Lake Madness

I know that this, the last installment in Team Stimey’s whirlwind trip around all of Wisconsin, is super late and that seven million things have happened between our last installment and now, but I am a completist (it is too a thing), so I now present to you our last vacation destination from our summer vacation waaaaay back in mid-August.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Lake Van Vliet.

It's even prettier in person.

It’s even prettier in person.

After the chaos of the Wisconsin Dells, it was really nice to go to the peace and absolute quiet of Alex’s family cabin on this gorgeous lake. It is this amazingly quiet place where the big activity is driving into town to get ice cream or to go fishing in the lake or—and this is sort of the climax of our trip every time we come here—rowing to a little island in the next lake over to have a picnic.

We had this great little walk on our first morning there on which I took what is probably my favorite photo in the history of photos. Now, I know I say that a lot, but seriously, people, this photo cracks me up every time I look at it.

Confused kids are confused.

I am not sure if they are all confused by different things or the same thing in different directions.

I am not sure if they are all confused by different things or the same thing in different directions, but I think we can all agree that Team Stimey Junior is confused.

To give you an idea of the kind of things we did at the lake, there was that afternoon we spent stalking a blue heron from a rowboat.

Actual quote from Alex as we tried to row close to said blue heron: “Will everybody SHUT UP? We are trying to sneak up on a bird.”

You'll notice that we weren't super successful in sneaking up close to the bird. My kids are loud, y'all.

You’ll notice that we weren’t super successful in sneaking up close to the bird. My kids are loud, y’all.

Things got louder still after Quinn started asking if he could jump out of the boat. This was our third time visiting this cabin with our kids and none of us has put more than a foot or a hand in this lake, mostly because it is FREEZING COLD.

I don’t think we completely believed that he would actually jump out of the boat when we gave him permission.

Quinn in the water

How could we have been so naive?

For the record, the water really was frigid. We asked Quinn if he was cold and through shaking lips and chattering teeth, he was all, “n-n-n-ooo.” He was so delighted that he was doing something that his brothers never had.

Qunn swimming behind the rowboat

The little dude actually swam quite a ways. He laughed the entire damn time.

Quinn in lily pads

He even swam through seaweed (lakeweed?) under the surface of the lake and lily pads on top. This surprised me. Lake swimming trumps sensory nightmare.

Quinn making victory sign on the dock.

Quinn got to the dock ahead of us. He spent the rest of our vacation reliving his victory in said “race” to the dock.

Alex, being Alex, then told Quinn that he hoped that Quinn hadn’t contracted Lake Madness, to which Quinn replied, “You’re kidding, right?” Alex, again, being Alex, then said, “That is exactly what someone with Lake Madness would say.”

I don’t know that I have ever seen Quinn speechless before, but that did it.

We did let Quinn know that Lake Madness was made up, but that didn’t stop us from repeatedly bringing it up for the rest of our vacation. We are not nice people.

In fact, if you know Quinn in real life and you’re hanging out with him and he does something weird, it would be awesome if you were to say, “Quinn. Have you been swimming in a lake lately? Because what you just did is exactly what my cousin did when he had Lake Madness.”

His head would quite likely explode right off of his head.

You should know though, that if you do that, you will also be a Not Nice Person and will probably also (1) go to hell and (2) contribute to Quinn’s nervous breakdown. On second thought, just think about saying that to him, but don’t actually do it.

My other kids got Lake Madness on our last trip out in the rowboat when they followed Quinn’s lead and all jumped in the lake.

Team Stimey Junior in the lake

Laaaaake Maaadddneeeessss!

They were all under our oars and hanging on the edge of the rowboat and generally causing a ruckus. It was de-fucking-lightful. I like my kids a lot.

Algernon came close to getting Lake Madness too, but I saved him before he fell in.

Algernon on a lily pad

It is remarkable how quickly a small stuffed mouse will sink a lily pad. This shot was harder to get than it looks.

Fortunately, we had access to an Algernon dryer right next to where Alex and I were sleeping.

Algernon in front of the fire

I badly want a fireplace next to my bed now. That was the greatest thing ever.

Of course, it was not all rowboats and nature walks. There were also go karts (Quinn was tall enough to drive his own kart here; he is a terrible driver) and mini golf and fishing (have you ever seen live bait dispensed from a vending machine? I have) and all kinds of quirky restaurants, including Paul Bunyan’s, where you don’t even get to order food—they just bring you plates and piles of food for the table and you choose what you want.

Jack goring Alex.

They also had these fabulous ox horns that Jack used to gore Alex.

One of my very favorite things that we did was take the munchkins horseback riding. They’ve been on ponies that go in those sad little circles before, but never on actual horses. I remember riding semi-regularly when I was kid and I LOVED it, so it was cool to see my kiddos do it for the first time.

Quinn was really nervous at first and almost refused to get on his horse. The guides were really nice though and told him they’d just walk his horse in a couple little circles and he could get off if it was too scary. After about three minutes, he was sold.

Quinn on his horse

This is Quinn on A3, which is a weird name for a horse, but reportedly he was “the best horse” they had.

Jack got to ride the tallest horse in the world. We always joke that Jack is the honey badger (“He’s pretty badass. Jack don’t care. Jack don’t give a shit. He just takes what he wants.”) Well, Jack got his comemuffins* by getting the honey badger horse. His horse kept stopping to munch on trail-side greenery, requiring Jack to guide him back onto the path. He did a pretty good job of it, but that horse worked him. I laughed and laughed and laughed. Comemuffins.*

Jack on his horse.

Jack on his horse, Kessler. You can’t tell here, but that horse was taller than a fucking tree. HUGE.

Sam’s and his horse rode directly in front of me. Sam’s horse audibly farted for the entire 45-minute ride. It was astounding that one animal could have that much gas inside him.

Sam on his horse.

Sam on his black and white horse, Oreo. It is quite possible that this horse is the direct reason we have a black and white cat named Oreo.

Quinn rode in the front, right behind the guide and he talked to her for 45 minutes straight. It was hilarious. I meandered along in the back, bothered only by the flatulence of the horse in front of me.

At one point, a deer spooked both Sam and Jack’s horses, causing them to take off running. Both of them managed to pull back on the reins and not get violently thrown to the ground. I was tremendously proud. They were rock stars. All three kiddos did a great job.

Even Algernon did all right.

Algernon on a pony.

He was too small to ride a real horse though so he was stuck with a pony.

I have to say, I think that this section of our vacation might have been my favorite. It was so chill. I got a ton of running in as well, on roads that ran alongside scenes like this:


The only negative about running past this was worrying that a bear or mountain lion would come lumbering out of it.

All of our vacation was fun, but there is nothing like Lake Van Vliet for some forced relaxation. Team Stimey is really lucky to have the opportunity to vacation here. And I am very lucky to have Team Stimey.

My kids

I’m so lucky to have these three munchkins in my life.

(End vacation.)

* This is how we say “comeuppance” in my family. And, no, it’s not because one of our kids adorably mispronounced the word. Alex mispronounced it until he was midway through law school and I finally corrected him. I decided that it would be against our best interests for him to bust out with, “Then the defendant got his comemuffins…” in front of a judge.

Firsts From the First Day of Travel

Team Stimey headed to Wisconsin this week for family vacation. I am counting the day and a half it took us to drive here as our first day because if I believed that I spent TWO days of my vacation trapped in a car with these people (aka, my family) I would feel more tired than if I had just spent one day in that situation.

They are Nintendo (semi) enthused.

They were Nintendo (semi) enthused.

Also, we left Maryland at 6:45 pm yesterday, so that barely counts as a day. Which brings me to our….

First fuck-up: We stop at a McDonald’s a half mile from our house to buy dinner for our children. Alex announces that he has forgotten his wallet and we return home to look for it. Turns out that it was in the car all along.

First night: We spend our first night on the road in a hotel sandwiched between the Cleveland airport and a building that is actively being bulldozed at one in the morning.

First blood: We made it until a french fry stop at noon today before anyone emitted unexpected bodily fluids. Jack cut his knee on a “HOME OF THE WHOPPER” sign in front of the Burger King at a rest stop in Ohio. We still don’t know which letter on the sign was the offender. My money is on the “W.”

First kerfuffle: Despite having been a couple for nearly 20 years, Alex and I didn’t discover until this morning that our rules for playing the Alphabet Game are radically different. I’m not going to tell you which one of us has the ridiculous rule that you can’t use more than one letter from the same sign and that you can’t use letters off of trucks. I will, however, tell you that that person was WRONG.

First near-death experience: There was torrential rain all throughout our drive today—like, vision-eradicating torrential. It was quite a thing.

Algernon got the best seat in the house.

Algernon got the best seat in the house.

First miracle: NO ONE PUKED IN THE CAR.

First destination: Milwaukee! We are tired. We are grumpy. We are ready to be farther than four feet away from each other. We can’t wait to get started on our vacation!

The Five Stages of Grief as it Pertains to Luggage Loss

Something terrible happened to me on my way to BlogHer. Southwest Airlines lost my suitcase, something that had never happened to me before. It was extremely devastating to me and threw me off kilter for a solid day and a half, maybe more.

I imagine that it was less traumatizing for Southwest.

Upon realizing that I had arrived in Chicago but my luggage had not, my first instinct was to cancel all my conference plans and immediately board a plane back to DC where I could live in the sweatpants and t-shirts that live in my drawers and were not en route to some undisclosed location.

I spent a chunk of time shuffling back and forth in one place going over the pros and cons of the run-home plan before I began to work my way through the five stages of grief.

The five stages of grief is the common term for the Kübler-Ross model stating that when faced with the reality of an extreme, awful fate, an individual will experience a series of emotional states: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance.

In case you aren’t familiar with Ms. Kübler-Ross’ work, I will walk you through a simple (extreme, awful) example prior to describing the luggage debacle.

Let’s say your two male gerbils have babies. Let’s go with that extreme, awful example.

Denial: Two boys can’t have babies. Two boys can’t have babies. Two boys can’t have babies. Two boys can’t have babies. Overwhelming visual evidence be dammed.

Anger: The pet store sold me a boy and a girl but told me they were two boys. I should firebomb the pet store, but instead of throwing Molotov cocktails, I will lob hamster balls full of infant gerbils.

Bargaining: If the mother gerbil doesn’t have any more babies, I promise to never put an embarrassing hat on a gerbil again. I’m sorry, gerbil gods. I’m sooooorry.

Depression: I am going to end up with eighty thousand baby gerbils.

Acceptance: I am going to end up with eighty thousand baby gerbils.

Are you clear on the five stages now? Good. Let’s discuss these five stages as they apply to arriving in Chicago for a blogging conference with no clothes but for those on your back and no toothbrush but for those on sale at Walgreen’s.

Denial: Huh, I am the only person standing here at this baggage claim carousel. I’m sure that just means that I’m early. Or late. Don’t worry, Stimey, your bag is going to come. That one suitcase sadly traveling around the carousel wasn’t mine last time it went around, but maybe this time I will be. I should check the luggage tag again. My suitcase isn’t lost. That would be absurd. Airlines specialize in getting luggage to where it is supposed to go. My luggage isn’t lost.

Anger:  My luggage is lost. What’s that, baggage claim lady? You don’t track the luggage? You won’t know where it is until you find it in the wrong place? You have no idea where the suitcase is or how long it will take to get to Chicago? You will deliver my suitcase to my hotel when you find it MAYBE tonight? Look, baggage claim lady, I know you didn’t personally send my luggage to American Samoa or wherever it ended up, but you are making it really hard to not yell at you right now.

The great thing about the Anger stop on the Kübler-Ross scale is that you don’t have to choose just one target. Nor do you have to be rational about it. After Alex was less than supportive about my great loss (i.e. he did not teleport to Chicago to FIND MY LUGGAGE FOR ME FIND IT NOW I CAN’T GO TO BLOGHER WITHOUT MY LUGGAGE FIND IT FIND IT FIND IT FIND IT NOW!), I turned my rage on him in a series of passive aggressive long pauses between hostile texts. It’s an art.

Bargaining: If my suitcase arrives before I go to sleep, I will never ever roll my eyes dramatically when an airline wants to charge me $12 for a small packet of peanuts and two ounces of vodka. Okay. I will still roll my eyes, but I do promise to always give my trash to the flight attendant when she walks through the cabin before landing instead of stuffing it into the seat pocket in front of me. And I promise to stop stealing barf bags and ripping out photos of dogs that look like my dog from the in-flight magazine.

Depression: This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Everything is gray. They will never find my bag. ALL of my cute clothes were in there. My running shoes were in there. I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO RUN AGAIN. I am sure going to miss my favorite hair brush. I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO BRUSH MY HAIR AGAIN. Whhhhyyyy does everything bad always happen to meeeeeeee?

Acceptance: It is 10pm. Not only is my luggage not at the hotel, but the people at the airline still don’t even know where it is. My luggage is not coming. I will go to the Walgreen’s down the street from my hotel to buy toothpaste, underwear, a new hairbrush (sob!), deodorant, and boxer shorts to sleep in. I will also think that I bought a toothbrush, but will actually not have done so, leaving me to brush my teeth by scrubbing them with a washcloth smeared with toothpaste. I am prepared to wear the same purple shirt and old jeans for the next four days. It will not be okay, but it is happening.

And that’s how you deal with luggage loss.

You will be pleased to know that I was woken at 1 am with a phone call from the airline that woke both me and my roommate from deep sleeps. The woman on the phone told me that my suitcase would be delivered sometime between 1 and 5 am.

“Do I have to be in the lobby to get it?” I asked.

And then the woman laughed at me. “No,” she said. “Go back to sleep. We’ll leave it with the front desk.” Then she laughed some more, no doubt imagining me in my boxer shorts and washcloth-scrubbed teeth sitting forlornly in the lobby at four in the morning.

The airlines taught me a valuable lesson that day. They taught me that I should avoid checking my luggage at all costs. They taught me that if I do have to check my luggage, that I should put my favorite hairbrush, pajamas, and one change of clothes in my carry-on bag. Also, if you have to re-buy your toiletries, double check that a toothbrush makes it into your shopping bag.

That is the lesson the airlines taught me. The lesson I learned is that the airlines lost my suitcase once, which obviously means that I’ve paid my dues and that it will never get lost again, so I should start packing my valuables in checked luggage all the time. It’s how probability works, people.

Spectacularly Good or Spectacularly Bad? Welcome to Hersheypark.

Remember back the night before my family headed into Hersheypark and I was all:

“This will be my kids’ first time at an amusement park. I imagine that is will go spectacularly.

Spectacularly good or spectacularly bad, that remains to be seen.”

Well. Done and done.

Also, you should note that I managed to spell “it” wrong in the second sentence of that quote that I copy and pasted from its original post. That seems about right.

So. Here’s the backstory: I didn’t want to throw any birthday parties this year, so I talked Jack and Quinn into foregoing theirs and going to Hersheypark and Chocolate World instead.

In my defense, it sounded like a great plan.

Our itinerary was to drive up Friday night, go to Hersheypark on Saturday, go to Chocolate World on Sunday, and then drive home that evening, full of joy and happy memories. Friday went just as planned, complete with a heated pool to swim in at the hotel.

Jack choked on bacon at breakfast on Saturday, but that isn’t even the worst thing that happened that morning.

Here’s how it all went to hell, like, two minutes after our arrival at Hersheypark:

We drove into the parking lot, got out of the car, walked about 20 feet, and then Quinn turfed it. It was like slow fucking motion. I saw him go down on his knee, then his shoulder, then it looked like he was going to stop there, but he didn’t and then he tipped down onto his nose and his forehead.

I jumped to the ground next to him and hugged him as he started screaming, “We have to go home! We have to go home! We have to go home!” It took a good several minutes before he’d even let me look at his face. When he finally did, this is what I saw:

I don't know that I have to tell you that I took this photo much, MUCH later. Even then, several hours after the fall, it's somewhat of a miracle that he was willing to smile for me.

I don’t know that I have to tell you that I took this photo much, MUCH later. Even then, several hours after the fall, it’s somewhat of a miracle that he was willing to smile for me.

It was brutal. I had to pick Quinn up and carry him the rest of the looooooong way into the park. It was either that or turn around and take the 30-second walk back to the car and call it a day.

Side note: Quinn is ridiculously heavy. He’s loud too.

I don’t know if you’ve been to Hersheypark, but I swear to God that the entrance was, like, three miles away from the parking lot. We did stop at one point to measure ourselves according to Hershey’s height standards.

Sam was a Jolly Rancher. Jack was a Twizzler. Quinn was...reluctant to be measured. (a.k.a. a Hershey bar)

Sam was a Jolly Rancher. Jack was a Twizzler. Quinn was…reluctant to be measured. (a.k.a. a Hershey bar)

We had decided to get disability passes for Jack for his autism and Quinn for his SPD and body regulation issues. Standing in long lines is especially tough on Quinn and Jack gets dysregulated in line situations. I won’t go into all the reasons I felt my kids needed the disability pass, but I knew that we did need them—for Quinn more than anyone else.

Our visit to the Hospitality Office to get those passes was a source of stress for me. I was worried that they would turn us down and then my kids wouldn’t be able to handle the park. I was worried that they wouldn’t be nice. I was worried that they were going to try to make Jack and Quinn wear wristbands around the park and I knew that would be worse than not having a pass at all.

Here’s something though: If you are standing in the ADA compliance line and one parent is holding a sobbing 8-year-old while the other parent is clutching the hand of a 10-year-old so he doesn’t take off in excitement and then that parent bursts into stress tears because she has been worrying for weeks about how her kids would be able to handle an amusement park and it turns out that it doesn’t look like any of them are going to be able to handle it all that damn well because they are 15 feet into the park and it’s already Hersheygeddon, well, the staff there will be really nice to you.

The woman there took one look at me and my entourage, accepted my paperwork, said, “Do you think they’ll need cards instead of wristbands?” and then told me we could stand in a quieter spot while she got all of our paperwork ready.

Thank you, Hersheypark.

(In truth, we didn’t actually use the passes all that much. Quinn didn’t go on many rides and we stood in line for most of them. Despite it being Memorial Day weekend, it was really cold, so the lines weren’t too long. I do have to say though, that when we did need those passes, we were so grateful for them. I do know that our day was much easier because of them.)

We headed out from the Hospitality office and Quinn and I took a little break while Sam, Jack, and Alex ran off to play on a ride. I finally convinced Quinn to try the carousel. I got my first inkling that things might turn out okay when I saw him trying to suppress the tiniest of smiles on the ride.

This was not that smile.

This was not that smile.

Jack and Sam, on the other hand, couldn’t have been happier.

The dude in the Hershey bar suit was probably less happy when my kids pretended to eat his arms. I bet that happens to him a lot.

The dude in the Hershey bar suit was probably less happy when my kids pretended to eat his arms. I bet that happens to him a lot.

So, they liked the characters, but what about the rides? I bet Sam and Jack hated the rides, didn’t they?

They totally did.

They totally did.

We went on a series of rides after that. Two of us on this one, three on that, and things started to look up. After riding the bumper cars, even Quinn busted out a smile. We worked our way through some of the kiddie rides on the way to the Minetown section of the park, which I think Jack imagined was just like Minecraft. (It wasn’t.)

By the time we got over to the little speedway where kids can pretend to drive cars (Jack, by the way, is the slowest damn driver ever. I know. I was in his car and witnessed the backup behind us), all three kids were having a good time.

When you ask Quinn if he had a good time at Hersheypark, he will tell you no and then he will tell you about how he fell on his face in the parking lot. He will claim to have hated everything and to have not had fun at all. But, trust me, he didn’t hate everything. I give you this photograph as proof:

Not only is he happy, but you can barely even see his facial scarring.

Not only is he happy, but you can barely even see his facial scarring.

You might also notice that he is wearing two jackets in that photo. That is because he was cold in just his jacket, so he stole my sweatshirt leaving me in short sleeves. By the time I got desperate enough to pay $50 for a sweatshirt that read “KISSES” across the front, there were no sweatshirt shops anywhere to be seen. It sucked.

If I had to describe motherhood in a sentence, it might be this: “No matter how cold it is, you will always give your coat to your child.” If I had to describe motherhood by Stimey, I would add, “and complain vociferously the whole time.”

After Jack’s Sunday driver training, we were walking to the log ride and Jack saw a roller coaster where people’s legs were dangling from the seats and he insisted he wanted to go on it. I should mention here that Jack had never been on a roller coaster at this point. Because I am me, I didn’t even bother to check the track layout before I agreed and got into line with him. I just figured, well, Jack is fearless, so what’s the worst that could happen?

You guys, this roller coaster had loops. It had corkscrews. It had a corkscrewing loop. Oh, it was quite the roller coaster. I think it surprised Jack a lot. I’ll say this for the kid though; he didn’t want to go back on that particular roller coaster, but he was game to go on any other ride or coaster for the rest of the day. Jack and his bravery astound me every single day. He is one of a kind, that kid.

We collected Alex, Sam, and Quinn from the nearby arcade and Sam, Jack, and I went on the log ride while Alex and Quinn headed back to the skee-ball lanes—Quinn because he wasn’t interested in scary rides and Alex because he wasn’t interested in watery rides. (Did I mention that it was really cold?)

The advantage of the cold day was that there was no line for the log ride, allowing the three of us to go on it twice in record time. Sam loved it. This pleased me because where Jack is fearless, Sam can be fearful. I was hoping to get him on a roller coaster at the park, so I was happy that Sam liked the thrill of going down the hill.

I was also happy that I was able to position my children to block me from getting too wet.

I was also happy that I was able to position my children to block me from getting too wet.

It’s actually too bad that Quinn started the day off in such a rough way. I think that he would have been way more willing to try some of the rides if his fall hadn’t convinced him that Hershey was out to kill him. His hair kept getting stuck to his wounds and hurting him, so it wasn’t like he could forget about it either.

Now, I know this may surprise you, but I am a little bit rigid in the ways that I do things and in my mind, when you go to an amusement park, you ride rides and that is what is fun and you don’t do the arcade games because they are a waste of money because they are rigged so no one wins.

I needed Alex to remind me that those arcade games aren’t just fun if you win. I needed to learn that there are ways other than mine to have fun at an amusement park. He and Quinn did a lot of arcade and boardwalk-style games while the rest of us went on rides. I am so grateful that Alex was flexible enough to see what Quinn needed and that the two of them had such a fun day together.

Quinn won these flowers and Alex won the ability to somehow make Quinn carry the family backpack. That achievement will probably never be repeated.

Quinn won these flowers and Alex won the ability to somehow make Quinn carry the family backpack. That achievement will probably never be repeated.

We headed out of the park shortly after I put Sam on the roller coaster I wanted him to try. I can tell you that he did not care for it and he is very angry at me for putting him on it when there was a tamer one somewhere in the park that no matter how hard we looked, we could not find. I thought it was a blast. He thought I was purposely trying to kill him.

On our way out, we passed a team of candy bars just hanging out by themselves. We caught sight of them from a distance and Jack shrieked and started running to them. The candy bars heard him and they all started waving. Jack leapt over a bench to dive into a hug with the Kit Kat. It was completely enchanting at the same time that it was totally absurd.

Then the candy bars' handlers had to physically pull him off of said KitKat.

Then the candy bars’ handlers had to physically pull him off of said Kit Kat.

From there, all that was left was finding our car. (Me: “Do you remember where we parked? Other than near the bloodstain?”)

Remember when I said that our day at Hersheypark would be either spectacularly good or spectacularly bad? Without question, we had both. All of us had some tough moments, but we got through it and I think we all learned something about ourselves and each other that day. Next time we go to an amusement park (you know, in ten or twelve years, once the memories fade), I’ll use those lessons to make our trip even better.

So, that was our day. I’ll save our day at Chocolate World for tomorrow because I think if I tried to add any more to this post, my blog would implode. For White Knuckle Parenting this week, I did write specifically about the lessons I learned at the amusement park. Definitely check it out.

The 5th Avenue bar strikes me a little bit as a Poochie the Rockin' Dog character.

The 5th Avenue bar strikes me a little bit as a Poochie the Rockin’ Dog character: all attitude, no substance.

We Survived Hersheypark (Almost) Intact!

Remember how Team Stimey was headed to Hersheypark over the weekend? Well, we went and we survived and we only had one choking incident and one injury that resulted in facial scarring.

For Team Stimey, that’s almost like a perfect vacation.

I took a gajillion photos and have a ton of stories to tell you, but I am tiiiiiiired tonight, so I’ll put that off until tomorrow.

Tonight I’ll give you this photo of Mouse, who made me happy by actually using the exercise wheel in his cage, but who did it all kinds of wrong.

Even my gerbils march to the beat of their own drummers.

He did this for a really long time. It was hilarious.

Until tomorrow!

Team Stimey Takes Virginia!

I am so excited to tell you about Team Stimey’s Super Awesome Fun Spring Break Adventure! We packed a lot of fun into our two-day vacation. Alex had a business trip on Monday so I decided that instead of sitting around and being surly that he was gone again, I would bail as well. Only I had to take the kids.

We based our trip around Luray Caverns in Virginia, adding on other roadside attractions until we had the best 48 hours ever. Alex went to Cincinnati and had a meeting in a conference room overlooking a freeway.

You can guess who had more fun.

I have to admit that I was annoyed when I woke up and saw my spring break adventure looking more like spring broken adventure.

Clearly I was delighted by spring snow.

Clearly I was delighted by spring snow.

Although the snow did teach me something interesting.

Quinn makes his snow angels face down.

Quinn makes his snow angels face down.

That kid is his own person, that is for sure.

Regardless of snow (I had prepaid for our hotel room so we were going—even if a tornado showed up), we headed out and arrived at Luray at about noon. Now, Team Stimey had been to Luray Caverns before, but it was a long time ago (click that link to see my tiny babies) and we didn’t go on a cold, snowy spring day. It was practically deserted when we went this time. There were no lines and no sweltering heat and there was plenty of snow to threaten your brothers with.

This photo cracks me up over and over. It is so them.

This photo cracks me up over and over. It is so them.

We grabbed some lunch and then jumped onto a tour. Our guide was great except that she didn’t have answers for any of the Minecraft-related questions my kids had. It’s almost like they didn’t train her at all.

The tour started off really well. All three kiddos were happy. Sam was learning, Jack was musing about types of rock, and Quinn kept finding dark little recesses and saying, “Look! A cave system!”


Back at the beginning of the tour when they were still willing to stand together for me to take a photo of them.

So, let’s talk about my kids and the way they handle tours for a minute. Last time we went to Luray, we did a self-guided tour. This time they didn’t offer that option, so we were with a group of 25ish that traveled together. This isn’t optimal for my kids, but I’m lucky in that they can mostly handle it. Mostly.

Sam is my kid that is best suited for tours, exhibits, and other learning stuff. We were hanging in the back of the group so I could take some photos without people in them and also so that we weren’t distracting the guide with infinite questions about bedrock and mining. Every time the guide started talking, Sam would gasp and run up to be in ear shot.

In fact, my cell phone is full of videos of the guide telling us things about the cavern. I had to threaten him to make him stop taking video that we will never watch.


Also on the phone? At least one photo of me and my camera.

Jack tends to get overwhelmed and spinny in tour situations. The cavern, however, was spacious enough and involved enough walking that he was okay. The best way to help him regulate himself is to take him on a long walk, so considering the tour was about a mile long, this was just his thing. Near the end of the tour, he was up at the front chatting with the guide. Maybe he was giving her that sorely needed Minecraft information.


I’m imagining that he was thinking about different kinds of Minecraft blocks in this photo.

Then there is Quinn. The thing I’m coming to realize about Quinn is that he has a time limit. He started off the tour completely happy, but his attention span is not…expansive. Also, when he is unhappy, tired, or bored, he gets loud. God forbid he is all three. Because when he is all three, he also falls to the ground.


Oh, Quinn.

Quinn and I are working on finding a happy medium together.

We emerged from the caverns into the greatest unblemished field of snow that ever was. That snow quickly became the greatest blemished battlefield of snow that ever was after my kids’ epic snowball fight broke out. It was one of those rare, unplanned, no-one-got-mad-or-hurt bouts of awesomeness that very occasionally happens. It was the absolute greatest.


Even Quinn came right back to happy. Also soaking wet. That too.


Quinn is a fan of the “snowball as big as your head” tactical approach.


After snowball fighting, terrorizing some geese, and exploring around, Jack found his sensory happy place lying in the snow.


Sam’s happy place, on the other hand, involved throwing snowballs at me. See that particularly well-aimed one hurtling toward my camera?

The hedge maze we had planned to go through was closed because of the snow, which I thought was absurd, but my thoughts had very little effect on the open vs. closed status of said hedge maze, so we departed to our hotel.

Now, my kids were happily watching a movie in the backseat, so they were unaware of what happened next. I should preface this by telling you that my GPS, which is probably the same one you have, reminds me very much of a Dalek from Doctor Who—its “RECALCULATING” sounds exactly as evil as “EXTERMINATE” and makes me laugh every time I take a wrong turn. I also may or may not repeat “RECALCULATING” in a Dalek voice every time it happens.

Now, my GPS always gets me where I’m going, but it often chooses the weirdest damn way in the world. In this case, instead of choosing a2 + b2 on two-lane and larger roads, the GPS sent me straight across c2—the hypotenuse, which in this case turned out to be a series of increasingly windy and snowy roads over a mountain on which there were NO other cars. If I’d had slinky college coeds in my car instead of damp tweens, it would have been EXACTLY like the beginning of a horror movie.

Perhaps the best part, however, was when I made a wrong turn and the GPS recalculated and I assumed it was sending me on a new route, but it was in fact sending me on the longest, most dangerous 11.2-mile u-turn I’d ever been on. I knew that Dalek GPS has been trying to kill me.

Fuck you, mean GPS. Fuck you.

(start at the bottom) Fuck you, mean GPS. Fuck you.

That done, we finally got to the hotel, which was the best hotel in the history of hotels, but notable mostly for the fact that it had an indoor swimming pool in which my kids spent HOURS.



Also making this hotel notable was that they offered free hot chocolate in the lobby and a microwave in the room, which made an excellent combination for Quinn, who warmed up his one cup of hot chocolate many times over the course of the evening.

It's even more delicious if you get to operate machinery to prepare it.

It’s even more delicious if you get to operate machinery to prepare it.

I tell you, we got our money’s worth out of that hotel. We swam evening and morning, ate sooooo much breakfast, and checked out a half hour before we were kicked out. It was an excellent choice to stay overnight.

The other thing that made it an excellent choice to stay overnight was that Luray’s hedge maze was open the next day. I think that my kids were more excited about the hedge maze than the caverns, so I was glad that we were able to head back. It was substantially more crowded that day, which lends more credibility to my new “go to busy attractions on terrible weather days” theory.

The hedge maze at Luray is huge and awesome and has four goals and a center fountain for you to find so you’re not just wandering around aimlessly. Once everyone got yelled at once (by me) for running off in separate directions, Team Stimey stuck together and eventually we made our way through.


What could possibly go wrong?

The maze was actually really hard. Especially considering said maze was kind of an asshole.


This totally outraged Quinn.

Luray also has this new thing called Ropeland or some such where they harness you up and send you into a…well, a ropeland. It was really cool. There were three levels, one of which was crazy high. That is the one Quinn got tangled up in and had to be rescued from. Naturally.

Quinn looked so extremely put out by this situation.

Quinn looked so extremely put out by this situation.

Sam went up and came down almost immediately because it hadn’t occurred to him beforehand that he is afraid of heights. Jack, per usual, was fearless.

This is on the middle section.

This is on the middle section.

After Ropeland, we headed back toward Maryland. I had planned a stop at Dinosaurland and was considering one more stop, children permitting, but we only made it to the first stop. Did I mention that Quinn had a time limit? Yeah. It expired almost immediately after arriving at Dinosaurland.

Regardless, I did get this most excellent new Facebook profile photo.

You'll never, on the concrete again!

You’ll never go…um, on the concrete again!

Also, it turns out that my kids are surprisingly resistant to standing in front of giant fake dinosaurs and pretending to be scared of/running from/being eaten by said dinosaurs.


This was SO halfhearted on his part.


THIS is how you do it. (Also, I don’t know why a praying mantis is at Dinosaurland. Also, also, I don’t think this is a “life-size replica” as advertised.)

When all was said and done, though, the way I knew that we were really done with Team Stimey’s Fantabulous Spring Break Adventure is when I started to feel like this:


When you’re standing in front of a pile of trash and a mini-bulldozer with this expression on your face while watching your kid sit in a giant King Kong hand, you know you’re done with your day-o-fun.

(I just realized that I can’t NOT show you the King Kong photo. Here it is. You are welcome.)

I call them Surly and Surlier.

I call them Surly and Surlier.

The End. Come on back next year for Team Stimey’s Incredible Adorable Allegorical Spring Break Adventure II.

Stimey’s Guide to Life, Part I

I’m not very good at life. I mean, sure, I bumble through with a fair amount of humor and joy, but I’m not very good at planning things in an adult manner. While most of you are flying, I am like Buzz Lightyear: I am falling with style.

My kids’ spring break starts tomorrow. Naturally, I was sitting around this afternoon making travel plans…for tomorrow. No better time to plan for a vacation than the day before, right? And no better time to plan car travel than right smack dab in the middle of a freak late-March winter storm.

I can’t even claim that I didn’t know the storm was coming because I planned the stupid trip the day before.

Also, we’re going to an outdoor destination.

I’m the best at this stuff.

It’s going to be me, my three kids, outdoor activities, a hotel with a pool, and an ADVENTURE! We’ll be back Tuesday…hopefully.

p.s. Next time Alex is all, “Hey, do you want to take the kids to Key West over spring break?” remind me to not be such a rigid moron that I refuse to consider it.