Sunday, December 31, 2017

Time jump

There is a gap here between current posts and older ones. Eventually this gap will be filled with all the posts. If you want to read really old posts, see below. Also know that if I were writing them today, I would probably be writing them very, very differently. Original comments may or may not be included on the posts.

My Year in Running

This has been the Year of the Run for me—well, also the year of a lot of other bullshit too, but let's not focus on that. So, yeah, let's go ahead and call it the Year of the Run.

I averaged just under a hundred miles per month, which seems like not a lot considering I feel like I was running ALL THE TIME, but I guess if you run slow, like I do, you can run a lot and still not cover an enormous amount of distance.

My grand total of miles run in 2017 was 1,197.90 miles. I ran for 245-1/2 hours. I ran 217 times. I burned more than 187,000 calories.

Not so shabby.

I am also ending my year with a Thanksgiving to New Year's running streak, meaning I have run every day over the past 39 days and will run a race tomorrow. When I've done this in the past, I've made my daily minimum one mile, but this year I decided to run at least a 5K every day, which I am happy to say I did. Most days I ran exactly 5K, but streaks don't offer extra points for going the extra mile. (Literally.)

This year is also the year of my first marathon. Since they are so arduous, I decided to do two of them: Houston in January and the Marine Corps Marathon in October. I also ran three half marathons, including a half marathon PR in September. Add in eleven other races with distances ranging from 5K to 20 miles, and I had a pretty full calendar.

In a fun twist, Alex also had a Year of the Run. He ran his first ever races this year and I am disgruntled as hell to tell you that he has now officially surpassed me as the better runner in the family. He ran five races this year, each one a different length, which I think is kind of impressive. (5K, 5 miles, 10 miles, 10K, and 15K) He's signed up for his first half marathon in March, although he has a pretty hefty work schedule between now and then, so I'll be double impressed if he pulls it off.

I'll be double impressed and bitter if he pulls it off in way better form than me. (I'm running it too.)

I feel great about what I have accomplished this year, especially in terms of endurance, but wasn't quite sure where to go after this. I know that I want to work on speed and weight loss, which will lead to my being able to kick the shit out of a marathon in a couple of years. But I am also a person who does well with goals and projects, so I've been scheming on what to do while I'm working on speed and fitness. I have a plan, but I'm not quite ready to put it out there yet. Soon, my pretties. Soon.


In addition to all my running plans, I continue to believe that I will increase the frequency of my blogging. That said, I'm a realist and I am going to be moving from my self-hosted to a free platform soon, so I don't have to pay every month just to keep my content up. If you're a subscriber, it is possible that this will affect my feeds and the delivery of my content to your inbox. I'll keep you updated here and on Facebook, but if you don't hear from me for a long time, check in to see if I've moved.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

New Ink

I have wanted a new tattoo for a long time. I've had ideas for different elements of it dating back for years, but the idea coalesced only in the last couple of years. I have a rule that I have to want a specific tattoo for a year before I am allowed to get it. This prevents me from listening to my impulsive mind and then cursing Past Jean in three months when I no longer think a rash tattoo decision was a good idea.

You know how Past Jean makes rash decisions. It's a known thing.

Anyway, I finally had my idea and then it turns out that when I contacted tattoo artists back in April, no one could get me in until October when I had my consultation and then finally last Thursday when Fernando at British Ink gave me my tattoo.

I love it so much. Soooo much. It's really pretty. AND he spelled every word correctly.

Wanna see?

That pink splotch on the floor is from when Fernando spilled hot pink ink all over himself and his stuff just prior to inking me. I gave him the benefit of the doubt regarding his motor skills because I’m also clumsy but good at my job.

This tattoo is crammed full of symbolism and significance and I am about to tell you all about it, so read on if you're interested and know that if you're not interested and stop reading here, you won't miss all that much.


The song lyric there is from Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up In Blue." I love that song and I love that lyric, which, in its entirety, is, "The only thing I knew how to do was to keep on keepin' on like a bird that flew." (Hence the bird.) I think that keepin' on is a nice encouragement to have on my arm where I can see it whenever I want to. I'm very pleased with the first words I've chosen to put on my person.

I knew that I wanted a bird, but i had to decide what bird. I considered a hummingbird, but apparently hummingbirds are kinda assholes and no matter how fitting that might seem and how pretty they are, I decided against them. I ended up looking for symbolism in birds and found that the chickadee has some nice symbolism, at least according to this one obscure website I found.

Plus they’re super cute and fluffy.

I especially like the part about being happy in the self, which is what I was going for with my design. Which leads me to why I chose a negative space bird instead of having Fernando actually ink the bird. That space represents a Stimey-shaped space for me in the world. That was inspired by Tom Petty's song "You Don't Know How it Feels," in which he sings, "Think of me what you will, I've got a little space to fill."

Plus I found this great shot of a chickadee that was perfect for my purposes.

I especially love the feet.

I knew that I wanted to get three birds to represent my three kids. They are not negative space because I wanted to show that they are like me, but they are their own people. I knew I wanted Alex in there too, but wasn't sure how to do it. I asked Fernando and after I told him a little bit about Alex, especially his love of music and concerts, he suggested the music notes. Perfect!

The colors are because they are pretty and also because they include colors from all over the spectrum, which has all kinds of happy connotations.

If you're not into symbolism, it's also just a pretty bird. So it has that going for it.

The tattoo is currently wrapped in some sort of plastic until Monday, so it's not at its best. I'm looking forward to unwrapping and washing it.

The plastic draws up the ink a little so it looks blurry. It’s kind of a fun effect.

It is always a little scary to get a new tattoo. No matter how much you have thought about it, it's a big deal, especially when it is someplace so visible. Also, since I haven't gotten a tattoo for 20 years, I was worried that I might have wussified in the intervening years and not be able to handle the needles. Turns out I'm just as tough now as I was then. Yay, me!

I couldn't be happier with my result. Fernando really listened to me and worked hard to make sure I got what I wanted. He was really nice too. I wholeheartedly recommend him.

I'm also starting the clock for my next tattoo. I'll tell you all about it in a year (or two or three).

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Race Report: The 42nd Marine Corps Marathon

or, if you want to be dramatic about the whole thing: Stimey Versus the Marathon.

(Hat tip to Joe Versus the Volcano) Do you see that little tag hanging off of my race bib? It was my “free beer at the finish line” coupon. I knew I didn’t want a free beer, but I left it there juuuuuuust in case I changed my mind. It mildly bothered me for 26.2 miles. I didn’t want a free beer at the finish line. I knew I didn’t want a free beer at the finish line. I should have ripped it off at the start line.

Hey guys! I ran myself a marathon a couple weeks ago! I gotta tell you, I really did learn some things about marathons during this race. I also learned some things about myself. And I learned some things about marathons as they relate to myself. It was quite a mental journey.

If I had a bucket list, the Marine Corps Marathon would have been on it. My dad and my uncle were both marines and I have a fondness for that military branch. Plus, it's a big, local marathon that takes runners sightseeing all over DC. I have wanted to run this race for a long time, so after I ran the Houston Marathon and was looking to do another one, hopefully faster and better, MCM was a natural choice. What could possibly go wrong?

My hope and goal going into this marathon was to not have to take walk breaks (other than through water stops, because I ALWAYS walk through water stops) and to hopefully finish it faster than I finished Houston.

Neither of those things happened. And I'm okay with that. I finished in 6:14:53 and I took a lot of walk breaks. Frankly, after about mile 15, I shuffled through the last 11 miles, either at a walk or a slow run. One of the things I learned about myself is that I am a person who, at this point in my running career, cannot run a marathon without taking walk breaks and that is GREAT. Because I have finished two marathons and I feel pretty darn good about that.

Let me start at the beginning.

Even getting to the start of the marathon was an ordeal. The Metro opened at 6am and I was on a train at 6:05. Trouble started when I and 80 gajillion of my closest friends got off the train at the Pentagon and tried to get up the escalators from the train platform. It took at least 15 minutes to do that, and the lines continued from there.

By the time I got to the pre-race runners' village, it was well after 7 and every line for the porta potties was long enough to make me late to the start line. I had read the race booklet though, because I'm a nerd like that, and it said there were "150 lesser used" porta potties on the road where they start the race. I crossed my fingers and continued up the road, hoping they weren't lying to me. Happily, the race booklet was right and I only had to wait behind about five people. I was very pleased with myself and also very relieved that I didn't have to run a marathon with, like, 40 ounces of liquid sloshing around my insides.

I wormed my way up to the start line by 7:40, a full 15 minutes before the race was supposed to start. It was not a stress free or relaxing start to my day. But at least I wasn't sweaty yet. Much.

Look how dry and non-crampy I look.

There are three time cutoffs in the MCM (mile 17 at about 4-1/2 hours, mile 20 at 5-1/4 hours, and mile 22 at 5-3/4 hours). I was pretty sure that, barring disaster, I would make these cutoffs pretty easily. I was, however, worried that it would take me half an hour to get over the start line because I was in the back of the pack and that time would get me DNFed. Happily, things went smoothly, and even though they started the race ten minutes late, I was over the start in just a few minutes.

After I crossed the start line, I ran for six and a quarter hours and then I finished. The end.

Just kidding.

But there's some truth to that. I spent a lot of time in my head during this race. My only constant was continued forward motion—except for that time I dropped my Clif Bloks and had to run backwards to pick them up. Otherwise, it was one foot in front of the other over and over and over.

This will sound obvious to all of you, but it hit me hard at about mile ten: Marathons are long. I felt tired pretty early on, but I've run tired before. It was fun to run down into Hains Point because that was the location of my first 10K almost exactly four years ago. Hains Point is also the location of the wear blue mile honoring fallen service members, which is really quite an amazing thing. I have never run a mile in a race where it was so quiet.

After all of that, you get to the halfway mark, which is great because then at that point you're all in because it's too late to turn around and walk back. (<—joke) Actually what the halfway mark means is that then you have to do what you've just done...again. But! Every step after the halfway mark is taken on the down side of the mileage.

Well. It made sense to me. There are all kinds of mind games I play with myself on long runs.

I ran for something like 16 years to get off of the peninsula. I knew that the national mall section was coming up and I was looking forward to that, but I forgot the two-something additional miles down and back Independence Avenue before that. I'm pretty sure there were monuments and views to look at, but I didn't see any of that. (See: "I spent a lot of time in my head.") I think it was in this area that I took my first walk break.

After that, I ran up and down the shaft of the race. (see map)

See it up there to the left of the Capitol?

The shaft portion was tough. I had expected to be a little more excited about running around the mall and past the Capitol, but mostly I was just tired and parts of my body were trying to cramp up, which is not something I usually experience. I stopped to stretch a few times, but I would, like, stretch my hamstring and my quad would seize up. At one point later in the race, I was moving from a walk to a run and my ankle tried to cramp. My ANKLE. I didn't even know that could happen.

None of that is evident from this oddly cheerful photo though.

I mean, except you can tell I’m going, like, 4MPH because even though I’m running, both of my feet are aaaaaaalmost on the ground.

Mile 20 is where you "Beat the Bridge," meaning you cross over the 14th Street Bridge before the cutoff. People were very pleased to have made it.

A woman right behind me stopped suddenly with a cry of pain and I turned around and asked her if she was okay and she gave me this quizzical look and I was all, "I mean, you know," and gestured at the road indicating the base level of suffering I was hoping she hadn't crossed. This woman had zero words she could formulate about her state of being, but she nodded, so I carried on.

It was right around here that I determined that because I wasn't going to win any land-speed records—or even Jean-speed records—that I was going to be cheerful and make jokes and generally try to have a good time for the rest of the race and not worry about my time at all. I figured I could kill myself trying to shave 15 minutes off of my time or I could enjoy myself—you know, to the extent that you can enjoy the last 10K of a marathon.

I was taking significant walk breaks by this time and I was not alone. It seemed like most people were doing the same. The last cutoff point was at mile 22. After that, I heard some people who were all, "Now we can walk the rest of the way. We did it!" Frankly, by the end of the race back at my end, many people didn't seem to be doing any running at all, which was gratifying because I got to pass them. You know, verrrrryy slooooowly.

The bridge and subsequent descent into Crystal City was kinda brutal. It was HOT by this time and there was no shade. A marine was encouraging us by claiming that there was shade and water up ahead. He was right, and even better than that, there was also a fire hose spraying water into the air that we could run through. That was fantastic. There were maybe three or four of those in the next few miles, but one of them was on the far outside of a corner instead of the inside and after much internal debate I decided that I didn't want to run the extra 20 feet, so I skipped it. I ran through the rest of them though.

Crystal City really pulled it out for us. Some lady gave me a handful of ice and at first I was all, "I really only need one of these, what am I going to do with the rest?" and then I discovered that each ice cube actually had four uses: (1) keeping my hand cool, (2) keeping my forehead cool when I wiped it with the ice cube, (3) cooling off the inside of me when I put it in my mouth, and (4) making me less thirsty. I realized at this point that I had lost all sense of personal hygiene (yes, I'll wipe that on my body then eat it) and also, damn, I had been really hot. That ice pepped me up enough that I ran at a reasonable pace for a decent chunk of time.

A kid gave me a tiny cup of ice cubes later on and when I still had some ice in there, a different woman filled it with water and I had maybe two swallows of ice water at mile 23 and it was DIVINE.

After that, it was just a matter of slugging it out to the end along a long, hot road.

I think you can start to really see my sunburn here. I didn’t feel it until hours later. I had other pains to deal with.

I amused myself by making little quips to other runners. ("Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch," I told one woman I passed. "All the things on me hurt," I said to a cheering bystander as I gestured at myself from head to toe. "If my watch says 26.2, does that mean I can stop?" I asked another, who told me her watch said the same thing. And so on.) There were others who were doing the same, and I found it very endearing.

The last quarter of a mile or so involves a left turn up a hill and then a flat tenth of a mile or so through the finish line. I didn't sprint the hill or anything, but I have never felt a hill less. At this point, there was nothing that could put me through more exertion. Plus, I knew once I hit the finish line, I could stop running.

That medic wasn’t there for me. I swear it.

There was a long line of marines standing in a line after the finish line giving high fives and handshakes to finishers. It was really cool. Although I think part of their purpose was to distract us from the long walk we had to make to the finish festival.

Before we left the finish area, there were marines giving out medals. But they weren't just handing them to finishers. The woman who gave me mine put it over my head and then saluted me. It was quite a moment. A marine...saluting me. I felt pretty honored.


Alex met me at the finish to drive me home, thank God, because I can't even imagine standing in the line to catch a bus back to a metro station and then sitting on a train with all my sweatiest buddies. I ran 26.2 (or 26.73 according to my Garmin, but who's quibbling?) miles, but Alex drove me home and he's kind of a hero for that. He did make me walk up a hill to get to the car and he did walk faster than me, forcing me to hobble to keep up with him, but that's okay. Also, like, three body parts seized up on me when I got into the car and I had to contort into a plank position in the seat to work all the cramps out.

And that was the 2017 Marine Corps Marathon. It was a journey, both literal and metaphorical. Like, I said, I learned that it's okay for me to walk during a marathon and I don't feel the slightest bit bad about it. I also learned that if you ever ask me how a marathon is, I will answer you by saying "hard." Always and forever. Marathons are no goddamn joke. Another lesson was to get out of my head and focus on the experience, something I intended to do going into the race, but only managed to do for some of the miles.

Another very important thing I learned is that my body did the absolute best it could do at this distance. I realize that at my body weight and fitness level, I am not going to be running any speedier marathons any time soon. I think I might work on those things for a while and then maybe run another marathon in two or three years. I'm not saying never again, but I also know that two marathon training cycles basically on top of each other kinda wrecked me and I need to put in some serious work on myself before attempting it again.

Lastly, I learned that it is a good idea to buy a sweatshirt with an ostentatious marathon logo on it for two reasons. First, because if you spend a million dollars on a hoodie at the expo, you will finish the goddamn race so you can legitimately wear the thing.

Also I learned how hard it is to take a mirror photo of your own back.

And, second, because if you wear it, people ask you if you ran a marathon. And you get to say yes. And they don't care that it took you more than six hours. And you don't really care either. And everyone feels good about the accomplishment that you achieved. No one more than you.

Mission accomplished. Semper fi, motherfuckers.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Oh, hi! I didn't see you there!


Gosh, you guys, it's been a while. I've been trying to write this post for a couple of weeks now and I keep getting hung up on trying to recap stuff I haven't told you. So how about I don't do that and just plow on ahead?

Now that my kids are back in school and I don't have to deal with (as much) working mom guilt and marathon-training mom guilt, I'm hoping to have time to write a little more. (Ha! You've heard that before, haven't you?)

Anywho, things are going well. Alex and the munchkins are good, we went to see the total eclipse, we destroyed the lives of another group of ants in an ant farm, and I've been enjoying the golden age of television. Maybe I'll write about some of that soon. Hopefully not the television part.

Mostly it feels like I've been running all the time. I only have about a month until my marathon and then I might take up another sport. Like competitive potato chip eating. If I suggest that I run another marathon in the near future, you have my full permission to hold some type of intervention. This intervention would probably have to include Alex, who is tired of coming to pick me up after I run 15 miles in one direction and then call him for help because I'm too sweaty to get into an Uber.

That said, Alex has been kind of killing it in terms of his own running goals. I had a 20-mile race that I wanted to run last weekend and they have a 10-mile one at the same time, so I talked him into doing the ten-miler. He did a great job training for it, although when I reminded him the night before the race that in 12 hours we'd be setting off from the start line, he gave me the angriest look I'd ever seen him give me. It looked like he wanted to punch me. You know how Past Jean always screws Present Jean? Well this time she also screwed Present Alex.

Although she was also the impetus for Alex's triumphant finish of a ten-mile race as well. So, kudos, Past Jean. Also, kudos to Rock Star Alex. He really did an amazing job. I'm super proud of him.

This was pre-race. It amused us that we both looked as if we’d dressed for a running funeral. We considered going up to the other runners dressed in all black and asking them if they were there for the funeral too, but we didn’t want people to think we were weird or something.

I also triumphantly finished my 20-miler by running my last mile faster than any of the prior six or so because I so desperately wanted to get to the finish line and sit down. I accomplished my goal though, which was to run the whole thing (except for water stops, which I always walk through), so I feel good about that. This course gave me a good idea of what to expect out of myself under race conditions. For example, I learned that for my marathon, I am not setting any time goals other than to go faster than the race cutoff. My sole goal is to grind through 26.2 miles without walk breaks. (I'm not against walk breaks, but I want to prove to myself that I can run the whole thing.)

I did take one, brief unscheduled break during my run to witness the brutality of nature. I almost never stop to take photos during races, but this one demanded it. Squeamish people who love deer, look away.

These vultures were, like, lifting flaps of hide offa this guy. It was a trip.

I also ran a half marathon the week prior to the 20-miler. I signed my entire family up to volunteer at the 9-mile water stop, so they were forced to be there to encourage me. I liked that. I should sign them up to volunteer at all my races. Perhaps their radiant love gave me a speed boost because I beat my best half marathon time by 21 seconds. That's right—twenty. one. (<— I'm mocking myself here, but I'm still putting a little star by my results in my races list.)

Of course, my PR is many runners’ worst case scenario, but I race against me, not them, so it’s okay.

Alrighty, then. Here's hoping I'll be back before too much time elapses. I hope you all are doing well.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Run the Hill You're In

I ran Riley's Rumble Half Marathon last Sunday. I registered for it in a bout of optimism last March after successfully running a long, hilly race. I read, "Do you love running hills? Do you love running in summer heat? Does the DC area humidity inspire you to get out and sweat it out?" on the race description page and was all, "THIS IS THE RACE FOR ME!"

Just as a point of order, I don't love hills, summer heat, OR humidity. But I guess Past Jean thought I did.

See, I am running the Marine Corps Marathon this fall and I figured that if I couldn't do a tough half marathon in July, I had no business running MCM in October.

I ended up running just about 12 minute miles (I actually finished with the 12 minute pace group) at two hours and 39 minutes.

This is me at about mile 12.8. I had aaaaalmost reached the end of the hills. There was a gentle upslope almost to the finish line.

I was pretty happy with my time, especially considering the elevation, which consisted of more than 700 feet of elevation gain and nearly that same number of feet of elevation loss. I will run a flatter half marathon in September that will probably give me a better idea about my MCM pace estimate.

Yeah, I’m the dipshit who photographs a computer screen. In my defense, I was texting it to someone and the photo was easier than a screenshot.

I don't think there was any flat ground. You might notice that long climb right at the end of the race. You might assume that it sucked. You'd be right.

I actually kinda really enjoyed this race. Maybe I DO like running hills. See, with uphills come downhills. Not to mention that it is more interesting to run rolling terrain than flat. And the course was really gorgeous. Also, due to Apple's decision to make their new iPhone headphone jack-less and my absentmindedness regarding remembering to bring my adapter, I ran completely without music other than birdsong.

It was really sort of delightful. The race was on small roads surrounded by greenery, the sound of birds, and other interesting runners to eavesdrop on. Often on long runs, I am super focused on the distance that I've run, but at this race I just relaxed into it and kept on keepin' on.

See how beautiful?

I just started wearing running shorts instead of capris this summer. That’s a whole other post. I have body image issues.

Riley's Rumble provides sport popsicles at mid-race. That was awesome. Although I created a whole thing because I skipped the first few people and then when I demanded a cherry popsicle from the guy on the end, he only had other flavors and there was much flapping around (by me) and rushing for a cherry popsicle (by him) and I forgot to say thank you, so let's consider this my heartfelt thank you because that popsicle was Good.

Speaking of popsicles, this race takes place at the end of July in the DC area, so it is generally super hot and humid. This year, however, the weather was gorgeous. It could not have been more suited for running. Also, much of the course was shady. (See above.) Humidity could have been a killer though. We got lucky.

I felt pretty good throughout the race, although I was definitely aware of how hard my legs were working. I'm trying to do less shuffling through races and more pushing myself during them, so I tried to keep attention on how I was running and how much energy I could expend.

At one point, on a kinda sucky uphill prior to the big one at 11 miles, I modified the running adage "run the mile you're in" to "run the hill you're in," in an effort to focus on doing my best without despairing over the elevation to come. I gotta say, it worked.

I hadn't managed to convince any of my running friends to run the half marathon with me, but there was an 8K race as well and my friends Lyda and Bob signed up for that one. The distance was shorter, but they still got to run the really crappy hills at the beginning and end, so you can feel reassured that they got their workouts in.

After their races, they stuck around for, like, an hour and a half to cheer me in. They even made a sign for me. I cannot tell you how awesome it was to see them. I was even inspired enough to ramp it up and pass two more runners between seeing them and the finish line. I wasn't quite able to pass the 12-minute mile pace team (who had obviously trained together), but because I finished with them, I get to be the interloper in all their triumphant finish line photos.

Had you asked me at mile 12 if I was interested in running this thing again, I might have looked at you askance as I muttered "you can do it you can do it you can do it" to myself. In the afterglow of success, however, I could be talked into it.

I just hope Future Jean remembers that the Riley's Rumble course is no joke if she decides to sign up. Fun, challenging, beautiful, popsicle-filled...but no joke.

My apologies to Bob and Lyda for making them stand next to the smelliest half-marathoner in the world to get this photo.

On to the next one.

Friday, July 14, 2017

John, Grover, and a Tangerine

On days when I work and my kids are home, I give them a schedule with little assignments. Mainstays of the assignments are a daily sports and art task. I'm here to tell you about today's art, but I feel like I should also
mentionbrag that today was a free choice sports day and they chose, "clean the TV room and office" as their sports activity.

My kids totally won today.

(Alex was home for part of the day, so he might have encouraged that particular endeavor, but still.)

Okay. For art today, on my way out the door, I scribbled "draw a president" on their schedule because I was (a) out of ideas, and (b) I was curious what such an open-ended assignment would lead to.

I'm not going to show you the one obscene Trump picture that one of my kids drew—suffice it to say that it featured an orange toupee on a part of the anatomy that doesn't normally sport toupees. I laughed hard.

That aside, here are my kids' president drawings in descending order of the artist's age:

By Katie

Katie was all, "Do you see the curls on his wig?" and I told her I did and asked why she chose John Adams and she said it was because he was the only president she could think of with the curls. Then I noted that he looks very sad and she said that it's because he was a crappy president. I think she's been listening to too much Hamilton.

By Jack

Me = blown away. I had no idea that Grover Cleveland was crawling around in Jack's brain. I asked him why he chose Cleveland and he said, "Because he was the 22nd and 24th president," as if that answered all of my questions. (It did not.)

By Quinn

That is a tangerine with an orange toupee. Three guesses which president he chose. Although we watched The Lego Movie later today and he expressed regret that he hadn't drawn President Business, and I mentally expressed regret that the country didn't vote for President Business, Kraggle and all.

My kids. They're hilarious. Their brains are these wonderful little mazes of creativity. I highly recommend assigning your kids weird art projects. You never know what they're going to come up with.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

I'd Like to Introduce You to My Mailbox

We got a new mailbox. It took us a long time. We first started thinking about getting a new mailbox last December, but we only just put it up because we have had a hell of a time with it.

I know that right about now you're all, "Dear lord, I think Stimey has officially run out of things to blog about because mailboxes are not a topic of conversation."

To this I would say that you are wrong. Soooooooo wrong.

Please to meet our new mailbox, Claude:

*jumps up and down and flaps hands*


We were going to name him Beauregard, but too many people asked if he was named after the attorney general and that was not okay with me, so we renamed him Claude, because he looks like a dignified French bear and also because you can humorously imagine that his name is Clawed.

I should back up because Claude's journey to us began three years ago when Alex and I went to Key West. If you live in/visit Florida, you know this, but if you don't frequent the Sunshine State, you may not know that something like fifty percent of the mailboxes there are in manatee form.

Seriously. Like, at least half of them.

They make for very cute street-adjacent art and I think that if we lived in Florida, Alex would have okayed the installation of one of our own. As we live in Maryland, Alex was less excited about the idea of sticking a manatee statue at the end of our driveway.

He also won't let me put gargoyles on the roof or lion statues on either side of our driveway. It's like he's completely against whimsy.

I accepted his no, but sporadically brought it up for the ensuing two years and occasionally bad talked him to friends for being the absolute worst joykiller in the world.

Cut to last summer when we vacationed in Wisconsin where there are chainsaw carvers galore with showlots on the sides of roads. A few years ago, I had seen a small (maybe two feet tall) carved bear with a "welcome" sign at one of those lots and I thought I might be able to talk Alex into letting me put that outside our door.

We couldn't find the welcome bear, but suddenly Alex was ALL ABOUT finding a bear mailbox, which, in retrospect, would have made the two-day drive home uncomfortable/impossible.

Once we got back, we did a little half-hearted searching for someone who could carve and ship such a mailbox to us, but we realized how prohibitively expensive that would be so we kind of trailed off.

Until one day it occurred to me that chainsaw bear carvers probably live in places other than Wisconsin and I looked up Maryland carvers and voila! there was one an hour's drive away from me.

It turns out this guy is awesome at carving but a little less good at organizing, so while I heartily recommend him for all of your chainsaw carving needs, I recommend that you also give him a little extra time for responding to emails, etc.

Joe—awesome chainsaw carver is Joe—cheerfully accepted my commission for an entirely reasonable price and asked us to select a mailbox. It was at this point that SeƱor No Manatee was all, "Can we get this fish mailbox?" and I was all, "Who are you?"

It seemed a little over the top. Because if you’re going with a six-foot-tall bear mailbox, you have to know when to show restraint.

We purchased the normal mailbox I insisted on and had it delivered to Joe while we commenced to waiting, anxiously tapping our feet and wondering exactly how much our neighbors were going to hate us.

Finally the day came for me to drive up to meet Claude. I was nervous. What if I didn't like him? What if he wasn't what I imagined? What if he didn't fit in my car?

None of those things happened except that he wasn't what I had imagined—he was far cuter and more awesome that I'd imagined. The guy helped me put Claude in my van and then I drove off down the road with the most fun cargo that I'd ever cargoed.

Also, Claude is really heavy, which I discovered when trying to remove him from my car.

Alex and I then spent weeks thinking about how to attach Claude to our property because the last thing we want is for someone to walk off with the greatest thing we own. We debated screwing him into our asphalt driveway...We considered cementing him into a hole we'd dig in the grass at the side of the driveway...We...actually, that's all we came up with, but we're indecisive and lazy people, which is not a good combination. In fact, we couldn't even decide on where exactly we wanted him, because there are a surprising number of places you can put a tall bear mailbox on our property.

Meanwhile, he languished in our garage, where I would nod solemnly and say his name every time I passed him and the kids did degrading things to him.

Just wait until Claude hears about our Halloween plans for him.

But before we were able to come to a decision/overcome inertia, something terrible happened. sick.


Evidently sometimes wood settles and cracks and it's a thing that happens but OH MY POOR DEAR BABY BEAR CLAUDE!!!

It was at this point that Alex and my indecisiveness paid off because we didn't have to uninstall Claude to take him back to Joe, who calmly assured us that wood is easy to fix. I trucked Claude back up to Joe and shortly thereafter he was fixed and back in my arms.

Now we really had to decide where to put Claude. Most of those deliberations involved Alex and I deciding how much we wanted to be The Bear House and how obtrusive Claude would be to our neighborhood aesthetic environment.

We eventually picked the spot you see in the first photo because (1) he's not too obvious from the street there, but (2) everyone who comes to our door gets to see him, and (3) we were able to see an easy Claude-securing method in that spot.

We decided to chain Claude to some stuff. You can see his little leg shackles in the first photo, which is a little sad, but let's try to not focus on that, okay?

Alex and I headed down to Home Depot where our chain acquisition turned into a whole thing because Alex and I are Alex and I and we turn everything into a thing. We went down the chain aisle where I was hoping to find a nice solid black chain, but weirdly enough, the chain I was seeing in my brain didn't exist.

For some reason, we settled on a giant, bright silver chain that we had to have custom cut for us. Because it was so thick, it took the poor Home Depot employee quite a bit of time to cut it. Meanwhile I went to find a padlock and came upon what I felt was a better solution for the chain, giving up a little security for better aesthetics.

Unfortunately, Home Depot guy was mid cut, so I waited until he was done and then showed Alex, who agreed with me. He wanted to just drop the chain in the brick section, but I thought that would make our non-purchase even more obvious and I thought we needed to put it back in the chain bucket because it was a nice long length of chain that someone else could use and maybe the Home Depot guy would never even know we didn't buy it.

But the Home Depot guy continued to stand in the aisle for a really long time. Alex and I circled and circled, waiting for the guy to move on. We could not have looked more suspicious if we'd tried.

Alex: “Maybe we can just buy the chain and return it?” (We will do anything in our power to avoid confrontation.)

We finally saw the guy had left the aisle, but by the time we'd circled back around, he was at the end of the aisle, looked at us, looked at the chain in our cart, and asked if he could help us with anything else, so we had to do more aimless circling before we were FINALLY able to dump the chain and get the hell out of there.

It's possible we may have overthought the whole thing.

After our Home Depot ordeal, it was a simple matter to lay down some sand (for leveling), some bricks (for drainage), and twist Claude's tether around several items/trees (to prevent escape).

I lurked around for the mail carrier on the next mail day and watched from my window as he nonchalantly dropped our mail in the box with only the slightest perceptible interest in the giant bear holding it. It was extremely disappointing. See, I figure that mail carriers see a bazillion boring mailboxes every day. I feel like Claude could be a bright point in their day if only they would give him a chance. I might have to start putting hats on him.

*solemn nod*      “Claude.”

Monday, July 3, 2017

You Could Be Anywhere in the World Tonight...

Last we checked in, I was on my way to go see Hamilton in New York. Well, that happened and it was ridiculously good and now I have nothing left in this world to live for because I will never get to go to New York to see Hamilton again.

I think instead of crumbling into ennui due to my bleak Hamilton-less future, I shall instead regale you with the story of my trip.

A few months ago, Alex told me he wanted to get me and a friend tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway for my birthday because I love Hamilton so much. He told me he'd use his hotel points to get us a hotel and that I should proceed with making plans.

I told him that I never wanted him to tell me how much he spent on the tickets and got in touch with my friend Jen, who lives in Minnesota and talks ALL THE TIME on Facebook about how much she loves Hamilton. For those of you sad that I didn't take you on this once-in-a-lifetime trip, let this be a lesson to you that you should be fanatical to the point of annoyance in any interest you share with me because apparently that is how I select companions for fun things.

Jen and I had tickets for Wednesday June 21, but headed up that Tuesday because you don't want to have a travel delay and not make it to the show. That's why I built in a 36-hour cushion for just such travel emergencies. You can't take chances, you know.

I took the train and Jen took a plane and a train and we planned to meet at Penn Station at 11 am. I can't speak to Jen's long odyssey to get there, but I made Alex give me step by step instructions on how to arrive at the train, board the train, stash my luggage on the train, sit on the train, give my ticket to the train guy, not get off at any of the other two Penn Stations we passed prior to the correct one, how to identify the proper Penn Station, and how to detrain.

It's hard to travel alone.

Fortunately, everything was as described and I successfully managed to get on the train and snag a window seat.

Although I was not clever enough to get a non-sun side of the train. That wasn’t in Alex’s Power Point presentation.

Jen had an arduous trip, involving a 3 am wake-up, an airplane, Newark airport, and NJ train transit. I took a nap in my seat.

I’m autistic, so here’s a photo of a train I took as we pulled into the train station.

Jen was already there and we sent a series of texts saying things like, "I'm by the Dunkin' Donuts," and "I'm by the Dunkin' Donuts too," and then I twirled in confused circles for a while and finally we spotted each other and exchanged sweaty hugs and jumped up and down a little and then we went outside to get a cab to our hotel and I decided that New York is terrifying and I am a rube.

I wasn't quite ready to start embarrassing Jen in public yet, so I don't have any photos of this part of our trip. Instead I will insert this photo from slightly later in the day so you can get a mental picture of us.

I’m lucky that Jen is a really easy person to hang out with because I am terrible at people-ing. She seems to be much better at it than I.

We checked into our hotel room, de-sweated a little, then headed out to what Jen described as "the best place on Earth," aka Chelsea Market, land of any kind of food you want. It turns out that the kind of food WE wanted was pasta served IN A BOWL MADE OUT OF CHEESE.

I didn’t understand most of the menu but I knew almost all of the words in the description for the above dish, so I ordered it and the waiter was all, “That comes in a cheese basket,” and Jen was all, “Imma need a cheese basket too,” and it turns out that cheese baskets are delicious but incredibly filling and I still rue the fact that my basket defeated me and I couldn’t finish it.

Before we did that though, we wandered the entire Chelsea Market, including the best store, The Filling Station, that sold many flavors of, among other things, salt and vinegar. The last time Jen and I had been together in person, we had established that salt was a waaaay more valuable mineral than fancy gemstones, so she insisted we go there and taste all the salt.

It was amazing. I got a little overexcited and ended up with four containers of different flavored salt, a little salt spoon, and some pomegranate balsamic vinegar. Jen ended up with a burned tongue because I told her she should taste the spicy salt and she accidentally ate two grains instead of one, like the sign suggested she do, and thus began a string of questionable actions taken by Jen just because I told her to.

At the hotel, I put the salt in a little Hamilton-themed wooden crate that Jen had asked her dad to woodburn for me. The Schuyler sisters are on the other side. It is AMAZING. I think he could make a gajillion dollars selling them to the public.

I'd purchased the vinegar because Quinn has recently discovered balsamic vinegar. I told him over the phone that I'd bought it and he asked me to locate and buy "a salad kit" for him before I came home. I did not.

We were near the High Line, so we decided to go there. We walked to one end, then we turned around and walked all the way to the other end, with a middle stop to sit on a bench and people watch for a long time.

For those of you that don't know, the High Line is an old elevated rail line that has been turned into green space full of people, kinda warm water fountains, vendors, and questionable art. Or at least art that is smarter than Jen and me combined.

People, water fountains, vendors, and art not pictured.

We also spent some time walking along the Hudson River, where we were reprimanded by a random lady for standing too close to the railing and scaring the seagulls away. Although I have a feeling that Hudson Bay seagulls aren't afraid of a lot of things and certainly not me.

Tuesday was mostly a day that involved eating, resting, eating, resting, and then more eating. We rested at our hotel for a while before we headed out to the East Village to eat risotto for dinner because we apparently will travel long distances for delicious food, especially if it is risotto. And delicious it was, although instead of putting a bread basket on the table, the restaurant we went to put out a basket full of rice cakes. It was a little weird. I mean, I get that their thing was rice, what with the risotto and all, but still.

We were finishing our risotto and talking about how neither of us are night owl/party people so we were contemplating going back to the hotel when I said, "Or we could go find a place to eat dessert." Well. It turns out that Jen and I agree on the need for dessert in our lives. I Yelped dessert bars and there were TWO within 0.2 miles of us. New York, man.

We chose the dessert tapas place where they recommended the three-tapas selection for two people. That's obviously what we did because who are we to argue with a menu?

I can’t even tell you how good this was. Each one was so creative and so delicious and I think I’m still full from eating all of it.

After that, we were done for the evening. We slept in the next morning, which was great and because it was Hamilton day, we didn't want to do anything that would take too much time, so we decided to go to the Nintendo store and Rockefeller Center because our kids are nerds and we wanted to get them souvenirs.

First, however, we obviously needed to eat. It seems like everyone in New York is all, "Ramen is the greatest; you've gotta eat ramen," so even though I was nervous about it, I agreed when Jen suggested we eat that for lunch. (We slept reeeeeaaaaaalllllly late.)

I could have told you it was not going to go great when we started eating and Jen immediately started talking about worms and then when I told her that I have a thing about worms and it was not helping with my noodle consumption, she made a smooth segue into talking about her dog's "exploded anal gland" and I did a real-life, actual spit take.

It turns out that ramen, which is basically a big bowl of surprising ingredients all mixed in together in broth, is not really my thing. I was, however, glad that I tried it and comforted by the fact that we were following up by sharing a giant doughnut. Also the wall next to me was covered in a chain curtain and it was really fun to touch and stroke as I tried to not think I was eating worms.

We walked through Times Square first, stopping briefly at the Disney Store, where I encouraged Jen to make bad shopping decisions that I am sure made her daughter very happy. Then we went to the Nintendo store where we both made bad shopping decisions that made our children very happy.

Also both Jen and I did all kinds of embarrassing things at the Nintendo store, but only I have photographic evidence of it.

We wandered around Rockefeller Center after that. Jen was on the lookout for Rachel Maddow and I was trying to take a good photograph of a pigeon.

Neither of us were successful.

We ended up sitting outside and talking for a really long time and doing some more people watching. It was really nice. Also, eventually I got the money shot of a pigeon.


We browsed around some more and happened by the Swarovski crystal store where I found the nicest, most glittery place I've ever been and I made Jen sit there for a while so I could pet the crystal drape and sit in rainbows.

Now I just have to convince Alex to build me a nook like this for my next birthday.

We decided to walk past the Richard Rogers Theatre on our way back to the hotel so we would know where it was. Obviously we walked down the street juuuuuuust as all the Wednesday matinees were letting out, so it was a total mob scene. Regardless, battling crowds did not dim our excitement.

I like that if you look closely at my sunglasses lens, you can see Jen.

Ticket time was 8 pm, so naturally Jen and I returned and were in line at 6:50. Because that's how we roll.

Look how bored and unexcited we look.

What time is it?


They let us in the theater at 7:30 and told us to take an immediate right turn. Then the next usher we met said, "Oh let me take you down here," and then there we were. At our seats. In the fifth row.

You know, NBD.

It was ridiculous. We spent some time texting Alex all-caps notes of excitement and thanks, including the following photo, which pretty much sums up how both of us were feeling.


The seats around us started filling in and I breathed a sigh of relief as someone short sat in front of me. Shortly after Jen did the same. I'd been worrying about the person who was going to sit in front of me ever since Alex had bought the tickets. I was less worried about the person who was going to sit in front of Jen, but it's nice that it worked out for her too.

I know everyone says it, but I think you’re required to say it if you go to the show, so here it is—the room where it happens.

Then we watched Hamilton.

As Gina said on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, "Hamilton. Was. Amazing! How is no one talking about this musical? It’s so good.”

The show was phenomenal, you guys. It really was. I know there is so much hype around it, but I had absolutely no disappointment. I thought all the actors did wonderful jobs and I liked how they put their spin on the roles. I was rapt the entire time. It was hilarious and inspirational and heartbreaking and I know just how lucky I am that I was able to go see it. This was my very first Broadway show and it was amazing. I have a million thoughts about the show and my poor family heard them all, but I don't know that I can communicate how much I loved it in written words.

When we were walking out, Jen and I both agreed that we could sit down right there and then and watch it again without being the slightest bit bored. Both of us had apparently gotten a little sad a few songs from the end because we knew it was almost over. It was really incredible.

I didn't imagine myself to be a "hang by the stage door" kind of gal, but it turns out that I am. On our way out, we passed the door and were all, well, me might as well wait. Then we made an immediate transition into ridiculous squealing fangirls. We saw a couple of the ensemble cast and then the actors who played Laurens/Phillip (below in the P. Ham hat OMG) and Lafayette/Jefferson. They were both so nice and wonderful and didn't even make fun of us for our ridiculous squealy, grinning selves.

How adorable are they? (Answer: super adorable)

Josh Groban was performing in something next door and came out of an adjacent door while we were waiting. There was lots of screaming from that crowd, but we just couldn't be bothered, except for me to note that Groban likes his ladies to pop. (Bonus points if you get that.)

We wandered/floated back toward our hotel and we decided to stop to get some food and when we passed a 24-hour diner with giant cupcakes in the window, we made our decision. After all, we were only about 15 minutes away from my birthday.

The fact that this is my ideal late-night snack should tell you everything about me that you need to know.

We woke up the next morning full of statements like, "Hey, remember that time we saw Hamilton?" and "Life is pointless now that we don't have Hamilton to look forward to," and "OMG, remember that part when [insert minute but oh so meaningful observation here] happened and it was fucking brilliant?!"

Then we went to breakfast and ate cheese and ham on toasted bread and life began to have meaning again. We were going to MOMA that day because we wanted to make fun of art that we didn't understand. I have been to New York several times but I have never taken the subway because no one has ever given me step-by-step instructions on how to do so, so Jen declared that we were going to do it and I became the coolest, most casual New York City subway rider ever.

See also: I was no longer reluctant to embarrass Jen in public. I AM THE WORST.

I might write an insightful piece about the art we saw at MOMA later, so I'm not going to go too deeply into our visit here other than to say it took me about 45 seconds from entering the museum to be reprimanded by security for getting too close to the art. This reprimand is a thing that happens often to me, but even so, this one happened faster than usual.

I also want to post this photo of Jen contemplating modern art because it is maybe my favorite photo of all goddamn time.

This photo is fucking everything to me. It really sums up our afternoon at the museum. Look how hard she is trying to understand. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!

I also saw my favorite painting of all time, which was really exciting and also made me wonder how MOMA defines "modern" art, seeing as how this was painted in the 19th century.

Although I guess if your museum can acquire this Van Gogh, you take it whether it fits into your mission statement or not.

I also found my favorite wall curtain at this museum. Fortunately no one reprimanded me for getting too close to it because I stroked it like it was my cat.

Sooooo pleasing.

I think those three photos really sum up our museum trip well. On our way back to our hotel, we stopped at the Hamilton store across the street from the Richard Rogers Theatre because it was closed by the time we finished jumping up and down at the stage door the night before. It was there that Jen took her turn at encouraging me to make bad purchasing decisions, none of which I regret at all.

After this happened within minutes of my arriving at home, I had to take steps to ensure that it never happened again because Hamilton blanket is MINE.

I also really enjoyed the Hamilton in-joke on the door of the store.
I am thoroughly amused by you and your overpriced products, Hamilton store. Let me throw my money at you!

We spent that evening having dinner with one of the families that Jen had provided surrogate services for seven years ago. No photos or long stories here because not my family/not my place to do so, but I'm just sayin' if they ever wanted to adopt me, I'm available because they were delightful. Great couple, great kids, AND once they found out it was my birthday, they busted out candles and sang to me. My only regret is that Jen almost tricked me into eating octopus. Fortunately, I was able to pawn it off on the 7-year-old sitting next to me.

Friday dawned with the knowledge that we were going home in just a couple of hours and we hadn't eaten any bagels yet. We rectified that with a jaunt to a delicious deli and I utilized my newfound skills at blending in as a New Yorker by taking photos of tall buildings...

I mean, was I NOT going to take this photo of the pokeball streetlamp?

politicized rats...

You guys! It’s Scabby!

and the sidewalk.

I am almost ridiculously embarrassing to walk around with, but it was a cat on the sidewalk—you KNOW my kids were going to want to see that.

It took Jen and I a really long time to find the actual Penn Station we were looking for because there is a building across the street from the actual Penn Station that is labeled as Penn Station, but is really a post office and home to the Long Island Rail Road. We were wandering through the post office and I was texting Alex to ask him how to find the trains at Penn Station and he was all, "Um...follow the signs? What the fuck is wrong with you?" and I was all, "I NEVER GOT MY RETURN TO DC ON THE TRAIN STEP-BY-STEP POWER POINT I AM LOST AND WILL HAVE TO LIVE IN NEW YORK FOREVER AND EVERY TIME I TAKE A PHOTO POINTED UP SOMEONE TRIES TO SELL ME A BUS TOUR AND IT IS JUST A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE I AM PICKED OFF AS A RUBE AND MY BODY SHOWS UP IN THE HUDSON."

Or something along those lines.

No thanks to Alex, we eventually found our way to the right place. Jen set off on her way back to the airport and eventually home. I bought a slice of pizza, because I was in New York and needed to do so and I dropped an entire piece of pepperoni down my shirt because I am the most embarrassing person in the history of people.

It also turns out that to get on a train from New York to DC, you really have to throw some elbows and jockey for space. Because I'm an asshole, if I get on a crowded train and there are empty aisle seats, but one of those empty aisle seats has a purse on it because someone is obviously trying to not have to sit next to someone, I will insist on sitting there. I bet you didn't know exactly how passive aggressive I am, didja?

I'm a good seat mate because I hate people though, so I think it all balances out.

Big thanks to Alex. Big thanks to Jen. Big thanks to the cast and creators of Hamilton.

Big thanks, New York. You were good to us.