Friday, January 29, 2016

A Prelude to the Weekend of Cake

Somehow, it is Friday. AGAIN. Which is so weird because I thought it was JUST Friday. Fortunately I don't have plans to assemble an Ikea bunk bed tonight, but instead have plans to meet up with friends for an afternoon of playground frivolity and hamburgers (and yes, OK, beer too). And tomorrow we have THREE BIRTHDAY PARTIES to attend. And not just the kind of birthday parties where you kinda sorta recognize the birthday boy as the blond kid who sometimes sits next to your kid at circle time. REAL LIVE FRIEND PARTIES. One is at 9:30 and another is at 3:30, both in the same neighborhood pretty far away from our house, so we'll either be staying awkwardly long at the first party or having lunch out and spending a weird amount of time at Target before the next party.

And then we have another, grownup, 40th birthday party at a restaurant at 7:00 FOR WHICH WE HAVE A BABYSITTER.

All that to say I'll be having cake and alcohol with all three of my meals tomorrow. Getting closer and closer to those New Year's Resolutions!

This has been a busy week in the arena of "make twenty five freshman REALLY EARN their lab science credit." Tuesday and Thursday mornings they made catapults and wrote reflections about the design process, what worked, what didn't, what they would do again. And Thursday afternoon I hit them with a statics problem that they had to solve in Excel. My favorite kind of assignment is one that starts out with abject horror and ends with "Huh, OK. That was pretty useful" and I think I got pretty close to that with that one, but it was THURSDAY AFTERNOON and all. There's gonna be some grumbling.

Monday night Charley and Wes had a rehearsal for Children's Sabbath at our church immediately after their piano lesson, so we went out for dinner and then had frozen yogurt. I was aiming for close control of how much crap everyone put in their bowls because it was a school night and I didn't want anyone to hurl (this has happened before), so I was watching pretty closely. But then James HAD to go to the bathroom RIGHT NOW and wouldn't go by himself in spite of it being about ten feet away from where I was standing, so I had to take him over there. And when I got back, it was TOPPING EXPLOSION.

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Wes is having trouble finishing assignments both at home and at school right now so when we were doing homework last night and he had to write two sentences about a book he read, I let him do five jumping jacks for every word he wrote, and YOU GUYS he finished NOT ONLY THAT ASSIGNMENT, BUT A SECOND DAY'S WORK AS WELL! I wonder if his teacher would let him do that.

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I will leave you with this picture of Mary wielding a six-foot long stick from last night that I like to call "I have three brothers and I WILL MESS YOU UP."

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Monday, January 25, 2016

If this van's a'rockin'

This morning was pretty average for a Monday, except that I found uniforms for Charley and Wes without having to perform a three-day archaeological dig in the corner of their bedroom. Everyone was relatively cheerful and cooperative. We ate breakfast together. We started getting ready for the kids and Ryan to leave.

As I was walking to the cubbies to get the big kids' school sweatshirts, I checked the thermometer to decide if we really needed to send them, since if the temperature is above about sixty degrees they inevitably leave their sweatshirts on the playground after shucking them off during a rigorous game of Nine Year Old Boy Stuff. I was shocked to notice that the temperature outside was SIXTY DEGREES, especially considering it is January and also STILL DARK.

"WOW." I exclaimed. Everyone wanted to know what I was so excited about.

"It's SIXTY DEGREES OUTSIDE." I told them.

All the kids wanted to *feel* how warm it was. This is because my first response to all weather news is always to go outside and EXPERIENCE it. This does not include extremely low temperatures but did lead to me being in wildly close proximity to a lightning strike one time. MEMORIES.

Before I could stop them all four kids had dashed out the back door into the darkness.

I was not concerned, but it was a little strange because we still haven't fixed our fence that fell down during Wes's birthday party, which means they weren't trapped in the back yard like they normally are. Still, I shrugged and continued talking to Ryan while we loaded all the lunchboxes in the backpacks and finished clearing the table and loading the dishwasher.

Eventually it occurred to me that the children had not returned from the backyard. And that I hadn't heard anything from them in some time.

I peeked out the back door. No kids.

So we walked out the front door and around the corner, where we could hear wild laughter and shrieking. Ryan's van was shaking gently in the driveway.

I cautiously opened the van door. All the kids were inside. Two had buckled themselves into their seats. The other two were enjoying the wide open spaces left where Ryan took the seats out to bring the bunk bed home Friday night. James and Wes had dragged a SCOOTER into the van and were riding it up and down the length of the car. Everyone thought this was FREAKING HILARIOUS.

James poked his head out, eyes flashing, and shrieked "THANKS FOR MAKING THE CAR LIKE THIS FOR US! THERE ARE *NO SEATS*!!"

It was sad to shut the party down and take everyone to school.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Switcheroo

As I mentioned in closing last time, the upstairs of my house (Charley and Wes's room in particular) is a total disaster, even on the best of days when I finally let go of my need to force the kids to do things for themselves and dove in with a glad bag and gas mask, it didn't ever really get that clean. I think it was because there were two hoarders boys crammed into the tiniest bedroom we have. It didn't even start out as a bedroom, but once we found out James was on the way Ryan converted the upstairs family room slash crap dumping ground into a fourth bedroom and a linen closet that opens onto the hallway. This is a great arrangement and it's not THAT small, just too small for Charley and Wes and their Collections (of trash, mostly).

So Friday Ryan brought home another Ikea bunk bed to put in the other room (fully assembling ANOTHER Ikea bunk bed rather than taking apart and moving the original one seemed like the best use of time and resources, considering future needs (SLEEPOVERS NOT MORE CHILDREN) and current furniture arrangements). He didn't want the project to consume all of Saturday (because he had some yard work he was really looking forward to) so he proposed we crack open a six pack and assemble that puppy at NIGHT. Which is what we did and I thought it would make a better blog post, but honestly I've put together one of those beds before and it was kind of a nonevent. Except that we spent our Friday night assembling a bunk bed.

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The pile of nondescript looking boards is a bit intimidating at first, I must admit.

The next day we dove into the Moving All The Crap stage of the project. And lest you think I'm exaggerating the state of Charley and Wes's room or being overly self-deprecating in a coy "sorry about the mess" kind of way, I present you with Exhibit A.

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It was *slightly* messier than normal when I took the picture because Ryan had already taken the drawers out of their dresser and moved some piles of clothes, but YOU GUYS LOOK AT THAT SHITHOLE. It is making ME twitchy right now.

Four hours, four garbage bags, and a trunkload of donations for the Children's Home later, we had successfully moved Charley and Wes into James's (larger) room and James into Charley and Wes's room. And gotten rid of TONS OF JUNK. We KEPT Charley's bottle cap collection, which is measured in cubic feet at this point, after a couple of years of having college student nannies and Wes's rock collection (approximately two hundred pounds of mostly hunks of limestone he found on the playground). We kept their books and their "wall of art" and their baseball pictures. We left behind A LOAD OF SHREDDED PAPER THAT COULD HAVE PAPERED THE FLOOR LIKE A GIANT HAMSTER CAGE. We gathered Legos from all over the entire damn house and put them in one huge bin in the corner of their new room.

My favorite part is that we used an old dresser to store their uniforms and they filled up ALL FOUR DRAWERS. In their old room both pants and shirts were crammed into a single cube in their Ikea bookshelf cube thing, which was what started this whole thing Friday morning. It was IMPOSSIBLE to find uniform pieces quickly. Now we know that Charley has ten pairs of uniform pants and three uniform shirts! THIS IS A PROBLEM!

Not a problem? The MILES OF SPACE AND STORAGE they now have for all of their items.

Here is Charley and Wes's room:

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And here is James's new big kid room (Charley and Wes's old room):

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IT HAS A FLOOR! A FLOOR!!

Everyone is LOVING it so far. Charley spends time sitting at his desk reading and working on homework. James gets to sleep on the TOP BUNK.

And now begins the next six months of retraining Charley and Wes to THROW AWAY TRASH AND PUT CLOTHES AWAY OMG.

After all that work we went to Sonic, obviously. And also, I feel like I've been hit by a truck. So much bending and lifting! #thisisthirtyfive

Friday, January 22, 2016

Hashtag adulting hashtag sneezing

Today I am having lunch with an administrator at a nearby college to talk about potential collaboration in atmospheric science work between my school and their school, so that means I couldn't wear my skinny jeans-tshirt-boyfriend sweater-slipper moc uniform to work today and instead had to look like a real live grown up. BEHOLD:

Yesterday:

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Today:

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Clearly I need to work on having a less vacant smile in future mirror selfies. Also, did I mention that after thirty-five years I finally got over my mental block re: blowdrying my hair (which I've had since I gave it a try when I was about sixteen, was unhappy with the results, and decided a more bohemian look was right for me for the rest of my life amen), bought a blowdryer and round brush at the grocery store and a product called "phemolient" from the place where I get my hair cut and FIGURED IT OUT.

2016: The Year of Doing Hard Things. Next up: Applying mascara to my lower lashes and learning to not eat cake twice a day.

Today seemed like a good a time as any to blow off some steam and have a good old fashioned mom-tantrum over the state of the upstairs, which can only be described as "flophouse". Trying to look like a grownup while being unable to find a pair of clean kid's socks while sneezing my way through a severe case of seasonal allergies PRE-COFFEE was juuuust about all I could handle this morning (or not handle as the case may be). So now I've got big plans this weekend to move Charley and Wes out of the tiny bedroom and into James's much larger room where they can have two proper dressers and space for All of The Legos and maybe even separate storage for school uniforms that doesn't make me want to collapse in despair. I am positive Ikea can help me with this.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My year is finally starting!

Holy cow, you guys. Here's how my semester began: I was out of town for four days at a conference in New Orleans (which I didn't write about here because when I wasn't being all professional and stuff I was doing New Orleans things, which means, I guess, drinking lots of free wine at the Embassy Suites happy hour and eating AMAZING food. AMAZING FOOD.), and then I came back at eight o'clock the night before my first class (actually the second class meeting of the semester, with the first being while I was away), so I hacked my way through *that*, then attended to a million little details and meetings on Friday, had a three-day weekend with the kids, and then was back at school Tuesday with a ten o'clock class and no plan. That was rough. The good news is that (in addition to some other, more flexible, things) I have ALL DAY TODAY to plan tomorrow's class. That sounds positively luxurious.

So while I am doing that, enjoy these pictures!

I was at the conference to give a talk in the educational symposium on the new way I structured my lab class last semester. It was very well-received (even though: teaching about teaching, very meta!)! The educational symposium was really very good this time around. So glad I went. I also got some good ideas for another project I am working on, that I call "The Neverending Slog of Doom," so that should help. And also, I only took a few pictures at the conference. Mostly on the last day when I was getting really punchy and restless, as these things go.

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I got a free Lego minifigure in the exhibit hall and just like a preschooler, used it to amuse myself during the last session I attended, which was about energy infrastructure and climate change.

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Fortunately after that I had lunch plans with my friend Teresa, who I roomed with for the week. We had some good times. For lunch, we tried to find a sushi place, but the one that was close by was closed, so we ended up at this ridiculous place called Root that had things on the menu like "Buttermilk gel foam" and a bunch of words I've never heard of, except "charcuterie" which we both found hilarious and made a point to insert into the conversation as many times as possible.

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We didn't go for the whole charcuterie and instead opted for an individual selection of cheese, at the waiters's recommendation, some kind of aged white cheddar that was encrusted with barley hulls and soaked in whiskey. It was NOT BAD. And it came surrounded by a bunch of mysterious pickled fruits that were also delicious and some persimmon chutney for dipping. PERSIMMON CHUTNEY.

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We followed that up with some amazing sandwiches, some more wine, and dessert, which included chocolate mousse, cake, gelato, pound cake with sweet curry sauce, and other things that would have horrified the children. One of my favorite meals ever. They basically rolled me into a cab like Violet Beauregarde on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory so I could get to the airport.

In other news, Ryan finally found the source of all the mysterious candy wrappers we've been finding in the big kids' room! A pillowcase full of Halloween candy! He brought it downstairs and we ate everything that was worth eating then tossed the rest. There have been eighty percent fewer unexplained upstairs procrastinations since it was removed! All in a day's work.

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Now that James can ride a two-wheeler it is pretty much impossible to keep the kids inside in the afternoons. Yesterday we didn't get home until quarter to five and I NEEDED to make dinner to accommodate a 6:45 Cub Scout meeting, so while the boys rode around outside I had to make Mary ride inside. She was NOT HAPPY. But HEY! Concrete floors that make this kind of possible are kind of awesome!

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And finally, yesterday morning I reminded the kids that we don't watch TV before school and that if they had extra time they could read or draw and I walked into the living room a few minutes later to find THIS cozy scene:

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Which I took a picture of so that I could look at it when they are all trying to kill each other, which they did over dinner later that same day.

Friday, January 8, 2016

My face is itchy and I have a ton of work to do, but here are some pictures!

Wes's hermit crab, Destroy, has been missing for a week. *Someone* (not me or the other adult in the house, but the next tallest person after that) left the tank open overnight "just to see what would happen." What happened is that Destroy climbed up the wall and escaped to who knows where. We've been leaving food and his little coconut shell house out at night in hopes of luring him out into the open, but so far no luck. Poor Wes. Poor Destroy.

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I am still hoping he miraculously appears somewhere in a week or two like he did the time he showed up in the bathroom when we thought he was dead.

My cousin and her friend came to visit us for a few days and we had SO MUCH FUN. My sister and I picked them up at the airport and spent the afternoon eating giant hamburgers and shopping at a trendy thrift store where I spent $25 on: a shirt, a sweater, a Janie and Jack dress for Mary, an enormous framed print of the duck pond in Boston (FOR SIX DOLLARS!!!!), two small framed collages of birds, and a ceramic duck head that I am making Ryan hang up in the kitchen (which officially makes my kitchen bird themed, I think, since I had two birds in there before and will now have FIVE). Even Ryan was impressed and he usually doesn't understand shopping-related fun. We had a fun dinner with them at my parents' house on Sunday and then planned to spend all day Tuesday with them too. It was supposed to be freezing outside (which is a real problem, since we normally do outside things and it is hard for me to come up with fun inside ideas) so we started the day with the best cinnamon rolls in town and then headed to a vintage bowling alley (which was FILLED with retired men, adorable, but quite the contrast to our loud party of teenagers and kids who kept bowling in the wrong lane and getting the ball stuck in weird places).

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This is the only picture I got. Stunning.

After that, Charley was nearing DEFCON 4 (Bowling stresses him out like nothing else), and it was warm outside (surprise!), so we took everyone kayaking. The girls each took a big kid out and my mom and I sat on the dock in the sunshine for an hour. WIN WIN WIN.

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When they got back, Bridgette told us she was freezing because her pants were soaking wet and Charley said sheepishly "I have a lot of trouble controlling my paddles." Oops.

Charley insisted that we celebrate Three Kings Day (Epiphany) by making a King Cake. He further insisted that HE make the cake since HE got the baby last year when I hastily slapped a King Cake together two hours before Ash Wednesday. But since he was at school and it takes four hours to make a King Cake I had to start the dough before he got home. Then he came home and rolled it out, filled it with brown sugar, butter, and pecans, and braided it.

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The recipe was for two cakes and I made one huge one because that's how we roll. I had the last piece for breakfast this morning. Yum.

I am back to work too finally. I haven't gone up to school yet, because I don't teach until next week, but I've started working at the cozy desk we put by the window for the kids and it is lovely and sunny. And yesterday I left the windows open all day (because I made these amazing Chinese meatballs that were so so good but also made the house smell like a Chinese restaurant that was on fire), which made it extra special until one o'clock in the morning when I woke up trying to scratch my face off for all the pollen that had blown into my eyes all day long (I sipped some kids' Benadryl directly from the bottle and was able to sleep for four more hours before finally waking up and counting the hours until I could take a Claratin. Doing better now).

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That is not beer, it is tea. Also, popcorn, where have you been all my life?

Also yesterday, the weather was wonderfully warm so the kids played outside in our drainage infrastructure all afternoon.

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Sunday, January 3, 2016

Christmas Break: The Best of Times, the Fightiest of Times

Wow, you guys. We have NEVER had such a fun and busy Christmas Break. I think it's because this is the first time Ryan took a big chunk of time off. This allowed us to do some fun outings and road trips instead of our usual Christmas break routine of endless screen time punctuated by brief bouts of cookie-making and forced church revelry. So GET COMFY and enjoy this two-thousand word travelogue of Academomias Do Christmas 2015.

We started the break with some ice skating on the roof of the fancy grocery store downtown. It seems like we do this every year, but this is the first time it was SEVENTY-FIVE DEGREES outside. That was a welcome change from the last time I remember doing it, when by the time we were done I couldn't feel my feet, which is undoubtedly a more authentic experience. Not many pictures because I was busy supervising three kids ON ICE while also trying not to kill myself, but we had a really great time. Charley got frustrated the first time he went out and it was really hard on him (we had to lift him over the wall because he was so distraught he couldn't work his way over to the door), but then he talked to my mom for a while, changed into a bigger pair of skates, and then gave it another try. He was ALL SMILES after his first successful lap. That kid has my heart. Here is Wes:

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Here's the whole group:

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The next day a friend invited us fishing at a pond near our house. I was delighted to spend time with this relatively new friend but it turned into kind of a disaster when Charley couldn't get his reel to work the way he wanted and Wes refused to fish because his rod was not exactly right either and I spent a lot of time trying to act casual and enjoy the adult conversation while trying not sweat through my clothes or shout obscenities across the pond after a kid threw a fishing pole in anger. *I* had a good time. Not sure about Charley and Wes.

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The first morning of actual Christmas Break, when Ryan and the little kids were home, we scheduled a group dentist appointment! Get excited!! The really exciting thing happened after the appointment when we took them to lunch and surprised them with a visit from Miss N, who was visiting her family for the holidays. It was a loud, excited, huggy, happy reunion in the parking lot of the restaurant. Afterward she stayed with us all day (lots of playing outside and running around, just like old times) and then spent the night in Mary's room (Mary slept with James. The all night kid-rave finally got old around nine o'clock when the raucous giggling turned to screaming and they both bodyslammed the gate down. Then we had to pause National Lampoons Christmas Vacation and actually go up there to separate them. Eventually they went to sleep. Eventually).

The weather on Christmas Even was weirdly gorgeous so we spent another whole day outside, first having breakfast tacos with our neighbors and then transitioning right into cinnamon roll making, bike riding, football throwing, and whatnot. We cranked the music up and opened a bottle of wine and honestly it was perfect. Also, our neighbors had some kids Charley and Wes's age visiting from out of town and then EVERYONE HAD A PLAYMATE. It was super fun.

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This weather was ridiculous, even for Texas.

I wore my tasteful seasonal vest, which perhaps is becoming less ironic as I age and spend more time baking and fussing over smudges on the kids cheeks.

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Ryan and I made eight (8!!) pans of cinnamon rolls.

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And a little bit after they were done it was time to get everyone into church clothes. I only took a picture of Mary at the house because everyone else was in NO MOOD (I totally scored her lined wool skirt for A DOLLAR at a kids' consignment store after she had a potty accident on the way to a holiday party a few weeks ago).

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They perked up when they got to ride in the Shalom Shuttle from the parking lot to the building.

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Miss N came with us to church, which was a special treat for us. Charley played "Angels We have Heard On High" for the prelude and did a great job. The kids once again got to choose to be shepherds or angels or wisemen and participate in the huge Christmas pageant all the kids do every year.

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Aside: HOW HUGE IS MY KID OMG??? WHEN AND HOW, I ASK YOU.

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They lit candles for Silent Night with no incident.

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Afterward it was so amazing outside we went to our favorite hamburger place to get a beer and play on the playground.

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And then we ran home to quickly finalize preparations for Santa's visit, which the kids were SUPER SERIOUS AND ADORABLE about this year. We went to bed at a reasonable hour and awakened before dawn to the sound of a kid shaking his stocking out on the floor in the hallway and exclaiming to a brother "CANDY AND HOT WHEELS AND OH!! STAR WARS BANDAIDS!!!!!!!.

Chaos ensued, much of it with kids in their underwear (can't sleep in coordinating flannel PJs when the overnight low is SIXTY FIVE DEGREES), so not many pictures, but it was a good morning.

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Around eight James and I went outside to play with the neighbor kids and show off his new Razor scooter and also deliver two pans of cinnamon rolls, but other than that we played all day until my parents came for lunch and more presents and more FOOD and CHAMPAGNE OBVIOUSLY.

Christmas dinner was at my aunt and uncle's house. Warm and fun and delicious as always.

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Miss N came over the next day to spend even more time with is (her visits were a major highlight of Christmas break for us all!). We played for a while then went to my aunt's house (different aunt) for the traditional Polish Christmas celebration of fish, soup, and pirogi (SO MANY DELICIOUS PIROGI). After the feast no one was hungry for dinner that night so we went back home and hung out while the kids bickered and ultimately went to bed early. MEMORIES! (Honestly though, not memories. There were some CRAZY KID FIGHTS this year, but I am having trouble remembering the details. I think there was biting. There was definitely pushing and screaming, but not all at once. And it wasn't continuous. Sometimes they took breaks to watch TV or have magical holiday funtime moments.) Sadly, Miss N went back to New York shortly after that. We miss her already.

The next day we got in the car and drove to Ryan's parents' house. We made it approximately forty-five miles before our SECOND pit stop (first was to get James out of the car for a time-out after an outrageous kicking and screaming tantrum over the fact that he was wearing pajama pants, which was only because he didn't comply with any of my FIFTY MILLION requests to put on normal pants before it was time to go). The second stop was because Lady Mary had to go potty. Fortunately we were at our favorite rest stop, the one with the tornado shelter and informative exhibit of terrifying tornado images including a video entitled "Central Texas Weather: from Delightful to Deadly" that we all enjoyed. Also, did I mention that winter finally showed up that day and it was really freaking freezing? It was really freaking freezing. An hour after the tornado rest stop it was time to stop again for koloches, which turned out to be our lunch (which was FINE WITH ME, I'll take two of the cream cheese and one of the ham and cheddar, thankyouverymuch).

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We made it to Ryan's parents' and had a great afternoon of playing and catching up followed by a nice dinner with his sister and BIL and our nephews. The kids were in bed by eight and then Ryan and I went to see old friends of ours that live in the area. We talked for a couple of hours about SO MANY AWESOME AND NERDY THINGS. Too numerous to count here. But someone said something about the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum and someone else talked about proxies and indigenous peoples and early effects of agriculture on ecosystems and the atmosphere and THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU PUT A COMBINED TWO DECADES OF GRADUATE SCHOOL INTO ONE ROOM WITH A BOTTLE OF SPIKED EGG NOG.

The next morning we went to the awesome children's museum there. We spent five hours, but could have spent days exploring. We did our own cell cultures (from cheek cells), we precipitated plant DNA from wheat germ using a many-step process that the kids got to do all on their own, we saw a cool exhibit on phosphorescence, Mary got to play in the toddler area for a couple of hours, during which she kept returning again and again to the hand dryer next to the water station, Charley and I built a structure out of KNex and tested it to failure with a simulated earthquake. GOOD STUFF.

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The kids were completely exhausted after the museum but managed to watch a movie before dinner. We tucked them in early again and had the whole night ahead of us, but chose to go back to the hotel to watch HGTV in lieu of seeing Star Wars because both of us were pretty sure we wouldn't be able to stay up past nine thirty (spoiler alert: we were right).

The next day we headed back home with a sick kid and a stop at Buckey's.

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And have been officially lazing around enjoying the last of the break before we have to face the real world (rolling start: tomorrow Ryan and the little kids go back, Wednesday the big kids and I go back). We had a lot of fun, but also we had a LOT A LOT A LOT OF FIGHTING. It got so bad on Friday that I took away TV all weekend, which ended up being a good thing because Wes made coffee in bed for Ryan and me and Charley started studying sea-life taxonomies in a marine biology book my parents gave him for Christmas. Also we routinely slept until almost eight, which is going to be a REALLY HARD HABIT TO BREAK, but NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT. Tomorrow we are back at it.