Sunday, December 31, 2017

A little hiking, a little criminal mischeif

We are squarely in the middle of Christmas Break and we have settled into an impressive routine of sloth and overeating that is going to be difficult to break once school and work start in approximately eighty-seven years.

This could be a short post because it is officially Too Cold for Texans outside so the children are blowing off steam by running in shrieky circles around the first floor. Dining room, kitchen living room, foyer. Around and around and around until either I scream at them, turn the TV back on, or have to take someone to the emergency room. All fantasies about living somewhere with seasons have been suspended indefinitely.

Yesterday was balmy and in the fifties and the kids were similarly restless and terrible so we decided to go hiking. Because Ryan knows how to get me to agree to getting in the car with the crazed honeybadgers, he suggested the trail whose trailhead is across the street from a taqueria.

Update: they are throwing a pair of Mary's undies back and forth and screaming "UNDERPANTS POWER!!!" and wrestling each other to the floor. Sadly, I forgot to buy rum for the rum balls I wanted to make for the NYE party we are attending until it was too late.

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FORCED MARCH TIME, MY DARLINGS. Also, Mary hikes in Mini Boden, always.

It has been a dry fall, so there was no actual water in the creek, but that didn't stop the kids from getting distracted by the dry creek bed and then complaining when we asked them to come back to the trail so we could go for an actual walk.

We had a really nice walk. Built some forts in the woods. Endured an inhuman amount of complaining. Played with a snail.

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And then had a nice taco lunch and headed to a playground we had promised the kids we would go to. After an hour or so of playing we decided to go to this urban graffiti park I've been wanting to check out. We found the place easily, but got stuck in two separate mini traffic jams where no cars could move in either direction and I had to back down the street and around the corner. Finally retreated and found a spot a few blocks away and we walked back over. I was feeling a lot of pressure at this point since it was all my idea and we'd already done so many fun things that day. We really could have gone home and called it a really good day, but we took the kids to an abandoned three-story concrete foundation covered in graffiti because I wanted to do it.

The website for the place said you have to have a pass to paint on the walls, so I had told the kids we were only there to look at the art, but when we walked up someone handed Wes a can of blue spray paint and before I knew it he was writing his name on a fence.

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Wholesome childhood activities.

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The kids all found paint cans they could still use. As I said to Ryan, "Of course you don't have to pay. Of course there are no rules. This is Austin. It all makes sense now."

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Future criminals at work.

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So sneaky.

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When we got home the kids were so exhausted they sat on the couch staring at the TV without even turning it on. We slapped together some dinner and got everyone in bed before eight.

(The kids have moved upstairs to make a fort in the family room. It is noisy, but it is not right next to my head, which is where James was standing loudly smacking a piece of watermelon gum before I glared at him with the eyes of death).

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The title is that emoticon with the huge eyeballs

Not sure how to best capture a week of extremely photo-heavy kind of days in one blog post, but since I've been studiously avoiding my computer (since when I am on my computer I feel like I should be working on something that I have been avoiding, making "studiously" a funny choice of adverb), this is where we are. We just got back from a nice trip to see Ryan's parents in Adjacent Large Metropolitan Area to the North where we ate great food, enjoyed great company, and went to see Coco. This is the first short road trip we have taken where we have deigned to use the mobile DVD player we bought for our huge summer road trip and I am here to tell you that I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT. As I said to Ryan, "If you bring that DVD player I will go ANYWHERE YOU WANT." I had no idea you could go on a road trip without almost surrendering a child at the fire station. Life changing. I even had time to finish the Mobius Strip cowl I started several weeks ago.

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Before that there were MANY OTHER THINGS to tell you about.

Friday we all headed downtown to the Capitol for Tuba Christmas, a yearly celebration of tubas and seasonal music that takes place outside. Having things outside in Texas in December is generally not a problem, but the forecast for Friday called for a strong cold front to pass through sometime during the concert. Not only would this front bring a twenty degree drop in temperature, it would also bring stinging wind and aggressive drizzle. BAH! I said. We will just bring our jackets. We will not MELT. This is totally fine.

It was seventy degrees when we got out of the car and walked over. It was in the lower fifties by the time Ryan returned with hot chocolate for everyone. It was FORTY SEVEN degrees and raining by the time the concert started.

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All I want for Christmas is walking pneumonia.

When it was time for the music to start someone loaned us an umbrella and I managed to cram myself and three kids underneath it using a concrete retaining wall as a wind break.

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The music was beautiful as always, I do love Tuba Christmas, but after about the ninth song we gave up and headed to the car. Changing into dry clothes was LIFE AFFIRMING.

Saturday we went to Wigilia, the Polish celebration of Christmas Eve, at my aunt and uncle's house.

Sadly, I only took one picture, and it's this one of my little matching Matryoshka dolls at the end of the table.

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But it was a great celebration with friends, wine, food, and lots and lots of delicious homemade pierogis. They had to make more twice because James and Wes kept polishing off the last of the platter.

And that night, Former Nanny/Current Honorary Aunt Nicki came over! So good to catch up and remark about the tallness of the children over sugar cookies and the world's spiciest pizza (Wes dared James to eat a bite of it without taking a drink of milk for one minute. He made it.). I really miss seeing her almost daily. I always want to tell her about how much she has helped our family in ways big and small (mostly big) but instead I just hug her an awkwardly long time and threaten to keep her from flying back to her (enviably cool life in) New York.

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Of course this meant that the next day was Christmas Eve, during which we spent approximately eight hours at church. Ryan wanted to go to the last regular Sunday morning Advent service (nerd) (like me), then we helped set up for the children's service, then we went to Starbucks because obviously, and then we had to be back at church to put on our costumes and get ready for the children's service.

Flanders Family Christmas is a go...
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Because why not?

In addition to helping kids participate in the spontaneous pageant, we also handed out bells and halos and crowns and candles. Wes played the prelude, Charley played the offeratory. We didn't sit down until the very end. I say this not to brag, but to document the level of sheer insanity that was this Christmas Eve. It was fun and exhausting and wonderful. Not peaceful. No no no.

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This part always makes me verklempt. Defiantly lighting candles in the dark. The way the room goes from dark to warm and cozy and bright. It was especially poignant this year. (And not just because next year Charley won't technically be in Children's Ministry any longer because he will be a Youth).

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So beautiful

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Nicki took a weirdly good family picture.

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When we finally got home, everyone was WRECKED. We turned on the original 1951 classic "Scrooge" because we are a family of nerds, plugged in the tree, and everyone relaxed while Ryan and I made a tamale dinner, two pans of cinnamon rolls, brownies with peppermint icing, and two breakfast stratas for the next morning.

When I looked over at the kids I saw the three boys all cuddled up together on one side of the couch. Mary walked over and Wes said "You can only be on this couch if you want to snuggle." Mary burrowed in and they covered her with the quilt and watched the whole movie like that. These kids, you guys. I love them.

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To continue the theme of Surreally Good Behavior, they did not wake us up until SEVEN THIRTY Christmas morning. In fact, Ryan and I woke up naturally and wondered aloud if there was some kind of problem. Ryan sneaked out of our bedroom and found the three boys PLAYING CHESS in the play room. He ran back to our room to report the news. Several minutes later, we heard Mary's door open and only then did all of them come into our room with their stockings. This was--not what I was expecting.

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After all that snuggling and considerate behavior, even I found the pre-coffee four-way harmonica concert charming.

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They led the way downstairs in a thundering hoarde.

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Yep, Santa came!

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Doesn't the tree look pretty here? I took it down already. Because I am a heartless monster who has two classes starting in two weeks and a conference to prepare for and I do not need to be looking at that thing on Valentine's (Memorial?) Day.

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The neighbors came out with new bikes and we played and drank champagne and shivered in our PJs and coats. My parents came over and we drank more champagne and had a second Christmas (My mom gave me an Instant Pot, which I am EXTREMELY excited about, so hit me with all your vegetarian recipes!)

And then we jumped in the car to head over to my aunt and uncle's house for the traditional Christmas meal of really delicious meat with béarnaise sauce, twice baked potatoes, fruit, and Christmas cookies. The little kids were each paired with a corresponding older cousin and all of them spent a lot of time hanging out on the couches looking at screens, making towers out of marshmallows and toothpicks, and tormenting the family dog. Dinner was delicious and we capped off the holiday by stripping the kids down to their undies and letting them get into the hot tub.

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Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

I will be forwarding the above to any student who dares greet me in the new year with "Did you see that email I sent you?"

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Charlie Brown Birthday Party

So I guess the biggest news around here is that JAMES TURNED SEVEN! I have never thought much about what having a holiday birthday would be like for him, but so far it seems to be a mixture between guilt-fueled over shopping and last-minute slapped-together birthday dinners. Come to think of it, the other kids also get last-minute slapped together birthday dinners too. Every family has a culture.

We always start birthdays with cupcakes, but we already had a thing of cookie dough all made in the fridge, so Ryan whipped these up while I was at Geeks Who Drink with some friends.

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We took the traditional birthday cubby shot.

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Fussed over him what felt like an appropriate amount and then whisked everyone off to the orthodontist's office so Charley and Wes could get their expanders put on. Merry Christmas!!

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Sent this picture to my friend and said "You have an asthma attack on my birthday, I schedule a ninety minute orthodontist appointment on yours.

It worked out quite well for him because I felt so bad for the Expander Brothers that we went to both Sonic AND Torchy's after the appointment for drinks and tacos, respectively. I made everyone sing Christmas carols in the car so we could directly address the fact that neither of the big kids could pronounce R's, S's, or W's before they got pissed and wrecked the rest of the day. Also I had to use a fork to pull a piece of lettuce out of Charley's expander right in the middle of the restaurant. Parenting is so neat.

They spent the rest of the day at a movie with our sitter while I did a little birthday shopping slash secret Christmas preparation. For James's birthday dinner we loaded up his presents and two flats of store bought cupcakes and went to his current favorite restaurant that also happens to be a few blocks away from church, P. Terry's, and met my sister for an impromptu party. We ordered our burgers and while we waited for the food, he opened his presents.

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He asked for a new diary. We gave him one, and a big pack of colored pencils and a new pen shaped like an electric guitar that he LOVES, but his favorite present was a clip on lamp for his room. He's been reading by night light after bedtime and I figured he is now old enough to be trusted with access to a real lamp after bedtime (of course he is, I know this. Poor poor middle child).

With ten minutes to go before we had to leave to make it to a rehearsal for Christmas Eve church I passed out the cupcakes and we all sang "Happy Birthday to James". The other people in the restaurant clapped. A sweet elderly woman with a German accent came over and gave James a big hug and caressed his face while she cooed "You're going to have many, many, many more!" James said this morning "I don't remember what she said because her skin was SO SOFT and she was rubbing my face so nice."

I went in feeling silly and a bit guilty about his last-minute party and all of the friends I should have thought to invite (even though we *literally* only had forty minutes), but after singing to him and watching him open his presents all I could think about was how sweet it is to celebrate James, no matter how small the party. Our relentlessly positive little lovebug that we call Olaf because he likes warm hugs and is the family cheerleader (Some people are worth melting for). I *LOVED* his party and how special he felt.

When I asked him what he thought about his party he said "I liked opening presents and singing at P. Terry's. It was kind of weird, but really fun."

It was weird and wonderful. One of my all time favorites.

Also between dinner and cupcakes for everyone it set us back a whole twenty-six dollars.

In other news, today is Mary's last day of school for the break. She's already written out cards for her teachers (her idea), so when it was time to leave, when I was making a mental note to deal with teacher gifts at afternoon pickup, she grabbed the last two of the random pile of Trader Joe's gift items I bought for the occasion and walked out to Ryan's car. Girl knows what's up. I don't know if she's that independent because she is a girl or because she's the fourth and she has figured out that Ryan and I can be relied on for only the most basic food, shelter, and medical needs and nothing more. Future college housemates who go to Mary for bandaides, ibuprofen, and tampons? You are welcome! Shoddy parenting is the key to success.

The boys are at the movies with my mom now, so it's time for me to MAKE CHRISTMAS MAGIC HAPPEN. This will require a trip to the store and probably also a shower.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Almost Christmas "Break"!

I started this Facebook post and then realized that I have a bit more processing to do on this subject than would be courteous on Facebook.

In exactly one hour and thirty minutes my (five foot tall hundred pound) baby will have ONE SEMESTER remaining in elementary school. (I will process Mary's matriculation into ELEMENTARY SCHOOL another time. ANOTHER TIME DAMMIT). This...came as kind of a surprise honestly.

Next year we will have a middle schooler, three elementary students, and ZERO PRESCHOOLERS.

Mary will be starting kindergarten in the fall, just two days after her fifth birthday (we wanted the kids to all be two years apart in school #precisionfamilyplanning). Do you know what happened when Charley started kindergarten? Mary happened. I looked at those two tiny little boy faces in my house, recognized that time passes altogether too quickly, and that they would also one day grow up and leave me (for kindergarten, we are still talking about kindergarten) and decided that there was time for one more. I am so glad we made that choice (obviously). And now she has grown up and is leaving me. But of course she already has because she has been killing it in Montessori school since she was eleven months old, which is both different than I originally imagined and the best possible thing that could have happened for our family.

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Will always be #fourthbaby to me.

Anyway. Charley is ready (intellectually and in body size) for middle school and Mary is dying to go to kindergarten almost as much as I'm looking forward to filling her room with tiny pleated skirts and jumpers and Mary Janes and kneesocks (as much as I love all the #princesstulle). I usually handle these transitions with excitement and I am excited, but dang. This one feels bigger somehow. Good thing I still have like eight months to get used to the idea.

In completely unrelated news, since you should always dress for the job you want to have, I apparently want to be a grad student, a tenured professor, or a vagrant.

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Finals week fashion.

I came home after that last post and admitted to Ryan that my phone's screen had gotten so bad that it was not really useable and he went upstairs and returned with a wrapped Christmas present. A new phone. An indestructible case. And screen protectors. He is the BEST.

I used it to take this flattering picture.

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Had to do our semi-monthly kid shearing inside this time because it was freezing and raining outside.

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Went to my boat's Christmas party on Friday and those rowers CAN COOK.

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And I will leave you with this video. If there is anything more unselfconsciously cute than a nine year old, I can't imagine what it would be.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

And now to address the grading pile, the research pile, and the laundry pile

Wow, you guys. The screen on my phone has been broken for a few months--the glass is not broken, but something is wrong with the connection and the image shakes up and down really bad and it is super annoying to read, but since I go through phones like nobody's business I was determined to stick it out until at least May, when the stupid thing will be ONE YEAR OLD. But today it has gotten even worse to where I have to estimate where each letter I type would be if the screen wasn't broken and I was trying to send these pictures to myself and accidentally sent them to my dad's old email address and the university's print shop instead. Probably time to address the phone issue since it is my primary means of documenting the children's upbringing. Also all my pictures are blurry. Annoying.

But! We had a weekend and that means it's time for Weekend Update, a weekly feature in which I realize it's been an unacceptable number of days since I last blogged and slap something together while I drink my second cup of coffee at work. I'd take a picture of the second cup of coffee like a good xennial, but see above re: busted-ass phone.

Friday evening Ryan met us at church to the exciting news that not only had I signed the children up for the Live Nativity, I'd also noticed that they needed a Holy Family and signed the two of us up as well! He is such a good sport. Also, the baby they gave us to hold was super lifelike and I found myself rocking it and patting it's diapered bottom like it was a real baby. I had to put it on the table momentarily while I got my costume on and I was careful to support its head. I found this both endearing and highly unsettling.

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Fourth-baby was in the bathroom while I was taking pictures, so I missed getting one in her angel costume, but here are the boys as the Three Wisemen!

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After Mary tried being an angel a couple of times she wanted to be a Wiseman too.

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Saturday we spent the morning wresting the house back from the brink of health department intervention and then went out for pizza.

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We tried a new place in our little downtown that has slices bigger than the average child's face. Extremely satisfactory.

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Sunday was church, donuts, and a baby shower for a dear friend (I gave her a cute little outfit, diapers, lotion, and a Guinness, which I thought would get a laugh, but instead the women all murmured "very good for lactation!" I do love all my hippie friends). As usual I couldn't sleep Sunday night, which was problematic given my 4:45 wakeup call for rowing, so I am powering through the day on coffee and positive thinking (ha!). AND since we added two sprints to our workout this morning, I feel like I can look forward to a Guinness of my own after bedtime.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Dreaming of a...

After a bit of a scheduling mixup I found myself planning to attend my school's very High Church service of Lessons and Carols with all four of the children at 6:00 on a school night. This was a far cry from the contemplative experience I had originally planned with one of my friends, but it could not be helped, so I stuffed them full of Thundercloud subs, arrived early so we could park right in front, and hoped for the best.

Unexpected treat number one is that it started SNOWING while I was picking them up. They tumbled out of our nanny's car and flung themselves onto the bare grass to make snow angels then ran around the tiny lawn of Mary's Montessori school screaming and trying to catch the (very sparse) snowflakes in their mouths.

It was still flurrying when we got to the chapel, which was, honestly, SUPER MAGICAL, even though I was trying to manage expectations. The "snow" was not supposed to stick or amount to anything interesting.

We settled into our pew to be really inappropriate for the twenty five minutes we had to wait for the service to begin.

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One broken candle and multiple hissed death threats later, it was finally time to start. The choir processed in singing Once in Royal David's City acapella and I was immediately glad to be there, all of us together, completely forgetting about the previous ten minutes, during which one kid farted loudly against the wooden pew in a way that echoed through the entire building (this happened twice) and also that Wes tickled Charley so forcefully that Charley launched himself over the arm rest on the end of the pew into the aisle.

The moment when the organ joins the choir is like CHRISTMAS for me, you know?

I love the Lessons and Carols service. It is so beautiful. By the time we lit candles I was practically drunk on holiday contentedness (#nerd). I took this picture of Wes singing with his candle, looking like a little English choir boy with the choir behind him with their lit candles.

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Magical.

At the end you sing like fourteen Christmas carols with your candles while you wait for your turn to walk out into the aisle and out of the church. Since we were sitting near the back (because reasons), this meant I had to supervise four children with lit candles for almost fifteen minutes. The lady in front of us has no idea how lucky she is to still have her long, flowing brown hair. Not relaxing. But still special and fun. I got to hear most of O Come All Ye Faithful, which is the last song, and the one the choir likes to really let it rip on.

We managed to make it to the back of the chapel without igniting anyone, which was a Christmas miracle, and I had just gotten everyone to stop screwing around and blow out their candles when I looked through the open front doors of the chapel onto the academic mall to see A FREAKING BLANKET OF FREAKING SNOW.

It was, like, Hallmark Movie-level magic, you guys.

The kids FLEW out of the chapel, down the steps, across the sidewalks, and into the grass. They made snow angels, they threw snowballs, they screamed "MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! IT'S A MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!" so loud. So loud.

They frolicked (in HOODIES, friends. The temperature here has not dropped below sixty in four years (#thanksCO2) and I sort of let the coat thing lapse) for about fifteen minutes before we got in the car and headed home, where it took another fifteen minutes to get them in the front door. We only went inside because Wes started screaming about his aching hands, which is what happens when you make snowballs for half an hour without any gloves on.

They were back out there again this morning (in more appropriate clothing).

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And I yell-sang Christmas carols all the way to work. I did not realize how unhappy my soul is when it is EIGHTY FIVE DEGREES during Advent (like it was on Monday). This has been a fun little break.

I finally feel not-ridiculous wearing my gum boot moccasins.

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