Friday, November 30, 2012

favorite thing friday: kanoodle

Last year, we drove up to Massachusetts to visit my family and while there, we stayed with my sister, Beth and her family.  One afternoon, as the children were rollicking about my nephew, Michael's awesome playroom, I happened to notice a little black box sitting on a shelf with the words, "Kanoodle" written on it.  I took it off the shelf and turning it about in my hands, innocently wondered, "What is this?" 

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Oh, how little did I know that opening that black box would pull me in to a world of puzzle solving that would fiercely bend my kanoodle for the rest of the trip.  By the time we were ready to leave, three days later, and I still hadn't solved the puzzle, I closed the box - put it back on the shelf - bid it farewell and swore I'd never think of it again.  Things were going great until a week later when a big box arrived on our door step, and right there inside the big box, was the little black box with the words "Kanoodle."  In a show of generosity, my sister Beth had decided to send her Kanoodle to me.

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There are several different puzzles, ranging from simple to complex, that you can solve with these bright colorful pieces. Apparently, it comes with a solution booklet, but Beth no longer had that. I could see that the solution booklet might be helpful since to this day, I haven't solved a single puzzle.  But that hasn't stopped me from trying.

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Oh, but get this ... our children have solved the puzzle several times. And whenever they solve it, after they taunt, "IT'S SO EASY!" I'll take a picture so that in those moments when it feels like my world is spinning out of control, I can take out this little puzzle, bend my kanoodle trying to put it together - - finally resort to looking at the picture - - and contemplate from whom within our family our children inherited their GENIUS.

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This year for Christmas, my sister Eileen and her husband Clark, and four of their five children will be coming to our home to celebrate with us. Santa may or may not be planning to bring a Kanoodle to a few of their stockings. And I may or may not be planning to photo copy an entire solution booklet and memorize it over the winter break.  I'm feeling like I need to impress the kids.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

it's the most wonderful time of the year

Christmas time ... it is once again upon us. And for the first time in my life, I think I might actually have the majority of our shopping completed before the end of November.

It's a miracle.

Or, perhaps a virtue of the fact that I came down with strep throat over the weekend and have been totally out of commission for the past few days, completely flat on my back unable to do anything except surf cyber sales, when I'm not crying for my mother.  At this moment, I'd like to take a quick pause to acknowledge Sir Alexander Fleming, the inventor of antibiotics. Had this infection struck me 100 years ago, before antibiotics were created, I most likely would have died this weekend.

If I didn't die from the pain, I probably would have died from being tossed out a window by my husband who doesn't think I'm pleasant to be around when I'm sick. Apparently, I'm not a very patient patient? The nerve of me!  Alas, a mere 36-hours after beginning my antibiotic regiment, I'm still alive and happily married and nearly complete with my Christmas shopping.

It's the season of miracles indeed!

Now, the purpose of this post is to re-cap that two years ago, I started a discussion on favorite toys and received some very valuable input. For example, for those who recommended Magna Tiles, they really are an awesome product and have become something that we play with almost everyday. We've got a few other toys in our arsenal that we really adore and I'd never (ever) threaten to throw away even if the children repeatedly left them out. My plan, if all goes according to plan, is to write about those toys over the next few days (weeks?) because:

1. I want to chronicle them.

2. Someone out there might be struck with the notion that they, too, need to add a few of these great toys to their own personal arsenal.

3. Someone out there might be compelled to share a few toys that they have discovered, that I've never even heard of (i.e., Magna Tiles) that could transform our world!

What is life, if not an opportunity to share great ideas and finds.  Right?

However, before I embark on those posts, my word of advice / reminder is that if you're doing any online shopping, consider making your purchases through Upromise.  It's free and you can get anywhere from 1 to 25% of your sales price donated by retailers in to your children's (or grandchildren's or nieces, nephews, neighbors, whomever) college fund for purchases that you'd be making anyway.  It may not seem like much, but it's essentially free money and it does add up.

My other word of advice / reminder is to make sure you look up any "Promo Codes" for the retailers that you are considering. Tonight, just before I confirmed my sale with Fat Brain Toys, I did a quick search and found a coupon code for free shipping plus 10% off the total purchase price.  While I was anticipating the free shipping based on the value of the purchase I'd be making, the 10% off was completely unexpected.

See?! Just one more line of concrete evidence ....

'Tis the season of miracles!! 

I'm jumping right in to the festivities (wow, it's so good to still be alive!!) and taking this opportunity to post one of my favorite seasonal photos.  If it's possible to post a picture too many times, my apologies, but this shot is going up every year for as long as I shall blog.  Is it wrong? Is it terrible that I think this picture is so funny? I mean, what kind of person laughs at this? Well, for what it's worth, my children - the subjects of the terror, think it's quite humorous. So that makes me feel a little better.

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The history behind the photo is that I put Elizabeth in Santa's right arm, first, and she was doing just fine. Snacking on a graham cracker and checking out the man in the big red suit with her cute little ponytails. Next came William. He was relatively OK with the situation, since his sister was seemingly OK and although he turned around to survey the scene and didn't want to take his eyes off St. Nick, he didn't sense any immediate harm to himself.  I'd held off on placing Carolyn in to Santa's left arm until the very last possible second because I knew that she would turn inside out.

And wow did she ever. 

And when she did, she set off the DANGER! DANGER! DANGER! alarm that triggered her siblings to turn inside out (the look on William's face just screams, "OMG, IS HE GOING TO EAT US?!" or maybe, "I forgot to enter in the Promo Code for Fat Brain Toys!!") which triggered Santa to turn inside out and SNAP!

A memory preserved forever.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

so, you want to fly?

To experience the miracle of flight, all you need is one five-year old boy...

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A superhero cape ...

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A chair...

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And most important of all: an imagination.

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An imagination also comes in extremely handy when you're an adult trying to prepare meals in a significantly outdated kitchen. As for me, I like to imagine I'm camping and then it feels as though I have the most enviable kitchen in the entire campground.

Seriously, would you check out that full-size dishwasher?!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

today, I'm thankful for selective memory

I'm taking a break from our Thanksgiving festivities to sit and reflect.

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Earlier this morning, we delivered Apple Crisps to several of our neighbors. This has become a fun tradition for us because there are several elderly people on our street - some whom don't have family nearby - so it feeds our spirit to drop by and say hello.  I wasn't sure we'd be able to make the voyage since two of the four kids woke up this morning at 6:00 AM and promptly threw up. They've made a full recovery, though, so whatever was ailing them appears to be gone. And thankfully, they didn't throw up again after I administered their antibiotics for the strep throat that all four came down with last week.  (Please note:  I'm 100% healthy and the only one cooking so there's no concern of spreading germs along with our cheer).

Thinking it would be a good idea to go for a walk and get some fresh air, we set off on our pilgrimage. What an adorable sight we were, I'm sure, walking down the street with our wagon full of homemade Apple Crisps and little children dressed like Indians, a cute puppy affixed to a bright red leash.

Happy Thanksgiving, ya'll! 

Oh but then... 

I want to pull the wagon!

No, it's my turn!

I want to deliver this Apple Crisp!

No, it's my turn!

And right then, at that very moment when we're standing on the front steps of our second delivery and the door opens and a bright smile spreads across our neighbor's face at the sight on her stoop, whatever manners I thought our older children have learned in their eight years of life, completely dissipated when their little brother who is known to make the sound effects of BOOM! CRASH! PFTT! URGHAHAPSSS! runs in to them with his arms outstretched, and they, rightly so, because they are provoked, push him off the steps while yelling, "MOM! MOM?! Why must Henry be such a PAIN IN THE ("Oh dear heavens, please no!" I think to myself) U-S-S?"

Pain in the USS?

That must be the crazy ship we're on!

From the outside, looking in, our neighbors home was so perfectly tidy and so perfectly quiet. And I must admit, I lost myself in that for a moment. Oh, how I wanted to step in to that perfectly tidy and quiet world and watch the Macy's Day Parade. Sleepily nodding off.

But then I remember: One day, all too soon, that will be us, too.

Right now: We're need to embrace our time cruising aboard the Pain in the USS.

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God willing, our children will grow up - strong and healthy - and move out to their own homes and families. And when those days come, I hope that Charlie and I will reflect back on these moments and the images that jump to our mind will be the happy ones.

Most of all, I hope our children remember the happy moments, too.

Moments that are devoid of sickness and periods of maternal insanity when instead of putting toys in toy baskets, I put them directly in to a trash bag because how many times do I have to ask you to put this away? (Answer = one time too many.) Maybe the children will have some recollection of that Thanksgiving morning when we came home from delivering Apple Crisps to our neighbors and their mother made everyone go lay down and take a nap. Yes, at 11:00 in the morning. Because her sanity depended upon her offspring slipping momentarily in to state of unconsciousness, so she could regain her strength.

But when the children awoke from their rest, their parents, together, had cooked the most wonderful meal and decorated the most lovely table.  And they took of their matching aprons and summoned the family to the yard for a game of football. Every so often, their father would peek in the window to watch the game on television. We laughed and hugged, and fell to the ground, rolling across the lawn and leaves before retreating to our cozy home and roaring fire ... and our very own hot Apple Crisp.

That's how I hope the rest of today goes.

Even if not, that's exactly how I plan on remembering it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

... and then they were eight

OK, so they were eight six weeks ago, but I've been negligent posting pictures of the children's birthday party.  Let's see ... when we last left off ... there was a six foot high, 20-foot wide pile of dirt in the front yard less than 24 hours before a confirmed headcount of 75-party goers were due to descend on our lawn....

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Charlie was making cupcakes and pinatas...

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And we were hoping that this event, which included the children's entire second grade class - their scout troops and neighborhood friends - would go off without a hitch. The weather leading up to the event was very iffy. It had rained the week before and more rain was slated for the following week. But the day of the party couldn't have been more perfect.  The sun was shining brightly - there were hardly any clouds in the sky - and it was a brisk fall day with temperatures in the mid 60's.

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The pile of dirt was removed mere hours before people began to arrive and the muddy pits all over the yard were covered with hay which miraculously transformed our construction zone in to a bona fide "Fall Festival."  The kids bobbed for apples ...

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(Which isn't a particularly easy thing to do when you're missing your front teeth...)

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There was a moon bounce...

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And face painting ...

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And little pumpkin painting ... (don't have a picture of this handy but here's a link to the Pumpkin Patch Pals we bought ... they were adorable and better than a gift bag to take home.)

And potato sack races which I didn't get a picture of, either, but am sure happened?

There was also a spirited game of Capture the Flag that Coach Charlie supervised.  He'd said to me the day before the party that if we was going to referee the game, he needed the appropriate attire. So I went to the store and bought him this ensemble ... which I then had to convince him to wear.

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He donned this shirt and whistle (along with a pair of coke-bottle glasses) a week later when he went to a Halloween costume dressed up as an "Unemployed Replacement NFL Ref."  (He's a funny one.)

Charlie strung his handcrafted pinata from a tree, and then had to restrain himself from jumping between the pinata and a swinging bat once the kids tried to knock it down.

(Do you know how hard I worked on that thing?)

(DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY HOURS IT TOOK ME??)

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It took three hard smacks before it was knocked from the tree in an explosion of prizes and the kids jumped all over the fallen loot like white on rice...

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Although we had four pinatas - we opted to only knock down one when we realized that there was a child at the party who has a contact allergy to peanuts (!!!!!!!) that can trigger an anaphylactic response (!!!!!!!) and those little bite size Snickers bars that were stuffed inside? NOT A GOOD FOOD CHOICE given those circumstances.

(Note to self: Must be more aware of life threatening allergies when throwing the next party!)

Charlie had prepared about 12-pounds worth of chili and whipped up some corn bread. We served that to the adults via a crockpot we had plugged in outdoors, while the kids ate pizza and fruit salad.

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There was an abundance of apple cider (hot and cold) and a pony keg of Sam Adam's Octoberfest.

(Which we then hauled to a neighborhood party the next day because we hardly made a dent at the birthday party. Who would have ever expected that there would be KEG BEER at an 8-year old's birthday party?!)

In lieu of gifts, we asked everyone to bring their favorite book to exchange.  All of the books were collected in a big basket and after we'd had our cupcakes ...

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The children each had an opportunity to come up and select one book.

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What was amazing to me (and other parents) is how quickly the children's energy levels diffused. The sound level dropped from 90 decibels to less than 5, as 40+ kids sat around, slowly flipping through pages of their new books, totally mesmerized.

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(Note to self: LOVE THE BOOK EXCHANGE IDEA. Never forget this one!!)


As the sun started to drop lower in the sky, we lit a bonfire and parents gathered around to continue talking - while the kids stayed warm by jumping in the moon bounce.  All told, it was an overwhelming success and we've already decided that next year, we're going to do it again. Because we're creatures of habit that way ... we find something that works and we stick with it.

I'm already thinking of Fall Festival-themed weddings, baptisms and anniversary parties!!

We had debated so much what venue to have this birthday party and in the end, we are very glad that we decided to have it at home. It had an "organic" feel that I never would have imagined or been able to create if we'd had it elsewhere.  Parents that were planning to drop their kids off stayed and mingled and when our children's teacher arrived with her husband, it was the sprinkles on an already iced and perfect cake. Our children's teacher is quite possibly the most highly respected and adored woman in our elementary school and because she decided to "loop" with her first grade to the second grade, all the children (and their parents) know her very well.

Neighbors stayed and helped us to clean up, late in to the night, and the next day, it felt like I'd been hit with a steam roller. Wow, who knew that coordinating an eight-year-old triplet's birthday party would rival the exhaustion that comes from DELIVERING triplets?  But since the following day was the children's actual birthday, we summoned what little energy we had and paraded off to our neighborhood party.

(With our keg of beer in tow. Does this make us look like lushes on the move?) 

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One of our good friends, we learned, had the exact same birthday as the triplets, so I added one candle in his honor alongside our three 8's ...

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And meticulously added his name to the cake. 

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Now that I look at this picture, I probably should have used pink icing so it blended more.

(Or, at a minimum, take cake decorating classes.)

Monday, November 19, 2012

just add frosting

If there's one thing I've learned over the past few months, it's that it isn't much fun walking through the fire. But once you do it, you're stronger for it.  The experiences that you gain along the way and are able to share with others, are incredibly empowering.  As of right now, I'm still in the fire, but I'm embracing it as it warms me from the outside in and gives me a nice healthy glow.

"Bring it, baby!" I say.

"Bring It!!!" 

When I told my mother a few weeks ago that I walked out of my job - my career - she was stunned, but she understood the dire situation I'd found myself in.  My mother has been hearing, almost daily, the same story for the past two and a half years about what I've come to recognize is a hostile work environment. And Mom agreed that there is only so much you can take before you decide, enough is enough and off come the gloves.  Consider, one day my mother up and left from a 23-year marriage that was toxic and she knew was putting her health in grave danger. The stakes were great, of course, but she understood what she had to do to save herself. So she did it.

At the moment, I'm still working but there is a lot happening behind the scenes that I can't write about. There's also a lot that I still need to sort out including that subject of what I'm going to do with my career.  I'm more convinced than ever that there are no accidents. All of the events that have transpired the past few years and all of the decisions that I've made (ever since I've been an age where I could make decisions), have led me to this precise point in time. Believing that this is exactly where I'm supposed to be, has certainly helped me to embrace the uncertainty of it all.

So while I continue to pontificate on those things, I intend to share some photos and snippets of life from around our home the past few weeks.  Remember, just because I'm not writing every day doesn't mean I'm not taking an abundance of pictures and thinking about updating my blog. It just means that I'm watching a lot of live streaming movies on Netflix and hoping it snows soon. So, I have quite a few pictures that I need to post. Including these of my little buddy, Henry, who helped me make his father's birthday cake a week ago, tonight.

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As always, this little one is so cute and has a knack for taking my breath away.

(Especially when he curls up next to me, asleep.)

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Wow. This little guy is such a handful. 

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I honestly don't remember that the triplets had this much energy, across the three of them, when they were five years old. Am I forgetting something? Because when his eyes are open this child is "ON" and is a ball of nonstop little brother energy the likes of which I've never witnessed before. 

Exhibit 1.  Here's his sister carefully rolling a skein of yarn in to a ball in preparation to knit ... as Henry beats the sin out of a helium balloon with a wooden spoon, directly behind her.  He's wearing his sister's thermal underwear shirt, his spiderman pants, his father's Marine Corp triathlon cap and my apron. This is the 17th outfit that he has worn in the past two hours.

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Can you imagine the sound effects?

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WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP!

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WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP!

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WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! WHAP!

Now, insert ear piercing screams.  Everyone around him is oblivious to the noise. Except the dog who is hiding somewhere downstairs.

(Lady that feeds me cheese when I sit and stay? I promise I'll come back up stairs and curl in a ball by your feet once the little person that makes BIG noise is tucked away for the night.)

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Meanwhile, Elizabeth crafts her very own birthday cake for her daddy ...

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She also created a little something that she has dubbed, "Mr. PlayDoh."

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Henry stops beating the balloon and general hell raising, just long enough to place candles on the cake that he helped to make, that I had to bake in the toaster oven because our tiny oven was occupied with a roast. The cake tasted better than it looked thanks to an abundance of frosting.  Then again, a cow paddy could be edible with enough frosting...

(Notice, new shirt ... pajama top which brings our outfit change to #18).

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(The lighting is better in this picture and the cake actually looks enjoyable, right?)

There was a moment of peace as candles are lit and we launch in to our birthday song...

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And all the children gather to help their father make a wish.

Earplugs. Noise reduction head phones? 

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According to Charlie, all of his wishes have already come true.  And although my hearing may not be as sharp as it was a few years ago ... there's no question, my wishes have all come true, too.

Life really is good and sweeter than frosting.

Friday, November 02, 2012

the sugar high

First and foremost...

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Bob?

I got your messages. I promise to call you back once I've got a spare moment.

Promise!

Who's Bob, you ask?

Bob is a great guy that I worked with for years. He retired from the company with whom I'm now employed and every so often, he reads my blog. Whenever he senses that I've had it UP TO HERE and am ready to call it quits ... he will call and remind me about the amazing pension and benefits if I can just hang on for a few more years. (Hence the reason he is calling me, now.)

Charlie and I took Bob camping about 10 years ago (before we'd had children) when Bob was on an extended business trip to California. If I can ever find those pictures from our fateful trip to Julian, I promise I'll post them. Bob + Backpacking tent = Funniest thing ever.

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In other news ...  I am so conflicted.

The question is - what working mother isn't?

On the one hand, I want (sometimes, but not all the time) to stay home with my children.

On the other hand, sometimes (but not when I'm in a toxic situation) I love working.

If I didn't love it as much as I do, I would have pulled the plug long ago. There is an incredible satisfaction that comes from putting your skills to action.  And the paycheck, that's just a bonus.  

Then again, my children.

They need me. 

They need me so much. 

What better opportunity to put my skills to work than on my children, the little people that I brought in to this world and will be my greatest legacy long after I'm gone?

Oh but when I'm with them, I sometimes feel like I'm going insane.

Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work. Children. Work.

That's what it's like in my brain.

(EVERY. DAY.)

Why must mothers be so guilt ridden?  Oh, the THINGS that we second guess ourselves over. When I look at Charlie he never seems to dwell on what he did or didn't do.  Honestly, I think a man's "Y" chromosome is for, "Yeah, whatever."

I wonder, if I was with them all the time every day if that would get better?

Would I eventually become immune to that feeling of crazy?

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At this moment: life is good here.

Life is great!

Neither Charlie nor I have ANY idea what the future holds and it is incredibly exciting and awesome.

(Someone please remind me of this feeling of elation when it is January and we have no heat and are eating potatoes for the second month straight.) 

Last night we had our second annual 'smores fest in the front yard and it was fantastic. The only thing that was missing was my mom and Jim. 

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(Mom and Jim, next year, OK?)

We had hot apple cider and wine. A raging fire to warm our trick-or-treaters.  Plenty of hay bales upon which to sit.  Candy. And of course, 'smores.  By the end of the night, we had no less than 50 people drop by and stay awhile. Including several people who didn't even have children.  They'd heard about our gathering last year, and they didn't want to miss it this year.  And that's how traditions are born.

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Here are our little trick-or-treaters: a cheerleader, a cowgirl, Spiderman and a zombie clown.  (But whatever you do, don't tell him he looks like a clown with a cute little red button nose. He's terribly frightening. Nightmare inducing, even.)

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Blink. Blink. Long gone are the days I could dress them in adorably coordinated costumes.


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These days they insist on being scary and all grown up. 

Too fast, I tell you. 

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It goes by so darn fast.