After the Storm There Are Pumpkins

Hey, friends. I hope those of you on the East Coast are safe and dry. We’re okay. our power stayed on (knockonwood! knockonwood! knockonwood!) and we seem to have gotten by with only a little bit of water in the basement. Because our power generally goes out quickly, we rarely get to watch storm coverage on TV. It looks like it was a scary night for so many of you. I hope you are all okay. My heart and best wishes go out to all of you.

Schools are canceled for us again today, so it is on to Day Two of entertain the children inside the increasingly messy house. Yesterday we carved pumpkins. Well, actually, I carved pumpkins while the munchkins told me where to cut and then grumped about when I didn’t execute their plans perfectly.

I don’t know. They just didn’t seem old or responsible enough to be in charge of their own knives.

I saw a lot of Facebook statuses and blog posts yesterday with photos of people’s really nicely executed pumpkin carving based on really creative ideas.

We decided to take a different approach.

It is a “hack until there is a hole in the pumpkin” approach.

Can you guess whose pumpkin was whose?*

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I wrote about Quinn and his fear of Halloween over at White Knuckle Parenting this week. It looks like I’m going to take him out of school tomorrow afternoon because he is FREAKING OUT with worry about scary costumes at the school parade. This is turning out to be a long week without much school.

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* Back left = Jack, middle = Quinn, back right = Sam

Undead

Well, friends. Remember how I was running from the undead at the Run For Your Lives race yesterday?

They caught me.

This is me, all cocky and happy and…clean, before I left my house:

pre-Zombie race

That t-shirt became more relevant to me not too much later.

This is me, all humbled and cold and filthy after the race—and this was AFTER I hit the shower area:

post-Zombie race

Stimey were people too.

Oh, and then there was this:

I died at Run For Your Lives

Zombie clown, anyone?

So, here’s how the race works: You get a belt that has three flags velcroed to it. Your goal is to get through the race with at least one flag still attached. If you are able to do that, you survive. If the zombies get your flags, you, well, you become like me—undead.

The race is a 5k, but it’s not really about speed, as far as I can tell. There were sections where the path through the woods was packed enough with people that you pretty much had to walk. Then there were sections where I was the only one around. (Also there was that uphill dead end that I followed some people up—and back down.) There were a bunch of obstacles, none of which were too difficult, most of which were incredibly muddy, and one of which was a freezing cold river we had to swim across.

There were zombie zones scattered throughout the race course where there were zombies (obviously) who tried to grab your flags. Once your flags were gone, the zombies would maybe nibble on you, but they were far less interested. To my shame, I discovered this early on. Some of them near the end of the race would give you high fives.

I was there by myself, which was okay. In the zombie apocalypse, friends are dead weight. I’m pretty sure that surly loners do way better. Isn’t that how it always goes in zombie movies? Also, none of my friends were willing to run a zombie-infested obstacle race.

I had signed up for the noon heat (there were start times every 30 minutes) and finished checking in about 20 minutes before the start time, so I headed over to the start line and chose to be an entree.

RFYL start line

Although maybe I should have chosen dessert because I’m so sweet.

The start line consisted of long tunnels with gates over the front of them. It was pretty creepy in there. The dude in front of me in line freaked out because a spider almost touched him. I felt a little bit like I’d found my people.

RFYL start tunnel

Nothing claustrophobic and horrible in here!

You should know that all of the photos here I took later in the day. I wasn’t dumb enough to ruin my electronics by taking them with me. On the course, it was just me, my three flags, and a spider that may or may not have ended up on my shoulder.

The race started, we ran through a fog, and ZOMBIES! This is the bottom of Zombie Zone 1:

Zombie Zone 1

Runners are bunched together here and harder to pick off. Evidently it is easier to hide in a group.

I made it through the first two zombie zones with all three of my flags and I was feeling pretty awesome. I might have gotten a little cocky. Then that zombie nun in zone 3 laid eyes on me and I was her bitch. Flags 2 and 3 were taken pretty quickly after that. See, there was a hill that slowed me down and made me easy pickin’s.

I also almost lost the free drink ticket attached to my bib whilst hurling myself over a chest-high wall, which would have been REALLY devastating.

I spent a good amount of time watching a couple of race sections after my heat and fitness didn’t seem to be the deciding factor in whether you survived or not. I saw a lot of really badass looking runners get stripped of their flags by cunning zombies. I think there was a strong element of luck and maybe an advantage of running with a group. So much for my loner theory.

From there on out, I decided that since I was without flags, I would just try to run the rest of the race, have fun, and kick ass on the obstacles. There was a muddy area and some people wiped out, landing in the mud, much to their chagrin. Looking back on it, it’s kind of cute that they were upset about such a small amount of muddy water considering what was to come.

What was to come was that river, referenced above.

There was no observation area for the river, or I would have taken photos for you, but basically, there was a river that was probably 50 feet across. There was a rope strung across it to hold onto, but the only way across was to jump in and swim. I could almost touch the bottom if I put my feet down, but I just ended up pulling myself across and paddling with my feet.

Ever run a 5k soaking wet? Through mud?

IT WAS AWESOME.

The obstacles were mostly pretty simple. There were some tunnels to climb through, barbed wire to belly crawl under, more walls to go over, mud hills to go up and over only to end up in mud baths at the bottom, and a fogged up building with dangling electric wires you had to avoid. There were also natural obstacles, such as the incredibly steep decline—followed by a similarly steep incline—that we had to maneuver.

By the time we got to the top of that hill, we all looked like staggering zombies ourselves. It was brutal.

I’d like a little extra credit considering that I ran most of this race with dried mud on my hands, which is one of my biggest sensory stressors. I mean, fortunately I was also soaking wet so I had something to wipe them on.

The good people at Run For Your Lives had saved some of the best for last though. Just in case you had dried off, there was one last big slide into a big pit full of muddy water.

See?

RFYL slide

I stood at the top of this thing cursing for a while before I went down it. I ended up completely submerged in the murky water.

Then, just in case the water had cleaned all the mud off of you, the very last obstacle was a muddy belly crawl under an electric fence. I learned two things at that obstacle: (1) My elbows are surprisingly strong body-pulling hooks, and (2) I don’t like electric shocks.

RFYL last obstacle

The tall fence at the right is the top of the obstacle. See the people going under?

After the race, I headed over to the showers, which is a nice way of saying, “pipe with holes drilled into it spraying ice-cold water onto a tennis court.”

The "showers"

The “showers” are that horizontal white pipe on the right. They had the added benefit of making the race course muddy where it ran past the tennis court.

I have never been so happy to stand in a tent and change into dry clothes in front of strangers in my life. Thank God it was a pretty warm day. I can only imagine what it would have been like if it hadn’t been 65 degrees.

I had such a blast. I spent the next two hours taking photos and watching zombies chase runners. It was so much fun. I’m definitely going back next year. Let me know if you want to be part of my mob, so we can try to overpower the zombies en masse.

Also, because I know you find zombies as amusing as I do, I have some photos from the event to show you. Enjoy!

Zombies this way

Warning! Zombie photos ahead!

zombies

I liked the zombies who had a sense of humor.

zombies

Also those who committed to the part. This guy was actually my favorite zombie.

Algernon and zombies

Algernon enjoyed watching the zombies too.

resting zombies

Even zombies have to take a break.

zombie shift change

I was there for the zombie shift change. I felt bad for the runners who got the fresh zombies. Everyone knows fresh zombies are the fastest.

goodbye, zombies!

Have fun eating the runners, zombies!

donated shoes

Lots of people donated their shoes after the race. What a great idea, huh? I wish I’d known they do this; I have some old shoes I would have loved to get rid of. And then I wouldn’t have had to lug gross, muddy shoes around all afternoon.

Algernon and medal

Algernon didn’t race, but I’m pretty sure he would have survived if he had.

danger

Until next year…

I’m so glad I ran this race. I am endlessly entertained by zombies and I love running, so mixing the two of them together was so much fun for me. I think it is highly likely that I’ll become an obstacle race junkie, but I’m so glad Run For Your Lives was my first.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find some BRAAAAIIIINNNNSSS…

I Struggle.

I was recently at a conference where one of the presenters* stopped early on in his presentation, said that he hadn’t quite found his rhythm yet, and put up a slide. Following is my version of the slide he put up:

I struggle.

I struggle.

It stopped me pretty completely in my tracks. It is such a simple thing to say, but it is something that most of us spend much of their day trying to hide. Simply admitting, “I struggle,” is an extremely powerful thing.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t struggle. Some struggle harder than others, that is for sure, but when you think you see someone who doesn’t, you should remember that you are looking at their outside and comparing it to your inside.

I hear from a lot of people who struggle. They get in touch with me to ask for advice or to say thank you or just to talk.

It might be nice for them to hear that I struggle too.

I would assume that you know that I struggle, but you might not. I know the face I put out in the world and that face struggles far less than my interior.  I have walls I put up, both for protection and to hide my struggles. Those struggles are not crisis-level for the most part and are just a part of daily life. Sometimes they are big, sometimes they are small, sometimes they are crushing, sometimes I compensate without even noticing them.

How I struggle and about what are not all that relevant here. Saying it, acknowledging it, nodding at it, and continuing on are what I think is the relevant thing.

I don’t have much of a point here. I just want to say that I know you struggle and it’s okay. You’re not alone. I struggle too. Maybe I look like I don’t, but I do. I am a little nervous to post this because what if it turns out that, in fact, I am the only one? Somehow, though, I am guessing that I am not alone.

I struggle.

* Doctoral candidate Matthew Moore at AutCom. Thank you so much for exposing yourself this way. It made me think.

p.s. If you’re looking for a word that loses all meaning after you say it a bunch of times, “struggle” is good for that.

Ennui, Part MMXCI

Today kinda sucked. I have a list of reasons why, but I’m not going to enumerate them here. Enlisterate them? Ensomethingerate them?

Nothing big. Just tired and stuck in a bad late bedtime/long nap cycle. Also, I am watching Quinn have some struggles that are kind of tough on him. There is very little worse than looking at his tiny, adorable face quiver with sadness tears.

But! I do have something cheerful from White Knuckle Parenting to share with you. I wrote about my volunteering at my kids’ schools, something that went kind of poorly for Quinn and me today, but is usually a lot of fun.

I Have a Great Idea!

No, Stimey. You don’t. In the future, if I ever say, “HEY! I HAVE A GREAT IDEA!” this should be your response:

“No. You don’t. The activity you are contemplating will end with you feeling angry and your children feeling resentful. You should probably just let them stay home and play video games. Attempts to leave the house never work out well. Attempts to leave the house are NOT great ideas. Good day, ma’am. I SAID, GOOD DAY, MA’AM!”

Otherwise, I will end up in this situation:

not a great idea

You’re on the edge of your seat, aren’t you?

So, I am on the PTA at Quinn’s school. I am the secretary, which means I take minutes at meetings and can otherwise pretty much keep my head down and not volunteer for anything else because, Look! I have an elected position here! I already help!

It’s actually quite a calculating move. If that doesn’t work, then I sigh deeply and mutter about having kids in three elementary schools. That is a really effective backup plan.

Well, at one of those meetings where I was to be taking notes, I didn’t keep my head down far enough and I ended up agreeing to be on the “Cultural Arts Committee.” Basically, what that committee does, as far as I can tell, is attend some Cultural Arts Showcases that the school district holds where acts that want to be hired for assemblies do 15-minute versions of their acts. They hold five days of these showcases and I volunteered to go to two. The first day went from 9:30 to 2. Do the math on how many 15-minute acts that is. It was a long day.

By the second day I went, I was totally into the performances. I even had to participate in one of the acts as an audience participator for an improv group. I pretty much made the whole day worthwhile.

I was that good.

The fifth day of the showcase was today from 9:30 to 12:30. There was no school today, so none of us committee members were going to go because we all had our kids at home. Then I was all, “I HAVE A GREAT IDEA! Kids like assemblies! I bet they would like 12 assemblies all in a row! What a GREAT idea!”

(You: “I SAID GOOD DAY, MA’AM!”)

This seemed like a really fun idea until we arrived at 9:30 in the morning to a Celtic music band complete with kilts, microphones, and amplified bagpipes, whereupon Quinn tried to crawl under a chair.  I think Quinn is now afraid not only of zombies, but bagpipes as well.

The band was actually pretty awesome. They were awesome enough that I felt bad that we spent the whole 15 minutes with my hands pressed securely against Quinn’s ears, which framed the pained grimace on his face. I almost left right there. But there was science up next and I know that my kids are nerds and like science, so we stuck it out.

Quinn wanted to sit front and center and he was smiling, so I let him. Unfortunately, this did not last for long.

This was a dark few minutes.

Way to be a good audience, Quinn McJerkerson.

I spent a few minutes at the end of this act and the beginning of the next act wallowing in self pity. You know of what I speak: Why is it always my kids? Why can’t my kids pull their shit together? Can’t they just go somewhere and enjoy the fun like everyone else in the damn room?

Then I checked myself, remembered that there are sensory issues and fear of unpredictable acts at play, and took Quinn and Jack out to the hall for a minute. (Sam was in ideal-student heaven.) I chatted with them and told them my expectations and how we have to respect the performers. Then I found the building’s cafeteria, where I bought snacks and cans of lemonade for everyone. I figured that spending the next two and a half hours policing open cans of juice were worth the peace that they would bring.

God love snacks.

God love snacks.

Things were looking up—especially considering that there were no more bagpipes on the horizon.

Many of the acts asked for volunteers from the audience, which was awesome for my kids, who probably rarely get chosen at school assemblies because there are a million kids, but when there are only 20 kids and 12 acts, your odds go way up.

There was one guy, Andres, who wanted volunteers to basically jump up and down, which had Jack’s name written all over it. Then they had to act out animal actions and learned some Spanish words. The guy was trying to finish his show, but Jack volunteered that he knew how to say cat in Spanish, so the dude added a little section for cats. Jack couldn’t decide how a cat would move, so Quinn launched out of his chair, having spent many hours contemplating cats in his brain.

We are gato.

We are gato. Jumping gato.

Incidentally, in my head, that is how Quinn moves most of the time—blurry-like. I liked Uno, Dos, Tres con Andres. He was cool. Available to visit grades K-5.

Sam got to be an actor in the bullying skit. That lady asked the audience to help her figure out gestures for certain phrases. My awesome kids were quick to volunteer gestures for “stupid” and “sissy.” In fact, Jack’s gesture for sissy was “a little violent, but okay.” The whole thing stressed me out a little.

Eventually we got to the jazz ensemble, which is when I discovered that Quinn doesn’t like jazz.

Jazz hands, a la Quinn

Jazz hands, a la Quinn

To be honest, I don’t much like jazz either, which is something I try to not tell people, because they tend to think me unsophisticated and dipshittish if I tell them. This little group was actually pretty good. They were not of the interminable, noodley jam type of jazz group that makes me fall asleep in self-defense.

Nonetheless, it was time for Quinn, Jack, and I to take another walk.

Quinn had to abandon the territory he'd staked out and was jealously guarding.

Quinn had to abandon the territory he’d staked out with coats and was jealously guarding.

When we returned, Quinn wanted to know how many acts were left, so I told him three and that the last act was the Maryland Zoo. Quinn took that to mean that they would be bringing a baby tiger for him to play with. Seriously, I said that the zoo was coming and he immediately perked up because of the tiger they were bringing. It was that fast.

I was all, “I don’t think they’re bringing a baby tiger, Quinn,” and he was all, “But they could bring a baby tiger,” and I set about to trying to repair 39 years of atheism by promising lifelong servitude to God if only the Maryland Zoo could bring a baby tiger—or at the very least a non-subpar animal.

You know what I’m talking about. No one wants to see another box turtle.

No offense to the box turtle.

We watched a dance performance (They counted aloud, “one, two, three, [pause], five, six, seven, [pause]”; Jack counted aloud, “[pause], [pause], [pause], four, [pause], [pause], [pause], eight,” and Quinn waited for the tiger.

We watched a Shakespeare performance, which Sam loved (Jack shouted “to be or not to be!” in the middle of the dramatization of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to much acclaim), and still Quinn waited for the tiger.

Then it was the zoo’s turn. They had a small, baby tiger-sized box, but I wasn’t hopeful. Quinn started saying, “I hope it’s a kitty! I hope it’s a kitty!” Then I saw what was inside and breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t a baby tiger, but it wasn’t subpar either. The two women from the zoo gave their lesson on habitats of the world and then…they released the Kraken!

I mean the penguin.

I mean the penguin.

His name is Tails and he is awesome. We were not allowed to pet Tails, because…well, would you let a room full of kids pet Tails? We did get to see him up close though, which made my membership on the Cultural Arts Committee totally worth it.

See?

I want one for a pet now. What could possibly go wrong?

I want a pet penguin now. What could possibly go wrong?

And with that, we were free.

Now, remember how I was all, “Oh, this was a terrible idea”? Well. I kind of feel like we turned it around. I think once I consciously decided to recognize that my kids weren’t being jerks on purpose and that I just needed to take some simple steps to accommodate them, we were able to hack it. At the end of it all, each of them said that they’d had fun—although I don’t know if that is truth or just the penguin high they were riding.

In the end, I’m glad I took them. I’d probably do it again. See, this is the great curse of being a big, dumb, stupid optimist like me: I always come away seeing the bright side and the silver lining, which leads me to believe that the next idea will be great too.

Don’t worry though. The next outing is going to be GREAT.

Giraffes vs. Team Stimey

Remember how I am teaching second graders about writing, because of my brilliant and age-appropriate writing style? Now I’m doing it in TWO classes, both Quinn’s class and for the teacher who taught Jack in second grade a couple of years ago. I started there this week. One of the kids in her class asked if I could be their substitute teacher AND I earned a star from the teacher. Plus, both classes thought my story that I wrote for them was awesome and that my drawings were really good.

Best day of school ever.

I figured that if 7-year-olds were into my story, you might be as well. Don’t worry, they’re smart 7-year-olds. I’m not underestimating you. Too much.

I showed them how I organized my writing and took notes and then I read my story to them. I chose giraffes, because they recently learned about giraffes as well. Unfortunately, some of their facts conflicted with mine. They were all too happy to tell me when that happened.

I originally wrote this with my last name attached instead of Team Stimey, so I had to make some adjustments. I may also have some commentary, [which I will include in bolded brackets].

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Giraffes vs. Team Stimey [the comparison kind of “vs.”—not the fight kind of “vs.”]

Giraffes are very cool animals that have some similarities with Team Stimey, which is my family. [Really, I should have written “and differences,” but I didn’t reread it before I printed it out because I’m an awesome “teacher.”] Both are mammals and are pretty fun to have around, but giraffes are the world’s tallest mammals. They are often 14 to 19 feet tall. [The video the kids watched told them ALL GIRAFFES ARE 18 FEET TALL AND ANYTHING ELSE IS WRONG, INCLUDING YOUR GUEST FAMOUS BLOGGER—PLEASE BE SURE TO OBJECT TO HER HEIGHT RANGE ESTIMATE FOR GIRAFFES!] The tallest member of Team Stimey is just barely more than six feet tall. The shortest member of Team Stimey is Quinn.

Alex and Quinn vs. a giraffe

I accidentally made Quinn as tall as Alex, so then I had to put him on a box.

Because giraffes have such long legs, they can run really fast. They can run for up to 35 miles an hour for short distances and ten miles an hour for long distances. The fastest that a member of Team Stimey has ever run is six miles an hour. A giraffe could run faster than your car is allowed to drive on the street outside the school, so maybe if you’re in a hurry, you should ride a giraffe home.

I should be riding that giraffe.

Try not to notice that my face seems to have suffered a disfiguring jogging accident.

Team Stimey has five members, which is similar to giraffes. Giraffes roam grasslands in Africa in groups of about six.

Six giraffes ALMOST equals five Stimeys.

Six giraffes ALMOST equals five Stimeys.

[When I showed Sam that picture, he asked why one giraffe was in the tree. I guess I have to work on my perspective.]

Giraffes eat hundreds of pounds of leaves each week. Those leaves are mostly found at the very tops of trees, where most other animals can’t reach. Even Team Stimey can’t get that high—and most of them wouldn’t eat leaves even if they could.

Quinn liked this picture a lot.

Quinn liked this picture a lot. He was all, “Salad? Ick!”

Giraffe tongues are 21 inches long [even if the district-approved giraffe video claims that they are 18 inches long, wrecking my whole demonstration of showing how high up my arm 21 inches reached], which is almost as long as my arm. My tongue measures three and a half inches, which is exactly as long as my tongue. [Pro tip: sticking a measuring tape into the back of your throat is not recommended.]

Not to scale.

Not to scale. Also, kind of creepy.

If you couldn’t figure out that you are looking at a giraffe from its shape, you can tell because of its awesome spotted coat. No two giraffes have exactly the same pattern. That is something that is the same with Team Stimey. We all look kind of alike, but none of us are exactly the same.

Stimey and Quinn

This particular section might have worked better if Quinn looked anything like me.

I also discovered that giraffes are very cool. I think I’d like to see one close up. If any of you want to see a member of Team Stimey close up, Quinn will be playing four-square at recess.

[And that is how you write an awesome, factual essay featuring text elements and illustrations. BOOYAH!]

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I can’t believe that I have never written about sleep habits over at White Knuckle Parenting. I finally got around to it this week. The takeaways: Newborns are jerks and never trust a toddler with a steak knife.