Heroes of the Watershed

Team Stimey always celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Ever since 2009 when Jack fell madly in love with Martin after learning about him in school, we’ve religiously observed the day by watching the iconic I Have a Dream speech and eating birthday cake. Sometimes there is other civil rights education that goes on as well. It all kind of depends.

The cake and speech are non-negotiable, however.

We all know, of course, that MLK Day is supposed to be a National Day of Service as well. Alex has taken the kiddos on walks to clean up trash now and again on the day, but we’ve never participated in an organized service project.

Until today.

DUN DUN DUUUUUUNNNNN!!!!

We joined Hiking Along in their quest to clean up Sligo Creek, a creek that runs through my area. Somehow telling my kids to “put on shoes because we’re going to go pick up trash by Sligo Creek!” actually resulted in all three of my kids putting on shoes and happily piling into our car, which was EXACTLY the opposite of what I expected would happen.

Huh. Who would have guessed?

We arrived on site to find a sign suggesting that each of us “Be a watershed hero!”

Challenge. Accepted.

We also arrived to find one of Sam’s buddies from school there with his family, which was great because that was like instant buy-in for Sam.

We set about collecting plastic bags and gloves (oh thank the good lord they were not latex gloves) and then I looked up to find that Jack had made a new friend.

Jack holding the leash of a medium-sized black dog.

Jack! We are supposed to be collecting TRASH, not DOGS.

Honestly, I can’t take my eyes off of him for a second.

We set off along the creek to pick up some trash although some of us (Quinn) didn’t bother to get gloves because some of us (Quinn) seemed to know ahead of time that some of us (Quinn) were completely uninterested in picking up trash.

(Later in the day, Quinn asked if I was going to write about our outing. I said, “Yes. You’re not going to come off well.”)

Photo of all three of my kids in a leafy, wooded area.

Sam was earning student service hours for the event, so it was most important that he be involved. Meaning he had to pick up the grossest garbage.

Other members of our party got to focus on other things. Like running. And spinning.

Quinn and Jack in the distance down a wooden path.

Although to be fair, Jack did take spinning breaks to pick up the occasional piece of trash.

At first Sam was all, “What the—?”

Sam standing on same wooden sidewalk, holding a picker-upper tool with a perturbed look on his face.

But then he realized that if he did most of the trash picking up, he got to have solo control of the little grabby thing we’d brought with us.

It took us a little while to find our rhythm because some members of our party kept running off. Jack, being autistic, was naturally drawn to the water. (Joke.)

Jack standing on the edge of a creek.

Although, honestly, he kinda was.

Still, it was Quinn who was the first to actually go wading in the creek. Normally, I tend to expect this. My kids seem to be physically incapable of standing near water without walking in it. This would be no big deal, but for the fact that it was 40 degrees this morning.

Quinn standing riiight next to the creek, holding his pant legs up.

I didn’t get the photo of him actually IN the water because I was too busy shouting at him to get out.

Whilst those shenanigans were going on, Sam and I continued on our treasure hunt for garbage creekside. I only lost him when he had the gall to try to do some learning on our service outing.

Sam reading a creekside sign about "Aquatic Habitats."

The nerve of some people.

We actually had a really nice time. We had an hour and a half time block, so there was plenty of time to wander around and collect a pretty impressive amount of trash. We saw some deer and also watched some ducks, which were an excellent example of Creatures in the Watershed That We Were Currently Helping. Even though the temperature was low, unless you were wading in the creek, the air was actually quite comfortable.

We even got a little ambitious and climbed over thorny bushes and navigated precarious sandy shores to get to some of the more challenging trash.

Jack proved himself to be a real Hero of the Watershed by collecting the most challenging piece of trash on our whole route.

Jack wading up to his mid-calves in the creek and picking up a plastic trash bag from the water.

And I proved myself to be, at best, a Questionable Parent.

The only reason I asked him to do this was because he already had wet shoes and pants from his voluntary foray into the creek moments earlier.

All things considered, I am really impressed with my kiddos for being such good sports and working so hard at the creek this morning. Even Quinn, although he didn’t pick up much trash, was good-natured and fun, which isn’t always easy for him in less than desirable conditions. (Cold. Gross. Etc.)

(Quinn did ask me to exaggerate how much trash he picked up, so if he asks, tell him that I told you that he picked up a HUGE amount.)

My kids standing near our collected bags of trash giving thumbs up.

Heroes of the Watershed.

Then we returned to our start point, where they had hot chocolate for the volunteers. We might just have to add this to our MLK Day routine. It was fun, we did a good thing, everyone got a lot of fresh air, no one lost a toe to frostbite, and we all really earned our birthday cake.

Merry Christmas 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Stimey in pajamas reading The Night Before Christmas

Also, hours later, this happened:

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

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

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

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

I love you all.

Love from behind

The Pertinent Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam playing the flute

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

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

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

Smiling Jack in hockey gear

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

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

hockey players pulling Santa on a sled

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

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

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

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

10 Ways to Cat-Proof Your Christmas Tree

or Why Did You Hang Cat Toys All Over This Brand New Climbing Structure and Then Yell at Us When We Play on It?

or, simply, CATNANIGANS.

Black and white cat in front of a Christmas treeThis year I decided to decorate my Christmas tree with kittens.

I knew that having three six-month-old kittens would create a whole new set of issues pertaining to things like ribbon, poinsettias, and structural integrity of any trees we brought into our living room. In case you are in the same boat, I present to you Stimey’s Guide to Cat-Proofing Your Christmas!

1. If you have kittens and think that they will probably not care at all about your bringing a tree—for the love of God, an actual tree—into your living room, check yo’self.

It is likely that my cats have never actually experienced a tree up close. They are enjoying the experience.

It is likely that my cats have never actually experienced a tree up close. They are enjoying the experience.

They will care. Trust me on this one.

2. Tie your tree to a wall. I know. How the hell are you supposed to tie your tree to the wall?

Figure it out.

Christmas tree tied to blinds mechanism.

We disassembled blinds in order to tie ours to the wall.

3. If at all possible, dangle the twine, creating an impromptu cat toy, thus kinda defeating the whole purpose.

cat playing with twine tying christmas tree to wall.

Thanks for finding the Achilles Heel there, Ruby.

4. Whereas a cat knocking over a tree would be a bummer, a cat eating a tree light and being electrocuted would pretty much wreck Christmas, so make your lights as unappealing as possible.

I have no idea how to do that.

I did, however, put our lights on the tree from the bottom up so that any extra dangling wires would be at the top instead of the bottom.

5. Your cats will drink the water in your tree stand. Don’t put poison in it.

cat drinking out of tree stand

Repeat: NO poison.

This goes for poisonous plants as well. Fortunately, I kill every plant I bring into my home, so I don’t bring in additional deadly flowers for the holidays.

6. You think they are ornaments. Your cats think they are sparkly, dangly cat toys that you’ve hung from the tree for their amusement.

I CAN HAZ ORNAMENTZBack when my kids were babies, I bought a lot of nonbreakable ornaments so they couldn’t hurt themselves on our tree. This year I found myself in the Christmas aisle at Target, once again looking for shatterproof blingies. Like then, I was not just looking for safe ornaments, but safe ways to hang them on my tree. For us, that meant tying little strings on about a billion new balls and icicles instead of using sharp, swallowable metal hooks.

silver ornament hung on tree with a silver string

It took a long time.

It took so long that at some point as I was tying all those stupid little strings on the balls, I started to wonder if this was really necessary. The cats would not be all that excited by the ornaments, I thought. They will probably not drop them on the ground and then eat the sharp little hooks, I surmised.

Then I looked down and watched my dumbass cat trying to play with some balls through the plastic box.

Oreo is cute, but she's not the smartest cat in the house.

Oreo is cute, but she’s not the smartest cat in the house.

7. After all of that, your cat will still climb into your tree and your only clue as to where she is will be by localizing the source of the most vigorous shaking of tree branches.

small black cat inside tree

Goddammit, Starfire.

It is, by the way, completely impossible to pull a cat out of a Christmas tree if she’s in by the trunk. Trust me on this one.

8. Give up and station a sentry next to the tree to prevent catastrophes. (CATastrophes. Ha, ha.)

Acknowledge that this still won't help. Please to note the small black cat sneaking under the tree right under the sentry's nose.

Acknowledge that this still won’t help. Please to note the small black cat sneaking under the tree right under the sentry’s nose.

9. Give up, buy a lot of bows (curling ribbon is dangerous for cats who eat it), and realize that your desires have become subordinate to that of three 7-pound cats wandering your house. Get used to picking up a lot of ornaments from your floor after your cats play with them. Try to notice which gifts the cats are chewing the paper off of and put them in the back. Get used to kittens that smell like pine tree. Remain vigilant.

10. Gleefully wait for Christmas morning, which you think is going to be fucking awesome because…kittens…and boxes…and wrapping paper. This makes up for the fact that the bottom quarter of your tree will be entirely trashed and bare of ornaments by the big day. There is always a silver lining.

ISO LEGO Hero Factory Elemental Guardian*

* which may or may not exist

So, yesterday I told you all about Quinn’s Christmas list and how he wants all of the things. Jack’s Christmas list is substantially more modest, but equally problematic. He has plans to ask Santa for a very specific toy, a toy that one of his classmates brought to school last week and called a “Hero Factory Elemental Guardian.” Jack was so enamored of it that he drew a picture of it.

Multi-colored crayon drawing of angry looking, four-armed robot type guy.

It was fortunate he did, because it is the only clue I have as to what the hell a Hero Factory Elemental Guardian is.

See, I googled this, assuming that it would be easy to find, only to discover that not only is this toy as described NOT available and does not seem to exist, it seems to have never existed.

As anyone does when stymied (see what I did there?), I posted a picture on Facebook and begged for help. Friends came back with idea after idea of what this toy could actually be and, under the guise of curiosity, I asked Jack about each one, showing him photos.

Is it a Gormiti Elemental Fusion Mini Guardian Creature? No.

Is is a different Hero Factory figure? No. (And we looked at a bajillion of them.)

Is it an Elemental Hero Clay Guardian? No.

Is it a Yu-Gi-Oh Elemental Hero Flame? No.

AAAAAARRRGGGHHHHH!!!!!!

It turns out that crowdsourcing a nonexistent toy is futile. I ended up sending an email to the mother of the kid who brought the toy to school. My rambling, lunatic email was made better by the fact that I have never in my life spoken to or corresponded with this woman in my life. Also, I sent the photo you see above and ended with the sentence, “If you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, that’s okay too.”

I am not very good at interacting with The People.

That was two days ago. So far there is no word.

I fully expect that if this woman decides to open the email from a stranger (me) with the subject heading “Question about one of [kid's name] toys,” that I will either hear back that she has no idea what I am talking about or will receive a photo of some creature created from 16 separate Hero Factory kits.

Either way I’m screwed. I think it might be time to start talking up other toys—or massage chairs and cash.

What Quinn Needs. NEEDS.

Like many of you, I am deep into Christmas shopping for my children. And like many of your children, Quinn has been proactive in letting me know what he would like to find under the Christmas tree:

"What I need: massage chair, computer, iPad, more cats, personal videogame selection/all game systems, personal room, laptop, 100-inch flat screen plasma TV, $2000"

I enjoy that he titled the list “What I need.”

Should we discuss?

Massage chair: Later, when discussing his desire for the massage chair, he told us that he was going to sell one of our current chairs to make room for said massage chair. So, I guess what he really wants is a massage chair and whatever he can get off of Craigslist for our old one.

Computer: So he doesn’t have to share with his brothers, I assume.

iPad: So he doesn’t have to share with me, I assume.

More cats: Seriously, Quinn? We have a lot of cats. You can’t walk through our house without tripping over a kitten. Although I kind of really also want more cats too.

Personal videogame selection/all game systems: He could have just written “I want all the things.” Because he does.

Personal room: Something tells me that he is tired of sharing a room with Jack.

Laptop: Because the first computer isn’t enough?

100-inch flat screen, plasma TV: Mayhap to go in his personal room? I’m not entirely convinced that Alex didn’t ask him to put this on the list. I’m also not entirely sure that this item actually exists.

$2000: A billion dollars worth of gifts often doesn’t feel like quite enough. So, just to be sure, let’s tack on a couple grand to make the holiday really special.

I will tell you that even though his list is extremely extravagant, when he unexpectedly ran into Santa at a party we went to, all he asked for was cat toys. He is an inscrutable little boy—an inscrutable little boy who will definitely get some cat toys in his Christmas stocking.

Note: Quinn gave me permission to blog about his Christmas list. Feel free to send him massage chairs and bundles of money. Please do not mail him any cats.

Halloween Hoops

We should talk about Halloween. Mostly because I have the cat for it.

Black cat Ruby in front of a pumpkin

Actually, I have two Halloween cats, but only Ruby was interested in the pumpkins.

God, Halloween. I have grown to hate Halloween. It used to be awesome because my sister’s birthday is on Halloween, but ever since I don’t live in the same place as her, it is less fun. Now it is just this whole stressful, expensive, sugar-filled, sensory nightmare.

I was talking to a friend of mine and we decided it would just be so much easier if we let our kids go on a candy-buying spree and then locked the doors and stayed home and ate candy all day on Halloween.

But no, you’re not allowed to do that. There are all these little hoops that you have to jump through, some of which Team Stimey accomplishes better than others.

Hoop one: Pumpkins

Pumpkin carving is awesome, right? Except every kid has to have their own pumpkin, but they are too young to go about whacking at a pumpkin with a butcher knife, so what really happens is that Alex and I end up taking orders from our kids about how exactly they want a perfect six-point star for a left eye and a square for the right. And this comes after we have to scoop out the insides because…ick, pumpkins are slimy and smelly and the children couldn’t possibly be asked to put their delicate little hands inside there.

Sam carving a pumpkin while holding his nose closed.

Honestly, it was kind of impressive that Sam even agreed to be in the same room with the pumpkins.

Sam holding his jack o' lantern.

It was totally worth it though, because he took knife in hand and carved his pumpkin entirely by himself for the first time. I LOVE it.

Hoop two: Getting the costume to school

This only applies if your costume is bulky.

Quinn in a Minecraft Steve head.

Quinn’s was bulky, but hilarious, so it was okay. I laughed every time I saw him. Also, it is apparently difficult to walk with a box on your head.

Jack’s school makes their costumes in the classroom, so I didn’t have to lift a finger for him. Now, that’s what I’m talking about.

Hoop three: School parties

Ugh. I think the only people who have a harder time than parents with school Halloween parties are the poor teachers who have to supervise them. Of course, kids love them.

Well. Most kids.

Sam is in middle school now, so he didn’t have a Halloween party at school, but Jack and Quinn both had theirs at exactly the same time. I wanted to go to both, but that ended up not working out, what with my not actually being two people.

My wonderful friend who has a daughter in Jack’s class took photos of him, so I can show you his costume before I launch into the story of Quinn’s party.

Jack hamming it up in his Halloween parade

Jack has enough joy to spread around. I like that about him.

Then there is Quinn. Quinn is afraid of many things. Halloween is a really tough time of year for him. He so badly wanted to go to his class party and get all the treats there, but he was absolutely terrified at the idea of walking in the costume parade—even with a box on his head to obscure his vision.

Quinn and I hung out in his classroom while the rest of the school marched around the halls. We spent our time drawing cats.

Quinn holding a drawing of a cat.

For example…

I gotta tell you, Quinn has a tough life. I’m not being sarcastic. I have a ton of sensory issues, so I understand a lot of what he goes through, but he is really intense. He must be on edge all day long waiting for the next assault.

Quinn peeking in the classroom window from the hall.

A kid at a different table opened up a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips, sending Quinn running out to the hall, where he stayed until I made him come back inside. He was uncomfortable even being around that student after he was done eating the chips. It was as if he sensed little chip-dust particles floating around him.

Quinn must be on guard at all times—for sensory stressors, for things that scare him, for things that make him gag and throw up (e.g. chip dust). It makes sense that he can be so irritable. I’d be irate too if I had to be so entirely vigilant all the time.

Hoop four: Costumes

I usually try to not spend too much money on costumes. Sometimes we make them, sometimes we cobble them together out of stuff we have, sometimes I buy them, one memorable year I had someone sew one, and this year I threw a million dollars at Amazon and had them send me two insanely expensive boxes for Quinn and Jack to wear.

Quinn as Steve, Jack as a creeper.

They were both extremely happy and extremely cute about the whole thing.

Hoop five: Handing out candy

Here’s something: Phish always plays a much-anticipated show on Halloween, which means that Alex is always gone. This means that I get to take my kids trick or treating by myself at the same time as I hand out candy at home. This usually entails me putting out a bowl of candy and hoping teenagers don’t take it all before we get home. (See above comment about not actually being two people.)

This year, Sam stayed home and gave out candy. He was so adorable about it. He took his responsibility very seriously. He also totally channeled me later in the evening when we still had a ton of candy left and he started shoveling handfuls of it in trick-or-treater’s bags.

Sam handing out Halloween candy

And he didn’t even get kidnapped from our house, which was my primary concern in letting him stay home and answer the door at night—something I expressly refuse to let him do when he stays home alone.

Hoop the last: Trick or treating, a.k.a. Kill me now

I can’t even. I mean…I just can’t.

Usually trick or treating is exhausting. My kids all run in a million directions and I end up shouting at them to stick together and they don’t and it is a whole thing, but they usually have a really good time. Except when they don’t. Like when Quinn sees a costume that scares him and he can’t relax because he is working so hard to avoid seeing it again.

This year was a perfect storm of nightmare. My kids and I were heading out of the house to meet our neighbors who we were going to trick or treat with when my cell phone rang. It was my insurance people looking to take a statement on my car break-in. I was all, “I can talk to you and walk my kids up the street,” because, yeah, evidently I’ve never met my kids before.

I was almost done talking to the woman on the phone when we ran into our neighbors. Jack ran up to his friend and hugged her. Quinn’s friend, who, incidentally, was wearing a mask that Quinn found terrifying, came up behind him and said, “Boo!” (He didn’t know Quinn was scared of the mask and was just trying to hang out with his pal.)

Quinn lost it.

He shrieked, turned around and ran home.

I made a quick Sophie’s Choice, decided Jack would be fine with his friend, and ran home after Quinn, hanging up on a disoriented insurance agent as I searched for Quinn, whom I eventually found trembling under his bed.

After that it was me (and the neighbors) juggling my sobbing kid and the neighbor’s sobbing kid and finding Jack and trying to convince Quinn that there weren’t terrible things around every corner, because he really did want to trick or treat and even if he didn’t I had to FIND JACK, and thank God for the people who had pets in their living rooms because petting animals finally made Quinn relax a little, but the neighbor kid never recovered and went home and never came back out and dear fucking God, I’m just glad that I have an entire year before Halloween comes again.

Also, it rained.

So. Happy birthday to my sister. Can’t wait until next year! The end.