Archive for the ‘Family Fun’ Category

FINALLY!  A season packed full of fun, with every.single.item crossed off my seasonal to-do list.  After the Summer of Torrential Rains, I really needed a few months of good weekend weather.  We were sorely in need of family time and we made sure to pack the autumn season full of it.

  • Pick apples at Butler’s Orchard (and maybe some raspberries too?).  Done!  Well – not at Butler’s, because it was closed on the day we wanted to go.  And not berries – we were too late in the season.  But the kids and I drove out to Bluemont with some friends on Columbus Day and enjoyed a day of apple picking at Great Country Farms, followed by a hike to Bears Den Overlook – a lovely way to play hooky from work.

  • Hike Big Meadows at Shenandoah National Park – moving this one over from the summer list.  Done!  I cashed in my birthday rights for a day trip out to Luray, and we had a picnic (hot soup in the chilly fall air) and hiked Big Meadows and the Story of the Forest Trail.  Big Meadows was absolutely magical!

  • Roll up my sleeves and do some fall baking with Peanut.  Calling this done, even though Peanut only helped with taste-testing this time (ha!).  I had fun whipping up a cranberry-apple spice cake with maple buttercream and candied cranberries to take to the neighbors’ house for Thanksgiving dessert.  And there’ve been several batches of sourdough bread, sourdough rolls, and spiced apple cornbread – yum.

  • Catch up on the 52 Hike Challenge before it gets really cold.  Done!  Well – I’m calling it done.  The next hike I do will be hike 52 – wahoo!  (I’m saving it for something special.)  I have loved spending so much time on the trails this year.


  • Read cozy mysteries – as many as possible.  Calling this done.  I have had a great year of reading, now that it’s almost over, and there’s no season like fall for curling up with a blanket, a big cup of tea and a cozy mystery.  I visited with Lady Georgianna and Hercule Poirot, two of my favorite sleuths, and had fun experiencing a different kind of mystery novel in The Floating Admiral.

  • Run the Wonder Woman virtual 5K (and maybe the Alexandria Turkey Trot).  Done!  Not the Turkey Trot – I was too busy cooking all day – but I did manage to squeeze in 3.1 miles on the Potomac Yards trail for the Wonder Woman virtual 5K run.  I made the plans to do the run “with” my fellow Wonder Woman fan, Katie – she got it done sooner than I did, but I made it happen eventually!

  • Volunteer in Peanut’s classroom.  Done!  I made a goal that I would be more present and visible at school this year, especially for Peanut – Nugget is such an easygoing, happy-go-lucky guy that he doesn’t really need me at school, but Peanut does.  It’s been a commitment, but I have been around a lot more in Peanut’s class and I think it’s been helpful.  I am a class mom, so I helped to lead Back to School Night for the kindergarten parents, co-hosted the class Halloween party (and was in charge of the Halloween art project – superhero pumpkins!), chaperoned a field trip to a nearby Colonial farm, and helped serve muffins and open applesauce cups during the Togetherness Feast before Thanksgiving.
  • Get back into Barre3.  I could have done better with this, but I’m calling it done.  Getting to class has proven too hard to fit in, but I signed up for Barre3 Online and have done some workouts from the comfort of my bedroom.  Hoping to keep this going over the winter – I really do enjoy Barre3, I just don’t enjoy the fact that my kids are already awake before I have to leave for the 5:45 a.m. class.

  • Pumpkin picking, of course!  This is an easy one to put on the list, because it’s guaranteed to happen.  We went back to Wegmeyer Farms this year and the kids had fun choosing their pumpkins and snacking on apple cider donuts.  The best!

  • Take the kids trick-or-treating (they already have their costumes!) at Mount Vernon and in the neighborhood again.  Another easy one, because Halloween is coming whether I’m on my game or not!  We actually didn’t make it to the Mount Vernon trick-or-treating this year, but the neighborhood block party was bumping as usual.

How about that for a seasonal list?!  It was a great fall.  In addition to all of the fun above, I changed jobs and we hosted my parents for Thanksgiving.  We really did need this bright and happy season, and I feel a bit more human again after a summer that left us all pretty emotionally banged up.  Here’s hoping we can keep this momentum going and get more joy and more family bonding in over the winter.



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It’s pretty much become a tradition that we celebrate birthdays on the trails.  I think that in the past year, every single member of the family has had a birthday hike, and November was Steve’s turn.  With all the choices in the world – well, all the choices in northern Virginia, the District of Columbia, and the close-in Maryland suburbs, anyway – he picked Widewater State Park, a brand new addition to the Virginia state park system (as in, Governor Northam officially opened it eight days before we put boots on the trail).

So on the Saturday before Steve’s birthday, we found ourselves driving down to Stafford to check out the new park.  The visitors’ center and the trail signs all smelled of new wood – mmmmmm.

Locals have been hiking around Widewater for ages now, but the park itself is still fairly bare-bones.  Many more things are planned – including a souped-up canoe and kayak launch (we will be back) and additional hiking trails.  There’s only one fairly short loop trail at the moment, but it was lovely and we felt very in the know, being some of the first visitors to a new state park.

The water views are always the best part, right?

I mean, look at that.

Eventually, the trail skipped across the road and continued through a stand of trees and by a pond – nothing particularly dramatic or earth-shattering, but lovely and peaceful all the same.  Sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

Happy birthday, handsome!  I hope you enjoyed your celebratory hike.  I sure am glad you’re my permanent trail buddy.  


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Happy Thanksgiving, one more time, friends!  I hope that my American friends had a wonderful long weekend and you had a chance to celebrate however you like to celebrate.  I love Thanksgiving – what’s not to like?  A holiday to celebrate food, togetherness, and gratitude – sign me up.

I don’t have many pictures to show you of the day itself, as I spent most of it cooking.  ‘Tis the season of my current state of life.  But I did snap some pics of the food.  Which is the important thing, right?  (Kidding.  Maybe.)

I started with “three generations of appetizers” – a concept I came up with when it occurred to me to see if google had any recipes for “nuts and bolts,” a party mix I remembered my Grandmama making for Thanksgiving when I was a little girl.  No surprise here, but of course there were recipes online.  I picked the one that I thought came closest to my Grandmama’s, and my mom said she thought I did well.  To represent my mom, I made artichoke dip – of course.  We’ve been making and serving artichoke dip at every family gathering since I can remember.  I’ve been making it myself since I was about nine.  And for me, a new recipe for pesto and sundried tomato goat cheese spread – I need to come up with a catchier name – that I just recently dreamed up.

Gather ’round, turkeys!

After dinner, we went to our next-door neighbors’ house for dessert.  There was Persian tea, two kinds of pie, and my contribution:

Cranberry-apple spice cake with cinnamon maple buttercream and candied cranberries.  It went quickly.

As I mentioned on Monday, we chose to #OptOutside (thanks, REI!) on Black Friday – something we’ve done for several Thanksgivings now.  My parents were in town until the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and we took the opportunity to show them Great Falls Park – they’d never been, can you believe it?

Our first stop, naturally, was the overlooks above the roaring rapids – the ‘rents were suitably impressed.

After the overlooks, we split up – Peanut was complaining about being cold (perhaps she should try pants sometime, #justsaying) so Steve took her to the visitors’ center while the rest of us hiked.  It was chilly, but so beautiful.

We spotted a little blue heron drying his wings out in the winter breeze.

Altogether – a beautiful, if cold, way to spend the day after Thanksgiving.  I felt very grateful, indeed.

How did you celebrate Thanksgiving this year?

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This year, I was lucky enough to have my birthday fall on a Saturday – hurray!  Steve asked me what I wanted to do on my day, and I knew that I wanted to hike and that it was a golden opportunity to drag everyone out a little further than our usual orbit.  I mulled over a couple of different options, including Harpers Ferry and Shenandoah River State Park, before deciding on Shenandoah National Park – and specifically Big Meadows, which I’ve been wanting to hike since last Thanksgiving.

We drove out to the park in the morning on my birthday.  My original plan was to get a nice early start, hike Big Meadows, have a picnic lunch and then hike the Story of the Forest Trail before heading home.  Of course the early start didn’t happen, and we rolled into the park around 11:30 with two hungry kiddos in the back seat.  Lunch first, then!

I packed us a picnic with a thermos of homemade soup, a baguette, sun-dried tomato and goat cheese spread, sliced veggies, and some fruit for the kiddos.  There was more to the picnic, including cheese sandwiches for the kids, but that stuff got inadvertently left at home.  Fortunately, the kids were happy to chow down on my homemade vegetable soup and the baguette, and Nugget – who loves vegetables – crushed the cucumber and cherry tomatoes.  So no one left hungry.

After tummies were filled, we headed back across the street and started our hike through Big Meadows.

There’s no actual hiking trail in the meadow – just a cris-crossing network of herd paths with a few entry points.  We found one and plunged in.

The meadow isn’t flat – there are lots of little rises and dips.  I was reminded of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s description of the prairie in Little House on the Prairie: “Laura and Mary looked around them.  They stayed close to Pa.  Low bushes grew on the sides of the hollow—buck-brush with sprays of berries faintly pink, and sumac holing up green cones but showing here and there a bright red leaf.  The goldenrod’s plumes were turning gray, and the ox-eyed daisies’ yellow petals hung down from the crown centers.  All this was hidden in the secret little hollow.  From the house Laura had seen nothing but grasses, and now from this hollow she could not see the house.  The prairie seemed to be level, but it was not level.”

As we got deeper into the meadow, it got wetter and muddier.  We encountered a few standing mud puddles and several mucky areas that we couldn’t squelch through without covering ourselves in mud (pro tip: don’t wear your hiking sandals to bushwhack a meadow on a cold October day after a summer of near-constant rain; learn from my mistakes).

Certain people LOVE puddle-stomping.  Not naming names, but I’m grateful for kids’ wellies.


There were also a number of large boulders in the park.  It was necessary that we stop at every.single.one and either take a (long) rest or do some singing and dancing on top of the boulder.  This is why hiking with kids takes forever.

But it’s so worth it!  I love watching them grow and explore and learn to respect nature – hiking has given our family so many gifts.  The thing about hiking with kids is that you have to let go of distance and time expectations and just go with the flow.  If we dragged them through at an adult pace, they’d quickly grow to hate hiking.  So we go at their pace, we stop and admire the plants and flowers they like, we play tracking games, pack snacks, and don’t worry if a hike is shorter than we’d like or if we turn back early.  If it had just been adults in our party, we’d probably have circumvented the meadow.  Instead, we just wandered and poked around – and we all had fun.

We also found a cool painted rock nestled in a little hollow on one of the boulders:

So pretty!  The kids took turns holding it, and then we put it back for the next hikers to find.

Big Meadows was lovely!  Definitely worth the wait of almost a year – and we’ll be back.  I’d love to see the meadow a riot of wildflowers in spring!

What’s a hike you’ve been anticipating?

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When I am planning a vacation, a weekend getaway, or even a day trip to a new place, one of the first things I do is google “family friendly [insert destination here].”  This strategy has led me to find activities that have turned into cherished family memories – hikes in Joshua Tree and Shenandoah National Parks, for instance.  So naturally, it was the first thing I did once we decided upon the Adirondacks as our summer 2018 vacation destination.  Having grown up just south of the region and played there with my family all year ’round, I knew there was an abundance of activities for kids – and that’s why I was surprised not to find many online resources catering toward families with very young children.  That’s not to say the resources aren’t there.  I found travel guides for young families focusing on winter activities (fun, but not what I needed to plan an August getaway) and plenty of blogs with lots of great options – but I had to sift through them to get to the information I needed, or the kids in question were just a little bit older than mine.  (And parents know: every year older makes a big difference.)  So here’s my attempt to gather together a travel guide for a summer trip to the Adirondacks with preschoolers and toddlers.


Where We Stayed:  Airbnb all the way!  I know there’s some controversy over Airbnb and its effect on the tourism industry in Lake Placid, but I have to say – in our stage of life, having the freedom of an Airbnb (or a VRBO) is critical.  We were able to find a fabulous unit on the top floor of a walk-up apartment building with huge windows overlooking Mirror Lake.  The kids had their own room, which gave us plenty of options after they went to bed (because there’s nothing worse than hunkering down in a pitch black hotel room and communicating by text so you don’t wake the baby from 7:30 p.m. onwards) – we were able to watch the sunset, read, share a bottle of wine and talk without worrying that we’d wake them.  Having our own kitchen really helped, too – we did breakfast and lunch in the Airbnb every day, and even a couple of dinners.  For a family with little kids, it was a dream arrangement.

Maybe Next Time:  When the kids are a bit older, or we have more disposable income and can afford a suite, I’d love to stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort.  The newly refurbished rooms look gorgeous, and I was watching with barely concealed envy as the guests enjoyed the hotel beach and played with the fleet of kayaks and paddleboards.


Where We Ate:  A lot of our meals were cooked right in our Airbnb kitchen, thanks to a stockup run to the Hannaford right outside of town, and I can’t overstate the ease, convenience, and money-saving points – especially with little ones in tow.  But we did get out and about a fair amount.  With Nana and Grandad, we enjoyed The Great Adirondack Steak and Seafood Company (pretty self-explanatory) one evening and Smoke Signals (barbeque, but they had a wide variety on their menu) another.  Both restaurants had good kids’ menus, and the staff at Smoke Signals was especially welcoming to the little ones.  (We’re very conscious of how the kids are received at restaurants, as they can both be unpredictable and Nugget is still in the stage of wanting to do laps around the dining room.)  On our own, we enjoyed our last lunch at The Cottage, which is another must for us in Lake Placid – nice laid-back pub food and atmosphere, and a deck overlooking Mirror Lake – what could be better?  And for afternoon treats, you can’t beat Emma’s Lake Placid Creamery.  We went there three times and I ordered the maple soft serve every time.  I regret nothing.

Date Night:  After descending from the summit of Big Slide, Steve and I celebrated at Big Slide Brewery.  We enjoyed local brews (IPA for him, sour for her) and a hearty, satisfying meal that totally hit the spot after a day of hiking.  There were actually lots of families there, with kids as young as babies, so this would be a good option for a family dinner – you don’t have to do date night here.

Maybe Next Time:  I heard great things, both from my parents and just while eavesdropping on conversations on the beach, about Lake Placid Brewery.  That’s one to put on the list for next time.  For date night, I’d love to check out Purple Saige or Salt of the Earth, both of which had delicious-looking menus and a slightly more sophisticated vibe.


Where We Hiked:  Adirondack hiking, even at its easiest, is a different animal from pretty much anything in Virginia.  The trails are often rocky and root-y, there are exposed summits, ledges and precipices that are just fine for older kids but can give a toddler parent a stroke.  But there are trails that are toddler-appropriate and preschooler-approved, and we hiked a bunch of them.  Brewster Peninsula was a good introduction to the area hiking – the kids loved the trail and the parents enjoyed the water views.  (Pro tip: if you have a small Pisces, be prepared for them to ask to go swimming every thirty seconds.)  Our big family hike for the week was Owls Head Mountain in Keene, which my three-year-old hiked with no trouble.  There was one steep rocky section, but he got help from parents and grandparents and he did fine.  (Note that Owls Head is on private property and the landowners have elected to close it to public foot traffic on weekends and holidays, so you’ll have to plan this one on a weekday – we did the hike on a Tuesday and it was totally worth the little bit of planning ahead.)  We also took our little hikers exploring at Heaven Hill Nature Preserve and up the Ausable River from Monument Falls – all nice, relatively flat and easy, trails by which to introduce kids to the beauty of the Adirondacks.

Parents’ Day Out:  If you’re lucky enough to have babysitters for a day (thanks, grandparents!) Mom and Dad can knock off a high peak.  There are plenty of family-friendly hikes in the high peaks region, but the mountains themselves are really more suited to older kids.  Of course, you know your own kids and what they can handle, but for mine, eight miles of climbing up and down a steep mountain of exposed granite just wasn’t in the cards.  Thanks to Nana and Grandad, we made Big Slide Mountain a day date activity, and it was gorgeous.

Maybe Next Time:  If Owls Head hadn’t worked out, our Plan B for a kid-friendly mountain was Mount Jo, and I’d still love to check that out.  We also hoped to hike the trail circumventing Heart Lake, but didn’t get to it, so that’s another one for the next trip.  And I’d love to take the kiddos hiking to a swimming hole like Copperas Pond.  For date activities if we’re lucky enough to entice the grandparents to watch the babies again (they love it) another high peak is always on the table – Nye and Street sound like possibilities for the next outing.  Or we could go a bit farther afield and start knocking off Saranac 6 hikes or Fire Tower Challenge trails.  One thing about hiking in the Adirondacks is – there will always be more to do.


Where We Played:  Hiking is the main focus of an Adirondack trip – at least, for our family – but there are other things to do and we certainly took advantage of the opportunities to play in the region.  The Wild Center in Tupper Lake is a fabulous family destination, with animals, nature trails, and interactive educational exhibits suitable for the youngest visitors.  Closer to home base, we had plenty of water fun at the Mirror Lake Public Beach and paddling Mirror Lake end-to-end in our kayaks.

Maybe Next Time:  I was really hoping that we’d get a chance to see some of the Olympic sights.  I thought the kids would probably be too young to really get into them (although they did love watching the Seoul Olympics last winter) so we didn’t prioritize them.  But I wish that even if we didn’t see the rest of the Olympic Museum, we had at least poked our heads into the Miracle on Ice rink.  We also were sad to miss out on the Summer Jumping Series at the ski jump complex – it wasn’t going on while we were there.  Next time!  I’d also love to rent paddleboards at one of the many outfitters lining Main Street and get back some of my SUP skills on Mirror Lake.  When the kids get a bit older, I’d also like to take them to the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Sports Complex to try out some of the fun adventure sports.

Have you vacationed in Lake Placid in the summer?  What have I missed?

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Shall we take a few turns in the way-back machine?  Somehow I’ve gotten terribly behind in sharing monthly trail reports – whoops!  It’s time to catch up, so I’m wrapping up in a sweater, grabbing a cup of hot tea and looking back at a few pictures I snapped on a hot day in early September at Great Falls.

Great Falls is one of our go-to haunts in northern Virginia – I don’t need to tell you that we love it there, because I’ve written about it so many times you surely know all about it.  We also love taking out-of-town visitors and newcomers to the area to see the park, because it’s one of the great beauty spots of northern Virginia.  So when a new friend, who just moved to NoVA from San Francisco, asked for trail recommendations for her family of avid hikers, Great Falls was near the top of my list.  We decided to get our families together for a hike on Labor Day Monday – at first, we considered a drive out to Shenandoah National Park, but our friends had visitors in town and couldn’t get out until late morning.  So we decided to stay closer to home, and Great Falls was the obvious choice.

The waterfall was sparkling in the sunshine!  Our friends’ jaws dropped and they immediately remarked on the beauty of the river, the gorge, and the surrounding scenery.

We decided to walk upriver toward Riverbend Park, rather than downriver along the edge of the gorge, because we had three small hikers on foot (our friends also have a one-year-old, but she was riding along in an Ergo on her mom) and the downriver walk includes some ledges.  So upriver we went, and the decision paid off immediately when we saw a Great Blue Heron soaking up the sun on a rock.

We didn’t actually get very far, but that was okay.  The kids found a bubbling brook and the shoes came off immediately.  They had fun wading, splashing, and moving rocks from one side of the stream to another (kids are so weird).

After the hike, we stopped by the visitors’ center and picked up Junior Ranger booklets for the older three, then filled them out together at one of the picnic tables.  (Nugget’s was a lot of scribbles, but the rangers let him through anyway – ha!)  They turned in their booklets and took the Junior Ranger oath.

Two proud Great Falls Junior Rangers!

What’s your go-to local hike to show off your area to visitors and new residents?

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Halloween Happenings 2018

With Halloween in the books, it seems the holiday season is officially underway!  The kids woke up on November 1 and asked if it was Christmas yet.  (Nope.)  I don’t like to rush through life, and especially not through the holidays, so clearly I need to recap Halloween here before we can move on to Thanksgiving, let alone Christmas.

Our Halloween festivities kicked off on the Sunday before the holiday.  In other years I might have tried to do something in the run-up to the day itself, but between job transitions and general life stuff, pumpkin picking and carving was all I had the energy to do before Halloween.  That was plenty for the kids, though.  We talked about driving up to Maryland and checking out the festivities at Butler’s Orchard, but ultimately decided to stick with the more low-key Wegmeyer Farms in Loudoun County, Virginia.  We got our pumpkins there and loved the relaxed atmosphere and rolling fields.

Also, let’s not pretend the kids didn’t come for the wagon ride.

Although it was late in the season, there were plenty of beautiful pumpkins (and other squash) in the fields, and we had a lot of choices.

Some people wanted the biggest pumpkins they could find.  (Maybe next year I need to institute a new rule: you want it, you have to lift it.)


Decisions were made eventually.

We loaded the pumpkins up – one for Peanut, one for Nugget, and one for Mommy and Daddy to share – into the wagon and dragged them back up the hill.

Before we could pay for our pumpkins and leave the pumpkin patch, there was one other important item of business to which we had to attend.

APPLE CIDER DONUTS.  ‘Tis the season!

From the pumpkin patch, we made a detour to a nearby nature sanctuary for a picnic and hiking, but when we got home there was only one thing on the agenda:

Carving!  The kids were not content to festoon their pumpkins with stickers this year – I guess my years of phoning in the Halloween decorating are over.  We now have three happy jack-o-lanterns on our front porch, and the squirrels have been eating their faces with gusto.

Anyway!  Halloween morning dawned clear and pretty warm.  (These southern kids have it made, by the way.  I remember many a Halloween of covering up my carefully chosen costume with a parka.  There is never any need for battles about wearing coats over their costumes these days – it’s never that cold on Halloween here.)  Peanut and Nugget were both allowed to wear their costumes to school, but only Peanut dressed up immediately.  Nugget’s costume involved a large tail, so he had to change once he was out of his car seat.  We headed over to the school and prepared for the festivities.  Halloween is a big deal in the lower classes at the kids’ school, and the room moms for each grade are responsible for putting on a party.  As one of the kindergarten class moms, I was busy with set-up for Peanut’s party.  We all collaborated on food and decorations, but the art project was my job.

We had each of the kids bring in a smallish pumpkin earlier in the week, and I set out sticky foam masks and felt capes (which I made while listening to my audiobook the night before) to turn the pumpkins into superheroes.  Each class in the school has a theme, and Peanut’s class is “the K Team,” with a superhero motif for the year.  The superhero pumpkins were a huge hit and the kids loved decorating them.

After I set up the art project, I slipped out of the classroom to enjoy the costume parade.  Preschool was first.  There’s my ferocious dinosaur!

Junior Kindergarten was next, followed by Kindergarten – Peanut brought up the rear, dressed as Violet from The Incredibles.  (No forcefields!)  Can you even handle her wig?!?! 

Apparently one of the preschoolers complained to the principal because there were no floats in the costume parade.  Lame!

After the parade, the kids returned to their classrooms for a special snack and Halloween party.  Food first!

While Peanut nibbled a muffin, Nugget was having an early Thanksgiving dinner over in the preschool classroom.  The guy heaps his plate.

After the food, we rolled out the art project.  Peanut adorned her pumpkin with a pink cape, red mask, and some colorfully decorated star stickers.  She was delighted with the result.

The costumes came off and the party wrapped up with a game of Halloween bingo.  I respectfully but emphatically declined to be the “caller” and instead hung out with Peanut and helped her fill in her bingo card.

With cleanup over, I rushed home to do a little work before picking the kids up early from school to get ready for the main event – trick-or-treating!

Ready to rock!


Every year, we go to a particular street in our neighborhood to trick-or-treat.  The street closes to traffic and becomes a massive block party, and it seems like half the town turns out.  The residents of the street get really into it – decorating their houses to the nines and pulling out all the stops on costumes.  There are huge, elaborate cauldrons heaped with candy, smoke machines, flashing lights, and families in coordinated costumes swarming all over.  We always run into school friends in the crowd, and it’s one of my favorite events of the year.

This year, we made plans to meet up with our friends who recently moved to the area from California.  Their baby – who was dressed as Jack-Jack Incredible to coordinate with my Violet – fell asleep in the car and missed the fun, but the three older kids had fun going door-to-door together.

(There’s that tail!)  It was a wild, crazy, and fun night – as always.  By the time we poured ourselves into bed, we had covered several blocks worth of ground, posed for pictures with a big group of friends, and collected bags full of candy – a good night indeed.

Happy (boo-lated) Halloween to all of you!  And now – onward to Thanksgiving!

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