Sad Cone

I don’t remember if we were driving or running the first time Alex called my attention to him, lying on his side in a muddy puddle. We couldn’t figure out what his purpose was there. There was no logic to his being placed by the side of a running path in the center of a collection of rainwater where it was unlikely anyone would step, whether he was there or not.

“You know what I feel sad for?” Alex asked, pausing before gesturing to the side of the road and answering himself. “Sad Cone.”

Photo of a bright orange cone lying on its side in a puddle of water.And it was. It was so sad. There he was, lying face down in the muck and the freezing cold and the rain. And no one cared about Sad Cone.

Except Alex and me. We cared about Sad Cone.

Sad Cone lived in a puddle by the side of Alex and my running route. We would also regularly drive by Sad Cone. We always made note of him as we passed, checking to see how deep his puddle was or whether his mud coat had climbed higher. Sad Cone became a character in our lives.

During our runs, I told Alex about running mantras and how sometimes internally repeating such a mantra can keep a runner moving when they think they can’t go on. One day, during a particularly difficult stretch, Alex said, “I AM NOT SAD CONE!” and thus was born a running mantra.

(He also sometimes uses, “OUTTA MY WAY, JERKASS!” complete with flailing arms and shoving, but I prefer the Sad Cone mantra.)

We kept Sad Cone company all fall and he gave us a smile every time we ran passed him. We noted when his puddle seemed particularly cold or dirty. We commented when tire tracks appeared around him. His mantra pushed Alex to run when it was hard. We were contemplating bringing a Sharpie on a run so we could give Sad Cone a face and share him with the other runners on our path.

Then, just as Sad Cone’s puddle shallowed and started to ice over so that we could start thinking about reaching him, we drove past one day and noticed that someone had saved him. He was still on his side, but he was on dry pavement on the other side of the road. By the time we went running the next day, Sad Cone was gone entirely.

We didn’t even get to say goodbye.

We’ve been running a few times since Sad Cone left and it’s just not the same. We’ll never know who put him in that puddle or why and we don’t know who took him away. Sad Cone is gone, but we will always remember him.

Happy New Year!

Well, I had a very successful last day of 2014. I finished cleaning my whole house (except for that one room that we won’t speak of; everyone has that one room, right?) so we can at least start the new year not living in filth.

I also managed to wear a white sweater all damn day long without spilling anything on it. It’s like I’m a fucking magician or something.

I was printing out my blog yesterday as I do at the end of every year (it took less paper than ever before) and realized that Team Stimey may have had a more epic year than we have had in a long, long time. And the funny thing is that almost none of it was planned prior to 2014.

Probably the biggest thing that happened to us is that we bought a new house, moved, and sold our old house all within three months, when we hadn’t been planning to do any of that for at least another year. During that period of time, I touched every single thing we owned twice, once to pack them and once to unpack them, yet I still never found the brown clogs that I KNOW were somewhere in the house we moved out of.

WHERE THE FUCK DID THE BROWN CLOGS GO?

This will probably be the only year that the car we bought isn’t the biggest purchase we made. We weren’t planning on buying a new car either, except our mechanic told us that our old car was likely to kill us (and soon!), so we got to hemorrhage money on wheels in addition to a house. Per usual, the process was soul-destroying.

The last major thing that happened to Team Stimey this year that we had not planned on, was my joining the staff of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network as office manager. I was completely terrified to take that job. I’d worked in the recent past, but it was out of my home and I only had to see my boss once a year at a holiday party. This job involved riding Metro into DC multiple days a week to wear business clothes, procure summer childcare, interact with actual people, and generally be a professional person.

None of these things come easily to me, but taking that job is one of the best things that I’ve done in recent memory. I love working for an organization that I feel so proud of and I feel as if my particular skill set is very helpful there. I really like my co-workers and have liked getting to know them. I enjoy my new-found sense of purpose and I am so grateful for the structure and routine that working has brought to my life. Also, very importantly, I am so happy to experience autistic space, something I haven’t had before.

So those are the really big, full-year impacting changes for Team Stimey, but there was also a lot of other stuff that happened as well. I’ve selected one post from each month to give you a little tour of Team Stimey’s year.

We started January with Jack’s early-2014 bout of rogue eyelashes. I’m happy to report that they didn’t come back.

I did a lot of running in 2014. In February I told you all about how I’m the best runner ever. In case you don’t bother to click that link, you should know that I’m being sarcastic there.

March brought us more Jack, specifically his special hockey tournament that made me truly remember the joy of travel tournaments with his team.

2014—April, specifically—brought us Chester, a small brown mouse who tried to fill Algernon’s paw prints.

May. Oh, lord. May. May was the month that we gave our pool to some friends of ours, along with a free extra gift of wild rat babies. Yet one more reason you might not want to know me in real life.

June was an intense month for Stimeyland. That was the month that my post about Jack and his autistic classmates’ photos being left off of a display of all his school’s graduating fifth graders went as viral as I ever hope to have a post of mine go. The attention from that post, even though it was mostly positive, was enough to convince me that I am completely happy staying a small blogger. I have no idea how some people deal with the intensity of that much attention all the time. That post actually inspired real change though, with the formation of a committee at that school to work on ideas for better inclusion. Jack is no longer at that school, but I attended the first committee meeting and am hopeful that it continues and is making positive change.

Alex and I actually went on our first kid-free vacation since…ever in June, but I wrote about it in July.

My kids went back to school in August. Sam started 7th grade at the same middle school he went to last year. Jack started 6th grade at a new school—and proceeded to be super successful there. Quinn started 4th grade at a new school, which was pretty tough on him. He’s doing better though. Also, I wrote about the bus stop.

I ran my first half marathon in September. Because I’m me, I fell flat on my face twice during the running of said half marathon.

I wrote about a bunch of fun things in October, including my trip to Disney World as well as the Bourbon Chase, but I choose to highlight Sam’s decision to start playing the bassoon because (1) I haven’t highlighted anything about Sam yet, (2) you guys left some awesome comments on that post, and (3) Alex was definitively told he was wrong, which I always enjoy. It turns out that, although he gets better every week, learning to play the bassoon is hard and I’m not convinced that Sam doesn’t wish he’d never started.

We raked a lot of leaves in November.

Quinn drew some excellent illustrations for an assignment in December.

All in all, it’s been a really wonderful year. Team Stimey is very lucky, mostly because we have each other as well as a strong support system who always steps up for us. Thank you for being here for this year. I hope you all have a 2015 full of love and joy and laughter. That’s what we’re hoping for.

As I watch my three kids play with each other as Alex and I sit on the couch together, I think, fate willing, there is a good chance that’s exactly what we’ll get in 2015.

Photo of my three kids

A Holiday in Photos (and Also Some Words)

Team Stimey had a lovely Christmas. It was one of the most relaxed days we’ve had in a long time. Much of my family didn’t even get out of their pajamas all day, which usually is upsetting to me, but today seemed just about right.

What seemed right to us, however, seemed exceedingly strange to some members of Team Stimey.

Photo of my black cat with a slightly alarmed look on her face.

“What…in…the FUCK…is happening here?”

I’m going to cut the suspense right here and let you know that Santa came and all of my children were very happy.

Photo of Quinn, Jack, and Sam sitting on the couch together. Quinn is reading, Jack is playing with a little robot, and Sam is also playing with a little robot.

It’s funny because Santa brought these weird tiny robots in boxes with Japanese writing on them. Frankly, just looking at them, I wasn’t sure what was in the boxes. They were Jack’s favorite present of the whole day. See above.

Santa also gave the kids a bucket of snowballs, which was a huge mistake, especially considering the laser-sharp aim Sam has developed.

The cats got a crinkly tunnel as a present later in the day, but until then, they had to make do with the watching the local wildlife.

Photo of my two black cats crouched by the a sliding glass door. There is a squirrel on the other side of it.

Starfire almost bolted through the window after that squirrel.

We had gift successes, like this beanbag:

Photo of Quinn standing by an open box with a green beanbag inside. He has a huge grin on his face.

It was exactly what he wanted!

The box no longer holds a beanbag. Instead, Quinn lies inside with a huge grin.

Oh. Wait. Maybe he just wanted the box.

Photo of Quinn's closet. He is inside it, sitting on a beanbag and peering out of the door.

Okay. Maybe he does like the beanbag. (He’s making a cozy nook in his closet. He also got a lamp for it today.)

We also had gift failures, like the video game that we couldn’t get to install correctly.

Photo of Alex grimacing in front of a computer while holding an Xbox controller. My hand is in the front of the photo, holding a little figurine of a bomb with an "f" attached to it.

I let Alex borrow the “f-bomb” I got. He needed it.

At some point, I forced Alex to leave the house and go for a quick run, which was sorely needed. The only snag was that we had gone running while a pie was in the oven and we ran slower than we usually do (maybe because caramel corn and coffee cake aren’t conducive to speed work). We were probably 3/4 of a mile from home when I looked at my watch and mentioned that we were usually a lot farther along by the time 27 minutes had passed.

Then Alex got a startled look on his face and he was all, “THE PIE! WE HAVE TO SAVE THE PIE!” and he took off running, I swear, faster than I am capable of moving, yelling, “THE PIE! THE PIE!”

The fact that I was trying really hard not to pee myself laughing made it difficult for me to chase after him. The fact that his arms were flailing and he was hurtling along at lightspeed did not help me either.

When we run together, we usually walk up the last steep half mile to our house. Today, Alex kept encouraging me to run it, shouting, “LEAVE ME! SAVE THE PIE!”

Photo of Alex and I outside laughing. We are both wearing aqua blue shirts.

The fact that we were dressed identically only made us more ridiculous.

(We saved the pie.)

Imagine some Minecraft playing, some ham eating, and some Lord of the Rings watching and you pretty much have the rest of our day. It was fantastic. I hope your day was as chill as ours. Know that we spent time thinking of our friends and family and wishing you all a Merry Christmas as well.

Sending love and wishes for a lovely end of 2014 to all of you from Team Stimey.

Photo of five LEGO minifigures, each one personalized to look like a member of my family. There are also three LEGO cats.

Are you ever pissed when someone gives you a gift that is so perfect you wish YOU’D been the one to think of it? Yeah.

Oh, hiya!

Are you still there?

Things are good here, but super busy. We’ve had family in town since before Thanksgiving and I had this early-December realization that I had to prepare for Christmas and then my kids had seventy-five million events over the past three weeks and things were very overwhelming and suddenly here it is, mid-December and I’ve neglected you, my wonderful friends from the computer.

So, hello! How are you? I hope you’re enjoying the beginning of winter.

One thing that I’ve been up to is running. I had a couple of really fun races last month. The first was the Across the Bay 10K, where I got to run across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Then I ran another 10K on Thanksgiving, which was fun, but challenging considering those two races, and maybe one or two other runs, were the only times I ran more than four miles at a stretch in the whole month.

Which leads me to my next topic.

I’ve been doing a running streak. For both of the past two years, November and December have been tough for me in keeping up with my running, so I decided to do a Thanksgiving to New Year’s streak, where I run at least one mile every day.

You want to know something? I don’t want to run at least one mile every day. This streak is the worst idea in the whole entire world. I have had a bunch of days already when I’ve had to get on my treadmill at 8:30 at night because I haven’t had a chance to run all day. One day, it was almost ten in the pm by the time I was able to get on the treadmill. It sucked.

That said, I’ve run every single stupid day and I’ll probably do another streak again next year. Because there is nothing to keep me moving like the threat of some imaginary failure.

The fun part of the run streak is that Alex is starting to run, so we’ve been doing it together. It’s a little tougher for him to find time to do it, so we’re not able to run together very often, but it’s been super fun when we do.

Alex is kicking butt at it too. He’s already able to run more than a mile and a quarter without walking and totals a couple of miles each time we go out. I’m super proud of him.

Now, while I am willing to commit to a run streak, I am not confident in my ability to commit to a blogging streak. (Maybe I could get Alex to help me out on that too?) But! I am going to try to write more often. Because I miss this space. And I miss you.

So happy December! I’m looking forward to seeing more of you this month!

Who Thought Trees Were Such a Good Idea Anyway?

Team Stimey spent a chunk of the weekend raking leaves. And by “Team Stimey,” I mean Alex, Sam, and I. The other two showed themselves to be far too unmotivated to participate so they escaped this particular fate.

My family operates on a “prove yourself to be incompetent and you no longer have to do the chore” system. It is inefficient.

Selfie of me, Alex and Sam in front of a pile of leaves. Sam is wearing his black fedora.

Team Stimey: Leaf Raking Edition

You may notice that Sam’s jazz band hat is also a leaf raking hat.

I bring up the leaf raking for a couple of reasons. First of all, there were some fun things that happened during said leaf raking and I thought I would share them with you. Also, we won our street’s leaf raking and I wanted to brag about it.

Photo of Sam and Alex dumping a tarp load of leaves onto a GIANT PILE.

Our neighbors didn’t know that they were involved in a Leaf Off, but we did and that is what matters.

I don’t know why we moved into a house with so many stupid trees in the yard, but we did, and now we are paying the price. So. Many. Leaves.

Photo of Alex and Sam dragging a tarp full of leaves past the back of our house where there is a tree, full of red leaves.

DROP YOUR STUPID LEAVES ALREADY, TREE!

I’m looking forward to all of the tracking in of leaves once that tree up there finally drops its leaves right next to our back door in, you know, December. Or January. ENOUGH ALREADY, TREE. WHY ARE YOU HOLDING ON SO HARD?

I tried to avoid leaf raking and hang inside with Quinn and Jack, but Alex used his patented mix of guilt, exasperation, and annoyance to get me outside with a rake in my hands. He then spent a lot of time telling me about how his way to rake and transport leaves was correct and mine was not and, “Let’s just do it right the first time and then we don’t have to re-rake up all the leaves.” It was très annoying—especially when he was right.

On the plus side, I got to see this awesome visitor to our yard:

Photo of a giant antlered stag in profile. He just started loping away from our yard.

I watched one of our cats see this guy the last time he was in our yard. Her little cat eyeballs almost popped out of her head.

I also got to do things like distract Sam and generally be a nuisance while Alex steadfastly did things.

Sam in his hat holding a rake and posing for my photo while Alex rakes in the background.

At least he could take comfort in the knowledge that he was doing it right.

At some point—because Alex had to be somewhere, not because we ran out of leaves, we’ll never run out of leaves—we made a decision to be done.

Then I shoved Alex in the pile of leaves.

You can see a pile of leaves with the bottom half of Alex's body sticking out. His head and shoulders are completely buried.

It was HILARIOUS.

Then Sam and Alex got this…look in their eyes and I started running and screaming because I know it is funny to throw people into a pile of leaves, but it is NOT funny to be thrown in a pile of leaves because DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MANY SPIDERS ARE PROBABLY IN THERE?! so I tried to sprint through the garage door into the house, but they caught me and they didn’t listen when I told them, “No. Really. I’m serious about this. I don’t want to be thrown into the pile of leaves. I really, really don’t,” but this came out sounding more like a high-pitched screech that turned out to be surprisingly ineffectual.

And then they threw me in a pile of leaves.

Me in a pile of leaves. I don't look happy.

I’m pretty sure the spiders laid their eggs in my hair.

Now we’re looking into a tree slaughter, under the assumption that if we cut down all of our trees, we won’t have to rake any leaves next year.*

* Kidding. But wouldn’t that have its charms?

Mile Zero, Smile Eight Million

I’m determined to write a post about Alex and my trip to Key West (Mile 0 of US Highway 1, as every trinket for sale in the area points out), even as day after day passes and our vacation gets further away. We went there to celebrate our 15th anniversary, even though said anniversary was at the end of May, otherwise known as the Moving Freakout Era.

My mom came into town to watch our kids for us. I suggested that she take notes on how her week with the munchkins went so I could make it a post, but she didn’t do that so instead of a hilarious post about what it’s like to take care of Team Stimey Junior, this post about enjoying five days away from Team Stimey Junior will have to do.

If you are on Facebook and you are so inclined, you can see my annotated photo album of pictures from our trip on my Stimeyland page. Please don’t judge me if you see repeats of jokes from this post over there. I only have so much humor in me.

Alex and I flew into Ft. Lauderdale on a Monday morning. We had a long day driving south from there and all the way out to the keys, a drive made longer by a traffic jam caused by a car accident on literally the only road in or out of the area. We didn’t get to our hotel and settled in until nearly dinnertime, so we eagerly jumped in a hotel shuttle to the downtown area to find a restaurant.

Before dinner, however, there was something I had to do. I needed to try to fit in with all the other tourist ladies by immediately purchasing a large sun hat.

Photo of me wearing large sunglasses and a big green sunhat.

It seemed the thing to do.

I was pretty sure I was supposed to buy a hat, but I was worried that I would buy the wrong hat. I told Alex that I shouldn’t just buy the first hat I saw. But then I saw this hat and I like that color green and it cost a mere twelve dollars and I was all, “How can you go wrong with a twelve-dollar hat?”

It turns out that twelve-dollar hats will rapidly start to disintegrate and shed parts and you really can go wrong with a twelve-dollar hat, but it served its purpose in that it kept the sun off of my face and I was able to talk to Alex ad nauseum about my hat, so I guess in the final tally, I didn’t really go wrong.

Our trip rapidly turned into punctuating our long, leisurely meals with sightseeing and wandering up and down Duval Street. We set the tone with our first night dinner at nine one 5, a very delicious and fun restaurant that we sort of randomly picked. Alex ordered some sort of snapper dish and the waiter told him that the snappers were small that day, so he’d get two instead of just one. We, naturally, imagined two small fish on a plate.

Oh. Not so.

Photo of two giant fish on a plate along with Chester, my stuffed mouse.

Chester is there for scale.

The best thing though is that not only did I laugh uproariously when Alex’s giant dinner arrived, but an adjacent table of four men also laughed hysterically at Alex, causing Alex to protest that, “No! I swear! I didn’t order two giant fish! The waiter brought them! It wasn’t me!”

Maybe you had to be there, but when strangers join you in mercilessly mocking your husband, it totally makes your night. At least it made mine. It was great.

It was even better when Chester got drunk and wore one of the fishes as a hat.

Chester with one of the fish heads resting on top of his head.

Chester is so embarrassing.

We then boarded the shuttle back to the hotel just as the young people were arriving in town to party for the night. Alex and I both slept eleven hours that night. I don’t think that has happened for…ever.

Tuesday was our heavy sightseeing day. We started by going to the Hemingway House, where Ernest Hemingway lived in the 1930s. Obviously we went because Hemingway was an amazing writer and it was very cool to visit his home, learn about him, and see where he wrote his most famous books.

Two photos: one is me standing in front of a small building surrounded by people; the second is the interior of the building. A room with a table, chairs, and typewriter at the center. There is a taxidermied gazelle head mounted on the wall and various other decorations.

Here is me standing in front of Hemingway’s writing studio, followed by a photo of the studio itself. That must be why I haven’t written the great American novel yet—not enough dead animals on my walls.

Let’s be honest here though. The real reason we went to the Hemingway House is because of the cats. Evidently Hemingway was big into cats, specifically polydactyl (more toes than normal) cats. He kept a bunch of them in the ’30s and they still have a whole lot of them (48!) there now.

There were cats everywhere. There was a cat on Hemingway’s bed. There was a cat in Hemingway’s studio. There was even a cat hanging out in the ladies bathroom, which I presume was never Hemingway’s.

A brown, orange, and white cat sitting on a brick pathway surrounded by greenery.

Cats like this one. Hello, cat.

Fortunately, I do have a lot of cats, so maybe that great book is in me somewhere. We made a point of telling our tour guide that we used to have a polydactyl cat, as did every other person on the property who had ever owned, petted, or heard of a many-toed feline.

The tour guide was unimpressed with our cat story.

We wandered around some more and did more touristy things. We saw a lighthouse, so naturally we paid $10 each to climb to the top. Because why wouldn’t we pay good American money to climb 88 tiny, metal, spiral steps in billion-degree heat and humidity? At least the view was pretty.

We rewarded ourselves with more food, drinks, and Chester shenanigans.

Four photos: Chester sitting on a drink served in a pineapple, with paper umbreallas and chunks of pineapples sticking out of it; Chester sitting with a shrimp tail on each hand; Chester drinking a margarita out of a straw, Chester on his back near a margarita.

There is nothing more absurd than Chester on a bender.

We had such a lovely day. Probably every half hour or so, Alex or I would say, “Wow! We could never do this if our kids were here!” We missed the hell out of our munchkins, but seriously, we would have walked five feet in the heat and Quinn would have fallen to the ground in agony, Jack would have taken off after one of the wild chickens, and Sam would have tried to micromanage his brothers until a fist fight broke out in the streets.

We could have had a great trip with our kids, but, damn, it would have been different. We never get to just walk around and wander in and out of shops and attractions. We left the hotel that morning with no set plan. I cannot remember the last time we did that. It was so fun.

We ended our evening at a restaurant called Better Than Sex that only featured dessert, each dish served with a double entendre. It was hilarious and fun for us, especially when a mom, dad, and their two kids came in and read the menu. “Look, white and sticky,” the mom read off the drinks menu as the dad shot her a look. Alex and I ate our Jungle Fever and Cookie Nookie and giggled.

Alex and I had spent a lot of time on Tuesday debating whether we should go on a snorkeling boat trip. Our pros list included items such as, I bet it would be fun! and Fish are cool! and We might feel like bad tourists if we don’t at least touch the water! Our cons list mostly included one item: Goddamn, going snorkeling sure does seem like a lot of work.

It turns out that going snorkeling mostly involved putting on a swimsuit and paying $39 each to get a boat ticket, so that is what we did on Wednesday.

First though, we had to eat a lot of food, wander through a bunch of shops, and visit the Key West aquarium where I took this awesome photo.

Photo of Alex looking into an iguana enclosure with his hands hooked into the wires. There is an iguana to his left looking out of the enclosure with his feet hooked into the wire. Their poses mirror each other.

The greatest thing is that even though Alex is totally mirroring the iguana to his left, he didn’t even see that guy until I pointed him out.

We were going on an afternoon snorkel trip, so we headed out at about 3:30 on a boat headed to a reef.

Selfie of Alex and me. I'm wearing my hat.

Who is that rocking the awesome sun hat?

In case you haven’t figured this out about me yet, I like to take photos. So, after we had checked in for our boat ride, I took a special interest in the disposable waterproof cameras at the shop next door. The only problem was that they used, ugh, you know, actual film, which involves something like thirty steps to actually develop, look at, and share, leading me to believe that I would never actually successfully utilize those photos. Thinking this way led me to shift my gaze six inches to the left where the shop was selling $20 waterproof cases for iPhones.

What could be the harm in putting an extremely expensive piece of electronic equipment in an untested plastic bag and tossing it into the ocean?

No harm! I decided.

Happily, not only did the case work perfectly, but it helped me capture such important and flattering memories such as this one:

Selfie of Alex and I wearing our snorkel masks and breathing thingies. Alex's eyes are closed and my forehead is wrinkled and I look extremely concerned.

YOU try to take a selfie while floating in the ocean with a tube in your mouth and a sheet of plastic over your face, why don’t you?

Happily, my very first test shot captured something better. I don’t even think I was aiming the camera when I took this one.

Photo of the boat silhouetted against the sky. The sun is centered exactly behind the mast of the boat.

It almost looks intentionally framed.

We spent about 45 minutes in the water looking at fish and swimming around the reef. I saw some sort of ray (stingray? manta ray? bat ray? who knows?), which was very cool. Alex swallowed some seawater, making him barf a little, and then he got to watch all the little yellow fish who came swarming up to eat it.

What? We are Team Stimey. Do you think no one threw up on this trip?

Our boat ride back coincided with both the sunset and a storm rolling in. Even the boat crew was impressed by the sky.

Photo of the sunset behind boats floating on the water. The setting sun is at the left of the photo with a big cloud bank piling up on the right.

If I actually knew how to take sunset photos, this one would have been amazing.

On Thursday, we were driving north out of the keys so we could visit the Everglades on Friday before we got on our plane home, but before we drove off-island, we tooled around a part of Key West we hadn’t explored before, including the southernmost point on the continental United States.

Alex and I standing on opposite sides of a large marker declaring us at the southernmost point in the continental United States. The ocean is behind us. Cuba is 90 miles away.

We also went to the southernmost gift shop. Where I bought a toothpick holder.

We visited a wildlife refuge, waded in the water a little bit, walked through the Key West AIDS Memorial, and checked out a botanical garden housed in an old Civil War fort.

We found the wildlife refuge because I was attracted by a cluster of wild chickens in a parking lot. Did I mention the wild chickens? There are wild chickens walking all over Key West. It is charming as hell. I kind of wish there were chickens everywhere. Although the cluster of chickens in the wildlife refuge parking lot were actually gathered around the corpse of one of their own. That is, I suppose, the downside of wild chicken herds.

Also seen at the wildlife refuge:

A bird stands outside an open door. There is a chalkboard on the door  that says, "Please knock. If you need help call xxx-xxx-xxxx."

Seems like kind of a dick move to ask the bird to call for help when he doesn’t even have a dialing finger.

It rained on and off Thursday morning, which was good timing for us. Not only were we not doing anything that required clear skies, but the rain turned the ocean all kinds of amazing colors.

Photo of a palm tree in front of the ocean, striped with different colors of blues, browns, and greens.

We won’t discuss the smell of the ocean and sea grass and what not.

On our way out of the keys, we stopped at a state park to eat the Cuban sandwiches we’d bought for lunch. Because we were there, we decided to take a swim in water that turned out to be SO nice and SO warm that we never wanted to leave.

Another selfie of Alex and Jean, this time in the ocean.

This is a photo of happy.

Friday morning we were scheduled for a trip to the Everglades before heading back to Ft. Lauderdale to catch our flight home. I had been to the Everglades briefly in 1998 and had always wanted to go back. We took a fan boat tour, learned a little bit about alligators, and saw some local wildlife (turtles! fish! alligators! dragonflies!). I still want to go back and see some more.

Photo of the Everglades. There is water with the sky mirrored in it separated by grass and a hummock with trees on it.

If you wonder why I still want to go back, just look at this photo.

There is something about the Everglades that I just really think is super appealing. Also, I got to hold a baby alligator named Snappy, and that was pretty cool.

Me holding a small alligator in my hands.

I was expressly instructed not to kiss the alligator, which was fortunate, as once he was in my hands, all I wanted to do was kiss him and snuggle him.

In the van on the way to our tour, we saw an alligator in a canal by the side of the road. It was upside down and kind of puffy looking. “It’s sunning itself!” said our tour guide.

I don’t think it was sunning itself.

We had woken up at the ungodly hour of seven-something (Can you imagine? Before 8? Waking up with an alarm clock?) to go on our Everglades tour, so naturally we requested a late checkout and took a nap before we checked out of our hotel and went the airport.

We had such a wonderful time. I think my mom is lucky we came home at all. Although, frankly, we did miss our kids. Our trip was the perfect amount and type of time away.

When Alex had originally suggested this trip, I did what I always do when someone suggests I leave my house, be it for an evening out or an extended trip away from home and responsibility: I internally panicked and then started listing reasons why it would be impossible to make it happen.

I’m so glad that this time I listened to Alex and to other people who were encouraging about my going. When we originally made the plans, we weren’t planning on buying a house. When we got on the plane, we had moved and were mere days away from putting our old house on the market. If ever there were a vacation where my lists of reasons I couldn’t leave home were valid, it was this one.

But we went. And it was so necessary. Having five days with no responsibilities was exactly what both Alex and I needed after all the stress we’d endured for the prior two months. Thanks to my mom for watching my kids in such a spectacular fashion and thanks to Alex for forcing me out of my comfort zone into a wonderful week that was sorely needed.

I’m a lucky girl.

Photo of Alex and Jean on their snorkel boat in front of the sunset.

Happy 15th anniversary, Alex! I love you!

Coming Home and the Presentation of Souvenirs

It’s funny, because usually when I’m on vacation, I find time to post here. I think that’s because I am always back in a hotel room by 8:30 to put my kiddos to bed and then I have to sit in the dark with nothing but my computer to entertain me as they go to sleep. It turns out that if you go on vacation without your kids, you can do things like stay out until midnight and then go to bed as soon as you get back to the hotel.

In related news, did you know that there is still a midnight?

In more related news, yes, I am aware of how lame I am for being impressed that I was out and about with the living people after eleven in the pm.

Also related, Jesus Christ, I am so glad I don’t go to bars late at night. Just walking past them was enough for me.

Anywho, Alex and I have returned from our five-day trip to Key West. In case you want a reminder of exactly how pathetic we are, that was our first trip without our kids since before Sam was born. In other words, about 13 years.

Don’t worry though. Much as we may have considered it, we didn’t just abandon Team Stimey Junior to Minecraft and their own devices. My mother came into town to take care of them. She didn’t let on, but she was suitably apprehensive. After all, as an old friend of hers said, “DON’T YOU READ HER BLOG?!”

She shouldn’t have worried. They got along swimmingly.

Photo of my three kids sitting on the couch with my mom. Jack is slightly blurry. All are smiling and look very happy.

I’m not sure that Jack ever stops moving long enough to be completely not blurry.

Although let’s be honest. I think we all know that my kids didn’t sit around compliantly all week. My mom definitely worked hard.

A photo of my kids and mom in the same spot as before, but this time their limbs are thrown about and they are laughing and wild.

Yes. That looks right.

I can’t wait to tell you guys about our trip because it was awesome. We had so much fun. I took seven million great photos. We laughed and snorkeled and drank out of pineapples.

But tonight I am preparing to go back to work tomorrow and it is also Jack’s first day of camp and my mom left this afternoon, so I am going to hold off on telling you about all of that and instead, I will sit here by my cat and regale you with stories about our alcohol-fueled metal sculpture souvenir-buying extravaganza.

I think my mom was nervous when I called her to get her mailing address because it wasn’t in my phone and then texted her a photo of the souvenir I’d purchased for myself.

Photo of a metal, multi-colored rat. He is about a foot tall and oh so very garish.

I call him Hemingway. He is so fucking awesome. And, yes, I was also baffled that no one else had already bought him. Weirdly, the shopkeeper seemed thrilled to sell him, offering us a deep discount.

“Yours is more dignified,” I told my mom via text.

Also, it was a pelican.

Photo of a metal pelican standing on a metal post. He's probably three feet tall and a rusty bronze color.

I would name him Rusty, but who knows what my mom will call him.

I’m pretty sure she’s going to place him right inside her front door so it’s the first thing visitors to her home see. She used an appropriate amount of enthusiasm when I eventually showed her a photo, so I think she likes it.

In other news, I have a metal sculpture-buying tip for you: As you put more and more giant metal statuary on the shop counter, discounts will get increasingly larger and the salesperson’s face will get increasingly happier. You might then choose to buy one sculpture for each of your children instead of one for the three of them to share.

Whereas for my mom, we were looking for something a reasonable adult would put in a home, we had no such criterion for our children.

Photo of a round-bodied monster on tall, thin legs. Its predominant features are it's buggy eyes and giant teeth. He's also carrying a hockey stick.

That’s why we got this hockey-playing monster who tried to eat Chester for Jack.

Jack’s most excellent response upon seeing this guy was, “LOL. He’s like me.”

He then took him to his room to find a spot for him. Jack reported back that “he’s trying to eat my bedroom.”

Photo of the monster with several of Jack's toys in its mouth.

Jack. That kid totally gets Alex and me.

Sam got the cat version of my rat. Said cat is pretty hilarious.

Photo of a multi-colored metal cat.

Honestly, his was probably the most dignified non-pelican that we purchased.

You’ve probably already guessed that we got Quinn a cat as well, but you may not have guessed that we got him a Slinky Cat. He’s hilarious.

Photo of a metal cat. His body is a long metal spring.

Slinky Cat has the benefit of being poseable. He can sit or stand. (He chooses to stand.)

Clearly, Alex and I are pretty delighted with our souvenir purchases. Fortunately, our recipients seem to be equally enamored.

I hope you all enjoy them as well. Thank you for indulging me. You may now carry on with the non-metal sculpture related parts of your life.