A Hike in the Woods

Almost daily I feel overwhelming gratitude for where we live. Not just America, not just East Tennessee. I love our little town, our corner of the county, our neighborhood, and our home. I recognize this is a huge blessing, as many people wish they lived elsewhere in the country, elsewhere in their city, elsewhere in their county.

We are doing what we’ve been told to help flatten the curve of COVID-19 transmission: We are keeping to ourselves unless it’s absolutely necessary to go out. Obviously, I’m still accompanying Dad to radiation (today begins Week 4 of 6). We have made quick trips to the store, and we’ve ordered take-out from our favorite Mexican restaurant. Otherwise, we’re laying low.

Yesterday we had a break in the rain, so we took the opportunity to surgically remove the boys from electronics and go for a hike. Jeremy drove us!

This was my first time riding with him other than a quick spin around the mall parking lot months ago. Chuck has been handling all the instruction, and I’m happy to report that I felt safe and secure in the back seat with my seatbelt on. It helped that the roads were mostly empty.

The trail we walked is a 13-mile drive from our house.

When Major was younger, we’d let him run off the leash and wear out his energy on trails like these. He’d never go too far ahead of us or stay too far behind, but with his nose to the ground, he’d enjoy the adventure. Now, at almost seven and a half, Major’s energy wanes more quickly. Yet, he’s still an explorer and always plays around in the water if he can get to it.

Thankfully, the boys didn’t resist the hike. They didn’t even complain. Perhaps they too realized the air in our house had become stale and a walk in the fresh air would do them some good.

It still looks like winter in places where we live, but spring is poking through. There were little tufts of green scattered throughout the forest. In a matter of weeks, green will replace all the brown and create a canopy of shade over the trails.

I thought this felled tree looked like a dragon’s head.

A quick song for the forest animals:

We went roughly three miles, and honestly, we could’ve stayed out longer. We have all kinds of time on the weekends since we can’t visit my dad and everything is closed (rightfully so).

Today we get back to homeschooling, working from home, and taking almost-daily trips to the UT Cancer Institute. I have no idea how long this quarantine will continue, but I have a sneaking suspicion that our spring semester will end like this – communicating online and participating in virtual classrooms. It’s not a huge adjustment for us since we’ve been homeschooling since 2012, but it’s not what we prefer.

If you’d told me 2020 was going to look like this, I never would’ve believed you. How is it only March?

First Snow Day of 2019

We don’t get a lot of snow around here, but when there’s a threat of an inch, schools and businesses close in precaution. (Don’t make fun. We don’t know how to drive in that stuff.) Unfortunately for Jeremy and Jackson, the Miller School for Boys is open every day, snow or no snow.

Still, we make little allowances for the delightful weather. It’s nice to not have to go anywhere. We sleep in a little later, take our time getting to school work, and this morning was no different. Jeremy, who protested that one to three inches of snow was no big deal, was the first one to throw on some layers and take the dog out. It’s Major, after all, who loves snow the most.

The meteorologist called for one to three inches in our specific area, and sure enough, that’s what fell. It was beautiful.

I tried to get pictures of our neighbors, but the snowflakes were so fast and fat that I couldn’t get the horses in focus, and it was too cold to cross the road to get closer.

The temperatures will continue to drop overnight, which gives me pause when I think of the surrounding trees and the heavy snow covering all the limbs.

Major really is the happiest boy in the snow.

Salem, on the other hand, took one look…

…and went back inside.

Once the snow stopped and the clouds cleared, we had blue skies once again and the sun melted all the remaining ice on the roads.

The Possum Chronicles

It began on Tuesday night, September 4, when Major lost his mind.

Evenings are typically low-key for our blue tick hound, but something had triggered his hunting instincts. Instead of dozing his way into the night, Major ran circles around the backyard, barking, howling, and panting. I went back and forth, back and forth to the patio door, trying to discern what caused Major to be alarmed.

On the third or fourth check, I saw the culprit: he cornered a possum on our patio, and the creature was noticeably scared. He hissed and hunched as I pulled all 85 pounds of Major by the collar inside the house. 

But Major didn’t settle down. He knew the intruder was still there. Where did he go? 

Inside the dryer vent hose, of course, but we didn’t know this detail until Friday night when the boys and I spent well more than an hour trying to lure the creature out of the hose and away from the house.

We kept Major locked in the bathroom, and we were victorious. 

One might think this means the possum moved out of our backyard. Alas! No! He lives with us still. Our victory was short-lived.

Every night for the last week Major has situated himself on the patio – on patrol, you might say – waiting for the possum to return. He is on high alert, and his Spidey senses are on point. 

This translates to sleepless nights for us. Though we bring Major inside at our bedtime, he can’t help himself at 2, 3, and 4 a.m., when he feels the need to patrol the yard. 

Until last night, I was sure he was overreacting. SURELY THE POSSUM HAS MOVED OUT. After all, why would he stay? We’ve done nothing to make him feel welcome.

Last night, a little after midnight, less than an hour after I fell asleep, I woke to the sound of Major whining at the back door. Here we go, I thought. Another night of chasing the possum who’s no longer there.

BUT I WAS WRONG.

I opened the door and out Major goes, nose to the ground as he runs the perimeter of the yard. I’m standing on the patio in my pajamas, dog-tired, irritated, wanting to explain to my non-hunting hunting dog that he’s lost his mind.

Then, I see the possum. As Major circles the yard with his nose (and eyes) in the grass, I see the possum casually walking atop the fence line. He’s not even in a hurry. He is totally unbothered by the commotion. Below the fence line is my non-hunting hunting dog, oblivious to the creature he hopes to find. 

*not our possum, but an accurate visual aid

“YOU’RE NOT EVEN DOING A GOOD JOB,” I yell to Major. “HE’S RIGHT THERE.” 

I watch as the two go in separate directions, Major in a frenzy, the possum unfazed. He is laughing at us, I’m sure, me in my pajamas, Major in his panic.

The possum eventually moves out of my line of sight, into a tree perhaps, and I use the leash to bring Major back inside, where I promptly give him Benadryl to calm him down.

If anyone knows of an effective, no-kill possum deterrent, help a sister out. I miss sleeping through the night. 

Crawling to summer

This is how the school day begins:

Crawling from the bed to the floor in the school room. Lounging until the last minute. Taking advantage of Mom’s fatigue because I don’t want to start school either.

Let’s start at 9. No, 9:30. Okay, 10.

How many more pages in math? Okay, just do two. Take your time. Yes, go on the front porch. It’s a beautiful morning. Yes, you can finish that later. Go play basketball and listen to your audiobook. I’ll be in the garden.

The day is so lovely! Go play outside.

We’re in the hardest part of the school year. Summer is RIGHT THERE. We can almost touch it. Lazy days of sleeping in and goofing off are within arm’s reach. It’s immensely difficult to stay focused, and while I grant the boys (and myself) a lot of slack, I can’t let us slip too far because we’ll only regret it in August.

But man oh man, how I’d love to just slack… slack like Salem on an afternoon nap.

We will finish the school year in two weeks and check the boxes for fifth and seventh grade. I will wrap up my first year of teaching at our co-op, which has been light years better than I anticipated. (I prepared to struggle. I did not prepare to love these kids as much as I do.)

Our plans for the summer are minimal since I am fiercely protective of our time. With school on hiatus, I’ll have more time to devote to writing fiction, which I’ve missed. There’s soccer camp and a wedding to photograph and time with my nephews. I’m crossing my fingers for a trip to Amarillo to see Michele. There are other things I’d like to do or the boys want to do, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

For now, though, we are crawling. Inching. Looking into the bright light at the end of this short tunnel.

See you soon, summer. We’ve missed you.

 

Monday morning convo with Major

Major: It was a bad weekend.

Me: Yes it was.

Major: I can’t believe that game.

Me: Me neither, dude. Me neither.

Major: We should’ve won.

Me: I know, I know.

Major: We should’ve gone for two.

Me: I know, I know.

Major: It’s gonna take me a while to get over it.

Me: Same here.

Major: Now I’m nervous about the rest of the season. Did you hear that Kentucky beat Missouri?

Me: I heard.

Major: And Vandy put some pressure on Ole Miss. VANDERBILT. AGAINST OLE MISS. I can’t take it.

Me: Me neither.

Major: Mom?

Me: Yes?

Major: Do you think we’ll beat Arkansas?

Are we gonna beat Arkansas

Those brown eyes, though.

Oh how my garden grows

The weeds are bad, but everything is growing beautifully. Having never grown potatoes before, I didn’t know what to expect. So far, so good!

potatoes

The Japanese eggplant doesn’t seem to be as strong this year, so I might need to give it a little boost.

japanese eggplant

Sweet onions:

sweet onions

Gorgeous romaine lettuce:

romaine

Sweet peas:

string peas

Cucumber:

cucumber grab

My gardening companion:

Major in May 2015

Our sick puppy

We noticed Major was acting strangely Monday morning. He was lethargic and not eating, two qualities that are inconsistent with his normal behavior. By the afternoon, his food bowl was still full and he was spending a lot of time in the back yard eating grass. By the evening, he’d thrown up all the grass (in the house!) and attempted to eat some food. As Chuck and I readied ourselves for bed, we discovered areas of vomit all over the living room. None of Major’s food stayed down. Even worse, his vomit was bloody.

By Tuesday morning, I knew he was really sick. Lots of diarrhea, more vomiting, feeble… I took him to the vet mid-morning and after a round of blood tests, it was determined that he had a nasty bacterial infection that was tearing up his digestive system. Since he was weak from dehydration and needed antibiotics, Major stayed at the vet all day on an IV. I picked him up late in the evening so he could spend the night with us and not in the kennel. He had a cone around his neck to keep him from pulling out his IV catheter.

Sickly Major

He slept in the crate all night, too weak to move around and seeping blood out his backside. I don’t want to be too descriptive here because it’s unpleasant, but the vet assistant described it well this morning when she asked me, “Is he still experiencing the strawberry jam in the back?” Yes, he is.

Major is spending another day at the vet for more medicine and fluids. So far he’s eaten a little wet food and has managed to keep it down. The diarrhea hasn’t completely cleared up but hopefully that will happen at some point throughout the day. The goal is to get him well enough to come home tonight and stay home.

As for what caused this, we aren’t entirely sure. The only thing we can pinpoint is from Sunday afternoon when we spent some time on a family member’s farm. Major drank from a small stream on the property and we’re guessing there could’ve been something in the water that made him ill.

When dogs and cats go shopping

My sister and I didn’t grow up in a household that taught us that Santa Claus was real. We knew full well that our parents purchased every gift under the tree and that the idea of Santa Claus was derived from the real Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra. Yet that didn’t stop my parents from making a grand reveal on Christmas morning or my mother from writing a myriad of oddball names on the gift tags. For many years sister and I received presents from Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and Tweety Bird. We’d also receive gifts from whomever our pets were at the time — Peanut, Heidi, Rascal, Max — all names written in my mother’s distinct printed cursive.

In my youngest years, I thought it was funny, but when she continued to sign packages this way when I was a teenager, I rolled my eyes. (Of course I rolled my eyes!) Why didn’t she just sign Mom and Dad or even Santa, which was far more relevant than Daffy Duck and Goofy? However, without fail, the pets always gave us gifts, and I always found it endearing.

All this being said, you can imagine the surge of nostalgia I experienced the other day when sorting through a mishmash of recycled wrapping paper in a holiday gift bag and found this little gem:

To Jen from the cats

After the nostalgia wore off I paused to consider the fact that I’d hung on to a gift tag from the late 1990s. Both Precious (my cat) and Rascal (Mom’s cat) have been dead for more than a decade, and if this gift was given from them as a pair, the last time they lived together was just before I got married in 2000.

Let’s pause to consider that maybe I should clean out the bag of recycled wrapping paper more often.

“Like Mother, Like Daughter” doesn’t always apply to my mother and me, but when it does the phrase refers to our smiles, our laughs, and our persistent love of animals. Oh, and our habit of giving gifts on behalf of our pets:

To Jackson from Major

To be clear, Jeremy already rolls his eyes at me and shakes his head as he tears open the gifts from Salem and Major. Jackson, on the other hand, believes his pets have a genuine interest in giving him gifts and he always thanks them properly.

I’d like to say that I’ll stop writing gift tags this way sometime soon, but if I had to make an honest bet, I think our pets will be shopping for the kids as long as I’m alive.

Throwback Thursday: Baby Major

Our blue tick will be two years old in December and he’s topped out at 75 pounds. He’s turned into a fabulous running buddy and is fiercely loyal to our family. It is a miracle that this is the dog we ended up with, especially since his puppy phase was mostly miserable. Caring for him was like having eight toddlers with sharp teeth.

I took Major to the vet today for yet another ear problem. He’s prone to yeast infections in his ears so we got new medicine to remedy it. When the vet assistant came in the room, she said, “I just looked through his chart and he was only seven pounds when we first saw him!”

Yep. I remember that.

TBT January 23, 2013

I should be reading Dune, but…

I’m making videos with my dog instead.

Sleepyhead

I filmed him the other day when I was off for a run.

We’re about to wrap up science fiction in my genre class and all I can say is IT’S ABOUT TIME. Once I finish reading Dune and find something intelligent to say about power, religion, and the state in sci-fi, I can piece my brain back together and move on to more enjoyable books and films.

Speaking of graduate school, it looks like I’ll graduate in December. Hurray! Fall registration is in two weeks and, according to my curriculum sheet, I have one more class to take plus the capstone. It’s not widely recommended to take a class while working on your capstone project, but I have secret super human powers that make me feel like I can tackle it.

Remind me of this in October.

 

Time to Train

It’s hard to believe I went a full year without running a race. Even though I participated in an 8K in 2013, I did not earn a medal, and I’ve been grappling with that frustration for months.

This is my medal collection to date: One full marathon and ten half marathons.

Medal Collection

I love this display dearly. Chuck commissioned an artist to create the background and then pulled together a shadow box with hooks to display the medals.  It hangs on the wall in our bedroom, right next to the treadmill. I see it every morning when I wake up and every evening before I fall asleep. But what I see is not necessarily what you see.

You see 11 medals.

I see an empty spot.

Empty spot

It’s a smug little spot too, jabbing me every chance it gets, taunting and teasing and telling me I’m lazy.

Well, forget you, Empty Spot! I’ve signed up for a race. So THERE.

That means I’m carving out time to run longer distances and sticking to a schedule to help get me back to 13 miles. It’s not that I stopped running in 2013, but I probably haven’t run more than six miles since November 2012.

Guess who is really excited about training? As soon as I lace up my shoes, he’s at my feet wagging his entire body.

Running shoes

Major wants to run

Let me translate this precious face for you: I see your shoes. I LOVE those shoes. Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh. TAKE ME TOO. Oh please, oh please, oh please. Can I go? Just say it. Just say that one word. PLEASE MAY I GO? I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. JUST SAY THAT WORD.

Major pre-run

To which I reply, “Do you wanna go?”

Then he wiggles and barks and tries to contain himself while I hook him to the leash. We run and we both love it and he gets all the attention because he’s beautiful.

Finally, there’s the aftermath, when he melts into the floor and sleeps for three hours. ♥

Major post-run

My other boys

One of them was happy to take a photo this morning and wish you a happy weekend. The other pretended not to hear me. Forgive his rudeness. He doesn’t care about you or your weekend or what you think about his lack of caring. You can move along now.

Fur babies

 

 

My Buddy and Me

Wherever I go, he goes.

My buddy:

Best buddyI’m not an attachment parent, but clearly I’m  an attachment dog owner.  We’re together all the time, and when we’re not together, he’s waiting for me on the other side of the bathroom door.  Hurry up! I miss you!

Major and I went on two runs over the weekend, clearly our best activity together. He’s a faithful running companion, eyeballing creepy people and urging me to run faster. (The two aren’t necessarily related.)

I’m also happy to report his behavior is light years better than it was a month ago thanks to a training collar. Y’all, it was time to find some sanity with this pet before I put his crazy butt on Craigslist.  The training collar has allowed me to be the Alpha, something I’ve tried (and failed) to do for the last year. We’ve finally turned a new leaf. Now, we can sit down to a calm dinner and Major lays down on the carpet in the living room. This is huge.

In other news, I’m still editing my first short story, but I plan to post it later this week.

The Monday Morning Report

So you’re in the loop:

Major ate a plastic spatula Thursday night. It’s finally coming out. Of both ends.

Jeremy has cornered the market on world news  now that he listens to the Christian radio station each morning. As I pour my first cup of coffee, he gives me all the updates. Today I was told we shouldn’t buy beef from California, Texas, Illinois, or Arkansas because the meat has a disease in it. Now you all know.

My first short story is due today. I’m all kinds of nervous about submitting it.

It’s supposed to snow this week. Old Man Winter can suck it.

Chuck gets home this week after a long time of being away. Words cannot express.

I’ve tried watching some of the Olympics in the evenings, but I’m distracted by Sochi’s overpopulation of stray dogs and Bob Costas’ pink eye. The is the first time in my life that the Olympics are on and I’m like, “Eh.”

And finally, I discovered that two of my photos from Charleston and the Isle of Palms have been shared more than 700 times on Pinterest. Neato!

Marina

Always Worth It

Major Pain

This dog, y’all.

This dogHe’s running me ragged. I swear I could put razor blades in his food bowl and he’d still want to eat our socks. I have to keep an eye on him at all times and it’s making me dizzy. Sometimes I think he should be with a hunting family instead of us, being worked to the bone, using his canine instincts for good and not evil. (I’m embarrassed to show you the back yard. The snow from last week does a fine job of covering up the holes.)

See dog runThe boys would be heartbroken if we didn’t keep Major. Truth be told, I’d have a hard time with it too. The thing is that he’s great in so many ways. He is an excellent running buddy, not only for companionship but also for security. He’s loyal to our family and snuggly when he’s sleepy.

But when he’s awake, we have to watch his every move. In the last three days, we’ve lost two ball caps and an exercise ball because no one was watching him and he lost his little canine mind. I cannot tell you how many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches he’s stolen off the boys’ lunch plates. He’s faster than a Hungry Hungry Hippo after marbles.

Treeing the coon tailYes, he is one year old. Yes, he’s a stubborn hound. But God help me if this is what the next ten years will be like. Will he ever calm down? What should we be doing differently? Dog owners, give me your best advice. Tell me it’s going to get better. Tell me I’m crazy to wonder if getting a second dog of another calmer breed would help.

I’ll leave you with Salem’s dissatisfaction. I can’t say it any better. Angry Salem

Riding the high of a snow day

Finally, we’ve had a good snow. You’d think snow was a regular winter thing at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains, but no. It’s rare, and when it happens, it’s like a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Yesterday, we got a big ‘ole heap of it. Since we homeschool and our usual Tuesday activities were cancelled, we didn’t have to leave the house. The same goes for today. I’m almost out of milk, but we have electricity, which means we have the Internet and a working coffee maker. The necessary provisions are stocked.

It’s not lost on me how fortunate we are. So many families were separated last night because roads and highways were clogged with wrecks or simply impassable. The stories out of Atlanta and Chattanooga are tragic. Kids were stranded at school, people had to sleep in their cars. Many abandoned their cars and walked home. Commutes that usually took 15 minutes were stretched to eight hours or longer. No, it’s not lost on me how fortunate we are.

We finished school as fast as we could yesterday and went outside to play. It was beauty-full.

LightpostMagnoliaWe don’t have a sled, but it didn’t matter. Heavy duty garbage bags work just fine.Snow dayDown the hillWipe outJack goes down the hillJeremy goes down the hillHappinessEven the beast liked the snow. Blue tickCute? Yes. Major loves the snowBut so naughty! (He steals gloves.) Cute but naughty

Sunshine!

Let’s all take a minute to observe the warmer weather.

SunbathingWe’re all jumping for joy over 45 degrees, which is leaps and bounds better than 2. I didn’t like 2. I hope you were all good pet owners and cared for your outdoor family members appropriately. (Condolences to those with busted pipes, flooded rooms, and other Polar Vortex-induced calamities.)

Our family has been quarantined for the week while dealing with coughs and sneezes. Since we haven’t had temperatures or vomiting, I’m not calling it the flu. I’m not sure what it was, but I’ve sufficiently disinfected the house and crossed my fingers that we’re on the tail end of it.

I’m back to working on the novel every day, though progress is slower since I’m intentionally not rushing. In my free time (i.e., running on the treadmill), I’m indulging in British dramas, which I find far more entertaining and creative than most of what’s being made here. I highly recommend Broadchurch, Mr. Selfridge, Sherlock, and White Chapel, if you’re into that sort of thing. And of course, Downton Abbey. Not sure I could love the Dowager more.

Vulgarity

Waving the white flag with long division

Single-digit division was a snap. Double-digit division was a breeze. Triple-digit division with remainders has left Jeremy in the pit of all that is wrong with math. He gets caught up in the process, forgetting where he is in the multiplication and subtraction, forgetting to add back the remainder when he checks his work, forgetting his multiples of seven and eight, and so on.

We nearly didn’t survive yesterday, so today I’m declaring that triple-digit division is on hold until January. Did you hear that squealing? That was Jeremy. He’s thrilled. He loves me again.

Jackson, on the other hand, cannot be held back. He zoomed through an entire math unit in one day and got a hundred on his test. Wait until you have to do long division, says Jeremy.

I’m floating along in a stupor this month unable to fully devote myself to any one thing. I can’t believe we are a week away from Christmas. I must have blinked. (If you haven’t received a Christmas card from us it’s because I didn’t write one.)

We’ll be boarding Major next week while my family is here, which has me both relieved and sad. I’ve never excluded our pets from Christmas morning rituals, but our blue tick hound would lose his ever-loving mind in all the commotion of unwrapping presents. He would try to steal the turkey off the dinner table and he’d probably knock down my grandmother in an attempt to lick her face. In the last 24 hours, Major has stolen Jackson’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich off his lunch plate, chewed the computer mouse from the boys’ school desk, destroyed a piece of mail, and nearly swallowed a Lego. That is in addition to three new holes dug in the backyard and waking me up at 6:30 three mornings in a row.

I swear. If I didn’t love running with this dog…

Do I sound like a Scrooge? I promise you I’m not there yet. However, Chuck finished reading my novel yesterday (what I’ve written thus far) and gently told me last night that he doesn’t think it’s realistic to finish by New Years. He knows the general direction the story is going, and based on what he knows, he thinks I’d be rushing myself unnecessarily to meet some sort of faux deadline. I conceded that he was right. I’m not sure why I’m rushing, aside from blaming one of my distorted perfectionist flaws. Technically, since this book is my capstone project to complete the master’s program, I don’t have to finish it until next December. I have a solid year to write and edit it.

Speaking of Chuck, I’ll end this post with his contribution to this year’s Elf on the Shelf:

Everybody poops

Yay baby!

So yesterday I had the most awesome privilege of seeing brand new life appear on earth. Lesli and Jimmy, parents of Henry, had their second child, a precious little jewel named Catherine. I was over-the-moon excited to be there with them to capture her first few hours.

Catherine's dark hair

Wide awake

My favorite of Catherine

 

She is a beauty. Now, between Susan, Lesli, and me, we have three boys and two girls. My heart is bursting. I want them all in a room together as soon as possible.

Don’t think I didn’t freak out when Jeremy said, “When Catherine is ten years old, I’ll be twenty!” Wait, what?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our little baby, who officially turned one year old yesterday.

This was Major at six weeks old, sleeping soundly next to his older brother:

sleeping togetherAnd here we were last night, cuddled for about ten minutes until Salem was over it:

Major and Salem on Dec. 9I’d forgotten that it was Major’s birthday until I came home from the hospital and the boys told me I needed to join them in a round of singing Happy Birthday to the dog.

Back to School

Now that Literary Theory is officially over (THANK THE SWEET LORD), I can put my entire brain back into homeschooling. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? Like I let the boys flounder while I drank high dollar coffee and read philosophy drivel. That’s not what happened, at least, not entirely. We’re doing fine on all of the core subjects, but we’re miserably behind on electives. It’s my intention to spend the next three weeks catching up to a significant stopping point before Christmas. The boys aren’t thrilled, let me tell you. They preferred it when I passed out on Norton’s Anthology and they watched documentaries from National Geographic.

Back to school

My brain is still on the novel, but I reserve that work for the evening after they’ve gone to bed and Major is sufficiently passed out for the night. I’ve already registered for next semester and, from what I can tell, there should be no philosophy or theory or anything written above my pay grade. Short Story and Performance Writing should be manageable.

I’ve not taken photos of Timmy yet, but he’s reemerged. So far he’s just hiding in different places around the house, but I’m sure he’ll start his mischief soon. We’ve also begun our Advent tradition, where the boys receive a note each morning telling them something special. They either get a small piece of chocolate or we do an activity together. Today we played Candyland. Jackson smoked us and won all four rounds.

Speaking of Jackson. For all of his simplicities, he has a fantastic imagination. I’ve been putting words on a white board each week and having the boys write stories using all of them. I purposely give them words that generally don’t go together – like feather, star, sword, garbage – just to see how they’ll weave them together. Jackson never fails to write full scenes with dialogue and sound effects (you knew it would be an action story). He’s also started setting up his stuffed animals on his bed and giving them lines to say, as if he’s directing a film. Am I raising a George Lucas? A Joss Whedon? A Christopher Nolan? Can’t wait to find out.