to do my workout listening to the audio from one of the fourteen TVs playing Fox News at the Y. At least it would help keep my heartrate up.

And I planned to come home and write an angry blog post about how Pandora is annoying and useless (but also that I really miss my Van Morrison Station and Central Market Holiday Radio and whyyyyyyyy????) and that I was now going to gain thirty pounds because of my inability to work out and propensity for stress eating.

But then I remembered that my friend Peter had recommended Spotify a while back. I'd never tried it because PANDORA WAS WORKING JUST FINE and I had three years of thumbs up invested in my Van Morrison station that I was not about to leave behind.

So I downloaded the Spotify app, typed "workout" into the search function, and found A DELIGHTFUL ARRAY OF OPTIONS.

And I spent a gleeful thirty minutes on the elliptical. OK twenty-five minutes. And I did not injure myself this time. PROGRESS.

I am now home thinking really hard about straightening up before the kids get out of school while I listen to "Choral Christmas". It's not exactly the same, but it also probably won't give me type II diabetes like continuing to try and make Pandora happen will. So I call it a win. Sort of anticlimactic if you ask me.

Monday, November 30, 2015

WALL TO WALL FAMILY FUNTIMES

SO!

After Monday's hellish day of terrible behavior that evaporated the moment Ryan pulled into the neighborhood that evening, I decided that we were, under no circumstances, going to repeat that situation ever, EVER again. So Tuesday morning I declared that we were going to GO ON A HIKE. Not just any hike, we decided to tackle the Hill of Life. A huge, long hill trail that ends at a beautiful waterfall. I reasoned that if they were physically exhausted, it would make it harder for them to hit each other.

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On the descent. The good thing about this trail is that you start at the TOP and go DOWN, which means that if you ever want to see your car again, you have no choice but to go back up.

Wes had a bit of a meltdown near the bottom because they couldn't decide who was going to be "the line leader", but we ignored him and eventually he rallied and we all enjoyed throwing sticks and rocks into this stream for a while.

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Going back up the hill was no problem--Charley and Wes SANG part of the way up. In fact, what I wasn't expecting was that the real endurance event would be finding a parking place at the downtown restaurant the kids chose for lunch while all of us were starving. I nearly despaired of having a basket of yummy waffle fries with horseradish sauce and took us all to Whataburger, but finally found a semi-legal parking spot a block away. The kids were awesome, by the way, but I was on the verge of a major freakout. We all felt better after some lunch. Then we went home and had a movie nap until the little kids were done napping and we could pick them up.

After our success on Tuesday we decided to go to an interactive art exhibit on Wednesday morning and lucked out by getting there early enough to be pretty close to the front of the line. We even found an amazing parking spot that was FREE right across the street (KARMA FROM TUESDAY). We had to wait about an hour for it to open, but the kids had a huge field to run in and lots of other kids to play with, so it was really quite nice.

And, friends, it was SO WORTH THE WAIT.

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After that we had lunch and went to a park where we discovered, sadly, that our favorite canoe rental place was washed away in a flood last month. But we rallied and spent an hour throwing rocks into the water (it never gets old!) and then visited a watershed exhibit they have nearby, played on the playground, and went for a walk. Then we got in the massive holiday traffic to go back north to pick up the little kids and head home for the break. We played outside with neighbors for two hours in preparation for the four days of cold wet weather we had in the forecast. Then we went home for pizza and Charley Brown Thanksgiving.

Thursday was the family Thanksgiving at my parents' house, which was so, so fun as always. The kids played "So You Think You Can Dance" and "Pin the Pilgrim Hat on the Turkey" and also "How Many Izze's Can I Drink Before Someone Notices the Empties Piling Up in the Recycle Bin" and our other favorite game "Eat All the Pepperoni Off the Appetizer Platter". The meal was delicious and we went home with a bag of leftovers that we are still enjoying over here. Since we left at five and the weather was still warm, we decided to go for a walk before driving all the way home so someone didn't take a deadly thirty minute car nap that would completely destroy bedtime. We found a park near my parents' house that turned out not to be good for walking but it was GREAT for, you guessed it, THROWING ROCKS IN THE WATER. We did this for an hour even though an aggressive drizzle started to fall and it started getting dark. We love playing in nature in our Thanksgiving finery!!

We got home around 6:30, put Mary-No-Nap to bed, and all had two pieces of pie for dinner. Glorious.

Friday we planned to stay home all day and avoid the insanity, but found ourselves getting restless around 10:00. It was pouring, so we headed to the Y for Open Gym and played basketball and keep-away, and soccer for a long time until everyone was pink-faced and sweaty. Then, since we still had some time before the cold front, we went to an outdoor restaurant with a fun playground to have lunch. I checked the weather on the way there and the front had passed through the station north of us (about ten miles away), so for some reason I assumed we had a little bit of time before it got cold in our town. Ryan went in and ordered and I sat on a bench and enjoyed the balmy, seventy five degree day while the kids played. Then Ryan came out and sat by me and I turned around *just* as the flag at the bank next door hauled around from South to North. Uh oh. No sooner had I said to Ryan "Uh oh, the wind shift just arrived" than the wind picked up and the temperature dropped twenty degrees almost instantly. It was so fast my glasses fogged up. We (Ryan and I, because the kids cannot detect temperature) ran inside the covered (heated!) eating area, but the kids stayed outside to play until the food got there. Seriously you guys it was freaking freezing. BUT SO COOL TO EXPERIENCE THE FRONTAL PASSAGE!

Friday afternoon while the little kids napped, Ryan and Charley and Wes braved Best Buy to get the TV we've been planning for for the last two years after our last TV blew up (literally). He chose a smart TV since we don't have cable and watch most of our TV on Netflix. They brought it home and installed it while the kids ate dinner. Then he turned on a football game to check it out and OH MY WORD. Friends, it was like WE WERE THERE. We have not been able to read the score on a football game FOR NEARLY EIGHT YEARS. We couldn't even SEE most of the play action on our old TV (which was a 20 inch cube my sister used in college). THE PLAYERS WERE LIFE SIZED. We quickly put the kids to bed so we could drink beer and watch Christmas Vacation on it. Amazing. What a great time to be alive.

Saturday we went back downtown for a parade (it was FREEZING) and then home for lunch and then some friends came over to watch a movie on the new TV and then Sunday was spent at church for Hanging of the Greens and the usual cookie social. And things are good. It was a good break. And it was not easy to wake up to the alarm and put on uniforms again, HOO BOY, but NOT MUCH LONGER UNTIL CHRISTMAS BREAK!!!

Monday, November 23, 2015

In which the kids and the thermostat behave in exactly the same way

The big, funny, ha ha freaking HA joke around here is that nothing electronic works for me, it only works for Ryan.  This is undeniably frustrating, as I attempt to sneak the thermostat up a few degrees in the middle of a frosty Texas January only to have the whole thing ROUTINELY collapse in on itself and die.

My favorite is when I snuggle back underneath the covers and fall asleep to the sound of the furnace filling my house with enough heat to prevent the pipes from freezing and the butter from turning to concrete on my kitchen counter only to wake up unable to feel my nose and discover that the FREAKING THING RESET AND TURNED ITSELF DOWN TO 60 WHILE I WAS ASLEEP.

Even more frustrating than that is when I turn the heater on for the first time of the season (like, for example, last night), go give Mary a bath, return to check on the (notoriously unreliable, at least for me) thermostat, discover that not only has it turned itself down, IT HAS COMPLETELY SHUT ITSELF OFF.

This is when Ryan arrives on his white horse to find me standing in the hallway, holding a be-toweled toddler and screaming G-rated obscenities at the freaking thermostat, calmly pushes the "up" button several times, then says calmly "You have to push 'hold' too."

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I DID PUSH FREAKING HOLD YOU DON'T THINK I KNOW HOW TO PUSH FREAKING HOLD?  I PUSH HOLD EVERY SINGLE TIME AND IT DOES THIS TO ME *EVERY FREAKING TIME*.

But you know what?  It works for him.  ON THE FIRST TRY.  EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Which is why we do not have a normal dial thermostat from the seventies, one that is not possessed by a Satanic spirit WHO HATES ME.

(Also last night, when we went back downstairs after bedtime and the time came to adjust the downstairs thermostat he politely asked if I would like him to take care of it.  As.  If.)

The remote for the garage door opener is the same way.  I can push it seventy-five times with no result, but then hand it to Ryan in frustration, and BING!  Angels sing and the DOOR OPENS.

This is highly convenient because when I come home with four kids who all need to go to the bathroom and a trunk full of groceries RYAN IS NOT THERE TO OPEN THE GARAGE DOOR FOR ME.  And so then someone (or sometwo) end up whizzing in the side yard while I futz with my housekey.

We are delightful neighbors.

As annoying as this bewildering phenomenon is when it comes to appliances and remote controls, it is four frillion times annoying when it happens TO THE KIDS.

Today, it took us nearly an hour to get home from preschool pickup because I had told Charley I was going to pull over for sixty seconds for every nasty comment he made to a sibling.  I made four laps through one 7-11 parking lot.  I am lucky no one called the police.

And this was after they had a physical fight in front of a thrift store over a pair of pants I had bought James that fit NEITHER OF THEM.  And the smacking that happened when Charley wanted to use the Buddy Buck machine first and Wes beat him to it.  AND the MUTUAL BEATDOWN that I allowed to happen in front of the grocery store because I was starting to wonder if maybe I WAS THE CRAZY ONE.

I am sure there were some judgmental looks but I couldn't see them because I was disinterestedly scrolling through my phone and wondering if I'd get a 2nd or 3rd degree misdemeanor for breaking into the beer I'd just bought while still on the premises.  YOU DON'T KNOW MY LIFE, HAPPY HOLIDAY SHOPPERS.

So after all of this I came home feeling completely defeated.  It was five o'clock and I needed to make dinner.  Everyone was grouchy (INCLUDING ME).  But shortly after I got all the groceries put away and not fifteen minutes before Ryan got home it was ALL KUMBAYA AND BROTHERLY LOVE ALL OF THE SUDDEN.

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What in the everloving HELL, you guys?!

Fifteen minutes ago I had to let a kid walk home (one block) after he KICKED A BROTHER IN THE HEAD WHILE I WAS DRIVING, but now? Crafting, kindness, seasonal piano music, dinner on the stove. Just in time for Papa to come home!! "Oh look at my darling family, it is practically the set of a Little Women production, I am so happy to be back among the warmth of my--holy shit what happened to you?!" he must think as he walks through the living room of tranquility and into the kitchen to find me, hair askew, crazy-eyed, on the verge of tears, wearing the same clothes I woke up in, chopping up ground beef with perhaps a BIT more vigor than strictly necessary.

JUST LIKE THE THERMOSTAT.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Two stories which turn out to be related

1: There has been this disgusting pint glass full of brown water and slime on my dining room window sill for a couple of weeks. We live with a budding field biologist, so this is not unusual and when I passed by it I thought fond things about Charley and thought I should take a picture of the glass as a belated and snarky thank-you-note to whoever gave us that set of glasses as a wedding present. I did not want to throw it away until Charley was ready because there's always a chance that I would be killing some beloved living thing or interrupting an important experiment. But the other day, I was relieved to find Ryan washing out the glass in the sink because, please, no one, no matter how crunchy, wants a fermenting vat of mud and leaves four feet from where they eat.

2: EVERY SINGLE NIGHT FOR TWO WEEKS when I sit on my couch doing after bedtime things like eating cookies, watching TV, and when I'm feeling really crazy, cross stitch, I have been getting MULTIPLE MOSQUITO BITES. I have also been loudly complaining to Ryan about how it's NOVEMBER AND I AM STILL GETTING MOSQUITO BITES. There has also been a significant amount of fretting about vector borne disease and climate change and how the whole family is going to die from West Nile because of these freaking fracking mosquitoes that REFUSE TO DIE because it continues to be eighty degrees out IN NOVEMBER. It's always helpful when your neuroses can be supported by peer reviewed literature.

This morning I walked into the kitchen to find Charley frozen in place like an Irish Setter eyeing a bunny. As I approached, he suddenly reached out and grabbed at the air.

"GOT IT!!" he exclaimed happily.

"What?" I wondered aloud as I looked around, concerned that hallucination might be side effect from the new dose of medication he recently started taking.

"THE MOSQUITO!!" he told me with excitement. "I've been *RAISING LARVA IN THE DINING ROOM*!"

Deep breaths.

"Are you talking about... the glass full of mud and leaves?" I asked carefully.

"YES!!!"

He was so proud. I was caught between pride and horror.

"Oh, shoot, sweetheart, Papa didn't realize that was important and he cleaned it out. I'm so sorry."

(Not sorry, not sorry at all)

"Oh, OK. No problem!" he said, then skipped out the door for school.

I also confirmed that there was just ONE mosquito ranch in the house because that is not the good kind of surprise.

I...just...WOW. We've been operating a mosquito farm for two weeks. Meanwhile the city has been SPRAYING THE AIR TO PROTECT TRICK OR TREATERS FROM WEST NILE. Things it doesn't occur to you to teach your kids: Do not cultivate disease vector pests inside the house. Please and thank you. And let's hope the people over at Vector Control don't read blogs.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Killing it at this parenting thing

This morning started bright and early at about 2:00 AM when Mary began screaming in confusion after (I'm assuming) waking up next to her baby gate and not in her bed and I stumbled over there in my Mucinex haze (now that my body is processing all fluids through my sinus cavities, this is how I sleep at night) and nearly killed myself by tripping over Wes, who was sleeping on the floor in the hallway because he and Charley couldn't get themselves under control and go to sleep by the time I wanted to go to bed, so I slapped a quilt down on the floor in the hallway and separated them instead of putting someone in my bed like I normally do because I was DONE and wanted my bed for myself. I was so confused by all the screaming and the mysterious kid passed out on the hallway floor that I swatted at the wall and turned on the light, which obviously made everything better.

Shortly after that Ryan arrived on the scene to find me standing in my underwear, blinded and confused, surrounded by one screaming kid and one kid who was awakened by the screaming and the almost getting stepped on and the blinding light of the sun. Somehow he found the coherent thoughts required to help Wes back to his bed.

I followed his lead and took Mary back to her bed, along with her cohort of stuffed animals. I pulled the covers up and kissed her little warm forehead and she thanked me for my efforts by saying in a chillingly clear, slightly annoyed voice, "I need my baby too." *shudder* I obediently retrieved her naked baby doll from the floor by the gate and brought it to her then stumbled back to my bed for another few hours.

The next time I woke up it was because two kids were downstairs arguing about how to make hot chocolate, having just finished up a pre-dawn Halloween candy bender. It was still dark but the clock told me that it was time to get up anyway.

But the good news is that the house looked AMAZING thanks to our after-dinner family chore time. I finally got sick of being the family maid and made chore charts for everyone yesterday which included "bike checker" (Wes, who goes outside and makes sure all the wheeled things are back in the garage before dinner), "toy cleanup" (James and Mary haul all the kid crap back into the playroom from the rest of the first floor), "clear table and load dishwasher" (Charley and Wes, and might I say that watching this happen was a beautiful beautiful moment), "make room neat" (everyone because I am tired of doing "all" the laundry only to find a hidden cache of dirty uniform shirts stuffed under someone's desk chair and also stepping on sharp things when I go in there in the middle of the night to make sure everyone is still breathing).

Also on there: shoes in basket, backpack/coat on hook, and brush teeth because SERIOUSLY. And Charley's other job is to empty the recycle bin but yesterday I was out front getting James home from the neighbor's for dinner and when I came inside the back door was open and I heard a huge crash followed by a kid yelling at the trash can like a crazy old man. Apparently Charley had a little trouble while trying to dump the recycling into the big bin and dumped a week's worth of beer bottles and macaroni and cheese boxes all over the back yard. Oh, and Wes saw "shoes in basket" and immediately complied so he could be the first to check off a chore then proceeded to play outside all afternoon in a brand new pair socks, which made huge holes in the soles that, in his words, "prove that I am a man." LEARNING IS AN EXCITING JOURNEY!

Mondays are easy because the big kids don't have homework and I let their piano lesson count as "practice" and we don't have any evening activities. Tonight we will have homework and piano practice and also there is a Cub Scout meeting so I expect a lot less chipper cooperation and a lot more "HURRY HURRY HURRY COME ON WHERE ARE YOUR SHOES PLEASE JUST GET IN THE CAR!!"

Also, right now they are willing to work for stickers. This will not last.

Anyway. Onward. Somehow it is only Tuesday and we still have a week after this one until Thanksgiving Break comes. Poop.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Halloween/Birthday Weekend EXTRAVAGANZA

Well HELLO. As normally happens for even the smallest cause for celebration around here (Hey, friends, it's TUESDAY AT THREE PM, LET'S MEET ON THE DRIVEWAY FOR SOME WINE AND MUTUAL COMPLAINING!), Halloween turned into a five day funfest. It started simply enough when my neighbors and I decided that we should have a little get together for our friends after trick or treating. Nothing major, just a two-lawn, movies projected on the garage door, chili dog bar, karaoke sort of thing with a little teeny tiny keg of beer (from our neighbor who is a brewer, like, professionally).

Then we started having planning meetings, and then we started getting together to decorate and calling ourselves the Halloween Committee. I highly recommend forming your own Halloween Committee.

Wednesday night Ryan came home to this spontaneous pumpkin carving party:

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Mary went straight to work scraping all the seeds out of her pumpkin into a bowl, then dumping them all back into the pumpkin and starting again. Hashtag Montessori baby.

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And also this massive Barbie party that started spontaneously on my neighbor's front porch.

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Thursday night was more of the same, minus the pumpkins, add in the fourteen kids hanging out in the retention pond across the street. Friday night was pouring and Charley and Wes had a Halloween party at their piano teacher's house, so they dressed up and headed over there through a massive downpour.

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You know what makes driving a peaceful and safe experience? Hurricane rain and a four year old who is screaming because he mistakenly thought all of us were going to the party. To add insult to injury, we were not coming home to a third day of raucous neighborhood kid fun because it was pouring and instead we were going to watch Frozen on the couch and then go to bed early.

When I went back to pick up Charley and Wes I waited outside for ten minutes before having to go inside and LOOK FOR THEM IN THE HAUNTED MAZE. Which is good because I've always wanted to check out the haunted maze.

Saturday was Faculty and Staff Appreciation Day at my school's football game!

These kids, they love a Pirate theme.

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ARRRGH

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Warm ups.

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And then I got to go out on the field and shake all the players' hands with all the faculty. It was a really fun day. Especially because I could hear four little kids screaming "HI MAMA!!!!!" from the stands.

Mary got REALLY INTO THE GAME.

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"GO PI-YATS!"

We started to leave during halftime, but then the dancing girls came out onto the field and the boys were rendered mute and immobile.

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"I don't understand but I cannot look away."

After several more angsty hours, it was FINALLY time to put on costumes and assemble with the others in my neighbor's driveway. Attitudes were not awesome!! I realized later that everyone was super crabby because it was nearly six o'clock and no one had eaten anything since the hot dog they had at the football game. I only figured this out after Charley snarled something rude at an adult WHILE WE WERE TRICK OR TREATING and then came unglued every time the pack of older boys ran to the next house and he couldn't keep up. Ryan, fortunately, wondered aloud if he might be hungry, and after the next nasty remark from Charley I ran into my friend's house (we were a block away from ours) and made him a peanut butter sandwich. I gave it to him on the run and the next thing I saw was a streak of black as he ran to catch up with his friends, in a MUCH HAPPIER MOOD. Hangry is NO JOKE. The terrible mood put a damper on the pre-trick or treat pictures though.

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Hungry Dementor, Harry Potter, Spiderman, and Hermoine. Just in time for the Christmas card!!

We went around a few blocks as a huge mob, with the big boys leading the way at a dead run then came back to the houses for the party, which did not disappoint. Sadly, there are not very many pictures, but there was Charlie Brown Halloween, bobbing for apples (Charley bobbed for ten apples and had to change his shirt four times), food food and more food, cupcakes, sangria, beer, ring toss, bean bag game, and tons of fun people (also: candy, or CANDY I should say, given the detritus I found on my lawn the next morning). Ryan finally put Mary to bed after ten o'clock. The rest of us finally went in around eleven. Let's just say this is the first time I've REALLY TRULY APPRECIATED DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME.

We laid low on Sunday then rallied on Monday for Charley's NINTH BIRTHDAY. NINE!!!

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The breakfast cupcakes were leftover from Halloween.

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He takes wish-making very seriously.

Birthday dinner was frito pie, followed by presents. He was SO SWEET AND EXCITED about the Dangerous Book for Boys, his new fishing reel, and the big stack of blank composition books and mechanical pencils we gave him (When he woke up that morning he told me he was disappointed to wake up because he'd been having a dream that he was surrounded by tons of blank writing journals and it made him so happy, so how could we not do that for him?)--he's already filled several pages of two of them with a detailed story about a night and a swami and a snake and a lot of drawings of Wimpy Kid characters.

After dinner we had our usual pack of kids over for cupcakes.

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And then BOOM it was midweek with all the dropoffs, classes, labs, doctor's appointments, choir, dinners, breakfasts, lunches, laundry and other nonsense that entails. Nova was awesome last night and followed by a series I've been watching on the human brain. My cross stitch project is moving along nicely and we have rain in the forecast. After a nonstop weekend of crazy fun everyone is content to play games and read and color (*for now). I'd say things are pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Crabby

Yesterday afternoon was kind of crappy for a variety of reasons, the biggest reason being the kid who just couldn't get it together in the car on the way home from school then finally threatened to punch a brother, earning him a trip upstairs for homework immediately after dinner, do not pass go do not climb into the storm drain with your best friend from around the corner. He whined and yelled and came out of his room fourteen frillion times. He threw his homework folder down the stairs. He locked us out on the porch. He sprayed a brother with Windex (after cleaning off the back window of the van after I asked him not to write in the dust and he wrote in the dust anyway).

Then Ryan came home later than expected and by that time we were all stress eating cookies and watching Frozen (or, as Mary calls it, "Let Uh GO? Let Uh GOOOOO?").

I had a bottle of wine and a glass all ready to go that I never opened because *apparently* hot dogs are on the no no list post-gallbladder removal and I felt like ass.

I went upstairs and read for a while with the exiled kid, because his behavior turned out to be from some very hard things that had happened at school (which, I have a shitty day ALL THE TIME and I have never once SPRAYED YOU WITH WINDEX OR LOCKED YOU OUT OF THE HOUSE).

Bedtime was also kind of a disaster, as it can be sometimes.

Finally, it was quiet upstairs and Ryan and I were standing in the kitchen. It was after nine o'clock and we were both exhausted. I thought it might just be the kind of day where you go to bed early and hope for better things in the morning.

But then while we were standing there talking I happened to look over at Wes's hermit crab tank to see one of the crabs, THAT WE THOUGHT WAS DEAD A MONTH AGO, WALK OUT OF ITS LITTLE COCONUT HOUSE AND GET IN THE WATER DISH.

Now. We have not fed or watered this poor thing in a MONTH since we THOUGHT IT WAS DEAD. We bought Wes a fish tank and two goldfish because we felt so bad about his pets dying (one of the goldfish also died, but Fear is still hanging on. During the Children's Sermon the other day the minister asked the kids "What do you pray for?" and Wes responded, INTO THE MICROPHONE "That my pets will stop dying" OMG.).

Apparently it was HIBERNATING OR SOMETHING.

Ryan immediately filled up its water bowl and put the crab back in for a nice long drink because as far as I know, hermit crabs ARE NOT DESERT CREATURES.

I have not seen any sign of Harmless (the crab's name, the other crab, Destroy, is deader than a doornail, at least I THINK SO and hope so because he received a burial by city curbside pick up today) this morning, but I will be buying hermit crab food on my way home.

After that happy news I managed to finish the flower border on my cross stitch project, write my exam for class this week, and have a nice conversation with Ryan.

Moral of the story, don't count your chickens before they hatch. Or your dead hermit crabs until they flip upside down and start to grow fuzz.

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Harmless LIVES.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Lots of rain and lots of cake. A GREAT weekend.

Busy weekend over here you guys. I mean, it was supposed to be WAY busier, with a total of FOUR commitments on Saturday, beginning at eight o'clock in the morning with soccer, but since we had the giant Franken-Rainstorm that dropped more than seven inches of rain on us overnight and into the early morning hours (and because it KEPT RAINING ALL DAY) all but the most fun of those things got cancelled. SCORE!

So instead of rushing out the door to soccer, I took the only two awake kids to get donuts and drive around looking at flooded creeks. When we got home Wes had started his six-hour Star Wars marathon that lasted into the afternoon when he had to pause it so we could go to a birthday party. We also brought him a donut. Pretty much Wes's favorite day ever.

On the way to the birthday party we had to stop and admire what is normally a popular children's swimming/wading hole that had turned into a raging torrent from all the rain.

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The party was a ton of fun, with cute animal games for the kids, really absurdly delicious cake and lots of other yummy treats (Wes went a little bit nuts on treats, this information becomes important later), and wine for the grownups. It was cool and rainy outside and snug and cozy inside, just the way I like it. Near the end I noticed Charley and Wes were wrestling over an inflatable Sun on the floor while James and Mary sat at a table coloring and secretly wished I could go back in time and send all the kids to Montessori school. We went home after that to the beef stew and mashed potato dinner I had put into the crockpot. Turns out we shouldn't have encouraged them to eat anymore because by bedtime Charley had the dry heaves and Wes had a 102 fever THAT HE GOT FROM OVERINDULGING AT THE PARTY. I mean seriously. Thank goodness the piano party Charley and Wes had scheduled got moved to Friday due to the rain because I cannot imagine what would have happened in the back of my van had they been allowed an hour's worth of unsupervised candy access. UNSPEAKABLE THINGS.

After they both slept it off they woke up feeling better and we went to church. As usual, while we chatted with friends in the Narthex, the kids were outside doing who knows what in the rain (Oh, did I forget to mention that Charley and Wes had a stamp-fight in the back of the car Saturday night?)

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And then on the way to the car we gathered them into the pumpkin patch (the sign was folded a funny way so that to Charley and Wes it looked like it said "DUMP-KIN patch" which was so hilarious I was worried they might stop breathing.

There was a surprising amount of cooperation this year.

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And this was our keeper. Sorry that your face is only partly visible, Third Baby, everyone is looking the same direction and no one is picking his nose, so THIS IS IT.

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We had a relaxing couple of hours at home and then headed to another party with friends at a house in our neighborhood. The kids were having such a blast doing I have no idea what upstairs (all I know is that it was loud and that every once in a while a kid poked his head over the landing and yelled something nonsensical about BATTLESTATIONS which is pretty much the ONLY way they know how to party) that we decided not to interrupt them to eat chili with us and instead just give them sandwiches at home later on. When we got home I told them they were having PB&J for dinner and James piped up "I already had dinner at the party" and when we asked him what he'd eaten he said "I had some of the soup [chili]. Somebody helped me get it and take it to the table." HA!! IT TAKES A VILLAGE!!!!

(Wes helped himself to two pieces of pie, a pumpkin bar, and a large chocolate chip cookie at the party, but fortunately lost interest before finishing it so we did not end up with a reprisal of "I ate so much I got a 102 fever")

We left after a loud fight erupted upstairs between Charley and Wes that involved both hitting AND biting which means we maintain our streak with these particular friends of both A) Leaving an awkwardly long time after the rest of the guests and B) Leaving with at least one kid screaming. We are the BEST.

After PB&J and homework time everyone dropped off to sleep without a PEEP and I worked on my cross stitch project in my bed. It might have been the best weekend we've had in a long time.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Beast mode*

*I don't know why but I heart that expression. I used it on FB this morning along with a picture of the massive rain event that's a'comin for us. It's going to be EPIC, to quote the kids.

Well, APPARENTLY, once you talk about a shark biting someone right before your very eyes, it's really hard to pick up the blog after that and talk about, I don't know, how much fun I had singing along with Bruce Springsteen while I put chili in the crockpot this morning (true story).

I guess I could tell you about the time Charley and I were YELLED AT BY A CRAZY PERSON at the park yesterday.

I met up with two friends and a big pack o' kids at the park yesterday afternoon. It was a really gorgeous afternoon and the park wasn't crowded AND it had a fence all the way around it so the kids were free ranging and happy and I was talking to friends and happy and it was a really very nice afternoon.

It was nice until Charley came up to me on the verge of tears to tell me that some kids were mistreating a frog and some adult had told him "It's just a frog, it doesn't have any rights" and I was like "WUT?" and immediately got up and followed him back to where he had been on the other side of the playground.

He saw a bunch of kids walking after the frog, who was hopping on the ground. Some of the kids were friends who we had come to the park with. They weren't doing anything wrong, just following the frog. Charley walked over and calmly picked up the frog. He had just walked back over to me when this woman walked up and YELLED "You two need to MIND your OWN BUSINESS." Which, OK. I didn't realize we were on an episode of COPS so what the freaking hell.

The other kids gathered around and I tried to explain to the lady that these were his friends that we had come to the park with (because the MYOB comment was so totally bizarre I couldn't figure out what the hell she was talking about). She said "I don't care. He needs to mind his own business. These kids are just playing with the frog and he keeps trying to take it away."

Then she GRABBED THE FROG OUT OF CHARLEY'S HAND.

Then Charley started crying and the crazy asked loudly and with exasperation "WHY'S HE CRYING?!"

With every ounce of civility I could muster I said "He's worried the frog will get hurt."

The lady replied "NO. He was trying to hurt it. He was putting it underground and covering it up. It could die!!"

And I said (fake cheerful) "No, he was putting it in the water meter where he found it when we got here. He finds lots of frogs in water meters. They live there."

Then, while the crazy lady continued to bluster nonsensical bullshit about Charley trying to kill a frog (nope) I turned to the other kids (WHO WE HAD COME TO THE PARK WITH) and said "Where do you think a good place to let the frog go would be? What about in the woods? Should we take it to the woods?" And the crazy lady stomped off, STILL HOLDING THE FROG.

I assumed she had let it go, and by this time Charley was beside himself sobbing, so when I saw her coming back over to me I picked him up (all seventy three pounds and nearly five feet of him) and carried him back to our picnic table.

She FOLLOWED ME and I ignored her then put Charley down and said "You do not have to talk to that lady. If she approaches you again, you come find me. I will handle it."

I am pretty pretty sure she heard me because after that she gathered her two kids (who were the ones PUTTING THE FROG IN A BUCKET AND THROWING IT UP THE SLIDE) and left.

The friends I was with (who saw the whole thing, and one even held Mary, who was loudly crying the whole time a stranger was yelling at me at the park) immediately gathered Charley into huge hugs. Because they KNOW him and know how much he loves frogs and did not deserve a public dressing down by a stranger who doesn't know what the hell she is talking about.

We left shortly after that when he had calmed down, it was time to go anyway. After dinner Charley asked if he could write about what happened instead of doing homework. He wrote a two page reflection about what had happened and how we reacted and then asked Ryan and me to write responses at the bottom. And then I poured a glass of wine and exchanged texts with the friend who had been there with is because *WTAF WAS THAT?*. It hardly seems real. I really really really hope that woman got in her car COMPLETELY HORRIFIED by her behavior (among other things, MAKING ANOTHER PERSON'S CHILD CRY RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE MOTHER, HOLY HELL), but I'm guessing that's probably a bit of a charitable assessment.

Anyway, Charley woke up absolutely indignant. I am proud of him for trying to help the frog (he was trying to take it away from this woman's kids when they were throwing it up the slide in a bucket). I have absolutely no shred of doubt about his side of the story. People can be mean. We have to be the bigger people sometimes. Integrity, principles, blah blah blah, teachable moment. Still it SUCKED and I hope it never happens again. It better never happen again.

In other news, we are slated to have rain of Old Testament proportions this weekend and I could not be more excited. I have chili in the crockpot and a pan of pumpkin bars all made (and ingredients to make more if we run out). All I have to do is get Ryan some more beer and we will be READY. BRING IT ON.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

We're going to need a bigger boat

So our New Year's Resolution to put seventy-thousand miles on the gray van continues apace. Earlier this week, while I was still basking in the happy mood of having pulled off a sixteen-hundred mile road trip with four children in three and a half days, my sister texted to ask if I would be interested in sharing a beach cabin with her this coming weekend. I initially said no, because Wes had a soccer game on Saturday and Charley is in third grade Sunday School which is kind of a big deal and we had already missed last week, and of course we had JUST GOTTEN BACK FROM A ROAD TRIP. But then she told me later that day that the big cabin had been rented by someone else and that she had gotten a smaller one instead. And THEN I had the perfect answer: I would take James and Mary and Ryan could stay home and do all the home stuff with the kids.

When I approached Ryan about this idea he was enthusiastic, even going so far as to suggest I not take ANY kids with me. This was tempting, but my niece was going to be there and I thought James would freak out with excitement and do that muppet thing he does, so I decided to take them anyway (It was totally worth it, when I picked James up on Friday and told him we were going to the beach he squealed "BEACH!!" and ran into a wall).

We arrived just after dark and settled into our sweet little cabin then put on a movie for the kids, dug the cork out of a bottle of wine with a car key and a steak knife, and repaired to the swing on the front porch to drink wine out of coffee mugs and listen to the surf in the distance.

Ten minutes later it was clear that the kids weren't on board with quietly watching a movie. So we took them (and our coffee mugs) for a walk on the beach. That did the trick and an hour later we were all tucked into bed and ready for lights out. Everyone slept well (surprise!) and we were out on the beach by seven thirty the next morning. We had the place ALL TO OURSELVES(except for lots and lots of birds and a massive oil and gas tanker that was lumbering out of port not a quarter-mile away, hashtag Texas) .

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Fortunately due to a trick of the Continental Shelf, you can practically wade all the way to the Yucatan Peninsula from much of the Texas coast. The kids had tons of room to play and boogie board. They played together happily all morning long and then came in for snacks and another hour of sand time while Katie and I watched from our chairs.

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Later we went for a walk to a fishing pier a ways down the beach. Mary's hair was blowing in her face and she asked me for a "Headband, Mama" which cracked me up, so I gave her my bandana and now my life is complete.

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We climbed up on a fishing pier and walked out to the end where a couple had just CAUGHT A SHARK ON A FISHING POLE. He was standing there holding the shark up so the kids could see it and warned them not to get too close because if it started thrashing around someone could get hurt.

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This seemed dubious since the poor thing was just hanging there from the fishing pole. The wife encouraged the kids to gather around and get a picture with the shark before the man threw it back (it was STILL ALIVE, which was very important to me). So they got in an awkward line and my sister snapped this picture just SECONDS before the shark went crazy and started thrashing around.

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In SECONDS it had BITTEN THE MAN'S LEG and unhooked itself from the fishing line. We just stood there staring at the shark, lying on the deck, and the huge, long, bleeding scrapes on the man's leg, having NO CLUE what to say or do. The shark started thrashing around again. James shrieked and jumped up a flight of steps as if propelled by an unseen hand. Finally the man with the bloody leg grabbed the shark by the tail and flung it over the railing back into the water, where we watched it swim away.

"Are you OK?" one of us finally managed. He said he was fine, so we thanked him and walked back down the pier. James kept asking me why the man didn't cry when the shark bit him. Then he wanted to know if there were sharks on the beach where we had been swimming, which I now knew was ONE HUNDRED PERCENT LIKELY, not that I was going to tell him that. Instead I said "I don't think we're going out deep enough to be with the sharks." He did not believe me (with good reason) and wanted to know "How deep are the sharks? How far from shore? How long was the man's fishing line? Do the sharks like waves? If I stay in the waves will there be sharks? OMG YOU GUYS, I had NO ANSWERS FOR HIM. Especially not after we found ANOTHER SHARK dead on the beach between the pier and our swimming spot. YES THERE ARE SHARKS HERE AND YES THEY BITE WHO WANTS TO GO SWIMMING WITH ME?

We swam after that but not with quite as much reckless abandon as before. And then everyone was kind of tired and sunburned and ready to go in for a while anyway, so we packed it in for the day and happily traipsed back to the cabin.

Later I realized we had set up one of our instrumented towers for my hurricane project in grad school ON THE LAWN OF OUR CABIN like ten-ish years ago.

James and Mary and I came home tonight so we could see Ryan's men's chorus sing at church tomorrow and otherwise relax before everyone goes back to school (fall break was last week). Ryan and the big kids were out, so I gave James and Mary some dinner and a big bath and put them to bed.

I had just come downstairs and picked up my book when I started hearing the shark questions from the top of the stairs.

So many shark questions.

I think we can rule out "marine biology" from the list of "possible future careers for James." Or maybe it is now in the number one spot.

It was a(nother) great trip, though, and I'm already wondering how we can all go back as a family. Where we will swim with big sticks.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Four Days on the Road and I'm a Gonna Make it Home Tonight

A little more than a week ago Ryan texted me to ask if I wanted to take a last-minute trip to New Mexico. Since our weather is still stupid hot I immediately responded with a hearty "YES" and the decision was made. When we lived closer we used to always go to New Mexico in the fall when our weather was being stupid. I couldn't wait! The thirteen hour drive seemed like NBD at the time and we decided to leave Friday right after school and spend the night at a halfway point in Lubbock, where we met in college, graduated, got married, started grad school, had a baby, then graduated again.

The kids were SO FREAKING EXCITED. Every day last week they asked me if it was time to go to New Mexico. They also wanted to know whether people in New Mexico spoke English. And whether there would be a pinata.

Our first stop was about two hours in to our first leg to have dinner. The restaurant we chose had a secret tunnel for kids that led from right next to our table to the outdoor play area where the kids spent the whole time driving Tonka trucks and hula hooping under an oak tree. SCORE! We hoped all the activity and their full tummmies would make them sleep in the car for at least part of the next four hours, but NOPE. Not one wink of sleep between Brownwood and Lubbock where we made it to the hotel around midnight. The kids got out of the van and immediately wanted to know why it was so freezing and why it smelled so weird. Ryan and I inhaled deeply. We were home!

James and Mary and I laid on the sofabed while Charley and Wes watched TV in the other side of the suite and Ryan went to the car to get our luggage (Later Mary loudly and affirmatively kicked James out of bed. He had to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor). When Ryan got back he found Charley and Wes watching a movie they had BOUGHT WITH PAY PER VIEW. It was an exciting moment when the bill arrived the next morning under our door for twenty dollars. Exciting because I didn't know whether Ryan's head would literally explode or if he would just have a heart attack. Luckily when we explained the part about the sneaky kids the hotel canceled the charge and Ryan hid the remote on top of the closet.

Before we left on Saturday we gave the kids the Tour of Things They Don't Remember because most of them did not exist. No one understood our enthusiasm for staring at the outside of buildings while standing in the wind.

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Ryan and I spent a LOT OF TIME in this classroom back in the late nineties/early 2000s. Lots of time and money and stress hormones.

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We saw the house where we brought Charley home from the hospital, where Ryan finished his dissertation, and where Charley and I were once awakened at three o'clock in the morning by a Chevy Tahoe crashing into the apartment building at the end of the street.

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And then we had lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant even though we now have a location in the town where we live now. It was still special because it was fifty degrees outside and felt like home.

And then it was time to get back on the road on the way to New Mexico. Spirits were high as we crossed the border an hour and a half into our trip. Little did we know that was JUST THE BEGINNING. After an hour we discovered that the DVD player wasn't working. Kids started to freak the freak out until, in a moment of inspiration, I suggested they think of a potty word for every letter of the alphabet. They killed an entertaining and inappropriate ninety minutes calling out "B is for BALLS" (hee hee hee ho ho ho) and "T is for TENTACLES" (HILARITY FROM ALL PARTIES, mostly Ryan and me). We made it to Albuquerque in about five hours and stopped for supplies at a Trader Joe's.

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This is what thirty-six hours worth of food and booze looks like.

Our take-it-easy travel approach broke down after that because ENOUGH ALREADY and for dinner instead of an interesting cultural experience we threw a bunch of Sonic dollar menu hamburgers into the back seat and started our drive up into the mountains (after seeing not a single Breaking Bad landmark, which was sad at the time but less sad now that we're making our way towards the series finale in abject horror at Walt's behavior).

We drove through some amazing scenery (and one road that looked suspiciously like one I saw on an episode of Dateline) after dark, greeted Ryan's friend, and settled everyone in for the night in her cozy cabin. Everyone slept well and we woke up the next morning to temperatures in the low fifties, coffee brewing and a fire in the wood stove.

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The kids bundled up and spent the morning playing in the woods.

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Then we went for a hike by a stream in the mountains. It was chilly and foggy and PERFECT (except for the lingering hole in my foot and slightly grouchy children (whose attitudes improved considerably after half of them started crying over NOTHING and I had a mommy meltdown and then made everyone a guilt-snack that seemed to help more than anything). And the roving bands of cows whose loud MOOING was echoing through the canyon. Between the mooing and the fog it was quite the ominous scene.).

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James took a picture for Ryan and me.

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A few hundred yards later (hiking is not very strenuous or fast for us) a BULL WITH HORNS emerged from the fog and started approaching us from across the stream. Charley freaked out because James was wearing a red jacket. "JAMES! TAKE OFF YOUR COAT! TAKE IT OFF TAKE IT OFF TAKEITOFF!!!" Ryan assured him that if it wasn't safe to be on the trail because of the cows we wouldn't be there la la la. I climbed up on a rock and turned around to reassure him and was greeted by the sight of FIVE OTHER COWS WALKING SHOULDER TO SHOULDER DOWN THE PATH just FEET behind Charley and Ryan. WE WERE BOXED IN BY COWS.

"EVERYONE CLIMB THE HILL!" I shrieked in a slightly less than reassuring maternal tone. We headed up on top of some rocks and the cows disinterestedly crossed the stream and walked away to find some other tourists to scare. Too late I thought to take a picture of the scary, scary cows.

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Look kids! That's where burgers come from!

After the hike we drove a little ways up the mountain to see the prehistoric volcanic caldera. It was breathtaking.

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Also, holy cow (heh) it was freezing.

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Back at the cabin Mary napped and I read a book by the fire with our hostess. Ryan and the boys all disappeared somewhere outside. Several hours later Ryan came back alone and when I asked him where the kids were he responded "They're at their battlestations" as he casually made himself a cup of coffee. He pointed them out to me, several hundred yards away on a hillside in the forest. I could barely make out part of James's arm. Sounds legit! I returned to my spot on the couch. Hashtag realvacation.

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There were other pressing activities, like going for walks.

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Stopping to pick up everysinglething while attempting to go on a walk.

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Being adorable in the woods.

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Playing with puppies.

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And sharing a LOAF of truffle white cheddar cheese for dinner. The kids enjoyed hot dog pennies and yogurt because we were too busy eating our delicious delicious cheese to make them a proper dinner at a reasonable hour.

The little kids went to bed and Charley joined us for a couple hours of fire time.

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Sadly, we had to say goodbye the next morning because we had to make it back here in time for my 1:00 Tuesday class. Instead of staying in a hotel halfway back this time we decided to go for it in one shot, with a long-ish stop in Lubbock for dinner at a favorite Italian place. We took a different route out of the mountains that included hairpin turns (only one puking kid!), fascinating cliff dwellings, Los Alamos National Labs, and Santa Fe. We nibbled the leftover cheese and crackers, the kids passed around the bagels and pumpkin Joe Joes and peanut butter sandwiches. We stopped at a McDonald's in Muleshoe to use the bathroom and happened upon Farmer Happy Hour, where men in boots and Wranglers gather every afternoon for discounted coffee and Fox News, which sort of makes me sound like I'm mocking it, but I really love that part of the state and it really just made me nostalgic for our time there). We watched ONE MOVIE on the entire fifteen hour trip and the rest of the time the kids chatted happily in the back or slept (it was the Twilight Zone). Dinner was happy and fun and very very messy.

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Ryan and I sang camp songs for the final three hours both to keep ourselves awake and to distract Mary from bellowing "SHUT UP AND DANCE" at the top of her lungs.

And at midnight we were carrying four comatose children up the stairs to their beds. I really want to go back right now.