The best part of my day

Right before we left for break, the girls’ school had their spring open house. All of the families were invited into the classrooms for the evening to chat with the teachers, see some of the work that our kiddos have been up to, and consume balls of ice cream in the school cafeteria that had been dished out by slightly disgruntled middle schoolers. Highlight of the night, for sure.

(Although this year’s fare came from a local shop – one of our favorites – so when Nick had to leave early, I didn’t exactly complain that I had to eat his ice cream, too. Taking one for the team and all.)

Last year, Nick had been out of town for open house and we’d Skyped to “show” him the girls’ work. While the use of technology was pretty rad, this time around, Annie and Ella were particularly interested in physically showing us all that they’ve been doing, and we spent a good thirty minutes in each of their classrooms poring over the details of every paper, wall hanging, display, and writing sample.

Y’all, these girls’ teachers work hard! From the careful and eye-catching room designs to the stacks of Look What I Can Do! papers on the desks to the way they so clearly knew the students, inside and out – we really lucked out with these ladies. And, hot damn, if our girls haven’t learned a few things this year! It was really something, seeing what had been considered “best work” in September versus where they are now. Enough something, in fact, that I didn’t even mind returning to the classroom after having spent all day in one.

Teachers are the best.
And I’m not talking about myself. Mostly.

My favorite part of the evening, though, was well and truly looking at, reading, taking in the work that the girls were showing us. There were math papers and journal entries, persuasive essays (Ella tried to convince us to get a bunny; her powers of persuasion aren’t strong enough yet), chapter stories, poems, computer essays, illustrations – and every single one of them was a perfect little encapsulation of who our kids are.

To wit, this poem by our still-Potter-obsessed daughter:ella poem

 

There are times when I’ve wondered if it’s too much Harry – if, four months after completing the series, Ella “should” have moved on more than she has… And then those “shoulds” are silenced by the simplest of poems: “a world that makes me smile all the time.” Why on earth would I want to make her leave that place? Amen, kiddo. Well played.

It should also be noted that this poem probably exactly follows the teacher’s directions: neatly written. Careful spacing. Repetitive words. Name, left. Date, right. A topic that she’s interested in, but nothing too flowery or showy, just what needs to be done, but still letting us peek inside a bit. In other words, perfectly, wonderfully Ella.

Annie’s work looks a bit different, and not just because she’s two years younger. Take, for example, this journal entry:
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Allow me to translate.

The writing prompt is: I just can’t wait until I’m old enough… 

I can’t wait till I’m old enough to get a car because then I can go to the mall and get mini pretzel bites with cheese. I just can’t wait until I’m old enough to get a phone because then I can take a bunch of selflies and I love selfies.

So. To recap: Annie is hungry, confident in her appearance (some might call that vain, but hey, when you’re cute, you’re cute), independent, and interested in the material things of this world. She’s also freakin’ hilarious, honest as hell, and a ridiculously accurate illustrator (please note the crossed legs in the drawing to the left, as well as the girl’s hand approaching her mouth – with pretzel bites, one would assume – which she is clearly delighted to be consuming, given her grin and how she’s closed her eyes with eager anticipation). In other words, perfectly, wonderfully Annie.

They could not be more different. Thank God, because now Nick and I get to experience two kinds of absolutely awesome every single day.

I know I’ve said it already, but these last few weeks balancing work and home have been hard. I think a huge part of that has to do with the fact that I thought I was going to be done before break – I was gearing up, throwing all of my energy into finishing, leaving nothing on the table – and then, BAM. Not done! (My therapist likened it to running a race – all out, full-on, expending all of the power you can muster – only to learn, steps before the finish line, that you need to run a few more miles.) I am just spent.

The work part is going fantastically well (if I do say so myself. Which I just did). I’m still loving every moment of teaching, my colleagues have been super, I got a really helpful and glowing review from my administrator (go, me!), and my students seem to dig me. It’s everything else that I just can’t quite get a handle on – piano, the house, the dogs, the kids, seeing friends (ha!), reading, exercise. The pieces just aren’t quite falling into place.

I’d actually been feeling that way prior to open house – maybe because I was really pushing to “finish” the teaching gig? – and had been feeling somewhat guilty. I haven’t been in the girls’ classrooms as often as in the past. I haven’t devoted as much time to talking about their homework. I haven’t had the energy to really chat with them about their lives, not the way I’d like to, anyway.

I basically felt like I was doing it all wrong. Parenting rocks.

Nick and I both marveled at the technology that the girls are using in their classrooms. They have computer lab time each week – that much I knew – and their teachers use SMART boards (which I can now successfully navigate, thank you very much), but I had no idea how much they were using iPads and laptops to do their work, too. One of the things that Annie’s teacher had pulled aside for open house was a computer story that each child had written. Annie just had to log in (holy crap, log in! She’s seven) and pull up her tale, titled something like “My Day At School,” and then we could see it come to life, complete with her own illustrations and text, animated pages turning. It was really cool.

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“During math I love to play games with my friends and make patterns.”

We were taken through her whole day – arrival, classwork, specials, lunch – and it was pretty basic, school-related stuff. As such, I was completely unprepared for the final line of her story:
The best part of my day is… walking home with my mom.

And suddenly, I’m wiping away tears and smiling like a watery buffoon and trying to make my way over to the word wall or the reading corner and pretending that I’m not getting teary in the middle of a crowded classroom filled with miniature chairs and an excess of Purell.

So maybe I haven’t done it all wrong. Some things have been less than stellar, sure, and I’m still off-balance (I stayed up crazy-late on Monday night to make brownies for teacher appreciation day… which, I remembered on Tuesday morning, is next Tuesday, not yesterday. Which is probably good, because I tried a new recipe and the brownies tasted like crap and I would have hated for our good name to be sullied by those foul treats). But there’s wonderful in there, too. Lots of it.

It’s also a nice coincidence, because the best part of my day is spending it with these girls and the guy with whom I made them.

Throw in some sweet tea (I just made my first batch yesterday; YUM), and I’ve really got it good.

 

Way down south in Dixie

We really did have a delightful time while we were away in Kiawah. Last year, our April break had been quite early, so the ocean wasn’t swimmable yet and, despite being rather far south, the coastal air was even a bit too chilly to do much pool swimming. Hence, high on the girls’ list this year was being able to get thoroughly wet.

Mission: accomplished.

Our first afternoon was gorgeous; not too hot, not a cloud in the sky, and an ocean at our fingertips. Er, toes.
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Thank you, iPhone panorama.

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Ahhhh, late-afternoon sun…

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This fellow was still alive. Nick returned him to his home, accordingly.
And Ella, with her video camera, taking it all in? Fantastic.

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I still can’t stop with the ocean-from-behind shots. They’re my kryptonite.

The following morning proved equally delicious. We spent pretty much the entire day at the beach and the pool.
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The tide was suuuuuuper far out, leaving us with an enormous stretch of beach upon which to play.

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If you click on the photos, you can see them bigger… That’s a bit more fun, just sayin’.

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My girl was so ready to take on that ocean.

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Yes, this means I waded out while still holding my good camera, just to catch her glee as she skipped over the incoming wave.

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It was worth it.

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Getting ready to bodysurf, something they learned how to do during this trip…

Not pictured: me, bodysurfing for the first time. To hear Annie tell it, “Mommy bodysurfed for the very first time ever – and she had the LONGEST RIDE OF THE DAY! It was a least FIFTY feet!!” I’m not one to brag, but I’m also not one to lie… It’s true. I rocked it.

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Jambi wasn’t so impressed with the Atlantic – she’s the weirdo Lab who doesn’t like water – but she gamely tagged along for the ride anyway. Not that she had a choice.

Alas, we couldn’t spend all of our time at the shore – partly because we needed to do things like eat, partly because there are other things we love to do when we’re in Kiawah, and partly because the weather took a turn for the cold. Still, we found plenty with which to occupy ourselves.

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Miss Annabelle awaits her entrée.
I love how her fork is turned the wrong way.

 If there’s a flat surface, we’ll bike on it.
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Go, Papa, go!
Because of the basket, I totally hear the Wicked Witch of the West music right now.

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Don’t worry – she wore a helmet. We just took a 20 foot spin because I asked Nick to take a pic of us on the tandem bike.
Check out her camera-ready grin.

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I was taking pictures of the rest of the family arriving on their bikes, so 
I told Jambi to sit.
She did.

We’ve been talking about visiting a local plantation for years, but wanted to wait until the girls were old enough to appreciate it at least a little. A couple of weeks prior to our trip, Ella serendipitously brought home a book titled Show Way, a marvelously-voiced story that segued nicely into talking about plantations (“The characters in the book are even from South Carolina, mom!”). Coincidentally, the cooler weather provided the perfect opportunity to make a day trip, and it was just as we’d hoped. To quote the girls, “Who knew a plantation could be so interesting?”

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I guess I really do have a thing about shots from behind…
Grand Meg and Nick did enjoy the gardens at Magnolia Plantation, though. We all did, actually.

Plantations aside, we also just hung out… a lot. It was good.

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Annie attempted to pass off Uncle Taylor’s hat as her own.

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He got it back before he left.
For what it’s worth, this is our first sibling shot in quite some time. Holla!

Sure, we go to Kiawah for the weather. And the beaches. And the pools. And the spanish moss-lined trees hovering, canopy-like, over the one-lane road out to the island, just waiting to grow stealthily and wrap us all up in Southern hospitality. We go for the humidity in the air, enveloping us in velvety warmth. And the fresh fish and sweet tea, brimming with enough sugar to make the tooth fairy weep. And the ever-present sound of the ocean, rushing in and filling the world with a pleasantly rumbling echo.

This was taken off of our balcony on the night of the blood moon.

So, this may seem like the world’s least-exciting video… but that’s kind of what I love about it. The white-noise-rumble of the ocean in the background, the wind through the trees. It’s unexciting, sure… but it’s also peaceful and calming and relaxing and basically heaven.

Yes, we go to Kiawah for all of those things. But most of all? We go to be with family. To be with my dad and stepmom. To spend time with my brother and his boyfriend, Gary. And, best of all, to give Ella and Annie the opportunity to enjoy their Papa and Grand Meg, their Uncle Taylor and Gary.

It’s one thing to think your own kids are awesome (when they’re not driving you to drink fuzzy navels while you prepare dinner. Not that I would know). It’s another to see your friends and relatives enjoy them. But it’s a special kind of deliciousness to behold your dad and stepmom and brother and his partner (and also my fantastic cousin, Laurie, and her husband, Keith – who live in Charleston – although I don’t have any pictures of them this time around) just absolutely adore not only spending time with your children, but genuinely liking them as human beings.

I know that they like hanging out with Nick and me (to a certain degree, anyway), sure. But they cannot wait to be with Annie and Ella, to play games with them, to be silly with them, to get down on the floor and pretend with them, to ride bikes with them, to feed them treats that would otherwise be forbidden, to joke with them, to read with them, to listen to them, to laugh with them. They allow the girls to crawl into bed with them at ungodly early hours in the morning, to steal their sunglasses and shoes and pose with them, to ruffle their hair and call them goofy names. They cheerfully tolerate them putting on countless dance shows and singing exhibitions, asking the same questions for the thousandth time, and never giving them a moment’s peace.

Watching my family love my children for exactly who they are is… well… incredible.
And that is why we come to Kiawah.

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Gary’s GoPro captured Ella with him underwater… along with Ella’s underwater camera, filming them both. A two-fer!

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I just love these two photos – one taken by me, poolside…
… and the other taken by Gary from within the pool.

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You totally know that I’ve asked for a GoPro for Mother’s Day.

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Okay, so – truth be told – the weather at the end of the trip made things a little tough. You hate to complain about the weather on your vacation (I mean, it’s a vacation, after all, and it’s damn lucky you’re even on one), but when you go someplace so that you can swim – or at least enjoy being warm – and it winds up being much too cold or rainy to be outside, it’s a wee bit crummy. Next year, our spring break is monstrously early again (thanks ever so much, Easter), and we may try to head a way down south in Dixie a little later in April (even if it means pulling the girls from school for a few days; shhhh…) so that we’re more likely to encounter warm weather.

No matter what, though, these folks’ll be there.
And that’s the bestest part of all.

Especially if we throw some in sweet tea, too.
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Puzzles and rabbits and cookies. OH MY.

Yesterday, the girls had a dentist appointment. When they both checked out clean and cavity-free, I (naturally) decided that we should all go to Starbucks to celebrate. Annie chose a vanilla milk and Ella a kiddie Frappuccino, to be consumed immediately, but I told them that they’d have to wait until after dinner to eat their Rice Krispie Treat (Ella) and fancy flower sugar cookie (Annie). Both agreed, spiriting away their treats to enjoy them for dessert.

While they ran amok and did homework, I tidied up around the house, most notably after Langston, who seems to be having problems again. I’m still not sure if he’s angry with us (we were out of town last week, so maybe he’s pissed?) or if he just can’t handle any kind of change (see again: out of town), but he’s been a bit of a pill lately. The Friday before we left for Kiawah, I came home to discover that he’d eaten a mango and an entire cantaloupe off of the counter; I knew, because the pulpy cantaloupe guts were littered all over his dog bed, soaking it so thoroughly with juice and grossness that cleaning it up seemed hopeless. Eventually, I gave up and just tossed the entire bed.

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Yesterday, I’d come home to a pile of puzzle pieces strewn all over the kitchen floor. See, they’d been in a plastic ziploc bag on the counter (they’d come in a box too large to be stored in the living room) – a bag that just might have contained something edible rather than crappy pieces of decorated cardboard. But, one never can tell simply by looking (or sniffing), so a thorough tear-through of the bag is necessary to confirm.
And the winner?

Bag: 0
Puzzle: 0
Langston: 0
Me: 0

WE ALL LOSE HERE.

I hadn’t had an opportunity to clean up the puzzle before taking the girls to the dentist, so I put Lang in the kennel while we were gone. When we returned, I decided to have a go at the picking-up whilst the girls ran amok and did homework (see above), so I sent the dogs outside to roam and not make an even bigger mess. After putting away the last piece (back into another plastic bag that will be stored elsewhere, thank you very much), I had just started to make dinner when I glanced out the windows into the yard and noticed that Langston was… eating?… something.

At the very least, he was chewing on something – a stray sock or a mitten were the most likely contenders – and I knew that I had to get outside quickly to haul him in before he ingested it and it got stuck in his intestines and he needed to be rushed to the vet and to have a million x-rays and then to have emergency surgery and, shit, we have a really busy weekend weekend, we do not have time for nonsense. I’ve learned from past ingestions, however, that if I startle or shame Lang, he will try to hide the evidence by scarfing it down even more quickly. Nope, not consuming a knee sock. *gulp* Empty mouth. Nothing to see here.

So I walked casually out the back door, letting the dogs know I was approaching, and called them to me in a breezy voice that definitely did not betray that I wanted Langston to drop whatever was in his mouth rightthisinstant. Normally, this works well, but this time Lang did not come. Instead, he dropped whatever was in his mouth, looked at it intensely, and then picked it up again. I caught a brief glimpse when it hit the ground and knew that this was no mitten; this was alive. I took long, determined strides toward him, panic creeping into my voice as I told him to DROP IT. LEAVE IT. DROP IT RIGHT NOW YOU JERK.

This, of course, prompted him to try to hide the evidence, and he did his damnedest to swallow the creature whole as fast as he could. I reached him just as his snout closed shut, so I had to literally pry it open with my fingers, with the… whatever it was… still resting between his jaws, un-swallowed, as I held his mouth open and shook the thing loose. After a moment or so, out slid a baby bunny, wet and slimy and horribly man doghandled, onto the new spring grass. The poor thing was still breathing slightly, but I knew there was no hope.

Lang had gone effing Watership Down right in the middle of the backyard, the a-hole.

Dumbfounded, I hustled him back inside as he threw furtive glances back toward the mangled bunny. I have to leave? But this was just getting fun! Not trusting him even one little bit with the dinner food on the counters, I made sure to usher him out of the kitchen and to close the gate behind me. After tending to the bunny (RIP, little hare), I made my way back inside to continue the dinner prep when I heard… something… crinkling?… in the living room.

As I swung open the gate and walked up the stairs, there stood Langston – barricaded from the kitchen, but quite happy – crinkling up a pink paper sack as he scarfed down the last remnants of Annie’s prized Starbucks fancy flower sugar cookie, which she had nestled on the living room chair.

Three for three, buddy. Way to go.

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New bed. Feeling shame. At least, he’d better be.

I didn’t touch him (save to guide him right back into the kennel), but I think I blew out my voice yelling at him. Let’s just say I’m glad I don’t have a choir concert coming up. Or a speaking engagement. His misbehavior put me in a foul mood for the rest of the night, with even the girls apologizing to me for his indiscretions (I’m sorry that Langston was such a pain, mama! Do you think maybe you could smile a bit?).

Returning to work this week after preparing to be done has been hard for me. I still love the teaching part – I’m thrilled to be with the students for a longer period of time, and while I’m at school, I feel like I can accomplish anything – but I’m finding it more difficult to balance the rest of things when I’m not in school. I’m not entirely sure why, but it’s just been hard for me.

And, apparently, for Langston too.

It was hard for Annie for a little while last night as well – after learning that Lang had eaten her special dessert – but it all worked out fine for her in the end. Because we also had brought home a flourless double chocolate chip cookie (for one gluten-free chocoholic mama), and after realizing that I had essentially ruined her dessert by foolishly placing Langston in the living room, I offered her my cookie. She tried to defer (“No, really Mama, it’s yours, you should eat it!”), but I insisted. She said it was delicious.

So, I got to clean up a 100 piece puzzle, bury a broken bunny, tend to a crumby mess in the living room, comfort my heartbroken child, AND THEN I DIDN’T EVEN GET TO EAT MY OWN DESSERT.

THAT’S FOUR FOR FOUR, JACKASS.

Sometime soon, maybe I’ll get some sleep and then maybe this dog nonsense won’t bother me so much. In the meantime, at least the girls have good teeth!

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I’m a good boy! Say I’m a good boy!
Wait, is that food?

 

 

 

Breaking news

It really was a lovely trip to the Lowcountry – adventures and photos and stories that I want to share, memories I want to revel in.

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But right now, all I can manage is a teaser.

With just these few days left of break, I need – I want – to focus on other things. Bill-paying, yard-raking, grocery-getting, Easter shopping (kind of forgot that Sunday is Easter; oops), suitcase-unpacking, email-answering, house-cleaning, phone call-making… Okay, those are more needs than wants.

What I want to focus on is this:
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Not necessarily the swimming part (although it was remarkably refreshing), but the kid part. I’m already feeling the same stress start to creep in that was present before we left (which is particularly annoying, given that we just got back and you’d think my brain would suffer relaxation-lag, like jet-lag), that overwhelming sense of too-much-not-enough-time… but I am deliberately trying to ignore it, to push it away, because I want to spend the rest of this time enjoying my girls, really enjoying them.

The food will be purchased. The errands will be run. The yard will… well, I’m not sure there. Easter will happen. Everything will get done.

Or it won’t.

Either way, there are pancakes to be made and an all-girls grocery run to be had, and then I don’t know, but I am looking forward to it.
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4.18.14 breakfast pals

It’s still spring break, and I want to enjoy every day of it.
I’ll be back next week…

Throwback Thursday: Carolina in my Mind

Nick and I have been coming to Kiawah Island for the past thirteen years. My dad and stepmom own a house here, less than an hour outside of Charleston, South Carolina, and we’ve been wonderfully fortunate enough to be able to visit almost every year.

2006
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That’s one year-old Ella, in case you were curious.

It’s a spot where time seems to stand still, where we know each curve of the road and every tree, where we feel ourselves almost physically settle in as soon as we arrive.

2008
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The girls looooove hanging with their Papa and Grand Meg.

Because we don’t live near our extended family, we spend most of our “vacation” days visiting parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. It is always superb to see everyone, but between seeing friends and seeing the sights and getting special time with each grandparent, the trips are whirlwinds – happy, delightful whirlwinds – but not relaxing “vacations” in the traditional sense of the word.

2009
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I can’t quite stay away from the beach-from-behind shot.

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Coming to Kiawah is truly a vacation. There is nothing to do here but unwind, let go, explore, and take it all in; and so… we do. We breathe more deeply. We sleep a little better. We eat deliciously. We get too much sun on our noses despite copiously reapplying sunscreen. We ride bikes. We get wet. We enjoy grandparent spoilings. We laugh a lot.

2010
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We also eat lollipops as big as our heads.

We have been in Kiawah for the past five days; today, we head home. It’s never easy getting back on that plane, leaving the sand and the water and the spanish moss and the magnolia trees and the giggles and the hugs behind… But I know that we will be back.

2011
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10.04 sunset beach

Until then, I have scads of new photos to go through, plus hundreds of old ones to tide me over (see what I did there?), and more memories and blessings than I can possibly count.

Who needs sleep?

So, I think I’ve mentioned, oh, once or twice before that, while I adore my long-term sub position, I’m really, really tired. I just can’t seem to manage do everything that needs doing while adding twenty-five hours of work into each week (go figure), and sleep gets sacrificed the most. A lot of the time, this isn’t too big of an issue… but other times, it becomes a small problem.

I’ve had a stuffed dog since I was ten (when I went to sleep-away camp and needed a pal), a once uber-soft, now rather leathery, caramel-colored dog.

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I thought my scrapbook contained a photo of that first summer with Caramel – and, indeed, it does – but, rather inexplicably, the photo is of only my cabin-mates and not me. (I guess I took the photo and Caramel was their mascot?) So, rather than post a picture of completely random ten year-olds, I’m posting a blurry picture of a once-fuzzy dog. Artistic excellence right there.

Although I don’t really sleep with her anymore, I keep her by our bed and occasionally plop her unceremoniously over my head if I’m trying to drown out Nick or the dog’s snoring. She’s not as plush as she once was, but she’s special, and so she stays.

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Caramel is a bit bedraggled these days, but, in the words of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” she’s real. So she’s pretty much perfect.

Langston has also had a penchant for stuffed animals. Ever since he was a tiny pup, he’s loved chewing on one, especially his white bear.9.17 on the bed!
It was as big as he was!

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Quite possessive, he is…

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When I say that he “sleeps with it,” I am not exaggerating.

Lang managed to keep that bear perfectly intact – gnawing on it only just barely – for the entire 18 months that he was with us before Jambi got here, but within a few months of her arrival, the bear began to lose its stuffing. Jambi doesn’t do it to be mean, per se, but she just prefers to rip things to shreds rather than nibble daintily on them. She’s sweet like that.

Now that the white bear is basically a shell – sort of like a Davy Crockett coonskin cap except, you know, white – it doesn’t hold as much appeal for Lang, and he’s taken to gnawing on a tan dog. Again, he doesn’t tear it apart, as many hounds do, but just gums it up, as though he’s teething on it. As a result, the tan stuffed dog has a rather “crusty” coating on it. It also smells delicious.

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Admittedly, it’s missing a leg, but that’s from Jambi, not Lang. We now try to keep it away from her so that she doesn’t completely destroy it.
Sorry about the stench. 

One night a few weeks ago, as per usual, I stumbled upstairs, bleary-eyed, at an hour that should be illegal, and proceeded to get ready for bed. Clothes changed, new clothes laid out for the morning, teeth and face and all that jazz, right? When I was finally, mercifully, ready to actually crawl under the covers, I noticed Caramel lying beside the bed in a discarded beige heap, and decided to take her with me. As I curled her into my chest, I did notice that she was a bit… crunchy… but I didn’t really think anything of it until I pulled her closer toward my face and was nearly knocked unconscious by the smell.

Yep. In my exhaustion-fueled haze, I’d accidentally grabbed Langston’s matted-up, filthy, saliva-soaked, gag-inducing dog and had brought it as close to me as humanly possible in an attempt to cuddle it at two o’clock in the morning.

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A reasonable mistake, no??

It was then (after I’d finished gagging and dousing myself in Lysol) that I realized just HOW tired I am (as if the passing out at 8:30 wasn’t already an indication), and I resolved that, once this long-term subbing gig was done, I would well and truly make a conscious effort to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and that I would treat myself better. I’ve adored this job, but it has not been without side effects, and while I was sad to leave, I was eager to try to get back on track.

Today marks the end of my original eleven week stint, and that was what this post was supposed to be about: finishing up my job and trying to get a little shut-eye. It was going to be a bittersweet, reflective, hopeful post (with stinky stuffed animals thrown in for good measure).

But life doesn’t always work in tidy, eleven-week boxes, does it?

At two o’clock yesterday, just after I’d I come home from teaching, I received an email from the school secretary explaining that the teacher for whom I’m subbing has to extend her medical leave, and would I be able to stick around for a few more weeks? There were a couple of appointments I needed to shuffle around and reschedule, but I was able to do those fairly quickly and reply in the affirmative.

And so, when I entered my classroom today and was greeted by this…
teaching tired

… I was able to tell them, “Well, I hope you meant that, because guess what? WISH GRANTED!”

It’s spring break next week, and tomorrow, we are going on vacation to visit my dad and stepmom in South Carolina. It will be fantastic. Somewhere deep inside, I am crazy excited for this, but it’s been so busy, I haven’t even thought about snoozing, much less packing. I’d probably better get on that. Maybe I can even catch some zzz’s while I’m there.

As for the rest of my (non-vacation) life, I guess I’ll have to start sleeping again sometime in May. But that’s okay. When you find messages like that on your white board, it makes it all worthwhile.

Except the sleeping-with-the-wrong-dog part. Pretty much nothing makes that acceptable.

 

 

 

A Camazing

So, you know how, when you were a kid, there were those things you were so excited for, you could hardly stand the anticipation? Your birthday (oh please please please let me get that Cabbage Patch doll and also could my best friend sit by me at the party because otherwise the universe will be out of alignment)… Christmas (IT’S CHRISTMAS EVE SANTA IS COMING OMG OMG OMG!!!!)… Summer vacation (there is NO. MORE. SCHOOL and I will eat push-pops and wear Jams and be filthy dirty all day long)… Grandma’s house (ARE WE THERE YET? ARE WE THERE YET?? ARE WE THERE YET???)… the latest episode of Family Ties (now that Mallory is dating Nick, this is gonna be awesome!)… when your parents finally allowed you to watch Dirty Dancing even though it was PG-13 (anyone who interrupts me watching Baby be put in a corner can suck it)…

The excitement was practically tangible; you thought you might crawl out of your skin, with each moment of the day ticking by at a glacial pace (especially if you were in algebra – or maybe that’s just me). And then you worried that The Big Thing, whatever you’d been waiting on and hoping for and dreaming about in your mind, wouldn’t live up to your expectations. After all, you’d been imagining it for so long, how could it possibly?

My freshman year at college, I joined an a cappella group, the Conn Chords. I had little singing experience and certainly no great solo voice, but I could blend nicely and pick out harmonies like nobody’s business. I also had a decent ear for arranging, and wound up creating a whole bunch of arrangements for our group, eventually becoming the leader (or “pitch,” in a cappella geek terms).

Nick was in an a capella group, too, which is how we first wound up meeting (well, save for the second day of school where I might have droned obnoxiously on and on about my AP classes to our mutual college advisor… but that’s another story…). Without any sororities or fraternities, these fellow singers became our college families; our undergraduate experiences were not only deeply enriched, but took on entirely new purpose and meaning by belonging to our respective groups.

As music majors, we were already music geeks (you know, the ones who make jokes about violists and the length of Wagnerian operas and use “deceptive cadence” as sexual innuendo…. Okay, maybe you don’t know, but trust me, we did), but singing a cappella – and learning how to listen to a cappella songs – took our nerdiness to a whole new level. Blend and tone and breathing in sync and vowel matching and resolving dissonance and omg, that bass can actually hit a low C became a second language, and also second nature. I already found joy in a cappella music, but after college, I sought it out actively, hoping to come upon that perfect sound, that moment when the voices come together and everything opens up and your body relaxes and leaps simultaneously because it is just so damn fantastic.

Glee obviously helped bring a cappella into the mainstream, with movies like Pitch Perfect fueling the fire. But Nick’s and my very favorite celebration of a cappella awesomeness is the NBC reality show The Sing Off, which features voices and only voices. That the judges are actually competent and musically intelligent is a huge boon (plus, Nick Lachey’s awfully easy on the eyes), but the best part is the music – hearing how the groups have arranged their songs, listening for new and interesting approaches, reveling in those gorgeous and powerful sounds that only a cappella singing can offer.

The first two seasons were fine – good, actually – but the third season was like nothing we’d ever witnessed before, all because of five unbelievable performers: Pentatonix. I can’t begin to do them justice, to describe how their music fills the room despite only having five singers; how they sound absolutely and completely like a “real” band even though they’re only using their voices; how they push the bounds of arranging and create music that I’ve never even imagined, much less heard; how they fill the space within the chords so that the sound is deep and rich and lush, like a full-on choir; how their voices blend so utterly perfectly; how their control and pitch are out of this world; how ridiculously good each performer is; how every time I hear another of their songs, my jaw drops open in shock and amazement and unadulterated joy – and no, I’m not even kidding, I watch them and my jaw drops. open.

They are ridiculous. They are sublime. They are making music that has never been made before, that none of us has ever heard before. They are fun. They are so freakin’ young. They possess more talent than the vast, vast majority of successful musicians and bands out there. They make me think and laugh, actually laugh out loud at the audacity of what they are attempting.  They make me smile.

Everything about Pentatonix makes me happy.

And so, after having adored them on The Sing Off, after watching each YouTube video clip 297 million times, after having purchased each of their songs, after having dissected their music with Nick a hundred times over, after reading their website every day and following them on every form of social media I can… when I learned that they would be performing in Buffalo, only a little more than an hour from us, I knew that we would need to attend.

There was no choice, really. Surely you understand.

I bought the tickets months ago from an online seller (after the show sold out almost immediately) and forced myself not to count the days until the big night. I knew that if I gave it too much thought, it would be Family Ties and Christmas and Cabbage Patch dolls all over again, and I’d hardly sleep a wink for weeks.

When yesterday finally arrived, that familiar wash of apprehension settled in. Could they possibly begin to live up to the hype? Could they truly be the most talented a cappella group in the history of ever? Could they really sound as good in person as they do online (yes, I know it’s a Christmas song, but it’s the best thing ever, so deal with it)?

The answer is no. They do not.
They sound even better.

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Excuse the poor quality of the photos; I didn’t realize I could take my big camera with me and used my iPhone instead. I was also maybe yelling a lot.

Since I’d bought the tickets second hand, I wasn’t 100% certain where the seats were… but I thought they might be in the first row.
They were.
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Yep, that’s them, only 20 feet from us.

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Or maybe only seven feet from us.
Holla! Literally.

One of the speakers was positioned directly in front of us, and in addition to, you know, magnifying and projecting the sound in general, it also did a bang-up job of putting out the bass and percussion sounds – so bang-up, actually, that there were moments when my chest hurt because I could feel the vibrations so strongly.

Vibrations, mind you, that were caused by human voices.
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Just because it’s a cappella doesn’t mean they can’t get down.
In an a cappellian way, of course. Yes, that’s a word. Because I said so.

Okay, so there was some cheating, because this guy, Kevin, beatboxes and plays the cello. Simultaneously.
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I can forgive them this discretion.
Amazeballs.

But, aside from that performance and one delicious performance with the cello as a supporting player, the show was, indeed, a cappella. And it was freakin’ awesome.

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Still rockin’ out during their final song, after the confetti and streamers had dropped (which, to quote this review, is basically “the a capella version of pyrotechnics”).

The crowd LOVED them, in that nerdy music geek way, shrieking like the Beatles had landed at the conclusion of each song. I may have yelled a bit myself.
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Just joking with the crowd… We totally ate it up.

I think I’m old enough to be their mother, but I spent the evening pinching myself like a teenaged fangirl that we were hearing them, for real, and that they really were as amazing as the hype.
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I did go rogue and break the official rules by videoing some of my favorite songs… but I won’t break the rules even further by posting the videos here. You can go to their YouTube site and check them out; what you’re hearing is no trick. There’s nothing added in. They really do sound like that.

I know, right?

It’s not often that our imaginations keep pace with reality, but in the case of Pentatonix, they more than met my expectations. The a cappella geek in me is awestruck. The music lover in me is satisfied. And the rest of me? I’m just damn freakin’ happy.