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The Johnstons and Too Much #Vacay

16 Jun

IMG_20170603_094828_608We were all excited to head out to the sunny and hot beach for a week of relaxation.

However, our first beach trip in two years reminded me of the Berenstain Bears book I read to Walter recently, The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Vacation, a book I’ve had since I was a little girl, where Papa Bear envisions this glorious vacation for his family out in the woods, bought from a magazine ad. It doesn’t go very well, as you can imagine, but Mama Bear patiently takes pictures and remembers to bring along the canned food so they can at least eat. This was us in Florida a week ago, except I was Papa Bear. At least at the end of the story they always look back at the memories in the photographs and laugh.

I had blocked off time we really didn’t have to spend a few days in between jobs at the in-laws beach house in Longboat Key, FL. I wanted a break from our calendars and the planning and execution of my ever-increasing to-do list.

Before we could leave we needed to get some minor yard work done (the house is on the market today and we’ve been terribly busy doing home fixits!). Of course after that it took me much longer to pack than I had anticipated, and the drive took us 10+ hours. It was a big day of travel, and not so different from the two Saturdays before that we spent driving to and from house-hunting and brewery-enjoying in Asheville with both boys, and one time with Dave’s parents too!

We finally arrived around midnight and unloaded the car. Put the boys to bed. Unpacked. Settled down with a craft beer of course. At this point I was sincerely looking forward to some time at the beach the next day.

We woke up in the morning to gray skies and light rain. Mimi had a cold, so we were told to stay away, but we played in the surf anyway with her around lunch. She and Pop had flown down in her plane on Friday, the day before we got there, because the weather was supposed to be bad all weekend. It was nice to get out to the beach, and Walter loved the ocean. Afterward he showed off his new swimming skills at their pool. It’s so great to watch him swim like a fish!

IMG_20170604_111015683Rex’s first time at the beach!

IMG_20170604_112636596In his clothes don’t care!

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One look at the ocean horizon is instantly soothing to the soul.

IMG_20170608_190049239Replicating a 1985 photo of David and his dad.

Later, after a delicious nap, I woke up to “hurry up it’s dinner time.” We were supposed to go to dinner with the builders of Mimi and Pop’s beach home renovation. I had been loathe to have any plans the whole week, as my stress tank was quite full, but we happily got ready and into the car. When we arrived we found that the others had chosen a table with two benches. For a nursing mom, it’s necessary to have back support when you’re feeding your child, which I am known to do at the dinner table. And the builder and his wife had a 2 month old too! The restaurant had a little couch area by the elevators, and Rex and I kept the wife and her baby company for a bit over there. I found out through chatting with her that her best friend lives in Asheville, with whom she often visits and loves it up there. It was a good chat, and I’ve found that many people I meet or know have friends living in Asheville. That’s a good sign I think!

IMG_20170604_185213406Walter ate half my fish; it was yum.

Mimi left the next day to take Granny (her mom) to Granny’s brother’s funeral in Texas. The weather forced them to cancel, since they were going to fly the small plane, and good thing too because Mimi came down with a high fever and had to go to the hospital. She was tested and diagnosed with double viral pneumonia.

My mom had arrived at this point with her sweet dog Tashi. We went out to the beach after the rain stopped that afternoon, and we were greeted and attacked by a cloud of bugs at the dunes. There were definitely mosquitoes (hello Zika!) and something else that had white wings and hurt when it bit, maybe a flying ant? Sand fleas? I almost poked my eye out swatting them off when we got to the beach, and Dave did a great job keeping them off of Rex.

We then proceeded to play in the surf and my mom and I took a long walk while Rex slept in my arms. This was a glorious memory from the trip.

On the way back, we ran through the dunes to try to avoid the bugs, and then ran all the way to the street, yet I still had to swat them off of my mom and Rex literally the entire 10 minute walk home. They were trying to get at my mom through her shirt!

I must have gotten at least 50 bites over my entire body, but mostly on my lower legs. I have a very bad reaction to bug bites; if I scratch them they become huge and swollen. Like soft-ball size at times. Once during the summer before my senior year in high school, I was similarly attacked on the beach at night in Naples, FL and ended up being taken to the hospital by the Jewish mom next door “three calls away from the President” because I was down there without my mom and this lady was worried about me after talking to me out on our balconies — top floor pool view; — a couple steroid pills later I was fine.

Oh lordy did my legs itch for several days, and I knew better now than to scratch them. I woke up at 3:30am one night with my whole body on fire, and the best way I have discovered over the years to stop the itching, at least for a few hours, is to turn the shower as hot as I can stand it, and scald my skin where the bites are. It makes me too hot and feel sick when I do that, but cortisone cream only works for a little itch every now and again.

The fun times kept on coming. I felt like I did a thousand loads of laundry — everything was either wet or had throw up or sand on it! — and we still ended up going home with a trash bag full of wet and dirty clothes to do. The dishwasher also ran every day. I happily emptied it except the one morning everyone was sleeping in, and Pop unloaded it for us!

IMG_20170607_074035_616Rexy turned 5 months old! I had forgotten his special sticker tie so we had to improvise. I also left my hair straightener at home, which clearly is the best indication of the condition of my frazzled mind when we left.

IMG_20170606_161625010Mommy/boy pile.

My mom used the leftover vegetables from homemade pizza night (a tradition started in Longboat Key in 2012 with my good high school friend and her husband, who are finally having their first baby girl any day now!) and grabbed some chicken and sausage from Publix to make one of the most delicious pasta dishes I’ve ever had. We think it’s because she “burned” the onions during meal prep. A fortuitous mistake!

IMG_20170605_085456167We had some time to kill inside during all the rain. Walter created this awesome found object piece. We also watched WALL.E a lot!

IMG_20170606_132720_311Walter using his art to show what the storms were like at the beach. He got caught in the rain at least twice.

The storms got so bad at one point that I was literally walking around like a chicken with my head cut off, wondering where to go with the children to hide from the storm. Every wall seemed to be made of glass! It seemed like night outside although it was only late morning, and David was in the salle de bains and my mom was doing a sitting in her room. While hearing things whip around the house, wondering if a tree would come crashing through the wall of windows facing the canal, Dave came out to tell us where we should go and that a tree had fallen on the house. It turned out to be only one giant limb of this huge tree, and it crushed the edge of the roof, the solar panel pool heater pipes, a large portion of the fence, including part on the neighbor’s property, and also their new landscaping. The rest of the rotten tree was still standing, so Dave was worried about that falling too. Some other big trees came down in the neighborhood in the 50mph winds.

IMG_20170607_120957_179Our bedroom window.

IMG_20170607_131125024_HDRWatching the tree guys go to work.

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While Dave did his insurance claim/crisis handling, I put the baby down for a nap and my mom and I went to get our nails done. I thoroughly enjoyed the pedicure especially — I could get foot massages every day!

That night we took our folks out to dinner at The Beach House in Bradenton, a good 20 minute drive — oh, my guilt over how much time we spend in the car is heavy these days! Instead of having cocktails near the ocean, and sitting and staring at the view we tried so hard to get to to enjoy, since it was sunny for once, we sat inside in the AC with a minimal view, because it was too windy. Walter played in the surf both before and after dinner, totally soaking himself, and my mom bought him an awesome long-sleeve shirt. I really should carry around an extra set of clothes for all of us, not just Rex, these days.

IMG_20170607_200148_283Glorious boy in his element.

We stayed up late to make homemade peach ice cream, which my friend had done recently at our house on Memorial Day with the strawberries she and her kids had hand-picked. Because my mom insists on buying only organic food when she can, and we had stopped at Lane Southern Orchards for fresh peaches on the way down, the ice cream was heavenly. A redemption for my bad and sad mood.

IMG_20170607_214347228Some seriously good ice cream.

 

The rest of the short time we had down there was spent either getting tossed by the most violent waves I’ve ever seen in the Gulf, or “steaming” and “boiling” (per Walter) under the fierce Florida sun. The last day, before we drove back home, we went for a walk on the beach. Luckily Dave had left our second sunscreen bottle out on the beach the day before, because the sun had definitely decided to scorch away the storm clouds, and we needed to reapply (which later I think gave the baby a rash on his face from rubbing against me or his dad).

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Dave went back with the baby fairly quickly because he was worried about Rex overheating, and we needed to finish prepping for our departure. Walter had on a bathing suit, and I walked out in my clothes to bob in the waves with him. For a minute I thought Walter had a terrible sunburn, but it was only the reflection of his bright red life jacket, thank goodness. He did, however, have Mimi’s cold. I treated him to a ginger ale on the ride back, which he cuddled with while he took a nap. The ride home thankfully didn’t seem as long as the way down. When we got home, our pups and kitty were happy to see us after having been taken care of so faithfully by my BFF Jason.

IMG_20170608_191238683Looking rough on the last day, LOL.

In the midst of giant upheaval in our lives, moving away from everything we know and love, this really wasn’t quite the break I wanted. But it was still beautiful time with family, no matter what the difficulties!

Cheers to crazy memories!

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Chalktoberfest

10 Oct

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This weekend was just one of those insanely gorgeous Atlanta fall weekends with the perfect temperature and breezes. We had a relaxing Saturday morning in the backyard and walking the dog, then we headed off to Chalktoberfest in Marietta Square.

It is by far my favorite street festival that I’ve been to in Atlanta. Not too crowded, a great cover band, food trucks, awesome chalk artists, a long row of craft beers (which I will partake in next year), and clean and cleverly painted porta-potties (these were important for my six month pregnant belly).

chalktoberfest-1We sat and played for a long time on the shaded grass in the middle of the Square listening to the band and watching the sun flicker through the trees. We brought sandwiches to eat, but others had full-on picnics and camping chairs. Good ideas for next year.

img_20161008_150658280Some people had barely started their chalk drawings, but others were well on their way. They were pretty amazing to see, even unfinished. Next year we’ll go on Sunday so we can see the completed works!

img_20161008_150840485_hdrI especially loved anything with folded cloth. There were three streets on the Square filled double sided with groups doing the chalk art. I had been hoping to see those really cool perspective chalk drawings, but they were pretty much just fine art replicas. Still, pretty incredible.

img_20161008_151913556Walter finally found what he was looking for! This was his favorite chalk drawing.

img_20161008_161040772Their loot from the Soda Pop Candy Shop store. Dave said it would have been his dream store when he was 12 years old (though his enthusiasm didn’t seem diminished 20 years later!). There was an entire wall of taffy, so much so that Dave took pictures so he’d know what they were eating once we got home. I was, meanwhile, looking around the Local Exchange next door, which is definitely more my kind of shopping experience. Marietta Square is awesome and we’ll be heading back often, festival or not.

Apple Picking

2 Oct

October 1st in Atlanta and you can smell Fall in the air. You can also smell neighbors burning their yard refuse in Cobb County, as it’s the first day to legally do that since summer ended, and of course we joined in. But first we went apple picking.

Ellijay, GA is one of my favorite places in the world. We spend two of my favorite days every year there: birthday tubing in the summer and apple picking in the fall. And it’s just beautiful; mountains in the distance, trees, and lots of glorious sky. If we ever went really rural and didn’t move to the Canadian West, I think we’d choose Ellijay.

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It’s just so pretty.

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We stopped at the first tree in the orchard to eat a golden delicious.

dsc_0012Two years ago Walter was in an apple coma from eating so many apples. This picture represents the extent of Walter’s apple eating this time.

img_20161001_140332205_hdrWe found the Red Apple Barn the first year we went picking. Last year our choice was crowded and not very pretty, so we knew we’d head back here this year. I love this one because of the way it is laid out, they give you a wagon ride to and from the orchard, and the cold apple cider and an apple cider donut when you’re done. Yum.

img_20161001_135227174Just getting started.

img_20161001_140208279He was equally interested in picking flowers as he was apples.

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img_20161001_140823209Walter wanted to make sure his apple was in the picture too.

dsc_0018David promises he’s going to can most of these.

family-shot-editedThe three and a half of us had a really fun day in the country.

9,000 and counting

9 Sep

 

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Our go-to brand

I am addicted to acquiring new puzzles. Mainly because they are awesome to do, and I love finding the ones that are challenging but also fun. The fun part is extra important so I don’t pull out my hair — or Dave’s — while putting pieces together.

For David’s birthday I bought him a 9,000 piece puzzle. It might have been a present for me too, but hey, whatever brings us closer together. There’s nothing I love more than sitting at our dining room table putting together a puzzle and talking, coaxing Walter to either help or quit touching the pieces, or listening to an audiobook.

I can’t wait. So far we’ve only done at most 3,000 pieces, and that puzzle was pretty easy. I’m looking forward to seeing what 9,000 is like and how long it takes us to do. I had to measure to make sure that even just half of it would fit on our dining room table. Just barely, according to my yard stick.

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This is happening.

Dave’s 35th Birthday (and a DIY fire pit)

7 Sep

I don’t let him rest, even on his birthday! I had a full weekend planned; by the end of it, we were exhausted, but it was fabulous.

Saturday we bought fire pit stones. No time like a party deadline to get a project done! We also went to the in-laws to play with W’s cousin, and then went home to nap so we’d all be in a good mood for dinner at Bone’s with my folks. It was a wonderful evening out, as always.

The next day, when I was pushing Walt on his swing, I said, “You’ll be going out to dinner tonight too with Nini and Grandpa to Italian,” and Walter’s response was, “But I like eating at Bone’s!” We may have set expectations too high too soon.

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Sunday, the actual birthday, we woke up fresh and ready to go, and of course the first thing we did was shower Daddy with presents. Then I got the picnic table painted while these two assembled the fire pit. First they measured, dug it out a few inches deep, then filled the space with sand to make the stones level and have a good base. After the first ring was in, they put river rocks on the bottom. It is a little less than three feet wide, as per our county ordinances.

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They also did a ring of river rocks around the outside and made sure to have some ventilation on the second row of stones. It worked out perfectly that we had leftover bricks with holes in them from the previous owner, so we used those in two spots. Of course we needed four more stones to finish the top (our calculations in-store were wrong; we used 12, not 10, stones per row), so we had to grab them before the party that night.

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What a beauty.

We quickly showered and met Dave’s family for lunch at Community Q BBQ. Yum. Best BBQ in the city. I may have ordered one or two more sides than I could eat.

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We then dropped Walter off at my mom’s so we could meet some friends at The Ultimate Escape Game. Dave had done one with the Marines at our last vacation with them in Nashville and thought it’d be a good way to celebrate. I had no real idea what to expect, but it was a blast. I’m totally ready to conquer another room after we successfully stole the recipe for the Coca Cola formula.

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Then our friends came over to our house to continue the fun. We cooked out, with everyone helping, and enjoyed some drinks and chatter and built the inaugural fire in the fire pit. Most everyone hadn’t seen the house in its near-finished glory, and it was fun to show it off. It was really great to spend extra time with our wonderful friends.

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There were several different groups singing Happy Birthday at one time.

Dave’s birthday continued the next day, since Walter was at my mom’s, by allowing us to sleep in and then watch a movie in bed. The chance to relax, especially after our busy busy weekend, was glorious. And as a parent, it’s always a blessing!

Barn Raisin’, not Barn Burnin’

16 Aug

From the moment we talked to Walt about moving from our old house, we made it clear that he would get a play set for his new yard. We wanted him to feel excited about this big change, and half the point of moving was to get more outdoor space to play in. When he spoke of his play set, he always made it clear that he wanted Pop, Mimi, Nini, Tashi, and Grandpa to come help us build it. And that’s exactly what he got!

A week before his 4th birthday, we had a good ol’ fashioned barn raising, complete with pizza dinner — just like in the olden days.

IMG_20160814_131121786And so it begins. It was a lot more not-put-together than I thought it was going to be. For example, the slide was just a long piece of plastic. Oh yeah, and there were a zillion wood pieces covering our yard.

IMG_20160814_133222308_HDRDuggy monitoring progress. He really enjoyed being outdoors All. Day. Long.

IMG_20160814_161037382When David saw Pop show up (his key partner in getting this thing built — I was in charge of water refills and picture-taking), his words were “Oh thank God.”

IMG_20160814_145112282_HDRMore helpers! Our picnic table was covered in hardware as well.

IMG_20160814_162422596The instruction booklet contained 20,000 pages. Luckily W’s cousin Ward showed up to help play.

Mimi shows the boys how to train for Olympic track meets. There was a lot of time for running around.

IMG_20160814_165324821Getting closer! We’re starting to see some structure!

IMG_20160814_165507259_HDRIt was a beautiful but hot day, even with the clouds and breezes helping us out.

IMG_20160814_202455511And it only took 7 1/2 hours!

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A happy boy’s inaugural slide ride! A fine end to a wonderful day spent with family. Couldn’t have done it without them!

Taking another graceful step into my 30s

26 Jul

When I have little or no expectations, I generally find that my experiences are usually that much better overall. In terms of my birthday, I always love it and feel like it should be a special day, but I still don’t try to put too much emphasis on it or I can easily let myself down. This birthday was one of the best.

We had a relaxing but productive weekend where Dave and his dad worked on a large home project of mine (moving the washer/dryer out of our unfinished basement), and I did work too while Walter designed with “modeling play” and drew pictures. He’s getting ever more creative and inventive with art and building toys like magnatiles.

Sunday we did a few more chores and met my parents for a quiet but lovely birthday dinner at Hearth, which happens to make the best pizza in Atlanta. Yum.

IMG_20160724_185827494He loves his Nini and Grandpa!

On the way home David pulled off into the Sope Creek parking lot, and we took an impromptu dusk-time hike to the creek. Even in flip-flops it was a nice walk to a pretty creek, and being able to be closer to nature is one of the reasons I love living a bit more out of the city. I definitely want to take Walter back there as soon as I can.

IMG_20160724_201925916Perfect way to end 31.

Monday, my actual birthday, was tubing day! I’ve been tubing down the Cartecay River with friends every year on or around my birthday for 12 years in a row now. It’s amazing to have seen the changes over the past decade, when the river drop in was barely attended by a tubing guy, to last year, when it was so crowded we had to park in an additional field and were constantly surrounded by other tubing enthusiasts. So I decided that from now on, due to the popularity that I suppose will be ever increasing, we will tube on weekdays. In college it wasn’t difficult to get friends up to Ellijay on whatever day I chose, but we might have to plan more in advance from now on, since as adults we usually do the adult thing of 9-5. There were still a few people on the river, but it wasn’t crowded, and it really is the perfect way to recharge for the upcoming year. Nothing but water and trees and sky.

IMG_20160725_181640A picture taken in the same spot every year. We had a blast just the three of us, but the Cartecay is so wonderful, we love bringing as many friends to experience it as we can. And soon Walter can join us too!

This morning I woke up to easily find a long gray hair among my locks… beautiful sight! Thanks for the birthday present, universe. But honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We’re living like it’s Downton Abbey

4 Mar

This is multi-family household living at its best, just without Nanny. Or Carson & Mrs. Hughes.

Here’s what happened: my husband bought an expensive house during the real estate bubble of ’07/’08, right before he graduated college in 2009, during the recession. A + B = C, and C hasn’t been good for us financially.

College had delayed his transition from the Marine Corps to his career in his late twenties. I graduated college at the same time as him (but mid twenties) with my second degree, didn’t find a full-time job, didn’t get in to graduate school, and then became a stay-at-home-mama, which was my dream anyway. Meanwhile, my husband worked hard to pay the mortgage, while we watched many others get rewarded by buying foreclosed or cheap houses because of the recession and at one point getting huge checks from the government for being first-time homeowners. We have been the definition of “house poor” for the last 7 years, even though we lead really, really good lives. No denying that fact.

So in order to sell our house, we have moved in with my in-laws near Chastain Park. Oh how terrible! No, not really. It’s pretty awesome.

At our house, the floor needed a good sand and refinish. Our realtor recommended it. Our cousin, who’s the best real estate agent in Birmingham, said to do it before it goes on market. It’s not the most expensive reno job, it must be done by a professional, and it can totally change the look of the house.

I’ve been wanting to change the color for years anyway.

So I finally spent the last of our savings, touched up the paint (again), cleaned it up real nice, positioned the furniture just right… and now we pray we get some money back from the money pit that has been home ownership for us so far.

We moved in with parents so we can stage the house — and not live in the poly smell immediately post-floor refinish. I won’t have to battle the dog hair, kitty litter box, Walter messes, and my type-A cleaning personality all while keeping a house show-ready. We can also take our time to find the right house for us when it comes time to do that.

I have never been more excited to go shopping in my life. I’ve never had the opportunity to pick a house before. My husband bought our current one a year before we met.

So we’re in our thirties acting a bit like we’re in our twenties… but hey, we’re Millennials, so we’re allowed to do that, right?

IMG_20160224_192426Perks: Pop reading bedtime stories to his grandboy in what used to be The Serious Business Room for twenty years but has recently been changed by Walt to The Crossword Room (note WSJ crossword on end table).

Ladies Night Out 2-2016Perks: Ladies Night Out with the Sistas of the Pour at Terra Terroir

 

Inside Out

11 Feb

We just did one of those technology-induced movie nights where my son and I watched Inside Out at our house while my BFF – Uncle Jason – started the movie at the same time at his house, and we texted each other throughout. I hadn’t seen the newest Pixar yet, but Jason was a veteran.

What a movie. It was glorious to watch. Walt and I both sat mesmerized the entire time, and I even stopped wanting to text at all because I was so engrossed. I thought it should be a movie played in every Psych 101 class, and for every pre-teen, heck, everyone, to watch to understand their emotions a little bit better.

At the end of the movie, Walter is watching Riley cry in her parents’ arms, and he says, “Mama, she’s crying.”

He turns to me and says, “Just like a baby.”

And I have big, rolling tears streaming down my face as well when I say, “Yes, son, just like a baby.”

inside-out-651The “colored ball” movie, according to Walt.

Puzzles Puzzles Puzzles

29 Dec

It feels like we’ve done 50 jigsaw puzzles in the last few months. Because of listing our house and the renovations this summer, we had our dining room table in our garage for the first six months of 2015. Then when we pulled it out, we had too many dinner parties in the new pub room to really get any puzzles going. But then the fall happened. And so did all our puzzles.

We went through every one in the house we had that we hadn’t done yet, including this 2,000 piece monster that my mom had insisted we take from her years ago that I equally insisted I would never do. But then we wanted a challenge because we were going too quickly through 1,000 piece puzzles. And boy did we get it.

IMG_20151229_080408We call it “the blue puzzle”. And I hated almost every moment of putting it together — plus it took us weeks.

IMG_20151229_081458We did feel really good when we put the final piece in. Which, tragically, was not the actual last puzzle piece.

puzzleSo then we got this one as an antidote. It was really, really fun and I loved every minute.

IMG_20151229_080129We did a couple 1,000 and even a 500 piece one; then, after Christmas, we put together this 2,000 piece in two days. I couldn’t believe it! We’re getting too fast.

So now there are several more 2,000 waiting in the wings, and then we want to do a 3,000. After that, we’re debating if we want to do a 5,000 piece or just bite the bullet and go straight to 18,000  because there is one I particularly like. Once you get up to the big puzzles, there are a lot fewer options, and I really care about the picture I’m putting together. Plus I can generally tell how easy or hard a puzzle will be to put together, and I don’t want to do any more that remind me of our blue puzzle.

When Dave first mentioned doing a really large puzzle, I thought he was crazy. Until I did some research and realized they don’t actually make you do 18,000 or 32,000 pieces at once, because really, that would be insane and unmanageable. They generally keep the big ones to about 4,000 to 4,500 a bag, which I totally feel comfortable doing. And so we’re going to!

Meanwhile, we’ve gotten to such a puzzling state that last night we watched, and actively enjoyed, YouTube videos of people putting together really large puzzles. And other people making puzzles.

You might say we are addicted.

But look how cool.