Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Spring Break Part II

When we were not able to find a lifeguard for the family retreat this year I told the organizers that I'd be happy to take the lifeguarding class and get certified if it meant my kids could swim and thus not hassle me about not being able to swim at the retreat for two straight days like they did last year. This is how I found myself joining up with a class of twenty sixteen year olds at a nearby swim school the weekend before last. Something I learned about teenagers is that they view attempts to make small talk as an unforgivably aggressive act. It was like I'd sat down across from them at the table and greeted them with a hearty "Kiss my ass!" instead of "Hello, my name is Becca!" After that I played a little game with myself to see how many people I could make eye contact with. It was not easy. Also not easy was the class itself, or climbing out of the (seemingly bottomless) pool onto the pool deck. But I made it and I passed and I now I have a certificate and huge black bruises all up and down my legs and ankles.

Certified lifeguard here. Don't make me backboard you.

After the lifeguard class and two days of hiking and backpacking, it was finally time to go relax at the family retreat, AKA the highlight of the non-Maine year.

Since we were already in the area it only took an hour to get there, which made it feel like we got an entire extra day. As soon as we pulled up to the lodge, the kids disappeared and I didn't really see them again until Sunday afternoon.  Mary was so exhausted after the campout that she tucked herself into her sleeping bag around 7:30 and slept right through the night.  A few friends came over to our porch (including the PhD club, which has been gathering at the retreat for three years now) to hang out after dark, I paid Charley a dollar a kid to round up his siblings, and then they all passed out.  Pretty great night.

Mary woke up fresh as a daisy the next morning after more than twelve hours of sleep.  I love this picture so much and wish that it was in front of some flowers or something instead of the men's room and a trash can.


I had to wade into the freezing river to rescue Charley's stuck fishing hook.  This was BEFORE the waterfront was open, which means I had to break my own rules right out of the gate.

2019-03-23 11.28.36

There are some organized activities Saturday morning, but I ended up spending a great hour talking to a friend, some other time holding people's babies, and then having lunch.  It was good to have this relaxing morning because after lunch it was SHOWTIME.

This was just as fishing was wrapping up before word was out that the waterfront was open.  In other words, this picture is not representative of the ABSOLUTE CHAOS that ensued once fifty kids and their parents realized that it was time to swim.  It was the longest two hours EVAR.  I only had to yell at a couple of kids, one for diving and one who kept doing the dead man's float right in front of the lifeguard stand.  There were kids on kayaks and kids in canoes.  Kids in lifejackets.  Kids swimming back and forth across the river (the river of unknown depth).  Adults jumping in and trying to swim to the bottom.  And don't forget about the slide and the baby pool.  Thankfully there were two of us.

After I got a glass of water and a couple of Cadbury Eggs I joined Mary for some coloring time.


The kids and I hung out inside for the rest of the afternoon until it was time for a yummy dinner and then smores time.  Wes takes smores very seriously.  His marshmallows are perfectly roasted.


James likes his to catch on fire as quickly and completely as possible.


Mary's still working on cooking the whole marshmallow.


Our friend Rosa was ably handling passing out marshmallows and skewers to the teeming hoardes of children, so we manned her baby.


Note that Ryan is in the background of this nice picture of Rosa in #peakdadmode, holding a toddler and correcting someone's smore technique.  #livinghisbestlife #happyplace  Rosa's also in her happy place, keeping kids organized and preventing them from stabbing each other with hot skewers.


I looked over to see Charley eating cobbler by the fire looking so grown up it took my breath away.  Don't worry though, friends, later he jumped into the baby pool fully clothed to rescue a half dead fish, so he's still my baby boy!


After smores the kids disappeared into the night and it was time for my favorite part, the sing-a-long.  I talked my way into helping lead the singing and what I lacked in vocal ability I made up for in enthusiasm.  The guitar player wondered aloud if we should cut a couple of verses of the Lord of the Dance and I said a little too emphatically "This song is the entire Gospel story!  Which part do you think we should cut?!"


Our last song was "Let it Be."  PERFECTION.

After the sing-a-long some friends and I stayed up and talked church politics around the fire until I don't even know how late it was but it was LATE late.

And Sunday morning after breakfast and cleanup we have chapel.  It always cracks me up to see all the bikes and scooters gathered around the entrance to the chapel, the dining hall, the waterfront.  So many kids!


And then, sadly, it was time to leave for another year.  Re-entry into our normal lives has not been easy to say the least.  Alarm clocks are so rude.  I should always have access to many of my friends all day every day.  Meals should be eaten in community.  Children should be raised by the collective.  And I'd love a nightly sing-a-long.  Only another twelve short months to wait.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Spring Break Part I

I think the sequence of the time change, followed by a week of chaos at school, followed by the complete and total upheaval of our schedule during Spring Break is more than my increasingly half-functioning brain can handle because this morning I forgot the following items in my gym bag: 1) A TOWEL, 2) shampoo, 3) soap 4) important foundation garment, the one not intended for working out in.

Normally in this situation I would just go home to get ready but this time I couldn't do that because after a week off I really needed the extra time in my office before class to get my ducks in a row slash remember the name of the class I am teaching and where I left off in the material thirty-seven years ago when we last had class.

Fortunately I found a brand new bar of soap in the lost and found and had remembered to bring a hair tie.

The first two days of the break were action packed and involved a street picnic, a rollerblading accident with broken bones (a friend's, but still awful), an unexpected sleepover, lunch for ten kids, a rowdy trip to Sonic for ice cream cones (also for ten kids), playgrounding, and a BUNCH of screen time. Since we were all so rested, we thought it would be fun to take the kids on a short backpacking trip.

Hey, you know what would be fun? Taking four kids on a backpacking trip! Kids love walking and carrying heavy things! It will be amazing!

(Also I made the reservations while Charley was home sick with the flu and missing out on a REALLY FUN and long anticipated field trip and pretty much would have approved any spring break request he had short of sailing a catamaran to Guam for the weekend or something)


Thee were many, many stream crossings.


And a brief, violent thunderstorm that blew up just after we got our tents set up and right before we started cooking our dinner. We huddled inside our respective tents (James and Ryan were tentmates, I was with Mary, and the big boys were together) until it was over and then popped out to make Naan pizza around what I think was probably about nine PM. It was glorious.

The next day we left our campsite set up and did a not-so-quick five miles in a big loop that also included a GINORMOUS hill. Fortunately we did the hill after lunch when everyone was feeling rested and adventurous instead of whiny and miserable.




They are not wrong.

We are highly serious outdoorspeople.

Kids shown for scale. This is one of four switchbacks.

We made it!

With everyone!

Worth it.

The aftermath.




The next day we got up and "broke camp" (still feeling ridiculous using all "the lingo") after we made coffee and oatmeal on the tiny stove.




We still had to walk another 1.2 miles back to the car, which was apparently QUITE the big ask for the kids, even though once we got rolling I started having a blast. It was such a pretty trail and the kids ran so far ahead that I actually got to have a conversation with Ryan for the first time in approximately four months.




We discussed doing the other long trail, or at least part of it, since we had a bunch of time to kill before our next stop, but decided against it after we spent the last quarter mile bickering with the kids. It was a relief to get in the car, spend a few minutes cozying up with the wifi at the ranger station, and then heading out in search of a hamburger and a deck of cards, which we found at an adorable restaurant called "The Apple Store" about thirty minutes away. From there it was only a quick hour's drive to our next stop, the All Church Retreat or Family Camp as we usually call it. Our yearly trip to summer camp in the Hill Country. We were practically giddy when we pulled into the camp and it was everything we hoped it would be and more. Lots more pictures in the next installment, because as it turns out it's Monday and it's not spring break anymore and for me that meant rowing in the dark and teaching and prepping and grading exams and more teaching and probably the grocery store at some point and then this evening I have a meeting. ONWARD.

Friday, March 15, 2019


Oh friends. I hope you are ready for some BITCHING.

Today is the day before Spring Break.  OH, how we are all ready for Spring Break.  Me most of all.  But before we get to Spring Break I have to give two exams.  One is at 9 and one is at 1.  The exams were written on Wednesday and I would have copied them then except by the time I had a moment to do it I was SUPER DUPER DONE and really just wanted to go home (this has been a theme of the week).

This small decision turned out to be quite a disaster because THE COPIER WAS BROKEN ALL DAY THURSDAY.

And our admin slash copier magician is out of town so my only recourse was to swear at the stupid dead machine.

I printed the earlier exam at home, which was fine because it was three pages and only ten copies.  Then I printed one copy of the afternoon exam, reasoning that I would give the first exam and then magically find the copier in working order so that I could print the afternoon exam.

I gave the first exam (which is in a different building than my office with its own copier) and then walked upstairs to copy the second exam there.  I was feeling awfully clever and resourceful and was even looking forward using the awesome bathroom in that building after I'd printed the exam, the big clean bathroom that has two whole stalls and toilets where the flushing mechanism doesn't drip water all over your butt while you pee.

(I am pretty sure all work orders sent about my current building are being posted on a highly amusing bulletin board in the Facilities office somewhere)

But when I got to the copier I remembered that a student was coming to take the exam in my office in that exact moment.  So I turned around and half-ran back to my office without making copies or peeing.

The student DID NOT SHOW UP.

The copier in my building was STILL BROKEN.

I tried to print the exam on the printer, willing to hand collate and staple twenty-two four-page exams myself, but for reasons unknown, NO PRINTER IS WORKING EITHER.

At this point I wondered if I was perhaps losing my mind and also if it would be better to just cancel the exam at this point.

After an hour, the student had still not come, and the printers were still not working, so I gathered up my exam and my copy card and my phone and headed to the other building.

A note about the other building.  It is under construction and only one door is open.  If the building was a circle, and my office was at 0 degrees, that door would be at three hundred degrees.  And ALSO ALSO, there is a fence preventing you from going around the short way, so you have to walk basically THE ENTIRE PERIMETER OF THE BUILDING just to get in, and then you have to walk up a flight of stairs and back to about the thirty degree mark to get to the copier.

So I was feeling very put upon when I got to the copier and realized that I HAD LOCKED MY KEYS IN MY OFFICE.

If this was a movie the point where the plot loses credibility is here because when I was checking through the copies I found that the copier had only printed three pages of the four page exam.  And I double checked to make sure all the pages were in the original that I fed into the stupid thing.  And they were all there.

That copier is capable of SPITE.

Ka.  BOOM.

I printed the last page.  Twenty two copies.

And then I went to the police station to get someone to let me back into my office.

When I got to my office to wait for the police, the student was there waiting for me.

But at least I had lots of copies of the exam for them.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The going has gotten tough. The tough spread mulch.

This semester is a total cluster**** is the answer to the question of where the hayhay have I been for the last eighteen days. Three classes, one of them is new, one of them is project based WITH A LAB, James and Charley have each had a turn with the flu and I'm pretty sure that's why Wes has a giant fever right now. Add in head lice, pink eye, and the global meltdown of our denomination in the past two weeks and BOY HOWDY.

At least there is a five foot tall water heater sitting in the middle of my bedroom floor right now.

Most recent things first, you may have heard about the United Methodist Church's recent vote to exclude LGBTQ people from the clergy and to not officiate same-sex weddings. I've known the vote was coming for some time and as I did before the 2016 election naively believed that cooler heads would prevail and things would work out. As it turns out I was not correct in that assumption in either case. In order to preserve my sanity and conscience, I have been engaged in a little community organizing around this issue, sewing protest stoles, making ribbons, and leading brief services of solidarity in the courtyard of my church between services. To say it's outside my comfort zone would be an understatement (especially the part where I led eighty people in the singing of "It is Well With My Soul", which was just like Beer and Hymns but without the beer), but it at least seems to be a healthy conduit for the fury I am feeling about the whole thing.




I've even been wearing mine at work.


I have been meeting tons of people and learning so much about how the church works. It is fascinating, rewarding work, but also EXTREMELY TERRIFYING.

It was in a slight sort of stupor, just after the vote but before our first gathering, that I decided to take the kids and go to the church workday. Wes dove right into mulch duty and personally hauled and dumped like at least fifteen bags of mulch. It was incredibly satisfying to bag leaves and spread mulch. For once I knew almost no one there. There were tacos and cookies and great music and all I had to do was put a bunch of leaves in a garbage bag. It was after this workday that I walked into the fellowship hall to warm up (because it was forty degrees outside and this is Texas) and was suddenly awash in a sense of home. I have chased chubby crawling babies all over that fellowship hall, watched crazy-eyed preschoolers race big wheels up and down the linoleum, taken family pictures wearing ridiculous Nativity play costumes, reminded kids ad nauseum to hold doors for people and to use their inside voices and to keep their pants on, and experienced lifetimes worth of joy, frustration, and pancake suppers in there. We could leave, and go to another denomination, of course, at least physically, but just like you can never truly leave your family behind, leaving this place behind would be excruciating, dysfunction and all. So we stay and attempt to make our way, somehow.

Hands and feet of Christ, covered in mulch.

Less helpful, still cute.

This weekend was delightly free from plans, so Ryan and I embarked on a series of ambitious projects. I had two friends over Friday night for stole-making (we made twenty four stoles in addition to the sixteen I made last weekend) and on Saturday Ryan began replacing the water heater and I built this bookcase. Once it was finished I sent this picture to everyone with the hashtag #stresscarpentry

(The white things you see sticking up behind this bookcase are the shelves for the other two bookcases I built this fall. All three will be going along a wall in our family room to hold all of our engineering, YA fantasy-adventure, climate science, classic children's literature, and provocative Christian-spirituality and theology reading, which is basically the full realization of what happens when two PhDs reproduce.)

And on that note, I need to go re-up someone's flu meds, brush my teeth, and collapse. Tomorrow is another day (of frantically trying to trade off a sick kid so we can all make it to all necessary classes and meeting times). Here is a picture of Mary making mac and cheese.