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The Winter List 2017

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Winter is, of course, about half over – so I’m just now getting around to posting a list of things to do.  Sounds about right.  I can’t bring myself to let the season go by without trying to squeeze every bit of fun I can out of it, though; it’s the curse of a maximizer.  Here’s what I’m thinking for the rest of the winter.  Nothing too unattainable…

  • Get in a winter hike or two when the weather is mild enough for the kiddos in their backpacks.
  • Whittle down my library stack.
  • Drink lots of tea!
  • Finish unpacking the bedroom and dining room, and once there are no boxes left in the living spaces, start tackling the basement.
  • Spend some time in Barchester – both Trollope’s and Thirkell’s versions.
  • Run the Pacers First Down 5K and Combine (preferably trained).
  • Finish my 2016 family yearbook and order it when there’s a 50% off sale, then get started on other family yearbooks.
  • Plan and book summer 2017 travel.
  • Light candles often.
  • Take the kids to Wegmans Wonderplace at the American History Museum.

I think that’s a good list!  Plenty on there to keep me busy until the trees burst into bloom and the days warm up for the season.

What are you up to this winter?

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So we’re halfway through winter as of tomorrow, and therefore the wise Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy has suggested that we all share what is saving our lives lately.  As Anne says, most of us know what’s killing us, and can articulate it, but how often do we stop and give thanks for the things – little or big – that are saving us?  I love this question and its call to gratitude, so here’s what’s saving my life lately:

  • Sunny walks around Old Town with the kids bundled into the double stroller.  It’s all about getting fresh air, and a chill breeze coming off the Potomac feels lovely when you’ve been cooped up in an office and on commuter trains all week.
  • Tea, always, and tea-adjacent fellowship.  Several of my colleagues, I’ve recently discovered, are tea enthusiasts, and we’ve been stash-diving into each other’s desk drawers.  It’s fun to work with fellow tea drinkers again.
  • Rock the Park.  If you’ve been reading my Monday posts, you have probably seen Rock the Park appear in the “watching” category week after week.  It’s such a great show – I love the hosts and the infectious joy they take in wilderness and adventures – and beautifully shot.  At the end of a long day, nothing feels as inviting as twenty minutes of watching Colton and Jack hike through beautiful mountains or splash down another stretch of whitewater.
  • My earbuds.  I chip away at my podcatcher and my audiobooks, little by little, while waiting for the Metro or walking to and from my office.  The minutes and blocks fly by when spent in the company of George Eliot or the Sorta Awesome gang.
  • Trail time.  Whether we’re out for hike in one of the many wooded areas near our house (we’re so lucky) or on paved trails at the National Zoo, there’s nothing like getting out in nature, feeling the sun and the breeze and seeing a few animals, to recharge my perpetually near-drained batteries.
  • Instagram.  It’s my favorite social media outlet and I’ve built a feed that is truly delightful – equal parts #bookstagram, natural wonders, and my friends’ adventures.  My moments of checking in on Instagram are true exhales.
  • My soft grey Hanna Anderssen bathrobe, and my red LL Bean rainboots.  Both Christmas gifts, both keeping me warm (the robe in the mornings as I stumble half asleep into the kitchen to start lunch prep, and the boots as I slosh through the city to and from work on all the rainy days we’ve been having lately).
  • Comfort reads like The Little White Horse and The Making of a Marchioness, both of which I mentioned on Monday.  My Folio and Persephone shelves still have more riches I’ve yet to touch, and I’ll be spending more time in Barsetshire this winter, too.  The crummier things get, the more I want to read the classics.
  • Smiles and giggles from my kiddos as we hang out and play together.  I try to maximize every moment I can with them, since I am so busy during the week.  I cherish our family dinners, bedtime stories, and little weekend adventures.
  • My handsome guy.  I feel so lucky to be married to my best friend and true partner.  We’re on the same page about so many of the toughest issues in marriage, and lately I have been more grateful than ever that we are able to work together toward our shared goals in a productive and loving way.  He’s the best.

What’s saving your life lately?

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I can’t tell you how excited I am to bring back the twelve months’ hiking project!  Longtime readers may recall that Steve and I set a goal of getting out onto a different hiking trail at least once every month in 2015, and at the end of the year we had a collection of fantastic hikes to show for it.  I wanted to keep the project going into 2016, but we quickly realized that we had pretty much exhausted the family friendly hiking trails in Western New York.  But the dawn of this new year sees us back home in Northern Virginia, with a wealth of hiking trails to choose from and some travel plans that will take us to even more spectacular hiking locations – with all that to look forward to, how could I not bring back the hiking project?

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Our first hike of 2017 had to involve Great Falls somehow – it just wouldn’t have felt right otherwise.  Great Falls might be my favorite place in the world.  It’s a tough call, because I love so many places.  But this rollicking gorge holds a special place in my heart.  I think I’ve hiked here more than anywhere else – in all seasons and all weather – and I know every inch of the trail.  (At least, on the Virginia side.  The Maryland side boasts the Billy Goat Trail, which is one of the most popular hikes in the D.C. area, and we still haven’t tried it.  I hope to have corrected that omission by the end of 2017!)

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Our first stop, as always, was the overlook, so we could wave hello to the waterfalls.  The water was really rolling last weekend – you could see the mist coming off the falls section quite a ways up the trail.  I brought my Adirondack flag to show my love for my favorite state park while I hiked my favorite federal park.

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Whenever we head for Great Falls, we always get into a debate – should we head downriver, into the NPS area of the park, or should we walk up the trail to Riverbend Park (part of the Fairfax County park system) and leave the NPS section?  I like to walk downriver and stay in the federal area, but Steve prefers to walk upriver into the Fairfax County park section.  He likes the more consistent river views upriver, while I don’t mind meandering into the woods a bit and then coming out onto more sporadic, but more spectacular, views downriver.

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Since the last time we hiked Great Falls, we went downriver, it was only fair to hike upriver this time.  So we set out for the North River Trail, which takes hikers out of Great Falls and into Riverbend Park.

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First bird sightings – a few Canadian geese waiting out the winter (or stopping by on their way further south).  There was also a gaggle of ducks.

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The North River Trail has a bit of very mild technical hiking, which adds to the fun.  Starting small with some stone steps…

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Into a tight scramble area.  I wished I had brought my hiking poles, but I did fine grabbing onto the rocks and tree trunks along the side of the trail.

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We have arrived!  Riverbend Park is such a versatile area.  It’s great for birding all year round, and the trail is loved by both hikers and trail runners.  It’s interesting enough to keep you engaged, but not so technical that you couldn’t run it if you were of the mind to do so.

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This guy was giving me lots of kisses.  Everyone should try hiking with an affectionate toddler on their backs.

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At one point we all shared a water bottle.  I was a little worried about all this water going down the back of my neck, but fortunately, my fears turned out to be misplaced.  What a relief!

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We ended the hike with a special treat – a Great Blue Heron!  Mom’s favorite bird – what a delight to see that guy.  (Can you spot him in the picture above?  Note to self: bring the dSLR next time.  iPhone pictures just don’t cut it for birding.)

A little scrambling, a gorgeous waterfall, and some great birding action – not a bad start to a new twelve months’ hiking project!

Have you been hitting the trails recently?

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And now it’s 2017!  I think we were pretty much all ready to see the back of 2016.  Has there ever been a year in which more things went wrong, from a state-of-the-world perspective?  Globally speaking, I found 2016 as ridiculously absurd as most people, so good riddance.  But from a personal and family perspective, we actually had a pretty good year – filled with lots of laughter and fun, with big and small adventures all folded around a major, and very welcomed, life change.  Here’s a look.

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The biggest event in January was concluding the sale of our house in Elma, and moving into temporary housing in Williamsville, New York.  The move was phase one of our plan to leave the Buffalo area – a goal we were already working on at the end of 2015, although we just murmured vague things like “we’re looking for a better fit” when asked about our home sale.  We weren’t ready to share our ultimate plan at that point.  Most of the month was consumed with packing and moving, so we didn’t do much adventuring.  But I did finish recapping 2015 fun and posted Part I of my 2015 reading year in review.

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In February, we settled into our new temporary living situation. and I made two stealthy trips to D.C. to interview for a job.  That job didn’t work out, but getting interviews so quickly did boost my confidence and convince me that we had a chance of making our dream of moving home come true.  Those trips – planning and preparing for them, making them, and keeping them quiet – consumed my entire month and between that and work drama back in Buffalo, I had very little energy for anything else.  So we didn’t get out much in February, although I did post Part II of my 2015 reading year in review, and my 2015 Book Superlatives.

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March was all about celebrating Nugget as he turned one year old!  We threw him a storytelling birthday party with a nature theme at a local children’s bookstore, and it was so much fun.  I think he felt very celebrated and very loved.  Around the main event of the month, we squeezed in a few hikes – since the weather was unseasonably warm – making it to Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve and to Tillman Road Wildlife Management Area.  We also visited a working sugar shack as part of New York’s Maple Days.

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In April, I made another stealthy trip to D.C. to do my first interview for the job I would end up taking.  Around that, I fit in fun both bookish and outdoorsy.  We took a family hike to Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and spotted dozens of red-winged blackbirds.  We also went back to Times Beach Nature Preserve and Canalside for family playtime.  And I – as always – celebrated National Poetry Month, this time with a fun twist!  I posted two big roundups of my favorite poetry books for kids, one post for the classics, and one for newer favorites.

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In May, I continued to be all over the place.  I made another secretive interview trip to D.C. – the most stressful one yet, involving bumping into a colleague on the way there, and a nearly-missed connection in Detroit (sprinting in heels to catch the last plane of the night) on the way back.  I liked my end of month travel better – a trip across New York State to visit my parents and spend some time at the lake for Memorial Day!  We also hit up the summit of Mount Greylock and had lunch in Williamstown, Massachusetts – such a fun trip.  Closer to home, we had some fun adventures – a Mother’s Day weekend that included hikes at Tifft Nature Preserve and a 5K race in Ellicottville, New York; a family walk through Reinstein Woods; and a hike at Akron Falls, a park we’d not yet explored.

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In early June, I got the exciting news that I had a job offer in D.C., and our move was officially underway!  We still kept it under wraps, in case things fell through.  Two days after getting the exciting call from my new firm, I packed up and drove across the state to Lake George for an education law conference.  In between conference sessions and workshops, I managed to spend almost a full day with my college friend Seth – hiking, kayaking, eating delicious crab legs and drinking wine.  Back in Buffalo, we celebrated Father’s Day with another 5K (for me!) and a family hike.

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July was a blast, as we squeezed as much Buffalo fun in as we could before moving at the end of the month.  Starting with a fun Fourth of July weekend that included playground time, Canalside, berry picking and a family retirement party.  The next weekend, we were out and about again with a special treat for Nugget – Touch A Truck!  I mused on my favorite books of the first half of the year and on my personal tendency to cram as much fun into summer as possible.  Meanwhile, I dedicated the rest of the month to wrapping up work projects and lining up childcare (a school for Peanut; a nanny for Nugget) in northern Virginia.  We closed out the month by throwing an early fourth birthday party for Peanut, so that she could celebrate with her friends, after which I promptly threw my back out putting Nugget in the crib, and then our moving truck rolled out two days later and we officially said goodbye to New York State.

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August was about resting and reflecting on this big life change that we had brought about.  It was a long journey – eighteen months from the time we first started talking about moving, before Nugget was even born, to turning the key at our new place in Virginia.  And even though we had a house crammed full of boxes and a lot of unpacking and organizing to do, we decided to spend our final week of freedom before I started my new job visiting my friend Rebecca in Virginia Beach.  We spent pretty much the entire week barefoot and covered in sand and it was exactly what we needed.  When we got home, D.C. life started in earnest.  I started work at my new firm.  My cousin Jocelyn came down to watch the kids for two weeks as part of our cobbled-together bridge childcare plan (before the school year started and the nanny was available) and we did our best to induce her to move south – with hikes at Great Falls, visits to the D.C. monuments, and a morning at the Udvar-Hazy Center, not to mention two cute kids.  We also celebrated Peanut’s fourth birthday – can’t believe what a big kid she is!

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In September, we continued to enjoy being back in northern Virginia and able to visit all of our favorite spots again – including Lake Burke (pictured above), which was one of our regular haunts when we lived here before.  Most of the rest of the month was quiet – filled with settling in.  Nugget got his first haircut and I was a soggy mess.  I reflected on the summer that just ended.  And – the best part of September – my dear Buffalo friend Zan came for a visit.  All in all, September was busy – filled with back to school events and birthday parties – but also quiet, if that makes sense.  It was a lot of the business of living, which was exactly what I wanted after three years of homesickness.

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If September seemed quiet, October was packed with local fun.  We celebrated Columbus Day weekend with a trip to Little Washington for a few days, where we tasted wine, explored the adorable town, and hiked in Shenandoah National Park.  Back in the D.C. suburbs, we drove out to Loudoun County two weekends in a row for apple picking and then pumpkin picking; had a playdate with a new school friend at a children’s Halloween party hosted by a local historic mansion; and finally went Trick-or-Treating (with our mermaid and fire truck) in Old Town – a month-long funfest that I recapped in one big monster of a post.

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November was… it happened.  The month started well, with a visit to the Will & Jane exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library.  Then the election happened, and I – like pretty much everyone else I know – was absolutely stunned.  I said everything I needed to say in this post, so no more.  We finished the month with a trip up to my parents’ house for a family funeral and Thanksgiving.  (For the first time since switching from food blogging, I didn’t recap a holiday.  I just didn’t feel like it.  It was good to see family, and the kids had a great time.  That was enough.)

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After the dumpster fire that was November, we made December all about family fun.  Another visit to Little Washington (for their Christmas parade!), walks to the waterfront to see the holiday boat parade of lights and the waterskiing Santa, and last but not least, Christmas itself.  It was wonderful to celebrate as Virginians again, and looking back on the year I was so grateful that the move home happened as I’d hoped it would.

And now, onward!  Next week, I’ll be reviewing how I did on my 2016 goals and plans (spoiler alert: pretty bad) and setting some new intentions and a word for 2017 – which I can’t tease, because I still don’t know what it will be.  It feels particularly good, this year, to have a fresh start.  Can’t wait to see what 2017 brings to our family (even if I’m a little scared for the world).

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Ready for more festive family fun?  We’ve been strolling the streets of Old Town, checking out the lights, a few times each week – and I’m completely delighted by them every time.  When Steve and I lived here before kids, one of our beloved traditions was a walk through Old Town to check out the décor – the houses there really go all out, but in a super-classy way.  We’ve loved being right in the neighborhood this year, and getting to spend the entire month surrounded by all the Christmas joy.

Teddy Bear Tea at Mount Vernon

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Another activity I planned – and couldn’t wait for – was a “Teddy Bear Tea Party with Lady Washington” at Mount Vernon.  I knew that it would be exactly the sort of thing that Peanut would LOVE, so I snatched up a ticket for her as soon as I learned of the event.  And on December 10th, we headed down the Parkway to Mount Vernon to enjoy a girls’ afternoon out!

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The tea party was fabulous.  I can’t say enough good things about the presentation!  They had a seat at the table all ready for Peanut, and she was immediately presented with a plate of gingerbread and a cookie, and a green cup with hot cocoa.  While the kids snacked, a musician played holiday tunes on a wooden recorder, and Martha Washington herself (!!!) spun tales and taught proverbs.

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After snack and stories, Peanut (and Corduroy, her date to the Teddy Bear Tea) made a pomander ball with an orange and cloves provided by the staff (who had little kits made up in advance – so easy!).

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To conclude the party, the kids were all herded into line to meet “Lady Washington” and get their pictures taken.  Peanut was first in line and immediately scrambled up Martha’s wide skirts and perched on her lap.  (Martha was a bit surprised but recovered quickly.)  Peanut then proceeded to tell Martha that she would like a dollhouse for Christmas, while I almost passed out from laughing.  She’s terrified of Santa and wouldn’t be caught dead sitting on his lap, but had no hesitation about jumping up onto Martha’s!  (Considering last year, $25 bought me a picture of two crying kids and a creepy looking Santa, I thought that $5 for a snack, two crafts, stories, music and a picture of a happy little girl showing off her teddy to the mother of our country was a very good deal, indeed.)

The Secret Garden at the Shakespeare Theatre Company

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We had more fun planned the following weekend!  Peanut was sick with a stomach flu on Friday, and I got it on Sunday, but on Saturday we were in a sweet illness-free zone – perfect timing for the other fun holiday outing I planned for my girl!  She and I slipped out of the house while Nugget napped and headed into D.C. for a performance of The Secret Garden musical at the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

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I was beyond excited to introduce Peanut to the joys of live theatre!  She was pretty pumped, too.

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We had great seats in the first row of the mezzanine – a perfect view.

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Peanut looked adorably serious studying the playbill!  I’d been preparing her by telling her the story and reading her “Babylit” Secret Garden book, and she was excited to see the show.  We had a fabulous time.

Christmas Trains at the U.S. Botanic Garden

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Since Peanut had a special outing planned just for her on Saturday, Sunday was about Nugget.  I couldn’t think of any holiday activity he’d enjoy more than seeing the Christmas trains at the Botanic Garden, so that’s where we went!  And look who joined us – Nana was in town!  She came down on Thursday evening to provide childcare in a pinch on Friday, and stayed a couple of days to spend time with us, enjoy some D.C. holiday cheer, and absorb all of our germs (sorry, Nana).

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At the Botanic Garden, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the Christmas train exhibit was extra special this year – in celebration of the centennial of the National Park Service, the trains were wending their way through a specially prepared exhibit of national landmarks, parks and historic places made entirely out of plants – amazing!

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Hello there, U.S. Supreme Court!

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The regular train chugged along an elevated track running throughout a couple of the rooms of the greenhouse.  So cool!

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There was a major bottleneck by Arctic Brotherhood Hall.  Can you spot the reason for the traffic jam?  Hello there, Thomas!

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Around the rooms, we spotted a few of our very favorite American places.  Like Mount Vernon!

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And the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse!

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More places we hope to visit someday, like Mesa Verde.  (The picture makes it hard to tell, but the train has the National Park Service logo on its side – cool.)

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John Muir’s house!  And one of Thomas’s friends.

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It was an absolutely magical exhibit.

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The kids both loved it, and they had a blast exploring every inch.  The grownups loved it, too – the detail on each of the plant-based replica landmarks was absolutely astounding.  I can’t even conceive of how much work must have gone into putting this exhibit together.  It was one of the most impressive things I’ve seen.

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The crowning glory was a massive Christmas tree, decorated with ornaments from all of the national parks, seashores, historic places and landmarks that were celebrated elsewhere in the exhibit (and more!).  Can you spot the Hatteras Light?  And another Thomas!

Christmas Weekend

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Moving right along to the main event!  I had a hectic week at work and was ready to party the following Saturday.  Peanut had a special request for Christmas Eve morning – baking gingerbread cookies with Mom.  So that’s exactly what we did!

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I’m loving how grown up and fun she is lately.  She’s finally really and truly out of the toddler stage, and we can do so many cool things together now.

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She was really into stirring.  The dough might have gotten just a tiny bit overworked.  Oh, well!

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I’m sorry to say our cookies were not very good, in the end.  But we had fun making them, and that’s really all that counts!

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After lunch on Christmas Eve, we headed down to the waterfront for one more classic Old Town Christmas activity – watching Santa waterskiing on the Potomac!  In all the years I lived in D.C., I never made it to see the waterskiing Santa – crazy, because it’s one of the most beloved holiday events in the D.C. area!

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The docks were packed with holiday revelers, waiting for the fun to begin!  We didn’t have to wait long before the jetskiing elves zipped out of the marina, followed closely by the Grinch and his dog Max.  And then it was time for the big guy!

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Santa came out behind a speedboat and three of his reindeer, then peeled back into the marina, dropped off the reindeer and headed back for a solo lap.

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The crowd went nuts!  It was such a fun, silly, unique and quintessentially D.C. celebration.  Another thing we’re going to have to repeat every year!

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After nap, we got dolled up for the “festive family celebration” service at our church, during which Nugget shouted “FIRE TRUCK” repeatedly during the otherwise hushed and reverent lighting of the Advent candles.  In an auditorium full of babies, it was inevitable that someone was going to shout “FIRE TRUCK,” so I guess he thought it might as well be him!  We were basically weeping, we were laughing so hard.  After church we headed back for a quiet evening at home, put the kids to bed, and then – Santa came!

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The kids gave us a gift on Christmas morning and both slept until SEVEN O’CLOCK.  Merry Christmas to Mom and Dad!  We were two rested parents, ready to snap pictures and enjoy the day with them!  Nugget’s gifts were mostly fire trucks and fire truck-adjacent – like this ride-on fire truck from his Aunt Jenn!

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Peanut was spoiled as always – she received the dollhouse and stuffed pony she’d requested, plus lots of books, legos and dress-up clothes – including this Princess Anna ball gown, which is now the nicest article of clothing she owns.

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We took it slowly, followed the kids’ lead, read books and played with toys as we opened them, and generally had a lovely day.  We didn’t have anywhere to be, since we’d attended church on Christmas Eve.  So we stayed in our pajamas and played under the Christmas tree all day, and it was awesome.

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And there ends an epic two-part Christmas recap!  If you’re still with me, high five!  And now, onward to 2017.  I’m READY.

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Happy, joyful, merry everything to you, my friends!  How did you celebrate this year?

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Many happy returns of the Christmas season, my friends!  For those who celebrated, I hope you had a wonderful holiday.  For my Jewish friends, I hope you’re enjoying a magical and joyful Festival of Lights!  And for the rest of my friends, I hope you’re having a fabulous end to 2016.  (I know we’re all ready…)  We’ve been celebrating the holiday season in a big way around here.  I’m a maximizer and am always determined to pack as much fun as possible into every season – and this year, to add to my tendency to overbook, we’re celebrating our first Christmas in the D.C. area in three years!  D.C. does Christmas really well, and there was no way we were going to make it to every holiday activity that I’d have liked to.  But we squeezed a lot of fun into one short month.

Decking the Halls

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First up: walking around Old Town to check out the scene.  We got back from celebrating Thanksgiving with my parents in New York, to find that the holiday season was well underway in Alexandria.  Our town was named one of the “top ten holiday towns” in the country by U.S.A. Today this year – so awesome!  The ALX has some serious Christmas spirit, and we made it our mission to enjoy it as much as possible.

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Of course, we also had to take care of our own house.  I didn’t do much this year – our stuff is still so disorganized from the move that just finding the Christmas tree and ornaments seemed like a major coup.  Next year, maybe we’ll be one of the really festive houses.  (I’m envisioning miniature wreaths in each of our windows.)  This year, with travel and family emergencies and work and school and two very young kids, the tree felt like plenty.

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Well, that and the kids’ matching holiday jammies.  Oh, yes, I went there.

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Someone gave us this Christmas train with Santa riding on it a few years ago – pre-Nugget.  It’s not at all to my taste but something kept stopping me from tossing it into my “donate” box over the years.  Now I know there was a good reason for me to hang onto it – the little dude loves it.  He’s gotten really into trains lately, and the Christmas train became an instant favorite.  It’s going to be hard to pry it out of his chubby claws when the time comes to pack away the holiday decorations.

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Due to our tree decorating, we didn’t make it to the Old Town Scottish Parade.  The Scottish Parade is one of the quintessential Old Town holiday events, in which folks get dressed to the nines in tartans and march down the street playing bagpipes.  We’ll try to make it one of these years, but it got jettisoned this year.  We did catch some of the Scottish flair on our walk to the waterfront later that day, though, en route to watch the second parade of the day (you can see why Old Town is nationally recognized for its Christmas spirit – we’re basically the municipal version of Buddy the Elf).  The evening parade festivities were…

Holiday Boat Parade of Lights

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The holiday boat parade of lights!  I’ve been wanting to attend this Old Town Christmas event for many years.  Basically, it’s a flotilla of boats, festooned with Christmas lights, making their way down the Potomac in an armada of twinkles.

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Our first stop upon reaching the waterfront was the riverboat!  It was all decked out (<–see what I did there?) with white lights.  Beautiful!

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Even some of the boats that were not part of the parade got in on the action!  The marina was so festive and twinkly – I loved it.

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The boathouse had rainbow lights and a poinsettia plant out to show their holiday spirit.

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We found a spot to stand on the riverbank and huddled for warmth.  There was a bit of a chilly breeze coming off the river.  Don’t mind my sunglasses – it was still light out when we left the house.

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Finally, after what seemed like an hour of waiting, the parade got started.  I wish they’d held it while it was still a bit light out – at twilight, rather than after dark (I know, I know, it does get dark early these days).  The lack of any light in the sky made it hard to get pictures.  But the parade itself was a lot of fun!  Nugget was all about the fire boat, which was showing off by flashing its lights and spraying water.  Peanut surprised me by saying she best liked a boat that was decorated to look like a train engine.  Both kids had a fabulous time.

Christmas in Little Washington

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We had more fun plans lined up for the following day – Christmas in Little Washington, complete with the second parade of the weekend!  When we visited Little Washington for the first time in October, I was enchanted with the town and vowed to return as soon as possible.  On that trip, a local gallery owner encouraged us to come back for the annual Christmas in Little Washington event.  You don’t have to tell me twice!

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Our first order of business was FOOD.  The whole downtown area (about a block square) was filled with local merchants selling everything from edible treats to handmade wreaths, Christmas decorations, hats and scarves, floral arrangements and more.  The world-famous Inn at Little Washington, of course, had several booths set up with goodies.  We picked up some of their squash and apple soup (INSANELY delicious) and cider donuts for a treat to eat on the spot, and grabbed house-made pickles, bar nuts and gingerbread chefs to enjoy later.

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The kids shared a cider donut and they gobbled up every. last. bite.  Mom and Dad had our own, too – crazy delicious.  What a treat.

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Over Thanksgiving, Nugget learned “CHEERS!” and now he wants to toast with everything.  There were quite a few “CHEERS!” with the cider donuts.  Eventually Peanut put a stop to the toasting by actually eating her donut, and Nugget then had no choice but to follow suit.

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After our snack, it was time for real food.  We found a few tailgating tents and sat down to enjoy our picnic lunch – homemade soup, sandwiches and bananas.  Had I known that there would be so many great food options (there were even a few food trucks!), I wouldn’t have packed food from home.  But the kids enjoyed their packed lunches.  There was more CHEERS!-ing with their sippy cups.

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After lunch we warmed up by the gorgeous stone fireplace and then cruised around checking out the decorations in town while we waited for the Christmas parade to start.

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The White Moose Inn, looking pretty with natural greenery on the happy yellow front door.

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And of course, the Inn at Little Washington was the showstopper!  How stunning is this front window?

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The Inn at Little Washington outbuildings got in on the greenery action too.  And imagine my delight when I happened to glance down an alley just behind the Inn and spotted…

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The KITCHEN!  The Inn at Little Washington is famous for being one of the most decadent (and expensive) dining options in northern Virginia.  Having gotten a little taste of their work at the Christmas market less than an hour before, I was even more excited to peek in the window and see where the magic happens.  The picture does it no justice, of course, but I loved the rows of copper pots gleaming just on the other side of the glass – and how perfect is that wreath?  Festooned with colanders, whisks, wooden spoons, cookie cutters and other cooking and baking paraphernalia, and finished off with a golden loaf of challah!  It was my favorite Christmas decoration of the season.

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I couldn’t stand gazing at the kitchen wreath forever, though – we had a parade to watch!  We found a perfect spot near the very start of the parade route and settled in to wait.

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We didn’t have to wait long!  A Colonial militia opened the parade (complete with a redcoat marching band – only in Virginia).  Followed shortly by…

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George Washington on horseback!  He got a rousing cheer.  #Virginia.

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Then the rest of the parade got going.  There were miniature ponies…

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The local lunch club, seated around a picnic table…

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MULTIPLE tractors (a certain someone was absolutely delighted)…

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The Shenandoah National Park “mobile visitor center,” from which a park ranger was tossing out “Junior Appalachian Trail Ranger” patches instead of candy…

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The Rappahannock County High School marching band…

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And the most important part of any small-town Christmas parade…

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FIRE TRUCKS!  (You thought I was going to say Santa, didn’t you?)

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The first one was the best (there were two, doubling the holiday happiness of a certain little boy who LIVES for fire trucks).  They had a little fire truck-themed Christmas tree and two boots decorating the back of the truck.  Small-town Christmas game strong.

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Then came the second truck, followed by…

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Santa in a vintage green pickup truck!  At this point, Nugget blew a fuse in his baby brain and started shouting “SANTA! FIRE TRUCK! SANTA! FIRE TRUCK! SANTA! FIRE TRUCK!”  It was altogether too adorable.

I can definitely see both the holiday boat parade of lights and Christmas in Little Washington becoming beloved holiday traditions for our family!  We had a ball and it was the perfect weekend to kick off the Christmas season.

Still with me?  On Friday, I’ll have Part II of the recap for you – our adventures through the rest of December, including Christmas weekend.  Check back!

What local holiday activities are can’t-miss in your area?

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Fall Festivities

Happy week-after-Halloween, my friends!  I’m still coming down from a fabulous October, and hoping the rest of the season is as much fun.  After three truncated fall seasons in New York, we are squeezing every bit of golden light out of our first fall back in the DC area.  But we’ve been so busy that I haven’t really been able to keep up here.  So instead of boring you all with fall fun recap posts into December, I’m just going to tell you about the last two weeks of October, and Halloween, right here.  Prepare for a massive photo-bomb post!

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Apple Picking at Crooked Run Orchards

Apple picking is always on my fall agenda, but I never seem to be able to get the timing right.  I always think that it should be fine to go in October, and I’m always confronted with slim pickings (see what I did there?).  Aside from one year in Buffalo, when we actually made it on time, we’ve always been among the very last pickers to trickle into an orchard and this year was no exception.  I thought we should be able to push it later than in New York, given the long growing season here.  Evidently, I was wrong and will file that information away for next year.  But we still had fun, which is what counts!

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We arrived at Crooked Run Orchards, out in Loudoun County, in our rain boots and tulle dresses (okay, that was just Peanut) and ready to pick.  The friendly farm staff told us that the trees were mostly picked bare, but there were a few spots in the back corners of the orchard where we might expect to find some more fruit.  Not to be dissuaded, we headed out for a little hike to the promised fruit.

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After fording a stream and hiking through the entire orchard, we found one lonely tree with decent-looking apples up at the top branches.  After an attempt at hoisting Peanut, I ended up climbing up myself to reach the apples.

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Peanut waited below the tree with a bucket, held out her hands for the apples I passed down, and carefully placed them in the bucket.  When did she get so helpful?  Hold me.

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Eventually we let Nugget out of the backpack to run around…

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And do a little picking of his own.

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And eventually I was able to get what I wanted – other than a bucket full of apples, that is – a picture!  Someone was a little too excited.  Can you handle Nugget’s expression?  He’s like, OMG, tone it down, sis!

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There was more tree-climbing after we were done picking.  Peanut declared that she is an apple.

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Yay, apple picking!  I’m glad we made it out to the orchard before it was really, really too late.  We have a few apples left – Peanut has been eating them with her lunch every day, but they’re starting to look a bit long in the tooth.  I think an apple coffee cake is in order this weekend, to use up the rest.

Pumpkin Picking at Krop’s Crops

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Moving right along to pumpkin picking!  I harbored some far-fetched hopes of finding a farm that would do both apples and pumpkins so we could knock both out at once, but it was not to be this year.  So the following weekend, we were back in the car and headed to the country again, this time for the other required fall pick-your-own experience.

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We had considered going pumpkin picking with Peanut’s class, but the farm they chose was far away and super expensive, and it was really windy outside.  So we opted for a smaller, closer, less expensive spot and were so happy we did.  Everyone on the wagon, it’s hayride time!

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After a short spin around the farm grounds – looks like they do Christmas trees, too – we were deposited in a pumpkin patch with the option to choose one of the pumpkins there and take it back on the hayride, or buy a pumpkin from the field right next to the general store, by the car park.  We decided that we had enough of an armload for the hayride and didn’t need to haul pumpkins of both the gourd and human varieties back on the wagon, so we would get our pumpkins from the farm store.  But that didn’t mean we couldn’t take pictures in the pumpkin patch!

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If only a certain someone would cooperate.  Well, actually, two certain someones.

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Caught them in a sweet moment.  Awwwww.

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Got back to the farmstand and found wagons!  I decided to try again for good pictures, this time aided by wheels.  We convinced Nugget that the wagon was a truck, and we were in business.

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Speaking of trucks, Nugget happened to spot one of our hayride companions getting his picture taken on an old tractor parked outside the farmstand.  Try as I might, I couldn’t drag him away from the tractor after that.  So this had to happen.

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Ha.  This kid seriously loves vehicles.

We headed home armed with three pumpkins – a big one for the parents, and little ones for each of the kids!  I haven’t dug into any of them yet (I know, I know) so pumpkin seed-roasting happens this weekend.  My favorite fall treat!

Harvest Days Family Festival at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

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Another day, another pumpkin patch!  The day after our pumpkin-picking excursion, we all piled into the car again and headed down to Mount Vernon for the Fall Harvest Days Family Festival.

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Most of the festivities were going on down on the pioneer farm site, so that’s where we headed.  Hi, sheep!

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There were volunteers dressed in period costume all over the place, showing off their historically accurate skills.  Peanut enjoyed watching this puppet dance.

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And Daddy got a cooking lesson.  This was some kind of sausage, apple and mustard dish.  I don’t know, you guys.  It sounded awfully gross.

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The highlight for Mom: a stained glass window depicting the General and his Right-Hand Man!  Sadly, the festival was cut short for us by a massive Peanut tantrum.  It was not her day.  It happens.

Pumpkin Hunting at the Lee-Fendall House

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On the Saturday before Halloween, we pulled the costumes out of their hiding spots for the first time this season!  I usually like to dress the kids in their costumes for their trip to the pumpkin patch, but as you can see from the pictures, that was not an option this year.  Can you imagine trying to take this mermaid and fire truck on a hayride and into a possibly muddy pumpkin patch?  How many languages can you say “no way, Jose!” in?

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So the first appearance of the costumes was on Halloween weekend.  We had been discussing a playdate with one of Peanut’s school friends, and had hit on the Saturday before Halloween as a date that would work for both of our families, when I discovered a children’s party and pumpkin hunt taking place at one of the historic mansions just a few blocks from our house.  I texted Peanut’s friend’s mom, and they were into the idea.  A pumpkin-huntin’ it was!

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The mansion went all out!  The employees were dressed to the nines in their Halloween best, and they had cookies, juice and games for the kiddos.  Including bowling for candy corns!  Nugget only made off with a few of the pins before the rest of the kids could play.  He really is a menace.  But he’s my menace!

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So snuggly!

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We waited patiently all crowded on the patio until the kids got the green light, and then it was a pumpkin-grabbing free-for-all on the grass!

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Nugget found the prize pumpkin!  His prize was a stuffed bat and a bag of choking hazards that I promptly threw away.  (He got to keep the bat, so don’t worry.)

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After the pumpkin hunt, there was an excessively adorable costume parade.  Peanut and her pal marched up near the head of the line, while the little fire truck chugged along behind.

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And then went back to bowling.

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It was such a fun morning!  We were so glad that we were able to get there with Peanut’s little friend.  All of the kids had a fantastic time.  We will definitely be keeping this event on our Halloween agenda for future years!

Halloween Crafting

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Of course, we had to get in some crafts, too.  Peanut asked if she could decorate her room for Halloween, so Steve bought her a kit to make a black cat garland, and on Friday night we had a mother-daughter crafting party!

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It’s possible I may have had a little too much fun.  Peanut liked my kitty faces, though.

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I think this black cat is bringing me good luck!

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On Sunday morning, we pulled out Part II of our Halloween crafting.  For the past few years, instead of digging out either sharp implements or messy paints, I’ve pushed the easy button and let the kids decorate the pumpkins with spooky stickers.  Peanut loves festooning her pumpkin with stickers (she’s a big sticker fan in general) and Nugget didn’t really know what was going on, but he was EXCITED.

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He did eventually do a few stickers.  What a big guy!

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Peanut, of course, was all over it.  And Mom loved the fact that nobody got covered in finger paint or lost an eye.  Wins all around!

Trick or Treating on South Lee Street

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At last, at last, we come to the day itself!  Little folk were psyched for the main event!

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One of our school friends had tipped us off that South Lee Street, one of the side streets in Old Town, closes to traffic and basically becomes a giant block party starting at 5:00 on Halloween.  So clearly, that’s where we went.  Have to be in the mix, right?

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Peanut and Nugget were all business.  They put their game faces on and it was time.

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Mermaid showed Fire Truck the ropes.  Both kids got lots of compliments on their costumes.  Lots of neighbors shouted out that Peanut was a beautiful mermaid, but my favorite was the woman who saw Nugget and called, “The Fire Department’s here!”  Ha!

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Nugget surprised me by doing really well with taking one piece of candy and putting it in his bag.  He also said “Trick or Treat” a few times (although it came out “Twee Twee!”) and told most of the neighbors “thank you” when I prompted him.  Peanut was an old pro at saying “Trick or Treat,” and “Thank you and Happy Halloween!” at each house.  So proud!

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And then came the highlight of Halloween.  Ariel!  She was handing out candy at the last house we visited and Peanut was totally starstruck.

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Happy Halloween, indeed!  Props to you if you made it this far, and I hope you all had as fabulous a Halloween season as we have!  And now… on to Thanksgiving!

Happy Halloween, my friends!  Did you go trick or treating?

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