Routines & Rituals.

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetSometime around the end of January, in the flurry of colds and snow days and potty training and the semester starting- nights got rough around our house. It happens with kids, seasons of little people needing cuddles or cough syrup or covers adjusted during those wee morning hours. Sometimes they fall back asleep, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes parents fall back asleep afterwards, sometimes they don’t. But whatever the case- I am tired, really tired. All those great January resolutions and fresh starts… there was some February fizzle in the midst of the disrupted nights and crabby moods. Some progress yes, but also some bad attitudes. Mostly mine. Kids are resilient. They wake up after a sleepless night and they are still eager to love the world and explore everything in it. I wake up after a sleepless night and feel like punishing everything in it that isn’t precisely to my specifications.

It is so natural and normal to be a grumpy, tired, frazzled, harsh mom in seasons like this. It is also unacceptable. Lately I have had to repeat to myself a lot the mantra that my kids are almost 3 and almost 1 and I am 31. They can’t control their actions and emotions all the time, but I can. I should, I must. Yes, moms are human and there is grace… but there must also be effort and work and intentional parenting development. I have found myself resenting my own inability to embark on all my plans of self-improvement and beautiful living lately, because the tiny people in my life have so many needs. SO MANY. I found myself feeling frustrated with the demands on our day.Processed with VSCO with f1 preset

The internet would tell me that the secret to my funk is more self care. But the internet is frequently wrong, or at least, lazy. Self-care is great, but it doesn’t always cultivate the selflessness that parenting demands. As always, the secret in parenting funks like this is to  lean in. To love harder, play more, give give give when you feel so empty. I decided that I needed to take stock of our days and weeks and find some routines that I could elevate to the level of ritual, giving a little more structure and a lot more beauty to our days. Here are some of the things in our week that were casual afterthoughts and are now cultivated moments that we all look forward to.Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

No matter how little or long he sleeps, Henry has a rough naptime wake up. Those hours between naptime and dinner are unpredictable, long, and we can’t always do our normal solution for bad moods and go outside. What I really wanted in those late afternoon winter moments was a hot mug of tea and quiet to drink it, an image that doesn’t mesh well with my insanely active son, freshly cranky from the transition from nap to being awake. Then one day, inspired by a scene in this book where the characters drink tea as the snow falls, I asked Henry if we should make tea. It is his favorite moment now. He loves sitting groggily on the counter as I boil water and loves setting mugs and kettles on the tray and picking a special snack. We spread a picnic blanket on the ground or build a fort and crawl inside or enjoy it at the table while we color or read. The order of it, the quiet sounds of clinking cups and the rising steam calms us all. Cranky snack-time recast as tea time ritual.Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Before having kids, I deep cleaned my house every single weekend. After having kids, my house definitely needs that treatment more and yet gets it less often. Laundry, cleaning, sheets to change, errands, ALL THE THINGS were piling up and stressing me out. So, after some inspiration in how to get some of these individual chores done from my favorite podcast of late, I decided that, of the three days each week where I am home, one is Home Day. I clean, do endless cycles of laundry, change sheets, etc. We still get out, but we try to only do chores or outings on Home Day that we can do on foot, and the focus is having a day dedicated to resetting our home. What before felt like chores in all the margins now feels like a day where I have space to really do them and the peace of a full reset. Henry helps me make a checklist after breakfast and I make him help too and the day feels satisfying beyond merely feeling productive.  Chores recast as ritual.Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

Our Home Day almost always includes a walk to the library, and that too goes on the checklist. I’m not sure why I spent years not going to the library- maybe because Henry was rough on books or not yet interested in really reading? But now, he could read indefinitely, especially if it is a book featuring some form of public transportation. (We held onto this book until I feared we would destroy it.) There is such benefit in having a default outing, done so frequently that it loses the difficulty of Outings With Kids. The secret is in the details. We always get 6 books, because I’m not ready to keep up with more. Henry picks 2 Thomas the Tank Engine books and I pick 4 others. We have a devoted library tote bag. I have actually started reading again, after what seemed like an endless break for dissertation writing. I devoured the current two books in this series (totally silly, but made me think just a little of this book, one of my favorite reads), and just started this one. At home, we have a basket where only library books go and it sits next to the bed. Routine outings recast as ritual.Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Sunday’s with kids- oh man. I have so many thoughts on this topic and will someday write more about it, but suffice to say that we have gone back and forth with so many schedule aspects since Henry was born to make Sunday’s happen. I have no doubt that the schedule we are enjoying now won’t last, as Etta will eventually change her nap schedule again. But for the moment, we have a really beautiful Sunday schedule that leaves us with a lengthy breakfast time. A couple months ago, we started making blueberry pancakes on Sunday’s, and only on Sunday’s. Henry asks for them often, but we always remind him that we do them on Sunday’s, before church, making happy family breakfast part of the greater matrix of positive associations that I want our children to have with the Sabbath. (When we are eating paleo, we use this mix, otherwise it is Bisquick with the special instructions followed because they are just better than any other homemade pancakes and I will FIGHT YOU ON THIS.) This de-facto Sunday breakfast also has the benefit of removing a decision from our lives. I do a lot of set weekend meals and they help us all take a deep breathe and think less for two days. Repetitive meals recast as ritual. Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

I know routines change, rituals lose some of their glamor. But taking a moment to consider the patterns in our life and the needs of my children and refashion them into something just a tad ceremonious has been so good for us all. Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

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January.

winter2019-64winter2019-66winter2019-67January is such a gift after the busyness of December. Everyone seems a little burnt out from the festivities, travel, and celebration and we all just hunker down and breathe a little. We have had lots of togetherness this month, lots of time as a family and that is my absolute favorite. Lots of train building by the fire, lots of weekend morning pancakes, lots of playing Henry’s favorite game, which is “load all sorts of random thing into suitcases and haul them around the house while pretending to ride every form of public and private transport en route to visit grandma.” Also lots of time cloistered in our home while we potty trained over a long weekend, which was less fun togetherness, but also had some really special moments. winter2019-68winter2019-69Family dynamics and routines with young children are constantly changing, but Etta is now old enough that it feels like we can take a deep breathe and settle into a routine for the next long stretch (until the drop to 1 nap which I am PUMPED ABOUT ALREADY and will probably try to force earlier than necessary). Most notably, January has been defined by calmer Sundays. After 7 months of going back and forth between service times, nap-plans, etc, we finally have a Sunday routine that doesn’t end in everyone crying on the way home for church. We also moved the Etta out of our room this month. I was so nervous about having the two of them in the same room. Would they wake each other up? Would Henry throw things in her crib? Would we never sleep again because we had to be nocturnal referees? But I cannot emphasize enough how awesome it has been. They don’t wake each other up during the night, Etta falls asleep with Henry loudly playing in his crib (sometimes yelling out updates on how Etta is positioned… very helpful), and I absolutely love slipping in before they fall asleep and seeing my two babes together. I try to actively cultivate closeness between them by getting out of their way, not automatically taking Etta’s side because she is the baby, and leaving space for their own relationship even as it kills me to not hover as she often gets knocked down in Henry’s zeal. They both started sleeping better and longer as soon as they were together, and while that might be coincidence or age or sound machine decibel or a lull in winter colds – I love it. I want us to always be better together. winter2019-71winter2019-9It also means that our room is *mostly* (she still naps in there) our own again which is nothing short of life-giving. James and I have resolved to wake up earlier and that is a whole lot easier when you can roll over and turn on a lamp, instead of tiptoeing out and trying not to wake a sleeping  baby.  We also resolved to restart healthy eating this month and have been loving another round of the Whole30 (as always, I’m all about the lazy version). I’ve been really into this sheet pan salmon, this method for sheet pan pork (I switch out a different marinade), these pulled Hawaiian chicken wraps, Crockpot Dijon chicken legs, and if you aren’t making Kendra’s Change Your Life Chicken at least once a week… what even are you doing with your kitchen? I also remembered that it has been years since I made this crazy easy/cheap/tasty collard green chicken situation and it was so tasty. And in case you were curious, I think I have made about every paleo chocolate chip cookie recipe on the internet (yes I know that isn’t Whole30 allowed… but remember how I potty trained a toddler? GIVE ME THIS.), and these are the definitive winner. I added a dash of coconut flour and a bunch of flax seeds because I am fun like that. winter2019-44winter2019-45We had our first snow recently, a solid 24 hours of falling white that left us with a thick blanket. Henry was ecstatic and he and James went out every couple hours to shovel while Etta and I stayed snuggled inside. I looked out and kept rolling the same thought over and over in my mind:

I am beyond blessed that these are my people, that this is my life.

January gives us that, the profound realization of the steady things in our lives that we wouldn’t change, even in the midst of all our self-actualization, goal-planning, and resolution-drawing. I’ve had moments to take stock on so many cramped, cabin-fever filled, dreary days and been able to say, yes, I would want to choose this if it was a choice. When we were locked up potty training, per this book’s approach, I had to actually engage with Henry for several straight days, rather than my normal MO of trying to get him engaged in independent play and then slipping off to Do All The Things. It was the most exhausting couple days of parenting… and yet, it also gave me such a quiet and special glimpse into how he plays, all day, every day.  When Etta woke early from a nap last week and I really wanted to just be off the clock, but I had to rock her instead, I found myself mesmerized anew by her tiny curled fists and plump cheeks, holding her for over an hour. When James and I have the coziest evenings tag-teaming bedtime and cleanup before being able to cozy up in front of the fire, I find myself thinking that maybe this apartment really is big enough, perfect enough, for longer. When we aren’t easily lured outside our home, the inside both drives me insane, and gives me such appreciation for all it holds.

So January- thank you for slowing us down, for holding us in, for making us seek warmth, together.

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The year of broken bodies.

IMG_00962018 was such a full year. When I did that Instagram most-liked post generator thing, it was clear that 2018 could be summed up as the year of the Daughter and the Degree. Every picture either focused on Etta’s arrival and presence, or the completion of my doctorate. A really, really good year of endings and beginnings that marked a shift for our family. But as I look forward to 2019 and start thinking of the things that I want to aspire to, one thing is very clear: 2018 is the year that I destroyed my body.

It is easy to trace the destruction. I can think back to the brutal days of pregnancy, a far cry from Henry’s where I did barre classes and ran until days before given birth. When I was finally cleared to exercise following our miscarriage scare, I was then stricken with crippling sciatica, not to mention the nausea that persisted my entire pregnancy, the nausea that only subsided under a steady stream of carbs. I gained the same amount of weight as I did with Henry, only I never lost all of his, and I carried this extreme weight so low that I was in constant pain all through my legs, hips, veins and feet. I would wake up at night and cry because everything hurt. It was aggravated, I’m sure, by the sedentary requirements of dissertation completion, the hours spent sitting and typing and editing and reading. I would unfold myself at the end of the day and feel a scholarly pain race through my limbs. My body felt like it was breaking, cracking, coming apart.

And then- she came. Some relief was instant. I could roll over and stretch. The weight didn’t budge, as my body clings to every last pound as long as I nurse, justttttt in case a famine strikes the land. But at least I could walk. And then the surge of post-partum emotions came, and I cried angry tears every night, struggling to understand how I could feel so happy and so sad all at once. The darkness subsided as long as we were out doing things wandering the city, searching for tasty treats and tiny indulgences. So I indulged and tried to heal. It swept back over me at night, and I wept much and slept little and my body felt like it was breaking, cracking, coming apart.

Emotions and hormones eventually evened out, but the adjustment to two leaves less space than I could have imagined, space for me. For the first time in years, 2018 marked a total cessation of exercise, a deep lapse in daily personal devotions, a rupture in the things I know I need for wholeness of body and soul. The exhaustion, sleep schedules, routine shifting, nursing, pumping – it takes a toll.  Don’t misunderstand me- 2018 was perhaps the best year yet in so many ways. But best years can still wreak the worst havoc, and sometimes my physical body felt like the sacrifice for the joy of this past year.

Simply put, there is a bodily destruction inherent in motherhood. Our physical selves and our ordered lives are broken, cracked, worked apart to make room for new souls to grow, be born, and thrive. In many ways, this is beautiful. In many ways, this is painful. In all ways, it is necessary. I see that. I accept that.

But I don’t want to live permanently in the brokenness. I want to make 2019 a year of gently rebuilding my body. Sometimes there exists pressure to rebuild too quickly, to erase the marks of childbirth and “bounce back,” a phrase laden with implications of failure and lowness in childbearing. But there is an opposing pressure to just accept the broken state of our post-children bodies. Perhaps that puts some people at peace, but being told to love a state where my knees hurt, my clothes don’t fit, and I feel generally uncomfortable in my own skin seems wrong.

So in 2019, I want to work on allowing my body to rebuild, mend, and come together. James and I stayed up last night, planning and dreaming for 2019 in front of a fire. We both made lists of goals that included lofty aspirations (“Buy a house.”), easily accomplished changes (“Wear better pajamas so it doesn’t look like a homeless bum wanders our home.”), and then of course, lifestyle changes, but ones with concrete applications attached. We established phone free windows in our days, weeks, and year. We set a minimum monthly date limit and brainstormed on what our ideal mornings would look like and how to bring them about. And I made a list of ways to help heal the broken state of my body. Not just so my pants fit and I recognize the person in the mirror (though I really do want that), but so that my body and soul feel healed and equipped to do the good work of living.

Happy New Year!

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Festive.

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Somehow we are already here- the weekend before Christmas! Friday’s are the day that I have childcare all day and my semester ended last week so it means that today was Hannah’s Christmas Spectacular. The goal was to wrap all the gifts, stuff, label, and stamp all the cards, clean the house, and pack to head to Kentucky tomorrow morning. Much of that got down. As always, there is the chance that our holiday plans could get derailed tonight if the government shuts down and James can’t travel, but I am hopeful. In the meantime, here are some festive things to close out your week.

We have been baking an insane amount of Christmas cookies this month thanks to this game-changing technique. No setting out ingredients until room temperature and then having to chill the dough for a year! No flour all over the workplace! Clean enough that a toddler can do it without destroying every last nerve! We made these gingerbread cookies last week and they have finally satisfied my desire for perfectly spiced soft gingerbread cookies. These butter cookies were another hit, especially if you want to bake cookies with only ingredients you already have on hand.

In the non-shaped cookie department, these were so easy and impossibly tasty. GINGER IN ALL THE THINGS is my December motto. I kind of wish it was my year-round motto, and there is this amazing dish that my college roommate and I used to make all the time involving lots of ginger in a cream sauce alongside rigatoni and spicy sausage – so good. Someday I’ll pay attention when I make it and share.

As I did all my Christmas prep today, I was pumped to watch some festive films far from the judging eyes of James. This list has great suggestions for all the best worst holiday flicks. Of course, this is my favorite awful Christmas movie of all time. And some info, in case you are new to these quality films.

We tossed around lots of Advent ideas this year as we tried to think of what to do to involve Henry. We ultimately settled on James and I reading this book individually, and then doing readings from this one together as a family. Yes, they are over his head. But they impart good truths that I need to hear and give us starting points to discuss. We then focus on a different carol, and we have stuck to singing the same 4-5 in rotation so Henry actually learns fragments. We also have a couple different nativity books (like this one!) we are reading so he sorts out the story. It’s a little bit of a hodgepodge, but it works.

This month has had a lot fewer formal festivities than usual, or as planned. Sickness, kid schedules, exhaustion, bedtimes – so many things got in the way of formal Christmas ceremonies. But there were lots of tiny festive moments, slow and steady Christmas anticipations throughout the month. Carols sung-shouted in the mornings. Cookies consumed by the light of the tree. Books read in Christmas pjs beside the fire. Every holiday train in town viewed and praised. Christmas explained and anticipated and celebrated in a hundred tiny ways.

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The Christmas letter draft that didn’t make the cut…

…. accompanied by the out-takes that didn’t make the cut for the official card. Because you know I am always down for sharing the outtakes. Familyphotos2018-13

Dear family, friends, and distant friends who receive a card late after I guiltily receive their own Yuletide cheer, as well as total strangers living at outdated addresses because I put off updating my list too long: Merry Christmas.Familyphotos2018-40Familyphotos2018-42

We still live in our 980 square foot apartment and, thanks to Amazon announcing this area as its new HQ2, we will probably never be able to move. Come visit! But please don’t stay too long unless you are prepared to fold yourself and all your luggage up into a very tiny ball which Henry will then hurl around the apartment while Etta cheers.Familyphotos2018-38Familyphotos2018-39

Hannah defended her dissertation last spring and is proud for her first job as a full fledged Dr. to be doing the identical thing she was doing the last years of graduate school (teaching/administrating stuff), only she now boasts the distinction of being paid less somehow. She promptly turns over her entire paycheck and a little extra to pay childcare, which causes her to think of employment as a special spa membership that includes grading and student disputes. Henry uses her dissertation drafts as coloring pages, otherwise known as academic upcycling.Familyphotos2018-54Familyphotos2018-59Familyphotos2018-70

Henry has mostly stopped biting other children, a positive note to end 2018 on. Etta might someday get a tooth to bite something, but in the meantime, she is developing a very thick skin for all of the times Henry’s love endangers her person. Familyphotos2018-74Familyphotos2018-76Familyphotos2018-100

James continues to work in the ever-encouraging, uplifting, and harmonious realm of politics. Familyphotos2018-104Familyphotos2018-105

By the end of the week (the day?), our home is a disaster, it is hard to always remember when Etta was last bathed or if Henry ate enough vegetables to insure that he doesn’t get scurvy and grows up to prefer Mozart and Shakespeare and Hannah’s hair is 78% dry shampoo. Things are loud and chaotic and busy and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Familyphotos2018-117Familyphotos2018-120Familyphotos2018-121In the pursuit of The Photo to grace our annual missive, Etta was kicked in the head, Henry escaped no fewer than a thousand times, lots of tight lipped commands were issued mid pose, and chaos ensued. Maybe the outtakes tell the real truth of things as they are right now.

Life is full and it is good.  There are some tears, but a whole lot more laughter.

Merry Christmas. Familyphotos2018-109Familyphotos2018-111

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Highs and Lows since last we spoke.

highlow1High: November in DC is the absolute best and this year might have been the prettiest it has ever looked.

Low: Amazon announced this area as their new HQ2 so I have been utterly despondent that we will now officially never be able to buy a home and live here long-term.

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High: We hosted our 8th annual Donut Extravaganza and it was delicious! So was Thanksgiving! And all the fall treats! And Christmas cookies!

Low: Whyyyyy is the baby weight not budging at all? Insert confused face emoji.

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High: Etta started sleeping through the night in the beginning of November at 5.5 months, just like Henry.

Low: For a couple weeks, she went back and forth almost every other day between sleeping 11-12 hours without a peep… and waking up at 5 am with NO INTEREST IN SLEEPING. Not so great.

High: We are now officially in the blissful sleep land of scheduled and long naps, and lengthy and quiet nights. HOORAY.

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High: I love our apartment at the holidays. Fires! Mantle for garlands! Picture window for trees! Our little place is so cozy and we loved getting everything set up before December even rolled around.

Low: I have struggled a lot with parenting in our space lately. The days are dark, and Etta wakes from her nap at 4, so by the time I have nursed and we are ready to head out- it is dark and cold. Thus, we’ve been inside a lot more and it just doesn’t bring out the best in my son or myself. The space, the lack of storage, the fact that every cabinet has to be packed just so due to space or things fall on me and they never are so things are always falling, the feeling that Christmas will bring more things to suffocate me — there have been some days of parenting from a place of space-focused frustration and I hate that.

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High: My kids delight me daily, minute by minute and hour by hour.

Low: My kids try my patience, daily, minute by minute and hour by hour. The emotions of a two year old are not for the faint of heart and parenting at this age of “I can do everything MYSELF” is maybe more tiring than when I have to actually do everything myself.

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Low: We have been slammed with one kid sickness after another this fall as the kids are in childcare, and both Henry and Etta came down with miserable awful colds last week.

High: I woke up to hear Henry coughing and crying a couple nights ago and I went in to offer some more water and cough syrup, only to be informed that he just needed “mommy snuggles in the chair.” Sick kids are the worst, but having my increasingly big and independent boy want to sleep on my chest for an hour? the best.

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High: The semester is over! Christmas break is here! The academic calendar never stops being awesome!

Low: I had a lot of professional and publishing goals that just didn’t get met this fall. The adjustment to two kids was  tougher than I anticipated and there just were as many hours of work time as I needed.

High: But all the same, I don’t regret how we spent our days as I look back on this fall. I worked during naptimes and my days at the office, but when I was home and my kids were awake? I focused on them. We played and explored and cooked and laughed and read and about that- I have no regrets. Articles didn’t get submitted, this blog was largely neglected, and my home was frequently less clean than I would like. But my family was loved well, and that is the best thing I can say.

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Final fall things.

Fall2018-121Maybe it is because Thanksgiving fell as early as possible this year, or maybe it is because summer held on extra long, but fall has felt so short this year. While it’s always sad to see those pretty leaves go and think of the very cold days to come, I am loving this bonus extra full week of November before Advent starts. I appreciate having time to get ready to celebrate Christmas so that December can feel a little less hectic.

And some things!

What did you all eat for Thanksgiving? We hosted James’ side of the family and a couple friends, and I used it as an excuse to try out some new recipes from my favorite culinary corner of the internet. Thanksgiving breakfast included these festive buns, I made this kale and caramelized onion stuffing (divine!) and these slow roasted sweet potatoes, which a certain recently-started-solids-baby-girl especially enjoyed. I tried these roasted garlic and slow cooker mashed potatoes and I am sold, if for the aroma alone. These are a favorite festive non-pie alternative…

… and the turkey. THE TURKEY. I had never made one, which led to several mishaps, like when I melted the meat timer and had to stuff my turkey twice because I forgot to take all the innards out first. But it ended up being so good. At the recommendation of a colleague, I slathered it in mayo (making sure that no one in my home saw that part or they wouldn’t eat it!), shoved a stick of butter, 2 apples, and two onions inside, and then did the foil wrapping method. So easy! No brining or prep! So fast! So IMPOSSIBLY MOIST! Which was good, because all energy saved was used in the end of the evening, when our dishwasher started gushing across the floor and we had to hand-wash all Thanksgiving dishes. (And yes, it did give me flashbacks to this year!)

This had me in tears because CHRISTMAS COMMERCIALS and emotions and music. If you’ve been around here awhile, you know I love crying at Christmas commercials (vol 2 here)… any other winners this year?

This had me in tears/goosebumps because animal power struggles in the Serengeti with a side of Beyoncé just get me like that.

I’ve been cyber friends with RA for a couple years now, and she is doing a Dressember to speak out against human trafficking that some of you may want to be a part of… those of you not so postpartum that you pretty much only 2 dresses that fit.

I am loving this podcast lately, partially because I find people talking about things like meal planning very soothing, and partially because Kendra’s tips are helpful, and her perspective so so good. Dare I even use the overused term “life-giving”? Maybe.

Just finished this book and it was really beautiful. If you loved All the Light We Cannot See, you will really love it. By the way, I got that book for free with the Amazon First Reads program and whyyyyyy did it take me so long to realize you can get a free Kindle book each month?

I stopped doing much photography for other people after Henry was born, but I did do family photos for a number of our friends over the past couple weeks. I was able to wrangle pretty much everyone rather calmly and efficiently into some smiling card-worthy photos… yet my own family was another story. Henry tried to flee the scene no fewer than a million times when I had a friend snap some for us last weekend. Don’t worry- all those bloopers will be coming your way. But in the meantime- a happy pic to end this random late-fall list. Familyphotos2018-28Familyphotos2018-90

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