Sunday, October 30, 2016

Maybe now I have found my limit for weekend activities. No, that was just right.

To complete my transformation from person who longed for medical excuses to get out of gym class to person who feels disappointed when I can still use my legs properly after a work out, I signed up for a rowing race called the Pumpkinhead, which took place Saturday afternoon. I was in a boat of eight people and we have been practicing together for a month to prepare. Our captain, who I really like, is single-minded, and every time the cox gives us a choice of an easier or a harder workout, she always chooses the harder thing. Should we finish up this ass-crushing day of rowing with a two-minute sprint? I DON'T SEE WHY NOT! And so on. So I was very excited and very nervous as I drove to the race on Saturday. I parked by the boathouse, which was where we would end up after the race, but it required I fast-walk more than a mile to get to the start. In other words, the first thing I did before the race was to do what formerly constituted my entire workout.

When it was time for us to put our boat in the water, we had to pick up up on our shoulders, then walk around a small obstacle course of cones, then hold it sideways for the officials to inspect the inside. Then we had to carry it another fifty yards or so down to the water. After that we did a "warm up" of twenty-five leisurely minutes of rowing to the starting line. It was really exciting to get to the starting line with all of the other boats. And not just because it meant I could have some water. Rowing races are held in the fall and it is not supposed to be eighty-five degrees in the fall.

Here I am at the start with a photobomber in 3-seat.

Feeling strong! Let's do this! OMG I am terrified!

After a few minutes of waiting, we started to row slowly to creep up to the start line, and then a little faster, and then a little faster, and THEN, the official boat blew a horn and we were OFF.

As soon as the horn blew my breathing was immediately out of control and I got REALLY nervous. We were rowing REALLY REALLY FAST and I was freaking out a little. My only goal for the race was to keep up and not humiliate myself, but we were going SO FAST and we had just started the race (after nearly forty minutes of continuous exercise as a "warm up").

Fortunately, we went under a bridge and as soon as we popped out on the other side I heard all four kids SCREAMING, "GO MOM! ROW FAST! GO MOM GO! MOOOOOOOMMMMM! GOOOO MOM!!!!" Ryan had all the kids up on a pedestrian bridge to watch the race. The noise stopped for a moment as we passed under the bridge, but started up when we came out on the other side. And then I could SEE them, jumping and screaming and going crazy.

Ryan's view of us after we passed under the bridge

It. Was. The best. Smiling seemed to be the cure for panicked hyperventilating, because I was finally able to settle down after that. Even though we were still rowing so hard that I was honestly afraid I wouldn't make it to the finish line. The cox was yelling at us encouraging us to pass this other boat that was ahead of us. The Oklahoma boat, she called it. We worked so hard and finally passed it, which was thrilling even though the moment was not exactly celebratory since we still had three quarters of the race to go.

I was hanging in as we passed the halfway point and kept going to the two-thirds done mark. And then we passed under the last bridge and I knew we were almost there, but YOU GUYS. I was SO TIRED. Literally the only thing I could think about was what my oar was doing in that exact moment. My right hand was almost numb from squeezing down on the oar to feather it over and over. Finally the cox called the last two-hundred meters and yelled for us to sprint, which we all did even though there was NOTHING LEFT. Finally, the official blew the horn telling us that we had crossed the finish line and we were allowed to slow down until we got to our resting place where we could STOP ROWING OMG FINALLY.

Here's the slightly less chipper after picture.

Weird expression and lack of artistic framing due to sense of ridiculousness about taking selfies while sitting in a boat.

Also I begged the whole boat for tape at this point because in addition to the callous that had formed on my left middle finger, which ripped off, two other smaller blisters also formed on the same finger and then ripped off too. I showed Charley tonight and he said "Rowing did that? Don't row tomorrow, Mom. I'll go instead." He is the best.

We didn't rest for long because we still had to take our boat back to the boathouse, which was back at the HALFWAY MARK of the course. Fortunately we went nice and slow all the way back, and I was extremely happy to be back on dry land. And even happier once we had the boat washed and put up and I could walk to my car (I had parked at a fancy hotel and had to walk right though a gorgeous and very fancy wedding reception to get to the lobby, looking just like I did in the last picture except with additional twenty-five mins of sweat-rowing. #pretty

And then I stopped at the fancy grocery store on the way home for "treats". I didn't know what I wanted when I got there, but happily it was "Cheese Week" and I quickly settled on a wheel of cheese, some fancy orange-fig spread, a baguette, and a Texas sheet cake.

Aside: my college roommate and I used to have "crap food night" and watch movies while we ate raw cookie dough and 1 lb bags of M&Ms. This is sort of like that.

We also cracked open a celebratory $3 bottle of wine. I made it through one episode of Grace and Frankie before tapping out and falling asleep out cold sometime around nine PM.

While I was rowing, Ryan was managing some feats of strength of his own... First, he took the kids on a looooonng walk from the car to the pedestrian bridge, with a quick stop for some local culture.


And then, he managed to get both big kids into their costumes and delivered to their piano studio's Halloween Party ON TIME.


Charley told me he did his own makeup while riding there in the car. Ryan leaned the passenger seat forward and opened the mirror on the visor and told him to have at it. He did an amazing job and managed to not stab himself in the eye with any brushes, which is more than I can say for myself, standing on my own two feet in my not-moving bathroom.

Also, Wes told us he wanted to be a "devil" so I bought him his costume and everything and now he is going around telling people he is "Satan", which sounds somehow less adorable. Sigh, doesn't anyone want to be Buzz Lightyear anymore?

Friday we had twenty or so people over for chili dogs and pumpkin carving because even though it feels like July outside it's October, dammit, and we're going to pretend we're feeling festive. It was the best kind of night, filled with laughing and happy, funny, soda-and-sugar high kids, and lots and lots of pumpkins and chaos. (Not many pictures of the action, since there were like twenty kids with knives in my driveway, but we had a good time.


Sunday we had a church picnic for lunch and then we all came home and fell asleep in front of the TV while Ryan took Charley to a Scout meeting because, OBVIOUSLY.

Mary had trouble admitting to herself that she needed a nap, until she couldn't deny it anymore.

Friday, October 28, 2016

I had to look at my Google Calendar to remember what we did last week

Wow, guys. ELEVEN DAYS.

A couple of weekends ago, three days after I returned from New York, Ryan and all the boys went on a scout campout about an hour away, leaving Mary and me alone to have a girls' weekend. Mary is quite the fidgety mess when not surrounded by her usual pack of boys, but we muddled through by visiting my friend Rosa for dinner and Tangled with her girls. Mary was QUITE EXCITED about this and complained loudly every time I had to make UTurn after getting lost in their neighborhood (and that was a lot of times thanks to my old busted GPS on my phone).

The boys returned Sunday morning at 8:35 for an 8:45 children's choir performance at our church. Ryan screeched into the breezeway, I grabbed all the kids and an armful of church appropriate clothing, ran them inside settled them on the floor at the front with the choir, knelt in my skirt as I buttoned them all into their "church shirts" and wiped smudges off faces with my sleeve. I did a pretty good job given the circumstances, but they still looked like little Dickens orphans. Especially because James wasn't wearing any shoes. Fortunately we take all comers so we got to see their adorable performance with the big choir. So earnest! Later at brunch their disheveled appearance was fitting as they loaded their plates with mountains of cheddar grits, one of every kind of pastry, and three kinds of juice.

The following week was uneventful and last weekend was delightfully underscheduled except for a county symphony orchestra concert that just happened to include Hedwig's Theme and just happened to be at our church. The kids were SO EXCITED about this even though it meant missing the 4th grade movie night at school. Everyone really enjoyed the concert and then afterward the kids got into the kind of shenanigans you get into when your parents are relaxed and happy to be left alone to talk to friends and you are on your home turf. I keep hearing stories about hiding in an air vent and scaring passersby.


Mary went to a friend's house during the concert because she's just not ready and I didn't want Ryan have to spend the whole night in the lobby (I have to be careful about pigeonholing her in the future because now whenever she wants to blow bubbles she brings me the bubbles and says "Can you open this? I'm NOT A SPILLER"). When we picked Mary up she was watching Minions in her PJs all tucked into her sleeping bag and was LOUDLY reluctant to go home.

Saturday morning everyone slept in until EIGHT and then I used the free morning to reinstitute our Saturday chore program. The kids were weirdly excited as they clamored for the alpha jobs of vacuuming and toilet scrubbing. There was a scuffle, but eventually Mary came out with the vacuuming and Charley got toilets. Middle children were left with bathroom floor and counter drudgery and I was stuck with taking out the trash and getting all the really disgusting corners of the bathroom the kids inevitably miss.


Saturday afternoon Charley and I went to Goodwill to flesh out his Halloween costume and afterward stopped for tea at a coffeeshop/brewery nearby that I've been wanting to try. He loved that tea thing so much we are buying him one for his birthday.


Sunday morning we went to the opening of my parents' new church building and overshot a little in the fancy department.

Church? Or an outing on the yacht?

I've been rowing and working a lot this week. Also? Eating. Wednesday we rowed so hard that even after eating a breakfast taco the size of my head I still required an emergency stop for a hamburger and fries on the way home. The kids have been humming along at school. Suddenly it's Friday again and we have a bunch of school people coming over for chili (seasonally if not meteorologically appropriate) and hot dogs and pumpkin carving. The kids found the hidden caches of party food I left all over the house last night after I went to the store (the 48 kid-sized cans of soda and three-dozen sugar cookies were met with particular enthusiasm). I managed to cram two double batches (so four batches?) of chili into my crockpot this morning with Mary, who woke up early.


I have time to write this now because Mary is staying home sick from school with a bad cold. She could have gone, but she has the sunken pitiful eyes and woke up feeling dubiously warm last night and is acting convincingly miserable. This gives me time to get out ahead of the laundry and buy a bunch of jack-o-lanterns, sweep the floors, and get all of Charley's random critters off the front porch before people come over.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Part 2: Connecticut, Mark Twain's house, and my damn jacket

Didn't mean to leave you hanging re: the last two days of my momcation to the Northeast. The boys went camping and Mary and I had a very busy social calendar visiting all the people I know who have girls and like to finish sentences without having to help someone get down from something high. Also on Friday I enjoyed a morning of procrasitcleaning the hell out of the upstairs while one of my universities had a day off. As it often does, procrasticleaning resulted in several nights of doing actual work after bedtime (which fortunately was only Mary's bedtime and she is easy) and some tough choices about whether spending two hours folding laundry or two hours grading would be better. These are decisions no one should have to make.

ANYHOO. Monday morning I got up early and joined Miss N on her walk to the train for work. It's not very far and it was a sunny 45 degrees outside. We said a hasty goodbye at the subway stop when I got stuck behind the turnstyle like a total newb and she had to run to catch her train. She had left me with some instructions to get to Grand Central, so I patiently waited for the M train for a few minutes, then got on the WRONG DANG TRAIN, got off at the next stop, and waited for the REAL M train to come, which it did, so I got to preserve my dignity.

I rode the train to Manhattan, then took another subway to Grand Central all the while wearing my practiced Countenance of Disinterest that everyone there does so well. Got off the train and had one last experience of Pretty Things Are Around Every NYC Corner.


Bought my ticket to Connecticut and then bought the best chocolate croissant OF MY LIFE at a COFFEESHOP IN A TRAIN STATION (mind blown) and casually walked down the ramp to my platform and onto the train. IT WAS SO EASY.

Two hours later I was in Connecticut, where my sister and niece picked me up at the train station. We went to visit my grandma and have lunch. We had a great visit, met some of her friends, and refilled the bird feeders before saying goodbye. It was so nice.


We talked about doing some more activities on the way back to my aunt's house, but settled for porch beers and coloring books until my aunt came home. Then we had a nice family dinner and crashed early. Tuesday morning we left early to take my sister to the airport. Everyone else had to go to work and my flight wasn't until 5:30, so I rented a car and spent the day tooling around Hartford.

My first stop (after Dunkin Donuts) was Mark Twain's House, which is incidentally the first thing that comes up when you search "things to do in Hartford". The museum and tour were EXCELLENT. Though it was serendipity that I ended up there, I would have planned on it earlier if I'd known how cool it was. The neighborhood was historic and interesting, the house and grounds were beautiful, and I GOT TO BE IN THE ROOM WHERE HUCKLEBERRY FINN WAS WRITTEN.


His office was on the third floor, in the billiards room where he hung out with his male dinner guests (ladies hung out downstairs in the drawing room, which had a big mirror on the wall so the little girls could practice ballet) after his four-times-a- week dinner parties. The butler's bedroom, where all the liquor was locked away, was down the hall, next to a guest room. The reason his office was on the third floor was because his original office was turned into the school room, after he found the chatter from the adjacent nursery distracting to his work. We also saw the library, where every night he made up wonderful stories for his three girls before they went to bed. It sounds like he was a devoted family man and that the time they spent in that house was happy. So interesting!

After that I spent some time working in a coffeeshop, then had lunch with my aunt, then got a pedicure, then headed back to the airport to go home. It was such a great trip!

The only hitch was that as we were pulling away from the gate at Baltimore, I realized that I had left my gray corduroy jacket behind in the gate area. I am SO BUMMED about this and have spent many stolen moments searching for a replacement on Ebay. I bought it five years ago and wore it to the AGU Meeting in San Francisco. I wore it on my whole New York Trip. I've worn it on many, many fun fall outings in between. I really loved it and am sad to have lost it (though a moment of carelessness brought about by becoming involved in a vigorous political discussion on Facebook, then realizing it was time to board the plane, then running off to the gate, leaving my phone charger and jacket behind. Hopefully it didn't cause some kind of incident.) I found one like it on Ebay, but it is brown instead of gray and, you know, just not the same. It should arrive on Thursday and we will see. In the mean time, if anyone out there has a gray, corduroy Eddie Bauer military jacket (the epaulets are highly important) like the one pictured in ALL OF MY NEW YORK PICTURES in a ladies' size large wants to make a deal, SEND ME AN EMAIL. Because my efforts to make myself have a little damn perspective have been unsuccessful so far.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Those Little Town Blues were COMPLETELY MELTED AWAY

A few months ago Ryan mentioned in an offhand way that we had an extra free plane ticket just kicking around that we should do something with and I immediately volunteered to go back to New York to visit Miss N and Miss M and eat some amazing food and enjoy fall weather that does not require sunscreen and a bathing suit. So we made the arrangements, including a bonus extra trip to Connecticut to visit two of my aunts and my grandmother and it was set.

I was SO EXCITED all last week. It was Fall Break and the kids were off but I was not and I was trying to juggle all their arrangements with my normal workload--I was kind of losing it a little, but kept reminding myself that at the end of the week I'd be heading to NEW YORK CITY and then it seemed more manageable.

They asked what I wanted to do and I told them three things: 1) Eat lots of good food, 2) Go to Central Park, and 3) Go to the Met to see the American exhibit. We did all of those things AND MORE.

Our first stop was these beautiful gardens in Central Park (that's not true, our first stop was brunch, which was super yummy and cozy). It was spectacular. I would have taken more pictures, but it wouldn't have done it justice. I could have spent the whole day just sitting in the middle of all those amazing plants, but we needed to get to the Met and also it started raining. I loved it.





Then we took a pretty walk through pretty rain (I'm pretty sure my wild excitement over every single thing I saw on our walk became grating, but YOU GUYS IT WAS SO AWESOME) to the Met.

Why does everyone walk so fast in NY? Why don't they all walk along looking straight up, with their mouths hanging open? It's so pretty!

Eventually we arrived at the Met, which was also beautiful and intimidating in scale.


I felt weird taking pictures inside the exhibits, but my favorites were the Sampler Room in the American Exhibit, the massive mural of Versailles, all the ivory and wood carvings in the Medieval exhibit. We were there for hours and didn't even see a quarter of the museum. More amazing work around every turn. Hidden nooks and crannies. Inviting staircases. Beautifully decorated rooms from historic houses.

I did take this picture so I could make a Hamilton joke on Facebook (Here comes the General!).


We rested for a while on a bench in front of a large sculpture of about twenty-five stylized naked men and I was both glad and a little disappointed that the kids weren't there to completely humiliate me.

After the Met we walked to the train to go find dinner at a place Nicki and Megan love, that specializes in fondue and different kinds of dips to put on pitas.

I only thought to get a picture after we had nearly destroyed every last morsel of food on the plate (olive tapanade, walnut and pepper something, hummus, spinach and feta something, beet something). And forget about the cheese fondue. And the filet mignon skewer. OMG I am drooling.


Wonderful friends! (who pick great restaurants)


After a bit of a walk we were ready to eat some more food, so we headed to a bakery in Columbus Circle for almond croissants that we took home and ate in front of Saturday Night Live (which comes on at 11:30 there, I almost turned back into a pumpkin).

Among reasons I would like to go back and never leave is that this was the THIRD place we tried for almond croissants and each one was more amazing than the last. It's good we waited until we got here to buy something:


The next day I got up early and took an Uber and then two subways to Morningside Heights (ALONE. I was quite proud of myself for figuring this out) so I could go to the choral Eucharist service at St. John the Divine cathedral.

I love this little glimpse of the cathedral you get when you turn down 112th street.


Beautiful and massive.


Inside I sneaked one picture before the service began.


Afterward I made friends with a woman named Mary, who invited me to lunch in the cathedral house. I had plans with Nicki and Megan, but I did join her for a cup of coffee before working my way through the rain back to the subway. Nicki and Megan met me at the Times Square subway station and we rode the train to Brooklyn to a brewery for lunch.

I got the "Bavarian Breakfast" which consisted of two bratwurst, two pretzels, and beer cheese for dipping.


(As you can tell, the "eat good food" part of my itinerary was FIVE STARS.)

Later we walked to an ice cream place. The walk was freezing and very windy, but enjoyable.


Before we took the water taxi back to Queens, we visited the roof of a hotel to look at the view of the Manhattan skyline.


And then my hosts asked me if I would like to "Order in Thai food, open a bottle of wine, and watch the debate together," which, YES YES YES (they may have regretted this plan after I started shouting obscenities at the TV in a wine-fueled rebuttal to Drumpf's "locker room talk" assertion). That sounded amazing. It was all perfect. The perfect visit. I wouldn't have changed a thing, except possibly to make it longer. I still love New York, having stayed in Manhattan with four kids in the summer and having stayed in Queens with friends in the fall. I keep waiting to find it overwhelming and smelly and scary and it just hasn't happened yet. It is a wonderful city. I cannot wait to go back.

I left Monday morning, walking with Nicki to the train then finding my way to Grand Central to take the MetroNorth train to Connecticut, where I met my sister and went to my aunt's house and had lunch with my Grandma. More on that later because this is getting long and office hours are over so I have to get the kids!