Too Many Ideas to Fill Up a Weekend

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

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

Friday night: Realize Your Baby Is No Longer a Baby

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

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

Photo taken through a window of Quinn throwing a basketball.

Quinn is sportsing!

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

Saturday morning: Run a Trail Race for the First Time

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

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

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

Selfie of me and Lyda before the race.

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

Saturday afternoon: Ice Skate for Special Hockey

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

Jack ice skating.

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

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

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

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

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

Quinn holding a basket of Girl Scout cookies.

A basket of Girl Scout cookies.

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

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

Jack and I showing off our Cheetah gear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Mid-day Chicken Interlude:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday evening: Collapse

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

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

Not Running Around Houston

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

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

Check, check, and check!

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

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

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

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

Photo of clouds and part of an airplane wing.

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

All in all, it was quite an eventful afternoon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


This photo of Goode Company Barbeque is courtesy of TripAdvisor

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

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

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

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

My mom took photos of everything. It was adorable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are super embarrassing to go anywhere with.

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

Photo of a cute kiddo shooting a basketball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then the next day I ran a marathon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of several store fronts in rough condition.

No statues in sight.

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

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

Photo of my mom driving and eating fudge.

It was worth it.

Altogether, it was a completely worthwhile adventure.

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

A close up of a margarita and some sopapillas.

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

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

Selfie of my mom, Richard, and me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for the adventure, Mom and Richard!

Photo of Richard and my mom.

Next time I’ll bring the munchkins too.

The Day We Tried To Visit an Artisinal Movie Theater

Today my family had a plan to go see the new Avengers movie. Because even though it was Mother’s Day, sometimes you just have to go with the flow and see the Avengers because a lot of young boys live in your house.

Alex and I were looking at movie times and the one that worked best was at a theater that we had never been to before.

Both of us were like, “Geez, I don’t know. Someplace new? I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.” We had a whole conversation about it.

We fear change.

Eventually we decided that a movie theater, even one we had never been to, should be pretty safe. We were so stupid.

We could NOT handle a new movie theater.

We walked in and I was pretty sure we had mistakenly walked into a hotel lobby. Instantly I said, “I don’t think we’re fancy enough to go to this movie theater.”

We were not.

It turns out that we had wandered into some sort of upscale hipster theater where you buy assigned seats through the internet while you’re still at home and then you come to the theater to buy a $7 bottle of water or a beer and wait for them to bring your popcorn to your recliner.

Team Stimey is not, I repeat, not made up of upscale hipsters.

We were running late, so I left Alex in line to buy tickets while I went to the snack bar to buy popcorn. I ordered a soda and some popcorn and the guy was all, “Are you premium or premium plus?” and I was all, “Da fuck?” Then he started talking about how you ordered in one place if you were premium and the other place if it was premium plus and I was like, “I know my family and I’m pretty damn sure we would not be premium plus,” and it just went downhill from there.

Firstly, if something is the lowest tier, I do not believe that you can call it premium. Secondly, I never really got to discover the difference between the two because Alex came over in a total snit with the news that he had failed to procure tickets because there was some whole system that we knew nothing about and we don’t know how to handle change and NO ONE SHOULD EVER TRY ANYTHING NEW EVER.

Getting a refund for our popcorn turned into a whole thing too, involving a manager and a lot of awkward waiting, and me leaving a guilt tip for the snack bar employee who visibly winced when I told him I no longer wanted to buy the popcorn.

Then we walked back to our car and drove to our regular downscale theater where you can buy tickets from a kiosk and they don’t sell wine at the snack bar and you stick to the floor when you walk on it and instead of fancy chandeliers and mood lighting in the lobby, there are giant coming attractions displays and shooting video games.

Photo of my family from the back. Quinn and Jack are watching Alex and Sam play a video game.

Yeah. That’s about right.

Sometimes I tell Quinn stories about a cat named Oreo and her wacky adventures. In these stories, our friends’ cat Tippy is always very fancy and rich and talks in a snooty accent. My entire family spent some time discussing how Tippy would loooooove the fancy movie theater and we generally made ourselves feel better by mocking both upscale hipsters and a very sweet cat named Tippy.

Photo of Alex, Jack, Sam, and Quinn in a darkened movie theater.

Then we watched the longest movie in the world, also known as The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Lessons learned today:

1. It may have been Mother’s Day, but it’s always Team Stimey Jr. Day.

2. Team Stimey is not fancy. Or smart. Or able to act fancy or smart.

3. Making fun of other people can bring a family together and make everyone feel better.

4. Never try anything new.

All in all, a day well spent.

Puzzlin’*

* See here.

I like doing puzzles a lot. It is extremely calming to me. Except for the part where you have to lay out 75 million tiny pieces face up and separate the edges from the middles. I hate that part. But all the rest of it is totally my jam.

I hadn’t done any puzzles for a long time until last week, when I busted one out, grimaced through the laying out of the pieces, and settled in to putting the thing together. I could practically feel my blood pressure decreasing.

Then I went to bed and when I woke up the next morning, I remembered why I hadn’t done any puzzles for a long time.

Screen capture of a facebook status. It's a photo of my cat Starfire sitting directly on top of my partially done puzzle. The words read, "Not cool, Starfire. Not cool."Then, the next morning, this happened:

Another screen cap. This one features my cat Ruby streeeeched out over a still partially undone puzzle. The text reads: "Goddammit, Ruby."She was actively trying to play with the pieces right in front of me. Later, she got puzzle pieces stuck in her fur.

I think you know what is coming next.

Another screen cap, this one with Oreo sitting on the puzzle looking at the camera. The text reads, "Et tu, Oreo?"I don’t know what it is about puzzles that invite cats to sit on them, but I’m grateful that they didn’t use the pieces as a litter box, which has happened to some of the people who commented when I posted these photos on Facebook. Thank you for small favors, little cats.

After I finished it, I passed on my puzzle to my friend and fellow puzzle nerd Heather, who faced similar issues at her house.

A screen cap of my friend Heather's facebook status that is a photo of the same puzzle with two guinea pigs sitting on it. The text reads, "Dagnabbit Poppy and Cow"I did discover a side benefit of Puzzlin’ that had nothing to do with cats or blood pressure.

Photo of Jack putting a piece into a different puzzle.

A puzzle buddy!

Jack was sitting next to me while I was working on this puzzle and at first he was all, “no thanks” and then he saw my little pile of pieces all with orange flowers on them and he started putting them together, which was both delightful and vexing because *I* had spent all the time collecting those pieces and deserved the opportunity to put them together, dammit. But because I am not just an awesome mom, but nearly a saint, I did NOT shove him away and demand he disassemble the orange flower pieces.

It turns out that Puzzlin’ is also conducive to chatting. We talked about competing access needs (Jack’s desire to eat spaghetti versus Quinn’s desire to never see spaghetti—and also actual access needs), whether Jack wanted to help choose his classes for next year or let his teachers do it (let his teachers do it), and if he wants to attend his next IEP meeting (yes, and even better if they serve popcorn).

In fact, It was so much fun that Jack even turned down his brothers when they asked him to come play with them.

Wait. Actually, his brothers asked him to come play and Jack said, “Sorry. This case is more puzzling.”

I know. Puzzles and puns. He’s like the perfect kid.

And he didn’t even lie all over the pieces.

It Was EXACTLY Like the National Treasure Movies Except Not at All

A few weeks ago, I got an email inviting my family to the National Archives for a family day event and a pre-opening coffee with a curator to celebrate their “Making Their Mark: Stories through Signatures” exhibit.

Immediately upon receipt of said email, I realized that (a) I had never dragged my kids through that particular institution and (b) I should rectify that immediately. Also, (c) I’d never been and I really wanted to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and Bill of Rights in person.

Our morning at the Archives came around this past Saturday and I was prepared. Museum-type spaces can be tough for my kiddos, particularly Quinn, so I made sure to not use the m-word and I pulled out the other heavy gun I had in my arsenal: I reminded them about the National Archives scenes from the National Treasure movies.

That did the trick.

We arrived to find juice and pastries as well as curator Jennifer Johnson, who gave us a personal tour through the Making Their Mark exhibit, which she had curated. It was really cool. The exhibit is all about signatures, from athletes signing sports memorabilia to Benedict Arnold’s oath of allegiance to a display of pens used by presidents to sign bills into law.

It was even more interesting than I thought it would be. There was a patent application filed by Michael Jackson, a letter from Johnny Cash to Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon’s FBI application, and any number of other fascinating documents and items. All three of my kids were also really interested, which is notable because there are not a lot of things that my three kids are all into.

The backs of my three kids looking at a display of 50 pens in a frame.

One of my favorites was this display of pens that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson used to sign bills into law.

One of the exhibits was a full-size door that members of a home builders association sent to President Reagan to draw attention to their economic troubles. Jack took a look at the door, listened to the curator explain that it featured signatures on one side and the address on the other, and said, “Excuse me? Excuse me? I think the president was all, ‘What the bleep is this door doing in my mailbox!'”

Yep. That’s Team Stimey, keeping it classy across the generations.

In my defense, at least Jack says “bleep” instead of actual curse words.

The part of the exhibit that might have captured my kids’ attention more than any other was the auto-signing machine that was set up near the exit. This particular machine auto-signed John Hancock’s signature.

Jack carefully watching the mechanism of an auto-signing machine. There is a pen attached via a mechanism that follows the grooves in a disc that guides the signature.

Jack might have been more interested in the mechanics of the machine than the result.

We still had a few minutes before the Archives opened to the public so the curator took us to the Rotunda where the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are displayed. I may have majorly geeked out there. This may also be the place where I was reprimanded by a guard.

There are no photos allowed in the Archives (barring special permission on a private tour in certain areas), so I’ll give you this image provided to me.

Photo of the Rotunda where there are murals of the founding fathers on the walls and six pages of documents, each in their own case: the Declaration, the Constitution (4 pages), and the Bill of Rights.

It was incredibly cool to see these documents close up. The Bill of Rights is my favorite.

I asked the curator how accurate the National Treasure depiction of the National Archives was and she told me that even though none of the filming was done there, it was actually pretty close. It is here that I might have to admit to you that my kids love those films and that we own DVD copies of both of them.

I am so ashamed.

Anywho, from there, we headed to the public Family Day activities that were taking place adjacent to the Making Their Mark exhibit. There were all kinds of good activities for all ages.

Jack standing at a white board where he is matching photos of and quotes by presidents to their pictures.

Jack matched presidential photos to their quotes and names. He may have needed some help to complete said process.

Sam using a template of John Adams' signature to make his own version.

Sam recreated John Adams’ signature.

Quinn slumped in a chair with a grumpy look on his face.

And Quinn sighed loudly and often.

There were crafts in another room, but the real treasure was the room set up with fountain and quill pens where my kids all learned how to write and draw using a pot of ink. Sam took approximately sixteen years to write a letter to each member of the family and Quinn and Jack drew their cats.

Quinn smiling and holding up an ink drawing of his cat Oreo.

This is a remarkably accurate representation of Oreo. I certainly wasn’t that good with the quill pen.

I was even retweeted by the @USNatArchives, which was also a kind of geeky high for me.

Screenshot of a tweet from the National Archives. The photo is of Jack looking sort of exhausted, patiently filling in his drawing of a cat with blank ink from a quill pen. The tweet says, "RT @Stimey: Drawing a picture of a black cat with a quill pen is hard work. #signatures @USNatArchives"

My kids are adept at cat drawings.

I feel very lucky that my family was invited to this event. As I say, I’ve been wanting to take my kids to the National Archives for a long time and this was the best possible way to have a first visit.

That said, your family can visit this exhibit too. The Making Their Mark exhibit is open through January 5, 2015.There will be more Making Their Mark Family Days on July 18 and December 30. There will be Constitution-in-Action Family Learning Labs on April 15, July 10, July 23, and July 29. For more information about these events, as well as others, go to archivesfoundation.org.

*****

In other news, Jack’s special hockey team, the Montgomery Cheetahs, is still soliciting donations for their big fundraiser coming up in May. Thank you so much to Sarah Elizabeth, Laura, my friend Heather and her family, and my young friends Katie and Brooke (and their terrific parents) for their donations. You can make your own donation online.

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.

Zoo Lights, Team Stimey, and the Sacrifices of Motherhood

Every year the National Zoo holds Zoo Lights, when they open the zoo at night and put up all kinds of Christmas light displays and over the course of the month before Christmas, everyone in the DC area goes to see it. Everyone except us, that is.

It has always seemed logistically difficult to go to Zoo Lights, so this year, we surprised ourselves into going by waking up on Friday and saying, “Let’s go to Zoo Lights tonight!” and nothing we did or said could convince us otherwise.

(Surprising myself into things is one of my most effective techniques for getting shit done.)

We always go to a smaller light show in December, so we had an idea of what to expect. The difference between the two light shows is that the one at the zoo is all in the shapes of animals and you have to walk two miles to see it instead of less than a mile.

Regardless, we busted out our hats, gloves, and winter coats and headed down to the zoo.

Jack, Stimey, Sam & Quinn in front of polar-bear shaped lights.

I know it looks as if Jack and Quinn have been rolling around in coal in their coats. I swear that I wash those things and they look exactly the same.

Things started out well. There was a slide set up right at the entrance for kids to ride down on tubes, so that put my kids is a good mood right off the bat.

Giant slide.

That’s Jack on his way down.

I decided to capitalize on slide happiness and ask my kids to stand together and smile for one photo right at the beginning, with a promise that I would not ask them to do it again for the rest of the night.

Sam, Quinn & Jack standing in front of a tree with multicolored lights wrapped around it.

And it actually WORKED.

Zoo Lights is cool, but don’t go for the wildlife. Animals were scarce. Evidently they sleep at night. We saw a duck and a miniature horse and some big apes. The only animal visible in the small mammal house was a disgruntled-looking hyrax who was frozen in one position looking as if he were trying to blend in with the rocks. I imagine that it is confusing to the animals to have the night be dark per usual, but filled with loud people aiming brightly-lit cell phones at them.

I would say that things started going downhill after the small mammal house when Quinn became aware that it was extremely cold out. At the same time, Alex became disgruntled after he stood in line for five whole minutes for kettle corn and not a single person was actually served. Then Sam initiated a game of predator with Jack, claiming to be a leopard seal or some such and implying that Jack was a tiny fish.

The result of all these situations were as follows: I, per fucking usual, gave Quinn my coat. MY COAT. In late November. At night. In DC. I am thinking about carrying an extra coat with me at all times to prevent frostbite on occasions such as these. Fortunately, I warmed up a little when I chased Jack down during his full-speed sprint away from Sam. Uphill. In heeled fucking boots.

These children are going to kill me.

Oh, also Alex remained disgruntled until I bought soft pretzels for everyone.

I remained true to my not asking the children to pose for any photos right up until I saw the tiger lights and I was all, “There are three of them and I have three kids! They are tigers and Quinn is wearing a tiger hat!” Then I said, “Hey guys, will you stand in front of the tigers?” and this happened:

Jack, Sam & Quinn in front of a display of lighted tigers.

Then I gave up and stopped taking photos.

See, that is why you take the posed photo first.

At this point, we turned around and started heading back toward the entrance. Sam was all, “You mean the zoo isn’t built in a circle? That’s stupid.” And I was all, “Yeah, you’re right.

There was a little train ride near the entrance (by the petting zoo, for you locals) that we had already bought tickets for, so we stopped there on our way out. While we waited in line, my kids played on the giant, pretend pizza that was just down the path.

Quinn, Sam, and Jack standing on a large pretend pizza.

I know. It’s fucking weird.

A side effect of carting ridiculously huge pretend mushrooms around was that Sam’s hands got cold and he started shouting about how he was dying or something.

So I gave him my mittens to put on over his gloves.

If we’d been there much longer, I would have walked out of that place barefoot.

Some of us enjoyed the train ride more than others.

Quinn and Alex on the train. Quinn looks concerned. Alex looks happy and slightly deranged.

Honestly, it was as if Alex had never been on a tiny train before.

After the train ride (which was actually kind of really super fun), Jack wanted to go look at the barn animals, so everyone who was wearing a coat and gloves went to the car immediately and Jack and I went to walk through the barn, where there were actually more animals on display at night than in the entire rest of the zoo.

donkey

Such as this adorable donkey.

We definitely had our ups and downs on this trip, but overall, I am super proud of my kiddos. Other than running away from us, Jack was a total rock star. Sam was great, with the exception that he seems to think he is allowed to parent and guide his brothers, forcing me to impose a strict NO TOUCHING rule onto him. Even Quinn, who got pretty whiny, was trying really, really hard. He asked me super nicely a couple times after I gave him my coat if I was cold. I really think he didn’t want his actions to hurt me. It was really sweet.

I did what any mom on the face of the planet would do—I put my blue fingers in my jeans pockets and told him I wasn’t.

Plus, if you are really, really cold, getting into a warm car is the happiest thing you can do. I think all of us agreed on that.