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Halloween hauntings

It started with a request, one I've heard before, from Raphael.

"I want a picture of my biological dad," he said, "I don't know what he looks like."

Max tried to help him.

"Here's what I remember about him," he said, evenly, as though he were explaining mixed fractions, "he was sort of pudgy, with a round face, and lots of dark dark hair. And he was usually scruffy, here," he rubbed his chin, "like he was growing a beard."

"I want a picture."

And so Clay brought down two boxes of pictures that I had exiled to the garage, and eventually I opened them up and let them spill out. I hid in the only place I can go to get away (a little) from the family, the floor between Sophia's crib and Jennie's bed. It is not enough room for the mess from my former life, but it is all the space I could find.

He liked taking pictures, my ex, so there are hundreds of them. Envelope after envelope, many with descriptions written in his cartoonish lettering to describe what is inside - "Tre turns one. Playing in the pool." I rifled through them all. Our wedding, pregnancies, my babies sleeping on his chest.

It has been eight years since we have been a family. He left eight years today. And most of the time I willfully forget the life I lived before. But there it is, now strewn on the carpet in a space too small to make sense of it.

Of course it is hard to look at him, to see the pictures of us in love, and worse, of my sons and him in love. But what struck me this time was me. How young I was. I look like a child, and not in the vital and glowing way either. I am soft and unformed and unguarded around the eyes. I had no idea what this story we were spinning was going to become. Good Lord, I was inadequate. No wonder he...

Let's not go there.

It also bears mentioning that it was five years ago yesterday that Clay and I went on our first date. On that day he told me that he loved me and that he intended to marry me. On our first date! I looked at him and thought, either this man is a scary stalker...or the love of my life.

He turns out not to be a scary stalker.

"Does it bother you?" I asked him, "Raphael's fascination with his biological dad?" He shakes his head, which is always his answer when I ask him if something bothers him. But his voice is calm and sure.

"It makes sense that he would wonder. And..." he picks his words carefully, "...I'm not threatened by him."

And of course. How could he be?

I found a picture for Raphael today. Not only a picture of his biological dad, but one of newborn Raphael, one day old, in his arms.

"That's me?" He stared at it, delighted. "And that's my dad."

I prefer "biological dad", because it is an accurate description, but also because it is a snub, should he ever hear it. But I did not correct him. I sat there, surrounded by the archaeological remains of that life, while Raphael stared at a picture of a man he hasn't seen for eight years, and called him dad. Tre and Max hovered, picked up pictures here and there.

"It's hard for me, guys," I said, tears threatening, "we were happy once. You need to know that. Your biological dad and I were happy once. And then it all...broke. And it was so awful at the end, and everyone was hurt."

"I wasn't hurt," Raphael said. He was four months old, after all.

"But it hurts now, doesn't it? Trying to figure it out." He nodded. "And I'm so glad to have the life I have now, to be married to your dad...but it's hard to look at these pictures and remember."

"Maybe," Max pushed a stack of pictures away from him, "it would have been better if you had just never married him. If you had married our dad the first time, and never had to get a divorce."

I am struck dumb by this, because he doesn't seem to understand that I couldn't have had them without him.

It seems I still can't have them without him.

I gave Raphael a frame for his picture, and he set it on the ledge in the living room. Clay came home from work and saw it.

"Oh, you found one for Raphi, huh?"

And I crumpled, just folded into his chest and wept.

Is she complaining about sleep again?

It seems I don't know how to make a baby go to sleep. I mean, I look at her, and she's this tiny little thing. Can't even dress herself. Couldn't make herself a sandwich even if she had the teeth to eat it. You'd think I'd be in charge around here, wouldn't you?

I keep thinking that maybe I've lost some secret skill set that I must have had when the boys were babies. They slept, didn't they? I seem to remember naps, multiple, during the day. Maybe there's some tricky combination of moves I'm not remembering, like the boys' cheat codes they're always using on the Wii. You know, how they'll go up up right down up whatever, and then they have invincibility or...something? Hmm. It's possible I don't actually understand the cheat codes either.

Anyhow, Sophia doesn't sleep. I think she takes after her dad, who can get by on an insanely small amount of sleep and can still smile and say things that make sense. Honestly, the man sleeps about five to six hours a night. If I had to get up and go to work after sleeping only five hours, by the second morning I would be lying on the floor by the car, weeping at the thought of trying to navigate the drive there. Clay almost never lies on the floor by the car, and if he does, car maintenance is involved, not weeping.

So this girl is definitely Clay's daughter. She sleeps about eight to nine hours at night, then usually (but not always) takes one or two naps during the day, totaling about an hour. And she flies and speaks sanskrit. Okay, that's not true, but I threw it in there because descriptions of sleep habits are JUST SO BORING. To sum up: Sophia sleeps 8 to 10 hours a day, despite the fact that the interwebs assure me that 6 month old babies sleep 11.5 to 15 hours a day. Excuse me a minute...*indulges in a brief sleep fantasy about having the 15 hour-a-day sort of baby*

So our girl isn't a big sleeper, fine. As I may have mentioned before, I have some cosmic payback on that score coming. And she's happy and jolly and loud, so I guess she's getting enough sleep, for her. But what makes me COMPLETELY INSANE is that I never know WHEN she is going to sleep. Morning nap? Maybe. At nine. Or eleven. Or NOT AT ALL, JUST LISTEN TO ME GIGGLE. And worse of all, I can never figure out when she's going to go to sleep at night. I can't tell you how many days end with Clay and I, slumped on the couch, staring glassy-eyed at our child as she inspects her toys and rolls around and babbles late into the night. Midnight? One AM? THREE IN THE MORNING? Oh yes, it has happened.

I simply cannot seem to get this girl on any sort of schedule. I am the puppet on her string. And in the positive column, I am old and wise and know she will sleep eventually, so I am really not wild-eyed with despair when she won't sleep. In the negative column, I am so flippin' old. I am tired. I know she'll sleep eventually, but I'm afraid I'll break a hip in the meantime.

So here's where you come in: give me your best sleep training advice. Books, videos, special dances. You suggest it, and I will try it.

Sleepy Sophia 

I mean, look at her. She's clearly suffering.

It all comes together in the end. Sort of.

Lately Sophia hasn't been sleeping well at all - at least, not several hours all in a row in the restful, REM sort of way that helps me face the day with a spring in my step and a complete lack of hallucinations. I'm sort of ping-ponging through my days right now, and I figured hey, why keep this mental Pac-Man game to myself? So here, for

A few years ago I read a book on quantum physics. Okay, wait. Let me back up there. First of all, it was just a book for your average person of average brain, about quantum physics. It wasn't, say, written for quantum pysicists. Also, I only managed to read a third of it before the library said, "Seriously, bring the book back. We know you're not going to finish it, so stop renewing it already." It READ like a standard overdue notice, but I think we all can read between the lines, am I right? Like the TONE they had that one time when the weight-loss book was overdue? I don't mind telling you, that one still stings.

Where was I?

Ah yes, quantum physics. I really did enjoy that book, although it was sort of like reading about someone else's religious beliefs. I could understand them (mostly), and get a sense of the framework of what they were saying. I could see the beauty, even. But I couldn't quite...believe. From what I understand, a large portion of the study of quantum physics seems to have a lot to do with thought experiments, which as far as I can tell are basically really smart people thinking up ideas to try to make other really smart people stop and say...whoa. Because the person who can make the most smart people be amazed with their smart thoughts wins and gets all the cute quantum physics groupies, and isn't that what science is all about after all? Hot groupies?

What was I saying?

Oh yes, the book. I can't even remember the name of it. But one of the things it talked about was the theory about sub-atomic particles, that if you OBSERVE their motion, you CHANGE their motion. This part is fuzzy, bear with me. I don't even know how you'd test such a theory, since it's not like you can sit around, WATCHING sub-atomic particles. Plus, the only way to prove such a thing would be to have two particles, one observed and one not, and then HOW, exactly, are you supposed to tell if the trajectory or speed or whatever is different? If you can't even LOOK at one of them?

Stupid quantum physics.

Anyhow, the REASON I was thinking about all these things, my very deep thoughts about quantum physics, is because of the balloon boy. You know the story, I'm not going to link to it. I'm even going to go out on a limb here and suggest that they may have gotten ENOUGH attention already. Sheesh. And you know who else has gotten enough attention? I'm not going to even say THEIR name, but you know about them too, a reality TV family with a whole slew of kids, and the parents are going through a messy, ugly divorce? Right. Also possibly somewhat overexposed.

People are starting to fuss about all these kids on reality shows. They should be protected, some say. They're being exploited. I think what the parents don't seem to realize is that their lives are being altered. Just like the observed sub-atomic particles, cameras change the trajectory of their reality.

Their kids' childhoods are being messed with, and they're so addled by the cameras they don't even see it.

So here's what I'm thinking - follow me closely now - do you think if I brought a whole camera crew in to film her, Sophia would sleep through the night?

Not performing up to expectations

Yesterday I arrived at the boys' Monday school with a bit of anxiety. I had just received a phone call from the program administrator, asking that I have a chat with [name redacted for privacy concerns]'s teacher. Although she assured me everything was fine, I have never, ever had a teacher request a conference just to tell me how cool my child is.

This mild anxiety is my excuse for not noticing the state of my baby's butt when I hoisted her out of her car seat and onto my hip. I was thinking about [name redacted] and pondering what awaited us. I found my way into the crowd of kids and parents, all wondering and oblivion.

Fortunately, that's what I have children for, to point out my boneheaded ways to me.

"Ooo, diaper leak!" Raphael announced. He gingerly lifted one of Sophia's chubby ankles to peer up her leg. "Oh wow, it's EVERYWHERE."

Indeed, it was.

I found an empty room in which to change Sophia's...everything. What we really needed was a de-con unit, with a high-powered shower. I settled for about a million wipes. Sorry, Earth.

It was one of those classic parenting moments when you start assessing the problem, and it unfolds and unfolds and unfolds - have mercy - and unfolds before your eyes. Sophia's onsie? Messy. Adorable corduroy jumper? Oh yes, besmirched. Is that poop in her hair? Wait, and on my sleeve? And all down the side of my shirt? OH YES, AND GENEROUSLY SMEARED ON MY HIP? Yes please, may I have ANOTHER?

I sent one child out to the van to find a sweater or SOMETHING I could wear and grimly set to wiping everything clean. A mountain of dirty wipes grew on one side, while on the other side, [name redacted] bounced on the balls of his feet, trying to come up with a REALLY GOOD REASON his teacher wanted to talk to me.

"Go tell her I'm running late but we'll be there soon," I growled at him. A child arrived with a zip-up jacket, and eventually I had both Sophia and myself reasonably re-dressed. At least, she was clean and wearing a fresh, bright yellow onsie. I, on the other hand, was wearing a jacket, zipped up to conceal the fact that I had no shirt on, and tugged low on my hips to conceal a LOVELY poop-shmear.

Now, in general, I feel that transparency is the best policy. If I'm late because I just got pulled over by a cop, I'll let you know! (I will also announce to the boys as I navigate my way to the side of the road that I am about to talk to a police officer and when he leaves I will cry AND THAT IS OKAY.) However, I just couldn't seem to find a quick and graceful way to tell the poop-storm story. Plus, every version I could think of started, "Guess what? I'm not wearing a shirt!" which is an awkward start to any parent/teacher conference.

So instead I stood there, nervously tugging the hem of my jacket down and the zipper up. To make matters worse, the teacher had a chair, while [name redacted] and I did not, and stood in front of her. He clutched his backpack and agreed vigorously with everything she said, while I tried to project a look that said I am in charge and full of good ideas about my children's education and I am CERTAINLY wearing a shirt and pants without poo. I'm almost sure that I have lessened that teacher's concerns about my son, if only because she assumes he's being raised by someone who is Not All There, and so he is therefore doing the best he can, the dear little pumpkin.

When it was finally, blessedly over, we beat a hasty retreat. [Name redacted] trotted next to me, apologizing and promising to do better, while the other two boys skipped along, glowing with the holy light of the children who are not in trouble.

And I? Well, I am a seasoned mother of four. I know the ropes, right? Plus, I am not an idiot. So I checked the car seat for poop before I strapped my now-clean baby in it, right?


As I told [name redacted], making a mistake (or several) doesn't make you stupid, it just makes you human. Try, try again.


Home improvement tips

So the other day Clay was in the process of building me some beautiful shelves to solve the never-ending problem of storage in the kitchen. And as he went along, planning the project, he realized that he was going to need a palm sander, which is (in case this is not obvious) one of those little plug-in sanders that fits in the palm of your hand.

He called Home Depot to see if they rented palm sanders, and when he got the guy in charge of such rental business, he could not think of the word PALM SANDER.

"I'm calling to see if you have those..." he held his hand out in front of him, in frustration, as though if he mimed holding it, the name of it would come to him, "...those hand jobs?"

In case you're wondering, no. That is not a service Home Depot provides.

The laughing at you, however? Totally free.

And I know he reads my blog without asking permission, too.

This afternoon Tre watched Sophia for an hour while Clay and I napped (Sophia does not sleep. She's just not that kind of baby, it turns out. This is what my parents would call KARMA if they believed in such a thing. As is, they just laugh gaily and pat her on her downy, non-sleeping head). After we got up, Tre went into the kitchen and made chicken tetrazzini for dinner. And while it was in the oven, he emptied the dishwasher and cleaned up the kitchen. And then he set the table.

And I am not even making any of that up.

I tell you all this not so I can brag on my son (although dude. Thass my boy), but to remind myself. This is the same boy that I bellowed at this morning because he was fighting with Raphael AGAIN and yes, Raphael is just as responsible for the fight, but for heaven's sake, WHO IS THE 14 year old again? Because I wouldn't expect it to be the one yelling LIKE THAT (hahahahahaha, I just re-read this sentence and realized that I just confessed to yelling at my son because he was yelling like a little kid. HAHAHAHAHAHA).

It took me a good two years to regain my equilibrium with Tre after he hit adolescence. Seriously, ever since he turned twelve, my mental video clip montage of his life is punctuated by me, whining "he is just such a TEEN. He is SO ADOLESCENT."

I sort of want to punch me in the neck, when I watch my mental video clip montage.

Of course he's so adolescent. He's - wait for it - an adolescent. And in keeping with the nature of this era, he's up and down, hot and cold, child and near-adult. He's been in such emotional turmoil that he's almost as bad as me.

I think we're finding our footing here. He doesn't seem to be willing to go backwards, toward childhood, and I'm beginning to see the beauty of what lies ahead.

He's a good kid a sweet boy a fine young man.

Sophia, breastfeeding advocate

This morning I was at Starbucks, having some dessert for breakfast with my lovely niece, Kate. Sophia was sitting on my lap, eating crumbs from my cake and generally being charming (biased? No. I simply report the facts).

After we'd sat there for a while, chatting, Sophia decided that crumbs were not going to cut it and she wanted to nurse. Now. Storm clouds gathered, lightening flashed, she flung herself face-first at my chest, and started to whimper. That's feed me now, level 1, and level 2 includes something the boys refer to as the "tauntaun mad" - because she sounds like a tauntaun? From Star Wars? I don't know about that, but I do know tauntaun mad is no happy event, especially in a Starbucks.

Conveniently enough, I had brought my breasts with me. This is, by the way, one of the top reasons I breastfeed. Because I cannot forget to bring the baby's food, even if I have stumbled out of the house with no diapers or wipes or spit rags or sense. Which I actually did, this morning. But I did not forget the breasts. Score one for mama.

Or not, because as I got Sophia bellied up to the milk bar, something caught my eye. Across the room a man was looking at me, turning away, turning back, turning away. On the edge of my vision, his face was like a strobe light of disapproval. He glared, he turned away. He glared again, he said something to his companion loud enough that I heard, "if SHE'S going to do THAT!" and "RIGHT HERE in public!" and "WHY should I have SEE THAT?"

Sir, I wanted to say, if you saw my actual breasts, you have x-ray vision. If you're objecting to what you're actually seeing, which is the back of my baby's head, you are a weirdo.

But apparently he must have been, because he just. kept. glaring. Turn, glare. Turn away, protest. Turn back, glare.

Here's a thought: if the sight upsets you - STOP LOOKING.

He even switched chairs. TO A CLOSER ONE. Glare, glare. Agitate, agitate. I was irritated, but whatever. Cranky man is cranky. Big deal. I have an actual, legal right to breastfeed. With my actual, legal breasts.

But then Sophia had to jump into the fray.

Bless her heart, the child is at that age where the world is SO INTERESTING that mere life-giving sustenance can't compete. She pops off several times during each nursing session to look around, suck on her lips meditatively, comment, and then dive back to finish her meal. And that's just what she did (I would like to point out that such are my mad breast skilz that there was no nipple exposure. I am wise to the six month old's ways, and kept one hand poised to yank down my t-shirt the second her cheek started to pull away. I am GOOD). And guess who she looked at EVERY SINGLE TIME? That's right, Cranky Man. So here's the scene:

Me: chat chat, feed feed

Cranky Man: glare glare

Sophia: nurse nurse, pop off, roll head around 180 degrees to fix Cranky Man with somber blue eyes

Cranky Man: apoplectic

Me: chat chat

Sophia: nurse nurse

Six months old, and she's an activist.

The tomato plants were heavy with fruit, and the nights are menacing with frost. Each morning the basil is nipped farther back, its leaves curling and dark. So I gathered a large bowlful of tomatoes, because the frost won't wait, just because the tomatoes are ripening.

Mom gave me a bag full of concord grapes, a gift from a friend of hers. They smelled like grape soda, like candy, like grapes should. And I set them aside, because I was busy chopping up tomatoes, slicing garlic, and putting it all in a pot to simmer. Every time I walked past the grapes, the perfume reminded me that the clock was ticking, because grapes won't wait just because tomato chunks are simmering on the stove.

As I cranked the food mill, tomato sauce dripping below, tomato seeds somehow stuck to the back of my hand, Sophia rolled over on her blanket, rolled again, slapped the floor with her hands, and let out a wail. She'd gotten her immunizations and was angry and sad and wanted to be held. I wiped my hands on a towel and scooped her up, trying to figure out a way to crank the handle with my one free hand, because a needy baby won't stop needing you just because there's tomato sauce to be made.

I pulled grapes free from their stems, thousands of grapes, millions of grapes, a whole constellation of grapes. And Tre came in to help me, to stand in the middle of the grape scent and pluck and drop in the pot, next to me and chatting. He threw off my rhythm, but I had to step aside and let him join in, because a 14 year old boy won't stop growing up just because I have a rhythm going.

I pulled together the ends of a bundle of cheesecloth, wrapped around grape pulp. It wasn't dripping fast enough, and I couldn't figure out how to encourage the juice from inside to leak into the bowl outside. Max was sitting behind me, reading to me about the Treaty of Waitangifrom his history book. I had to put down my deep purple bundle of worry and sit down across from him, look him in the eye, and tell him about what I saw when I lived in New Zealand, and how injustice doesn't evaporate just because time passes. It wasn't solving the problem of the pulp, but fifth grade doesn't stop just because I am trying to separate juice from its original home.

Every minute I have, there seem to be at least two events that want to occupy it. It took me two days to make the grapes into jelly, and three days to finish writing this. Days fly by at a stuttering pace, and the only thing I'm sure of is this: nothing can wait, but everything ends.

Celebrating six months in the air

When Sophia was born, six months ago today (!), people said lots of things about her being a girl, and how sweet and adorable she would be. We were led to expect sugar and spice and an excess of nice. Well, for the most part, she is mostly just a baby. The main differences so far have been the fact that it's quite a bit of fun to dress her, and that diaper changes are a far more crevice-y and far less geyser-y.

But other differences? Well, I don't know if what we're seeing is because she's a girl child, or because she's Sophia. And who is Sophia? Well, I hate to say I told you so, but she's somewhat fierce.

She's showing quite the flair for civil disobedience. When I put her in her car seat, she digs in with her heels and the top of her head, bowing her body away from the seat, gritting her lack of teeth and resisting me with every tiny muscle. And whenever she feels people are getting too complacent, say, at church or a doctor's waiting room, she lets loose with ear-splitting screams.

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When she's especially happy to see someone, she tends to grab their face, scream, and dive for them, open-mouthed. She clearly craves human flesh, like some sort of petite, rosy-cheeked zombie.

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The person she's most enamored with, I'm afraid, is the baby in the mirror. She simply CANNOT get enough of that sassy girl. She also wants to eat her flesh.

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When she sees a telephone, she fixates on it and breathes heavily through her mouth. She sounds like Darth Vader and looks a little like she's possesed.

And sometimes she gets excited and she flaps her arms up and down, up and down, and gives a short, sharp shriek. Clay and I decided she must be part bird of prey, and she's trying to take flight so she can hunt down smaller, weaker animals. Clay informed her that that mostly limits her to hunting the unborn, which we discourage. She shrieked at him.


I say you can keep your sugar and spice. We'll take our fractious, flesh-craving, narcissistic, dark Sith lord, scary hawk child.

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Be afraid. Be very afraid.

What I did on my summer/fall vacation

I apologize in advance for this post, because it's going to be a big ol' picture-dump, wherein I show you all these pictures from our trip, even though vacation photos are never that interesting to the people who weren't there.

But oh, you guys. We had so much fun.

Clay's parent's house is simply the best vacation site ever. The kids got to drive the gator.

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There's plenty of space to play. To breathe. To do flips.

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They got to play by the river.

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Raphael got ASTONISHINGLY dirty.

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Jennie got to spend bonding time with her new sister.

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And Sophia got to spend bonding time with her grandma.

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There was kayaking.

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And blackberry picking.

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As if that weren't enough, Clay's brother Doug, and his wife, Jill, took us sailing for five days around the San Juan Islands.

It was...look, do you have a word that you tend to overuse sometimes? For me, that word is "amazing." And last week, if you happened to need to use "amazing," and you picked it up and discovered that it was worn smooth, with a groove down the middle just the size of my thumb, well, sorry.

But it was just amazing.

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Max and Raphi both got to steer the boat, and Max especially loved it. He wants his own boat now, to which I say lalalalalala you can't because all my children must grow up and live in Colorado.

He's not so sure that's true.

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Doug was so great with the boys, showing them how things worked, explaining things to them, patient and so kind.

You know, in a guy way.

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The rest of us found Jill MUCH more interesting than Sophia seemed to.

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We went crabbing. I very bravely took some of them out of their traps. This one pinched me. So I ate him. WHO'S LAUGHING NOW, CRAB BOY?

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Just about every day we explored another island.

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My favorite part was watching the kids, all of the kids, have time to be together.

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So they could do important things, like skipping rocks.

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And early texting instructions.

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Sophia didn't much care for her life vest.

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Raphael was largely unhampered by his.

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And Clay rocked his.  
Rrrowlll, sailor.

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It took a full week after I got off the boat for the earth to stop gently rolling under my feet. It will take longer than that to get my house back in order after coming back home.

But oh.

It was worth it.   
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