I Wonder What Other Animals Are Secret Residents of My Neighborhood

My desk at home is right near a window that overlooks my street. It’s fun because I can sit there and do stuff on my computer and look out the window to see people walking by and delivery trucks showing up and when the occasional person walks up the driveway to my door, I can assess whether or not they saw me and can prepare myself to hide when the doorbell rings.

Also sometimes I see fun animals walking down the street. Lots of times there are people walking their dogs. Occasionally a deer wanders by. Then there was today. I was standing in front of my window talking on the phone to Alex and Sam was sitting in the room with me.

I was about to tell Alex my super fun animal news of the day, which was that I got the cats to play video games.*

Then, and I couldn’t quite believe I was saying the words, I said, “Oh my God, there is a pig walking down the street.”

To be clear, I live in the suburbs. This is not a normal occurrence. And it wasn’t like somebody’s cute little miniature piglet was out for a trot on a leash. This was a giant-ass unattended pig rooting around in my recycling bin.

Photo of pig at the end of my driveway. There is a ripped up cereal box near him.

The little box by his legs is the remnant of a Double Chocolate Krave box in which our friend the pig finished all the cereal Quinn left in the bottom of the box. Is chocolate bad for pigs? Is it bad for children at breakfast time?

I decided that something bad might happen to this pig if he continued to wander alone so I called animal services and then, because he’d disappeared from my line of sight, I went outside to see if I could find him in case I could give them an update on his trajectory. Because I’m a giver, I also took my phone to take photos for you.

When I went outside, I found my next door neighbors who were all, “It is still here?” Then I saw that the pig was between our two houses, scavenging pizza crumbs out of a pizza box he’d knocked out of the trash.

Photo of a big black pig eating out of a pizza box

Wild pigs—they’re just like us!

But then the pig spotted me and made a beeline straight at me like I was a congealed bit of cheese on the bottom of a pizza box. The he started headbutting me and kinda jumping up at me and I decided that he was either a pet pig who wanted love or one of those human-eating pigs who wanted to eat me.

Of course, Jack’s bus arrived at that very moment so he could watch his mom be attacked and devoured by a giant pig.

And naturally Jack headed directly toward us with a giant grin on his face. So then I sacrificed myself by putting my body between the woman-eating pig and my baby and shoved him through the garage into the house as my neighbors watched in horror. I wasn’t able to get into the house because the pig had followed us and the last thing I wanted to do was LET THE PIG INTO MY HOUSE, so I slammed the door and waited until he wandered a little bit away before I ran into the house as well.

Photo of part of a pig in my garage from very close up.

PIG! IN MY GARAGE!

I went back up to my window just in time to see a stressed out looking teenager holding a cucumber walking rapidly in the pig’s direction. I ascertained that he belonged to the pig and called back animal services to tell them they no longer needed to apprehend a wild pig, which was probably good news to whomever they’d dispatched to our location.

Because, I suppose, pig necks don’t lend themselves to leashes, he lured the pig down the sidewalk with the cucumber. It was kind of adorable.

All in all, it was a very exciting afternoon. I realize that it is now apparent that I don’t have a very exciting life. But c’mon a pig. All by himself. Walking down my street. That’s good stuff.

*****

* I did. It was awesome. My friend posted a photo of her cat playing this game and I was all, “My cats should obviously be doing that too,” and five minutes later Ruby had leveled up to Level 4 and Oreo was trying to pick up the iPad with her teeth.

Treehouse Master

I don’t know if it was four years ago or five that Jack first started asking for a treehouse in the backyard. To my surprise, Alex was all, “Sure, Jack! I can build one for you!” He also said a lot of things about getting it done in a weekend, but the fact that he agreed to make one at all was the truly astonishing thing.

Then we waited and waited and waited and Jack kept asking and Alex kept insisting that he was going to build one and then we moved and we were glad that we didn’t build one at the old house and then every time we drove past a treehouse, Jack would say, “Why do they get a treehouse and we don’t?” and then we waited a little more.

Finally, late this past summer, Alex announced that it was finally time. He made a shopping list, stuffed us all into our van, and dragged us out to the first of many trips to Home Depot to buy lumber.

Photo of Alex and Sam putting a long 4x4 piece of wood on a cart.

We had a very strict Home Depot separation of labor: Alex and Sam did most of the heavy lifting, Jack sat on the cart, Quinn laid on the floor, and I took photos. That’s me, always sacrificing for the greater good.

It was fun to get started buying our supplies as a family. There was a wrinkle though.

Guess how many people can fit in a Chrysler Town & Country filled with a bunch of six- to 12-foot pieces of lumber?

Answer: two.

Guess how many people are in my family?

Answer: three more than two.

Guess which of us had to sit in the nearby Five Guys and grumble at each other while the other two took the lumber home?

Answer: Those of us not involved in most of the heavy lifting.

Alex had a plan to build the treehouse and fasten it to the tree. He started by attaching a brace to the tree and constructing a base. I helped nail the base together. Then Alex took out my crooked nails and re-hammered them in correctly.

Photo of Alex standing next to a tree. There is a triangle of wood attached to the tree and the frame of a base on the ground next to him. He looks vaguely annoyed.

See that vaguely annoyed look on his face? He wore that for the next week, especially when I said things like, “Are you sure this is how we’re supposed to do it?” and “Maybe we should have used a different screw,” and “Are treehouses supposed to be that wobbly?”

Even though Alex had the worst, fair-weather assistants in me and the munchkins, he still managed to maintain his sense of humor.

Alex standing at the tree, using a measuring tape to measure from the ground to the top of the brace on the tree.

Alex, measuring what needs to be a pretty precise measurement: “This is a cubit.” Not everyone can build a treehouse using cubits and smidgens.

Building the base was all well and good, except you have to build it on the ground, then position it in its spot in the tree to figure out where to dig your post holes. That means you have to figure out a way to hold the base in the tree without posts while you’re figuring out where those posts go. And that base is heeeeaaaavy.

Our treehouse plans suggested you have three people hold up the base while another person figures out where the posts go. Looking at our little family, we just couldn’t make that math work. So Alex and I recruited a slightly too short ladder to act as one of our people, forced Sam to help, and tried to move as fast as possible.

Once we figured out where we wanted the post holes, we rested the base on the ladder as we used every tool we could find to dig in the hard, hard ground.

Photo of treehouse base propped in a tree by resting on a ladder. Alex is digging a post hole. Sam is walking underneath in a cringing fashion.

There was a lot of screeching of “DO NOT WALK UNDER THE TREEHOUSE!!!!!!!”

Once the base was attached to the posts, things got easier. I mean, not in terms of our marriage suffering from me insisting that the structure was too wobbly and him insisting that I just shut the fuck up already. (He turned out to be right. Go figure.)

The whole family helped build the treehouse. Some helped more than others.

Photo of Jack digging with a shovel and Quinn chipping at a rock with a pickaxe.

Good job digging random holes in the yard, Jack and Quinn.

Actually, Jack was really into the whole thing and helped quite a bit. Quinn, less so. He really enjoyed that pickax though.

I won’t bore you with all the details of our exact process and our million trips to Home Depot and all of the curse words we used, but suffice it to say, we eventually ended up with a house-shaped structure attached to a tree.

Alex standing in front of the frame of a treehouse in the tree.

It is just a skeleton, but it is a treehouse skeleton.

Not everyone in the house understood why we were doing what we were doing.

Photo from outside the house of two kittens inside a sliding glass door looking outside at the saws and wood on the back porch.

Kittens: “We have a perfectly cromulent house already standing. Why are you doing all this work to build that tiny house in a tree?”

It got a little sketchy when Alex had to climb to the very top of a tall ladder to hammer in some of the siding and to put the shingles on the roof.

Photo of Alex on a ladder using a hammer. He looks worried.

I took this photo from my safe vantage point in the treehouse. He was in a much sketchier position on a ladder fifteen feet in the air. That’s his “I don’t want to die” face.

Photo of Alex at the bottom of a tall ladder. He is making a grouchy face at me.

This is Alex’s “stop making jokes about my imminent death” face.

I gotta tell you, building a treehouse is a tremendous amount of work. And it turns out that all the lumber is super pricey. AND you might end up near divorce if you try to build one. But you just might make your inspiration for building the damn thing super happy.

Photo of Jack giving a thumbs up while standing inside the treehouse.

That thumbs up was five years in the making.

It turns out that even though I took seventeen million photos of the building of the treehouse, I neglected to take one from the outside once it was done and it’s dark right now and I don’t want to go outside to take one, so I have to use this one that my mom took as we were finishing up the roof.

Photo of the treehouse with railings and stairs. Alex is on the balcony on a ladder nailing shingles to the roof. I am sitting on the stairs looking at my phone.

And, yes, I do mean WE. Sure, Alex is doing the heavy lifting here, but I was making sure everyone on Facebook knew of our progress, which was almost as important.

We’re Team Stimey, so we had to christen the thing with doughnut breakfast.

Three photos of us in the treehouse eating doughnuts. One is of Sam in the doorway, one is a selfie of me and Jack, and one is a photo of Quinn.

Not only is the treehouse stable, but it can fit a surprising number of people.

Sadly, we had said christening while Alex was at work. Being the dad can be a thankless job. So I would like to take this opportunity to thank him.

Photo taken from the treehouse platform of Alex on the ground. He is waving. He looks adorable.

Thank you, Alex. You did SO much work. The treehouse is amazing. Our kids are so lucky. I hope they truly understand that. Excellent job, sir. Thank you.

Disaster Strikes! Rain/Snake Edition

I, sir, have had enough.

It all started about a week and a half ago with this:

Screenshot of a Facebok status that reads "Should we discuss the rain? Or the window in my basement that blew out because of the water? Or the GIANT BLACK SNAKE that was apparently living there that I saw retreating into the ground after the window broke? Or the fact that Alex took a 45-minute conference call before leaving work after my panicked call? We can discuss any of those things."It was a bad couple of hours.

I texted my friend, explained the situation, and said, “THIS IS THE WORST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED TO ME,” and she texted back to say, “I think this is the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone.”

In his defense, Alex did come home before he had planned to so he could help me. This was fortunate considering where once there had been a window, there was now a gaping below-ground hole. Once he arrived home, he took over the wetvac job from me. He even duct taped the hole that the snake disappeared into.

Photo taken of an underground window well taken from inside the house. A screen is jammed into the hole where a window should have gone. There is duct tape on the metal well sides.

See the ripped screen I jammed in the window hole to keep wildlife out?

But prior to his arrival home, I’d been wetvaccing like it was my job while ready to jump into defensive posture if I found a nest of snake babies that had gushed into the basement along with my window and a significant number of leaves, because, and let’s be honest here, if anyone were to find a nest of snake babies in her house, it would be me.

I’m still not quite comfortable with the knowledge that they live just outside my home. Also, a tip: If you’re afraid there might be a snake in your basement, don’t Google “can snakes climb stairs?” because they can and there are lots of photos—and even some video.

I then had to make an emergency phone call to an emergency window guy without consulting with Mr. Conference Calls Are My Life. I understand that this might not sound like a big deal to a lot of you, but to me it was. Finding and calling a brand-new vendor without discussing it with Alex first? That was all kinds of anxiety for me.

I mean, sure, it’s a week and a half later and we still have a board nailed across the hole instead of a new window, so the jury is still out on how well I chose a window repairman, but at least there is a board there. And the guy came by at 10:30 pm on a Thursday to put it there. And he swears he’s coming back on Monday with a brand new window, so I’ll give you our final opinion then.

Of course, the past week and a half have been incredibly rainy and we did a LOT of wetvac work before really coming to grips with the fact that the exploded window was not a cause of our water problem, but rather another innocent victim. The problem is a window well with rain/snake access points.

Alex has done some temporary patching of said window well, which seems to be helping (knockonwood knockonwood knockonwood), so our panic attacks when it starts to rain are lessening.

The exterminator (to eliminate any mice that might be attracting snakes) has already come. The window guy (as previously discussed) is coming back Monday. And the landscapers (who will fix our window wells and improve our yard drainage) start Wednesday.

I’m pretty sure it will never rain again. You’re welcome.

That said, if any of you ever tell my kids about the snake, they will never go in the yard again and whoever told them will be dead to me.

Happy New Year!

Well, I had a very successful last day of 2014. I finished cleaning my whole house (except for that one room that we won’t speak of; everyone has that one room, right?) so we can at least start the new year not living in filth.

I also managed to wear a white sweater all damn day long without spilling anything on it. It’s like I’m a fucking magician or something.

I was printing out my blog yesterday as I do at the end of every year (it took less paper than ever before) and realized that Team Stimey may have had a more epic year than we have had in a long, long time. And the funny thing is that almost none of it was planned prior to 2014.

Probably the biggest thing that happened to us is that we bought a new house, moved, and sold our old house all within three months, when we hadn’t been planning to do any of that for at least another year. During that period of time, I touched every single thing we owned twice, once to pack them and once to unpack them, yet I still never found the brown clogs that I KNOW were somewhere in the house we moved out of.

WHERE THE FUCK DID THE BROWN CLOGS GO?

This will probably be the only year that the car we bought isn’t the biggest purchase we made. We weren’t planning on buying a new car either, except our mechanic told us that our old car was likely to kill us (and soon!), so we got to hemorrhage money on wheels in addition to a house. Per usual, the process was soul-destroying.

The last major thing that happened to Team Stimey this year that we had not planned on, was my joining the staff of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network as office manager. I was completely terrified to take that job. I’d worked in the recent past, but it was out of my home and I only had to see my boss once a year at a holiday party. This job involved riding Metro into DC multiple days a week to wear business clothes, procure summer childcare, interact with actual people, and generally be a professional person.

None of these things come easily to me, but taking that job is one of the best things that I’ve done in recent memory. I love working for an organization that I feel so proud of and I feel as if my particular skill set is very helpful there. I really like my co-workers and have liked getting to know them. I enjoy my new-found sense of purpose and I am so grateful for the structure and routine that working has brought to my life. Also, very importantly, I am so happy to experience autistic space, something I haven’t had before.

So those are the really big, full-year impacting changes for Team Stimey, but there was also a lot of other stuff that happened as well. I’ve selected one post from each month to give you a little tour of Team Stimey’s year.

We started January with Jack’s early-2014 bout of rogue eyelashes. I’m happy to report that they didn’t come back.

I did a lot of running in 2014. In February I told you all about how I’m the best runner ever. In case you don’t bother to click that link, you should know that I’m being sarcastic there.

March brought us more Jack, specifically his special hockey tournament that made me truly remember the joy of travel tournaments with his team.

2014—April, specifically—brought us Chester, a small brown mouse who tried to fill Algernon’s paw prints.

May. Oh, lord. May. May was the month that we gave our pool to some friends of ours, along with a free extra gift of wild rat babies. Yet one more reason you might not want to know me in real life.

June was an intense month for Stimeyland. That was the month that my post about Jack and his autistic classmates’ photos being left off of a display of all his school’s graduating fifth graders went as viral as I ever hope to have a post of mine go. The attention from that post, even though it was mostly positive, was enough to convince me that I am completely happy staying a small blogger. I have no idea how some people deal with the intensity of that much attention all the time. That post actually inspired real change though, with the formation of a committee at that school to work on ideas for better inclusion. Jack is no longer at that school, but I attended the first committee meeting and am hopeful that it continues and is making positive change.

Alex and I actually went on our first kid-free vacation since…ever in June, but I wrote about it in July.

My kids went back to school in August. Sam started 7th grade at the same middle school he went to last year. Jack started 6th grade at a new school—and proceeded to be super successful there. Quinn started 4th grade at a new school, which was pretty tough on him. He’s doing better though. Also, I wrote about the bus stop.

I ran my first half marathon in September. Because I’m me, I fell flat on my face twice during the running of said half marathon.

I wrote about a bunch of fun things in October, including my trip to Disney World as well as the Bourbon Chase, but I choose to highlight Sam’s decision to start playing the bassoon because (1) I haven’t highlighted anything about Sam yet, (2) you guys left some awesome comments on that post, and (3) Alex was definitively told he was wrong, which I always enjoy. It turns out that, although he gets better every week, learning to play the bassoon is hard and I’m not convinced that Sam doesn’t wish he’d never started.

We raked a lot of leaves in November.

Quinn drew some excellent illustrations for an assignment in December.

All in all, it’s been a really wonderful year. Team Stimey is very lucky, mostly because we have each other as well as a strong support system who always steps up for us. Thank you for being here for this year. I hope you all have a 2015 full of love and joy and laughter. That’s what we’re hoping for.

As I watch my three kids play with each other as Alex and I sit on the couch together, I think, fate willing, there is a good chance that’s exactly what we’ll get in 2015.

Photo of my three kids

Small Epiphanies

A long time ago, I figured out that I was autistic based largely on things I learned from Jack and because I was researching things about him. That, and other revelations about myself that stem from Jack (and also my other kiddos sometimes) still arrive from time to time and I always feel like a dumbass for not having figured them out sooner.

Let’s take breaks from school and routines for example. I have long known that Jack is far more regulated during the school year, when his days are structured and full. Within the past year, I’ve come to realize this about Quinn as well. He may complain endlessly about being forced to go to school, but he is far happier and put together when his days have routine than when he is untethered during summers or other extended school breaks.

I finally added a couple of things together in my head and realized that what I often refer to as ennui could be brought on at least partly by my own dysregulation from lack of structure and routine. I swear to god, I almost heard the BING! above my head as the lightbulb clicked on and I started flashing back to times when I have felt depressed and at loose ends for no real reason. I don’t really need to go into a lot of detail, but suffice it to say that I could trace this pattern back for years.

I had my revelation yesterday and although I know that it is not a problem so easily fixed, I decided to take a step in the right direction today by doing something other than sit on the couch, eat caramel corn, and feel depressed—and not just because I ran out of caramel corn.

Thus began Operation This House Will Be Spotless for the New Year, ensuring that the remainder of 2014 is regulated, tidy, and involves everyone being resentful and angry that I’m making them clean all the things.

I vacuumed under my couch, people.

I found french fries.

I felt a lot better today having a goal and getting something done. I understand that it’s not always as easy as “give a depressed person a task and they’ll feel better,” but today it helped. I think that recognizing that there is a pattern will help me at least recognize why I feel the way I do during these times and prepare myself for them.

Life is a process, folks. I’m getting there.

Who Thought Trees Were Such a Good Idea Anyway?

Team Stimey spent a chunk of the weekend raking leaves. And by “Team Stimey,” I mean Alex, Sam, and I. The other two showed themselves to be far too unmotivated to participate so they escaped this particular fate.

My family operates on a “prove yourself to be incompetent and you no longer have to do the chore” system. It is inefficient.

Selfie of me, Alex and Sam in front of a pile of leaves. Sam is wearing his black fedora.

Team Stimey: Leaf Raking Edition

You may notice that Sam’s jazz band hat is also a leaf raking hat.

I bring up the leaf raking for a couple of reasons. First of all, there were some fun things that happened during said leaf raking and I thought I would share them with you. Also, we won our street’s leaf raking and I wanted to brag about it.

Photo of Sam and Alex dumping a tarp load of leaves onto a GIANT PILE.

Our neighbors didn’t know that they were involved in a Leaf Off, but we did and that is what matters.

I don’t know why we moved into a house with so many stupid trees in the yard, but we did, and now we are paying the price. So. Many. Leaves.

Photo of Alex and Sam dragging a tarp full of leaves past the back of our house where there is a tree, full of red leaves.

DROP YOUR STUPID LEAVES ALREADY, TREE!

I’m looking forward to all of the tracking in of leaves once that tree up there finally drops its leaves right next to our back door in, you know, December. Or January. ENOUGH ALREADY, TREE. WHY ARE YOU HOLDING ON SO HARD?

I tried to avoid leaf raking and hang inside with Quinn and Jack, but Alex used his patented mix of guilt, exasperation, and annoyance to get me outside with a rake in my hands. He then spent a lot of time telling me about how his way to rake and transport leaves was correct and mine was not and, “Let’s just do it right the first time and then we don’t have to re-rake up all the leaves.” It was très annoying—especially when he was right.

On the plus side, I got to see this awesome visitor to our yard:

Photo of a giant antlered stag in profile. He just started loping away from our yard.

I watched one of our cats see this guy the last time he was in our yard. Her little cat eyeballs almost popped out of her head.

I also got to do things like distract Sam and generally be a nuisance while Alex steadfastly did things.

Sam in his hat holding a rake and posing for my photo while Alex rakes in the background.

At least he could take comfort in the knowledge that he was doing it right.

At some point—because Alex had to be somewhere, not because we ran out of leaves, we’ll never run out of leaves—we made a decision to be done.

Then I shoved Alex in the pile of leaves.

You can see a pile of leaves with the bottom half of Alex's body sticking out. His head and shoulders are completely buried.

It was HILARIOUS.

Then Sam and Alex got this…look in their eyes and I started running and screaming because I know it is funny to throw people into a pile of leaves, but it is NOT funny to be thrown in a pile of leaves because DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MANY SPIDERS ARE PROBABLY IN THERE?! so I tried to sprint through the garage door into the house, but they caught me and they didn’t listen when I told them, “No. Really. I’m serious about this. I don’t want to be thrown into the pile of leaves. I really, really don’t,” but this came out sounding more like a high-pitched screech that turned out to be surprisingly ineffectual.

And then they threw me in a pile of leaves.

Me in a pile of leaves. I don't look happy.

I’m pretty sure the spiders laid their eggs in my hair.

Now we’re looking into a tree slaughter, under the assumption that if we cut down all of our trees, we won’t have to rake any leaves next year.*

* Kidding. But wouldn’t that have its charms?

Today We Sold Half of Our Real-Estate Empire

Today was the day we signed all of the papers to make the sale of our old house official. I didn’t mention anything about it here because I became weirdly and adamantly superstitious about it over the past 30 days. I was convinced that if I wrote that we had sold our house that a tree would fall on it or something.

Happily, the only tree that fell on our property during the closing period was a giant tree limb that fell on our driveway, thankfully missing our house by quite a distance.

I thought that I would walk out of the title company office this afternoon feeling ecstatic. I was sure that I would be delighted that I could cross one more thing off my list, especially considering that this one thing involved paying a second mortgage every month.

Instead, what I felt was bittersweet.

I’m going to miss that house.

A lot happened in that house.

Quinn was born when we lived in that house. We became a family of five there. We learned about autism and neurodiversity there. I became a blogger there. Alex and I lived two-thirds of our married life there. My kids grew from even smaller than this…

Photo of Alex and my kids planting seeds in containers on our back porch. This photo was taken in 2007. My kids (and Alex) look sooooo little.

From 2007.

…to what they are today.

Photo of my three kids gathered around a computer. They are much older than in the prior photo.

Too-dark and bad photo composition courtesy of three children who never stay still in the same well lit and composed photo frame.

Even though Sam and Jack have lived in other houses, they don’t remember them. My kids have lived their entire conscious existence in that house. They grew into young men in that house.

I’m excited for what is to come and I can’t wait to see how my family changes in our new house. I’m happy that another young family gets to find their own way in the house we sold today. But part of me will very much miss the house we called home for so long.