First Raksha Bandan!

Let me start by saying that growing up we never really celebrated the Hindu holidays much. I remember once we went to temple for Holi which was a lot of fun, and one trip to India for Diwali, which was fabulous, lighting firecrackers every night. Some of them I’ve only learned about when my Indian family and friends start wishing each other a happy something-or-other on Facebook, and I’m sent to Google it and figure out what it is I’m supposed to be celebrating. (Case in point: Dussehra, which I only learned of a year or two ago.)

So when, a few days earlier, my new and very cool cousin Shefali posted something about asking what traditions people do for Raksha Bandan, I thought it would be a good place for our family to start celebrating some of these traditions. Raksha Bandan, for those of you who don’t know (or haven’t already gone to Google) is a day to celebrate the bond between sister and brother. In my Googling, I learned that it is to celebrate the chaste bond between brother and sister, so sometimes girls will tie a rakhi (bracelet) onto a boy that they think is getting too interested. It’s like a ritualized friendzoning.

Of course, I didn’t really know how to celebrate other than to tie a bracelet, so back to the internets. I did call my mom the day of, but no one answered the phone. Most of them agreed that you have the sister perform a puja (prayer) to the brother and then tie a bracelet on to him. He is then supposed to say that he will protect her and give her a gift.

Rakhi in India range from simple to very, very elaborate, even with some using gold and diamonds.  We opted for the simpler route and I thought it would be more meaningful if the kids made bracelets for each other. One of the advantages of being a mercurial crafter is that you have a lot of random supplies around the house from well-intentioned crafting excursions. From the time that I thought I was going to start making friendship bracelets again and also thought I’d take up embroidery (um, yeah), I had quite a bit of embroidery floss around.

I had the girl make a simple braided bracelet with beads, and the boy made a simple knotted bracelet also with some beads (from that time I thought I’d start making my own jewelery).  I figured, it’s 2014 and it seemed to make sense that the brother and sister do puja for each other and give each other bracelets instead of just sisters to brothers. (sorry for the lack of good pictures in this post-I was too involved with actually participating to focus on taking good images.)

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On the day of Raksha Bandan, Eric pulled out the puja set that my parents had given me some time ago. I started by lighting the oil lamp, which I learned is supposed to use clarified butter. I didn’t have any on hand so just used vegetable oil. I quickly learned that this burns through fast and had to use tweezers to remove the wicks before they set off the smoke alarms. Then, I needed some incense (“to provide a pleasing aroma for the deity,” says the internet)  but we didn’t have any. I leaned over our backyard fence and asked our cigarette-smoking neighbors if they had any, and they did! It takes a village, no?

The puja tray looked a little bare, so I put Ganapati on it for good measure. I figure, what can go wrong if he is watching on? The Girl insisted that he wear his “necklace,” which is the strand of pearls that Eric and I wore around our heads when we got married and that usually live draped around Ganapati on our mantelpiece. Why not?

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Then we went outside for the ceremony. First the girl and boy did puja for each other and tied bracelets on each other, saying that they would love and protect each other.

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Two of their friends were over and so they participated as well, with the the girl tying a simple cord onto their wrists. It was all very sweet and I’d like to think that it was why they played so nicely for the rest of the evening.

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It was really, really lovely to do and to see them with each other, even if the kids didn’t take it quite as seriously as I would have liked. It’s made me think that we should be more intentional about celebrating other Hindu holidays as well. Maybe Diwali this year? Or I’ll get really into things and figure out what Dussehra is and how I’m supposed to celebrate it.

Musical Chairs

My parents really tried to get me to be a musician. Five years of piano lessons, but the truth is I’m just not that musical and I hated playing.

I can’t believe how different the kids are in that regard-they’ve gotten Eric’s musical talent (thank goodness) and actually enjoy playing. Today the boy disappeared for a while and when I went to check on him, this is what I found him doing:

Not sure how I got so lucky to have such a great and talented kid, but I’m grateful every day.

Summertime Catch Up

Summertime has been a blast so far. The boy did his week of mountain bike camp and started doing some small jumps (and making my heart stop), my sister had a beautiful and fun wedding [for which there will be a separate dedicated detailed post, as my sister already called to complain about this], and then we went to Disneyland & the beach!

Obligatory castle pic

Obligatory castle pic

Driving already?! fyi, she was awful.

Driving already?! fyi, she was awful.

Arr matey! Treasure on Tom Sawyer's Island.

Arr matey! Treasure on Tom Sawyer’s Island.

beachy day of relaxation

beachy day of relaxation

Wedding Selfie with the lovely bride!

Wedding Selfie with the lovely bride!

Disney was so fun. It’s been interesting to me that when I told people we were going to Disneyland, the reaction was one of a polar pair. Either people looked at me with pity, and said something about how brave I was and how they could never do it, or their eyes gleamed with excitement and they started telling me about inside tips and how much they love it.  To the former, I was like, really? I’m going to DISNEYLAND, not having chemotherapy. I actually feel sorry for people who can’t have fun there or hate it. Quite a few, though, I suspect, say that because they think it would just be too commercial and anti-intellectual to say that they could possibly have fun there. My husband falls into this category.  To the latter, I say, you are my people. Let’s go ride.

There’s a gazillion blogs about ways to do Disneyland, and I read most of them, which meant that while I was somewhat maniacal about getting FastPasses and checking wait times on my phone, also meant that we waited in no line longer than 25 minutes and had so much fun.The best was the pin trading, which the kids got super into! The kids and I are looking forward to a trip to Orlando at some point in the future. Eric says that he’ll stay home and revel in being a curmudgeon instead.

After getting back, I was honestly depressed for a while. It was 8 total days of fun, and getting back to work and routine was hard. Especially when the rest of my family came back from vacation to…more summer vacation.

It was nice to get back to the garden this year. We’ve moved some things around, so that where we had had herbs in the central circle area we’ve now moved them back to be next to the bean screen. There’s less sun there so it’s a better fit for those plants and we have more room for vegetables. New this year: cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, different types of squash, and different types of tomatoes. I got new tomato cages on the recommendation of my neighbor, and while not cheap have been fantastic. For the first time the plants are happily supported and I’m not spending a bunch of time trying to make the flimsy little triangle cages stay upright by bolstering them with garden stakes.

 

June 5th. Little baby plants.

June 5th. Little baby plants.

July 1 garden

July 1 garden

 

July 10th garden

July 10th garden

 

My vision for the teepee in the middle was to have vines growing up it, and I left an opening to create a little hiding space for the kids.  Sadly, the beans just haven’t grown well there. Maybe it’s the variety I chose, maybe it’s because we’ve grown corn there for the past few years and the soil is depleted. I do fertilize with a natural fertilizer but, well, not everything grows well every year.

July 28 jungle

July 28 jungle

 

The other thing different this year is that I’ve been spraying with neem oil, a natural pesticide. According to the bottle, it doesn’t harm ladybugs but prevents bad bugs from eating or laying eggs on your plants. I will say that the aphid population has been near zero. The potato beetles don’t seem to care too much and nibble away, but don’t seem to be doing too much damage.

 

cabbage! No babies growing here.

cabbage! No babies growing here.

 

Another fun thing with all this rain has been all of the volunteer plants we’ve gotten! Two volunteer tomato plants, a bunch of dill, parsley, lettuce, cilantro. Some of these I just let go to seed so we keep getting more. The overall effect of this is somewhat jungle like given that there are plants popping up all over. I feel like if these plants are tough and determined enough to grow without actual irrigation, they deserve to live.

I have forgotten what kinds of squash I planted, unfortunately. I can’t remember if these are winter or summer squash. I have one that is giant, and am waiting to see if the shell hardens or not. This year again we have practically no squirrels chomping on the squash-two years of a late frost killing the blooms on my neighbors fruit trees has meant a large die off in the population. Thank you, Thomas Malthus.

unidentified squash object

unidentified squash object

We’ve already harvested our first tomato, kale, chard, basil, and of course plenty of other herbs. Should be a great rest of the growing year!

Chatterboxes III

A few months ago the Boy had a sleepover at a friend’s house with 3 other boys.  His friend’s dad was telling spy stories, and one of them involved the army.

Other kid A: “What does the army do again?”

Other kid B: “They fight to defend our freedom!”

My Boy, upset: “NO! They do NOT fight to defend our freedom!! They fight for oil! and natural resources!! The ACLU fights to defend our freedom!!”

Seriously, readers, I am not making this up. Eric takes this as a liberal parenting victory.

Disclaimer: When I asked the boy about this the other day, he had no idea what the ACLU was, but stood by his prior remarks regarding the army. Still, the source was a reliable one and I’m sure it happened that one time.

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Girl, having a fit about practicing her violin.

In fairness, this was really my fault-she was too tired and it was bound to happen. I send her up to her room to calm down and say that I’ll be up to talk to her in a bit. I go up a few minutes later, and find her on her bed, leafing through “The MIlestones Project,” a book that has pictures of kids all around the world going through the same milestones–first lost tooth, sibling, etc.

She is sniffling as she turns the pages, and then says in a low growl, “All of these kids…they have a better life than me! I have a HORRIBLE life!!!”

A bit dramatic, are we?

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Boy, shaking his head: I’ve just had too much death lately.

Me: What?! What do you mean?! Who died?

Boy: Well, there was a big battle. First, thunderpaw died, and then ravencat, and then whiskerface.

Me: Are you … talking about Warriors?

Boy: Yeah.  Just too much death.

For the uninitiated, Warriors is a book series about a band of warrior cats.  Yes, warrior cats. It is interminably dense.

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Girl: Mommy, you can’t go to work anymore!

Me: Why not?

Girl: Because I will miss your big, fat, belly too much!

We then got into a belly comparison of who had the fatter belly. I still won.

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Girl, having a fit, having been told to go to her room, top of her lungs: OKAY! YOU ANNOYINGPANTS!

The next morning, Eric says: Girl, remember last night when you were having your fit and you called your mom “Annoyingpants”?

Girl: I called BOTH of you Annoyingpants!

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One night we went to the Mercury Cafe-the Boy’s guitar teacher’s band was playing. We got there early and the boy asked if he could go outside and run around a bit, to which I replied that no, it’s night time in a bad neighborhood so he needed to stay inside.

Ten minutes later, the girl asks: Are there hyenas here?

Me: No…there’s no hyenas around here. Why do you ask?

Girl: Well, you said it was a dangerous neighborhood, so I thought there must be hyenas!

I just love that in her mind, there is nothing that could make a neighborhood dangerous except hyenas. Of course.

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Me, to half naked girl: Girl, go upstairs and put a shirt on!

Girl: Okay!

She runs upstairs as fast as she can, then sprints downstairs. As soon as she hits the landing, she says: Fu-yoo! (her 2 syllable version of “phew!”) I made it!

Me: From what?

Girl: Oh, whenever I go upstairs to get something I pretend there are wolves there so I have to go fast and escape them.I escaped them this time!

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And lastly, one morning the light was streaming through the blinds brightly, so I lowered them.

Girl: I HATE the sun!

Me: Oh, really? Well, then you must be a vampire.

Girl, dead serious, knitting her brow: You think I am a vampire? For real life? (side note: this is one of her favorite expressions these days, and I’ll be sad when she loses it. Instead of saying “for real,” she says this.)

Me: Yeah.  I mean, if you don’t like the sun then you must be a vampire.

Girl: Mom, I would NEVER suck your blood.

She then leans over, clamps her little mouth onto my forearm for a moment, and then releases me.

Girl: See? I can’t suck your blood. I am not a vampire.

I guess that proves it.  My daughter is NOT a vampire who has a horrible life and escapes wolves upstairs. My son has faced too much death lately and believes in the ACLU.

NYC 2013

NYC this year was a blast.  The boy is almost 8, which meant that we could really be tourists and DO things, which was so much fun. Also, he can read, which makes travel time that much easier too. Instead of worrying about what to do on the plane or trains or anything, we could both spend our time reading peacefully as an option, especially when our flight was delayed by an hour. (Don’t you worry, I came armed with an iPad, iPhone, and plenty of downloaded videos too.  I’m not THAT virtuous. But battery life is limited, right?) The plane flight was actually easy.  Those of you with younger kids who have flown with them-there is hope, light at the end of that long, dark tunnel.

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We got to Brooklyn late and headed straight for dinner: Ethiopian food, which was very tasty.

Breakfast: Konditori, every day.

breakfast

breakfast

Then we headed to Central Park and rented bicycles.  I tried to rent from a local bike shop but they don’t rent to kids because of insurance issues.  Luckily, the central park boathouse has no such qualms and gladly gave us 2 wheezy bikes. This was one of those things I’d always wanted to do and we enjoyed every minute.  Future reference–get a bike from one of the real tourist places because then you get a lock and can stop and explore.  We would have loved to stop at the north side nature center but couldn’t because we couldn’t lock up the bikes. (side note for facebook friends, you may have seen some of these pics already but I find it’s easier to find them again if they’re here. Besides, I just love some of these)

by the lake

by the lake

After the bike ride we strolled up to Belvedere Castle-which was less of a castle then expected but did have cool views.  There was a school group there and it became a bit like “Where’s Waldo” trying to find the boy, since they all wore orange shirts too!

can you spot him?

can you spot him?

After this it was off to the Met!

yikes!

yikes!

The boy loved the Egyptian section and we spent a lot of time in Arms&Armor too.  We then wandered and came across American section and the period rooms where they have recreations of different rooms from different eras in America’s history.  I just loved this and didn’t even know they had such things! We pretended that that was where Claudia and James Kincaid would have slept had they come to the Met now, since their original bed has been taken off display. After this you might imagine we were getting tired-I wanted to head to the painting galleries before we left, but we just didn’t have the heart to enjoy them.  Hopped the subway to Ippudo where we got in without any wait (which I’ve heard is tantamount to magic in New York), though it might have helped that we were eating at 6.  Dinner: Ramen noodle bowl, delish.

We took a little tourist break the next day and went up to New Jersey to visit Kara and her adorable little toddler, who was just enamored of the boy. Kara and I studied abroad in Ghana many many moons ago, and it was so fun to see her and meet her little one.  Then it was back to the city for the MOMA.  I love the MOMA in NYC.  Busy and crowded, but who cares? I downloaded the free MoMA app so we didn’t have to wait in line for the audio tour (tip!) and set out.  I just love that feeling of turning the corner and oh holy moly there’s Starry Night! I mean, Starry Night! Even though it’s so famous and we’ve seen it a million times, it is just mesmerizing in person and even more beautiful.  Some of the other highlights for me were Sleeping Gypsy (didn’t realize it was so big!) and the Picassos. They had a exhibition celebrating modern design from video games to minesweeping that was so, so cool to see. Here’s a link to his website-check it out. Then to dinner: Sushi and off to see Matilda on Broadway!

matilda set

matilda set

Times Square is one of those insane tourist traps that I love to visit.  I know all real New Yorkers turn their nose up at it, and the lines at ridiculous places like the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. are bizarre-I mean, I don’t understand why anyone would eat there when there is actual good food not too far away, but there is just no place like it that I know of and it’s something to behold.  For a half hour or so anyway.

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clearly staged as the boy is staring in a different direction than the point

Next day off to Westchester to spend time with my friend Rebecca from med school, which was wonderful.  Dinner: delicious home cooked salmon.

And then, off to Long Island for my sister’s Engagement Ceremony!

Something funny on the way to the mandap

Mawashee and the boy

Mawashee and the boy

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Sapana and her fiance Sachin

Sachin’s parents threw such a great party! Everyone had so much fun and it was great to meet so many people on his side of the family. Dinner: well, duh, Indian food.  New to me: Tikka Paneer and Gobi Manchurian, which I will order any chance I get.

The next day, back to the city for us to spend time with cousins and Lady Liberty.

standing guard over the harbor

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cousins!

The statue just opened on July 1st, and it was packed.  We couldn’t get tickets for crown access, but visiting the pedestal was just great and I loved learning more about the history of the statue and the building of it. Dinner: pizza.

Almost done! You might think that we’d take a break at this point, but you’d be wrong.

Next day was Empire State Building-this is one of those tourist things I could personally skip, though the view is spectacular.  I also used it to teach the boy about what he now calls, “Art Gecko” style architecture. I’ve never been at night, though, so maybe that’s something for next time.

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And then off to the Intrepid Air&Space Museum. This place was awesome.  I could take or leave all the fighter jets on the aircraft carrier-I’m not really a plane person, though I did like the stealth plane. And then inside was a SPACE SHUTTLE.  As someone who grew up in the 80s, I have a mythical love of the space shuttle-we all watched as they took off, we all watched the Challenger disaster.  To go into a hangar and have one there was incredible.

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We also took a tour of the nuclear era submarine which was cool and entirely claustrophobia inducing. To imagine the hundred + men living in that space, filling it with cigarette smoke, deep underwater-I was happy to get to fresh air.

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Porthole crawling.

Dinner: Pho.

Last day we just wandered around Brooklyn, did a little shopping and had our last NYC meal: Veggie burgers at BareBurger.

My beautiful little boy.

My beautiful little boy.

Coming home was bittersweet-we did so, so much and had such a great time.  It’s also going to be the last time we stay in Brooklyn since by the time we have our trip next year, my sister will be married and probably living on the UES. I’m going to miss Park Slope-I know all the stores and restaurants in my sister’s near vicinity and it feels familiar now when we go, so knowing we’re not going back there makes me just a little sad. Of course, it’s New York so there’s a new adventure out there just waiting for next year.

More Chatter

Another installment in “Tales…from Parenting….” (cue spooky music)

We were driving and the girl started to have a nosebleed.  This is not an uncommon occurence here as it is so unbelievably dry. The kids are both pretty used to it and she exclaimed “Mommy! I have a bloody nose!” I looked in the rearview mirror and indeed, there was blood dripping out of her nose.  I looked in the center console of the car for a tissue or napkin or fabric anything and couldn’t find anything.  Anything, that is…except a tampon.  Aaaaaand, yeah, I did.  It was one of those ones without an applicator.  I unwrapped the plastic covering and handed to her, telling her to stick that in her nose but not push too far. Given that it’s meant to soak up blood, the device worked quite well and the bleeding soon stopped. (Medical aside–this is really not all that different from the actual medical device used to stop serious nosebleeds, but those are generally a bit smaller. And come with more appropriate names like, “Rhino Rocket.”) Of course, the boy asked me what that thing was, and so I told him as simply as possible. “Oh, okay,” he said.  And the day proceeded.

Later, the same day…we’ve been listening to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy audiobooks while we drive.  We’ve listened to “The Hobbit” (11 hours) and “The Fellowship of the Ring” (19 hours) and are now on “The Two Towers.”  (about 8 hours in)  The boy loves the stories (as do I, a longtime fan) and I’d always thought that the girl did too, though I’ve always thought her comprehension of the books was around fifty percent or so of what was actually happening. The other day we were heading home from the Art Museum and I started to put on the audiobook. I was really looking forward to it as we had just finished the Battle of Helm’s Deep and I wanted to hear what was going to happen next.  As the narrator started to speak, the girl exclaimed, “Not Lord of the Rings AGAIN!!!” I said, “Girl, I thought you liked listening to these books!” She replied, “Not anymore! They are boring, boring, boring!! All they do is walk and walk and then fight a battle and then walk some more!!” I burst out laughing-even I have to admit that that is the most succinct and accurate book review of the entire series that I’ve heard yet. (We still kept listening to the book anyway, despite the howling protests.)

We were in the pool and I was playing with the girl.  We started to sing “Ring Around the Rosy” and spin around.  “Ring around the rosy, pocket full of posy, ” I sang, “Ashes, Ash—” “NOOO! YOU CAN’T SING THAT PART!” The girl interrupted. “Um, why not?” I asked.  “Because,” she replied, matter-of-factly, “the Wanderers will come.  And they will kill us.” Now I was slightly terrified, in a children-of-the-corn sort of way, so I modified the song.  Now we sing “ring around the pool,” and instead of ashes it’s “elephants, elephants, we all fall down,” thus confunding the Wanderers away from our souls.

and lastly, just to throw a picture in there…

Beware the toothless vampire!!

Beware the toothless vampire!!

Snow Mountain Ranch

What a fabulous Memorial Day weekend we had.  My high school friend Geoff and his lovely wife Karen and their twins came out to visit and we went up to Snow Mountain Ranch for the weekend.

I love that place-if you live in Colorado and haven’t been, you are missing out.  Here’s the view from our cabin:

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ah, mountains!

Not too shabby, eh?

Later that afternoon some of us went for a hike.  There’s been a lot of snow and a lot of snowmelt so it was a bit muddy, and someone slipped and got a muddy butt, which didn’t bother our intrepid explorer one bit.

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just keep hiking, just keep hiking

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what’s in the water?

The next day we rented mountain bikes and tagalongs and went for a ride!

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badass mountain biker

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actually having fun

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mountain biking with a trailer, not for the faint of heart

It just couldn’t have been better. Nights were filled with good food, good drink, and a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity. I wish I could post some of the funnier game responses, but then this wouldn’t be a family blog, now, would it? The other thing that was great was that all the kids were old enough to explore on their own.  There were many hours where they would simply head off into the woods next to the cabin and create their own secret games and just play while the adults would relax in the cabin. If it sounds too idyllic to be true, well, I can’t help that.

The next morning we went for one last hike

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The whole crew

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Walking stick in hand

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Hiking children

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Running to catch up

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Careful apple slicing

And then the trail got super super muddy (as the girl would say) and some of the hikers took off their shoes to squelch through the mud.  One of the hikers simply squelched through with her shoes on.  I’ll let you guess which one that is.

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muddy paws

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barefoot snow survival

When the trail got snowy, the barefoot hiking came to a quick end and we headed back.  By this time I had started to recite the poem, “Mud, Mud, glorius mud! Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood! So follow me, follow me, down to the hollow, where we will wallow in glorious mud!” which is from a children’s book of poems we have at home.

The girl, of course, began to sing this over and over again and then began to take it quite literally.

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mud bath

Sadly, vacation was over after this.  Our friends had to head south and I had to head back to work a night shift at the hospital, which was even less fun than usual given what I’d just been doing.

I know I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again–there is something that is so wonderful about seeing your kids become friends with your old friends’ kids. It makes me feel hopeful and gives me a sense of generations and seeing the future being created now, and it’s good.