Blueberries for (Everyone But) Sal

I heard a rumor recently - or really, I read a bunch of reviews, blog posts, and other various online recommendations - that declared that Cider Hill Farm had the best cider donuts in the realm. While it isn't even close to apple season yet, cider donuts don't require fresh apples, and coupled with the idea of picking our own blueberries (which ARE in season), we decided we needed to check it out for ourselves. 

It's 20 minutes from us, and so once we'd gotten ourselves ready for the day, we hopped in the car this morning and headed over. I would never have guessed there were several farms up there, since the exit ramp specifically says "Beaches," but turns out there were several, many of which had their own farm stands, complete with the requisite wickedly expensive farm to table eggs, fruit, veggies, etc. We passed them all, naturally. Farm-Mecca was still beckoning. 

We arrived! It was...warm, but not so toasty that we feared melting. Upon picking up two empty picking buckets, we were directed to the blueberry bushes on the right. And so we started over, but not before saying hello to the resident chickens and goats. Elise made a new friend. 

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As a side note: I'm quite in love with her little curls on the back of her head. I hope they stay forever.

Once Elise had had enough of the animals, we continued on to the blueberry section. Fortunately for our sweat glands, the blueberries were close to the entrance. However, the farm also has strawberries and raspberries available for picking at the moment. Later in the summer, we'll also be able to find peaches, apples, and pumpkins, and I'm already really looking forward to going back. Maybe for each of those things, in fact...

Anyway! I'm distracting myself. We were there today for blueberries!

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We picked and picked until we filled our two small containers to bring home. The berries were plentiful and the company was the best I could have asked for. Elise had a ball, and got the hang of picking the berries off the bushes and dropping them into the containers pretty fast. Fortunately, she's not all that into eating fresh fruit, so we didn't have to worry about her eating more than we took home. In regular life, this fact is rather more unfortunate than fortunate, but I prefer to look on the bright side whenever possible.

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By the end, we were very satisfied with our haul and had more than enough for at least one batch of blueberry muffins (come on over tomorrow afternoon if you want one hot out of the oven!), and Elise looked like she had been ready for a nap half an hour ago. This is the most enthusiastic picture I got with her. 

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I promise that she actually did have fun. Evidently she just had more fun when she was with Chaz than with me. 

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We ended our trip with a family selfie (because #millenials) and a quick jaunt through their farm stand/store, because we could not leave without a donut. That was half the point of going, remember? And OH MAN. They lived up to their reputation. RUN THERE NOW. You need these donuts in your life. 

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The farm shop had a ton of cute wares that I wish we'd had more time to investigate, but with the napping hour having approached, knocked, waved, and played Ding Dong Ditch an hour prior, we kept the perusing to a skim rather than a dive. But we'll be back! They won't be able to keep us away! If I weren't already pumped about fall, this trip would have tipped the scale in that direction all by itself.

Too soon? 

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O Christmas Tree...

I think Christmas just got infinitely more exciting. I mean, Christmas has always been exciting, but with a baby, it became even more so. I'm not sure which is better: being a kid at Christmas or having a kid at Christmas. Perhaps we'll never know. Or at least I'll know after a few Christmases with a kid are under my belt.

Needless to say, I'm pretty pumped about this coming Christmas, and so we got started with the Christmas decorations a little earlier than usual this year, beginning with the Christmas tree.

In a perfect world, we'd go to the tree farm and cut down our own tree. I have such great memories of doing that for years as a kid and I'd love to pass that down, but it turns out that somehow cutting down our own is significantly MORE expensive than buying a pre-cut one. Someone explain that to me, please. Someone has to do all the labor of cutting, moving, arranging, selling, and attaching the trees to cars, but it's $20 less expensive than me going to the farm, sawing, transporting, and attaching everything on my own?

I digress.

Long story short, we got Elise's first Christmas tree at the local garden supply place down the road, but as far as pre-cut trees go, they had a really good selection and it was still fun. 

We headed to the lot on Saturday afternoon and perused the various tree options. There were several good ones! 

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Our living room has limited options for tree placement, so we knew we wanted something not too tall and not too wide, but not too short and not too skinny. Basically, it had to be just right. Fortunately, we found the perfect one within a few minutes and then we made sure that Elise approved. 

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When we couldn't get her attention to take a picture, we knew that was it. And so we played it like the millennials that we are and took a family selfie, then paid for our tree and got it on top of the car. 

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As one does with Christmas trees, we brought it home, set it up, and filled it with decorations while Christmas music played in the background. Midway through we made breakfast for dinner, and then finished it up after we ate. 

We tried to take one more picture along the way, but it's a little tough while baby-wrangling and this is pretty much what we got:

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And finally, because Christmas with a baby is magical, I took a few photos while she played with some lights to round out the evening. 

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Since Advent starts later this year, we have an extra week to enjoy the season. We're celebrating at our house this year for the first time, and I'm quite looking forward to slowing down, savoring the preparations, the decorations, and the holiness in which these weeks are steeped. And I can't wait to watch Elise take it all in for the first time, since there's something especially lovely about introducing holidays to someone who's already filled with wonder over the regular day to day life. May we all anticipate Jesus's birth with such childlike amazement. 

Apple Picking and the Start of a Tradition

When I was little, one of the key indicators that fall had arrived was going apple picking. Chapin Orchard was a couple towns over, and we'd visit the animals, take a hayride, and of course...pick apples. I don't actually remember what we did with the apples we picked, but they definitely all got eaten one way or another!

By the time I got to college, the yearly outing was treasured enough (and similarly loved by friends) that we made it a priority to go to a nearby orchard in the fall to continue the tradition despite being away from home. We added on apple cider donuts to the animal visiting, hayride, and apple picking, and that became as important as the other aspects. Perhaps more so, if I'm being honest!

I don't know if I really thought about it as a tradition until lately though. But this year, with a tiny human with whom we'd like to establish some annual traditions, it suddenly felt more important. So when my friend Meghanne suggested apple picking with our respective families, the idea was irresistible. 

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So we loaded up our babies and met at the farm, and headed out to the orchard to gather our apples. 

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Elise is still a little too small to get excited about the picking process at this point, but she did enjoy spending time in the wrap while Chaz and I did all the gathering work!

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We stopped picking long enough to take a few family pictures, which is great since I have precious few photos of all three of us together. I mean, 99% of the pictures I take these days are of Elise and Elise alone, so it's nice to mix it up every once in awhile. 

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We got some good ones of Meghanne's family as well! 

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We each gathered a half a bushel of Cortland and Red Delicious apples, making sure to only grab the good ones. That turned out to be harder than expected, because many of the apples looked like they'd been afflicted with some sort of apple-y disease, but we managed to find some spot-free ones without too much trouble. Several of the good ones were high up, so Meghanne and I stood back and let the taller ones among us grab those. 

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And before we left the orchard area, we made sure to get a group photo, because it didn't happen if it wasn't documented, right? Right.

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As we walked back to the farm center, we found one of those...cut out things where you can poke your head through a hole. I'm sure there's a name for those, but I'm not educated enough to know what it is. So Wooden Hole Thing is the official term for now. Obviously, more pictures were in order, because when a Wooden Hole Thing is available and babies are present, such an opportunity should not be missed. Behold, a series of photos: 

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 Elise wasn't too sure about it. 

Elise wasn't too sure about it. 

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All the modeling tired Elise out, I suppose, since she cuddled right up and proceeded to fall asleep. 

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We ended our adventure with apple cider donuts, since we had already established that the donuts were the secondary goal of apple picking. This farm did not disappoint - I'm pretty sure they were the best apple cider donuts I've ever had, and I've eaten quite a few in my day. 

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In short, we had a grand old time. Elise definitely won't be old enough to remember this trip, but it's something I hope to repeat year after year so that we can start establishing traditions of our own. 

I love fall - I mean really, who doesn't - but it isn't just because of the pretty colors on the trees, the crispness in the air, or the sumptuous food that ends up on our tables with the change of season. Instead, it's the gathering in, to pull an idea from The Lifegiving Home (frequently mentioned here of late). I love the feeling of the pull homeward, the desire for warmth and stocking up, preparing for winter, and making things cozy. And so I made 11 jars of applesauce with our apples while Elise slept this afternoon. I took a little break when she cried a bit in her sleep, taking more time than usual to snuggle with her and breathe in her freshly-bathed baby smell before settling her back in her crib to snooze the afternoon away. Gathering in doesn't just have to be about stocking a home pantry. I gathered Elise in my arms, knowing that she won't be small enough to gather this way forever. I gathered memories of our apple adventure, storing them away for years to come. We're slowly gathering traditions throughout Elise's first year, hopefully giving her an anchor in life as she grows.

We're already planning on doing an apple picking trip next year, because traditions are important. They gives us the peculiar opportunity to gather both memories and hopes all at once. 

A Trip in Review: NYC with a Baby

Now that we're back from NYC, I figured I'd put together a summary of our trip because I'm sure everyone else is just DYING to hear about how it went. Could you get any more excited? I think not.

We went back and forth for a couple of days when deciding if Elise and I should go or not. Our last vacation with her (at one month) included rather a lot of fussing and sickness, as you may recall, so we were a little hesitant to risk that again, this time with fewer helping hands available. But Elise was a full month older, was sleeping better through the night, and was not coming down with any form of sickness, so we decided it was worth a try. And so off we went! 

We planned to head down Tuesday afternoon and return Saturday afternoon. Chaz was working on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning, so I planned two days worth of activities I could do by myself with a baby, and a family excursion to the Statue of Liberty. I knew I wasn't going to be able to do my typical traveling-solo style mad dash touring, but I also wasn't entirely limited to two-hour journeys only because I had a) the wrap (making yet another appearance on ye olde blog) and b) the necessary devices/body parts for diapering and feeding a small human. That essentially meant that I could do one major thing per day. 

But first - the travel! A couple of important points:

Packing: my usual rule of thumb is PACK LIGHT. Not in this case. My new rule was PACK COMPACT. In other words, pack more than you probably need so that you are prepared for anything. I packed a whole package of diapers (sticking them all in the zip pocket of the suitcase lid), two outfits per day for Elise (since I didn't want to end up having too few clothes thanks to spit up/poop/various other body fluids), and tools for evaluating sickness (in case she came down with something like she did on the last trip). We also brought her Dockatot, since she sleeps really well in it and we also wouldn't have to bring something bulkier like a Pack & Play. Between all of her stuff, the Dockatot, Chaz's work clothes, and both of our regular clothes, we had a lot of stuff, but I fit it all into one suitcase and one backpack, which doubled as our diaper bag for the days. 

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Did we overpack? 100% yes. Did we have everything we needed? Well...Elise did. I should have packed one more pair of shorts for me, because I was NOT planning on sweating as much as I did thanks to excessive walking + over-80-degree weather. But apart from that, we had everything we could possibly have required. And when it comes to taking care of a baby in an unfamiliar place, being over prepared is better than being under prepared, and we'll be even more on top of things the next time we travel. 

Traveling: We took the train from South Station in Boston to Penn Station in NYC, and it was the perfect way to go with a baby. It was easy to get up and walk around if needed, there was no change in air pressure due to elevation, and there was no airport security with liquid restrictions. I call that a win. Plus, Elise loved looking out the window when she wasn't eating or sleeping. Added bonus: there was a changing table in a fairly large bathroom. 

Hotel: King-sized bed. Insert the praise hands emoji here, please. I'm slowing becoming convinced that we need one of those at home too, because HOLY SPACE. Amazing. 

Alright! That's how we got to New York. Here's what we did:

Day 1: Levain Bakery! I won't recap that whole trip again since it was already done here, so instead I'll give you a slideshow:

 Setting off for the day...at noon. #morningnap

Setting off for the day...at noon. #morningnap

 Post-cookie-purchase rest in the park (to eat said cookie).

Post-cookie-purchase rest in the park (to eat said cookie).

 The Cookie.

The Cookie.

 What a smirk.

What a smirk.

When we got back to the hotel, Elise took her afternoon nap, and then when Chaz returned from working, we walked to a nearby Mexican restaurant for dinner. It was delicious, and Elise had the courtesy to fall asleep on the way there and wake up just as we were finishing. That was a one-time deal. Future meals were not quite so easy.

Day 2: Brooklyn Bridge (viewing) plus Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory! Yet again we set off in the late morning after Elise's morning nap, although we started the whole day an hour earlier and so were out of the hotel by 11. I took a second stab at navigating the subway and ultimately decided that nearly every other city in the world has a better labeled, better mapped, easier to navigate metro system than New York. It's possible to get around, but only if you have a pretty good idea of the layout of the city in your head. And definitely don't count on there being a subway map once you've gone beyond the entrance to the station. Once you're past the fare collection, you're toast until you actually get on the train. Nevertheless, we persisted and eventually found our way to Brooklyn. 

When we got there, we took yet another selfie on a park bench. 

You'd think we could come up with a better pose, but I was feeling more overheated than creative and so it's the best I've got. My original plan was to walk over the bridge, but the heat persuaded me to cut my losses and instead just satisfy myself with eating ice cream while taking pictures of the bridge. In the end, I'm not actually sure that counts as a loss, because...ice cream.

 Elise spent much time munching on her wrap.

Elise spent much time munching on her wrap.

 This was taken shortly before it started melting ALL over my hand.

This was taken shortly before it started melting ALL over my hand.

We called it a day, headed back to the hotel, and yet again, Elise took her afternoon nap. When Chaz got back from work we decided against going out again for dinner and instead got pizza and brought it back to the hotel. Elise approved and got ready for bed early.

Day 3: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island! Moral of the story - we should have packed a lunch. But regardless, it was still fun. Chaz finished up what he needed to do for work in the hotel room, and we got out of there, breaking our record by 1.25 hours and leaving at 9:45. We took the subway down to Battery Park, then hopped on the ferry that would take us to both Liberty Island and then Ellis Island.  

Elise was very enthused/interested in the whole thing.

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We saw the statue and thought about climbing up, but again, it was very hot and we decided we were fine with taking pictures...from down below. 

And so after a quick feeding, we hopped back on the boat and headed over to Ellis Island. 

Ellis Island was is an interesting museum at this point, made more interesting that my then-17-year-old great grandmother went through it when she came over from Norway in 1913. Look! Here's her ship!

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After seeing the sights in the museum, we went outside to the Wall of Honor and found her name...

...then hopped back on the boat and sailed/motored back to Manhattan. 

We were all pretty tuckered out but made it to a restaurant for dinner, but Elise had had enough and made sure that only one of us could eat at a time. But the burger was good! And bed followed shortly after our return to the hotel.

Saturday was spent visiting friends (but we didn't take any pictures, sadly) and then traveling back home by train. The longer we're away from home, it seems, the more Elise wants to be home, so she was delighted when we walked in the door. And so here we are, back at our regular routine, until the next time we decide to hit the road!

New Year, New Post, New...Woodstock!

It looks like 2016 turned out to be the Year Without a Blog, because my last post was back in September! But...there's a good reason for that, because four days after my last post, we realized that the next weeks/months/years were going to look a little different than everything preceding them.

And so before, on, or sometime after May 31, there will be a new, very small Woodstock in the house, and we couldn't be more excited.

I've been really lucky to have a very easy pregnancy so far - no morning sickness, and apart from a near-constant headache, no other major side effects. Our one complication earned us a super fun evening/early morning in the ER at 9.5 weeks, but even that came with the unexpected blessing of getting to see our baby for the first time - wriggling around and (presumably) happy, safe and sound.

I had taken a pregnancy test early one Saturday morning before Chaz had woken up, expecting a negative result. To my surprise, it was positive, and so like the average rational person, I decided I immediately needed to go to Target - the logical response to a positive pregnancy test. I traded my pajamas for a pair of jeans, told a still-sleeping Chaz I needed to run an errand, and ran out the door. I arrived about 10 minutes before Target opened...so I sat in the parking lot and checked the test a few times over again to make sure that I wasn't imagining an extra line (again, bringing it with me was the obvious, ultra-logical choice). Once the doors opened, I hurried inside, picked up some juice, another few pregnancy tests, a small gift bag, and a pack of onesies. Upon checkout, the cashier said, "Do you need a gift receipt?" Since I responded to the negative, I suppose she was the very first person to suspect anything...

When I got home, I stuffed the bag with some tissue paper, the test, and a onesie, and waited for Chaz to come downstairs. He was awake by that point, so when he came down he saw the gift bag on the table, and much excitement abounded henceforth.

And as of this past Friday, we know it's a girl! Hooray! We can't wait to meet her.

Thanksgiving 2015

This year for Thanksgiving, we stayed at home. My family came from various parts of New England and so our house was the gathering place. It was wonderful. Since as far back as the beginning of college going-on-nine years ago, I haven't had a holiday that didn't involve traveling. What a gift it was to really be able to relax without needing to pack up and drive or fly as part of the time off! And so to my family I say thank you for coming to us and helping us have a wonderfully laid back Thanksgiving. 

We planned our Thanksgiving feast for later in the afternoon, which gave us time to go for a walk that morning. It was a beautiful day and not too cold - perfect fall walking weather.

At the end of the trail we found a camp (closed for the winter) and a small pond, which is good to know for whenever warmer weather rears its head again.

And with that, we stopped, took a couple pictures, and then headed back to the kitchen.

Let me just add a note here and say that I don't know how chefs do it day after day. I cooked the most food I have ever cooked in a single day, but that's something they do on the daily, so...props to you, chefs of the world. 

Our menu included turkey (of course), gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce (from a can), rolls (from Whole Foods), and two kinds of pies. I made the chocolate cream pie, but Costco made the apple pie and it was glorious. Never underestimate the glories of Costco.

And when it was all finished at 5pm, we sat down and ate. 

Finally, the food was eaten, the leftovers were put away, the dishes were washed, and the counters were wiped down. Logically, the next step was the pie, which may have been the crowning victory of the whole endeavor.

And because pie...I think we'll leave it with that. Happy Cyber Monday, y'all!

The Send-Off

This kid is going on a grand adventure, starting today.

He's hopping on a plane (two, actually) and flying to the exact opposite side of the country where he'll hang out in Sacramento for awhile with AmeriCorps. At this particular moment at 7:53 am, he's on the way to the Burlington International Airport (which is oddly named, seeing as the only direct international flight you can get is to Canada), where he'll fly first to Chicago and then to Sacramento. 

As a result, today's post is very short on words, but will be extensive in pictures. The following is a lovely montage of pictures of Christopher from his freshman year of high school through last week. It's because we love you, Christopher...

Have an excellent time, Christopher! We'll miss you, and you'd better send more pictures....

The Hike

Well, the wedding was about as glorious as could be expected. The weather completely cooperated - picture the perfect Vermont fall day, and you have it exactly right. Perfectly clear blue sky, vibrant leaves, crisp air, you name it, and it was there. I will recap it in the near future, but it won't be today! Instead, I'm going to reverse the order and talk about Sunday first.

We were heathens. We skipped church. But I might argue that once in a great while, spending your Sunday morning out in nature is just a little bit like church. 

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Since we were on a bit of a limited time budget, we decided to spend time outside with the family. Christopher, the only remaining child at home, will no longer be at home as of Wednesday as he's flying out to California to spend 10 months working with AmeriCorps. That, combined with the fact that we were visiting, gave us the perfect excuse to go for a hike and soak in the extraordinary beauty that is Vermont in the fall. 

And thus we found ourselves on our way to Sterling Pond on Sunday, following an attempt to eat breakfast that had us stop at three different places before getting a seat. Leaf peepers...they're the worst.

This particular trail leads the average-paced hiker on a 45-minute trek uphill to a pond, and if you tack on an extra five minutes you can get to the top of a ski trail with an amazing view. (We did both.) The first 10 minutes of the hike are essentially stone steps, and it is hilarious to people-watch. As my dad said, "Well...you can tell just at a glance who's going to make it to the top and who isn't!" We passed:

  • A girl wearing sparkly Ugg boots
  • A girl wearing ankle boots, a dress coat, and a scarf
  • A guy going barefoot
  • The real hikers

We can't really judge as we weren't really fully prepared either, but we at least had reasonable footwear. And I guess you can't really tell for sure, because the barefoot guy was actually heading down instead of up.

After a spell, we made it to the pond.

Despite the seeming calm of the picture, the place was actually a bit crowded, so we didn't stay there long. However, it's worth noting that a girl wearing leather riding boots had made it that far. Mad props, riding boot girl. Continuing on the extra five minutes, we made it to the top.

 I call this picture "The Hair-Do, the Lack of Muscles, and Usain Bolt."

I call this picture "The Hair-Do, the Lack of Muscles, and Usain Bolt."

Behold. Pictures from the peak. 

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 I expect to see this picture on my parents' Christmas card this year. #photocredits.

I expect to see this picture on my parents' Christmas card this year. #photocredits.

After having our fill of both clambering over ski lift equipment and munching some Swedish Fish I'd squirreled into my bag, we turned around and headed home.

All in all, I think it was a fitting parting adventure. On the way back to Massachusetts that evening I thought about Vermont and how lucky I was to grow up there. Being surrounded by that much beauty all the time can't help but encourage folks to get outside and explore, and having a strongly instilled longing for exploration is not a bad thing to claim as my own. I miss living there. MA does have a lot to offer in terms of pre-built attractions - I'll give it that much - but the ever-present sense of wildness at your doorstep is something that can't exist in a place where the land is mostly flat and the houses are a little more squished together. 

We're back at home now (in MA), but thinking fondly of a place where breathtaking beauty is a part of everyday life.

Siblings: the Key to your Inner Child

This weekend, two important things happened:

  1. Chaz left for India for an infernally long time. We left for the airport at 5:45 am on Saturday and he will return until 1:30 pm on September 30th. The level of detail included there was for no other purpose than to emphasize that it's a long time to have the queen-sized bed to myself figure out what to do with myself when he's not here.

  2. My family came to visit for the weekend during his absence, which gives me a chance to stop acting like a responsible adult.

Here's the fam's next album cover, pre-Photoshop:

I don't know how I managed to avoid getting my toes in that picture. Miracles DO happen, I say. 

During the course of their visit, I have done the following:

  1. Sung along with a Brahms symphony at top volume to prove that the melody was singable.
  2. Climbed a tree.
  3. Eaten far too much chocolate.
  4. Played dress-up in a store.
  5. Bought a bouncy ball out of those machines that you think hold not-so-buried treasure as a child.

Siblings bring out the weirdest side of you imaginable. It was glorious. And I know for a fact that we inspired a child, because a dad and his three-year-old were walking by as I cranked the magical wheel, and five seconds later she had her dad digging a quarter out of his pocket.

So if you ever feel like setting your burdens and cares aside for a few hours, call me up. I'll lend you either of my brothers, because as the oldest, I clearly own them. They'll teach you all sorts of useful things, like how to play video games until 4am and not fall asleep, or how to dress like a trendy pre-college fashion icon (key point: wear a "mid-thigh or higher skirt," according to the one pictured above). Due to their advice, I even became a world-class hipster for the duration of the three takes it took to get this photo to an acceptable state.

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If they really think you're cool, they might go so far as to dress up for you. At least one of them knows how to tie a bow tie.

I guarantee that they'll make your day. And heck...you might even find yourself smiling like a kid on Christmas morning while hoisting yourself into a tree.

Happy Monday, y'all.