Our Second Family Vacation, Part 1

After last year’s successful first family vacation to Seaside, Oregon – about two seconds after – our daughter started asking to go back to the beach. She asked all year long, sometimes at random moments and always when she saw pictures of herself building sandcastles or feeding seals. We had not necessarily intended to go back to Seaside this year, but in addition to the frequent requests from Sonja, we realized it would be a fantastic place to take the new dog we acquired last November. Yes, the dog would love the beach and Sonja would love the beach so we would go back to the beach!

Last Year's Beach Vacation

Last Year’s Beach Vacation

We made the decision to go to Seaside much earlier in the year this time. However I realized that to get the best deal on the hotel we liked, I would have to wait much longer to book. So we picked a date, Shaun requested time off from work, and I crossed my fingers that I’d be able to get both the hotel and a good deal.

By complete happenstance, I landed a one-month gig scoring standardized tests that was to end the weekend before we left. In my mind this was both a bonus and a deficit, because I would have more cash to play but less time to plan. (I do love to plan.) Luckily, I had saved all the planning that went into the previous year’s vacation and just revised it as necessary. I can’t tell you how good it felt to cross diapers off the packing list.

Around the 4th of July, I had a short window in which to book the hotel and use a $50 off coupon from Expedia. It was also around this time that I heard chatter in the workplace that the project would go long. Nobody knew for sure, and overtime was being offered to prevent this from happening. I had a feeling the company had an inkling that the project would be extended, but without any concrete evidence, I decided to carry out my plans as they stood. I got the best possible deal on the room and I was so very proud of myself.

To make a long story short, the project did go long and I missed out on a few days work. At the time I made my decision, the possibility this would happen did not upset me. C’est la vie. By the time we came back from vacation, I was super pissed. C’est la fucking vie. More on that later.

The big difference for this year’s trip was that we decided to go for two days. Guys, two whole days! The main reason I made this decision was so we would have time to stop on the way down to visit a friend of mine and her 10-month old daughter. Two days also seemed more plausible this time around. Sonja is still a handful but she’s a more communicative handful. If she got hungry, we wouldn’t have to discern the word “fruit” through gasping sobs. She’d simply say, “Mama I’m sooo hungry!” We’d still have to listen to her cry when we refused to let her eat chocolate chip cookies for breakfast, but hey, progress it progress.

What we eventually realized would not be plausible: bringing the dog. The dog is still a complete spaz in the car. It’s extremely difficult just to drive her the ten minutes to the vet. And though we are making progress training her, it’s slow and we don’t feel like we have her under good command yet. Pepper would have to stay home. And now we needed a dog sitter.

The dog as puppy.

The dog as puppy.

I wanted a housesitter anyway. My parents are nearby and can look in, but I’m still not over the break-in and I wanted someone here. I wasn’t sure who on earth that was going to be until I got the invitation to my cousin’s kid’s high school graduation. Perfect. It was all coming together.

I left work permanently Friday afternoon and spent the weekend checking off my to do list. The biggest item was grocery shopping, as we’d decided to cook our meals in our kitchenette-equipped suite. Two previous excursions to Seaside left us wholly unimpressed by the food choices; We could do better on our own. The final task was entering the addresses in the GPS, and Tuesday morning, eight minutes after the scheduled departure time of 9 a.m., we backed out of the garage and headed on our way. Again.

Take me to the beach!

Take me to the beach!

Part 2 coming soon.

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My 4th of July

010109-1605-nomousefory4.jpg3 years ago, my husband and I took the train to Vancouver and spent America’s birthday as Canadians, eh? Last night I was beginning to think we should make that an annual tradition.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many fireworks around this neighborhood as I did last night. We were, to use the term loosely, lit up. Of course, the real commotion started right around my daughter’s bedtime. The previous two years, I worried we’d have trouble getting Sonja to sleep because of the noise, but it turned out to be no trouble at all. Last night, it was trouble.

After sitting with her for about half an hour – she was not scared but she wasn’t able to concentrate on sleeping either – I decided to let her see the product of all that noise. We went to the window and watched the sky for twenty minutes or so. After each firework there’d be a gasp and a question: “Can I have another one?”

Then I realized the local fireworks would be starting on TV, so I let her lay down on the bed with me to watch. I caught about every third firework between her bounces. At this point, I was practically passing out, I was so tired from the previous week. So I put her to bed and, though I was worried I too would be kept awake by the noise, fell asleep probably before she did. I slept right through any noise that may or may not have occurred. Do you think that right after I fell asleep, everybody just stopped shooting off fireworks? No?

I slept well until it got quiet again around 3:30, at which point I couldn’t sleep. I checked on Sonja, who was asleep on her floor mattress. Her body, at least. Her head was actually on the floor. I checked on the cat, who had been outside when the fireworks started and who we brought in covered in stickies from some bush he was hiding under. He was asleep under the papasan chair, one of his favorite spots, and the rug was covered in little balls of sticky black hair. The dog had also seemed to do pretty well with the noise, so I went back to bed. I still couldn’t sleep, so I wrote the speech I have to give for my friend’s wedding tomorrow, and with that off my plate, the house was peaceful and quiet again, save for a few stray *BOOM*s.

So…Canada next year, right?

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My Two-and-Three-Quarters Year Old

I think this quarter felt like the shortest time between updates, either because or in spite of all the things that have happened in the last three months.

Picnic at the Park

Picnic at the Park

The big, huge, hip-hip-hooray news is that about two minutes after I posted the last update, Sonja was potty trained. I go back and forth on whether this is the kind of information I should be making publicly available, but it is the only way I’m going to remember it. So here’s what happened: Buoyed by conversations about potty training with other moms at Sonja’s co-op preschool, I took away the diapers and put her in underwear. The first day she had two accidents and two successful trips to the potty and I thought we were on our way. The second day, she had four accidents and no successful trips to the potty, so I figured I’d jumped the gun and we’d have to start over later. That night I put her in a diaper and put her to bed, and she would not go to sleep. She was stalling and playing and generally frustrating me. Not that this was unusual behavior, but she was really milking it. Around 10 o’clock she started telling me she had to go potty. I thought it was another stalling technique because she knew I wouldn’t say no to that request. However, she went every time she told me she had to, every single time, until she finally fell asleep at 1 a.m. The next day we groggily headed off to preschool in a diaper, and had zero accidents that day and only a few after that. Apparently she was ready to learn and the restless night was just her brain processing the info. The next step was getting her out of the pull-ups and into regular underwear, which seemed like a losing proposition until I found the right, Pixar-themed underwear. She was so pleased with her “pretty Jessie” underwear she insisted on wearing them overnight. I had heard overnight potty training was a different beast entirely, so I resigned myself to changing the sheets every other day for who knew how long. But after a couple of weeks, she got that too. I know the saying goes that the powers that be only give us what we can handle, and though I believe in no such powers, there seems to be an element of truthiness to the sentiment. I did not have the tenacity to work on potty training for more than two days, so lucky me that that was exactly how long it took my kid to figure it out.

Big girl eating popcorn and watching "The Very Hungry Caterpillar."

Big girl eating popcorn and watching “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

The other big and very recent milestone is Sonja’s move to the big girl bed. This started a couple of months ago when I put her mattress on the floor in an attempt to encourage her to make the switch. She thought this was a great jumping game, but could not calm down enough to go to sleep. Occasionally I’d put it on the floor for her to jump, until one day she asked if she could nap there. I said she could if she actually went to sleep, which she did. She also made it through the night on the floor and the next day’s nap, but the next night she was back in the crib. It continued off and on like this until she decided that under no circumstances was she going back in that crib, and figured out how to stay put at bedtime. Our crib converts into a toddler day bed, so I took the bars off and got a guard rail from a friend so Sonja wouldn’t fall out of bed. The guard rail made it sort of a “crib light,” and after a couple of days she wasn’t interested in that either. The last five nights I’ve been crossing my fingers that she doesn’t fall out of bed. So far so good.

J June 2014 (14)

Jumping and the big girl bed, all in one!

J June 2014 (13)

One satisfied customer

"Crib Light" only lasted a few days.

“Crib Light” only lasted a few days.

Sonja continues to grow her vocabulary and loves to talk,talk, talk. She can recount her day in detail and she’s a really good mimic. Apparently I use the word “stupid” more than I thought, and I often let out an irritated grunt when something isn’t working the way I want it to. I thought for a few days she got this strange noise from Puss in Boots until I caught myself in the act.

She still isn’t super interested in eating, but we get more days where she is hungrier and she seems to be putting on weight. 23 pounds this time. At this rate, she’ll finally have tripled her birth weight by her third birthday. Incidentally, babies typically triple their birth weight by their first birthday.

Silly girl in Pepper's crate. I swear this was entirely her idea. She did it when I turned my back to take Pepper outside.

Silly girl in Pepper’s crate. I swear this was entirely her idea. She did it when I turned my back to take Pepper outside.

Some of her current favorite activities are helping mom bake (especially when there are chocolate chips involved), putting together small puzzles, and jumping. Jumping is the name of the game now that she’s figured out how to do it. She loves to put on a cape and jump off the step from our dining room down into the living room while calling out, “Super Sonja to the rescue!” Moving items from one vessel to another – for instance, from a storage box into a reusable Target bag – continues to be a seemingly endless form of entertainment.

Her favorite "ride" at the Spring Fair

Her other favorite “ride” at the Spring Fair

For anyone that missed it on Facebook, we lost Sonja’s favorite stuffed animal named “Kitty,” and Shaun replaced it with an identical one he found on Facebook. It was a tearful reunion in the USA and a very cute video. The epilogue is that original kitty finally turned up at Grandma’s house, so now she has two. However, unlike her mi-mis, she usually only wants one kitty at a time.

We did some fun projects including dyeing Easter eggs for the first time, making decorative sand bottles, and painting her previously hideous maroon closet doors a simple, bright and cheery white, and then applying zoo decals. (Okay, I painted the doors myself, but Sonja insists she helped.)

Dyeing Easter eggs

Dyeing Easter eggs

We also went to the spring fair. Sadly, because we couldn’t find the kiddie-land with all the kiddie rides, we only managed one ride, the carousel. Sonja ignored my gentle encouragements to try a horse and insisted on sitting in the sleigh (bench) again. However a few weeks later on a weekend trip to the Supermall where there is also a merry-go-round, she decided that it was time to give that horse a try. Hooray!

Bench

Bench

Hooray for Horsies!

Hooray for Horsies!

I had heard so much about the terrible twos that when Sonja started throwing epic, flailing fits somewhat recently, I became curious. Was she super late to the terrible twos or was something else up? I had never, ever heard of the “temper-tantrum threes,” but according to the interwebs, that’s a thing. Thanks for warning me, other parents!

Pretty closet doors

Sonja helped!

So I found this to be a very interesting span of time. I don’t care what anyone else says about time going too fast, I am always ready for the next milestone, and we hit some big ones this time. It’s not like I won’t look back fondly (with a little memory boost from these posts), but I enjoy moving forward.

 

 

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My Girly Girl

Strawberry Dresses Forever

Strawberry Dresses Forever

If you have read any of the previous Sonja updates, you may remember that keeping her clothed through the winter was a real challenge. She wanted to be naked, so that she could see her tummy and her toes, and she was as insistent on this point as a two-year-old can be. To the uninitiated, that is very insistent. Realizing it was not a fight I could win, or at least a battle I could lose without doing too much damage, I turned up the heat a few notches (not that that bothered my popsicle toes any) and let her strip. I figured that by summer, when the weather was appropriate for running around topless, she’d be over the naked phase.

It is now spring and if you live in the Pacific Northwest, you know that the weather likes to tease us by throwing us a couple of hot days, making us think summer is just around the corner, then raining for two more months. Still, I used those few warm spring days to break out Sonja’s summer wardrobe. (She will still fit in much of the same stuff she wore last year, plus I have a gaggle of hand-me-downs.) As I was digging through her closet, she saw what she called “pretty clothes,” that she just had to wear right then.

This is probably the least amount of clothes she has ever owned.

This is probably the least amount of clothes she has ever owned.

I would not say we are out of the naked phase yet. Any time an item of clothing she is wearing gets a droplet of water on it, she insists on putting it in the washing machine, and will not get dressed again. However, she gets excited to wear her summer skirts and dresses, and this – among other things – makes me realize that despite all the railing against princess culture and the “pink aisles,” I am raising a very girly-girl.

I see less harm than I thought I would in my daughter putting on a skirt and twirling around, mostly because it’s her idea and she has so much fun doing it. She also likes to paint, build with blocks and bake with Mama, so there’s plenty of variety, but the specificity with which she chooses clothes surprises me. She’s not always interested in wearing clothes but when she is, she knows what she wants, and she nearly always refers to the skirt or shirt or shorts she has in mind as “pretty.” She steadfastly refuses to wear jeans anymore, and I think that’s because she for most of her life has had to wear leggings out of necessity – jeans just won’t stay put around her tiny waist. But the skirts which she has decided she loves so much have alleviated so much hassle on my part. She can wear a much smaller size – most of the ones hanging in her closet now are 12 months, and they fit her waist and are not too short. We can get away with much smaller sized shorts too. So all in all, summer is going to make things much easier for us.

I have to wonder if I missed the boat somewhere. If I let down my guard and allowed the culture to wash over me without applying enough critical thought. But you know, raising a two-year-old is exhausting. And she has an enormous vocabulary and excellent diction and as a literary person myself, I value these things. I’m sure that when she is capable of applying more critical thought to these subjects, we can have more in-depth discussions of gender, femininity and representations of women in the media. In the meantime, let’s put on a tutu and some dancing shoes, have a tea party and watch those puppets singing All Together Now again.

 

 

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My F***ing Darjeeling

I’ll level with you – the last couple of months have been really boring. Not a whole lot to do around here but sneeze through spring, though things are looking up as the weather warms. It even stopped raining long enough to fix (most of) our fence. But if you’re wondering what I’ve been up to since the last time I posted, the answer is tea. Obsessing over tea. OOT.

Fence Accompli

Fence Accompli

I replaced my coveted Mr. Tea Iced Tea maker that my husband just got me for Christmas with an electric tea kettle, after I decided the automated tea maker was over-steeping the tea. As you can see in the video below, the hot water spurts out over the tea leaves, then drips down into the pitcher. The water is always the same temperature, no matter the type of tea, and I would never brew even the strongest of black teas more than three minutes, whereas it takes about ten minutes for the Mr. Tea to finish its job.

In case you’re wondering, and I’m sure many of you are not, my OOT research over the last year or so has led me to the knowledge that some teas (particularly green) are more delicate than others, and brewing them too hot or too long will cause the naturally occurring and otherwise beneficial tea tannins to impart a bitter flavor in your drink.

The space-age electric kettle I bought, complete with alien-blue light, has six temperature buttons for steeping different types of teas. In the short time I’ve owned this device, I’ve developed a fondness for brewing one setting below the recommended temperature.

The Future of Tea

The Future of Tea

Choose Your Own Temperature

Choose Your Own Temperature

So I love my electric kettle, but it has thrown a few new wrenches into my tea making process. First of all, now I need a tea steeper. I ordered two large metal tea steepers online, both of which let tea leaves seep out into the water. That’s a mortal sin in the land of tea snobs. I had better luck with large fillable tea filters, but it seems wasteful. When I found this teapot online, I sent my husband on a Friday night mission to find it for Mother’s day, which was the following Sunday. All credit it to him, he came up with a decent replica, but the plastic tea steeper let loose too many leaves. I realized that the mechanism in the tea kettle was exactly the same as a French Press, and wouldn’t you know it, we already owned a French press. Brewing the tea loose in a French press is really fun to watch and it turns out good too. I’m just not sure that storing it in the fridge with the tea still inside is recommended, and pouring it into a different pitcher creates too many dishes.

I stumbled upon this teapot today for a mere six bucks, and I think I’ll keep it. The metal steeper (not shown) does a decent job of keeping leaves in and the pot itself is glass.

 

My New Teapot

My New Teapot

As a side note, someone bestowed upon me some darjeeling tea and it quickly became a favorite of mine. It steeps in just about a minute and is nice and smooth. However in my head, whenever I am brewing it, I have to call it “that fucking black darjeeling” which is a line from the wonderfully curse-laden Deadwood.

I must mention one other thing that drove my recent rash of OOT research. Why I asked myself, after the tea spent a day or two in the fridge, did it seemingly turn sweeter? By complete chance I read a Facebook thread that informed me of something called tea mold. Apparently, tea is not meant for long-term storage. It is also sensitive and can pick up odors from the refrigerator. Thus I decided to make half pitchers twice as often. My favorite part of drinking tea is when you pour the boiling (or otherwise appropriately hot) tea over a glass full of ice and the first sip is slightly warm. Mmm. Half the amount means twice the first sips.

Sadly, I’m still not done obsessing. Tea simply lends itself to the fussings of an obsessive personality. It’s hard to get it to come out the exact same way every time – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been served over-brewed tea at restaurants. But hey, if you’re just going to throw a bunch of sugar in there, I guess you don’t have to be quite as picky. Me, I’ll continue striving for perfection. Maybe one day I’ll realize it’s not achievable, throw up my hands in disgust and never drink tea again. In the meantime, I seriously think I’m closing in on the perfect cup of tea.

 

 

 

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My Two-and-a-Half Year Old

Two-and-a-half years have come and gone and on this, the third half-aversary, not a single thought of a cake or celebration crossed my mind. Still, this is an age when “and-a-half” counts as a significant thing. Sonja is so much more than a two-year-old and so far from a three-year old. Continue reading

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My February Quarantine

In typical Suite Story form, I started this blog post two weeks ago and gave up, because I thought writing about my irrational fear of the norovirus and the even more irrational fear that I am going to contract said virus in February, would be really boring. Probably it will be. But after failing to conquer this fear, it occurs to me I have issues.

Emetophobia – the fear of vomiting – is the fifth most common phobia according to Scott Stossel, author of the book My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind. Scott says he hasn’t vomited since 1977. That’s an impressive streak. I had my own 15 year streak going, and that lasted until about 20 hours into labor. Then five months later, in February of 2012, the whole family was struck with the norovirus and a new fear was born.

Even if you’re lucky enough to have never had norovirus, you’ve probably heard it mentioned on the news before. It is extremely contagious, and every year it sickens at least one entire cruise ship. The passengers must give up their dreams of a sunning themselves on the beach to endure what I imagine is a slow, nauseating and foul-smelling return trip home. The ship is then scrubbed stem to stern with a bleach solution because bleach is the only thing* that kills this nasty little bug.

If you happen to be stricken with norovirus, the symptoms, which mimic food-poisoning, are short-lived. You’ll suffer about three days – but those are probably the most miserable days you’ll have all year. But wait – that’s not all. You’ll continue spreading germs and infecting friends long after you feel better. Unlike a cold, in which you cease to be contagious as your symptoms dissipate, norovirus will cling to you and everything you touch for three whole weeks. Talk about your axis of evil.

I recently read this excellent article on Slate.com explaining why this bug should instill more fear in you than a CDC certified outbreak of swine flu, or the release of a new Miley Cyrus album. Slate gives the scientific specifics of why the virus spreads so easily and is so difficult to kill. I wish I had taken my fears and turned them into something useful by writing this article, but I didn’t. Instead, I’m writing this sad blog post because I can’t leave my house until I turn the page on the calendar.

The unfortunate thing about having mildly crazy fears like emetophobia, or the as-yet-unclassified “fear of February,” is that no one really cares. The fact that I try to force myself into a 28-day quarantine isn’t something that requires an intervention. In fact, sometimes I think it’s a great idea because we save money by dining in and shopping less.

After reading the Slate article, I thought well hell, there is no avoiding the unavoidable. I might as well live my February life as any other month. If I’m going to get sick, I am going to get sick. There’s a certain logic in that, but there is also a certain, perhaps better, logic in avoiding large, indoor crowds of people who may be exhaling germs in my general direction. Still I did well. I bucked up. I ran errands. I went shopping. I attended co-op preschool with my daughter as if nothing was wrong. And then a whopping three times I became convinced I had contracted the norovirus, and let’s just say those weren’t the most well-rested nights.

So screw it, I say. What’s the point in going out and hoping I won’t get sick, if that’s going to  scare me into actually being sick? I know at some point I will get sick. I will get the norovirus again. I have a child. This child will eventually go out into the world where other height-challenged persons will breathe germs on her which she will bring home to me. It probably won’t be in February, and then I’ll have a whole new month to fear. But for now, all I can do is what I can do, and all I can do is quarantine myself. Also, I can stay the hell away from any cruise ships.

*If you or anyone in your house has had norovirus, you can also spray Lysol Brand iii on anything you can’t bleach. Has to be Brand iii though, other Lysols aren’t approved for killing norovirus (a strain of rotavirus, which is how it is labeled on the container.) As a nice little bonus, this stuff smells pretty good so I like to use it year round, just in case.

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My Beverage Station

When Shaun and I were younger, living in an apartment, we would fantasize about the customizations we would make to our very own house, when we finally bought one. First and foremost on our list was to add a carbonation station in the kitchen, loaded with Coke syrup (for me) and Dr. Pepper syrup (for him.) Was this the best we could come up with? Probably. I think we also added a bowling alley. Hey, no one said we were very creative.

When we were shopping for houses, we saw one in Kent that stuck with me. We made an offer on it but we didn’t get it, this being in the days slightly before the housing market collapse. This house that we saw had nothing on the one we actually bought. It was smaller, it was but one story, it wasn’t near work or family. But this house had a brand new kitchen. Kitchens sell houses, or so the hosts used to say when I worked on Sell This House, and damned if they weren’t right. That kitchen sold that house to us, if only our offer had been accepted.

The house we actually live in is quite nice, except that the bathrooms and kitchen need to be remodeled. I wish this were a post about how we are about to embark upon such expensive and photogenic endeavors, but no. Sadly, this is a post about how I realized, with my recent creation of a “beverage station” in our kitchen eatery, our dream had come true.

A few years back Shaun bought a newfangled SodaStream machine, a heavily-promoted small kitchen appliance for which the syrups are now ubiquitous. It’s how ordinary folk like yourselves can make gourmet soda at home. I tried but never cared for the soda stream as all of the syrups contain some sort of sweetener. As you may recall, I’m not exactly sweet on saccharin.

But as you also may recall, I developed a love for tea and recently exchanged my old plastic iced tea maker for a new-and-improved deluxe model complete with glass pitcher.

And as you also may recall, if you are my number one fan, I embarked upon some winter “spring” cleaning during my Christmas break, moving the microwave to a corner and adding Shaun’s soda stream to the kitchen cart with my iced-tea maker, finally bringing the long-contemplated idea of the beverage station to life.

Kitchens are important, no doubt about it. The lost kitchen in Kent would have made some very nice dinners. Maybe that house would have been great too (but my hunch is the oddly-shaped trapezoidal living room would have been way worse than our slightly off-kilter rectangular one) but it seems either way, our dreams would have come true. So long as you’re looking at the one very specific dream through rose-colored glasses.

Behold the Beverage Station

Behold the Beverage Station

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My 2014 American/Chinese New Year’s Mashup

Last night, I marked the arrival of the new year – 2014 – with all the revelry bestowed upon any ordinary Wednesday. I did not make any resolutions, I did not go anywhere and I was asleep before midnight. Besieged by a headache and end-of-year fatigue, I didn’t even get to my annual New Year’s Resolution post, but I did post four other articles, so I hope you’ll forgive me.

As people around the world partied and imbibed to herald the arrival of 2014, I was thinking more about a friend who celebrates Chinese New Year, which will occur this year on January 31st. Continue reading

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My 2013 Blog Stats

I was not going to publish this again this year, as I didn’t think the numbers were really worthy of sharing. However, I was curious how this year compared to last, and oh how easy it was to click that link from last year’s post. So this is another one that’s just for me, for reference.

My favorite part of this whole report was the search terms that sent traffic my way in 2013. They were: should i take the job, should i take this job, do i take the job, which job should i take, and should i take the job?. It again lends credence to the theory that I might have something, if only I would keep up with blog # 2 about job hunting.

I was also amazed to learn that I uploaded 206 pictures this year.

Supposedly I had 66 new posts this year, but I think that number will jump to 76 once the “helper monkeys” factor in all the posts from the last couple of days.

So here it is for reference, future self:

http://suitejen.wordpress.com/2013/annual-report/

 

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