It Was EXACTLY Like the National Treasure Movies Except Not at All

A few weeks ago, I got an email inviting my family to the National Archives for a family day event and a pre-opening coffee with a curator to celebrate their “Making Their Mark: Stories through Signatures” exhibit.

Immediately upon receipt of said email, I realized that (a) I had never dragged my kids through that particular institution and (b) I should rectify that immediately. Also, (c) I’d never been and I really wanted to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and Bill of Rights in person.

Our morning at the Archives came around this past Saturday and I was prepared. Museum-type spaces can be tough for my kiddos, particularly Quinn, so I made sure to not use the m-word and I pulled out the other heavy gun I had in my arsenal: I reminded them about the National Archives scenes from the National Treasure movies.

That did the trick.

We arrived to find juice and pastries as well as curator Jennifer Johnson, who gave us a personal tour through the Making Their Mark exhibit, which she had curated. It was really cool. The exhibit is all about signatures, from athletes signing sports memorabilia to Benedict Arnold’s oath of allegiance to a display of pens used by presidents to sign bills into law.

It was even more interesting than I thought it would be. There was a patent application filed by Michael Jackson, a letter from Johnny Cash to Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon’s FBI application, and any number of other fascinating documents and items. All three of my kids were also really interested, which is notable because there are not a lot of things that my three kids are all into.

The backs of my three kids looking at a display of 50 pens in a frame.

One of my favorites was this display of pens that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson used to sign bills into law.

One of the exhibits was a full-size door that members of a home builders association sent to President Reagan to draw attention to their economic troubles. Jack took a look at the door, listened to the curator explain that it featured signatures on one side and the address on the other, and said, “Excuse me? Excuse me? I think the president was all, ‘What the bleep is this door doing in my mailbox!’”

Yep. That’s Team Stimey, keeping it classy across the generations.

In my defense, at least Jack says “bleep” instead of actual curse words.

The part of the exhibit that might have captured my kids’ attention more than any other was the auto-signing machine that was set up near the exit. This particular machine auto-signed John Hancock’s signature.

Jack carefully watching the mechanism of an auto-signing machine. There is a pen attached via a mechanism that follows the grooves in a disc that guides the signature.

Jack might have been more interested in the mechanics of the machine than the result.

We still had a few minutes before the Archives opened to the public so the curator took us to the Rotunda where the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are displayed. I may have majorly geeked out there. This may also be the place where I was reprimanded by a guard.

There are no photos allowed in the Archives (barring special permission on a private tour in certain areas), so I’ll give you this image provided to me.

Photo of the Rotunda where there are murals of the founding fathers on the walls and six pages of documents, each in their own case: the Declaration, the Constitution (4 pages), and the Bill of Rights.

It was incredibly cool to see these documents close up. The Bill of Rights is my favorite.

I asked the curator how accurate the National Treasure depiction of the National Archives was and she told me that even though none of the filming was done there, it was actually pretty close. It is here that I might have to admit to you that my kids love those films and that we own DVD copies of both of them.

I am so ashamed.

Anywho, from there, we headed to the public Family Day activities that were taking place adjacent to the Making Their Mark exhibit. There were all kinds of good activities for all ages.

Jack standing at a white board where he is matching photos of and quotes by presidents to their pictures.

Jack matched presidential photos to their quotes and names. He may have needed some help to complete said process.

Sam using a template of John Adams' signature to make his own version.

Sam recreated John Adams’ signature.

Quinn slumped in a chair with a grumpy look on his face.

And Quinn sighed loudly and often.

There were crafts in another room, but the real treasure was the room set up with fountain and quill pens where my kids all learned how to write and draw using a pot of ink. Sam took approximately sixteen years to write a letter to each member of the family and Quinn and Jack drew their cats.

Quinn smiling and holding up an ink drawing of his cat Oreo.

This is a remarkably accurate representation of Oreo. I certainly wasn’t that good with the quill pen.

I was even retweeted by the @USNatArchives, which was also a kind of geeky high for me.

Screenshot of a tweet from the National Archives. The photo is of Jack looking sort of exhausted, patiently filling in his drawing of a cat with blank ink from a quill pen. The tweet says, "RT @Stimey: Drawing a picture of a black cat with a quill pen is hard work. #signatures @USNatArchives"

My kids are adept at cat drawings.

I feel very lucky that my family was invited to this event. As I say, I’ve been wanting to take my kids to the National Archives for a long time and this was the best possible way to have a first visit.

That said, your family can visit this exhibit too. The Making Their Mark exhibit is open through January 5, 2015.There will be more Making Their Mark Family Days on July 18 and December 30. There will be Constitution-in-Action Family Learning Labs on April 15, July 10, July 23, and July 29. For more information about these events, as well as others, go to


In other news, Jack’s special hockey team, the Montgomery Cheetahs, is still soliciting donations for their big fundraiser coming up in May. Thank you so much to Sarah Elizabeth, Laura, my friend Heather and her family, and my young friends Katie and Brooke (and their terrific parents) for their donations. You can make your own donation online.

Merry Christmas 2013

Team Stimey Christmas CardAs I type, my kids lie in their beds, luxuriating in the glow of one of our best Christmas Eves ever. They’ve left notes for Santa and cans of cat food with a request that he put one in each of the kitten’s socks that hang by the fireplace.

"Santa, Do you have a cat? What is its name? Is it naughty or nice? Jack."

“Santa, Do you have a cat? What is its name? Is it naughty or nice? Jack.”

"You're like a cat, fat and lounging. Cats do that on the mat to look at the cookies like their snoogies. Thanks for the presents. Happy cat-mouse! Sincerely, a poem by Meow [last name]"

From Quinn: “You’re like a cat, fat and lounging. Cats do that on the mat to look at the cookies like their snoogies. Thanks for the presents. Happy cat-mouse! Sincerely, a poem by Meow [last name]“

Sam wrote one too, but he didn’t want it photographed. Sam is not earnestly trying to fall asleep, as the other two are. Sam is lying awake, excited to be Santa’s helper once his brothers are down for the count.

Team Stimey in pajamas reading The Night Before Christmas

Also, hours later, this happened:

Facebook post: "Poor Quinn has the hardest time falling asleep on Christmas Eve so I sometimes lie with him and tell him stories about cats until he drifts off. Just now he said, "This is the best kind of present." I love this kid. // He also cried  a little because he thought he could only snuggle with me until he's 18, which means only ten more years. I told him I'd snuggle with him until he was 60 if he'd let me."

If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a wonderful holiday. If you celebrate Christmas, but have a hard time with the holiday, know that I am sending my love to you and hoping that it goes as well as it can today.

If you don’t celebrate Christmas, enjoy your movie. We went to see The Hobbit twice already. It’s awesome and I suggest you go see it. You might want to close your eyes when the dwarves travel through Mirkwood though.

Thank you for the gift of your support and friendship this year. I hope I give it back to you in as much quantity as you give it to me.

I love you all.

Love from behind

The Pertinent Information

•My kids spilled a metric shit-ton of goldfish crackers in my car the other day. I decided that the squirrels in my backyard would like them. I had visions of squadrons of squirrels sitting on my back porch and clutching crackers in their adorable little paws as they gratefully nodded their furry heads at me. Instead, it rained and now I have a vomit-resembling pile of ex-goldfish slurry in my backyard. This makes me feel sad.

• Jack won’t eat crusts on his peanut butter sandwiches. There is, however, a raccoon who has been knocking over our garbage cans to get to them who really appreciates them. Alex and Sam found him solemnly consuming one (in much the way that I imagined the grateful squirrels) the other morning when Sam was headed to school. That old saying, “It’s more afraid of you than you are of it”? Not true vis-a-vis Sam and the raccoon. Although I think the fact that Alex implied that the raccoon could be rabid contributed to his fear.

The rock that my car thief gave me is extremely good at holding our garbage cans closed to keep raccoons out.

• My neighbor has been bringing Quinn a home-baked coffee cake every Christmas for years now. It is ridiculous how much Quinn loves that coffee cake. Also, the rest of the family is grateful that he is young and cute enough to ask for it every year so we don’t have to. It is already in our fridge for this year, but Quinn doesn’t know that, so he keeps asking about it. I will present it to him tomorrow for Christmas Eve. It will make his entire day.

• I have three kids, but turkey wishbones only have space for two wish rivals to yank on it. We normally have turkey for both Thanksgiving and Christmas to take care of this problem. This year we are having ham for Christmas. I wonder what hell will rain down upon us because of this decision.

The cats are still very interested in the Christmas tree. Oreo in particular is a problem. She spends most of her time sitting happily underneath it and Alex found her beheading a bird ornament this morning. Literally beheading it. I wonder how her little brain will deal with it when we remove the tree later this week. She might implode.

• Alex, who hates scary TV and movies, is watching The Walking Dead with me on Netflix from the beginning. He reports that he wakes up in a panic at least once every night.

• Alex is terrified by even the idea of scary movies. One time I was watching Paranormal Activity and I paused it to get something from the kitchen and when I came back, Alex was taking advantage of it being paused to sit in a chair with his cup of water so he could say good night to me. Because I’m an asshole, I snuck up on him and scared him so badly that he threw the cup of water across the room. It is one of my favorite memories.

• Sam performed in his winter band concert earlier this month. He was adorbs. Also, I had to buy him every piece of his required concert outfit, down to his socks, because he doesn’t own anything more formal than Crocs and track pants. I decided to not put him in his formal Pokemon shirt for the concert.

Sam playing the flute

Sam loves playing the flute. He’s so awesome.

• The band program said Sam is a “section leader.” I don’t know what that means and Sam refused to give me anything but a smart-ass answer when I asked him.

Jack wore his new, bigger helmet at hockey practice this week.

Smiling Jack in hockey gear

Look! It almost looks as if he doesn’t have a headache!

• Santa came to hockey practice this week. He always uses some of the Cheetahs as reindeer to pull him around the rink. That is one brave Santa right there.

hockey players pulling Santa on a sled

That is Jack in the very back of the reindeer line.

• Quinn made an extremely joyous discovery worthy of Twitter the other day when we were eating lunch:

My 8-year-old just now: "I have feet." I guess it's good to check in with your appendages now and again."Then, after further questioning:

Re: Quinn's "I have feet" comment from earlier, he explains, "I forgot I had them for a minute" & "sometimes people forget they have stuff."• And now  you have all the pertinent information.

Zoo Lights, Team Stimey, and the Sacrifices of Motherhood

Every year the National Zoo holds Zoo Lights, when they open the zoo at night and put up all kinds of Christmas light displays and over the course of the month before Christmas, everyone in the DC area goes to see it. Everyone except us, that is.

It has always seemed logistically difficult to go to Zoo Lights, so this year, we surprised ourselves into going by waking up on Friday and saying, “Let’s go to Zoo Lights tonight!” and nothing we did or said could convince us otherwise.

(Surprising myself into things is one of my most effective techniques for getting shit done.)

We always go to a smaller light show in December, so we had an idea of what to expect. The difference between the two light shows is that the one at the zoo is all in the shapes of animals and you have to walk two miles to see it instead of less than a mile.

Regardless, we busted out our hats, gloves, and winter coats and headed down to the zoo.

Jack, Stimey, Sam & Quinn in front of polar-bear shaped lights.

I know it looks as if Jack and Quinn have been rolling around in coal in their coats. I swear that I wash those things and they look exactly the same.

Things started out well. There was a slide set up right at the entrance for kids to ride down on tubes, so that put my kids is a good mood right off the bat.

Giant slide.

That’s Jack on his way down.

I decided to capitalize on slide happiness and ask my kids to stand together and smile for one photo right at the beginning, with a promise that I would not ask them to do it again for the rest of the night.

Sam, Quinn & Jack standing in front of a tree with multicolored lights wrapped around it.

And it actually WORKED.

Zoo Lights is cool, but don’t go for the wildlife. Animals were scarce. Evidently they sleep at night. We saw a duck and a miniature horse and some big apes. The only animal visible in the small mammal house was a disgruntled-looking hyrax who was frozen in one position looking as if he were trying to blend in with the rocks. I imagine that it is confusing to the animals to have the night be dark per usual, but filled with loud people aiming brightly-lit cell phones at them.

I would say that things started going downhill after the small mammal house when Quinn became aware that it was extremely cold out. At the same time, Alex became disgruntled after he stood in line for five whole minutes for kettle corn and not a single person was actually served. Then Sam initiated a game of predator with Jack, claiming to be a leopard seal or some such and implying that Jack was a tiny fish.

The result of all these situations were as follows: I, per fucking usual, gave Quinn my coat. MY COAT. In late November. At night. In DC. I am thinking about carrying an extra coat with me at all times to prevent frostbite on occasions such as these. Fortunately, I warmed up a little when I chased Jack down during his full-speed sprint away from Sam. Uphill. In heeled fucking boots.

These children are going to kill me.

Oh, also Alex remained disgruntled until I bought soft pretzels for everyone.

I remained true to my not asking the children to pose for any photos right up until I saw the tiger lights and I was all, “There are three of them and I have three kids! They are tigers and Quinn is wearing a tiger hat!” Then I said, “Hey guys, will you stand in front of the tigers?” and this happened:

Jack, Sam & Quinn in front of a display of lighted tigers.

Then I gave up and stopped taking photos.

See, that is why you take the posed photo first.

At this point, we turned around and started heading back toward the entrance. Sam was all, “You mean the zoo isn’t built in a circle? That’s stupid.” And I was all, “Yeah, you’re right.

There was a little train ride near the entrance (by the petting zoo, for you locals) that we had already bought tickets for, so we stopped there on our way out. While we waited in line, my kids played on the giant, pretend pizza that was just down the path.

Quinn, Sam, and Jack standing on a large pretend pizza.

I know. It’s fucking weird.

A side effect of carting ridiculously huge pretend mushrooms around was that Sam’s hands got cold and he started shouting about how he was dying or something.

So I gave him my mittens to put on over his gloves.

If we’d been there much longer, I would have walked out of that place barefoot.

Some of us enjoyed the train ride more than others.

Quinn and Alex on the train. Quinn looks concerned. Alex looks happy and slightly deranged.

Honestly, it was as if Alex had never been on a tiny train before.

After the train ride (which was actually kind of really super fun), Jack wanted to go look at the barn animals, so everyone who was wearing a coat and gloves went to the car immediately and Jack and I went to walk through the barn, where there were actually more animals on display at night than in the entire rest of the zoo.


Such as this adorable donkey.

We definitely had our ups and downs on this trip, but overall, I am super proud of my kiddos. Other than running away from us, Jack was a total rock star. Sam was great, with the exception that he seems to think he is allowed to parent and guide his brothers, forcing me to impose a strict NO TOUCHING rule onto him. Even Quinn, who got pretty whiny, was trying really, really hard. He asked me super nicely a couple times after I gave him my coat if I was cold. I really think he didn’t want his actions to hurt me. It was really sweet.

I did what any mom on the face of the planet would do—I put my blue fingers in my jeans pockets and told him I wasn’t.

Plus, if you are really, really cold, getting into a warm car is the happiest thing you can do. I think all of us agreed on that.

The Other Shoe

If you found a yellow purse and are here because you found a stack of Stimeyland business cards and luggage tags in it, please email me!

Guess what happens if you write a post about clouds lifting and the sun shining?

The world fucks you up.

That’s what happened to me today. I was happily running at 9:30 this morning, proud of myself for squeezing in my run on a busy day, first thing in the morning, and under a sky that was threatening rain. “I am awesome!” is what I thought about myself as I rounded my last turn and returned to where I had stashed my car.

Then the world dropped the metaphorical other shoe on me.

My van with a smashed window.


And, yeah. My purse had (emphasis on the past tense there) been in the car.

I, much like my window, was shattered. I never leave my bag in the car when I run. Never. I usually just take my driver’s license and debit card and put it in the waistpack I wear when I run. For some reason today, I took the purse and left it unattended. It was under a blanket, but I guess that didn’t fool anyone.

My wallet was of course in the bag along with my checkbook. My brand new mittens that I’d only worn once were in the bag. My favorite winter hat that I bought in 1994 was in the bag. A toy that belonged to Quinn’s best friend was in the bag, waiting for me to return it to him. My grocery list was in the bag. I’ll never be able to recreate that. As for valuables? Well, there was probably about $40 and some credit cards that I canceled before they were used.

And, you guys. I almost can’t say it because I want to cry every time I think about it.

Algernon was in the bag.

I am brokenhearted. Most of my stuff can be replaced, but Algernon can’t be. I know he was just a stupid little stuffed mouse, but he was so much more than that to me. He was my shield, my ice breaker, my humor, my friend. I feel ridiculous every time I start to cry when I think about him, but I truly loved him.

Not only that, but this is the last photo I have of him.

I’m trying to joke about him, but I will really miss him. Both Jack and Sam cried when I told them Algernon was gone. He was like a tiny, fuzzy, filthy, inanimate member of our family.

I stood by my sad, broken car and called Alex, because he’s my person and he knows what to do in these situations. He offered to call about all my credit cards and I was just about to hang up so I could go about filing a police report (all from my smart phone—we live in a miraculous time), when my phone rang again.

It was Quinn’s school. He’d just thrown up and I had to come get him.

Because of fucking course.

Quinn was actually a really wonderful addition to my day. He saw how sad I was and gave me all kinds of nice hugs. Plus, because he was feeling completely fine by the time I picked him up, he was willing to go back to the scene of the crime and walk around to look for my bag in the hopes that the thief had taken my wallet and ditched the bag.

Quinn kept remarking, “No offense, but I don’t think we’re going to find it. No offense.”

He was right. We didn’t find it, but we did get to play crime scene investigator.

Quinn studying a pile of auto glass on the ground.

He concluded that there was glass on the ground. And some trash.

There are, of course, a couple of upsides to this violation. For example, I am the proud new owner of a big ol’ window breaking rock that is still in my car. I don’t have to worry about how to fill all my free time over the next few days because now I have all kinds of errands to run. Related: I don’t have to worry about how to spend all my free money because I’ll be using it to fix my window, pay for a new license, and replacing all the crap in my bag.

Also, Jack has an ample supply of auto safety glass to explore and crumble up.

Jack holding a piece of auto glass.

He is really, really into it. I might gather up the pieces that are all over the floor of my car and use them as bribes to get him to do his homework: “Do a math problem, get a piece of glass to crumble!”

That’s about it for the positives. There is an extremely long list of negatives. Dealing with this is going to take forever and is going to cost so much money, and all the guy who robbed me got was a couple of twenties and a stuffed mouse. But why would he care? Not his problem, I guess. People are the fucking worst.

Thank you to all of you who sent nice Facebook messages, comments, and texts after you heard about my day. Super thanks to Alex for being so amazing at dealing with all the financial bullshit today. Wish me luck at the window place, the DMV, and the bank tomorrow. It’s going to be a super fun day.

Also, wish Algernon luck. I hope he doesn’t end up in a landfill and that rather someone who will love him finds him. Happy travels, Algernon. I hope you find some good adventures.

Ye Olde Samuel

Sam turned 12 years old last weekend, which is completely unbelievable, of course, but true, so we should just accept the impossible and move on to how we celebrated said birthday.

We didn’t have birthday parties for any of our kids this year, opting instead to give them fun experiences instead. For Jack and Quinn’s birthday, we shoved Quinn to the ground on amusement park asphalt and took Jack on a loop-de-loop roller coaster. For Sam’s birthday, we decided to not injure or terrify anyone. Instead, we took our munchkins and one of Sam’s friends to…

The outside of Medieval Times

Medieval Times!

You may not know about Medieval Times, in which case you are super bummed out, because Medieval Times is AWESOME. You may know about Medieval Times if you are one of the 12 people who saw the terrible movie The Cable Guy back in the 90s. There is a scene set at the restaurant and it is, in fact, pretty realistic. Alex showed this clip to all of our young attendees, because of course he did.

We arrived a billion hours early because (a) I’m always early, (b) we kinda misread our tickets, and (c) they tell you to be there an hour early so you will wander around and buy things before they seat you.

Here’s something: If you take four young men to Medieval Times, they will only wander around looking at the suits of armor and old-school instruments of torture for so long before they become captivated by this wall of items for sale:

Sam in front of a wall and display case full of swords and daggers.

You’re killing me here, Medieval Times.

I took steps to prevent them from obsessing over Real! Weapons! For Sale! Right Over There!

Jack in pretend stockade.

This worked for mere seconds though. Those locks aren’t real.

Because we were still a long way out from being seated and it was rapidly becoming a matter of either procure weapons for the children or buy a $21 beer for myself (I’m not kidding—$21), I made an executive decision that a mix of wooden swords, axes, and daggers would make good party favors and leave me in a position to not be a drunken asshole at my son’s birthday party.

Jack posing with his wooden sword next to a large stone knight with a sword.

This was an excellent decision on my part.

I then spent the next 45 minutes trying to keep said four young men from accidentally decapitating or otherwise damaging bystanders. This involved a lot of shouting of, “Swordfight in the corner!” and “Don’t swing your ax at that tiny girl!” and “Don’t you make me put you back in that stockade!”

Sam and Jack battling with wooden weapons.

Surprisingly, they were not very good at staying contained.

This worked until it got super crowded and then I pulled out my secret weapon, a.k.a. the iPad.

Team Stimey gathered around an iPad.

As I was taking this photo, a woman asked if I would like her to take a photo of all of us. I declined, telling her that I was just taking this photo because my entire family looked like they wished they were dead.

All of this and the show hadn’t even started yet.

Shortly thereafter, they started seating based on the colors and numbers on a little card we were given when we checked in. We were green four. They called a bunch of numbers and colors and then they called green one and two…at which point all four of the kids with us took off and ran into the theater, leaving Alex and I shuffling in uncertain little circles.

Did we use our missing children as an excuse to wedge the line before we were supposed to? Did we just assume that our kids would find their way to the correct table instead of getting separated, lost, and eventually kidnapped? Should we stand where we were and look at each other with bewildered looks on our faces until they called green four only to go into the theater to find that our children had nabbed optimal seats in the second row?

I think you know the answer to that.

So, there we were, in the second row, happy as motherfucking clams.

Alex at Medieval Times in green crown with huge grin.

I meant it when I said we were happy. Alex also had a $21 beer (glass mug included!), which made him even happier.

My kids were delighted by the mugs that made it look as if they were boozing it up. I’m not exactly sure where they learned that, but I’m going to blame it on The Hobbit.

Team Stimey studying napkins and holding up metal-looking beer mugs.

The menu was printed on the napkins, which explains why they are staring at them. Alex dropped his on the ground immediately. This became a problem for him later, seeing as how there are no utensils at Medieval Times.

Sam’s friend ordered Pepsi and in my mind I was all, “Huh. I wonder if he is allowed to drink Pepsi,” and then later it was, “Huh. I wonder if he is allowed to have two refills of Pepsi at dinner,” and then even later it was, “Welp. Better his mom than me.”

It is almost always a good idea to trust me with your kids.

Our waitress—or wench, as she self-identified—was excellent. She was extremely responsive to Quinn’s million questions about the menu, kept our guest well supplied with soda refills, and was super energetic and fun.

Waitress standing in front of tables with the Medieval Times arena behind her.

She was also less bizarro-eyed than this photo would lead you to believe.

Then, oh holy hell, y’all, the lights dimmed, a spotlight appeared, music swelled, and a motherfucking silver horse goddamn galloped into the arena to collective cheers from the crowd, which could not have been more appreciative if they had been treated to the sight of a unicorn trailing rainbows from its hooves.

White horse in the arena.

Oooooh! Motherfucking aaaahhhhh!

I may have done some woohooing myself.

You guys, it was so fun. There was a falcon and fancy horse tricks and and a king and a princess and some guy on a horse who showed up to apparently just run around in circles to amuse us as we ate chicken and there was a bad guy who was eventually vanquished and we all shouted and cheered and waved flags and banners like the fools we are.

All four kids (and both adults) were universally delighted.

Collage of Team Stimey cheering at Medieval Times.

They were so into it. It was hard to get a good photo of Jack madly waving his banner because he was so close to me, but he was super happy. And Quinn Who Hates Everything? Look at that smile. Just look at it.

There was some sort of story line that was mostly to get us to cheer for our knight and to be amazed at the little competitions they staged with jousting and spear throwing and sword fighting and so much more fun stuff. Everyone in the crowd was cheering and happy. I think it would be hard to not get caught up in the fun there. Jack did spend a few minutes under the table, but he came right back up when he heard more ecstatic cheering.

Medieval Times show.

Our knight was the green knight. He was ultimately slain by the yellow knight. BOOOOOOOO!!!!

Medieval Times green knight

We’ll miss you, oh brave green knight.

There was also the guy who had to clean up the horse shit, with what was essentially a giant cat litter scooper.

Medieval Times pooper scooper

I don’t know why I was so delighted by this, but I was.

The food was totally secondary to the show, but it was decent too. It was really fun because there are really no utensils. You have to sip your soup from the bowl, pick up your half potato, and rip apart your quarter chicken—excuse me, baby dragon—with your bare hands. Also, if you are sitting next to Jack, you will have to de-skin his chicken because his delicate palate does not care for dragon skin.

Honestly, it was just like dining at my house except I didn’t have to yell at anyone to use a fork.

Quinn eating a giant ol' hunk of chicken.

A quarter chicken is Quinn’s favorite meal, so he was in heaven.

After the show, we gathered up our souvenirs and the children used their allowance money to buy more crap and then we headed back home for Sam’s birthday cake. Medieval Times is not cheap, especially if you are unprepared and don’t warn your kids ahead of time that there will be no shopping, but it is something that they are going to remember forever. It was one of the best birthday celebrations we’ve had in a long time.

Team Stimey Junior in front of a stone-looking lion

Farewell, Medieval Times. Thanks for the memories.

Lake Madness

I know that this, the last installment in Team Stimey’s whirlwind trip around all of Wisconsin, is super late and that seven million things have happened between our last installment and now, but I am a completist (it is too a thing), so I now present to you our last vacation destination from our summer vacation waaaaay back in mid-August.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Lake Van Vliet.

It's even prettier in person.

It’s even prettier in person.

After the chaos of the Wisconsin Dells, it was really nice to go to the peace and absolute quiet of Alex’s family cabin on this gorgeous lake. It is this amazingly quiet place where the big activity is driving into town to get ice cream or to go fishing in the lake or—and this is sort of the climax of our trip every time we come here—rowing to a little island in the next lake over to have a picnic.

We had this great little walk on our first morning there on which I took what is probably my favorite photo in the history of photos. Now, I know I say that a lot, but seriously, people, this photo cracks me up every time I look at it.

Confused kids are confused.

I am not sure if they are all confused by different things or the same thing in different directions.

I am not sure if they are all confused by different things or the same thing in different directions, but I think we can all agree that Team Stimey Junior is confused.

To give you an idea of the kind of things we did at the lake, there was that afternoon we spent stalking a blue heron from a rowboat.

Actual quote from Alex as we tried to row close to said blue heron: “Will everybody SHUT UP? We are trying to sneak up on a bird.”

You'll notice that we weren't super successful in sneaking up close to the bird. My kids are loud, y'all.

You’ll notice that we weren’t super successful in sneaking up close to the bird. My kids are loud, y’all.

Things got louder still after Quinn started asking if he could jump out of the boat. This was our third time visiting this cabin with our kids and none of us has put more than a foot or a hand in this lake, mostly because it is FREEZING COLD.

I don’t think we completely believed that he would actually jump out of the boat when we gave him permission.

Quinn in the water

How could we have been so naive?

For the record, the water really was frigid. We asked Quinn if he was cold and through shaking lips and chattering teeth, he was all, “n-n-n-ooo.” He was so delighted that he was doing something that his brothers never had.

Qunn swimming behind the rowboat

The little dude actually swam quite a ways. He laughed the entire damn time.

Quinn in lily pads

He even swam through seaweed (lakeweed?) under the surface of the lake and lily pads on top. This surprised me. Lake swimming trumps sensory nightmare.

Quinn making victory sign on the dock.

Quinn got to the dock ahead of us. He spent the rest of our vacation reliving his victory in said “race” to the dock.

Alex, being Alex, then told Quinn that he hoped that Quinn hadn’t contracted Lake Madness, to which Quinn replied, “You’re kidding, right?” Alex, again, being Alex, then said, “That is exactly what someone with Lake Madness would say.”

I don’t know that I have ever seen Quinn speechless before, but that did it.

We did let Quinn know that Lake Madness was made up, but that didn’t stop us from repeatedly bringing it up for the rest of our vacation. We are not nice people.

In fact, if you know Quinn in real life and you’re hanging out with him and he does something weird, it would be awesome if you were to say, “Quinn. Have you been swimming in a lake lately? Because what you just did is exactly what my cousin did when he had Lake Madness.”

His head would quite likely explode right off of his head.

You should know though, that if you do that, you will also be a Not Nice Person and will probably also (1) go to hell and (2) contribute to Quinn’s nervous breakdown. On second thought, just think about saying that to him, but don’t actually do it.

My other kids got Lake Madness on our last trip out in the rowboat when they followed Quinn’s lead and all jumped in the lake.

Team Stimey Junior in the lake

Laaaaake Maaadddneeeessss!

They were all under our oars and hanging on the edge of the rowboat and generally causing a ruckus. It was de-fucking-lightful. I like my kids a lot.

Algernon came close to getting Lake Madness too, but I saved him before he fell in.

Algernon on a lily pad

It is remarkable how quickly a small stuffed mouse will sink a lily pad. This shot was harder to get than it looks.

Fortunately, we had access to an Algernon dryer right next to where Alex and I were sleeping.

Algernon in front of the fire

I badly want a fireplace next to my bed now. That was the greatest thing ever.

Of course, it was not all rowboats and nature walks. There were also go karts (Quinn was tall enough to drive his own kart here; he is a terrible driver) and mini golf and fishing (have you ever seen live bait dispensed from a vending machine? I have) and all kinds of quirky restaurants, including Paul Bunyan’s, where you don’t even get to order food—they just bring you plates and piles of food for the table and you choose what you want.

Jack goring Alex.

They also had these fabulous ox horns that Jack used to gore Alex.

One of my very favorite things that we did was take the munchkins horseback riding. They’ve been on ponies that go in those sad little circles before, but never on actual horses. I remember riding semi-regularly when I was kid and I LOVED it, so it was cool to see my kiddos do it for the first time.

Quinn was really nervous at first and almost refused to get on his horse. The guides were really nice though and told him they’d just walk his horse in a couple little circles and he could get off if it was too scary. After about three minutes, he was sold.

Quinn on his horse

This is Quinn on A3, which is a weird name for a horse, but reportedly he was “the best horse” they had.

Jack got to ride the tallest horse in the world. We always joke that Jack is the honey badger (“He’s pretty badass. Jack don’t care. Jack don’t give a shit. He just takes what he wants.”) Well, Jack got his comemuffins* by getting the honey badger horse. His horse kept stopping to munch on trail-side greenery, requiring Jack to guide him back onto the path. He did a pretty good job of it, but that horse worked him. I laughed and laughed and laughed. Comemuffins.*

Jack on his horse.

Jack on his horse, Kessler. You can’t tell here, but that horse was taller than a fucking tree. HUGE.

Sam’s and his horse rode directly in front of me. Sam’s horse audibly farted for the entire 45-minute ride. It was astounding that one animal could have that much gas inside him.

Sam on his horse.

Sam on his black and white horse, Oreo. It is quite possible that this horse is the direct reason we have a black and white cat named Oreo.

Quinn rode in the front, right behind the guide and he talked to her for 45 minutes straight. It was hilarious. I meandered along in the back, bothered only by the flatulence of the horse in front of me.

At one point, a deer spooked both Sam and Jack’s horses, causing them to take off running. Both of them managed to pull back on the reins and not get violently thrown to the ground. I was tremendously proud. They were rock stars. All three kiddos did a great job.

Even Algernon did all right.

Algernon on a pony.

He was too small to ride a real horse though so he was stuck with a pony.

I have to say, I think that this section of our vacation might have been my favorite. It was so chill. I got a ton of running in as well, on roads that ran alongside scenes like this:


The only negative about running past this was worrying that a bear or mountain lion would come lumbering out of it.

All of our vacation was fun, but there is nothing like Lake Van Vliet for some forced relaxation. Team Stimey is really lucky to have the opportunity to vacation here. And I am very lucky to have Team Stimey.

My kids

I’m so lucky to have these three munchkins in my life.

(End vacation.)

* This is how we say “comeuppance” in my family. And, no, it’s not because one of our kids adorably mispronounced the word. Alex mispronounced it until he was midway through law school and I finally corrected him. I decided that it would be against our best interests for him to bust out with, “Then the defendant got his comemuffins…” in front of a judge.