There Are Lots of Things to Do During a 36-Hour Stay in Ohio

Continuing our Team Stimey tradition of splitting into various non-total family groups for vacations, Katie and I headed to Ohio last weekend. We left on Friday afternoon and returned on Sunday morning. It takes 6-7 hours to drive each way. Do that math. Still. We had all kinds of fun. Plus, I had Katie trapped in a car with me and my music playlist for multiple hours. Oh, the songs that we sang.

Photo of Katie and I in the car. She is making duck face and putting her fingers in a "v."

Do they teach this pose in homeroom on the first day of high school? Seriously. ALL teenagers do it.

The reason we went is because Katie’s girlfriend lives there (stupid internet, allowing people from far away to meet) and they wanted to go to an anime convention together. So that’s what they did all day Saturday, leaving me all kinds of Stimey-alone-in-Ohio time, which I took full advantage of, doing many fun things, including napping. But napping wasn’t the only great thing we did. There were many other things.

We stayed in a hotel a half hour away from both Kat’s friend and the anime convention.

We decided to go less than a week before we went. It turns out that all the cheap hotels nearby were filled up by better planners than us. At first, I was all, why the fuck is everyone in the world staying in this tiny Ohio town this weekend? When I woke up on Saturday and looked outside my window to see a school bus with an “ANIME CONVENTION SHUTTLE” sign on it, I realized why. It turns out that Katie and friend were not the only people attending the convention. I know. Weird.

We didn’t cosplay.

I mean, I didn’t go to the convention, but Katie didn’t dress up. She did not get her shit together quickly enough to cosplay for the convention. (She is bad and should feel bad.)

Katie looking cute.

She looked super cute though and the blue hair helped her fit in.

We arrived way early and found fun things to stand next to.

Kat’s friend was late or we were early and either way we had some time to hang out and do fun things.

Giant lion statue head. I am standing next to it looking delighted.

Presented without comment. Okay, one comment: How awesome is this? I wanted to hug it. But that would have been weird.

I was THAT mom.

Photo of me and Katie standing next to the lion.

“KAT! KAAAAAAAAT!!!! COME STAND NEXT TO THIS LION WITH ME!”

I am so goddamn embarrassing.

Kat with her hand over half her face in a "you're so embarrassing" way.

Picture Kat making this face a lot.

In my defense, I asked her several times if she wanted me to leave her alone to wait and she said no.

Katie leaning against a smaller lion statue.

You feel for her, don’t you? I am the WORST.

There were two of these lions. I leaned on one of them and it moved, which either means that I am waaaay heavier than I thought I was or they weren’t attached to the ground. Assuming the latter, I hatched a plan to come back in the dead of night to stuff them into my car and then post them on either side of the end of my driveway to create a sort of regal, Welcome to Stimeyland feel to my house. Said plan didn’t come to fruition. I am bad at follow through.

We people watched cosplayers. (They are good and should feel good.)

Seriously. These people. They gave me life. It is so damn cool when people are passionate about something. It is doubly cool when they are among their people and are clearly happy and free. People are so creative.

Katie sat picturesquely on a rock.

Katie sitting on a rock.

I think I stopped taking photos after this. Well, after the photo I took immediately after this one in which she was sticking out her tongue at me.

Then I was abandoned.

Kat’s girlfriend showed up and I walked over to say hi to her mom and the two of them ran into the convention without even saying goodbye. I didn’t even get a chance to yell any of my favorite parting lines like, “Don’t get kidnapped!” or “Don’t take drugs!

So I went running.

I had the rest of my day to fill so I did what I do when I have lots of hours: I went running. That morning I had found an app that showed me local trails. This was great because I was able to run on a wooded bike/running path instead of 7-1/2 miles down a sidewalk and then back on the other side of the street, which was what I assumed I would have to do.

I planned to run 15 miles, but only ran about 12-1/2 because it turned out that the trail wasn’t quite as long as it claimed. It was also really, really hot and big chunks of the trail had no tree cover.

It was really pretty though and I got to run over bridges and past a river…and under a freeway overpass. All very scenic.

Selfie during my run overlooking a river.

This super long bridge (I’m standing on it and you can see it in the background) was said to be the “highlight” of the trail. I think they were right. I don’t know why it is fun to run over bridges, but it is. My route had four or five of them.

I rued my lack of planning.

I forgot sunscreen on my run. I regretted this almost instantly. I was maybe a mile in when I realized what a terrible mistake this would be. I didn’t know what effect the sunglasses would have on the overall effect though.

Me with a red sunburned face and light circles around my eyes.

Look! I’m a reverse raccoon/trash panda.

Then I napped. And ate. And consumed media. And generally slugged about.

I also almost got run over on my way across the street to get to a Chipotle. Some guy had pulled out too far into the intersection, but didn’t make it across when the light turned red. He SAW me and didn’t back up his car. Then I walked behind his car and he immediately started backing up. I jumped out of the way. Some guy in a different car laughed really hard.

I realized how old and feeble I am.

Do you know what happens at one in the morning? I do now because that’s how late I had to stay up to chaperone Kat and friend. ONE IN THE A. M. Seriously. I’m 43, people. I don’t do 1 a.m. anymore and I don’t even feel bad saying that.

Kat ate all the food and I felt grateful for my cool kid.

Our hotel was right next door to a Denny’s. We headed over there before we set off back home. I hadn’t been to a Denny’s in years. It turns out that they’ve been keeping all of the food there!

Photo of Kat behind two plates of food and a plastic cup shaped like voltron.

They also had kids’ cups that look like Voltron, who, I am led to believe, is an anime character. Naturally, we insisted on purchasing one.

The trip was a little bit of a hassle what with all the driving and almost getting run over and stuff, but I am so glad that I could do it for Kat. And I am especially glad that she wanted to do it with me—that she talked to me in the car and sang the entire soundtrack to Hamilton (once each direction) and gave me hugs and was grateful and didn’t even spend the whole time texting with her friends. She’s the best.

Too Many Ideas to Fill Up a Weekend

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

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

Friday night: Realize Your Baby Is No Longer a Baby

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

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

Photo taken through a window of Quinn throwing a basketball.

Quinn is sportsing!

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

Saturday morning: Run a Trail Race for the First Time

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

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

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

Selfie of me and Lyda before the race.

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

Saturday afternoon: Ice Skate for Special Hockey

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

Jack ice skating.

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

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

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

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

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

Quinn holding a basket of Girl Scout cookies.

A basket of Girl Scout cookies.

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

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

Jack and I showing off our Cheetah gear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Mid-day Chicken Interlude:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday evening: Collapse

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

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

Not Running Around Houston

We all know (because I won’t stop fucking talking about it) that I went to Houston to run a marathon. That said, I only spent six hours of my time there running the race. What else happened in Houston, you ask? Well. We all know that what happens in Houston does not stay in Houston, so I am here to tell you about the great fun of a visit to my mom without my kids for several days. (Spoiler alert: It was awesome.)

I flew out on the Wednesday before the marathon because I wanted some time to get used to the climate and also because do you have any idea how many kids I have? Sometimes it’s nice to get away. (Just kidding, Alex!) I also, without going into too much detail, wanted to give my gastrointestinal system time to…let’s call it “normalize” prior to the race.

Check, check, and check!

I headed to the airport after work, where I was informed by the TSA that their little scanner had registered a “chest and groin anomaly,” which seems problematic, but could apparently be fixed by having every part of my body touched by a gloved TSA agent.

Then I went and ate a delicious hamburger for lunch at the terminal gate where I learned that my plane was being delayed because something about a cargo maintenance inspection and there was some placard that needed to be displayed and there was some confusion as to whether that placard was actually there and they needed to have someone drive over from another area airport to check on it. In my mind I was all, “I would be happy to give you a visual yay or nay on that placard,” but this was probably not what they needed. It turns out that my plane was one of four with this issue that day and at least two of the others had to cancel flights because of it, so I’m going to count myself lucky.

Then once we were on the plane and getting ready to taxi away, a flight attendant asked for two volunteers to go sit at the back of the plane just during takeoff for “weight and balance issues” and I immediately had some questions like, What happens if the weight and balance is off—like, is that a crashable offense? and Shouldn’t that cargo maintenance inspection placard have taken care of this issue? and lastly, Is this plane’s design so precarious that its ability to become airborne is dependent on the weight of two individuals and where they sit?

Why must there always be a problem, right? Anyway, I napped for a long time and then woke up to really pretty clouds, of which I took many photos, and all of which look exactly the goddamn same.

Photo of clouds and part of an airplane wing.

Also, none of my identical photos really capture how pretty it was, so altogether a worthwhile enterprise.

All in all, it was quite an eventful afternoon.

My mom and stepdad (Richard, remember?) picked me up, took me to dinner, then drove me to their home, which they had designed and had built themselves a year ago. Let me tell you, if you ever want to feel bad about your house, go visit someone who basically built their dream house. It is beautiful.

The next day we drove into Houston. My mom and Richard offered to drive me along the marathon route so I could get an idea of what it was like. I thought that was really nice of them because the only thing that sounds worse than running a marathon is driving the course in late afternoon traffic.

Incidentally, slowly driving a marathon route in a big city is a fantastic way to accumulate Pokemon.

Photo taken by me from the backseat of a car. I'm holding a paper with the race route on it. Richard is driving. My mom is in the front seat.

Additionally, it is a great way to see every part of the city!

I am actually really happy that they did this for me. We didn’t drive the entire route, but it was nice to know what was coming and how far I was when I got to certain landmarks in the race. It was more helpful that I realized it would be to know what was coming up. Also, I was able to truly, truly understand that the course was flat—like really flat.

Furthermore, we drove past this most awesome sculpture in the entire goddamn world.


This photo of Goode Company Barbeque is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Yes, that IS a giant fucking armadillo. It’s hard to see in the photo, but it also has steer horns. There’s a whole story behind said armadillo, but mostly it is just a tremendous sight to behold. It is really something. Weirdly, when I was running my race, I passed it without seeing it. I had actually considered stopping to take a selfie with it during the race because, well, c’mon, but somehow I ran past without seeing it. You wouldn’t think that is something you could miss when you’re traveling past at foot-speed but evidently it is.

We were all exhausted after our long drive so we pretty much went home after that.

Friday I had to run my last training run prior to my marathon. I was scheduled for 2 miles on Saturday but I didn’t want to run the day before the race so I went on Friday instead. I wore long tights even though it was hot to get an idea of how warm it was.

Me waving at the camera as I walk down a driveway.

My mom took photos of everything. It was adorable.

I discovered on this run that even though it wasn’t super hot, it was humid and that kinda sucked it all out of me. I decided then and there to not run with my Camelbak because I wanted to keep my back clear to be cooler. It ended up definitely being the right choice.

After that, I went to the backyard where Richard was busy with yard work, bird feeding, and pretending to chop my mom into tiny pieces.

Photo of Richard holding big clippers and my mom recoiling from him.

He isn’t, by the way, British, appearance to the contrary.

Richard was also cultivating some poison ivy under those gloves from his last gardening session, something that caused all kinds of distress for him and mostly resulted in my refusing to touch anything he had touched until after my marathon.

My mom and I went to see La La Land that afternoon. Guess who goes to the movies at 1 pm on a Friday? Lots of senior citizens. There was a preview of a movie with Morgan Freeman being rakishly adorable, which killed with that audience. There’s been a lot of hype about La La Land and I wanted to see it, but I was partly prepared to hate it. It was, however, completely charming.

The afternoon’s film led to a discussion of movie musicals wherein I learned that Richard loves the movie version of Les Miserables and my mom learned that I’d never seen the movie version of Les Miserables, something that Richard corrected that very evening. (No, you’re crying.)

The next day was Expo Day, which my mom kept referring to as, “Jean needs to check in.” I was all, “We call it packet pickup, Mom,” and rolled my eyes, but she kept calling it a check-in, so that’s what it was.

We went early in the day, which meant I was going to miss seeing Meb at noon. That’s probably for the best though because it is likely that I would have just stood in front of his little autograph signing table repeating “Meb Keflezighi, Meb Keflezighi” over and over because once I hear his name, I can’t stop saying it. I’m doing it right now.

The expo was fun. I picked up my packet checked in and then we did some wandering around the expo. I was mostly looking for some ostentatious gear that said HOUSTON MARATHON in big fluorescent letters, but they only had subtle, tasteful clothing. Very disappointing.

There was a shirt hanging on the wall that said “finisher” and had a map of the route on it and it was really fun and I wanted it but they didn’t have it on any of the racks, but the one on the wall was in my size so I climbed up and took it down with the intent to purchase it. I found a jacket to buy (“marathon” is in really tiny letters—why?) and my mom offered to buy the shirt for me. We went to different registers where I successfully purchased my jacket and the guy told my mom that the shirt wasn’t for sale because that is the shirt they give to finishers after they cross the finish line.

It looked really embarrassing. I pretended to not know her until we were away from the booth.

We took lots of photos at the expo. Let me explain.

Photo of me standing in front of a sign that says "Go run Houston."

Hey look! There is a backdrop of some sort! I should stand in front of it and have someone take my photo!

Photo of me standing in front of a sign that says "Go run Houston." My mom is taking a picture of me.

While that someone is taking a photo, someone else is taking a photo of her taking the photo.

Photo of my mom holding up her phone to take a photo. Richard is standing behind her taking a photo of her taking a photo.

Now I’ll take a photo of them taking photos.

Selfie of me, my mom, and Richard in front of the sign.

And finally, because no one is taking a photo of all three of us, Imma need a selfie.

We are super embarrassing to go anywhere with.

My nephew had a basketball game that afternoon, where he was similarly well documented.

Photo of a cute kiddo shooting a basketball.

Unfortunately, my phone camera is not so good at the zooming in, but you get the point.

We stopped by his house afterward where I met his rabbit and the rabbit GROWLED at me. I swear to God. I have never heard anything like it. I crouched in front of it where it was sitting on a chair and he was all “I DO NOT LIKE YOU GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!” I didn’t even know rabbits could growl. Or hate. Sniff.

After this terrible rebuke, we headed back into the city to check in to our hotel. I had been all prepared for post-race hygiene by buying baby wipes to clean myself with and towels to sit on so as not to offend my family in the car after for the hour-long ride back to their house.

But at the front desk when we checked in, my mom was all, “Hey, can we have a late check out?” and magically we had a room until 3 pm the next day so I was able to shower before climbing into their car after the marathon. It may have been simple self-preservation on her part, but it was brilliant and I am very grateful for it.

I then forced my mom to walk with me to where my corral was going to be the next morning so I could time how long it took to walk there and then I had a question about procedure the next day that I’d already asked two people but wasn’t confident of the answer, so I made her walk with me back to the expo where I asked two more people until I felt sure I had the right answer.

(The runner info made it look like you had to go through the convention center in the morning to get through a checkpoint before you could go to your corral, but that seemed ridiculous so I wanted to make sure I could go straight to the corral and get through security there. It turns out that for corral E there wasn’t even a checkpoint at all.)

After our long walk, we went to dinner and then I went back to the hotel, showered, and was in bed by 8:15 for my 5 am wake up.

Then the next day I ran a marathon.

Afterward I showered and we drove home with a quick stop at the CVS for more poison ivy cream and a sweet gift for me.

Photo of me in a car holding a bear holding a flower.

Thanks, Richard! Love Bear lives on my office shelf now.

When we got back, I got into bed for a nap. I set my alarm for an hour and was pretty sure I didn’t fall asleep, but suddenly my alarm was going off so I set it for another half hour and was pretty sure I didn’t fall asleep for another half hour, but I’m thinking I probably did. And deeply.

My stepsister (Sara) and nephew (Elliot) had come over to spend the night. Evidently Elliot thought I was napping too long and should have been woken up to play Uno with them. Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed. I did wake up in time for dinner though. And did I mention my mom has a hot tub? If you’re going to run a marathon, you should totally get a hot tub. Highly recommended.

I wasn’t flying home the day after the marathon because when I made the reservations, my long run was, like, 12 miles and I had no idea how my body was going to react to being forced to run 26, so I gave myself a day to hang out before I flew.

We hung out with Sara and Elliot that morning until they had to go do things. Left on our own, my mom and I made the day an exploration day, even if most of the exploration was mine because my mom apparently has already driven around the area where she lives.

First we went on a walk to the marina in her neighborhood. (She lives on a lake.)

Photo of me and my mom at a marina in front of boats.

Hey look, Mom! It’s that boat you love in the background! (Private joke.)

We then drove a few miles away where there is a left turn and a right turn. The left turn goes to a small town that my mom and Richard go to a lot. The right turn had a sign that gives the name of another small town 17 miles away. We had gone out to dinner in the first small town a couple of nights before and when we passed that sign, my mom had told Richard that she wanted to check out the other town some time. (Foreshadowing.)

We turned left and my mom gave me a driving tour of the town—the grocery store, the post office, the restaurants, the museum that looked exactly like a regular house. Then we found something she’d never seen before.

Photo of a well with a bucket. There is a statue of a white goat standing next to it.

Yep. That’s a statue of the town goat. I love small towns.

Apparently that goat showed up in the town in the early 1900s and learned that if he hung out by the well long enough, people would give him water. Then he learned that if he hung out at the bar long enough, people would give him beer. It is unknown if or what the townspeople named him. Repeat: I love small towns.

After the excitement of discovering the statue, my mom was ready to go home but I insisted on fulfilling her dreams and demanded that she drive me 17 miles each direction to the other town. If one town had a town goat, God only knows what the other town would have.

Turns out it had a very run down main street and a guy sitting by his driveway who eyed us suspiciously as we drove by.

Photo of several store fronts in rough condition.

No statues in sight.

There were also two different signs that promised historical markers four miles away, but they were both lies and we never found anything historical. Frankly, I don’t know why my mom insisted we take that drive all the way out there.

All was not lost though because there was a fudge shop near my mom’s house that she’d never been to and, because I’d mentioned it on our way out, she was determined to stop there on our way back. Unfortunately, she didn’t remember that until after we had passed the turn, so she had to back up in the turn lane so we could get our candy. Because fudge.

Photo of my mom driving and eating fudge.

It was worth it.

Altogether, it was a completely worthwhile adventure.

But we were not done with our day, oh no. We still had to go get me my sopapillas and margaritas, which I had insisted upon as a condition of running a marathon. Happily, my mom and Richard knew a place where I could get both.

A close up of a margarita and some sopapillas.

I think the waiter was taken aback when he took our order and I said, “We’re going to need some sopapillas for the table immediately,” but he brought them and they were plentiful and delicious.

Because Houston was experiencing some sort of weird fucking heatwave, we ate on the patio. I had to take off my jacket because it was so warm. Fucking Houston.

Selfie of my mom, Richard, and me.

I’m wearing the finisher shirt I got after the race. I hear someone tried to buy one at the expo.

And that was it. We got up early the next day so I could go to the airport. I considered wearing my medal, but settled on wearing the race shirt.

Photo of me at the airport curb wearing a shirt that says Chevron Houston Marathon.

The shirt isn’t that exciting, but at least the word “marathon” is in big letters.

You’ll be happy to hear that my chest anomaly had gone away by this time, but sadly my groin anomaly remained. Seriously. What is that about? I did some looking into it online and it sounds like these scanners are all kinds of problematic for trans people, which is really unfortunate. I’m not sure what happened with me though, especially twice on the same trip when it’s never happened before. Maybe I’ll wear different pants next time I fly.

Anywho, I returned home safely where I was immediately assaulted by the day to day realities of public transportation, responsibility, and parenting teenagers.

Thanks for the adventure, Mom and Richard!

Photo of Richard and my mom.

Next time I’ll bring the munchkins too.

Vacation All I Ever Wanted, Wisconsin Edition, Part II

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

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

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

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

Photo of Jack holding the spaceman LEGO guy.

SPACESHIP!

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

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

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

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

You know, until we arrived.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We could also have this ALL THE TIME.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which rabbit would you rather be?

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

Sam feeding a deer with antlers pellets from his hand.

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

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

Unlike the deer, the budgies are always hungry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex bonded quickly and completely with that budgie.

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

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

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

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

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

I think moments like this are why people have kids.

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

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

Who’s a good giraffe?

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

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

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

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

Quinn swimming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were speedier than them too, which was fun.

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

Selfie of Alex and I on the rowboat.

Maybe it was to spend time with Alex.

It sure wasn’t for the fish.

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

Nice catch, Alex!

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

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

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

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

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

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

I still kinda love it though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We go there primarily for their sugar-covered doughnuts.

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

*ominous pause*

What could possibly go wrong?

*another ominous pause followed by raucous laughter*

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

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

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

*ominous pause*

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

*ominous pause*

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

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

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

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

Photo of Jack smiling in his kayak.

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

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

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

All of this in the first five minutes.

*ominous pause followed by ominous music*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because reasons.

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

Photo of a metal pump action water fountain.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!

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

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

I am maybe the most embarrassing person in the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wisconsin is pretty.

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

Selfie of the five of us at our picnic.

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

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

Sam in his canoe, looking at his phone.

All was well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That post is coming soon. Before Thanksgiving at least.

Bambi Meets Snowzilla

(In case you’re wondering, the “Bambi” referred to in the title is ALL OF THE DC AREA.)

It snowed this weekend. I don’t know if you heard.

EVERYTHING shut down. It was amazing. The farthest I ventured from my house so far this weekend is four houses down to rescue my children on their return from sledding and I fell down twice and had to go inside and sit down after I was done. It is a SCENE out there.

It’s difficult to really show the magnitude of this snowfall because all the photos I took just look like us standing pathetically in a lumpy white landscape.

Photo of me in winter gear standing in front of a pile of snow that is taller than my shoulders.

I made a hill.

Photo of Alex standing in a partially shovelled driveway, with heaps of snow piled along the side.

Alex made a whole series of hills.

And then it snowed for ten more hours.

Happily, we didn’t lose power all weekend, which, frankly, was just about the only thing I really cared about. The thought of hanging out through days of no heat sounded horrifying. I’m also grateful that no trees fell on my house.

Photo of my backyard covered in snow. On the far left, you can see the treehouse, still triumphantly up in the tree.

And the treehouse is still standing!

At one point on Saturday, Alex and I were busy shoveling and we sent the munchkins down the street and around the corner to the sledding hill. They didn’t last long.

Quinn reappeared first as a black dot way down the street. He got bigger and louder as he approached, but happily, he wasn’t crying. He actually seemed to be in pretty good cheer, which was a nice surprise. “One of my legs isn’t working!” he shouted. Then he fell down. “There goes the other one!”

Photo of a field of white snow, with a small black dot of Quinn approaching. He's falling over.

(Click to embiggen.) This photo perfectly exemplifies the verb “to trudge.”

Most people hadn’t shoveled their sidewalks yet, so the going was pretty tough. We cleared ours early. It was fun to watch kids walking to and from the sledding hill discover the sidewalk path. We were definitely the best house to walk past.

Sam and Jack had a tougher time making it home. Quinn had left Sam in charge of bringing home all three sleds and an extremely bummed out Jack. I noticed them slogging along together waaaay down the street. They were kind of blurry blobs. Then the bigger blurry blob picked up the smaller one and started to carry him. That’s when I knew there was trouble.

Photo of Sam carrying Jack, cradled in his arms. It's really hard to see though.

It’s hard to see that Sam has Jack cradled like a baby here. It was impressive, if short-lived.

By the time I reached them, Jack had lost a shoe and was lying in the snow crying because he couldn’t feel his foot. All said, it was a reasonable reaction. Also, the fact that Sam didn’t just leave Jack to fend for himself speaks very highly of him.

They didn’t leave the house again for a very long time.

Thank God there was sun today (coincidentally, Sunday). Also confused cats.

Photo of Sharky looking at the back sliding door, where snow is piled up against it.

Sharky: “Something is different, but I just can’t quite put my paw on it.”

When I looked out the window and saw that the street had finally been plowed, I was delighted.

Photo taken from second floor of my house of the very snowy street in front of my house. The road is plowed.

Do you see that beautiful flat road? That means access to the outside world.

Or so I thought. See that area at the end of the driveway between the two piles of snow? That’s, like, three-foot deep snow that had to be cleared. And sadly, it turns out that Alex and I are the adults in the situation and there was no one but us who was going to shovel it.

The munchkins fought their way out of the driveway and then took a much easier walk down the plowed road to the sledding hill while Alex and I chipped away at the snow.

Photo of Alex standing in the driveway next to almost waist high snow. The driveway is partially shoveled.

I was the first to battle my way out.

Sadly, however, one path that required a long step over a pile of ice chunks wasn’t going to release the car. So Alex and I kept at it, shovelful by shovelful, each of which had to be hurled over our quickly growing piles.

Me standing in front of a pile of snow that is taller than me.

We made our pile bigger.

Our children eventually came back from sledding. Sam disappeared inside and Quinn made some microwave popcorn only to reappear twenty minutes later with the demand, “Mom! Make me an igloo!”

It must be nice to be ten and oblivious.

(I didn’t make him an igloo.)

Jack stuck around and helped us by chiseling away at the icy crust on the pile and throwing snowballs at me from his perch on top of our new hills.

Photo of Jack leaning over the top of a snowbank.

He’s lucky he’s cute.

It only took Alex and I a couple of hours to clear the driveway, remove the car’s snow hat, and make sure the car could back up out of its snow nest. Earlier in the day, I had wondered if I could put on my Yaktrax and go for a run in the streets. Now I just want to sit on the couch for the rest of my life and enjoy the thought that if I wanted to, I could go somewhere.

Screenshot of a facebook post of mine, which is a photo of Alex with arms up in celebration after I made it to the street. The caption reads "WE'RE FREE!!! WE MADE A HOLE TO THE STREET!!"

For the record, I don’t want to.

Surviving Winter Break

You’re probably reading this in 2016. If so, let me get this out of the way first: Happy New Year! May your 2016 be your best year! We’ll talk about resolutions and goals and what not, but that will come another day. Today we’re looking back. Specifically, we’re looking back at the last week and how Team Stimey made it through without just flat out giving up and letting our kids play video games 24/7 for all of winter break.

Let’s start with Alex. Alex went to New York for concerts. Lucky him. Fini.

Now for the rest of us.

My sister (Ann) brought one of her kids (Jacob) to come visit for the week after Christmas. They’re actually still here, so they’re helping us get through the rest of the week.

Unfortunately, Alex and I introduced Ann to The Walking Dead shortly after she arrived so now I not only have to try to keep my kids off video games 24/7, I have to try to keep Ann off of Netflix 24/7 AND break up fistfights between her and my kids as they fight over the television. It’s a whole thing.

So, if ever you are stuck in a house with four boys, a sister, five cats, four gerbils, and no school, here are some suggestions on how to pass the time.

First, that five cats thing is essential. Because there is nothing like kittens to kill a few hours.

Photo of a 10-year-old (Jacob) sitting on the floor playing with two white kittens.

That is Jacob. He likes cats. My sister’s wife is deathly allergic to cats, so this is really his only chance to hang out with them. The cats, fortunately, are happy to oblige.

It is also important to note that just because Christmas is over, that doesn’t mean you have to stop doing Christmas things. For example, I dragged everyone to the local nature center for the Christmas light show.

Photo of me sitting next to my sister, Ann.

This is Ann. She’s a doctor. Do you know how annoying it is to watch The Walking Dead with a doctor?

The lights were fun. Quinn and Jack particularly enjoyed the caterpillar tunnel in which they spun and spun and spun. I tried one rotation and almost fell over.

Quinn and Jack with arms out, caught mid-spin, in a tunnel created by multicolored lights forming a long archway.

As Kang says, “We must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!”

I discovered that telling four young boys to sit in a row and smile is nearly as futile as asking three of them to do it.

Jack, Jacob, Quinn, and Sam sitting on a bench in front of colored lights sorta kinda trying to smile at the camera.But if you ask them for “now a silly one,” they will comply almost instantly.

The same photo as the last one except they're all making silly faces and poses.The next day we went to the American History Museum, which I called the American History Fun Zone because Quinn has a nearly anaphylactic reaction to the word “museum.”

He wasn’t fooled.

I took a photo to remember where we parked the car.

Photo of part of my car in a parking space labeled "227."Then I took a photo to remember where the munchkins were.

Sam, Jacob, and Jack standing in front of a wall on which is etched "United States of America"

Quinn declined to participate.

Fortunately I’m not an idiot and this isn’t my first rodeo, so I knew what I needed to do to make Quinn let go of some of his anxiety and let himself start to have fun.

Unsurprisingly, it involved spinning something.

Photo of both Jack and Quinn standing at a musuem exhibit where they are pretending to scratch at a turntable.

Interactive exhibit? Check! Something that spins? Check! Sneaking him a piece of chocolate that no one else sees? Double check!

Not everyone was so enamored with the interactive play area.

Photo of Sam with his head down on a table and his hair over his face. Ann is in the background not looking too much more excited.

Stupid Sam, outgrowing stuff. Ann too.

Jack and Quinn, however, were delighted. They kept us in the interactive exhibit for quite a while as they made up stories of their “inventions.” The American History Museum is dumb enough to allow just anyone to write just anything and have it displayed on a touch screen for anyone to discover. Sorry, American History Museum patrons.

Photo of Quinn in front of a touch screen displaying his story.

In case you can’t read it: “Invention of a Golden Coooooooow: A cow jumped over the moon and into a dude who was trying to throw up in space. The cow hit him, rebounded off him, and flew into a volcano and became gold. The end.” This story was way less offensive than the one he wrote about the invention of fart gas.

Photo of Jack in front of a touch screen displaying his story.

And Jack’s: “Aperiture Science Panels: As people know, our walls don’t move, but panels make it a reality. Also if spikes are welded to it, it is a crusher. We sell them too.” At least Jack put the word “science” in there.

Our success in the interactive area carried over into a successful visit to a couple of other exhibits.

Photo of Sam, Jack, and Jacob standing in front of a vault door. Jacob is standing politely and smiling while Sam is holding Jack around the neck and Jack has his arms in the air.

Dammit, Jacob. Way to make us look bad.

Photo of a statue seated on a bench. Quinn and Jacob are standing on either side of it, each with a finger up the statue's nose.

Uh oh. I think we’re starting to rub off on my sister’s kid.

Every single thing we’ve done with all four kids has had a big element of sitting down to eat food. It turns out that if you feed children, they are happier. And it turns out that if you promise kids imminent food, they will continue to walk through an exhibit instead of dropping to the ground in panic.

Who fucking knew?

Photo of Ann and Jacob smiling at the camera.

I include this photo of Ann and Jacob at lunch, simply because it is super cute.

Every single thing we’ve done with my sister has also had a big element of finding coffee as well. It turns out that if you feed her caffeine in the form of a latte, she is much happier.

Who fucking knew? (Well, all of us knew this one.)

Photo of four boys on a concrete ledge. They all look exhausted in their own way.

I am highly entertained by this post-museum photo of all four kids waiting for Ann, who is in Starbucks.

But, if not for Ann’s incapacitating coffee habit, I wouldn’t have captured in a photo this easy love, comfort, and joy in each other that Jack and Quinn share.

Two photos side by side, each of Jack and Quinn with their arms wrapped around each other, caught in an intimate moment of hugging and just being together.

These two.

Then there were naps. Lots of naps.

In a fit of surprising craftiness, we also made chocolate chess pieces, something Quinn has wanted to make for Sam for a long time.

Photo of a plate full of milk chocolate molded chess pieces.

We had plans to create a whole set out of white and milk chocolate, but before he left for New York, Alex washed the thin plastic mold in the dishwasher so we can never make them again.

I also made Ann fix my bathroom door jamb.

Photo of my sister in a bathroom doorway with a screwdriver, fixing a doorjamb.

She’s older than me. I think her determination to prove she could fix it is an eldest sibling thing. Cool by me. I’m pretty lazy. I think that’s a youngest sibling thing.

It wasn’t all handywomaning and chess pieces though. There were some vigorous games of Exploding Kittens and Twister and that trip to the gymnastics place and lots of other fun stuff. But mixed in with all the fun, there must come the non-fun.

Dum dum dum…

The zoo.

Ask Quinn. He’s not a fan of anyplace where he has to walk around and look at things. At first things were okay. Quinn and Jack went on the carousel. We discovered that the zoo has five lions JUST LIKE we have five cats. We determined that I might not fare well in the wild.

Photo of Sam standing by a spinny thing that reveals the saying in the caption.

Sam spun a little thing to find out what he said was his fortune. He came up with, “Our mother is gored by a wild pig. She dies.” Dammit.

Then it got uphill and hungry and the reptile house was too hot and the outside was too cold and I had to give Quinn my coat to put on top of his own coat and he insisted on hot food and we waited in an outdoors line for food for like 45 minutes and finally we ate and everyone was happy and we set off to see the pandas and discovered that the pandas weren’t on display. It was a rough day at the zoo.

Thank God the otters were out and adorable.

Photo of Jack, Quinn, and Jacob watching the otters play.

If those otters had been inside their otter house, I would have entirely lost my shit.

But you guys, even though the zoo was a little bit of an exercise in frustration, it all turned out okay because we discovered that one of the otters is named PICKLES. JUST LIKE OUR CAT PICKLES!

Two photos: One of our cat Pickles and one of Quinn pointing at a zoo sign listing the otter names, one of which is Pickles.

See?! (Jack says, “Illuminati confirmed.”)

So not the  most satisfying zoo day, but still all right because of these guys:

Photo of Jacob, Sam, Jack, and Quinn standing in front of a waterfall at the zoo.

What do you think is up with Sam restraining Jack in every photo? I’m going to have to start paying attention to that.

Now we’re hanging out all together (except for Jacob who went to bed at 8:30 when the rest of us snuck back downstairs to watch New Year’s Rockin’ Eve). And that’s where we are at 10:58 pm on New Year’s Eve.

Happy 2016, friends. I truly hope you have a wonderful new year, full of love and family and joy.

The Half Marathon That is Trying to Kill Me

Last year at this time, I ran the Parks Half Marathon. I have slacked off a lot on my running this year (although over the past couple of months I’ve been coming back), so there was no way that I was even close to thinking about wondering if I could race a half marathon. The race goes close by my house though, so I dragged my family out first thing in the morning to cheer on the runners.

Photo of Jack, Alex, Quinn, and Sam at a picnic table. Quinn is playing on an iPad, Sam is listing to headphones and staring off into the distance. Jack and Alex are just sitting.

Good job, family.

The best though, the absolute best, happened when we were walking down to the race course. I was literally mid-sentence about how the kiddos should be careful walking along the side of the road because there were cars and…BAM.

I stepped halfway off the edge of the walkway, my ankle caved, then my other knee collapsed and before I knew it, I was roll-sliding through the grass and mud by the side of the road on my face. I know I fell face first because that’s where all my abrasions are, but I also know that I ended up on my back, because I felt the bag of pretzels I had in the backpack for my kids crushing, so I must have done some rolling too.

Ta-da!

I am sometimes not good at things.

I really did appreciate the irony of the fall, what with the perfect timing of me being all, “Okay, guys, listen to me, we need to be careful walking there, because—AAAAAAAAIIIIIIIGGGGGGHHHH!!!!!”

Also, if you remember when I ran the Parks Half Marathon last year, I fell twice. So obviously the only conclusion I can come to is that the Parks Half is trying to kill me in a hilariously ironic manner.

Thanks, Parks Half Marathon.

I pretended I wasn’t hurt and hobbled with my family down the side of the road to where we planned to stand and I unfurled my sign. I had never brought a sign to a race before, especially a sign that was making an effort to be funny, so I was very worried about its reception.

Photo of me holding a sign that reads, "Keep going! Your free banana is waiting for you!" There's also a drawing of a banana wearing a race bib (#42!) and running hard.

I was more animated that this photo lets on. I promise.

See, I was worried because my family of non-racers was all, “What if there aren’t bananas at the finish line?” and I was all, “Dudes, it’s a thing. It’s almost irrelevant whether there are bananas there or not,” but they just wouldn’t let it go. Fortunately the runners were with me and I made a lot of them smile and laugh.

Close up of the banana drawing on my sign.

My running banana helped with that, I think.

Jack made people smile and laugh too. He spent a good chunk of time boogying down and singing, “I am a banana! I am a banana!” He was the only one of my kids who was willing to do any cheering. Alex wandered off to look at a bird. Happily, my mom is visiting and she was willing to stand near me and clap for the runners.

Although I did have to shush her when she started saying, “Geez, my hands are going to be blistered from all this clapping,” because someone running their tenth mile in a row probably isn’t all that interested in hearing about your applause-related injury, Mom.

My family bailed after about a half hour, but my mom and I stuck around until we couldn’t see any more runners at all. I hope that all those runners are proud of themselves. I was so happy to be able to cheer them on. Maybe next year I’ll be one of them again.

At least if I run it next time, I won’t be injured at a race I didn’t even participate in.