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.

Adventures in Packing, Part Two

Photo of black cat sitting on top of a large box on which is printed "I was handled with care."We successfully transferred houses, so obviously that means that we successfully packed all our shit. Even though it is in my past and was successful, I still feel as if I have some things I have to work through in regards to it.

I mean, really. Packing an entire house worth of stuff is like a whole THING. When you touch every object in your house, you learn some stuff.

Like even just the shelf in my kitchen that held bottles of vinegar. I had three bottles of balsamic vinegar that expired in 2009. THREE. When you pour out those bottles, your kitchen will smell strongly. In addition to the balsamic vinegar, there was sherry cooking wine that expired in 2007. There was rice vinegar that expired in 2008. There was malt vinegar that was older than one of my kids. Also, it’s weird, because I don’t know what you do with malt vinegar.

WHY SO MUCH VINEGAR, JEAN? WHY SO MUCH VINEGAR?

I learned a lot about labeling boxes during this move as well. Unfortunately, I plan on never moving again, so this knowledge will be wasted. If you ever move, let me know and I will come by with a handful of markers and some brilliant ideas. These ideas include:

1. The crucial information to put on the outside of the box is the destination room of the new house. It doesn’t matter what room it came from in your old home. It barely matters what is inside the box—although it might be helpful to put that information in one spot on the box. For example, writing “purses” on every side of a carton doesn’t give the movers any information about that box. It also creates the impression that you have too many purses.

2. If you just mark the destination room instead of the contents on the box, there are certain items that you might want to make a note of on the outside of the box so you can have a chance in hell of finding them again. These things include your social security card if you are starting a new job, the end-of-year gift cards you so efficiently bought early for teacher gifts, and your antidepressants.

3. As the day of your move gets closer, you will give way fewer fucks about box organization and labeling. This is a mistake. Although frankly, unless you wrote “DELIVER TO KANSAS” on the box, it will probably make it to your new home and you’ll find it again. You know, eventually.

4. The things that you waited to pack until the morning of the move should probably go in a box labeled “OPEN ME FIRST!”

Some of the things I learned from packing were less upsetting than the above. For example, when I reached the top shelf of my corner kitchen cabinet, I realized that the taco chihuahua is still one of the best purchases I have ever made.

Photo of ceramic chihuahua. There are three taco-sized spaces in his back for holding tacos.

See? Super fabulous. He holds tacos while you put your fixins in it.

The taco chihuahua definitely made the trip to the new house. There were, however, things that didn’t make the cut. Like this Valentine’s Day cookie I found in my cabinet.

Photo of a shortbread cookie with red filling in the shape of a heart.

I didn’t taste it, but I’m pretty sure it would have killed me if I had. Do you know how long ago Valentine’s Day was?

In addition to my vinegar shelf, I also went through my spice racks. I went through a phase a few years ago where I cooked adventurous recipes that asked for lots of spices. Consequently, I have (had) a large number of herb and spice bottles with, say, a tablespoon gone from the top.

Nearly all of it was expired.

Also, remember how all that balsamic vinegar was smelly? Ten years of spices in your trash can is also a powerful smell. And it makes you sneeze. It will, however, attract cats.

Photo of empty spice jars on a counter. The top of the garbage can into which I have emptied the spices is also visible, with a at sniffing at it.

She didn’t get a lot closer than this.

It turns out that empty glass spice jars are a hot commodity on Freecycle. Especially if you have 26 of them. I had five people begging for them within ten minutes of posting.

Let’s see, what else did I learn? Oh, yeah, I learned that you’re going to need more packing tape than you have. Seriously. You didn’t buy enough.

Sadly, you might also learn that some possessions are fleeting.

Photo of a ceramic light switch wall plate decorated with Peter Rabbit. It is broken into five pieces.

***sob***

We bought that before Sam was born. His first room was decorated with Peter Rabbit stuff. This was on the wall in one of my kids’ rooms from that time until I unscrewed it and promptly dropped it on the floor last week.

In another blast from the past, we rehung a closet door that we had taken off of Sam’s closet several years ago. I asked Alex if he was sure we had the right door as there were three of in them in the basement. He turned it around to face me and said, “Yes, I’m sure.”

Photo of a wooden door with many small cards taped to it. The cards all feature either Thomas the Tank Engine or Bob the Builder machines.

Ah, Thomas the Tank Engine and Bob the Builder. Those two were a big hit in my house for a long time.

I’m a little bit of a control freak, so I didn’t let Alex pack very much. (He also doesn’t get to unpack very much.) The exception to this is his closet. I required him to pack that himself. Unfortunately, this very competent and successful attorney turned out to be UTTERLY INCAPABLE of doing things like taping a box shut and walking across the room to pick up a flat box and turn it in to a cube.

In related news, when someone proves themselves incompetent and unwilling to learn the simplest of tasks, unsolicited advice from him will riiiilly, riiiilly made a person mad.

I had a moment when I was packing my basement when I stopped to think about all the afternoons I spent down there with Susan and her kids. I felt sad to leave the only house I’d known her in. Then, a couple weeks after that day, I found, covered in spider webs, a little vase she had given me with a flower bulb in it. I, of course, had killed the flower immediately, but I kept the vase. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, but it is going to hold something special in my new house.

Photo of a small green vase, still covered in the spider webs I found it in.

I’m bringing her love to my new home.

There were probably more lessons that I learned from packing, but I guess the most important is that what really matters is that you take the love and laughter and joy of your family and your friends and bring it with you from your old house to your new house. Because without all of that, you just have walls and a door.

With it, you have a home.

Also, I never found my brown clogs. How did I pack my entire house and not find the pair of shoes I’ve been looking for for weeks? WHERE ARE MY BROWN CLOGS?

How Does This Keep Happening To Me?

OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS, THIS WOULD ONLY HAPPEN TO ME.

Please to see the Facebook status I posted yesterday:

Screenshot of a Facebook status. It reads, "HOLEEEE SHIT, YOU GUYS. So. We're giving our pool to our friends because our new backyard isn't fully fenced. BECAUSE IT'S ME, the box of pool parts we took to their house didn't just contain pool parts, but also FOUR BABY FUCKING RODENTS. To do: 1. Send Alex to return babies to our shed in hopes their mom finds them again. (They'll convey with the house!) 2. Check my car for said mother rodent in case she made the ride over here with us. 3. Get to knitting tiny hats." Below the words is a photo of two tiny baby rodents in a cardboard box, surrounded by chewed up paper and assorted pool parts.Yeah. So that happened.

I was so happy to be able to give our pool to our friends so that someone else can get joy out of it and also because hopefully they’ll invite my kids over to swim. So yesterday afternoon I dragged the pool and all of its many parts and supplies out of my backyard shed, stuffed it in my car, and trundled it over to my friends’ house, where Alex and I helped them set it up.

At some point it became clear that mice or rats or, you know, a fucking woodchuck had been living in one of the boxes because it had very efficiently turned one of the pool manuals into a little nest of shredded paper. That’s cool though, because animals live in the outside and it’s not like we found a live opossum in there sitting next to the pool filter. I assumed the rodents had moved on.

We set up the pool and I was fishing through the box to pull out the things my friends would need when I heard squeaking. “Ha,” I thought to myself, “that sounds like baby gerbils. I wonder… No, I’m sure it’s just crickets or something.”

Then I looked closer and I may or may not have cursed loudly and creatively in front of my friends’ kids.

I don’t even know what kind of rodent they are. I just know that we found four of them and transferred them to a box in an effort to return them to their mother. Because although I’m not a huge fan of wild rodents in and near my home, it seemed really mean to starve little blind babies to death. We figured that if we took them back to the shed that maybe their mom would be able to find them again. It was their best chance.

I know. I am a big fucking bleeding heart. I am well aware.

Then, because I do things like this to him all the time, I made Alex deliver the rodents to our house.

Photo of Alex walking away from the camera holding a cardboard box full of baby rodents. He looks highly annoyed.

He was totally delighted to get this assignment.

He returned a little while later with a six-pack of beer and news that he had made a cardboard bed and roof for the little guys under the shed.

Meanwhile, I was checking my car for rodents, just in case the mom had been in the box when I put it in the back seat only to abandon ship before I delivered it to my friends.

In my mind, all I can see is me driving along, singing along to some bad pop song or listening to some earnest NPR story about porches, only to look in my rearview mirror to find Rat Mom standing on the headrest directly behind my right ear. At that point my imagination pictures me screaming and veering off the road into a concrete wall.

While all this was going on, my friends continued to cook dinner for my family instead of kicking us out into the street and hurling pool salt at us.

They’re good people.

So that is the story of the day I gave my pool and a litter of wild rat babies to some close friends. As someone commented on that above Facebook status, you should remember to not take hand-me-downs from Stimeyland.

Epilogue: This evening, after torrential rain, Alex went back to check on the babies and to rebuild their little house. He was distressed because they looked as if they had been tossed around by the weather. He was able to find three of them and reports that they were still alive. I’m hopeful that this means their mom is nearby. The fact that Alex went by to check on the little guys says a lot about him. He tries to make us all think he’s disgruntled, but he has his very own bleeding heart.

Cheetah Proud

I’m going to write about last weekend’s Cheetah-thon because it was fabulous and deserves to be written about, but in terms of getting my point across, if I wanted to, I could just decide that a picture is worth a thousand words and show you this one:

Jack and Alex are ice skating. Alex is in front of Jack and Jack is holding on to the back of Alex's jacket. Alex is smiling. Jack, however, is looking at the camera with an expression of pure, open-mouthed glee. There is so much joy in this photo.

I call this photo: Joy.

Jack loves the Cheetah-thon. Loves it. He is totally in his element there. It makes me so happy to see him so joyful and engaged and silly and relaxed. I think he really likes getting to skate without anyone telling him what to do.

He takes advantage of his freedom by demanding that all of his coaches pull him around the ice—which they do with big smiles on their faces.

Photo of Jack and one of his coaches on the ice. The coach has his hands behind him. Jack is holding those hands and being pulled along the ice.

You might remember similar photos from last year’s Cheetah-thon. And Jack had that same big-ass smile then too.

So, we know that Jack has a good time at the Cheetah-thon, and clearly Alex was having a good time in that photo above (although several days later, his body still hurts from the sudden trips to the ice he took a couple of times), but what about the rest of Team Stimey?

Sam had a really good time. One of my friends came and brought her kids, whom Sam really likes, so he got to play around with them. Plus, he was able to goof around with his brothers. Some days he is such a chill little dude. (Or, rather, a chill giant dude. Seriously, once he put his ice skates on, he was as tall as many of the adults.)

He does like to hassle me though. At least he does it in a sweet, exasperating manner.

Sam smiling with his hand up in an effort to block the camera.

Sam doing his best anti-paparazzi impression.

So Jack, Alex, and Quinn had fun. But what of Quinn? Quinn does not ice skate. Quinn doesn’t even like being inside ice rinks. Quinn and his brothers were invited to a friend’s ice skating party a few months ago and Quinn spent most of the party in tears because of the cold and the environment. I was worried that the Cheetah-thon would be the same way for him.

Fortunately, I am not above bribery, so I gave him money right off the bat to buy a giant pretzel and didn’t even bother asking him if he wanted to skate. In fact, I was so sure he wasn’t going to skate that I didn’t even bother bringing a helmet for him.

Quinn ran around for a while while everyone else skated and I took photos and chatted with my friends. Then…oh my god…you guys…QUINN ASKED IF HE COULD SKATE. I think the excitement and the fun of the event seeped into him and he couldn’t resist.

I hadn’t brought a helmet for him, but fortunately due to the helmet snafu of last winter, I had an extra one in the car—and it fit him perfectly. I couldn’t have been more pleased. In addition to being amazed that Quinn was willing to skate, I was also amazed that he was willing to wear a hockey helmet with a facemask and everything.

Quinn took exactly one lap around the rink. (It took him 20 minutes.) I couldn’t have been more proud of him. I would show you a photo of him looking adorable in his helmet or skating on the ice, but he forbade me from taking a picture and/or posting it on my blog. HUGE SAD FACE.

Instead, I’ll show you this photo of him smiling at his pretzel.

Quinn holding a paper plate on which is a giant, soft, salty pretzel. His eyes are looking at the pretzel and he has a huge smile on his face.

Seriously. It’s the only photo of Q from that night that I can publish without him getting mad at me.

I had a blast too. One of my good friends came with her family, including one of my relay race team members that I hadn’t seen for a long time and was stoked to hug. I ran around taking photos, handing out money to my kids (and Alex) for food (and raffle tickets). I talked to my friends. I goofed around. It was great.

It was a triumphant night for Team Stimey.

Oh, and the Cheetahs did a great job of fundraising and met our goal. That too.

It was fantastic all around. I love this team and our community. I am so grateful for their support and also for your support. Thank you to those of you who donated money to the team. Thank you to those of you who donated items for the raffle. Thank you for those of you who attended the event. Thank you to those of you who sent love and good wishes. Just thank you all. We feel your support and we are so grateful.

Thank you for supporting Jack and his wonderful team. We are so grateful for every single dollar. If you are still in the mood to donate, you can still do so online.

Hockey season is over for the summer. I have my Saturday mornings back so I can sleep in. But as always, I will miss both practice and the people it brings into my and Jack’s lives. Fortunately they aren’t really gone and, partially thanks to you, they’ll be back weekly come fall.

Photo of Jack skating straight toward the camera.

Some Days Do Not Go As Expected

I was going to write about the Cheetah-thon tonight because it was super awesome, but then Alex was installing a dishwasher and there was a sudden, house-wide power outage and a whole lot of cursing and some assertions of, “It would be best if this was never, ever spoken of ever again…”

“But—”

“No, for real, Jean. You should stop talking. Now.” [paraphrase]

So, I had less power-aided internetz time to write than I had planned for tonight, so I will save my Cheetah-thon stories and my happy, non-tonight memories for later.

Instead, I will give you two photos of Starfire because if that isn’t happy making, I don’t know what is. Also, because I think blogging about tonight qualifies as talking about it, I’m hoping these photos will make Alex less likely to divorce me over the Dishwasher Incident of 2014.

The first is of Starfire and her lovey.

Starfire on top of a folded blue blanket, with a cat toy made up of a black wand (for human waving) and a sort of ratty, long fabric strip for her to play with.

I took this photo during the ten minutes Starfire sat on this blanket, purring at top volume while desperately kneading said blanket.

That toy is technically one that a human is supposed to have a part in playing with, but I don’t think that is Starfire’s hope. Mostly she just drags the thing around and then manically kneads at it while making some sort of extremely loud cat noise. Sometimes I wake up in the morning with it on top of me. I am terrified that it will get lost in our move.

Next up: Chillaxing Starfire.

Photo of Starfire in the top section of her cat post. All that is visible is her head, chest, and one front arm, which is slung over the side of the post. She looks like the passenger in a car.

This photo is best if you imagine her as the passenger in a convertible, listening to some tunes.

Now I have to go apologize to Alex for being annoyed at him as he tried to better our lives. Reason #867 you are glad you’re not married to me.

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 archivesfoundation.org.

*****

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.