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:

Photo of a 6-foot-tall carved black bear holding a mailbox.

*jumps up and down and flaps hands*

OMG OMG OMG OMG I LOVE HIM SO MUCH.

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.

Light gray manatee standing up holding a mailbox.

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 Señor No Manatee was all, “Can we get this fish mailbox?” and I was all, “Who are you?”

Photo of a hideously ugly green fish-shaped mailbox.

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.

Photo of the back of my car where Claude is lying down with mailbox facing up.

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.

Claude in our garage wearing a helmet.

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. Claude…got sick.

Close up of Claude's head, with a big crack down the side.

NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

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 pushing a cart of bricks and chains.

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.

Selfie of my and Claude's heads.

*solemn nod*      “Claude.”

Too Many Ideas to Fill Up a Weekend

You know how sometimes you have weekends when you have nothing to do and you kinda sit around and stare at your family and no one can think of fun things to do and the only options you have are to go grocery shopping and think about how you should probably consider vacuuming?

Well, if you ever have one of those weekends, I have some suggestions for you based on what I did last weekend—a weekend during which I went everywhere and did everything.

Friday night: Realize Your Baby Is No Longer a Baby

Friday night, I gave Quinn snack money and dropped him off at a party for sixth graders going into his middle school next year. You should be aware that he is my wee little baby and I just dropped him off and watched him run into the building all by himself. I didn’t even remember to shout, “Don’t get kidnapped!” at him.

I arrived two hours later to see him “playing basketball” with a couple of his friends. This involved a lot of hurling the ball at each other and not a lot of actual playing of basketball. Once he spotted me, he briefly ran into the dance part of the party to spend the last of his money on snacks before I could demand it back and then returned to the gym.

Photo taken through a window of Quinn throwing a basketball.

Quinn is sportsing!

He bought a cookie for me though, so I have forgiven him for growing into a large, independent person.

Saturday morning: Run a Trail Race for the First Time

I have run races put on by many different organizations and therefore I get emails from all of them suggesting that I register for more races. One came across my inbox a couple of months ago that seemed all kinds of fun. It was called the Nanty Narking Nearly 9K and that alone seemed like a reason to run it. It also described the course as running past historic sites and the Underground Railroad Experience Trail and I was all, “sign me up!” before it even occurred to me that running past historic sites means you don’t get to actually look at them for more than about 30 seconds.

But that is okay because this race was, in fact, nanty narking (the race description claims that is a Victorian expression meaning “great fun”). It was a trail race, which I’d never done before. You know what? Trail races are fantastic. It had rained heavily the day before so there was all kinds of mud and there were hills to climb and rocks to step around and piles of horse shit to avoid and just a crapton of fun. Seriously.

It was a really small race too, so during the about five and a half miles, there was a lot of time when I was just out in the woods without any other people in sight. It was seriously the best. I think I understand why people like trail running.

Selfie of me and Lyda before the race.

My friend Lyda ran with me. Neither of us tripped and fell even once.

Saturday afternoon: Ice Skate for Special Hockey

Saturday afternoon was the Montgomery Cheetahs’ Cheetah-thon, which we happily attended. (Thank you to all of you who donated. You make Jack and me so happy.) Jack, of course, is a super rock star at the Cheetah-thon and had a blast skating in literal circles around his family.

Jack ice skating.

I cropped Sam out of this photo because the event was for Jack. Sorry, Sam.

Everyone else had a good time too. Sam did a great job skating and was actually the member of Team Stimey who stayed on the ice the longest. Quinn worked hard at skating and definitely made improvements over the course of the evening. I suppose he’d get even better if he skated more than once a year.

Jack and Sam standing face to face on the ice. Alex helping Quinn skate. The whole picture is reflected in the rink glass.

I ran around before we left making sure everyone had socks and helmets and long pants and sweatshirts so they could skate and I forgot my socks so I had to stay on the edge of the rink and heckle them.

The ice is not where Quinn shines though. The raffle is where Quinn shines. There are so many prizes up for grabs at the Cheetah-thon—and Quinn wants to win them all. Last year, in addition to some other stuff, he won a basket of Girl Scout cookies, which was like the greatest thing to ever happen to him in this lifetime. Wanna know what he won this year?

Quinn holding a basket of Girl Scout cookies.

A basket of Girl Scout cookies.

We also won some other stuff and Jack got to hang out with his people and I got to say hi to a lot of people and then I got to sit quietly on a bench and try to not get overwhelmed by all the people and we also bought all of the Cheetahs’ merchandise up for sale and the Cheetahs raised a ton of money and I’m pretty sure Team Stimey contributed about a third of it through raffle ticket purchases for that basket of cookies.

Me wearing a Cheetahs hat and Jack drinking out of a Cheetahs water bottle.

Jack and I showing off our Cheetah gear.

All worth it for the team though. So worth it.

Saturday evening: Chill Out After a Busy Day By Heading to Costco on a Weekend

We go to Costco pretty much every weekend for milk and lettuce and stuff, so Alex thought we could get it out of the way by stopping by after the Cheetah-thon and no one had the nerve to tell him no, plus there is a delicious chicken place for dinner next to the Costco, so that’s where we went after ice skating.

Well, Sam and I went to Target first to return some shorts, but then met up with everyone else at Costco. Side note: Do you realize how short girl shorts are? Because I am living in that world now and I don’t know when a 3-inch inseam started being classified as LONG shorts, but jeebus, there is sooooooo much leg for teenage girls to show these days. Consequently, whenever I see shorts that pass my Mom Length Test, I buy them. And then Sam doesn’t like them and we return them. It’s like a fun little game we play that involves a lot of eye rolling on both sides.

Also, do you know who else goes to Costco on a Saturday night half an hour before it closes? EVERYONE.

Sunday morning: Drive 45 Minutes Each Way For Your Kid’s Bassoon Lesson

When your kid plays bassoon, you take your private lessons where you can get them. For us, that is a solid 35-45 minutes away. Every Sunday between 9:45 and 12:15, Sam and I take the long trip to bassoon lessons. On our way there, Sam tries to read on her phone and I try to have deep, meaningful conversations with her because she’s my captive audience. Guess who wins.

I have to say though, even if someone offered us bassoon lessons next door, we’d still go to this teacher. She is awesome. She has really done a lot to push Sam and to help her play with groups she wouldn’t have otherwise. We like her a lot.

Sunday Mid-day Chicken Interlude:

Quinn eats very specific fried chicken legs for school lunch every day. Every weekend, we have to go buy at least five chicken legs from a specific grocery store. Sometimes they don’t have chicken legs when we’re there and we have to go back later. It is ridiculous. Every once in a while we try to sneak in a leg from a more reliable, closer store. He is never fooled.

Sunday afternoon: Attend the Finale of Listen To Your Mother DC

This year was the last year for the fantastic Listen to Your Mother shows in DC. Having been in the first one, I absolutely wanted to be there at the end.

I’m so glad I was. Per usual, it was an amazing show full of laughs and heartwrenching stories and truth.

Sunday late afternoon: Run. Then When You Get Tired, Run More. Try To Run Through Three Jurisdictions.

I am running the Marine Corps Marathon in October. Even though it is a loooong ways away, I am already doing some hard training to make sure I am able to run it the way I want to run it. That means that I am doing long runs every weekend (with mid-length runs every three or four weekends to rest).

Because my weekend was so busy, I was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to get my long run in or that I was going to have to wake up early to do it. (Gasp! The horror!) Then I had a brilliant idea: I could run home from Listen to Your Mother!

The show was at a theater in northern Virginia near a Metro station, so I Metroed down there and plotted a route home that would take me from Virginia, all the way through DC, and then to my neighborhood in Maryland. (I wish DC was a state so I could say I’d run through three states.)

Regardless, it was a little more than a 12-mile run and because I was running north, it was all uphill. (Just like all rivers run south, right?)

Elevation graph. It shows the elevation getting higher as I go, then it decreases some.

My Garmin says that I actually gained 732 feet. Just in case you ever wanted to know whether it is uphill or downhill into DC.

Now I understand why I was so tired when I got home.

Sunday evening: Collapse

I arrived home and sat down. I ate some food. I had to decline an invitation to ride my bike with the family to get ice cream. I took a bath and tried not to sink under the water. I went to bed at 8:30 p.m. It was awesome.

So, now you have some ideas of how to fill a weekend. I think this coming weekend will be similarly packed so I should have more ideas for you after you do all of these. But whatever you do, don’t forget the collapsing part. That is very important.

Alex’s Triumphant Footrace Debut

As you know, Alex has been running lately. He has worked his way through both Couch to 5K and Couch to 10K apps. At this point, his regular run is probably about 5 miles. He’s doing SO well. It has been really cool to watch him turn from a reluctant fine-this-is-good-for-me-so-I’ll-do-it runner into a huh-running-is-super-fun runner.

He has long maintained that he’s not into races, but as his goal is a half marathon at some point, it seemed smart to get him used to the race environment. Also, he has been less scowly lately when I ask if he wants to sign up for races. In fact, he even said I could look for a 5K for him provided that he could be kinda surly throughout and wouldn’t have to talk to anyone he knows before or after the event.

Challenge accepted.

It was surprisingly difficult to find the right race for him, but I finally chose the GW Parkway Classic, largely because it was far enough away that my Maryland running friends would not be there and because it offered both a t-shirt AND a medal, which is not something most 5Ks do. (There was also a 10-miler version, hence the medals.)

Alex grew surlier and surlier as race day approached, especially when he learned that because it was a point-to-point race, we would have to park, take a shuttle to the start, run, then take a shuttle back to our parking place. He did a lot of dramatic sighing when he heard that.

Then, when I told him we would have to leave the house at 5:45 in the a.m. because we had to drive to Virginia AND take a shuttle bus, he expressed surprise and alarm about the fact that we had to get up that early. I guess he never noticed how early I sometimes leave for races because he is sleeping right through my departure.

So he was already in a bad state about the whole thing when I heard the weather forecast for race day. I was all, “Alex, you’re going to start hearing words like ‘soaking rain’ and ‘Sunday’ together. Don’t freak out.”

To his credit, he didn’t freak out. He did, however, give me one of the most effective stink eyes I’ve ever seen him give.

Fortunately, by the time race day arrived, the weather had calmed and it was clear and cool. THANK GOD. I would never have heard the end of it had Alex had to run through a monsoon.

Also fortunately, this race was super well run and offered copious amenities. Catching the shuttle bus was super easy. And they weren’t even awful school buses, like at many races; they were regular city buses. It was delightful. We really wanted to pull the cord to request stops at lots of places, but we managed to restrain ourselves.

The bus let us off near the start line, which was at a beautiful green area next to the Potomac.

Selfie of Alex and I in front of the Potomac river. There are even geese in the background.

Many races start in a parking lot. Alex doesn’t know how good he has it.

There were also actual bathrooms there, which was nice not only because bathroom > porta potty, but because it was warm in there. Unfortunately, there were very much not enough bathrooms or porta potties for everyone at the start. That was my one complaint about the race.

After our stop at the bathroom, we took a trip down to the shore, where we were whale eyed by this guy:

Photo of a goose on the shore.

This goose has nothing to do with the race. I just like the photo.

We wandered over to the race area after freaking out the goose, where they had every amazing thing you could possibly want before a race (except a bathroom). They had space blankets to protect us from the cold wind coming off the river. They had giant blueberry muffins. They had bananas. They had hot coffee. It was unprecedented.

I took a space blanket, Alex took some coffee, then we wandered around, stretched, and Alex complained about the long wait until the start time and the fact that the DJ wasn’t playing his favorite music.

Goodness. All those paragraphs and we haven’t even run a step yet.

Start time finally arrived. We shuffled toward the start line together, crossed it, and Alex started putting distance between us. I had him in my sights for about a quarter of a mile and then he was gone.

It was a nice little course. Very pretty. Almost entirely flat. I was pushing my pace because of my goal this year of becoming speedier. I ran a speedy-for-me 34 minutes flat. Alex ran it in 31:26. Like a boss.

It’s been a week and the official race photos haven’t gone up yet, which is disappointing because I wanted mid-race photos to show you. You will have to make do with this one, which I forced Alex to pose for after we met up post-race.

Selfie of Alex and I post-race. He's holding up his medal.

Me: Hold your medal up.
Alex: *grimace*

I’m super proud of him. He totally killed it. I think he might have caught the race bug. While I was napping that afternoon, he was looking up his race results. Adorbs.

Way to go, Alex. I couldn’t be prouder of you.

A List of Things Alex Did

You know how at celebrity award shows there is always some doofus who wins an award and then thanks everyone from her makeup artist to her lawyer but forgets to mention her partner, arguably the most important person of all?

Well. When Alex read yesterday’s post where I thanked everyone under the sun including a stranger who handed me a banana, he was all, “Too bad Alex didn’t help at all.” Then he threatened me with bodily harm if I tried to change the post after the fact.

I AM SO SORRY, ALEX. YOU ARE THE WIND BENEATH MY WINGS.

Let’s take this opportunity to pretend that I had planned this post all along and I will tell you all of the wonderful things that Alex did to help me prepare for my marathon because seriously guys, I couldn’t have done it without him.

Photo of alex in a suit giving a goofy thumbs up.

Look how cute he is!

• Whenever I had a long run and only ran one direction because routes away from my house are downhill and routes back to my house are uphill, he came to pick me up.

• Sometimes he came to pick me up in really unfortunate places, like Georgetown on a Saturday night or next to the zoo during Zoo Lights a week before Christmas.

• When he picked me up, he would suffer through the stinkification of the car when I jacked the heat way up and sat really close to the vent. Trust me, that’s award-worthy right there.

• He let me structure the entire family’s schedule around my training calendar.

• When a family-related activity conflicted with my training calendar, he stepped up to be the parent-on-call.

• He let me go on a long run every Saturday when I would be gone for hours, then he let me come back and take a nap.

• When I had to get in a run, but knew I wouldn’t have time after work, he let me run in the morning and he would get all three kids ready for school and get them on their buses.

• He was my best cheerleader, never doubting that I would be able to run a marathon and making sure he let me know that.

• He put a ton of extra effort into leading the family when I was training. In terms of putting in a lot of work for something that had no direct benefit for him, he really stepped up.

• All actions including but not limited to the above mentioned activities.

AND

• When I called him after I finished last week’s marathon and asked him if it would be okay if I ran another one this fall, without hesitation he said yes.

Thank you, Alex. I love you.

Summer in December, Wisconsin Vacation Part III

I know that it is December and we got back from summer vacation months and months ago, but I have to finally write this because Sam keeps asking for it. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW, SAM?! ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?!

Remember how months ago we went to a cottage and then a cabin in Wisconsin? Well, after that we went to a resort town called Wisconsin Dells. We’d been there three years ago and Team Stimey was ready to go back.

We arrived way after bedtime, so we checked in to our hotel and got ready for bed. I remembered something we had left in the car and went back out to be greeted by the dawning realization that very clearly there was a cheerleader camp taking place at the resort and ours was the only room on our entire floor that wasn’t full of teenage girls.

The horror. The horror.

I should take a moment here to pay homage to the hero of our vacation: my noise canceling headphones. Seriously. This would have been a very different vacation without them, especially in Cheerleaderville.

Jack in particular had been really excited to go back to the waterpark. He, along with Quinn, couldn’t wait to get in the wave pool and the lazy river and the waterslides.

Photo of Jack in a double inner tube totally reclining.

This is one of his relaxo places.

Photo of a double red waterslide with Jack going down it on the left and Quinn on the right.

And this is his excito place—Jack on the left, Quinn on the right.

Sam and Alex, however, were a little less excited by the whole deal.

Photo of pool-side chairs and tables. Alex and Sam are sitting at one reading books.

If you look closely, you can see Killjoy One and Killjoy Two reading books at a table.

Alex did eventually join the water people and Sam spent some time swimming, but I think he might have only gone on one waterslide total over the course of three days.

That’s okay though, because there are so many other things to do at Wisconsin Dells. I spearheaded one particularly successful outing to take advantage of these attractions early on in our stay.

I had seen a poster for something called Zombie Outbreak and it looked awesome. It’s like laser tag where you wind your way through a dark, twisty building and people dressed as zombies jump out at you and you have to shoot them in the head or else they tag you and you lose points.

Clearly this was the right place to take my kids.

I asked everyone in the family if they wanted to join me and even showed them a short video I found online so they could know what to expect. Turns out, the video didn’t fully capture the experience of Zombie Outbreak.

Selfie of me, Sam, and Jack in front of the Zombie Outbreak sign.

Quinn and Alex were smart enough to hear “zombie” and stay in the car. Sam and Jack were foolishly brave.

You guys, it was so much fun. Although when we were getting our training and Jack was all, “I don’t like jump scares,” I probably should have guessed that it wasn’t going to go well. At least I learned who I’d be able to count on in the zombie apocalypse. Answer: ME.

It went SO badly. Jack was devastated by the experience and ran out of the building crying once he was finally able to escape. Sam covered his dismay a little better.

In a desperate bid to make Jack love me again after I permanently scarred him, I suggested that we do some go-karting.

Mission success! Jack loved me again. Quinn, on the other hand, was collateral damage in a high speed go-kart wreck caused by reckless teenagers and bashed his head against the headrest, sending him to the car in tears, making that two of my kids I’d badly damaged in the span of an hour.

Jack in a go-kart

Jack took Quinn’s extra ticket after he was injured. As long as only one kid at a time is emotionally, psychologically, or physically hurt, I’m doing okay, right?

Knowing when we were beat, we headed back to the hotel for dinner and more swimming, which, thanks to poolside dining, took place at the same time. Dinner was made even better by the arrival of vermin looking for a handout.

Photo of Quinn eating a burger in the foreground, with a raccoon visible on the other side of a chainlink fence.

I’m guessing that raccoon is pretty well fed.

The last time we’d been to Wisconsin Dells, the standout event was JET BOAT! Naturally, we wanted to do it again. JET BOAT! is a tour of the area waterways on a speedboat that spins out and splashes the passengers and is generally awesome for the whole family. Not like a zombie apocalypse at all.

Photo of Jack, Quinn, Alex, and Sam on the boat before the tour.

Look at everyone all dry and excited.

Photo taken of the front of the boat entirely engulfed in splashing water

Then this happened.

Photo of Jack, Quinn, Alex, and Sam, now quite wet.

And we were left with this. If you look really closely, you can actually see water dripping from Jack’s nose.

Alex really wanted to go miniature golfing at this very cool course that we drove past and we were going to do it after JET BOAT! but for obvious reasons, we were unable to follow through on this and therefore Alex wasn’t able to do the ONE GODDAMN THING he wanted to do in all of Wisconsin Dells and we are MONSTERS.

As we did each night at the Dells, we spent the evening at the indoor water park. Jack and Quinn spent hours in the lazy river and lured me in as well. I liked to float happily around and occasionally take photos of my kids with my phone safely encased in its waterproof pouch. Jack liked to direct my happy floating to spots underneath waterfalls.

Three photos of Jack and I 1. Us floating 2. Me under falling water, Jack laughing hysterically 3. Jack and I laughing.

This is probably the least flattering trio of photos of me ever, but it is unlikely you will even notice that what with Jack OMG JACK AND HIS FACE behind me.

We only had one day left, of which we took full advantage.

Photo of Jack in a swimsuit holding a watersliding mat.

Jack and I went on a bunch of waterslides together. He’s a fun companion.

Alex and Jack on a roller coaster waterslide.

This is Alex with Jack on the roller coaster waterslide. I never even knew such a thing existed. It was great fun.

Sam at the bottom of a waterslide.

This is the one slide Sam went on. I think he lost a bet and had to do it. I wasn’t going to miss the chance to photograph him.

Jack and Quinn hugging in the lazy river.

And I’ve probably said it 800 times, but Quinn and Jack together? They are the best. Here they are hugging and carrying each other in the lazy river. Just because.

“But wait, Stimey,” you may be thinking, “Did you go on any waterslides? Did anyone take a photo of you?”

Don’t worry. I left my phone with Alex when I went on a slide and he captured me at the bottom.

Photo of a splash. No person is visible.

I know it’s brave to put a swimsuit photo of me online.

Our very last night in Wisconsin Dells, we went to dinner at the hotel steakhouse. We’d gone to the same restaurant last time we’d been there. Their motto is “Where Size Matters.” The first time we’d gone, Alex and I had ordered a side dish of potatoes made up of probably five pounds of potatoes that made us feel bad for being Americans.

Photo of a giant cleaver. Quinn has his head on a block under its edge and Sam is pretending to hold the handle.

This blade outside the steakhouse wasn’t sharp enough.

But—and this is probably why Sam wants me to write this post so goldang bad—Sam remembered from the last time we were there that there is a 50-ounce steak on the menu and he had been talking for three years about how he was going to eat one.

But Alex and I are reasonable people—WE ARE—and no way were we going to buy him a 50-ounce steak. That said, we were happy to order the 50-ounce and two plating fees so all three kids could share it.

Sam sitting in front of a plate with a 50-ounce steak on it.

That is a lot of steak.

Unfortunately, both Quinn and Jack had filled up on bread and they each ate about a bite of it then returned their uneaten portions to Sam’s plate.

Jack and Quinn, mouths full of bread.

Based on this photo, I think Jack may just have been too tired to eat as well.

Alex and I consumed our reasonably sized dinners and watched Sam consume huge amounts of food in a short amount of time. One of the staff even came out from the kitchen under the pretense of removing something from our table to gawk.

Two photos of Sam gobbling a steak and one of him giving two thumbs up over a plate with just bones.

He even gnawed off the hard-to-get meat stuck to the bones.

It took him maybe ten minutes. It was, quite honestly, a feat.

Photo of a brownie sundae in front of Alex

And then he shared a dessert with his brothers.

He was a little hysterical for the rest of the night. I think he went into Meat Shock. I kept a close eye on him to make sure he wasn’t going to barf or die or something. He seemed to emerged unscathed.

Sam holding a t-shirt that says "Where Size Matters"

Plus, the restaurant gave him a t-shirt!

The next day we checked out early to start our long drive home. Alex took a bunch of our stuff to the car…

Photo of Alex pushing a luggage cart piled full of luggage.

It turns out that Team Stimey needs a lot of stuff to survive.

…and the kids did their part.

Jack and Quinn carrying two empty cups and a stuffed animal.

Thanks for carrying those two EMPTY cups and a stuffed cat, guys.

From there it was just a billion and six hours to drive home.

Alex driving holding a stuffed cat so it looks like the cat is driving.

This is how you amuse yourself on a billion and six hour drive.

This turned out to be one of the most fun and relaxing vacations that Team Stimey has been on for a long time. It was nothing like the long, stressful stretch of time that it took me to write about it on the interwebs.

Now it might be time to go on another vacation!

Vacation All I Ever Wanted, Wisconsin Edition, Part II

You guys, school has already started and I just realized that I never finished my What I Did Over Summer Vacation essay.

When last you saw us, we were departing the hectic pace of hanging out by the big lake to discover the peaceful pace of hanging out by a little lake in northern Wisconsin. Alex’s mom’s house is between those two lakes, so on our drive past, we stopped by to say hello, eat all of her food, and play with objects that were thirty years old or older.

Photo of Sam and Jack playing with old plastic soldiers, cars, and airplanes.

Sam and Jack don’t normally do a lot of creating epic battles with toy soldiers, but they enthusiastically did so with Alex’s old toys.

Photo of Jack holding the spaceman LEGO guy.

SPACESHIP!

Jack pretending to talk on an old-fashioned rotary phone.

Jack also traveled into the past via his grandma’s old-fashioned phone. (Don’t worry, she has a regular phone AND a cell phone as well.)

From there, we continued our drive north until we reached the shores of Van Vliet Lake, otherwise known as The Most Peaceful Place on All of Earth.

Jack and Quinn sitting on a small wooden boat dock on a lake.

You know, until we arrived.

Van Vliet Lake is about 20 miles away from a small town where you can get ice cream and about 40 minutes away from a bigger town where you can get doughnuts. (This is how my family thinks about places.) The morning after we arrived, we headed to the bigger town for breakfast and to visit the local wildlife park/petting zoo, because if there is anything Team Stimey likes better than water play, it is animals.

Certain members of Team Stimey were irate about being forced to participate in an away-from-the-cabin activity (*cough*Quinn*cough*), but once we got there and discovered baby goats, everybody got on board.

Alex was still paying our entry fee when the rest of us wandered through the door into the goat yard where Jack was immediately and viciously attacked by a goat.

Jack in a crab position on the ground with a small goat standing on top of him.

Seriously, that goat targeted Jack instantly upon his arrival. It tried to eat his shirt. Please note Quinn’s hand reaching in to pet the aggressor.

Those goats were probably the greatest things to ever exist. I actually think it would really behoove Team Stimey to acquire a pack (a herd? a swarm? a nibble?) of goats all for ourselves. Our grass would always be short and we could feed them our tin cans. Win win.

Photo of Quinn sitting on a rock wall. A goat is crawling on him. He looks ecstatic.

We could also have this ALL THE TIME.

I wanted to start our herd by smuggling this particular guy into my bag. He got all up in my space. I love him.

Photo of a goat center frame. I am smiling in the background.

I believe I mentioned this on Facebook, but this goat was a total attention hog.

I don’t know what this next animal is, but Jack walked up to it and said, “Hey look, Mom, it’s you!”

Photo of some sort of furry animal lying listlessly on a bench in a cage.

Evidently I should take fewer naps around my kids. They’re starting to notice my habits.

This wildlife park/zoo had lots of really fun animals to pet. We petted pigs and skunks and opossums. Jack and Quinn also went into the bunny hutch where we discovered that some of my kids have better bunny-holding skills than other someones.

Photo of Jack and Quinn each holding bunnies. Jack is supporting all of his bunny's body. Quinn has somehow folded his bunny in half.

I don’t think bunnies are supposed to fold like that, Quinn.

Two photos: 1) Jack properly holding a bunny by supporting its legs and butt 2) Quinn improperly holding a bunny by supporting everything other than its legs and butt.

Which rabbit would you rather be?

Next it was off to the deer enclosure where we competed with toddlers to attract some seriously overfed deer.

Sam feeding a deer with antlers pellets from his hand.

These deer get fed all day every day so they had little interest in us.

The deer thing was okay though because this particular place also had a budgie feeding barn. If you’ve never been to a budgie feeding barn (and you don’t find birds weird and scary what with their calm, evaluating eyes, sharp beaks, and cryptic head bobs), you should go to a budgie feeding barn. Now. Like today.

Unlike the deer, the budgies are always hungry.

Photo of Sam holding a popsicle stick with seeds stuck to it. There are four birds on the stick and in his hands. Jack is in the background with one bird on a stick. He is petting the bird.

I’d like you to notice Jack there in the background petting his bird. He seemed to go for quality over quantity. Sam was the opposite.

I had one little guy stay with me the whole time we were there. He was determined to get every last seed.

Photo of me holding my stick with a bird on it and two others on my arm.

I wanted to stuff them in my bag with the goat. That might not have turned out well for anyone.

When we first walked in and purchased our budgie feeding sticks, Alex was all, “Pshaw, budgie feeding…pfft,” and he didn’t get a stick like he was too good for the fucking budgies in his top hat and monocle and snooty attitude.

But then a budgie landed on his shoulder and, much like his children before him, he was one hundred percent on board.

Alex with a bird on his shoulder and a huge grin on his face.

Alex bonded quickly and completely with that budgie.

Which made it even worse when Quinn stole Alex’s bird and put it on his own shoulder.

A series of four photos wherein Quinn is putting the bird from the previous photo with Alex onto his shoulder and looking pretty fucking pleased with himself.

Look at Quinn’s smug little face. Needless to say, Alex was devastated.

Alex got his revenge though by paying five bucks for a giraffe-feeding experience that resulted in Quinn’s entire face getting mopped by a giraffe tongue.

Photo of Quinn with a carrot sticking out of his teeth. A giraffe has its tongue out and is grabbing the carrot with the tongue.

I think moments like this are why people have kids.

Not all members of Team Stimey chose to feed the giraffes via the mouth to mouth option.

Photo of my three kids with carrots next to giraffe heads. Jack is handing a carrot to a giraffe.

Who’s a good giraffe?

From there, we fed some more goats and some giant fish and then headed back to our cabin, where we took the first of very many boat rides we would take over the next few days. There is both a rowboat and a canoe at the cabin. For our first outing, we all piled into the rowboat.

Two photos: 1) Alex from behind rowing with Jack and Sam sitting in the back of the boat 2) selfie of Quinn and I at the other end of the boat.

One of these photos represents the end of the boat that never even thought about helping to row. Guess which one.

We came up to this lake for several years before any of our kids asked to go swimming in it. Last time we were here, that all changed. This year, Jack and Quinn were ready on Day One.

Quinn swimming.

I didn’t join them because, you know, lakes. God only knows what is living down there…algae…turtles…lake monsters.

Jack upped the ante by being the first member of Team Stimey to go skinny dipping. Here is a photo of Jack in the water and Alex wringing out his swimsuit on the boat.

Jack hanging off the side of the boat. Only his head is visible.

If lake swimming seemed unwise to me, naked lake swimming seemed worse, but who am I to stop him? (If you say “his mom,” well, you might be right.)

Sam was not interested in lake swimming, naked or otherwise, but he was super interested in rowing boats, something that I think Alex, a.k.a. the Designated Rower, has been waiting for for a decade.

Sam (from behind) rowing the boat. Alex is looking at him proudly.

You can almost read Alex’s thought bubble: “Aw, Sam is so grown up. Where did the time go?”

But the rowboat wasn’t enough. After Jack and Alex tired of boating, Sam, Quinn, and I headed back out, this time in the canoe.

Photo taken from the back of the canoe of Sam in front with a paddle and Quinn sitting in the middle.

I had a paddle too, but I sat in the back so Sam wouldn’t know when I was slacking. Quinn didn’t even pretend to help.

The three of us had a very good time and many adventures whilst canoeing about the lake, but the most photogenic one was when we accidentally paddled too close to a family of loons and seriously pissed off one of them. Once I saw what was happening, I made Sam row away. And I took photos while the loon strutted about back and forth in front of us.

Five photos: 1. Photo from in the canoe of Sam and Quinn; in front of us is a family of three loons 2. Close up of family of loons--2 adults one baby 3. one loon swimming away from the other two 4. That loon spreading his wings and making a big ol' fuss in the water 5. Same loon puffing out his chese and sticking up out of the water.

All right, all right, we get the message, Mr. Loon.

Eventually we returned to the cabin but Sam hadn’t had enough. He dropped us off and headed out by himself, which went against every overprotective parenting instinct I have, but because he’s a teenager, he took his phone with him, so we were still able to contact him if necessary.

Photo taken from land of Sam in a canoe rowing away from land.

In retrospect, maybe it was less about getting out to canoe and more about getting away from his overprotective mom.

The next day we headed out in the boats again, but this time we took both boats out at the same time, Sam and I in the canoe and the other three in the rowboat. They were doin’ some fishin’. We were avoiding worms.

Photo taken from the back of a canoe. Sam is paddling in front and in the distance are the other three in the rowboat.

We were speedier than them too, which was fun.

While we started out in that configuration, only Sam and Alex remained in their respective boats. Eventually Jack and Quinn bailed from their boat to swim and I was transferred from the canoe to the rowboat for some reason that I don’t remember.

Selfie of Alex and I on the rowboat.

Maybe it was to spend time with Alex.

It sure wasn’t for the fish.

Photo of Alex fishing in the rowboat. On his hook is a big bunch of seaweed.

Nice catch, Alex!

The cabin we stay at when we visit here is one that Alex’s grandfather built a looooong time ago. It’s an A-frame house right on the shore of the lake and comes with the added bonus of a nearby aunt that we were able to visit.

We had a picnic with said aunt (and her husband) at an entirely different lake. She brought Yahtzee and watercolor paint and paper and…my kids set about painting their arms. Because we’re us. And we’re problematic.

Two photos 1. Jack holding out his arm on which he's written I [heart] job 2. Sam holding up his arm. On it is a rainbow and a heart.

I still don’t know what Jack intended, but Sam’s is his status quo art.

I did get this perfectly posed photo of my compliant children out of it though.

Photo of me and my kids standing in a line. No one is looking at the camera. Sam has Jack in a headlock, but Jack was making a face anyway. Quinn has his arms around me and i am looking down at him.

I still kinda love it though.

Another high point was visiting the town’s community garden, which is absolutely gorgeous.

Photo of my family and Alex's aunt looking at her garden plot.

I’m glad that our family doesn’t garden in a community setting, because our garden is not as pretty or tidy as the gardens there.

We continued our S’more in Every Hand and a Hand in Every S’more policy—wait, maybe not exactly that, but we continued to eat a lot of s’mores, these being the northern indoor s’mores.

Photo of Alex sitting next to an indoor fireplace cooking s'mores.

Wherever we make them though, it’s always Alex doing the work. Clearly he loves it.

We had big plans for the following day, so we made sure to eat a big breakfast at Paul Bunyan’s which is not only awesome because of its fun statuary, but is also a Pokestop with a perpetual lure.

Photo of my kids next to a big statue of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox.

We go there primarily for their sugar-covered doughnuts.

But what were our big plans, you ask? Well, Team Stimey was going to go river kayaking.

*ominous pause*

What could possibly go wrong?

*another ominous pause followed by raucous laughter*

We’d found this place that would drive us and our kayaks upriver to drop us off and we would then kayak back down until we got to their landing. Alex had looked at their offerings and was all, “Ooooh, this two and a half hour option looks fun,” and I was like, “We’ll be doing the one-hour trip, thank you very much.”

Thank the good lord and his sweet baby Jesus that Alex ended up agreeing with me.

The kayak dude put Sam and Quinn in the water first, which might have been a mistake, because they were not interested in waiting for the rest of us, but I was all, “Oh, well Sam will take care of Quinn. They’ll be fine.”

*ominous pause*

It was just before the guy shoved me in the water that one of us asked how many of us were likely to capsize and he was like, “Oh, you’d have to work pretty hard to turn one of these things over.”

*ominous pause*

While I trust in Sam, I’m not a total fool, so I quickly paddled down the river to make sure he and Quinn were okay.

The tip of my kayak, a river, and Quinn and Sam in their individual kayaks.

They were hunky dory, happy, and kayaking through a scenic vista.

Having made sure they were okay, I paddled a little bit back upriver to check on Jack and Alex. Jack was fine and paddling away although getting tired of working his arms so hard, which would become more of a problem the farther into our trip that we went.

Photo of Jack smiling in his kayak.

I got very used to saying, “You’re doing great! Keep paddling! I know it’s hard! You’re doing great! You have to paddle, Jack! You’re doing great! Unless you want to live in your kayak, keep paddling! You’re doing great!”

Alex, meanwhile, was busy taking on water after grounding himself on a mid-river rock and nearly tipping over, or, as the kayak guy would have said, “working hard to capsize.”

He didn’t capsize, but he did get to sit in water for the rest of the trip.

All of this in the first five minutes.

*ominous pause followed by ominous music*

Midway through, the river opened up into a small lake where I spent a fair amount of time shouting and herding my family so that I could get a shot of all five of us.

Selfie of me with the rest of my family in kayaks in the background.

The way I imagined this photo turning out was very different than the way it actually did. My imaginary photo involved a straight line of kayaks and a smiling family. I’m not sure why I thought we could accomplish this in tiny individual boats when we can’t even manage it standing on dry ground.

From here, Sam and Quinn took off again, but by this time I was sure they’d be fine as they had proven themselves to be excellent and responsible kayakers.

*ominous mus—oh never mind. You know.*

At some point Alex, Jack and I rounded a bend in the river to find both Sam and Quinn standing on a riverside dock with their kayaks floating nearby. Quinn was noticeably wet.

We would later find out that we were the first capsize of the season, so I guess that’s something. Evidently Sam had intentionally rammed Quinn repeatedly resulting in his overturning and proving that Sam is not to be fucking trusted. Fortunately the river wasn’t deep, they were both safe, and they had rescued the kayak. Unfortunately, the thing had filled with water and that was turning into a HUGE problem.

We spent a lot of time trying to empty the kayak, which is incredibly difficult to do, especially if you don’t want to get wet.

Four pictures 1. Sam and Quinn on the dock 2. Sam trying to lift up the kayak to dump out the water 3. sam on the dock and Alex in the kayak trying to help 4. drawing of Alex's head exploding.

I don’t have a photo of the moment that Alex’s head exploded, so I drew it for you.

Eventually Quinn had to get back into a kayak partially filled with water.

Photo of Quinn and Sam in their kayaks. Quinn looks pissed.

In retrospect, we should have made Sam use that kayak.

Even Sam felt bad. At some point, Quinn refused to continue paddling, so Alex and I created a boat formation wherein Quinn didn’t have to paddle. We held on to each other so we were three across and we each paddled to only one side. It was onerous, but better than leaving Quinn behind and starting anew as a family of four.

Photo of me, Quinn, and Alex lined up in our boats. Downriver you can see Jack holding his paddle over his head.

Quinn wasn’t ready to admit for the record that it wasn’t the worst way to travel down a river. Also notice Jack downriver with his paddle over his head. He traveled much of the river that way.

I tell you, no five people have ever been so happy as we were to find our landing dock. We headed back to the cabin where the rest of the family decompressed and I departed for a 12-mile run into town.

Because reasons.

Said run was hot and exhausting and I ran out of water only to come upon a park with a drinking fountain at mile eleven. But it was this:

Photo of a metal pump action water fountain.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!

I have never been so sad in my life. This wasn’t even just a pumping water fountain. There was some sort of tank and some incredibly unclear instructions molded onto the thing and it took at least two hands to operate leaving no hands to hold my water bottle there and it was at about this point that I called Alex and asked him to pick me up.

We went out to dinner that night, which I mention only because we were sitting outside on the deck near yet another lake and I saw a shape bobbing in the water and I yelled really loudly, “HEY LOOK! A SEA LION!” and my family and every other family seated outside turned to look and because sea lions don’t live in lakes, we all realized that it was a dog playing fetch with a ball that his person kept throwing into the water.

I am maybe the most embarrassing person in the world.

We were leaving the next day, but before we did, we wanted to have our traditional lunch on the little island that Alex used to row to when he was a kid. We gathered all the food we had left, creating an absolutely ridiculous picnic lunch, and set off to the island.

Even though both Sam and Quinn claimed they were done with watercraft after the prior day’s kayaking experience, they headed out together in the canoe while, Jack, Alex, and I departed in the rowboat.

Two photos: 1. Jack in the rowboat with Alex rowing 2. Quinn and Sam in the canoe.

We kept Sam and Quinn in our sight though. You know. Just in case.

It was a beautiful day and it took about 20 minutes to approach the small island.

A little island with tall trees on it. The canoe is off to the side.

Wisconsin is pretty.

We had a delightful lunch of leftover milk, pancakes, doughnuts, corn chips, carrots, and maybe a sandwich or two.

Selfie of the five of us at our picnic.

We guarantee our kids food. We don’t guarantee them tasty or edible food.

Sam wanted to canoe back by himself, which was cool with everyone. It was a long way, but we’d be nearby and we figured it wouldn’t be a problem. Sam paddled off, we loaded the rowboat, and we eventually found him texting from his canoe.

Sam in his canoe, looking at his phone.

All was well.

Alex was paddling the rowboat and we might have been chasing a bald eagle or something, so we ended up drifting off a ways. Jack and Quinn jumped in to swim and we were enjoying our leisurely return to shore.

Photo of Jack and Quinn in the water smiling happily at each other.

I love how much joy Jack and Quinn get from each other. (Also, see Sam waaaaaay in the distance.)

Selfie of me at the front of the boat. Jack is hanging from the front.

I also enjoy how much joy *I* get from them.

Unfortunately, while all this cavorting was going on, the wind was picking up. Also unfortunately, it was blowing against where we were rowing. I started to receive ever angrier texts from Sam complaining that he couldn’t row anywhere. We were watching him struggling and started to get a little concerned. I texted him to find his way to us and I would join him in the canoe and help him get back to the cabin.

Then I wrote, “Sam’s Epic Battle Against the Wind!” into a text and he flipped the fuck out. I thought we were being funny and amused by the pickle in which we found ourselves. He, on the other hand, was merely furious.

Nonetheless, he was able to get to us and I climbed into his canoe and the two of us together were able to fight our way to the dock. It was tough going though. I can understand why he was having such a hard time by himself.

Meanwhile, Jack and Quinn were swimming back but staying near Alex’s boat for safety and Alex was working really hard all by himself to return home. Sam and I, with the two of us on an aerodynamic boat, were able to make good time and we arrived well before Alex did.

Sam went inside to curse at the boat from a distance as I watched Alex’s slow progress.

Alex looking exhasted giving a thumbs up as he arrived at the dock.

I am happy to report that he eventually arrived back to the dock.

Then we packed our car and got the fuck out of dodge. Our next stop was the Wisconsin Dells, where we would join a million other tourists participating in many activities, none of which involved piloting a watercraft.

That post is coming soon. Before Thanksgiving at least.

All the Fun Things, Wisconsin Version, Part I

Now that we’ve been home for a month, I think I’m just about ready to write about it. Finally. I am mostly doing this because the last time I told Alex I’d written a post he looked so hopeful and said, “About vacation?” so now I HAVE to write about it, but if you are interested in hearing aaaaaalllllllll about our vacation, please do follow along.

When last we left our intrepid vacationers, Team Stimey had arrived at the shore of the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan. Alex has a wonderful and generous aunt and uncle who have a home on the beach there and they were lovely enough to let us stay there. And when I say right on the beach, I mean Right On The Beach.

Photo of a sandy path leading down to an expanse of water. You can see three tiny shapes in the water.

I was right next to the porch when I took this photo of my munchkins in their happy place—a freshwater beach.

Alex and I were pretty happy there too.

Photo of Alex and I sitting on the beach smiling.

We were slightly more afraid of the freezing cold water than our children were.

Both of us did work our way up to swimming with the kiddos. I have to say that they’re a little more aggressive with their splashing and shoving around of my inner tube (with me in it) while humming Ride of the Valkyries than I would care for.

Photo of my feet hanging over the edge of my inner tube. All that is visible in the photo other than my fee it water aand sky.

I still got my chill on though.

We didn’t just do that though. We did everything that was fun. Really. Everything. See below.

Inner Tubes!

I mentioned that my children used me as a battering ram while I was trying to float around in my inner tube, but they were used for lots of other things as well. In an example of perfect synchronicity, our hosts had exactly three inner tubes, giving us plenty of opportunity to do tricks…

Photo of Alex holding an inner tube with Jack jumping through it.

Just like a porpoise!

lounge…

Photo of Jack wrapped in a towel and sitting in an inner tube on the beach.

Cozy.

carry them around…

Photo of Jack walking down the beach carrying an inner tube.

It was really nice of our hosts to have only photogenic water toys.

and be a vehicle for the Elusive Meowmere.

Photo of Jack lying stomach-down in an inner tube.

Or at least that is what Jack called himself. I’m not entirely sure what a Meowmere is, but apparently it is rare.

Cats!

Because we didn’t want to travel in a minivan full of five cats, three of whom don’t get along in an incredibly violent way, we had to leave our cats at home (and one at a boarding facility—see above about violence). Fortunately, our first destination came with a cat, because you really don’t want to go cold turkey on something like that.

Photo of a gray cat sitting next to Quinn's stuffed cat. Sam's head is poking in from the side.

Said cat did NOT care for Quinn’s stuffed replica of Oreo. Said cat hissed loudly at Quinn’s stuffed replica of Oreo and then didn’t go near it again.

Strawberry picking!

We headed to a pick-your-own strawberry field shortly after arriving, mostly as a cautionary tale for all the families with younger kids that were there.

Photo of Sam standing in a strawberry field.

Sam picked one strawberry at a time and then tossed them carelessly toward our collection box.

To the other families, we were all, “Here’s a grim vision of your future,” as Sam loudly told us how if he’d planned our vacation, we would have toured a series of Hot Topic stores in the northern Midwest instead of doing something ridiculous like picking fruit that he doesn’t even want to eat in the hot sun gawd mom you’re the worst.

And then Jack, in a move that really pleased every one of the young children quietly picking strawberries as well as their parents, put a strawberry in Alex’s pants and then announced loudly, “Dad! I put a strawberry in your pants!”

Photo of Quinn, Sam, Jack, and Alex in the field. Jack and Alex are squatting next to each other, but Alex is facing away from Jack.

See Jack eyeing Alex’s butt there? He had an agenda.

And then Alex took the strawberry out of his pants and put it in our collection box.

A grim, grim vision.

Quinn, the only one of our children who actually eats strawberries, worked hard to collect fruit.

Photo of a strawberry field with Quinn crouched in it.

He clearly sensed an opportunity to be “the good one.”

Assault!

Regardless of opportunities to humiliate their parents in front of their peers, the munchkins enjoyed their time at the beach more than anything—and not just for the swimming opportunities. It also gave them the opportunity to beat the shit out of each other.

Well. It gave Sam the opportunity to beat the shit out of Quinn’s head.

Seven different photos of Sam beating Quinn with an inner tube.

I kept trying to defend Quinn, but Quinn kept laughing and saying it was okay, so I was reduced to trying to tell Sam to just not whack him TOO hard in the head.

Fire!

Team Stimey doesn’t do vacations without fires, so it was fortunate for our hosts that they had a firepit so we didn’t have to burn their home down to make our s’mores.

Because we love fires so much, we make sure to practice vigilant fire safety.

Photo of Quinn by a metal-ringed firepit. He is very close to said firepit and is poking at the fire with a stick.

Like we didn’t let Quinn actually climb INTO the firepit.

Our first fire of vacation resulted in like, a hundred and eighteen photographs, including maybe the most emo photo I have ever taken or will ever take of Sam.

Photo of Sam with his hair over his half of his face ans looking sideways at the camera in a fire-glowing light.

Emo Sam says, “I feeeeeeeeeel things.”

Sometimes when you’re on vacation, you get sooooo relaxed that it is hard to maintain verticality.

Photo of Jack lying on his side wrapped in a blanket in the sand and the glow of the fire.

Can’t…muster…will…to…do….anything…but…eat…s’mores…please…prepare…one…for…me…

Grandma!

One of the benefits of vacationing in Wisconsin is that the kiddos get to spend a few days with their grandma, whom they adore.

Quinn sitting by the fire with Alex's mom.

Super cozy!

Mockery!

My little punk asshole of a kid not only took my spot and refused to get up, but he also made fun of me as he did it. Jerk.

Photo of Quinn sitting in a chair under a blanket, holding a book, and drinking a soda.

He was all, “Can you bring me another Diet Coke?” Jackass.

And the rest of the jerks in my family laughed and laughed and laughed.

Independence Day!

I know it doesn’t seem like we should have been on vacation on July 4th what with me just writing my recap now, but it’s true. The great thing about being on a vacation in a small town on the 4th is that you get to experience a Small Town Fourth™. We headed down to downtown Sheboygan to eat dinner by the waterfront where there were to be fireworks later that evening. In a happy cowinkydink, there was also a little carnival right there as well.

Photo of Sam and I. His head is on my shoulder.

You can’t tell from this photo, but this is Sam and I on a Tilt-a-Whirl before it started. I used to LOVE the Tilt-a-Whirl. Now it turns out that Tilt-a-Whirls nauseate me. Ask me how I know.

The kiddos really enjoy the carnival games where the carnies basically steal your money in exchange for letting you throw a projectile of some sort at a target. Sam and Quinn worked together to earn enough tickets to buy a gift for me just in case I was missing my cat Sharky.

Photo of Quinn holding a stuffed shark.

Finn spent the rest of vacation as our car dashboard lookout

Quinn had gotten a giant glow stick on the last day of school from a teacher and he carefully saved it for July 4th. Through some miracle, we remembered to take it on vacation and to the fireworks. The thing had a $1 price tag on it. Jack and Quinn played with it joyously, running around a field for a really long time. I need to buy more of those.

Photo of Quinn and Jack against a dark sky. They each have a hand on a large green glowstick raised above their head.

In rod we trust!

Sam also really loved the lead-up to the fireworks, actively participating in family activities and enthusiastically joining us in conversation—oh, wait.

Photo of Sam sitting in a dark field looking at his phone. The glow is lighting up his face.

Evidently this is the teenager version of a glow stick.

Cattails! Cows! Dead birds in the road!

The day after the fourth, our little cottage was a swirling sea of conflicting access needs, wherein Jack and Quinn were coming close to blows and Alex, who was trying to take a conference call, had that air about him that led me to believe if I didn’t take action that he would get in the car and drive away, abandoning his family for good.

Not wanting this to happen, I grabbed Quinn and headed out on a walk to see a pasture of cows I’d noticed on a run the day before. En route to said cows, we experienced ALL of rural Wisconsin.

We had a slow race with a tractor.

Photo of Quinn walking on the side of a road holding a cattail. In the background you can see a tractor.

It never caught us. But we didn’t catch it either.

We discovered what is inside cattails.

Photo of Quinn holding a cattail that he has broken open.

Regular ol’ plant innards.

We found a dead pigeon.

Photo of Quinn standing on a road looking at a dead bird.

Yep. Dead.

And then…the coup de grace…the cows.

Two photos 1) Quinn smiling happily 2)Quinn looking at a few cows.

I wish anything made me as happy as looking at cows makes Quinn.

On the way back, all we did was hitchhike.

Photo of Quinn with his thumb out next to a maroon van.

Fortunately it was our car.

German food!

Okay, so eating the German food was not super fun. I don’t know that eating German food is something I would want to do regularly. But! The waitress was telling us about some of the appetizers and she mentioned a giant pretzel and held her hands about a foot apart and Alex was all, “I don’t think we need that,” and I said, “No, no, no, we will be purchasing the giant pretzel,” and so we did and if you ask Jack what his favorite part of vacation was, he will say, “The giant pretzel.”

Giant pretzels!

Photo of a big pretzel with bowls of sauce on it.

Okay, it looks kinda big…

Photo of the pretzel. This photo includes Quinn in the frame, which shows how big the pretzel really is.

…okay, once you add Quinn for scale, THAT’S A GIANT PRETZEL!

It was super goddamn delicious too.

Concert/Embarrassing your first born!

I may have mentioned once or twice that Sam is super into music. One of his favorite bands is All Time Low and they happened to be opening for Blink-182 in Milwaukee when we were in Wisconsin. Sam convinced us to let him go and he decided that I should be the parent who took him.

Big mistake. Huge.

What’s worse than your mom going to a concert with you?

Photo of Sam and I in front of the venue. I have a big smile on my face and am giving an obnoxious thumbs up. Sam looks like he'd like to die.

This mom going to a concert with you.

I managed to calm down a little bit after that and worked hard on not embarrassing him too much. We ended up having a lot of fun at the concert, but I think I might have successfully gotten myself out of being the concert-attending parent.

Booze!

We drank all kinds of fun drinks on vacation. I’ve just really started to enjoy beer flights, partly because if you don’t like a particular beer, you can make your husband drink it and move on to another one and partly because you get to feel like a giant while you drink it.

Three photos 1) a beer flight 2) a fancy bloody mary 3) my beer and legs on the beach

I always really want to like Bloody Marys and I always end up disappointed. This one here was without a doubt the most beautiful drink I’ve ever had though.

Regarding that giant thing:

Photo of Alex drinking a beer from a big ceramic mug.

Normal-sized beer, normal-sized Alex.

But then…

Photo of Alex drinking a tiny glass of beer from a beer flight. Quinn is giving him bunny ears.

Tiny-sized beer, giant-sized Alex.

Goofing off!

IMG_6395

What? Were we supposed to abandon the leftover whipped cream just because we ran out of strawberry shortcake?

Family time!

IMG_6391

I guarantee you, there ain’t no five of us sitting around playing Yahtzee in Maryland.

Did I mention the beach?

My kids love the beach. My kids LOVE the beach. They played on the sand and in the water for hours and hours and hours. They were so purely happy that it made me so very happy just to watch them be happy.

Photo of Quinn sitting in the water right at the edge of the beach.

Quinn loves the water more than anyone.

Photo of Jack, Alex, and Sam building sand castles.

I don’t know what they like more—building sand structures or crushing sand structures.

Photo of my three kids running in the water.

I love how they all get along in the water. No bickering, just joy.

Photo of Quinn sitting in an inner tube and Jack standing behind it.

I don’t even know what they do out there. Sometimes Quinn just jumps up and down in the water. It’s weird and charming and totally happy.

Quinn drawing in the sand with a stick. He has written "save me."

Quinn brought home the stick he used to write this. It was one of his souvenirs. It’s in his room right now.

Photo of Jack in sun speckled water.

I just can’t get enough of photographing my kids in the water because they are so happy and beautiful.

These goofballs!

Selfie of all five of us in the water.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to take a selfie of five people while you’re floating in an inner tube in the bright bright sun? (Answer: hard.)

I’m going to stop here and continue the rest of our vacation tale in a subsequent post. I predict that will happen prior to Labor Day. Maybe.