A Taste of Spring

The great thing about running a race in Florida in March is that you get to go to Florida in March and it will be warm and happy and also the only time ever that you will be grateful that it is humid.

Seriously, it was awesome.

I was with my friend Heather (of Disney fame) and my friend Lyda (of my trip to run a race in Florida fame) and we stayed at Lyda’s family’s house on the beach.

Photo of me with a big smile on my face. I am standing in front of the ocean.


I kid. It was wonderful. And there were many exciting things about this particular beach.

Like this jellyfish… (and all the other dead jellyfish strewn all over the beach)

Photo of a jelly fish on the sand.

I touched it. Then I felt sad that it was dead.

And these shells…

Photo of a big pile of shells on the beach.

I didn’t collect any because I didn’t think my kids would want any and when I got home, Quinn was all, “Where are my shells?”

And this crab guy…

Closeup of the beach with some shells and a small brown crab.

He was an anomaly though. I only saw the one.

These adorable birds…

Some birds on the beach. There are sandpipers in there and maybe some other birds.

I think some of them are sandpipers, but I don’t remember if the sandpipers are the big ones or the little ones.

And pelicans!

A pelican flying through the sky.

I know this is a terrible photo and this pelican isn’t actually ON the beach, but IT IS A PELICAN AND PELICANS ARE COOL.

This stick family…

Picture of sand with five stick figures (my family) drawn in it.

It took me WAY longer than it probably should have to draw these stick figures.


Selfie of me on the beach with a very grumpy look on my face.

I find sand to be very upsetting.

These goofballs…

Photo of my friends Heather and Lyda.

Hi friends!

All of that great beach stuff happened on Friday. Then on Saturday we had to run nine miles, like saps.

Photo of four women runners.

This is before the race. Please to notice our friend Holly who didn’t stay with us, but did run with us.

After the race, we ate everything that we could find in Jacksonville. And I made my friends pose with every weird animal sculpture we encountered.

Two photos. One of Heather posing with a brightly painted jaguar sculpture; the other of Lyda sitting on a brightly painted sea turtle.

My friends are good sports.

Sunday was Sightseeing Day, also known as Lyda Faces Her Fears Day. Seriously. We did everything that Lyda found frightening on Sunday.

We started by doing an elevated obstacle/zip line course over an alligator park. Also, it turns out that elevated obstacle courses are vaguely terrifying.

Photo of Lyda and Heather standing on a platform in a tree. I am walking up a series of "stairs" leading to the platform. The stairs are dangling from cables.

Can you see the terror in my posture? I can. Can you see how relaxed my asshole friends are on their stable platform? I can.

That said, courage is not about not being afraid, but keeping on even when you’re scared. ‘Round about halfway through the course I got my shit together and transitioned from terror to fun.

You know what is NOT terrifying though? Ziplines.

Photo of me mid-air on a zipline. I am making a happy face at a camera.

Holy hell that was fun.

After we finished the “45 minutes to an hour long” obstacle course that took us a good hour and a half to get through, we headed off to tour the alligator farm.

Photo of Heather and Lyda watching alligators in water from a wooden boardwalk.

For the record, Lyda isn’t afraid of alligators.

Photo of Heather crouched down with her head inside the open mouth of a fake alligator.

Neither is Heather.

No, the alligator is not real.

The alligators were cool, but I really enjoyed the hayseed tortoise they had there.

Photo of a giant tortoise with a piece of hay sticking out of his mouth.

It is *great* to be inside my head. I find myself to be extremely amusing.

There is a lighthouse near the alligator park and on our way out, Lyda was all, “Ha, ha, I assume you don’t want to climb the lighthouse,” and Heather and I immediately replied, “Yes. Yes, we do,” which was unfortunate, because Lyda doesn’t care for stairs you can see through.

Photo of me making a face as I lean out over a spiral 15-story staircase made of black metal stairs, each step of which is made of metal with round holes cut in them so you can see through them.

Fifteen floors, friends.

The lighthouse was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I like lighthouses. I think they’re neat.

Photo of a convex mirror. In it you can see a lighthouse reflected with me, Lyda, and Heather standing in front of it.

I bought a little wind chime model of this lighthouse. It makes me happy. I also bought some fudge in the gift shop. I don’t know why they had fudge, but who am I to question their logic?

Selfie from the top of the lighthouse.

This is me at the top of the lighthouse.

When I got to the top of the lighthouse, I found some tourists talking to a staff member about the efficacy of said lighthouse as a safe place during the zombie apocalypse. I’d found my people. Even if they thought zombies couldn’t climb stairs. (They obviously can. They’re just not very good at it.)

We left for the airport on Monday at the crack of damn dawn, but it was even kind of worth it because we walked out of the beach house to this amazing scene:

Photo of a hammock suspended between palm trees in a pool of light. The photo is otherwise dark except for a crescent moon in the sky and reflected on the ocean.

Note: the reality of this photo was about 800 times prettier than this picture.

Photo of an airplane wing in front of a sunrise.

Then on the plane, I annoyed the hell out of my window seatmate (Heather) by elbowing in front of her to take 17 photos of the sunrise.

That is our trip to Florida. We arrived back in Maryland to what suddenly felt like extremely cold and grim weather. I gotta say, I see the appeal of living in a tropical place. Spring is a-coming to Maryland finally, but it was really nice to get a little preview.

Thanks for putting us up, Lyda, and for suggesting the race. Thanks for putting up with me, Heather. You guys rock. I had a blast.

A Word About the Albatross

I have an old college chum that I love dearly. For reasons that will become clear later, I will refer to her as The Albatross. The Albatross is a Badass. Please take note of the capital “B” on that word.

Photo of a large white bird swimming in water.

This is an actual albatross, not my friend The Albatross.

The Albatross is hardcore. At some point she discovered cycling and she fell in love with it, going on cycling adventure after cycling adventure, as well as any number of non-cycling escapades. My favorite is the solo cycling trip she took from coast to coast of Australia.

Yeah. Badass.

Her badassery is not the only fabulous thing about her. She is an all-around really cool person too, but that’s not what this is about.

I had the good fortune of getting to crew for The Albatross more than once for what used to be called the Furnace Creek 508 (and now seems to be called just the 508). That race was a 508-mile bike race through Death Valley. Apparently the course has changed a little since the era my friend raced it, but it continues to run 508 miles through the desert each year.

The 508 is where The Albatross became The Albatross. See, the 508 doesn’t assign numbers to racers, but instead gives them animal totems. I think my friend got the best one.

The Albatross killed her previous races, regardless of result, especially considering how punk rock her approach to them was—and trust me, it was. She also put up with preeettty unknowledgeable and haphazard crews with very little complaint. That is where the hardcore part comes in.

The reason I bring all of this up now is because The Albatross is flying again. She’s racing the 508 this weekend, presumably with a crew who knows something about bike racing and bike repair. I don’t know if she’ll see this before she races, but I hope she knows how many happy, fast, flying thoughts I am sending her way.

Friend, you are amazing. Go get that 508. Fly, Albatross. I love you.

UPDATED: She did it!!!!!!!!!!!!! She crossed the finish line in 41 hours and 48 minutes. That is a hell of a lot of bike riding. You rock so hard, friend!!!

Literally Every 5th Grader

I don’t know exactly when the bulletin board went up, but it was probably in January or February. I didn’t have a chance to go in to Jack’s school very often, so I wasn’t aware of it at all until a friend of mine—the mom of one of Jack’s classmates—posted about it on Facebook in March.

See, this was a bulletin board about the “Superstars” of Jack’s school—the class of 2014.

Photo of a bulletin board covered in yellow paper with a border of paper flowers. Letters spelling out "Our Superstars" and "Class of 2014" are stapled to the board along with photos of the school's fifth graders. I've blurred out the photos for privacy reasons.

I took this photo last Friday, months after it was originally put up.

Jack is part of the class of 2014, so I imagine he was excited to be called a superstar. Except…well, except for the fact that this bulletin board—which was posted within 30 feet of his classroom, insuring that he saw it every single day—included photos of all the fifth graders except for the three fifth graders in Jack’s Asperger’s classroom.

Evidently if you are in an autism classroom, you aren’t a superstar at Sligo Creek Elementary School.

My friend, who is the hero of this story, wrote on Facebook about how she saw this bulletin board often, as she visited the class regularly.

“Each visit is the same: I approach the poster with a mixture of dread and anger at what I know I will see, yet again. And then I turn around, go to the office, and politely inform the secretary that the poster that my daughter and her classmates walk past every day *still* does not include them, and maybe this whole thing started out as just an oversight but it’s been weeks now and could someone *please* add our children’s pictures to the poster so they don’t have to be reminded every single day, as they walk to their special education classroom, that their school’s administration has overlooked them and their achievements?”

She did this for weeks. She would see that the poster didn’t include our kids and she would tell the secretary and she would be ignored. When she finally told the secretary that she was going to fix the poster herself by adding a photo of our kids, she was told that she couldn’t do that because it would be defacing school property.

As you might imagine, that didn’t go over well with my friend. She made it clear in no uncertain terms that if the kids from the autism program weren’t added to the poster by the administration, she would do it herself, and if someone had a problem with that, well, that problem would become public fast.

It was early March when my friend’s daughter reported that the principal had come to the classroom to take photos of the three fifth grade students in Jack’s class.


Except again.

The photos still didn’t go up. It was mid-March when those three fifth grade students attended a birthday party together. My friend put our kids together and took a photo. On March 18th [date corrected from earlier version], she took that photo and four thumbtacks to the school and she DEFACED THAT BULLETIN BOARD.

Photo of Jack and his two 5th-grade classmatess. I've put bright colored circles over their faces, with smiley faces drawn on them because they're not my kids and I don't want to post their photos here.

Their real faces are even cuter.

*standing ovation*

This was nine weeks after she first mentioned this to the secretary. NINE WEEKS.

At some point the school went ahead and posted individual photos of each of the three fifth graders in the autism classroom, but it wasn’t done until my friend had spoken up multiple times over the course of weeks and then posted her own photo.

Photo of Jack stapled to the yellow bulletin board next to a white paper star.

I think this photo adds a lot to the superstar collage.

As far as I know, my friend and her daughter haven’t gotten an apology from the principal. I know that Jack and I sure haven’t.

I really like Jack’s program. He has done really well there. He has gone from being miserable about school and himself to being happy and full of self esteem. He has a safe place to be when school gets too overwhelming, but he spends much of his day in inclusion classes. His teachers are wonderful. His paras have been good to him. His IEP team is delightful. The other kids in his class are phenomenal. I’m very happy that he is in this program. He is very happy that he is in this program.

But damn.

I wish that my school district was able to serve my kid in his home school in an inclusion classroom. But they couldn’t. They couldn’t or wouldn’t give him the support he needed, so we found another option, one that seemed to work. The thing is, segregation of students has limitations. Even though my kid has been well served in his program, he is obviously seen as less than in the eyes of the administration. These kids do not seem to be the principal’s priority.

If you read here, I’m sure you know why it matters that all kids are included in all parts of school life. It seems so obvious to me, yet it is clearly not obvious to the people who kept moving “post photos from the Asperger’s class” to the bottom of their to-do list.

Every child has an intrinsic worth. Every child has a right to belong. Every child has a right to be treated with respect. Every child has a right to be included, not just by peers and teachers, but by the people who lead the school and set the tone for everyone in the building.

I was furious when I heard about this bulletin board from my friend. I am still furious as I write this. It breaks my heart that people who work with students with disabilities day in and day out still forget that they matter and that they have thoughts and feelings and desires and complex inner lives.

If you doubt that, check out this essay that Jack brought home last week about 5th grade photo day. The 5th grade all wore their special “class of 2014″ shirts on the same day and sat for a photo of the whole grade. Jack remembered all by himself what day he was to wear the shirt and excitedly sat for the photo.

Photo of a small section of Jack's essay titled "2014 School Picture." The full text is below.

Jack wrote about the day. Full text is below.

“2014 School Picture: On June 3rd, I was so excited for the 5th grade picture. I couldn’t wait for it. All the 5th grade, LITERALLY ALL OF THEM, were in the picture. It was so awesome, I could not wait for it. I was in the 3rd row closest to the camera, very close to the flash, so it could get a good angle of me. I couldn’t be forgotten in Sligo Creek Elementary pictures with me in one, especially this one and the graduating class of 2014. [Classmate one] and [classmate two] were close to me, and they were good friends. Lots of people I knew were there, some were close to me and some weren’t. Everyone else seemed to be prepared, as I was thoroughly prepared. That was the best day of my life!”

Read that and tell me that it doesn’t matter if Jack’s photo wasn’t on the superstar board. Read that and tell me that putting my kid’s photo up was “defacing” the bulletin board. Read that and tell me that the principal was doing her best by my kid and those in his class. Read that and tell me that Jack doesn’t understand inclusion.

“I couldn’t be forgotten.”

“All the 5th grade, LITERALLY ALL OF THEM, were in the picture.”

“That was the best day of my life!”

In terms of injustice toward disabled people, this is probably not that big a deal. But to my kid and to the kids in his class, it is a huge deal. Remember that. Even the little things matter.

How Does This Keep Happening 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.

Algernon’s Army: New Recruits

You guys. You guys. I have no words for you all. You are SOUL FILLING. My mail is such a happy part of my day nowadays. Would you like some examples as to why I love my mail so much? It’s because my mailbox overfloweth with love. And rodents. And other small furry things that are almost rodents.

photos of a stuffed squirrel, otter and round hamster

From my friends Katie, Sherry, and Michal. Thank you. So much.

That first little guy there? She’s a squirrel who came from my 7-year-old friend Katie, who made sure she was all decked out enough to join the rodent brigade. Even better than the squirrel was the note that came with her:

note in child's handwriting on orange paper: "From Katie to Jean. I am sorry that your mouse is gone. So I give you this present to make you happy."

“From Katie to Jean. I am sorry that your mouse is gone. So I give you this present to make you happy.” (And, yes, she did use a sad-girl emoticon instead of a period to end that middle sentence there.)

Is that not the nicest ever? I love that kid.

That otter in the middle comes from my old college chum. She sent this amazing note with it telling the story of the debate amongst strangers that took place in the store as to what animal exactly this was and whether it was, in fact, a rodent. Answers: otter and no.

Nonetheless, otters are one of my favorite animals and he is small and brown and fits in perfectly as a conscientious objector to Algernon’s Army.

Then there is Speedy at the end, who is really not very speedy because he is chubby and round and can’t actually move very fast. He’s like the rodent version of me. He is hilarious. Jack almost passed out laughing when he saw him.

Then there was the very wonderful card from my mother-in-law wherein she posited that Algernon had fallen in love and was off on new adventures elsewhere. Oh, and she wrote that inside a greeting card that had this on the front:

Cartoon drawing of Noah's Ark (with two Algernons pasted on it). There are two dinosaurs sitting on a nearby island saying, "Oh, crap! Was that TODAY?"

I think she is subtly referencing Algernon’s resiliency here.

Do you want to know what else came in the mail today? A photo book about Algernon from my beautiful friend Bec. The book includes the very first post about Algernon that I ever wrote and then photo highlights of his adventures from the past two years.

Cover of a book showing a photo of a small white mouse peeking out of a swimming pool and the word "Algernon."

It is amazing.

Algernon’s Army is so large that I had to dedicate a shelf to it. Because I don’t have a single unused shelf in my house, I had to buy and install a shelf just for my new little friends.

White shelf with all my stuffed rodents and my Algernon book on it.

I think you’ll agree that it was worth the effort.

The shelf is appropriately situated over one of the gerbil tanks.

Algernon's Army shelf over a gerbil tank.

I like how Jetpack and Jefferie are standing at attention here.

I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to look over my left shoulder and see my shelf-o-love-and-rodents. You guys are amazing.

I think that is probably all of my Algernon-related news. Thank you all for continuing to be so awesome. I love you guys.

Algernon’s Army

You guys have no idea what is going on around here.

I cannot even tell you how much love you have sent me. All of you…in so many ways. Every comment, every email, every tweet, every message, every photo…

But there is also this:

give Algernons

Meet Algernon’s Army: Minnie the Island Mouse, Baggins, Reginald, Demetrius, and Algernon Too.

Every single person who sent me a mouse (thank you so much, Kim, Mir, Thien-Kim, Ann (aka my sister), and the sender of the last guy who came without a note—updated to add: it was Joeymom! Thank you!) told me, “I know Algernon can’t be replaced, but maybe this guy can help.”

Seriously. How awesome? And this doesn’t even include all the others of you who emailed me to tell me that you wanted to send me a mouse—and those offers mean just as much as an in-the-flesh mouse.

I could never have gone out and bought a new Algernon, but getting them from you guys? It feels good. It feels right. And, holy hell, it made my kids so ridiculously happy that I can’t even tell you how grateful I am for you. The munchkins are reluctant to refer to one of these critters as anything other than Algernon, so Algernon Too might have to be the mouse who heads out on adventures first. Trust me though, the rest of them are going to hang out in a place of honor on my desk, because they are not made of stuffing. They are made of love.

Look how cute they are! (And so clean! Damn, Algernon was grubbier than I thought he was.)

Oh, and there is another little guy who will be coming later. Sunday got me a mouse too, but he is currently being needed to cheer up her son Sam, who had a tough doctor visit today.

Algernon and (Sunday's) Sam

Sunday’s kiddo, getting support. Algernon and his army are good that way. Shared with permission.

I cannot even tell you how much I loved seeing this photo on Facebook this morning. ALGERNON HELPS PEOPLE, YOU GUYS. Or rather, Scout, as this mouse is named, because this mouse? Well this mouse is literary, y’all.

Oh, and just in case things were getting too uniform for you all, Quinn’s occupational therapist worked with Quinn in a session to make a new mousy friend for us, getting his opinion on choices of eyes (NO BUTTONS! NO BUTTONS!) and enlisting his sewing expertise.

Black, white & red giraffe-print homemade mouse

I love him so much. I will be calling him Giraffey. For obvious reasons.

But, you guys, it’s not even my new mousy friends that cheered me up. There was the story one of you told me about losing your own stuffed mouse and finding her under your mom’s porch ten years later. There are, as I think I mentioned, those of you who shared awesome stories of losing your own things, some of which I probably shouldn’t detail here. (You know who you are.) There is the friend who sent a gift card for caffeine, which was much appreciated. There is my sister-in-law, who was going to give me a winter hat for Christmas, but told me she’ll be moving up that gift hat to replace the one lost and to keep my head warm. There were all of your nice words—and trust me when I say that every one of those words mattered.

There is also the knowledge that Algernon will live on in memory, say whenever one wonderful person goes to her London grocery store past Algernon Road:

Algernon Road - London

Algernon had international influence, see.

None of this, however, can replace Algernon, which you all know, no matter how you responded to his loss. Many of you suggested that Algernon might have a wonderful second life with a new friend.

Some of you worked very hard (and successfully) to make me laugh, like one of my very best friends, whom I’ve known since college, who suggested that maybe Algernon’s new life would be a faster one, posed at scenes of his crimes with his new friend, the thief.

Maybe, she suggested, Algernon broke bad.

In fact, she claims that he’s already been involved in some jewelry store heists.

Algernon wearing gaudy jewelry

He gots some bling, baby. Whereabouts unknown.

You guys, I don’t think Algernon is coming back. He’s got a new adventure ahead of him. This whole episode has really sucked, but I learned something really important. I learned that I have a tremendous number of people who really, really care about me. I learned that love comes in many forms and that I got to experience many of them this past week.

I learned that my car thief may have my stuff, but his life is probably not very awesome. I would choose all of you over my stuff any day of the week. That thief brought a black cloud with him, but you all made up a silver lining so thick that it’s hard to even see the storm anymore. Thank you for that.

And thank you for my new mice. You made my kids so happy by sending them, which means so much to me. You made me so happy by sending them. I can’t wait to see what adventures my new mouse friends have.

Thank you for Algernon’s Army. Thank YOU for BEING Algernon’s army.

Sunny Days

Things are better, friends. I’m feeling a lot better. Part of my depression is/was chronic depression that I have dealt with for a long time. But I also have pretty severe PMDD and sometimes those two depressions work together and send me spiraling into a headspace where I isolate myself and don’t talk and sit in drippy black clouds for longer than I am used to.

I say this to let you know that those drippy clouds have been receding and I’ve been more reliable about taking my antidepressants and things have been getting better and this is a perfect segue into me telling you that last weekend was one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long time.

Everything came together in, like, a loveplosion of awesome. I have a list of things from last weekend that I want to write about and show you photos of, which, I believe, will be a vast improvement over, you know, nothing. Hopefully those words will actually materialize.

My weekend was full of friends from near and far, awesome kids, a moonbounce, candy corn, margaritas, cheering on Marine Corps Marathon runners, being with people who really get and love me, and sunny weather.

It’s just too bad there wasn’t more sleep. And there was no Segway ride. That would have made my weekend better. I’m just saying.

I’m a really lucky person. I’m so glad that the clouds are lifting so I can see that.