Monday, March 28, 2016

Waco, Easter, Happiness, Screaming

We had such a fun weekend that Charley assumed that we were back on Spring Break and when he found out this evening that tonight was a school night, he asked me incredulously "A school night for ME?!" then walked away from the game of frisbee he was playing with Ryan and stomped into the house. The next hour before bedtime was delightful.

Ryan and I have a friend we've known since we were in a choir he directed when we were in college in the late nineties. He is a great, funny, wonderful friend and composes beautiful choral music too. When we found out he was going to be in a performances of one of his compositions in Waco, just a couple of hours away, we decided to head up there and go see it. A couple of complicating factors were that the performance was at night and was a solemn and contemplative service in a church that ended with a minute of silence and total darkness. This is fine for Ryan and me, but obviously a bit of a problem for the kids. We tried to find a sitter and when that didn't work out decided to just wing it and planned to spend a lot of time in the lobby if necessary.

We left a little after lunch and Mary quickly settled in for a nap.


Know who did not nap? James. You know who can talk continuously for an entire ninety-minute car ride? James. So restful!

We stayed at a Residence Inn, which was a little nicer than usual, but it had an indoor pool and a big-ass suite with two bedrooms so we decided to go for it. I was extra happy with this decision at 2 AM when Mary woke up in a panic about something and couldn't calm down for two and a half hours. Lots of doors between her and the other kids was a VERY GOOD THING. I was tempted to make her a cozy nest in the bathtub and go back to bed myself. Kidding. Not really. Bonus: Ryan's parents came down to meet us and were staying right down the hall. The kids loved running back and forth between the two rooms. So did everyone else in the hotel, probably.

We got all fancied up and went out for dinner before the Tenebrae service.

I don't know why poor James is off to the side like that, but I do like the way Mary seems concerned.

The kids were stymied to be at a restaurant with no playground.


But not to worry, James and Wes found a way to put their personal touches on the experience.


We headed to the church after dinner and arrived about thirty minutes early, which allowed the kids to get involved in stuffing easter eggs with some other kids from the church.


When that was done, Wes and a kid I'm calling Waco Wes found a box and invented a game where you lock a kid inside the box, then pile stuff on top of it, then yell "break out!" and the kid in the box has to shake all the stuff off the box to get out. I think it really helped set the tone for the service.


The service was beautiful and moving and weirdly, totally fine for the kids. I only had to take James out one time and the lady behind me who I thought was "shushing" the kids repeatedly turned out to have been sneezing (?) or something because she gushed over the kids' good behavior as we walked out of the sanctuary at the end. The somber themes of death and darkness and the way the acolyte put out one candle after another with each movement before finally blowing out the Christ candle at the very end, plunging the sanctuary into darkness went right over their heads, but I found it very meaningful. The contrast between that service and the celebratory Easter morning service was incredibly powerful. I will be going to our church's Tenebrae next year for sure, but I'm going to plan a weekend away for Palm Sunday because that one has always bugged me.

As we walked out of the sanctuary in silence with the other congregants, James, who had been bugging me about being thirsty for the past thirty minutes, exclaimed cheerfully "I NEED A DRINK!"

We put the kids to bed then went out for drinks with our friend the composer and two of his friends and had SO MUCH FUN. We made it back to the hotel to relieve Ryan's parents around 11:00, watched a couple episodes of House Hunters (our hotel tradition), then went to bed (reluctantly, because I really wanted to see what the family of seven did in a Tiny House). Mary woke up a couple of hours later and didn't fall asleep for more than two hours of me nodding off only to be awakened by a tiny foot to the stomach or a urine-scented lovey draped across my face. After she raked her fingernails across my throat for the second time and I said "GENTLE. HANDS." in a barely controlled voice, Ryan took her to the living room, brought James in with me, and let her have the sofabed to herself. He slept on the floor in a pile of couch cushions but she finally fell back to sleep. Delightful.

After breakfast we went to the zoo.




This is my favorite zoo in the WORLD. The perfect size for the kids, great exhibits, and lots of shade. Last time we were at this zoo a couple of years ago a lady tapped our nanny Miss N on the shoulder and said "I think your kids are fighting" and she turned around to see Charley and Wes rolling around on the ground punching each other in front of the gorilla exhibit. This time was much better. They made it all the way back to the car with no lunch and no screaming. I feel like this was worth noting because we don't usually do anything without at least a LITTLE screaming. So, so fun. The elephant spent like five full minutes flapping his ears at us. The best.

We had lunch at a Mexican food place with a deck overlooking the river. The weather was perfect and the food was great. The perfect end to our trip.

The kids even worked together to pull this giant stick out of the water. And NO ONE accidentally-on-purpose fell in! Sigh, they are growing up!




We arrived home in time for a quick dinner and bedtime and then all the usual Easter preparations. I went into C and W's room around 8:30 to make sure they were asleep and they both sat up and asked me "Is it morning yet?!"

After our egg hunt we made everyone get together for pictures. This one made me think of a Billy Joel video (Uptown Girl?).


Wes insisted on this Easter Egg shot.




And there they go again.


They thought they would get to sit outside for church.


We went to my parents' house after church for the traditional brunch and sock-easter egg hunt where every egg contains one sock and they have to match them all up at the end. Had a great time followed by a massive showdown in the driveway that required at least one kid to apologize to a grandparent for outrageous rudeness. Everyone was crying as we pulled out of the driveway, which means they had a great time.

When we got home most of our friends were outside; Charley and Wes joined in a pickup game of cricket a few houses down, James and Mary and Ryan and I went across the street for water table and driveway hanging out fun. It was all very relaxing and summer-like until I realized it was six o'clock and no one had eaten dinner and it was a school night. I made a joke about it being a school night and Charley stopped mid-frisbee toss and stared at me, mouth agape. "It's a school night for ME?!" he shrieked. Then he walked away from the frisbee game and stomped into the house. He spent the next hour and a half yelling at me for telling him we were on the second spring break (um, no?) and loudly complaining about having to go back to school. Mercifully, bedtime came EARLY EARLY EARLY again and this morning went more smoothly. Wow.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Spring Break comes to an abrupt end

Having a little trouble getting rolling after sloth-week, I mean spring break.  It seems that no one in my family ever actually adjusted to DST, since we had the entire week off together (not Ryan, but without the extra school dropoffs he could sleep an hour later than normal too).  Last night I was making dinner at 6:10 and noticed that everyone was still cheerfully running around outside and not hanging around in the kitchen trying to steal yogurt tubes.  Aww, they still think it's 5:10!  Boy will they be surprised when bedtime happens in ninety minutes!

Speaking of dinner, I made Asian lettuce wraps last night.  Now.  Lettuce wraps are one of my favorite things ever and it's the thing I normally order when we go to a casual Chinese restaurant.  But I was not expecting the family to scarf them down with quite the enthusiasm they did last night, which makes me wonder--I have had a few hissy fits related to people hating dinner and being generally obnoxious during this one single thirty-minute period that I expect them to sit down and be pleasant every day.  I mean, all the experts say that if you have family dinner every night *your kids* are less likely to be on drugs, but did they ever study the effects on the *parents* of enforcing this daily special family (torture) time?  I mean.  Children of alcoholics don't fare much better than kids who don't eat dinner together every night.  Is this a hole in the research?  I might have found a new research trajectory!

So anyway, dinner behavior has been better?  I think?  Except Mary, who last night flung her lettuce leaves aside and declared "I DON'T WIKE DIS" before looking at me with scorn and pity.  But the boys seem to have caught on that if they want to stay downstairs past 6:15, they better not act like morons during dinner.  Charley has declared me to be "the best chef who has ever lived" and Ryan gushes endlessly over even the most meager of offerings "These are truly the best hot dogs I have ever tasted.  Is this Hunt's ketchup you bought?  Delicious.  Just delicious."

And now I am wondering, are they scared of me freaking out?  And, is that a bad thing?

 I honestly don't know.  My cooking ability has improved TREMENDOUSLY since the early days of our marriage when it once took me two hours to create a truly disgusting beef stroganoff (I tried to use my new wedding present food processor to *chop an onion*.  It turned into a watery paste.) and I relied almost entirely on frozen chicken cutlets and Lawry's marinades (you want lemon pepper or Italian style tonight, baby?).  Tonight I found a substitute for hoisin sauce by smelling all the bottles in my fridge until I found the right one!  I've also (mostly) stopped trying to trick them by substituting eggplant hash for ground beef and accepted the fact that if it does not contain lots and lots of meat, it needs to contain lots and lots of cheese and/or be waffles.

So maybe we've just met in the middle and everyone is happy.  For now.

In other news, we finally found a great new babysitter, recommended by our wonderful nanny who moved out of town, and the kids LURVE her.  Hours before she was due to arrive on Sunday Wes said "If E doesn't come over I am going to have a hard time not crying."  What this means is that Ryan and I can LEAVE THE HOUSE AGAIN. TOGETHER. ALOOOOOOOONE.

Fifteen minutes before she was due to arrive I was inside finishing up the kids' dinner when I heard James screaming hysterically. He often screams hysterically for non-emergent situations, so I sighed, put down my wooden spoon, and calmly walked into the back yard to find James stuck fifteen feet up in a tree. Here's Ryan on a six foot ladder:


Ryan got him down, the sitter came, we peeled out of the driveway like the house was on fire and went to a beer-tasting dinner (and also Ryan stopped at Big Lots to buy some cheap laundry detergent). All this to say: the first day back from spring break AND our family's first day of DST was the morning after a *beer tasting dinner*. It was a rough start. I have got SO MANY THINGS to catch up on.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Spring Break at the Beach

Two weekends ago when we went to Explore UT we learned about the UT Marine Science Center, which is about three and a half hours away and also AT THE BEACH. I've been itching to get out of town, and since Ryan won't indulge my fantasy of going to Puerto Rico for fall break, I decided that the big kids and I would be going to the beach for three days at the start of Spring Break. The little kids had the option of going to school M-W this week and also I took them on a solo beach trip this fall that almost certainly resulted in a lifelong shark phobia for James. Plus I didn't think I could keep four kids alive in the ocean by myself, but two capable swimmers seemed slightly more manageable. So with only days to spare, I went online and found a nice enough looking condo via AirBNB and it was set.

The kids were OMG SO EXCITED. It was all they could do to get through the weekend before we left without totally spilling the beans to James and Mary. Fortunately it was a super exciting weekend of mattress shopping and home maintenance. We left Monday morning and as soon as we pulled out of the driveway Charley asked me to crank the music and roll down the windows.

We arrived at lunchtime and headed straight for the original Whataburger for lunch, where we ate our regular Whataburger choices, but this time WITH AN OCEAN VIEW. The kids thought it was AMAZING that we were eating at the VERY FIRST WHATBURGER EVER, which Charley said as he reverently stroked a concrete wall with his hand.

After that we headed to a university in town that is on an island and has a nice hike and bike trail all the way around the (not very big) island. The bike ride was nice, but the real highlight of that was finding the fully intact coyote skull that Charley proudly carried around for the rest of the day. He took it with us later to ask a biologist what it was and she got REALLY INTO IT, showing him all the teeth and even getting out a model coyote skull to compare.

Then we headed to our condo on the other side of town. I'm not gonna lie, the outside of the complex looked REAL SKETCHY. A huge patch of moss growing on one wall, lots of shabby looking paint, missing siding. But, it was REALLY CLOSE TO THE BEACH and the pool was in good condition, so whatevs. Our actual condo was very nice, newly renovated and painted with an up-to-date kitchen and nice view of the beach. I loved it and would go back this second I could. Clearly the best part of this deal was the way you walk down the stairs and around the corner and are ON THE BEACH. For some reason, this view was not on the AirBNB listing, but what a nice surprise!


After dropping off all our junk we headed straight to the beach, where it became obvious that I was going to be a FULL PARTICIPANT in the swimming, since there was an incredibly tempting sand bar just far enough out to be completely terrifying. The kids were in HEAVEN.


After swimming for more than two hours we tore ourselves away and found a grocery store to buy some PB&J supplies, breakfast, and a frozen pizza. Then we ate pizza and played dominoes, in keeping with Charley's Road Trip Vision 2016.


In the morning we got to take a ferry to the island where the Marine Science Center is located. It was really really fun and also really really short, less than five mins to get across the ship channel, not really even long enough to get out of the car. The UTMSC was great, with lots of exhibits for the kids and a nice nature trail that has signs to point out all the different types of environments they have on the island (marsh, estuary, river, etc). They had a ten-foot long whale jawbone that amazed the kids and a hermit crab that was bigger than Wes's hand.


We went to a beach nearby for our picnic. Wes asked if he could go "put his feet in the water" and I said SURE NO PROBLEM because obviously I was born yesterday.



Also true to form, Charley spent the time writing his favorite marine science words in the sand.

Bivale molluska


Charley found something I thought at first was a condom, but turned out to be a Man-of-War jellyfish-like animal that stings.


Which is how I found myself Googling "are man-of-war stings dangerous" because the law of nine year old boy dictates that you cannot just leave dead animals where they are without poking at them with a stick, attempting to pick them up with a stick, and then "accidentally" poking it with your finger. He was fine.

And of course this is Texas so you can't go to the beach without seeing a supertanker pass by in the distance.


We headed back to the UTMSC to ask about Charley's coyote skull and also to buy a souvenir tshirt for Wes to wear home so he could stop shivering.

Stopped for ice cream on the way back then went BACK to the beach for MOAR SWIMMING before going out to a place called Blackbeard's so Charley could try seafood. He got crabcakes and I got fish tacos. Then we all ordered dessert. Also, I got a beer because duh. After dinner we walked around the little tourist area and went to look at the huge aircraft carrier they have docked there. Charley and Wes and Ryan have spent the night on that thing a couple of times so we didn't go on the tour, but it sure is impressive-looking from the outside.

Right next to the Lexington there is a 200 yd long fishing jetty that is about four feet wide that quickly attracted the attention of the kids.

Not even on the same planet as my comfort zone.

Oh look! That supertanker is superclose!




Charley woke up still wearing his swimsuit the next morning then made me some coffee while I was in the shower.


And then we went BACK TO THE BEACH at 8:00 AM. It was hard to leave, knowing we would be not be back for a long time, but we managed to clean up the condo and load up the car. Next stop was the aquarium instead of the original plan, which was the national seashore an hour away that would have made our drive home really long (I am saving that for another trip, though. I've wanted to go for YEARS). The aquarium was very close to our place and just seemed like the thing to do since it was kind of rainy and gray. We saw a GREAT dolphin show from the splash seats.


Saw sea otters, an alligator, birds of prey, sting rays, sea turtles, sharks, hermit crabs, jellyfish. I love aquariums.



And then it was time to leave and go home, which was a largely boring and uneventful drive until we missed our exit and Siri took us on a wild goose chase through the outskirts of San Antonio where, I swear to god, I saw some F16s fly the MISSING MAN FORMATION above our heads as we drove through an industrial park/countryside area going thirty five miles per hour. So that was terrifying, but other than that, completely uneventful. I cannot WAIT to go back. This time with everyone, because as easy as it was to hang out with just the big kids for a few days, I really missed them and I know they would have had a great time. We will go soon.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Anniversary Weekend 2016: Now with POOP

I am supposed to be trying to learn Python right now, but I only have forty-five minutes before I have to leave for a meeting and I don't really do well with small chunks of time, so I thought posting here would be a better use of time than continuing to read Downton Abbey recaps (SO GOOD).

This weekend we went to Explore UT for the fourth year (I think). It just keeps getting better and more fun as the kids get older. We took a picnic and hung out in the engineering courtyard where they have five or six fun kid activities all in close proximity so everyone can relax. Most of the pictures are on Ryan's real camera, so I'll give you the ones I took with my phone while he took multiple trips to the bathroom with various kids.

I really think my favorite part of Explore UT is watching big grad students be adorable with my kids. Seriously. While this was going on, Mary was building with blocks with a couple of women and Charley had captured the attention of a couple of civil engineering PhD candidates.


The kids obediently waited in birth-order to try the remote control robot.


We went up on the roof to look through the telescopes.


Then we spent some time in the super crowded chemistry building so Charley could go talk to the Marine Science people. When I asked about UT's offerings to undergraduates the kid gave me a lengthy rundown of all the awesome field projects *I* would have if I chose to study marine science at UT. I was almost ready to sign up! Sadly, I had to tell them that I was asking for my nine year old, but thanks for pretending I look like a college student for a few minutes! Good news is Charley could have a future like fifteen miles from our house!

Someone's marshmallow toothpick structure was destroyed by crushing.


And then we went down to the stadium for band practice, like we do every year. This year we stopped on the way to have a loud public fight with Wes, who had had enough of the middle child routine and really really wanted to go through the firefighters' demonstration on what to do when your house is on fire thing that had a huge line. Poor Wes.

Mary was so excited to see that Elsa was there. And so was Charley.


Mary and James learned to march.


It was really fun and also completely exhausting (thought FB memories reminds me that last year we attempted Explore UT after attending a soccer game for Wes and a pancake breakfast to support the high school band, which was kind of insane) and we were all really happy to finally be back to our car. We stopped at a new place I now love for well-deserved pizza and beer and then went home. On the way Wes said "MAN! I can't wait to be home and get under my cozy quilt!" and then fell asleep for the night in the car before 6:30. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Everyone else was down and Ryan and I fell asleep watching Sliver Linings Playbook at 8:30. College is hard, you guys.

Sunday was our 12th wedding anniversary. We celebrated by Ryan saying "Happy Anniversary!" as he got up to take a shower and head to choir. Later I learned that Mary had taken off her diaper and gotten poop all over her room. And then Charley and Wes screamed at each other all the way to church. I was in a FOUL MOOD by the time we got to Sunday School and started crying halfway through our discussion on children's faith formation. (Note: We originally had family plans Sunday and decided to celebrate our anniversary last weekend with our bike ride and fancy ice cream family date, which was exactly what I wanted. We also celebrated by buying tickets to a brewery's tasting dinner in two weeks that I am REALLY excited about. Just so you don't think we celebrated our anniversary by picking up poop and going to church.)

We came home for leftovers and then I took Wes out for "alone time" where he gets to choose cookies from the cookie buffet at Whole Foods and we sit on the upstairs balcony and watch the cranes (construction cranes, not bird cranes) while Mary napped and the other kids watched a movie (because DAMN). When I got home, it was gorgeous out, the whole neighborhood was playing outside, and I was feeling much better. Ryan made a wonderful dinner and then surprised me with a sweet card and a CD I've been wanting and some of my favorite cookies to eat while we watched Downton. The little kids went to bed and Charley and Wes (cheerfully and efficiently! Crazy!) did their homework and practiced piano before heading up before Downton. It was a sweet, special evening and just perfect.

Our life and family are so happy and fun and we are in kind of a "just right" place right now. Twelve years ago we were both still in grad school living in a wonderful but tiny rent house we named "the Alamo" because of its orange stucco walls. In another twelve years we will have a college senior and sophomore and two high school students! Trippy!!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Glad we cleared that up

On Tuesday I picked Mary up from school and her eye was all red and puffy and kind of scratched a little. Once we got home I took a picture and sent it to my friend, who is a nurse, asking if she needed to go to a doctor or if I could continue with my plans of an early bedtime and going out to a Hillary primary returns watch party with my friend Cindy.


She came over and took a look and said it was probably a minor injury and not some eye eating infections disease, so I treated it it with some ibuprofen and a pat on the head and sent her out to play. By dinnertime she was starting to look like she had been in a street fight, with a fat purple line of swollen skin under her eye and a bright red scratch under that. She said it didn't hurt, though if you asked her about her eye she faithfully pointed to the hurt one and exclaimed the same emphatic nonsense sentence she'd been telling me all afternoon.

Everything seemed fine, so we put her to bed and went downtown to the party and had dinner with my friend and Ryan drank a beer and watched videos on YouTube about how to program in C and really it was a lovely evening for everyone.


Mary woke up the next morning feeling OK but looking kind of like a prizefighter. I asked her AGAIN what happened to her eye. She told me the same exact nonsense words she'd been saying all along. She obviously was telling me SOMETHING, but I had no idea what it was.

Today, she woke up. The swelling was starting to go down, but the scratch remained. I asked her again "How did you hurt your eye?" This time, I understood one word, "Jackson", the name of a little boy who is easily a head shorter than her in her class.

Me: Did Jackson scratch your eye?

Mary: Solemn nod.

Me: Oh no, was it an accident?

Mary: Solemn head shake.

Me: I wonder why Jackson would scratch your eye!

Mary (clear as a bell): I bite Jackson, he scratch my eye.