JackRocks

I’m off to New York on Tuesday to go see Hamilton. Yes. Hamilton. I am very excited. But! There is another performance that I am very excited about and it is Jack’s public debut on the piano at a local celebration called ArtRocks.

Without further ado:

I know. Hamilton has some big shoes to fill.

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.

The Magic of Special Hockey Reprise

Jack and I went to Jamestown, New York, for his hockey tournament almost two months ago now. I’ve wanted to write about it ever since, but, well, you know the kind of laziness problems I’ve been having. Because our annual Cheetah-thon is this weekend, this seemed like a good time to tell you about it. (You are officially invited to said Cheetah-thon and also supplied with this here link to our fundraising site in case you are so inclined to donate to this fantastic program.)

So after Jack took the year off from the Cheetahs last year and re-started this year, Alex has been taking him to practices. Prior to this year, it was almost always me who took him, but Alex really enjoyed hanging out with him the few times he took him so he volunteered to be Hockey Parent this year, which was great with me because I don’t like getting up at 6:30 am on Saturdays.

Alex was even going to take Jack on this hockey tournament trip but then *work something something work grumble work something* and I ended up going with Jack instead. At first I was a little annoyed because I LIKE TO STAY INSIDE MY HOUSE AND NOT GO OUTSIDE OR CHANGE MY SCHEDULE OR INTERACT WITH OTHER PEOPLE, but I am so happy and lucky that I got to go because it turns out that The Magic of Special Hockey is still real and happening and wonderful and also because I wouldn’t have been able to do as much day drinking had I stayed home and Alex had gone on the tournament.

These tournaments do involve, like, a billion-hour bus trip, which isn’t the greatest, although we do get to watch hockey mainstay movie Miracle on the bus DVD player every time. Jack played video games with his friend for about a half hour and then started feeling sick. After the Bus Barforama™ from the tournament two years ago, neither he nor I wanted to experience that again, so he sat next to me and stared straight ahead for the next six hours.

Two photos. 1. Jack playing a DS. His index finger is straight up in the air 2. Jack staring straight ahead.

Jack’s two positions on the bus. Also, having that finger straight up seems to be an important part of playing DS for the kid.

This, of course, left Jack totally free to tell me all about all the video games he played as well as to harass others, like when one of the hockey dads stopped to talk to me and Jack was all, “Are you flirting with her?” (he wasn’t) followed with an emphatic, “SHE’S MARRIED.” Classic Jack.

Incidentally and ironically, Quinn was hit in the head by a hockey puck at school that day.

We arrived in Jamestown, checked into our hotel, and Jack finally got to play all the DS that I’d promised he could play on the bus.

Jack on a hotel bed playing DS.

Me: Jack, do you want to swim/eat/shower/hang out with a friend?
Jack: NO.

There were three eating establishments within a sightline of the hotel: a Bob Evans, a McDonald’s, and a gas station. (Yes, gas stations count as eating establishments.) That night a big group of us went to Bob Evans and then the kiddos went swimming and then we went to bed.

The next day, Friday, Jack didn’t have a game until 2:45, so we went to McDonald’s for breakfast, then went back to the room where he did the same thing as in that photo up there and I read for a while and took a nap and then we ate lunch at McDonald’s and then finally got on the bus to go to the ice rink.

Photo of Jack in his game jersey and pads and me next to him.

Traditional pre-game selfie.

It is here that I need to tell you about Jack’s new philosophy about playing hockey. A few months ago, one of Jack’s teachers gave the class an assignment to do something outside of their comfort zone over the weekend. Because he had a hockey game that weekend, he decided that the thing he would do would be to actually put effort into playing the game. Things turned out well for him and instead of lying on the ice and taking leisurely laps around the rink, he worked hard, scored a goal, made an assist, and generally rocked the casbah.

After such a good experience, he evidently decided that this is now his new comfort zone behavior for hockey games. I hadn’t been at that first game where he put in effort so I was really excited to see him work it here. And work it he did. He did such a great job. I was super impressed.

We had a couple of hours before the next game, so some of the players hung out at a table in the rink restaurant and some of the parents sat at an adjacent table and commenced to drinking, what with our not having to drive anywhere AND it being St. Patrick’s Day and all. Thus we waited out the time until the next game at which Jack also expended good effort. He is the greatest.

Because I am not the greatest, I don’t remember at which game that first day that he scored his goal, but he did and it was AWESOME. He’s come a long way. And not just in goal scoring. He chases the puck, he passes the puck, he is generally just an effort-expending hockey player. He is all kinds of cool.

After the game, not wanting to return to McDonald’s for a third time in the same day, another mom and I wandered around unsuccessfully looking for a place to eat until we ran into a couple of dads who were headed to a pizza place. We became taggers on and were rewarded with delicious dinner, which we consumed just in time to make the bus back to the hotel.

It was a really happy day for both Jack and I and it made me feel a little sad for Alex that he wasn’t able to experience it. I’ve always been the one to take Jack on his hockey tournaments, so he’s always missed out. But at the same time as I was feeling a little sad for Alex, I was feeling very happy for myself and full of satisfied emotions because I was so lucky to be able to spend this time with Jack.

Saturday morning we had a game at 8 am, so we had to get up and moving early.

Jack holding a cup up to his face. There is a picture of a mustache on the cup.

This is Jack waiting for the bus to the rink. He mustache you a question.

Because Jack is awesome, he scored two goals and continued to be awesome at that morning game. I insert these next photos so you know that going to a hockey tournament actually includes ice skating and playing hockey.

Jack in the locker room in all his gear.

“Stay out of the comfort zone, Jack…stay out of the comfort zone.”

Jack skating mid-game

Jack being a hockey player.

Jack at the center of the rink at the face off.

Jack loves doing the face-off and generally is kind of pushy about taking his spot there.

I don’t have a lot of memory of what happened between games. That is the problem with writing a blog post two months after the event. Did we go back to the hotel? Maybe. Did I feed Jack lunch at the rink? WAIT A MINUTE! I remember! We went back to the hotel where I bought Jack doughnuts and I think I took him swimming but there was no one else down there so he was lonely and we went back to the room before we went back to Bob Evans for lunch and I ate lemon pie for dessert. I never forget lemon pie.

Jack had his last game that afternoon. After steadfastly refusing to be a captain all weekend (I think he thought it might involve extra work or motivational speaking or something), Jack finally agreed to step up and wear the “C” that made him Captain Jack for 45 minutes.

Jack in the locker room all geared up looking at his coach who is bending down to talk to him.

Here is the head coach giving Jack a pep talk about being captain.

There is something about sitting in the stands with other special hockey parents watching your athlete play and seeing the coaches grin and encourage all of the players. It is really hard to explain, but there is something amazing there. I felt it so strongly that weekend watching all those terrific kids and young adults play.

Plus everyone got a medal because they are awesome.

Jack wearing his medal.

Triumphant. And tired.

From there, it was back to the hotel for more swimming in a pool that soon roiled with children, followed by a pizza party. You can’t get better than that. Or can you? What if your mom is half drunk and decides you need a late-night snack walk to the gas station where she will buy you a king size Big Kat? That’s even better.

Selfie of us on our walk to the gas station.

Because candy and soda right before bed is kind of a thing that Team Stimey excels at.

One of the teams had a game Sunday morning so Jack got to watch funny videos of dogs and cats in the room and then with his teammates in the lobby of the hotel. Then he sat on a bus for six and a half hours staring straight ahead again.

And that was Jack’s triumphant return to tournament hockey. We really could not have had more fun. There was a really fun group of parents there for me and so many nice players for Jack to hang out with, including his best friend, which is always a bonus.

Thank you so much to the parents who organized this trip. We appreciate your work so much. You made the weekend both fun and magical for us—that’s not easy to pull off. And to the coaches, you skate every game for three Cheetah squads and you wear genuine smiles throughout every one. You are my heroes. Thank you.

If, after reading, you (yes, you) would like to support the team, please head over to https://www.crowdrise.com/annual-cheetah-thon where you can make a donation. Jack and the rest of the Cheetahs would be so grateful. This team has made such a difference in our lives and I know we’re not the only family who feels this way. This is a really unique and incredible team and we appreciate so much your emotional and financial support.

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.

Summer in December, Wisconsin Vacation Part III

I know that it is December and we got back from summer vacation months and months ago, but I have to finally write this because Sam keeps asking for it. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW, SAM?! ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?!

Remember how months ago we went to a cottage and then a cabin in Wisconsin? Well, after that we went to a resort town called Wisconsin Dells. We’d been there three years ago and Team Stimey was ready to go back.

We arrived way after bedtime, so we checked in to our hotel and got ready for bed. I remembered something we had left in the car and went back out to be greeted by the dawning realization that very clearly there was a cheerleader camp taking place at the resort and ours was the only room on our entire floor that wasn’t full of teenage girls.

The horror. The horror.

I should take a moment here to pay homage to the hero of our vacation: my noise canceling headphones. Seriously. This would have been a very different vacation without them, especially in Cheerleaderville.

Jack in particular had been really excited to go back to the waterpark. He, along with Quinn, couldn’t wait to get in the wave pool and the lazy river and the waterslides.

Photo of Jack in a double inner tube totally reclining.

This is one of his relaxo places.

Photo of a double red waterslide with Jack going down it on the left and Quinn on the right.

And this is his excito place—Jack on the left, Quinn on the right.

Sam and Alex, however, were a little less excited by the whole deal.

Photo of pool-side chairs and tables. Alex and Sam are sitting at one reading books.

If you look closely, you can see Killjoy One and Killjoy Two reading books at a table.

Alex did eventually join the water people and Sam spent some time swimming, but I think he might have only gone on one waterslide total over the course of three days.

That’s okay though, because there are so many other things to do at Wisconsin Dells. I spearheaded one particularly successful outing to take advantage of these attractions early on in our stay.

I had seen a poster for something called Zombie Outbreak and it looked awesome. It’s like laser tag where you wind your way through a dark, twisty building and people dressed as zombies jump out at you and you have to shoot them in the head or else they tag you and you lose points.

Clearly this was the right place to take my kids.

I asked everyone in the family if they wanted to join me and even showed them a short video I found online so they could know what to expect. Turns out, the video didn’t fully capture the experience of Zombie Outbreak.

Selfie of me, Sam, and Jack in front of the Zombie Outbreak sign.

Quinn and Alex were smart enough to hear “zombie” and stay in the car. Sam and Jack were foolishly brave.

You guys, it was so much fun. Although when we were getting our training and Jack was all, “I don’t like jump scares,” I probably should have guessed that it wasn’t going to go well. At least I learned who I’d be able to count on in the zombie apocalypse. Answer: ME.

It went SO badly. Jack was devastated by the experience and ran out of the building crying once he was finally able to escape. Sam covered his dismay a little better.

In a desperate bid to make Jack love me again after I permanently scarred him, I suggested that we do some go-karting.

Mission success! Jack loved me again. Quinn, on the other hand, was collateral damage in a high speed go-kart wreck caused by reckless teenagers and bashed his head against the headrest, sending him to the car in tears, making that two of my kids I’d badly damaged in the span of an hour.

Jack in a go-kart

Jack took Quinn’s extra ticket after he was injured. As long as only one kid at a time is emotionally, psychologically, or physically hurt, I’m doing okay, right?

Knowing when we were beat, we headed back to the hotel for dinner and more swimming, which, thanks to poolside dining, took place at the same time. Dinner was made even better by the arrival of vermin looking for a handout.

Photo of Quinn eating a burger in the foreground, with a raccoon visible on the other side of a chainlink fence.

I’m guessing that raccoon is pretty well fed.

The last time we’d been to Wisconsin Dells, the standout event was JET BOAT! Naturally, we wanted to do it again. JET BOAT! is a tour of the area waterways on a speedboat that spins out and splashes the passengers and is generally awesome for the whole family. Not like a zombie apocalypse at all.

Photo of Jack, Quinn, Alex, and Sam on the boat before the tour.

Look at everyone all dry and excited.

Photo taken of the front of the boat entirely engulfed in splashing water

Then this happened.

Photo of Jack, Quinn, Alex, and Sam, now quite wet.

And we were left with this. If you look really closely, you can actually see water dripping from Jack’s nose.

Alex really wanted to go miniature golfing at this very cool course that we drove past and we were going to do it after JET BOAT! but for obvious reasons, we were unable to follow through on this and therefore Alex wasn’t able to do the ONE GODDAMN THING he wanted to do in all of Wisconsin Dells and we are MONSTERS.

As we did each night at the Dells, we spent the evening at the indoor water park. Jack and Quinn spent hours in the lazy river and lured me in as well. I liked to float happily around and occasionally take photos of my kids with my phone safely encased in its waterproof pouch. Jack liked to direct my happy floating to spots underneath waterfalls.

Three photos of Jack and I 1. Us floating 2. Me under falling water, Jack laughing hysterically 3. Jack and I laughing.

This is probably the least flattering trio of photos of me ever, but it is unlikely you will even notice that what with Jack OMG JACK AND HIS FACE behind me.

We only had one day left, of which we took full advantage.

Photo of Jack in a swimsuit holding a watersliding mat.

Jack and I went on a bunch of waterslides together. He’s a fun companion.

Alex and Jack on a roller coaster waterslide.

This is Alex with Jack on the roller coaster waterslide. I never even knew such a thing existed. It was great fun.

Sam at the bottom of a waterslide.

This is the one slide Sam went on. I think he lost a bet and had to do it. I wasn’t going to miss the chance to photograph him.

Jack and Quinn hugging in the lazy river.

And I’ve probably said it 800 times, but Quinn and Jack together? They are the best. Here they are hugging and carrying each other in the lazy river. Just because.

“But wait, Stimey,” you may be thinking, “Did you go on any waterslides? Did anyone take a photo of you?”

Don’t worry. I left my phone with Alex when I went on a slide and he captured me at the bottom.

Photo of a splash. No person is visible.

I know it’s brave to put a swimsuit photo of me online.

Our very last night in Wisconsin Dells, we went to dinner at the hotel steakhouse. We’d gone to the same restaurant last time we’d been there. Their motto is “Where Size Matters.” The first time we’d gone, Alex and I had ordered a side dish of potatoes made up of probably five pounds of potatoes that made us feel bad for being Americans.

Photo of a giant cleaver. Quinn has his head on a block under its edge and Sam is pretending to hold the handle.

This blade outside the steakhouse wasn’t sharp enough.

But—and this is probably why Sam wants me to write this post so goldang bad—Sam remembered from the last time we were there that there is a 50-ounce steak on the menu and he had been talking for three years about how he was going to eat one.

But Alex and I are reasonable people—WE ARE—and no way were we going to buy him a 50-ounce steak. That said, we were happy to order the 50-ounce and two plating fees so all three kids could share it.

Sam sitting in front of a plate with a 50-ounce steak on it.

That is a lot of steak.

Unfortunately, both Quinn and Jack had filled up on bread and they each ate about a bite of it then returned their uneaten portions to Sam’s plate.

Jack and Quinn, mouths full of bread.

Based on this photo, I think Jack may just have been too tired to eat as well.

Alex and I consumed our reasonably sized dinners and watched Sam consume huge amounts of food in a short amount of time. One of the staff even came out from the kitchen under the pretense of removing something from our table to gawk.

Two photos of Sam gobbling a steak and one of him giving two thumbs up over a plate with just bones.

He even gnawed off the hard-to-get meat stuck to the bones.

It took him maybe ten minutes. It was, quite honestly, a feat.

Photo of a brownie sundae in front of Alex

And then he shared a dessert with his brothers.

He was a little hysterical for the rest of the night. I think he went into Meat Shock. I kept a close eye on him to make sure he wasn’t going to barf or die or something. He seemed to emerged unscathed.

Sam holding a t-shirt that says "Where Size Matters"

Plus, the restaurant gave him a t-shirt!

The next day we checked out early to start our long drive home. Alex took a bunch of our stuff to the car…

Photo of Alex pushing a luggage cart piled full of luggage.

It turns out that Team Stimey needs a lot of stuff to survive.

…and the kids did their part.

Jack and Quinn carrying two empty cups and a stuffed animal.

Thanks for carrying those two EMPTY cups and a stuffed cat, guys.

From there it was just a billion and six hours to drive home.

Alex driving holding a stuffed cat so it looks like the cat is driving.

This is how you amuse yourself on a billion and six hour drive.

This turned out to be one of the most fun and relaxing vacations that Team Stimey has been on for a long time. It was nothing like the long, stressful stretch of time that it took me to write about it on the interwebs.

Now it might be time to go on another vacation!

Open House and My Love/Hate Relationship

My kids are funny at school. I know this because once a year our school district has an open house day where you can go sit in on your kids’ classes without looking helicopter-y and like THAT mom. Being THAT mom, I totally go to all my kids’ schools.

Monday of this week was this year’s open house. I learned a lot of things that day. Without further ado:

20 Things I Learned at This Year’s Open House:

1. It is extremely exhausting to visit all three of my special sugar-encrusted snowflakes in their natural habitats. I was at school as long as my kids were. Plus, I didn’t get to pee or eat during that time. Note: I like to both pee and eat more often than every six hours.

2. Before deciding on the order of attendance at each of my kids’ schools, I should have probably checked the hours of the open house. I lucked into choosing the right order, but it turns out that open house for one ended at noon and for another ended at 12:40. Thank goodness I had coincidentally made those stops one and two.

3. Jack is a participator. He raised his hand in both classes that I observed him in. Including math. Math! And he did it with no noticeable angst or blushing. I always thought that if my maternity were ever questioned it would be because of Quinn and his blond hair. Turns out it’s going to be because of Jack and his friendliness and class participation and deep thoughts about math.

4. It is entirely possible that Jack has been lying about not having English homework every night, because I heard in class about the English homework he had and he sure didn’t volunteer that information when he got home.

5. Quinn puts an overly dramatic, “BRO!” at the end of responses he gives to his (female) teacher after he gives an answer.

6. Quinn is extremely lucky that his teacher is cool.

7. Quinn is going to make a ceramic candle holder in art class.

8. Quinn plans to get rich by mass producing ceramic candle holders like the one he’s designing for art class. He also plans to force his friends to be his workforce.

9. It is extremely difficult to find a parking spot at Sam’s high school.

10. Few parents go to open house at Sam’s high school.

11. Even *I* was a little embarrassed to be going to open house at Sam’s high school.

12. It was totally worth it to go to open house at Sam’s high school, because Sam is cool and I really like the relationship that I am developing with teenager Sam.

13. Going to a high school during the school day was vaguely uncomfortable and made me feel bad for all the kids who have to deal with four years of high school. It gets better, kids!

14. Sam learned in biology that the stomach can comfortably hold 33 ounces. This made both of us wonder how he ate that 50-ounce steak when we were on vacation in Wisconsin. (Yes, he really did. You’ll hear about it if/when I am finally able to finish writing about summer vacation.)

Photo from behind of Sam sitting at a desk in biology class.

15. I will follow the rule of “no cell phones or photography during open house” until the end of the day when I’m tired and hungry and I think the teacher won’t catch me.

16. Stopping on the way home to buy food for you and your eating machine teenager will make you feel ever so much better.

17. I have three very amazing children who are so fantastically different and wonderful.

18. Even though part of me kinda hates open house day, part of me is so grateful for it.

19. Sorry, kiddos. I’m coming to open house day until the bitter end of Quinn’s senior year of high school.

20. I continue to be THAT mom.

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.