‘Round Here

I love the way the sun is shining through the windows differently this week. The light looks crisper and more golden. Fall can’t get here soon enough. I’m so ready to snap out of this Summer purgatory of 106-degree temps. Pools are closing, splashpads are off, but the heat continues, as does the threat of West Nile, so we stay in a lot more. Here are some of the books we’re reading, in between mind-numbing video games and Dragon Tales:

  1. The Monster Alphabet, by Michael Spradlin
  2. Tale of a Tadpole, by Karen Wallace
  3. Goodnight Goon, by Michael Rex
  4. The Runaway Mummy, by Michael Rex
  5. About the Rainforest, TIME for Kids (numerous editors)
  6. Children Just Like Me, by Barnabus and Anabel Kindersley (and UNICEF)
  7. Back of the Bus, by Aaron Reynolds
  8. Cars Galore, by Peter Stein
  9. Duck and Cover, by Jackie Urbanovic
  10. Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

We are also working on All About Me projects, and the boys have made extensive lists of words, activities, and other things to describe themselves. Now we have to make a collage of pictures and ‘nonsense’ and see what can be created from all these descriptors.

Every morning we listen to some kind of audio story. We choose from Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, Perrault, or Aesop’s fables. The kids are pretty good about staying quiet as long as I give them something to do while they listen, like, play with blocks, or <ugh> play Minecraft on the iPad. As they get older I will be more concerned about retention and whether or not they can talk about the details in the stories. Right now we’re all about exposure to the literature, the words, the rhythm, language, etc. As soon as I start taking the fun out of the experience, they reach for the Wii remote. I’m not sure how Waldorf families resist, but we still do TV and video games. Although like many lessons I learn as a mom – it becomes really obvious when it’s time to unplug!

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A Rabbit Hole, or Iceberg, Depending on your View

Photo by Lea Ciceraro, Heavenly Peach Photography

I’m gonna come right out and say it. We have made the decision (eons ago, actually) to homeschool our kids. This is a love it or hate it idea, and we adore it. I’ve looked at the government school buffet and I’m totally ordering off the menu. This decision was an easy one for us, though it has ruffled some feathers of those who are strong supporters of nationalized, compulsory education. Yes, I had a great time in public school, I met some dear friends there, and my school was top-notch. I don’t know if I ever saw a fight, or (other than 7th grade) dealt with gangs. Nevermind David’s horrendous experience – that’s a whole can of worms. We’re not opting out of government schools because we think we can spare our kids from bullies, gangs and pedophile coaches (though, I guess that’s a plus if it works out that way). We’re also not opting out of public school because we want to teach our kids that dinosaur bones are part of a big scam and the world is only 4,000 years old. We are opting out of public school because, frankly, we can. Dax and Jace have an opportunity to learn by doing. David and I have the opportunity to give them a custom-tailored education; one that can be enjoyed without busywork, or having to cater to a mass of kids who have different needs. We can set our own schedule, take field trips, play at a park with scores of other homeschooled kids, and teach from a set curriculum developed by professional educators. Or, as I’m doing with pre-K, pick and choose and build it myself. Most importantly, Dax and Jace can learn in an environment that fosters creativity, leadership, kindness and individuality – for a lot less $ than private or Montessori school (which I think is great, too!). Here’s the shocking news: we’ve already been doing it, and it’s fun.

 The emphasis has been on feeding children static information and rewarding them for doing only what they’re told, instead of helping them develop the transferable, higher-order skills they need to become life-long learners and thrive in an uncertain future.

John Abbott, director of the 21st Century Learning Initiative.

I have no intention of teaching my kids chemistry, advanced geography, or calculus. The kids will not sit at my kitchen table listening to me babble on about stuff I have no business teaching. I will outsource what I can’t provide. One of my favorite homeschool-mom-bloggers beautifully captured this concept in her blog here, likening homeschool to building a house, where the parent is not the construction worker or the builder or even the architect – but they make it happen. Sometimes I will be all of those things, especially early on, but my immediate role as teacher will be less and less as they get older, and I become the facilitator. They will learn from experts, take classes in groups, and I will keep my expectations in check: my job is to help them learn how to learn, and to preserve that love of learning. This is not just a fringe idea anymore, or an option considered by religious fanatics. This is a trend. DIY education for kids is becoming more commonplace, as public school test scores tank and budgets are slashed. People like me are looking for a better option; a different philosophy on education.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. William Butler Yeats

I don’t want their love of learning to be extinguished, and I’m going to work hard to help them find the things they are passionate about, and then give them the tools to explore the world piece by piece, fueled by their discovered passions.

So, let’s get on with it. I think pre-K has got to be the most fun of all levels to teach (maybe I will say that about 1st grade, who knows), mostly because it’s stories and art and writing letters in trays of cornmeal and, well, fun stuff. My kids have attention spans that last 15 or 20 minutes, and beyond that it’s running, jumping, climbing, wrestling, role playing, hunting for bugs and expending energy in general. I don’t know about other little boys but coloring books are out. Art has to be a messy, full-contact sport. Mediums like painting or gluing or building something, preferably a spaceship or car of some sort, will fit the bill. Audio stories are a hard sell, and there has to be plenty of conflict. Red Riding Hood has to be eaten by the wolf. Chicken Little has to just barely get away. I’ve had to dig into the English (British) versions of literature to compete with Transformers video games. Math will have to be taught with manipulatives – colorful tiles or snappy blocks – something to see and touch. The choices for math curricula are endless, and hopefully I’ll find the right program for them. Phonics are on the horizon for Dax and I’m trying to take the Montessori approach with regard to the order in which the letters are introduced. Beginning September 10th Dax will be taking a cultural arts class at Austin Monday Co-op, a secular homeschool enrichment program that offers classes from pre-K up through high school. He also takes a weekly gymnastics class. So far we are only using the following resources for academic enrichment for Fall 2012:

Get Ready for the Code

Get Set for the Code

Go for the Code

Developing the Early Learner, books 2-4

Science is Simple

Count on Math

Other than those, there are countless websites like this with lesson plan ideas and printables for pre-K. Most of our other resources are arts & crafts books and local kid-friendly activities & events, as well as the Austin Public Library. This is supposed to be fun, y’all.

We are trying to build our home library and if you are so inclined, feel free to check out our wish list on Amazon.com by clicking here. (Update: thanks to my mom for purchasing every item on my wish list. I’ll have to add to it next year! Mom, that was amazing.) Dax and Jace will thank you for any contribution – most likely in the form of handmade art (or maybe some handmade lotion!)!

If you are still hung up on the issue of whether or not homeschooling is a good idea, you’re not alone. Many people are skeptical, and in my opinion, there are some legitimate reasons. Look at The Duggar Family, for cripes sake. I don’t want to go into the specifics as to why we feel as strongly as we do about homeschooling, but if you’d like to know more you can start by reading this essay on the topic. There are numerous studies that indicate homeschooling results in smart, happy, well-rounded adults, and we can agree that this is a worthy goal. If it turns out that this isn’t what they want, or for whatever reason it’s not working out as planned, they will be free to choose their own path. Self-determination is one of the most important virtues we can instill in these kids, so that’s a clearly foreseen variable.

We are on the path. I’ll document our progress on this blog for whatever purpose it may serve. Hope you enjoy seeing this journey unfold, as we are enjoying making these memories! Please wish me luck, as this is going to be my biggest challenge yet.

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My Baby is 3

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Today my little Jace turns three. His legs are longer, his muscles are stronger, he’s lost all his chubby baby padding, and he’s communicating in full sentences. He smiles, laughs hysterically, runs everywhere, talks to everyone and loves everything (except soup). He can go from sheer brute force to sweetly rocking his ‘baby’ caterpillar without skipping a beat. He is fearless. If he gets in trouble he tries to blame his imaginary friend, Andrew. Don’t sing to this kid – he doesn’t like singing unless it’s coming from some digital device. He loves to be silly, but the moment I start dancing the party’s over. He’s impatient, compassionate, unpredictable and tough as nails. He saves me from monsters nearly every day. I don’t know what I’d do without my baby big boy Jace. Three years old.

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Honeymoon’s Over

So many people have posed the question to me, “How are you liking your new job?” referring to my recent transition to life as a full time mom. I never really know how to sum it up in a quick response, though I usually say “It’s great, I love it,” or something similar. What I’m thinking is “I am so glad the honeymoon is over.”

What I mean by that is I have finally gotten a clear picture of what it is I am doing, at least for now. The first few weeks without my old 9-5 I would sleep in until 7 or 8am, spend too much time driving here and there cramming in every activity I thought up, and trying to emulate what others were doing with their time. I cooked elaborate meals and stressed out about my surroundings not being up to par. Good grief that’s exhausting. Something had to give. Come to think of it, I have learned quite a bit in the last year of 24-hr shifts. This isn’t going to be a flat-out sales pitch to all my friends to commit one partner to stay home full time. I don’t get into the business of advising men or women to quit their day-job and be a mom/dad full time, because it’s like buying someone a puppy for Christmas. There are a lot of variables and it’s not for everyone. The purpose of this blog is to sum up my personal experience so far, for those who are interested to read on, and how this has benefitted us. This is not meant to fan the flames of mommy wars or plead my case – I have let go of any desire to justify. I am merely speaking to those who are considering the same path or want to know what is like for me, and for my family. I have drummed up a short list of the pros and cons of stay-at-home life, from my perspective. Again, this is not for everyone, do not try this at home without considering your particular situation, results may vary!

I’ll start with the drawbacks, because that’s newsworthy:

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* it’s dirty work, the hours suck and the s**t-to-pay ratio is not in my favor. These are self-explanatory. However, I remember one day at my old job, my boss made me take down an entire wall of a/v equipment, shelf after shelf, and put it up on another wall. After I had finished the task he came over, looked at it, and made me put it all back. I’m pretty sure I was 10 weeks pregnant with my first kid. It was the most pointless, fruitless effort I had ever put forth, and I can’t say anything I have done in the domestic arena has felt more pointless than that. I will never get that time back, and that was hours of my life spent. However, at my job I received a paycheck, two raises, letters of recommendation and adoration which have all been printed out and will be treasured forever. Not to mention the countless tokens of appreciation (mostly from a lovely young woman named Adria, whom I adore) from generous professors and a department chair who showered his office staff with nice lunches out and the like. Black & white, clearly-expressed appreciation. While I know my kids appreciate me, my husband appreciates me, I do good things, blah blah – it’s not coming to me framed for display on the wall. I’m okay with this. I won’t make you want to gag yourself by itemizing my favorite displays of affection by these people, but I’ll give you an example of the fleeting ones that surprise me. As I was dashing out the double-doors of Central Market with my 2 impossible children the other day, one screaming, harnessed to the double-trouble cart, a sweet old lady stopped loading her two little bags into her trunk. Dax looked at her and smiled, and she put her hand to her mouth and looked as though she was holding back tears. True, this lady didn’t know if I was going to go home and drown my kids in a tub, but we had an unspoken moment, and I try to hold on to those moments.

* The “Mommy-Guilt” really doesn’t let up just because one devotes one’s entire life to being a mom. I read a Huffington Post article recently that spoke to this. In ending your career (I would hardly say my administrative associate/media grunt string of jobs count as a “career” but whatever) you are really just trading one set of tasks for another. Each set has it’s rewards and headaches, but it’s not like I feel like I’m doing right by my kids all the time. Being a mom means you will beat yourself up and agonize over almost everything. When you work you agonize because you dropped your sick kid off at daycare, and when you stay home you agonize that your kid isn’t socialized enough. When you work you think you should spend more time at home, and when you quit your job and resolve to stay home, you wonder if you are setting the right example of a good work ethic. I’m not a perfect mother and no one except the mom I had will ever be perfect. I’m over that. I get it. I feel guilty that Dax isn’t reading or writing sentences and he’s 4. I feel guilty that Jace has an underbite and I haven’t consulted a pediatric orthodontist to make sure there isn’t something I should be doing. I don’t teach them yoga poses. I quit forcing them to sit through Spanish lessons from the lady with the mean kid. We don’t volunteer at nursing homes. Yes, I know I should do all these things. Mommy guilt is there. It’s everywhere. Part of what I mean by “The Honeymoon’s Over” is that I have made peace with not being Superwoman. I can’t do all this. There are people who DO! Great, your kid is 3 and reading himself to sleep at night and composing sonatas. Well, my kids are bright enough and they will read. They won’t be sleeping in my bed when they are 14. I’m sure they will eventually learn not to open people’s refrigerators just to see what’s in there, or touch people’s faces without asking. They are two and four now. Now is just as important.

* Remember the last time you sat for hours at a coffee shop reading lengthy articles on your laptop, enriching your own journey of personal interests? I don’t. Wait, yes I do. I occasionally go get a ‘pedicure deluxe’ from the nail place nearby. In that span of time it’s all about me. Meanwhile, whatever poor soul is saddled with the responsibility of keeping my kids alive is suffering the tantrums, laboring to feed, clean up after, play with, read to, wipe the tush or nose of, or otherwise tend to my busybody kids. This realization will creep into my mind as the nice lady points out my unkempt eyebrows, again. These personal enrichment experiences, from showering to wasting time on Facebook or going to a movie once in a blue moon or a date; these are all tainted with a newfound realization as to what it means to “pawn the kids off” on someone else. I don’t want to say that it’s impossible to enjoy any alone time, or time away from my kids, because that sounds so horrid. However, I am keenly aware of how much work they are, and how dependent they are on me. I know how to circumvent bad behavior situations, I know what words to use in the particular order to get Jace to brush his teeth, Dax is happier falling asleep with my elbow than anyone else’s. It’s simply my job, and it doesn’t let up. Spending time with family and friends is completely different than leaving the kids in someone’s care. Truly, that sticks with me everywhere I go. See, “mommy-guilt” in previous paragraph. There’s no structured drop-off routine to aid in distracting them. No status-quo of handing them over. I am their primary caregiver, and that’s my job. There’s no budget for a babysitter, and calling in favors from family gets old, at least for me. “Just get a sitter” isn’t the cure-all pill it seems. I’m sure it will be different when they are older; it’s just not that kind of smooth sailing at this age.

The good:

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* i will go ahead and state the obvious: Time with my kids. Spending quantity time with my kids has afforded me the chance to notice and appreciate the subtle changes in them, and not just the big steps. I am noticing the gradual curve of complexity in Dax’s imagination and story-telling, and I am sitting right there watching Jace have epiphanies about words and sentences and body language. I meet imaginary friends, and help the kids find real ones. Little things as quiet and small as the sound of a butterfly or major improvements in their fine motor skills and word pronunciation; I notice these things in my kids. I am realizing why people have always said “Oh just wait until you have kids, you’ll understand.” I have changed my mind, changed my rules and given more thought to obscure and borderline-radical approaches to things like parenting and education for my kids, now that I see first-hand how amazing and fragile they really are. They are so affected by people, relationships, words both harsh and kind, and I am there to help guide them through the process of digesting these experiences. If David were to lose his job and if all technology just suddenly disappeared from the earth, and be it that I were the one capable of holding down the more lucrative job then it would be David home with the kids, and we agree on this. It’s a priceless gift for me to be the one to watch this unfold. As it unfolds I am there to document their story with photographs and words written in cute little books about them. Hopefully they will be interested in the details, like I was as a child. I love my kids, and I want to be with them. I want to give them what they need, and it’s obvious that what they need right now is me. I know this time is finite, and as they grow I will be needed less and less. They will have many teachers, mentors, coaches, friends and trusted adults to share ideas with. However, right now they are ‘little’, and I’m not entrusting this precious time with anyone else. I’m unapologetic about this observation.

* Just like my favorite quote used often by one of my favorite women, “There are so many ways to be crazy,” There are also many ways to make money. I don’t earn a paycheck, but I consider what I do to be saving money that we would otherwise be spending. Although, I don’t like the idea of tallying up all the things into a dollar figure because that just further devalues the work that I do, by only giving power to work that generates money. Look, it costs a lot of money to work full time. I enjoy finding ways to cut our household expenditures by putting time rather than money into basic things, and producing items or services we typically have to shell out money for. While this may seem counter-productive to the progress made in times since the industrial revolution, I have made it my view that the more people participate in the race to success, the more stress they will have and the more distant they will be from those they love. Some people thrive on stress, some have to be a dual income family just to survive (our society is so screwed up!), some people are comfortable putting walls up, and some people need a career to feel fulfilled in life – I understand it’s not a black & white issue. I am bringing this up because I have had some very uncomfortable conversations with feminist friends of mine who expressed their concern about me falling into some kind of dreaded category or desperate housewife. My favorite comment from a Ph.D. graduate student was, “How long are you going to make it before you go insane?” Ironic, because I was just wondering the same thing about her. We all pick our poison I guess. There’s a lot to be said about rejecting an ideology that places value only in material wealth and money earned outside the home. I could have a job and pay someone lower on the social totem to do the domestic drudgery, but really what are the implications of this attitude? Those who are so obsessed with wanting to prove that working moms can have it all don’t even realize that by trying to keep both parents on the 9-5 hamster wheel, we are perpetuating a “care” deficit in society. In order to have more and more we outsource care the way we pay someone to mow our lawn – and the cheaper the better! A blogger I like, Katrina Alcorn cited a book passage from “The Second Shift” by Arlie Hochschild:

Hochschild says the women’s movement did a bang-up job empowering women to “stand equal to men”. But it failed to value the caring of others.

“Without our noticing, American capitalism over time embraced empowerment and sidetracked care. So in the absence of a countermovement, care has often become a hand-me-down job. Men hand it down to women. High-income women hand it to low-income women. Migrant workers who care for American children and elderly, hand the care of their own children and elderly to paid caregivers as well as grandmothers and aunts back in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Mexico…[and those] at the end of the care chain pass child-care duties to oldest daughters. The big challenge in the years ahead–the challenge at the heart of this book–is to value and share the duties of caring for loved ones.”

What would it look like to value and share the caring of others?

Today, for most professionals–women and men–a full-time job means more than 40 hours per week. Many low-wage workers have to work more than one job just to get by–and studies show Americans work some of the longest hours in the developed world. You can have a perfectly equal marriage at home, but if you’re both working 40-plus hours, there simply isn’t enough time for the second shift.

I am not writing any political propositions to address the economic disparities of the US or he world. I’m addressing my own circumstance, which was a choice I had in continuing to work a rewarding and enjoyable job with good pay and great benefits, or choose to stay home with my kids and halt my professional development. I’m glad I made the choice I did; I just wish society saw the value in it.

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Career Change

When I first met David, he was the only music producer in Austin who would record a band for $15 per hour. I needed someone cheap, and since David was living on coffee and cigarettes he was more than affordable. I knew he was the one the day I met him – and I know people say that all the time, but I really knew it.

David has always been a workaholic. He would pull 80-hour workweeks in 4 days in the studio. We spent the first few years of our marriage sleeping in a twin bed, eating once a day, maybe, and spending most of our money on 2 dogs and a horse. With the help of a few friends he has built 2 recording studios from nothing, and he single-handedly fixes everything that breaks. Since the birth of our two sons, our lives have become more complicated. We were sustaining for the longest time in shifts: I worked the day shift, he worked the night shift, then he would work the day shift with the kids, then an evening shift with bands, followed by overnights at a hotel as Night Auditor. Weekends were a joke as far as quality family time. If it were not for the help of our friends and moms through that time we may have actually fallen apart at the seams.

When he set his sights on a different path, he had our family in mind. Trying to reconcile being a small business owner for 10 years and needing more free time was like wanting to be a pilot despite a paralyzing fear of heights.

At about the same time, our friend Eric saw an opportunity for David to come on board with Dell as a contract employee. Eric was sure that David would shine there, and was very supportive, and borderline insistent, that he give it a try. He told the right people “You want this guy,” and within a few days David had a start date. After saying goodbye to his overnight job at the Hotel St. Cecilia, David started working at Dell in October. After 6 months of busting his ass he managed to prove himself in the tech arena there, and was offered a full time position doing basically what he has been doing for the last few months. Monday, April 18th was David’s first day as a full time Dell employee. So proud of you, baby!!!!!

What this means for our family is essentially financial salvation. In the next few months we will be digging out from under a significant amount of debt, my kids will have Santa and Easter Bunny and birthdays and vacations, but more importantly, we will have weekends together as a family. The other significant change this facilitates is going to impact me in a few weeks, in that I will be initiating a career change. I will go from full time job as administrative associate at UT to being a full time mom. Pay cut, harder work, longer hours, but it’s my dream job and I never thought in a million years this opportunity would pick me. I get to trade in tearful drop-offs and morning goodbyes for leisurely breakfasts and puppet shows. I’ll get to buy groceries on a Monday, or hell even a Tuesday afternoon, when the shelves are freshly stocked instead of Sunday night at 8pm when everything is either out or running low, or worse. I can take the kids to free shows and playgrounds and storytime instead of paying someone to do it for me (thank you, Aaron!), and finally I can be an active participant in the daily shaping of my kids little selves, instead of merely keeping them alive/safe and paying various people to also keep them alive and safe. Summer will mean Barton Springs, swim lessons, camping and adventure! I am ready to start this phase of my life!

However, this also means I’m having to let go of a place I have grown to love. Not many people can say they truly love their job, but my career thus far has been a far cry from the rat race. I work with gems like Jennifer, Deanna, Barry, and the faculty and grad students who have enriched my life over the last 6 years – nevermind I have only technically been at my current “appointment” for one year, and one year ago I was sure I’d be there forever. Bah. Kills me. Now I’m the one crying and having the tearful goodbyes. It is for the best though, so I hear. I hope everyone in CMS knows that my intentions are good and I am doing what I have to do for the benefit of my family. I am literally tormented by the administrative fallout of this move landing squarely on the shoulders of the people I care about the most in that building.

Anyway, the point of this blog post is basically to announce that I will be going Full Time as “Mom” sometime after this semester is over, and no later than June 1. Would love to hear any words of wisdom or advice from those already in the field. Or even discouraging words from those who want to shake their finger and try to convince me that the best thing I can do for my kids is institutionalize them with “professionals” while I go off to toil for money in an effort to teach them work ethic. That’s entertaining to me, but not a new concept. Thanks all. Oh, and my job posted today so if you know anyone (no crazies) at UT with mainframe/accounting/travel/inventory experience please encourage them to apply! 🙂

♥♥ oh, and thanks, David, for all you do for us. 🙂

_________________________________________________________________________

This letter is to my concrete half

not the thinker, not the artist

I am no optimist, I cannot embrace peace.

This is to the one who made me leather

taught me to look at hands before eyes

taught me to know no fear; to run out into the night

Taught me to work like two men, never ever ever ever make mistakes.

These things are more of me, these things are more of me,

these things are more of me than music.

– Hero to Human, Creeker

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On Location

Perhaps it’s a genetic condition, but I am obsessed with documenting the events in my life. I kept a journal almost daily from the time I was about 12 until I met my husband and really started my life. I video everything, photograph everything, and now that I have 2 kids, I find myself documenting the minutia of their lives in their cumbersome baby books. I decided to start a blog, because it’s another way I can document the details – the best parts – of our life.

I grew up in a little Texas town called Farmers Branch. There were no farmers, and I wouldn’t consider it a small town, but my life was incredibly simple. The extraordinary part of my childhood was my mom. I remember her being beautiful, fun, organized, energetic, and always there. Amazingly, she hasn’t changed a bit. Not only was she always there, but she was always there with a giant VHS camcorder, battery pack that weighed at least 25lbs and a healthy dose of dedication. She was a professional videographer, and had mucho gear. Complete with tripod, external microphone and floodlights, she would record everything from weddings to my brother dancing and lip syncing to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”. Thanks to my mom I have my childhood well-documented. School plays, birthday parties, video greetings to Grandma, Halloweens, Christmas mornings, horseback rides, fancy dinners, and just every day happenings in my life. I treasure these memories and these scenes immortalized on magnetic tape and now on DVD for me to go back to. Thanks, Mom. I sincerely appreciate everything. I think of you every time I realize I need to video something and I flip up my camera and push a button. It must’ve been a huge pain lugging 100+ lbs. of gear in freezing temps to my elementary school just to record a bad rendition of jingle bells as played by my 6th grade “symphonic” band. I love you for it. You’ve inspired me to return the favor, but for my own kids. So, here’s my new blog.

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