Houston, We Have a Long Overdue Vacation Recap

My kids’ spring break was about two months ago. (When I started writing this post, it was only a month.) My family took the opportunity to visit my mom and stepfather in Houston. This is the story of that trip. It’s going to be really long. It’s mostly for my mom. Settle in.

On trips past, our day of travel has often been full of drama (and barf) and trauma (and barf) and stress (and still more barf). This time, there was one tension-filled moment after Sam bolted from the cab that took us to the airport to stand queasily over a garbage can, but after we filled him with lunch food and Dramamine, the rest of the trip was smooth sailing.

(We’ve learned some lessons about air travel with Team Stimey since our first expeditions. You can read about one such nightmarish expedition by clicking this here link or by Googling “stimeyland plane doritos barf.”)

I mean, sure, Quinn ripped a piece off of the airplane almost instantly upon sitting in his seat, but it didn’t seem totally necessary to the safe operation of the plane, plus we were able to reattach it pretty quickly.

Photo of Quinn reaching up to the air vent from his airplane seat.

I became aware that the plane was at risk when Quinn held up the ring that adjusts the air vent and said, “What do I do with this?”

Quinn didn’t remember flying on an airplane before. His palpable excitement and joy in taking off was super fun and infectious. When that kid is happy, he can light up a good three rows of airplane seats.

I don’t think there is anything quite as good as seeing your own kid be incredibly delighted by something. This plane flight was one of those things for Quinn.  Then we landed and it was my mom’s turn to be incredibly delighted by her grandchildren.

Photo taken of the back rwo rows of a minivan. In the center row sit my mom and I. In the back seat are Jack, Quinn, and Sam.

Smiles all around. (That’s my mom on the right.)

We flew into Houston the day before Easter and although we’re not big Easter celebrators, we *do* color eggs and eat chocolate, so there were some things we had to take care of instantly upon arrival.

Close up of Jack leaning on his elbows over a little cup in which a blue dye tablet is dissolving into vinegar.

The best part of dying eggs is obviously watching the dye tablets dissolve into vinegar. I think Jack agrees. He watched this for a long time.

We usually just color the eggs, each of us in our own way.

Three photos: 1. Jack staring deeply into a dye cup in which a dark blue egg sits 2. Quinn holding out a yellow egg. 3. Sam wearing a shirt with a big star on it staring at the camera.

1. Jack spent a reeeeaaaally long time on one egg. 2. Quinn worked hard on creating the special GOLDEN egg. 3. Sam whisked through his eggs, then stared at me derisively.

We experimented with actually eating and/or poking at the eggs as well this year.

Three photos: 1. Jack is exploring a couple of broken, smashed up hard-boiled eggs on a paper towel. 2. Alex's hands hold out an egg, broken in half. Jack is poking at it with his fingertip. 3. Close up of Quinn taking the tiniest bite ever of a hard boiled egg.

A couple of the eggs didn’t make it due to issues with their structural integrity. We may not have eaten them, but we definitely got our money’s worth through tactile exploration.

Also, there is actual proof of my being on this vacation because my stepfather (Richard) takes photos like I take photos, in that just like I take a lot of pictures, he does too, but his are high quality and well composed whereas mine are like this:

Photo of my stepfather holding a camera to his eye, mid photo-taking.

If you are impressed with a photo in this post, he probably took it. If it is merely functional, chances are it is mine.

This pretty much wrapped up our first day in Houston, except for a debacle involving a jacuzzi tub and waaaaay too much bubble bath. I would like to state for the record that said debacle was not my fault.

Easter morning brought many fun activities:

Photo of Sam, Jack and Quinn hunting for eggs in a backyard.

The customary egg hunt wherein at least one egg gets left behind to rot.

Candy eating.

[Photo not available, but trust me, it happened. Aaaall week.]

Photo of Quinn walking on a rectangle area rug.

Walking in circles on this most excellent rug that was placed as if it were meant just for walking in circles on it.

Sam and Jack peeling hard boiled eggs.

Fine-motor activities in the form of peeling eggs for egg salad. These eggs were extraordinarily difficult to peel.

Photo of Sam sitting on the floor in front of a giant gong.

Gonging. My mom had a whole story about how she acquired this gong in Indonesia, but I couldn’t hear it because, you know, Sam was hitting a fucking gong.

Before I carry on to the rest of our day, I need to tell you about this place that my mom and Richard go to ALL THE TIME. There is a state park near them where there are wild alligators and birds and other animals. They go there to walk and take photos a lot. Frankly, the possibility of seeing this place in person instead of just in photos posted on Facebook was probably 60-65% of the reason we chose to travel to Houston in the first place.

Mostly I wanted to meet this guy and all of his friends.

Photo of an alligator just a few feet from me on the shore of a river.

This guy came walking up the shore as Alex and I were walking by. It was pretty cool.

He had a lot of friends.

We ended up taking about a five-mile out-and-back walk, which was all well and good until Quinn decided at the 2.5-mile mark that he was DONE. Part of that had to do with the heat and that he was tired. And part of it had to do with the fact that we wouldn’t let him rip a shell off a turtle and take it home. We’re extremely unreasonable.

It was about this time that Jack lost steam as well.

Photo of my mom and Jack on a bench. Jack is lying down and my mom is staring off into the distance.

Evidently we’re not “Texas heat” kind of people.

They pulled it together though, which I assume you know because you are aware that I didn’t leave them out there with the alligators at mile marker 2.5.

Photo taken over the wooden railing of an elevated observation deck. I'm looking down at Sam who is looking up at me.

Although I did spend some time in the relative peace and quiet of an observation deck. Most of them didn’t have the energy to chase me. (Hi, Sam!)

Naturally, you don’t go wading and pet wild alligators. You do, however, go to the visitor center and pet baby wild alligators though.

Photo of a man's hand holding a very small alligator.

Isn’t he cute? This makes two baby alligators I’ve petted.

Then we went and got ice cream because that is also what you do. We ate a LOT of ice cream while in Texas. I’m not saying we bribed our kids, but that is one reason why Quinn and Jack aren’t still living with the alligators.

Photo of my mom and four boys hanging all over her grinning.

That’s my mom with my kids and their cousin, who also lives in Texas. He’s a cool kid.

The next day was Travel to the Ocean in Galveston Day and also Alex’s birthday. That was a good day. My kids love them some beach time.

Photo of me sitting in a chair on the beach, smiling. Sam and Jack are behind me, burying Quinn in the sand.

It was also the day we re-established that my kids have exactly the opposite sensory reaction to sand as me.

Quinn also tried to sneak up on some birds.

Photo of Quinn army crawling across the sand toward a flock of seagulls.

It did not work.

Alex had a good birthday and was served a way fancier dinner than he ever would have gotten at my house.

Photo of Alex, Quinn, my mom, Richard, me, and Jack at a dining room table. Sam took the photo.

I think that everyone even kept their shirt on, which isn’t a guarantee with my crew, although most of them were wearing pajamas.

I even gave him a small version of sad cone.

Photo of a small orange rubber cone in a plastic box. On it I've drawn a frowny face and the words "I am sad cone."

It’s supposed to be an iPhone stand, but that is not its Team Stimey Approved Function.

One thing I find amusing about traveling to new places is that people often go to the zoo. I find that amusing because animals are the same no matter where you are, but you still go to see the new ones in the new city.

On Tuesday, we went to the zoo.

The Houston Zoo is delightful. I mean, it’s a hundred million degrees even in April, but it is absolutely lovely. We saw otters and elephants and cheetahs and all kinds of great animals, but the best thing we saw, in a sort of gift from the universe, was this squirrel eating a chocolate chip cookie.

Photo of a squirrel eating a chocolate chip cookie.

Then Quinn tried to steal the cookie from the squirrel and the squirrel ran away. This sounds like I’m making a joke, but it really happened.

Quinn also found a goat he wanted to bring home as a pet.

Photo of a goat facing Quinn. Quinn is squatting in front of him, staring intently at him.

This goat.

I was all, “You can’t take that goat home; he lives here,” and Quinn was like, “Can you at least ask the zookeeper?”

I did not ask the zookeeper. With my luck they would have given us the goat.

You can’t spend every day on vacation chasing squirrels and birds and…hey, wait a minute. Maybe I should take a closer look at how much of Quinn’s time he spends chasing animals.

Anywho, we did spend some time relaxing as well. We took in a movie, we ran some errands…

Photo of Jack at the self checkout at Home Depot. There is a video camera over the monitor. Jack is taking a closeup of his finger.

I have absolutely no recollection of why we were at Home Depot, but I do enjoy Jack’s use of the self-checkout monitoring system.

We tested out a hair-containment system for Jack…

Profile photo of Jack witha  headband holding his hair back.

I loved it. He found it onerous.

We took advantage of more than one swimming pool in my family’s fancy community…

Photo of my three kids walking away from the camera on a step in a swimming pool. In the background is a lake and large lawns.

And because Houston-area children were all in school during Team Stimey’s spring break, we had very little competition for the pool.

We learned new things…

Photo of Richard showing Jack how to play the banjo.

How lucky were we to find not just a banjo, but someone who knows how to use it?

We played spin the bottle…

Photo of my three kids sitting around a table. Quinn is holding an empty plastic bottle.

The bottle landed on me every time. It was delightful.

Some members of Team Stimey discovered sopapillas…

Photo of Quinn eating a sopapilla covered in honey.

I would travel almost anywhere for a good sopapilla.

And we waged silent wars with vaguely threatening birds…

Photo of Alex gazing suspiciously at a bird who seems to be looking back at him.

There’s always a shifty looking bird around, isn’t there?

My mom and Richard are building a new house and we got to go visit it, which was really cool because construction sites are super fun!

Photo of Jack sitting on dirt in front of an unfinished house. He is picking at a big rock.

I can’t tell you how much I love Jack and the way he finds interest in very specific things.

I loved being able to see my mom and Richard’s vision for their house. It’s going to be beautiful. There is a bathroom in that house that I would sell a child for once it’s done. Not my child, but a child.

For now, though, it’s merely a neutral backdrop for a stunningly attractive family.

Photo of Sam, Jack, my mom, me and Quinn standing in dirt in front of a partially built house.

Look at that wacky bunch. (Photo © Richard)

Our last big outing was to Johnson Space Center, which was totally cool. I highly recommend going if you get a chance. You can do all the things that we did. We went to Historic Mission Control, which was super, super cool.

Jack standing in front of a glass window in front of mission control.

Here, Jack, stand in front of historic mission control.

Sam standing in front of a sign for mission control.

Here, Sam, stand in front of the historic mission control sign.

We went to see the Saturn V rocket, which is bigger than you can possibly imagine. It was so cool.

Photo taken from the bottom of the horizontal Saturn V rocket.

It’s in a huge building and I imagined that the rocket would be in there with some other stuff, but the only thing that fits in there is the huge-ass rocket. It’s really cool.

Photo of tiny Quinn in front of a huge circular engine thingy.

Here, Quinn, stand in front of the rocket. This is only one of five engines that launch this thing.

After our tour to mission control and the rocket, we ate lunch, which included a moon pie. This space center is probably the last place where they sell moon pies. (It didn’t really taste very good.)

After moon pies, we wandered around the exhibits for a while. We briefly lost Jack, which was heart stopping and terrifying. That kid is quick and sneaky. Fortunately we found him and quickly switched from a zone defense to man-to-man and no one else got lost. Something terrible did happen to Quinn though.

Photo of a big fake snake head. The snake head mouth is open wide. Quinn is inside reaching out as if he were being swallowed whole.

We’re going to miss him.

I was on Quinn, so I got some excellent photos of him in a variety of locales, but interestingly enough with the exact same expression.

Two photos. One is of Quinn in a giant chair. One is of him inside a giant mastadon jaw. In both photos, he has the same blank face.

He was happier than he looked.

And, yes, those are weird exhibits for a space center. I didn’t get it either.

We had a really good trip. My mom has lived in Houston on and off for a long time now and it was really great to finally get to visit her there. Plus, we had bonus relatives we got to hang out with. I’m really lucky to have such a wonderful family.

Photo of my family, my mom, Richard, my stepsister and her son standing outside a restaurant.

Big love to a big, wonderful family.

Phew. Thanks for sticking around and reading. As a reward I give you this photo of me and Alex where Alex was afflicted by some sort of painful eye injury that left him with one eye swelled almost shut. He was also afflicted with kind of an asshole of a wife who makes fun of him and then posts photos of it on the internet.

Photo of me and Alex. Alex has a big grin on his face and one eye squinted shut due to injury. I have one eye squinted shut just because.

File under “Alex, being a good sport, photos of”

Thank you Nana and Grandpa Richard. We had such a blast visiting you. Thank you for everything.

Photo of my mom and Richard.

Thank you both. We love you!

A Taste of Spring

The great thing about running a race in Florida in March is that you get to go to Florida in March and it will be warm and happy and also the only time ever that you will be grateful that it is humid.

Seriously, it was awesome.

I was with my friend Heather (of Disney fame) and my friend Lyda (of my trip to run a race in Florida fame) and we stayed at Lyda’s family’s house on the beach.

Photo of me with a big smile on my face. I am standing in front of the ocean.

It was TERRIBLE.

I kid. It was wonderful. And there were many exciting things about this particular beach.

Like this jellyfish… (and all the other dead jellyfish strewn all over the beach)

Photo of a jelly fish on the sand.

I touched it. Then I felt sad that it was dead.

And these shells…

Photo of a big pile of shells on the beach.

I didn’t collect any because I didn’t think my kids would want any and when I got home, Quinn was all, “Where are my shells?”

And this crab guy…

Closeup of the beach with some shells and a small brown crab.

He was an anomaly though. I only saw the one.

These adorable birds…

Some birds on the beach. There are sandpipers in there and maybe some other birds.

I think some of them are sandpipers, but I don’t remember if the sandpipers are the big ones or the little ones.

And pelicans!

A pelican flying through the sky.

I know this is a terrible photo and this pelican isn’t actually ON the beach, but IT IS A PELICAN AND PELICANS ARE COOL.

This stick family…

Picture of sand with five stick figures (my family) drawn in it.

It took me WAY longer than it probably should have to draw these stick figures.

Sand…

Selfie of me on the beach with a very grumpy look on my face.

I find sand to be very upsetting.

These goofballs…

Photo of my friends Heather and Lyda.

Hi friends!

All of that great beach stuff happened on Friday. Then on Saturday we had to run nine miles, like saps.

Photo of four women runners.

This is before the race. Please to notice our friend Holly who didn’t stay with us, but did run with us.

After the race, we ate everything that we could find in Jacksonville. And I made my friends pose with every weird animal sculpture we encountered.

Two photos. One of Heather posing with a brightly painted jaguar sculpture; the other of Lyda sitting on a brightly painted sea turtle.

My friends are good sports.

Sunday was Sightseeing Day, also known as Lyda Faces Her Fears Day. Seriously. We did everything that Lyda found frightening on Sunday.

We started by doing an elevated obstacle/zip line course over an alligator park. Also, it turns out that elevated obstacle courses are vaguely terrifying.

Photo of Lyda and Heather standing on a platform in a tree. I am walking up a series of "stairs" leading to the platform. The stairs are dangling from cables.

Can you see the terror in my posture? I can. Can you see how relaxed my asshole friends are on their stable platform? I can.

That said, courage is not about not being afraid, but keeping on even when you’re scared. ‘Round about halfway through the course I got my shit together and transitioned from terror to fun.

You know what is NOT terrifying though? Ziplines.

Photo of me mid-air on a zipline. I am making a happy face at a camera.

Holy hell that was fun.

After we finished the “45 minutes to an hour long” obstacle course that took us a good hour and a half to get through, we headed off to tour the alligator farm.

Photo of Heather and Lyda watching alligators in water from a wooden boardwalk.

For the record, Lyda isn’t afraid of alligators.

Photo of Heather crouched down with her head inside the open mouth of a fake alligator.

Neither is Heather.

No, the alligator is not real.

The alligators were cool, but I really enjoyed the hayseed tortoise they had there.

Photo of a giant tortoise with a piece of hay sticking out of his mouth.

It is *great* to be inside my head. I find myself to be extremely amusing.

There is a lighthouse near the alligator park and on our way out, Lyda was all, “Ha, ha, I assume you don’t want to climb the lighthouse,” and Heather and I immediately replied, “Yes. Yes, we do,” which was unfortunate, because Lyda doesn’t care for stairs you can see through.

Photo of me making a face as I lean out over a spiral 15-story staircase made of black metal stairs, each step of which is made of metal with round holes cut in them so you can see through them.

Fifteen floors, friends.

The lighthouse was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I like lighthouses. I think they’re neat.

Photo of a convex mirror. In it you can see a lighthouse reflected with me, Lyda, and Heather standing in front of it.

I bought a little wind chime model of this lighthouse. It makes me happy. I also bought some fudge in the gift shop. I don’t know why they had fudge, but who am I to question their logic?

Selfie from the top of the lighthouse.

This is me at the top of the lighthouse.

When I got to the top of the lighthouse, I found some tourists talking to a staff member about the efficacy of said lighthouse as a safe place during the zombie apocalypse. I’d found my people. Even if they thought zombies couldn’t climb stairs. (They obviously can. They’re just not very good at it.)

We left for the airport on Monday at the crack of damn dawn, but it was even kind of worth it because we walked out of the beach house to this amazing scene:

Photo of a hammock suspended between palm trees in a pool of light. The photo is otherwise dark except for a crescent moon in the sky and reflected on the ocean.

Note: the reality of this photo was about 800 times prettier than this picture.

Photo of an airplane wing in front of a sunrise.

Then on the plane, I annoyed the hell out of my window seatmate (Heather) by elbowing in front of her to take 17 photos of the sunrise.

That is our trip to Florida. We arrived back in Maryland to what suddenly felt like extremely cold and grim weather. I gotta say, I see the appeal of living in a tropical place. Spring is a-coming to Maryland finally, but it was really nice to get a little preview.

Thanks for putting us up, Lyda, and for suggesting the race. Thanks for putting up with me, Heather. You guys rock. I had a blast.

Stimey’s Guide to Handling Common Traveling Scenarios

Selfie of me in front of an airplane window. There is a plane visible out the window behind me.

My mom and I at the Ontario, Calif., airport. That’s me there in front. She’s in seat 23C.

I recently took an extremely quick fly-out-Friday-evening/come-back-Sunday-afternoon cross-country trip. My flights and airport experiences may have taken place over a short period of time, but they were no less educational for their swiftness.

Because I’m a helper, I’m going to compile those lessons into a helpful little document for you.

Scenario: You have only 45 minutes to catch your connecting flight and have no idea how far away your arriving plane will be from your departing plane. You are concerned that they will be in different terminals, or possibly different airports.

How to handle it: Flat out denial. Assume that both gates will be right next to each other. Be pleasantly surprised when they are. Feel sad when the second flight is delayed and you’ve wasted that sweet, short trip from gate B7 to B2.

Scenario: You have scheduled a flight that lands late enough at night for your airport pick-up to be annoyingly late. You then watch your connecting flight be late, making your late-evening pickup a late-night pickup.

How to handle it: Send an apologetic text to the kind people who are planning to pick you up. Start with, “Oh noes!” and end with, “Can you take a nap in the cell phone parking lot?” Then go buy yourself a lot of cookies to make yourself feel better. How the people picking you up make themselves feel better is their business.

Scenario: The (cookieless) people giving you a ride can’t find their way out of the airport area.

How to handle it: Sit quietly in the backseat of the car as the knowledge that it is too fucking late and too fucking dark to find the freeway slowly permeates the car. Try to be as unobtrusive as possible, which is difficult considering you are the reason for the entire misbegotten journey.

Scenario: On the return trip, your airport buddy wants to leave for the airport sixteen hours ahead of time “just in case something happens.”

How to handle it: Mock her mercilessly. If, against all odds, there is a long-enough freeway backup on your way to the airport that her 16-hour time cushion becomes necessary, eat every single one of your words. Prepare yourself for the inevitable telling and retelling (and retelling) of this story whenever she wants to go to the airport again. Forever. Damn you, semi truck that blocked ALL FOUR LANES OF THE FREEWAY.

Scenario: You’ve shared a ride to the teeny tiny Ontario airport with someone who has a 12:40 flight. You have a 4:40 flight.

How to handle it: See if you can patronize every store in the airport. Start at one end and buy a burrito for lunch. Walk aaaaaaaalllll the way to the other end to find the bathroom. Walk back to the other side to buy a bottle of water to take on the plane. Return to the restaurant you saw by the bathroom that offered free refills on fountain sodas. Sit in that restaurant, drink all the soda, and read an entire book. Saunter back past the burrito place to find a different bathroom and, eventually, your gate.

Scenario: No one on your flight seems to think “Bring your roller bags and duffel bags to the counter for a yellow valet ticket so we can check it during the flight because it’s a small plane and your luggage will not fit in the overhead compartment,” applies to them.

How to handle it: Watch (with your yellow valet ticket firmly attached to your bag) as passenger after passenger tries to take their roller bags and duffel bags onto the plane with them. Feel slightly superior for being a reasonable person.

Scenario: On your first flight into Phoenix, the burly, leg-twitchy man sitting next to you turns to you and asks, “Will the plane bounce a lot when it lands? I haven’t flown in a long time and I’m really nervous.”

How to handle it: This guy is reaching out for help. You are going to have to, oh god, chat with him. Assume that you’re supposed to calm him down by distracting him with small talk. Wrack your brain for anything to talk about that doesn’t involve a plane crash, which is, dammit, the only thing you can think about anymore. Ask him what he does for a living. If he tells you that he is a financial advisor, realize that you have ZERO follow up questions about such a career. Cover topics like, “How many kids do you have?” and “No, Baltimore is more than a two-hour flight from Phoenix,” and “Yeah, I actually do think it matters if you’re not wearing your seatbelt when you land and if you’re afraid of crashing, why aren’t you wearing it already?” Eventually land safely.

Scenario: Your flight landed late. It is 7:10. Your connecting flight starts to board at 7:10. You REALLY want to get to the bathroom before you board your plane, but your gate-checked bag hasn’t yet arrived on the jetway.

How to handle it: Clutch your yellow valet ticket as you start to shriek, “YOUR STUPID RULES DON’T APPLY TO MEEEEEE!” Contemplate elbowing your way to the front of line as you loudly explain, “No, you don’t understand. See, *I* have a flight to catch.” Thank the good lord when (1) your bag is one of the first brought to the jetway and (2) your bag is bright orange so you can see from the back of the line that your bag is one of the first brought to the jetway. Once you get your bag, run to the bathroom and speed pee.

Scenario: You bought a cheeseburger in California. You want to eat it over Nebraska. How do you do so without succumbing to the airplane food awkwardness of eating food that no one else has?

How to handle it: Make a three-quarters turn toward the window and snarf the burger. Probably spill ketchup on yourself. Again, feel vaguely superior for having thought far enough ahead to buy that food in California.

Scenario: You drank sooooo much soda in California that you can’t fall asleep on your late-night flight.

How to handle it: Weep quietly.

Scenario: Your plane lands in Baltimore at 1:51 am.

How to handle it: Feel pleased that you thought to leave a can of soda in the car you parked at the airport as a caffeinated treat to greet you on your arrival. Feel less pleased when you pop that sucker open on the interstate on the drive home, only to have it explode all over your car, leaving only a chunk of frozen soda that won’t come out of the can hole. Coin the term “sodasplosion.” Sacrifice a t-shirt from your luggage to clean your car.

Scenario: Arrive home at 3 am.

How to handle it: Fall into bed, happy with both the good parts of the trip and the fact that the travel part of it is over. Try hard not to think about your alarm going off in three and a half hours.

Mile Zero, Smile Eight Million

I’m determined to write a post about Alex and my trip to Key West (Mile 0 of US Highway 1, as every trinket for sale in the area points out), even as day after day passes and our vacation gets further away. We went there to celebrate our 15th anniversary, even though said anniversary was at the end of May, otherwise known as the Moving Freakout Era.

My mom came into town to watch our kids for us. I suggested that she take notes on how her week with the munchkins went so I could make it a post, but she didn’t do that so instead of a hilarious post about what it’s like to take care of Team Stimey Junior, this post about enjoying five days away from Team Stimey Junior will have to do.

If you are on Facebook and you are so inclined, you can see my annotated photo album of pictures from our trip on my Stimeyland page. Please don’t judge me if you see repeats of jokes from this post over there. I only have so much humor in me.

Alex and I flew into Ft. Lauderdale on a Monday morning. We had a long day driving south from there and all the way out to the keys, a drive made longer by a traffic jam caused by a car accident on literally the only road in or out of the area. We didn’t get to our hotel and settled in until nearly dinnertime, so we eagerly jumped in a hotel shuttle to the downtown area to find a restaurant.

Before dinner, however, there was something I had to do. I needed to try to fit in with all the other tourist ladies by immediately purchasing a large sun hat.

Photo of me wearing large sunglasses and a big green sunhat.

It seemed the thing to do.

I was pretty sure I was supposed to buy a hat, but I was worried that I would buy the wrong hat. I told Alex that I shouldn’t just buy the first hat I saw. But then I saw this hat and I like that color green and it cost a mere twelve dollars and I was all, “How can you go wrong with a twelve-dollar hat?”

It turns out that twelve-dollar hats will rapidly start to disintegrate and shed parts and you really can go wrong with a twelve-dollar hat, but it served its purpose in that it kept the sun off of my face and I was able to talk to Alex ad nauseum about my hat, so I guess in the final tally, I didn’t really go wrong.

Our trip rapidly turned into punctuating our long, leisurely meals with sightseeing and wandering up and down Duval Street. We set the tone with our first night dinner at nine one 5, a very delicious and fun restaurant that we sort of randomly picked. Alex ordered some sort of snapper dish and the waiter told him that the snappers were small that day, so he’d get two instead of just one. We, naturally, imagined two small fish on a plate.

Oh. Not so.

Photo of two giant fish on a plate along with Chester, my stuffed mouse.

Chester is there for scale.

The best thing though is that not only did I laugh uproariously when Alex’s giant dinner arrived, but an adjacent table of four men also laughed hysterically at Alex, causing Alex to protest that, “No! I swear! I didn’t order two giant fish! The waiter brought them! It wasn’t me!”

Maybe you had to be there, but when strangers join you in mercilessly mocking your husband, it totally makes your night. At least it made mine. It was great.

It was even better when Chester got drunk and wore one of the fishes as a hat.

Chester with one of the fish heads resting on top of his head.

Chester is so embarrassing.

We then boarded the shuttle back to the hotel just as the young people were arriving in town to party for the night. Alex and I both slept eleven hours that night. I don’t think that has happened for…ever.

Tuesday was our heavy sightseeing day. We started by going to the Hemingway House, where Ernest Hemingway lived in the 1930s. Obviously we went because Hemingway was an amazing writer and it was very cool to visit his home, learn about him, and see where he wrote his most famous books.

Two photos: one is me standing in front of a small building surrounded by people; the second is the interior of the building. A room with a table, chairs, and typewriter at the center. There is a taxidermied gazelle head mounted on the wall and various other decorations.

Here is me standing in front of Hemingway’s writing studio, followed by a photo of the studio itself. That must be why I haven’t written the great American novel yet—not enough dead animals on my walls.

Let’s be honest here though. The real reason we went to the Hemingway House is because of the cats. Evidently Hemingway was big into cats, specifically polydactyl (more toes than normal) cats. He kept a bunch of them in the ’30s and they still have a whole lot of them (48!) there now.

There were cats everywhere. There was a cat on Hemingway’s bed. There was a cat in Hemingway’s studio. There was even a cat hanging out in the ladies bathroom, which I presume was never Hemingway’s.

A brown, orange, and white cat sitting on a brick pathway surrounded by greenery.

Cats like this one. Hello, cat.

Fortunately, I do have a lot of cats, so maybe that great book is in me somewhere. We made a point of telling our tour guide that we used to have a polydactyl cat, as did every other person on the property who had ever owned, petted, or heard of a many-toed feline.

The tour guide was unimpressed with our cat story.

We wandered around some more and did more touristy things. We saw a lighthouse, so naturally we paid $10 each to climb to the top. Because why wouldn’t we pay good American money to climb 88 tiny, metal, spiral steps in billion-degree heat and humidity? At least the view was pretty.

We rewarded ourselves with more food, drinks, and Chester shenanigans.

Four photos: Chester sitting on a drink served in a pineapple, with paper umbreallas and chunks of pineapples sticking out of it; Chester sitting with a shrimp tail on each hand; Chester drinking a margarita out of a straw, Chester on his back near a margarita.

There is nothing more absurd than Chester on a bender.

We had such a lovely day. Probably every half hour or so, Alex or I would say, “Wow! We could never do this if our kids were here!” We missed the hell out of our munchkins, but seriously, we would have walked five feet in the heat and Quinn would have fallen to the ground in agony, Jack would have taken off after one of the wild chickens, and Sam would have tried to micromanage his brothers until a fist fight broke out in the streets.

We could have had a great trip with our kids, but, damn, it would have been different. We never get to just walk around and wander in and out of shops and attractions. We left the hotel that morning with no set plan. I cannot remember the last time we did that. It was so fun.

We ended our evening at a restaurant called Better Than Sex that only featured dessert, each dish served with a double entendre. It was hilarious and fun for us, especially when a mom, dad, and their two kids came in and read the menu. “Look, white and sticky,” the mom read off the drinks menu as the dad shot her a look. Alex and I ate our Jungle Fever and Cookie Nookie and giggled.

Alex and I had spent a lot of time on Tuesday debating whether we should go on a snorkeling boat trip. Our pros list included items such as, I bet it would be fun! and Fish are cool! and We might feel like bad tourists if we don’t at least touch the water! Our cons list mostly included one item: Goddamn, going snorkeling sure does seem like a lot of work.

It turns out that going snorkeling mostly involved putting on a swimsuit and paying $39 each to get a boat ticket, so that is what we did on Wednesday.

First though, we had to eat a lot of food, wander through a bunch of shops, and visit the Key West aquarium where I took this awesome photo.

Photo of Alex looking into an iguana enclosure with his hands hooked into the wires. There is an iguana to his left looking out of the enclosure with his feet hooked into the wire. Their poses mirror each other.

The greatest thing is that even though Alex is totally mirroring the iguana to his left, he didn’t even see that guy until I pointed him out.

We were going on an afternoon snorkel trip, so we headed out at about 3:30 on a boat headed to a reef.

Selfie of Alex and me. I'm wearing my hat.

Who is that rocking the awesome sun hat?

In case you haven’t figured this out about me yet, I like to take photos. So, after we had checked in for our boat ride, I took a special interest in the disposable waterproof cameras at the shop next door. The only problem was that they used, ugh, you know, actual film, which involves something like thirty steps to actually develop, look at, and share, leading me to believe that I would never actually successfully utilize those photos. Thinking this way led me to shift my gaze six inches to the left where the shop was selling $20 waterproof cases for iPhones.

What could be the harm in putting an extremely expensive piece of electronic equipment in an untested plastic bag and tossing it into the ocean?

No harm! I decided.

Happily, not only did the case work perfectly, but it helped me capture such important and flattering memories such as this one:

Selfie of Alex and I wearing our snorkel masks and breathing thingies. Alex's eyes are closed and my forehead is wrinkled and I look extremely concerned.

YOU try to take a selfie while floating in the ocean with a tube in your mouth and a sheet of plastic over your face, why don’t you?

Happily, my very first test shot captured something better. I don’t even think I was aiming the camera when I took this one.

Photo of the boat silhouetted against the sky. The sun is centered exactly behind the mast of the boat.

It almost looks intentionally framed.

We spent about 45 minutes in the water looking at fish and swimming around the reef. I saw some sort of ray (stingray? manta ray? bat ray? who knows?), which was very cool. Alex swallowed some seawater, making him barf a little, and then he got to watch all the little yellow fish who came swarming up to eat it.

What? We are Team Stimey. Do you think no one threw up on this trip?

Our boat ride back coincided with both the sunset and a storm rolling in. Even the boat crew was impressed by the sky.

Photo of the sunset behind boats floating on the water. The setting sun is at the left of the photo with a big cloud bank piling up on the right.

If I actually knew how to take sunset photos, this one would have been amazing.

On Thursday, we were driving north out of the keys so we could visit the Everglades on Friday before we got on our plane home, but before we drove off-island, we tooled around a part of Key West we hadn’t explored before, including the southernmost point on the continental United States.

Alex and I standing on opposite sides of a large marker declaring us at the southernmost point in the continental United States. The ocean is behind us. Cuba is 90 miles away.

We also went to the southernmost gift shop. Where I bought a toothpick holder.

We visited a wildlife refuge, waded in the water a little bit, walked through the Key West AIDS Memorial, and checked out a botanical garden housed in an old Civil War fort.

We found the wildlife refuge because I was attracted by a cluster of wild chickens in a parking lot. Did I mention the wild chickens? There are wild chickens walking all over Key West. It is charming as hell. I kind of wish there were chickens everywhere. Although the cluster of chickens in the wildlife refuge parking lot were actually gathered around the corpse of one of their own. That is, I suppose, the downside of wild chicken herds.

Also seen at the wildlife refuge:

A bird stands outside an open door. There is a chalkboard on the door  that says, "Please knock. If you need help call xxx-xxx-xxxx."

Seems like kind of a dick move to ask the bird to call for help when he doesn’t even have a dialing finger.

It rained on and off Thursday morning, which was good timing for us. Not only were we not doing anything that required clear skies, but the rain turned the ocean all kinds of amazing colors.

Photo of a palm tree in front of the ocean, striped with different colors of blues, browns, and greens.

We won’t discuss the smell of the ocean and sea grass and what not.

On our way out of the keys, we stopped at a state park to eat the Cuban sandwiches we’d bought for lunch. Because we were there, we decided to take a swim in water that turned out to be SO nice and SO warm that we never wanted to leave.

Another selfie of Alex and Jean, this time in the ocean.

This is a photo of happy.

Friday morning we were scheduled for a trip to the Everglades before heading back to Ft. Lauderdale to catch our flight home. I had been to the Everglades briefly in 1998 and had always wanted to go back. We took a fan boat tour, learned a little bit about alligators, and saw some local wildlife (turtles! fish! alligators! dragonflies!). I still want to go back and see some more.

Photo of the Everglades. There is water with the sky mirrored in it separated by grass and a hummock with trees on it.

If you wonder why I still want to go back, just look at this photo.

There is something about the Everglades that I just really think is super appealing. Also, I got to hold a baby alligator named Snappy, and that was pretty cool.

Me holding a small alligator in my hands.

I was expressly instructed not to kiss the alligator, which was fortunate, as once he was in my hands, all I wanted to do was kiss him and snuggle him.

In the van on the way to our tour, we saw an alligator in a canal by the side of the road. It was upside down and kind of puffy looking. “It’s sunning itself!” said our tour guide.

I don’t think it was sunning itself.

We had woken up at the ungodly hour of seven-something (Can you imagine? Before 8? Waking up with an alarm clock?) to go on our Everglades tour, so naturally we requested a late checkout and took a nap before we checked out of our hotel and went the airport.

We had such a wonderful time. I think my mom is lucky we came home at all. Although, frankly, we did miss our kids. Our trip was the perfect amount and type of time away.

When Alex had originally suggested this trip, I did what I always do when someone suggests I leave my house, be it for an evening out or an extended trip away from home and responsibility: I internally panicked and then started listing reasons why it would be impossible to make it happen.

I’m so glad that this time I listened to Alex and to other people who were encouraging about my going. When we originally made the plans, we weren’t planning on buying a house. When we got on the plane, we had moved and were mere days away from putting our old house on the market. If ever there were a vacation where my lists of reasons I couldn’t leave home were valid, it was this one.

But we went. And it was so necessary. Having five days with no responsibilities was exactly what both Alex and I needed after all the stress we’d endured for the prior two months. Thanks to my mom for watching my kids in such a spectacular fashion and thanks to Alex for forcing me out of my comfort zone into a wonderful week that was sorely needed.

I’m a lucky girl.

Photo of Alex and Jean on their snorkel boat in front of the sunset.

Happy 15th anniversary, Alex! I love you!

Coming Home and the Presentation of Souvenirs

It’s funny, because usually when I’m on vacation, I find time to post here. I think that’s because I am always back in a hotel room by 8:30 to put my kiddos to bed and then I have to sit in the dark with nothing but my computer to entertain me as they go to sleep. It turns out that if you go on vacation without your kids, you can do things like stay out until midnight and then go to bed as soon as you get back to the hotel.

In related news, did you know that there is still a midnight?

In more related news, yes, I am aware of how lame I am for being impressed that I was out and about with the living people after eleven in the pm.

Also related, Jesus Christ, I am so glad I don’t go to bars late at night. Just walking past them was enough for me.

Anywho, Alex and I have returned from our five-day trip to Key West. In case you want a reminder of exactly how pathetic we are, that was our first trip without our kids since before Sam was born. In other words, about 13 years.

Don’t worry though. Much as we may have considered it, we didn’t just abandon Team Stimey Junior to Minecraft and their own devices. My mother came into town to take care of them. She didn’t let on, but she was suitably apprehensive. After all, as an old friend of hers said, “DON’T YOU READ HER BLOG?!”

She shouldn’t have worried. They got along swimmingly.

Photo of my three kids sitting on the couch with my mom. Jack is slightly blurry. All are smiling and look very happy.

I’m not sure that Jack ever stops moving long enough to be completely not blurry.

Although let’s be honest. I think we all know that my kids didn’t sit around compliantly all week. My mom definitely worked hard.

A photo of my kids and mom in the same spot as before, but this time their limbs are thrown about and they are laughing and wild.

Yes. That looks right.

I can’t wait to tell you guys about our trip because it was awesome. We had so much fun. I took seven million great photos. We laughed and snorkeled and drank out of pineapples.

But tonight I am preparing to go back to work tomorrow and it is also Jack’s first day of camp and my mom left this afternoon, so I am going to hold off on telling you about all of that and instead, I will sit here by my cat and regale you with stories about our alcohol-fueled metal sculpture souvenir-buying extravaganza.

I think my mom was nervous when I called her to get her mailing address because it wasn’t in my phone and then texted her a photo of the souvenir I’d purchased for myself.

Photo of a metal, multi-colored rat. He is about a foot tall and oh so very garish.

I call him Hemingway. He is so fucking awesome. And, yes, I was also baffled that no one else had already bought him. Weirdly, the shopkeeper seemed thrilled to sell him, offering us a deep discount.

“Yours is more dignified,” I told my mom via text.

Also, it was a pelican.

Photo of a metal pelican standing on a metal post. He's probably three feet tall and a rusty bronze color.

I would name him Rusty, but who knows what my mom will call him.

I’m pretty sure she’s going to place him right inside her front door so it’s the first thing visitors to her home see. She used an appropriate amount of enthusiasm when I eventually showed her a photo, so I think she likes it.

In other news, I have a metal sculpture-buying tip for you: As you put more and more giant metal statuary on the shop counter, discounts will get increasingly larger and the salesperson’s face will get increasingly happier. You might then choose to buy one sculpture for each of your children instead of one for the three of them to share.

Whereas for my mom, we were looking for something a reasonable adult would put in a home, we had no such criterion for our children.

Photo of a round-bodied monster on tall, thin legs. Its predominant features are it's buggy eyes and giant teeth. He's also carrying a hockey stick.

That’s why we got this hockey-playing monster who tried to eat Chester for Jack.

Jack’s most excellent response upon seeing this guy was, “LOL. He’s like me.”

He then took him to his room to find a spot for him. Jack reported back that “he’s trying to eat my bedroom.”

Photo of the monster with several of Jack's toys in its mouth.

Jack. That kid totally gets Alex and me.

Sam got the cat version of my rat. Said cat is pretty hilarious.

Photo of a multi-colored metal cat.

Honestly, his was probably the most dignified non-pelican that we purchased.

You’ve probably already guessed that we got Quinn a cat as well, but you may not have guessed that we got him a Slinky Cat. He’s hilarious.

Photo of a metal cat. His body is a long metal spring.

Slinky Cat has the benefit of being poseable. He can sit or stand. (He chooses to stand.)

Clearly, Alex and I are pretty delighted with our souvenir purchases. Fortunately, our recipients seem to be equally enamored.

I hope you all enjoy them as well. Thank you for indulging me. You may now carry on with the non-metal sculpture related parts of your life.

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:

forest

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!