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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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

It's the most photo-essay time of the year

It's the LAST WEEK OF CLASS, BETCHES. You know what that means. I pick Mary up off the playground when it is dark and then go home to feed the kids an ill-thought out dinner of junk from a bag before settling into the couch dent with my laptop until it's time to collapse in bed in an exhausted pile of defeat. Ho ho ho!

They warn you that this will happen, and it is such a cliché, but damn it if the kids didn't all grow like six inches in their sleep last night. I was literally *startled* when a fully grown man walked out of Charley's bedroom today.

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They looked even more like a quirky pack of urban roommates from a nineties sitcom when I came downstairs to find them all eating cereal out of cups this morning.

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Not only are they eating cereal out of cups as if they were raised in a barn, they are also sitting in their favorite breakfast nook, the pile of swimsuits and towels that lives on the floor of the pantry. #nailedit #homemakeroftheyear

Major accomplishments for the weekend include Christmas Jammies,

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and Tree Assembly.

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Stockings were hung by the CHIMNEY with care (we have not had a chimney in previous houses).

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Santa was visited. This year with no freakouts, sadly.

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Santa: Would you like to sit on my knee, buddy? Wes: No thanks.

And the nativity scenes have been arranged into ever more imaginative configurations each day.

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Here we have the same-sex Holy Family cradling Jesus while the Three Kings look on from space. Not exactly historically accurate, but who's to say?

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And here there appears to be some kind of party or dance going on while Jesus sleeps alone in his manger. This is how Mary (our Mary) experienced infancy, so I am not surprised to see this.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Last week tonight

I haven't had a moment to blog since we were on Thanksgiving "Break" but this afternoon I attended a coffee meeting around two o'clock and was forced to have an espresso drink in the name of collegiality so even though it is 9:45 and I've been awake for seventeen hours, the night is still young.

On Monday night we hosted a small gathering of more than forty people at our house for Friendsgiving. It was fun, the way things are fun when you have more than forty people in your house, including twenty-four feral children who I really didn't even see for more than four hours (five days after the party I found two hot chocolate size marshmallows cemented to my kitchen ceiling and a plastic fork embedded in the family room carpet). But it was also really magical to have all those people we love in our house at the same time. It was a rowdy bunch and most of them were packed elbow to elbow in my kitchen. It was a non-snarky dream come true.


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I sent this photo to some friends with the caption "I have just performed a PAP smear on a turkey. I am not cut out for the medical profession." In spite of a thorough internal examination, which yielded something unspeakable that I promptly doused in holy water and buried outside, I still managed to miss the bag of giblets--my dad discretely discarded it when he was carving and discovered it nestled in the cavity, slightly smoldered.

My friend Rosa's Texas Sheet Cake disappeared in nanoseconds. So did two cheesecakes, two loaves of almond poppyseed bread, a chocolate pecan torte, a pecan pie, three pounds of brussels sprouts, six pounds of mashed potatoes, forty-eight dinner rolls, a pot of macaroni and cheese, and an entire turkey (and a charcuterie platter and a whole bunch of dip and, let's be honest, the entire left side of the Trader Joe's festive holiday alcohol selection).

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This scared the bajeesus out of me when I happened upon it the next morning.

Party highlights include following the turkey recipe to the letter only to have it come out looking exactly like the turkey in "Christmas Vacation". My mom saved the day by whipping up some gravy on the spot and serving it elegantly in one of my Pyrex measuring cups. I would go on to burn a second turkey (this one for family use) later that week. Non-sarcastic highlights include walking around my house with a bottle of wine, topping off people's glasses and chatting, watching two of my dear friends from different parts of my life finally get to have a conversation, and my pastor friend's lively 5-minute retelling of her sermon about all the family drama present in Jesus's lineage to a rapt crowd. I went to bed feeling so content and loved.

Tuesday was a hard day. Tuesday we attended the funeral for a family member's daughter, who passed away after a long illness. There were some really beautiful moments in both of the services, but it was achingly sad and the staggering unfairness of it all was never far from my mind. The rhythmic call and response of the psalms and the familiar hymns were comforting, and so was the homily, whose message--"Why do these things happen? We don't know."--was refreshingly humble and honest in a world that often tries to explain hard things away. The kids had a lot of questions, which we did our best to answer (though some of them had no answers), and they did a good job of staying calm and respectful. It's hard to be sad, but it's even harder to be sad alone. I hope the parents could feel all of the love we were and are sending them, even though we can't imagine what the right words might be.

We spent a cozy Thanksgiving at my parents' house with tons of great food and fun games. The big cousins were there, which meant each kid got their own personal big kid to play with. There were some shenanigans in the woods and something involving poking around a residential construction site down the hill. Charley and my (adult of legal age) cousin Tim shared a moment with a couple of longnecks on the back porch (99% sure Charley's is root beer).

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There was a traditional gingerbread Airstream craft station.

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And a beautiful table (and yes, Charley and Wes *do* like to show off their top two adult teeth like that in every. single. picture).

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And thanks to an early feast and the cleverness of the recent time change and subsequent early-evening darkness, the kids were all tucked in bed by seven thirty. We had a nice, but pretty ordinary weekend and today we jumped right back in to THE LAST TWO WEEKS OF THE SEMESTER. The kids were AMAZED by all the good food we ate last week (ANOTHER THANKSGIVING DINNER! James exclaimed on Saturday night). It was partially because we were trying to used up extra party food and were sent home with a carload of delicious leftovers from my parents. And it was also because I had nearly a week off of work and my cooking mojo came roaring back. I commented to Ryan, while I was chopping up a giant butternut squash and supervising him massaging the kale for the massaged kale salad "Wow! It's so hard to believe that just a week ago I was so exhausted by the thought of heating up some frozen veggies and scrambling a dozen eggs that I had pizza delivered instead!"

School started back this morning and tonight we had hot dogs and macaroni and cheese from a box. There may be a relationship between those two things. Two more weeks. And one final.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

This is normal, right?

Some conversations we have had at my house today.

1. (As we were getting out of the car at church for children's choir, me)

This was the tail end of a light discussion I was having with the children during the drive about the relative merits of communism, socialism, democratic socialism, and democratic republicanism, and the spectrum on which these ideas all exist.  Because my life is just one long qualifying exam.

"...so you see, the debate over healthcare is about whether everyone deserves healthcare.  Some people think healthcare is like a Ferrari, you should only get one if you work hard and get a good job to pay for it yourself.  A Ferrari is an example of a privilege.  But you can choose whether to buy a Ferrari or not.  You can't choose whether you need antibiotics when you get strep throat.  That makes it seem like a right.  And the debate is mostly about whether healthcare is a right or a privilege."

2. (Getting ready for bed, Ryan)

"---No, Buddy, you cannot put your tooth into Charley's Have-A-Heart trap in your room tonight.  If you trap the Tooth Fairy think of all the other kids who have lost teeth today who won't get their dollar!"*

*The reason James has a tooth for the Tooth Fairy is because Charley helped along one of the particularly loose ones WITH A PAIR OF RUSTY PLIERS when the nanny went inside for a glass of water.

3. (Reading stories)

"Stop licking your armpit.  Stop.  Just stop it.  Because it's gross.  I said knock it off."

4. (In the car on the way home from choir.  Wes has been bickering with Mary for five miles over a blue playground ball he wants to hold)

"Mary and Wes!  Stop bickering over that ball!  There is no reason to fight over balls!  We have plenty of balls!!"

[hysterical laughter from the wayback.  Wes snorts with anger]

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Meditation on Suburbia

This morning Ryan went outside to get Mary's lunchbox from the car (she cannot remember to bring it inside no matter what. Also this one contained an entire uneaten "turkeydinner sandwich") and when he opened the door the neighbor kids who were shooting baskets in our driveway froze like deer in the headlights. He laughed and told them to keep having fun. Then he came back in and continued packing Mary's lunch.

Shortly after that we heard a commotion and Wes came thundering down the stairs, crashed through the kitchen (our house has lots of hard surfaces and everything sounds extra loud) and into the garage. He emerged seconds later holding several playground balls under his arms then wordlessly ran out the front door.

Wes does not miss an opportunity for some spontaneous neighborhood funtime.

Also his room overlooks the driveway.  So you know he was up there listening to the thump-thump-thump.

Apparently he got over his pique that I had asked him to change into some uniform-approved white socks (and take off the yellow soccer socks he had pulled up to his thighs) and decided a few minutes of basketball would be more fun than continuing to sulk in his room (after spending the first half hour of the day angrily eating a piece of cinnamon toast sitting on the rug in front of the sink.  He sure showed me).

 The other kids ran out of the house after him and soon I was drinking my coffee in the front yard, in my jammies, watching a pack of kids play a chaotic game of pick up basketball.

Our other neighbor, who has a one year old, walked out of her house dressed for work to find six children chasing playground balls all over the street. Mary politely waved and said "Good morning!"

And then Ryan came out of the house, briefcase slung over his shoulder, coffee in hand, and exclaimed "Time to go to school!" and everyone noisily climbed into the car.  They buckled in and closed the door just as the last straggler from the house scurried across the yard and jumped inside.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Happily Mundane

Sometime on Saturday, after a day spent going to church holiday craft fairs with Mary and my sister and my niece, I realized that it was the anniversary of mine and Ryan's first date. THE NINETEENTH anniversary to be exact. Which came as a bit of a surprise because despite all evidence to the contrary I still feel like I just tumbled out of grad school into a reasonably adult suburban existence.

The fact that I realized this in the middle of a wild Saturday night spent finally tackling the box of odd socks that has been accumulating in my utility room while drinking beer and binge watching The West Wing was very apropos for where we are in life right now.

I snapped this picture to commemorate the occasion.

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Nineteenth anniversary, WOOO HOOOO! Ryan is alive here, believe it or not. And six people have a lot of socks.

It was a beautifully mundane weekend, actually.

Charley finally had a chance to take apart the Barbie power wheel he liberated from my sister's neighbor's trash while I was distracted watching Mary fling herself into the pool over and over again. He and the neighbor kid are turning it into a go cart.

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James and Mary raked up the world's most pitiful leaf pile to jump in. I guess this is a "downside" to having live oaks?

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Bless it's puny little leaf pile heart.

Things got more exciting in the afternoon after I drove approximately fifty miles away for a Craigslist trail-a-bike for Mary. We've been wanting one for years and now that Charley is riding a man's bike and James and Wes can both go far and fast, we really needed one, instead of continuing to take turns taking the boys out (Mary is too big for the seat and the trailer, but too young to ride her tiny pink be-training wheeled bike very far on the trail). It took some creative hammering and WD40, but Ryan got it attached to his bike and it was an INSTANT HIT.

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Watching her pedal that giant thing is ADORABLE. She is amazing and brave. She did not want to get off. So we took a big bike ride to a park a couple of miles away (neighborhood friend was very disappointed to stay home but we saw him out with his dad on the way back).

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We played for a bit until it started to get dark and then rode home.

It was a TRIUMPH.

When we got home the kids watched a PBS documentary about airplanes they've been following while we made breakfast tacos for dinner. They ate EIGHTEEN EGGS, a pound each of cheese and sausage, like fifteen tortillas, and an entire pumpkin pie and then fell asleep for the night at 7:30.

Dinner was calm and happy (because the kids were calm and happy). It had been going downhill fast all week, probably because we had a string of overcommitted Scout/school program weekends and a bunch of busy afternoons and none of us had had the chance to Just Be. An entire Saturday of freetime was just what we all needed.

And then Sunday Charley acolyted at the traditional service, which meant he had to wear a robe (GOT TO wear a robe, he would say).

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He and I went to breakfast and then met up with Ryan and the other kids back at church. I played hooky and saw a movie with a friend, then went grocery shopping and headed home to cook all afternoon while kids did homework and played and practiced piano. Finally I turned on the TV and then Mary sacked out on a chair at 3:45.

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It was a good weekend.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Halloween and a birthday last week!

I asked for colder Halloween weather and BOY HOWDY DID TEXAS DELIVER. It was about fifty degrees when we set out for ToT, but at least it had stopped RAINING. I made veggie chili (homemade, only because I can slap it together with my eyes closed) and apple cobbler (from frozen) because this is how I mesh my Pinterest vision of how holidays should look with the realities of working until 4:30 in the afternoon and having to stop at the store for zombie makeup. No one was really interested in dinner anyway once the doorbell started ringing, so we slapped on their costumes and ran out. Charley was a centaur. This might be my favorite costume request of all time.

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(Other than this one of course, which was taken just a few days before Charley was born. We were Brittany and K-Fed. It was very topical in 2006)

Brittany and K-Fed.  The winners!

We also had Elsa and a zombie doctor. They were out of zombie makeup kits at the store so James is wearing a Wet n'Wild shade called "Goth" on his lips and some black eyeshadow around his eyes. I used an eyeliner to draw scars, also came in handy for drawing a six pack on the centaur. I was quite proud of my handiwork given I haven't worn makeup since the first Obama administration, and only occasionally even then.

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And Wes wore a size 5 racecar driver costume and his roller blades. He looked amazing.

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Despite all of us being dressed for much warmer conditions, we stayed out for nearly two hours and hit every house in our corner of the neighborhood. It was a subdued affair, given some of our recent past Halloweens, after which we woke up to find mysterious upholstered furniture on our lawn and a car full of juice boxes and hot dogs, but I blame the weather and the fact that it was a Tuesday night. It started to rain right at the crack of 8:30, which meant no annoying kids ringing our doorbell while I nursed an ice cold Pumpkinhead in front of the fire while watching Call the Midwife. Perfect evening.

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It was eighty-five the day after Halloween. Sigh.

Other exciting things that happened this week was Charley's birthday!!

Before we get to all the pearl clutching about the fact that I have AN ELEVEN YEAR OLD, behold the cake that sent my entire day into freefall. We're talking ACTUAL TEARS.

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Stupid cake looks stupid. Looked much improved after I dumped a ton of half and half into the mixer and thinned out the remaining frosting, which somehow made enough to make it look sort of respectable.

LATER, I forgot to buy broccoli for the broccoli-cheddar turnovers I wanted to make him and I refused to pay ten bucks for a thing of puff pastry at Sprouts and instead bought some refrigerated pie crust, which turned out to be incredibly hard to work with.

But maybe what I was really freaking out about was that Charley. Is. ELEVEN.

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He is so tall that Mary thinks he's an adult.

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He is smart and clever and SO WITTY. It is sometimes hard not to laugh at some of the biting 35 year old sarcasm that comes out of his mouth. Sometimes I don't even try not to laugh, honestly.

He's been riding the same bike (which was Ryan's childhood bike) for several years, so it was time for an upgrade.

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We also gave him the next Heroes of Olympus book and a tea mug he adores that makes it look like the string of your teabag is Benjamin Franklin's kite. He is such a quirky lovebug.

This weekend was Charley's first campout with the Boy Scouts, who in contrast to Cub Scouts, set up their own tents, cook their own food, chop their own firewood, and start their own fires. This is a happy man-child.

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Who is eleven. In other news, our porch still looks this janky.

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And the kids made a Dio Des Los Muertos Offreta for our dog, Rossby, in my living room. I love them.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

When all the fall things feel like fall

It's been a bit quiet around here as I have been dividing my time between wading through a hundred years of precipitation data for the entire state of Texas, teaching my classes, half-assing dinner, and turning two pairs of ladies' workout pants and an ancient Banana Republic tshirt into Charley's Halloween costume. Let me tell you, you have not lived until you have shoved fourteen pounds of cotton-spandex blend, a large chicken wire cage, and an entire bag of cotton batting into a nineteen seventies sewing machine.

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My evening.

The big reveal will be tomorrow except for the few people I have already texted pictures to because IT CAME OUT SO GOOD YOU GUYS I CAN'T STAND IT.

(We went to trick or treat in the dorms at my school last night. Each hall decorates with a theme and passes out candy to all the faculty kids. It is adorable on all sides. There was one hall they described as "pretty spooky" that all my kids ran towards with great enthusiasm. We were still in the VESTIBULE when a girl covered in blood crawled across the floor screaming "HELP ME!!" and another girl with a dog ran down the hall just SCREAMING when James, Charley, and Wes were all OUT OF THERE. Our guide told us that we could get more candy if we went down the hall, past the girl, but the kids were like "No thanks. All set!" and scurried back out to the stairwell. We went upstairs to the Scooby Doo themed hall, which was a much better fit. On the way back down the stairs the door to the scary hall popped open and the bloody girl was lying on the floor still yelling for help. The boys ran down the stairs but Mary started walking back inside like "Sure! What do you need?")

This weekend the boys all went camping (overnight low: 32 degrees F) and I rowed in the Pumpkinhead.

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Just as exhausting as I remember, but so so fun. The course was a 4K this year, which was one K shorter than last year. I think that one kilometer was important because I really only thought I was going to die near the end.

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We somehow got put into a bracket with a bunch of college women crews, but we came in tenth out of eleven boats, ahead of one college team! This seems highly improbable, but feels like an accomplishment nonetheless.

Mary and I had some friends over Friday night for pumpkin painting, brownie eating, and Halloween movies.

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I love it when they crash into the house from playing outside and then sit down for dinner still wearing their helmets.

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Come as you are!

Remember this time last year when I visited Miss N and Miss M in New York and on the way home lost a favorite jacket at the Baltimore airport? I've been on the hunt ever since--bought two jackets I liked but were not the same (each under twenty bucks on eBay, this is not an expensive quest). But I thought I would try just one more time and I WAS REWARDED. I couldn't believe my eyes when I opened the package last night. It is EXACTLY THE SAME.

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What did we do before the internet? Also, it is possible that my searches were unsuccessful because I was searching for a gray jacket and this one was listed as brown. It totally looks gray to me, but in certain lights I see it as brown. Perhaps it is like that dress that was going around the internet for a while?

In other news, I can't believe it took this long for *this* to happen.

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And now you are all caught up. HALLOWEEN IS TONIGHT. And YOU GUYS. You know how I complain every year about trick or treating in shirtsleeves and making pronouncements about how when I was a kid you came home from trick or treat with NUMB TOES and SNOT RUNNING DOWN YOUR CHIN (relevant information, many of my childhood memories are from upstate New York, so it is perhaps unfair to impose the same set of climatological expectations on Texas, but you like what you like). Imagine my excitement when I learned that tonight the forecast is for UPPER FORTIES AND DRIZZLE. BOOM. HALLOWEEN. I CAN'T WAIT. All I have to do is get through a meeting, two classes, and what promises to be an absolutely hellacious trip to the grocery store. MAMA'S GONNA MAKE CHILI.