All the Fun Things, Wisconsin Version, Part I

Now that we’ve been home for a month, I think I’m just about ready to write about it. Finally. I am mostly doing this because the last time I told Alex I’d written a post he looked so hopeful and said, “About vacation?” so now I HAVE to write about it, but if you are interested in hearing aaaaaalllllllll about our vacation, please do follow along.

When last we left our intrepid vacationers, Team Stimey had arrived at the shore of the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan. Alex has a wonderful and generous aunt and uncle who have a home on the beach there and they were lovely enough to let us stay there. And when I say right on the beach, I mean Right On The Beach.

Photo of a sandy path leading down to an expanse of water. You can see three tiny shapes in the water.

I was right next to the porch when I took this photo of my munchkins in their happy place—a freshwater beach.

Alex and I were pretty happy there too.

Photo of Alex and I sitting on the beach smiling.

We were slightly more afraid of the freezing cold water than our children were.

Both of us did work our way up to swimming with the kiddos. I have to say that they’re a little more aggressive with their splashing and shoving around of my inner tube (with me in it) while humming Ride of the Valkyries than I would care for.

Photo of my feet hanging over the edge of my inner tube. All that is visible in the photo other than my fee it water aand sky.

I still got my chill on though.

We didn’t just do that though. We did everything that was fun. Really. Everything. See below.

Inner Tubes!

I mentioned that my children used me as a battering ram while I was trying to float around in my inner tube, but they were used for lots of other things as well. In an example of perfect synchronicity, our hosts had exactly three inner tubes, giving us plenty of opportunity to do tricks…

Photo of Alex holding an inner tube with Jack jumping through it.

Just like a porpoise!

lounge…

Photo of Jack wrapped in a towel and sitting in an inner tube on the beach.

Cozy.

carry them around…

Photo of Jack walking down the beach carrying an inner tube.

It was really nice of our hosts to have only photogenic water toys.

and be a vehicle for the Elusive Meowmere.

Photo of Jack lying stomach-down in an inner tube.

Or at least that is what Jack called himself. I’m not entirely sure what a Meowmere is, but apparently it is rare.

Cats!

Because we didn’t want to travel in a minivan full of five cats, three of whom don’t get along in an incredibly violent way, we had to leave our cats at home (and one at a boarding facility—see above about violence). Fortunately, our first destination came with a cat, because you really don’t want to go cold turkey on something like that.

Photo of a gray cat sitting next to Quinn's stuffed cat. Sam's head is poking in from the side.

Said cat did NOT care for Quinn’s stuffed replica of Oreo. Said cat hissed loudly at Quinn’s stuffed replica of Oreo and then didn’t go near it again.

Strawberry picking!

We headed to a pick-your-own strawberry field shortly after arriving, mostly as a cautionary tale for all the families with younger kids that were there.

Photo of Sam standing in a strawberry field.

Sam picked one strawberry at a time and then tossed them carelessly toward our collection box.

To the other families, we were all, “Here’s a grim vision of your future,” as Sam loudly told us how if he’d planned our vacation, we would have toured a series of Hot Topic stores in the northern Midwest instead of doing something ridiculous like picking fruit that he doesn’t even want to eat in the hot sun gawd mom you’re the worst.

And then Jack, in a move that really pleased every one of the young children quietly picking strawberries as well as their parents, put a strawberry in Alex’s pants and then announced loudly, “Dad! I put a strawberry in your pants!”

Photo of Quinn, Sam, Jack, and Alex in the field. Jack and Alex are squatting next to each other, but Alex is facing away from Jack.

See Jack eyeing Alex’s butt there? He had an agenda.

And then Alex took the strawberry out of his pants and put it in our collection box.

A grim, grim vision.

Quinn, the only one of our children who actually eats strawberries, worked hard to collect fruit.

Photo of a strawberry field with Quinn crouched in it.

He clearly sensed an opportunity to be “the good one.”

Assault!

Regardless of opportunities to humiliate their parents in front of their peers, the munchkins enjoyed their time at the beach more than anything—and not just for the swimming opportunities. It also gave them the opportunity to beat the shit out of each other.

Well. It gave Sam the opportunity to beat the shit out of Quinn’s head.

Seven different photos of Sam beating Quinn with an inner tube.

I kept trying to defend Quinn, but Quinn kept laughing and saying it was okay, so I was reduced to trying to tell Sam to just not whack him TOO hard in the head.

Fire!

Team Stimey doesn’t do vacations without fires, so it was fortunate for our hosts that they had a firepit so we didn’t have to burn their home down to make our s’mores.

Because we love fires so much, we make sure to practice vigilant fire safety.

Photo of Quinn by a metal-ringed firepit. He is very close to said firepit and is poking at the fire with a stick.

Like we didn’t let Quinn actually climb INTO the firepit.

Our first fire of vacation resulted in like, a hundred and eighteen photographs, including maybe the most emo photo I have ever taken or will ever take of Sam.

Photo of Sam with his hair over his half of his face ans looking sideways at the camera in a fire-glowing light.

Emo Sam says, “I feeeeeeeeeel things.”

Sometimes when you’re on vacation, you get sooooo relaxed that it is hard to maintain verticality.

Photo of Jack lying on his side wrapped in a blanket in the sand and the glow of the fire.

Can’t…muster…will…to…do….anything…but…eat…s’mores…please…prepare…one…for…me…

Grandma!

One of the benefits of vacationing in Wisconsin is that the kiddos get to spend a few days with their grandma, whom they adore.

Quinn sitting by the fire with Alex's mom.

Super cozy!

Mockery!

My little punk asshole of a kid not only took my spot and refused to get up, but he also made fun of me as he did it. Jerk.

Photo of Quinn sitting in a chair under a blanket, holding a book, and drinking a soda.

He was all, “Can you bring me another Diet Coke?” Jackass.

And the rest of the jerks in my family laughed and laughed and laughed.

Independence Day!

I know it doesn’t seem like we should have been on vacation on July 4th what with me just writing my recap now, but it’s true. The great thing about being on a vacation in a small town on the 4th is that you get to experience a Small Town Fourth™. We headed down to downtown Sheboygan to eat dinner by the waterfront where there were to be fireworks later that evening. In a happy cowinkydink, there was also a little carnival right there as well.

Photo of Sam and I. His head is on my shoulder.

You can’t tell from this photo, but this is Sam and I on a Tilt-a-Whirl before it started. I used to LOVE the Tilt-a-Whirl. Now it turns out that Tilt-a-Whirls nauseate me. Ask me how I know.

The kiddos really enjoy the carnival games where the carnies basically steal your money in exchange for letting you throw a projectile of some sort at a target. Sam and Quinn worked together to earn enough tickets to buy a gift for me just in case I was missing my cat Sharky.

Photo of Quinn holding a stuffed shark.

Finn spent the rest of vacation as our car dashboard lookout

Quinn had gotten a giant glow stick on the last day of school from a teacher and he carefully saved it for July 4th. Through some miracle, we remembered to take it on vacation and to the fireworks. The thing had a $1 price tag on it. Jack and Quinn played with it joyously, running around a field for a really long time. I need to buy more of those.

Photo of Quinn and Jack against a dark sky. They each have a hand on a large green glowstick raised above their head.

In rod we trust!

Sam also really loved the lead-up to the fireworks, actively participating in family activities and enthusiastically joining us in conversation—oh, wait.

Photo of Sam sitting in a dark field looking at his phone. The glow is lighting up his face.

Evidently this is the teenager version of a glow stick.

Cattails! Cows! Dead birds in the road!

The day after the fourth, our little cottage was a swirling sea of conflicting access needs, wherein Jack and Quinn were coming close to blows and Alex, who was trying to take a conference call, had that air about him that led me to believe if I didn’t take action that he would get in the car and drive away, abandoning his family for good.

Not wanting this to happen, I grabbed Quinn and headed out on a walk to see a pasture of cows I’d noticed on a run the day before. En route to said cows, we experienced ALL of rural Wisconsin.

We had a slow race with a tractor.

Photo of Quinn walking on the side of a road holding a cattail. In the background you can see a tractor.

It never caught us. But we didn’t catch it either.

We discovered what is inside cattails.

Photo of Quinn holding a cattail that he has broken open.

Regular ol’ plant innards.

We found a dead pigeon.

Photo of Quinn standing on a road looking at a dead bird.

Yep. Dead.

And then…the coup de grace…the cows.

Two photos 1) Quinn smiling happily 2)Quinn looking at a few cows.

I wish anything made me as happy as looking at cows makes Quinn.

On the way back, all we did was hitchhike.

Photo of Quinn with his thumb out next to a maroon van.

Fortunately it was our car.

German food!

Okay, so eating the German food was not super fun. I don’t know that eating German food is something I would want to do regularly. But! The waitress was telling us about some of the appetizers and she mentioned a giant pretzel and held her hands about a foot apart and Alex was all, “I don’t think we need that,” and I said, “No, no, no, we will be purchasing the giant pretzel,” and so we did and if you ask Jack what his favorite part of vacation was, he will say, “The giant pretzel.”

Giant pretzels!

Photo of a big pretzel with bowls of sauce on it.

Okay, it looks kinda big…

Photo of the pretzel. This photo includes Quinn in the frame, which shows how big the pretzel really is.

…okay, once you add Quinn for scale, THAT’S A GIANT PRETZEL!

It was super goddamn delicious too.

Concert/Embarrassing your first born!

I may have mentioned once or twice that Sam is super into music. One of his favorite bands is All Time Low and they happened to be opening for Blink-182 in Milwaukee when we were in Wisconsin. Sam convinced us to let him go and he decided that I should be the parent who took him.

Big mistake. Huge.

What’s worse than your mom going to a concert with you?

Photo of Sam and I in front of the venue. I have a big smile on my face and am giving an obnoxious thumbs up. Sam looks like he'd like to die.

This mom going to a concert with you.

I managed to calm down a little bit after that and worked hard on not embarrassing him too much. We ended up having a lot of fun at the concert, but I think I might have successfully gotten myself out of being the concert-attending parent.

Booze!

We drank all kinds of fun drinks on vacation. I’ve just really started to enjoy beer flights, partly because if you don’t like a particular beer, you can make your husband drink it and move on to another one and partly because you get to feel like a giant while you drink it.

Three photos 1) a beer flight 2) a fancy bloody mary 3) my beer and legs on the beach

I always really want to like Bloody Marys and I always end up disappointed. This one here was without a doubt the most beautiful drink I’ve ever had though.

Regarding that giant thing:

Photo of Alex drinking a beer from a big ceramic mug.

Normal-sized beer, normal-sized Alex.

But then…

Photo of Alex drinking a tiny glass of beer from a beer flight. Quinn is giving him bunny ears.

Tiny-sized beer, giant-sized Alex.

Goofing off!

IMG_6395

What? Were we supposed to abandon the leftover whipped cream just because we ran out of strawberry shortcake?

Family time!

IMG_6391

I guarantee you, there ain’t no five of us sitting around playing Yahtzee in Maryland.

Did I mention the beach?

My kids love the beach. My kids LOVE the beach. They played on the sand and in the water for hours and hours and hours. They were so purely happy that it made me so very happy just to watch them be happy.

Photo of Quinn sitting in the water right at the edge of the beach.

Quinn loves the water more than anyone.

Photo of Jack, Alex, and Sam building sand castles.

I don’t know what they like more—building sand structures or crushing sand structures.

Photo of my three kids running in the water.

I love how they all get along in the water. No bickering, just joy.

Photo of Quinn sitting in an inner tube and Jack standing behind it.

I don’t even know what they do out there. Sometimes Quinn just jumps up and down in the water. It’s weird and charming and totally happy.

Quinn drawing in the sand with a stick. He has written "save me."

Quinn brought home the stick he used to write this. It was one of his souvenirs. It’s in his room right now.

Photo of Jack in sun speckled water.

I just can’t get enough of photographing my kids in the water because they are so happy and beautiful.

These goofballs!

Selfie of all five of us in the water.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to take a selfie of five people while you’re floating in an inner tube in the bright bright sun? (Answer: hard.)

I’m going to stop here and continue the rest of our vacation tale in a subsequent post. I predict that will happen prior to Labor Day. Maybe.

Standard Transition Home Post

Team Stimey has arrived back home from vacation. Well, actually, we got back last weekend, but I’ve been a little discombobulated what with reentry to life and all, so I haven’t had a chance to write yet.

Two photos (1) Alex pushing a hotel luggage cart packed full of bags, pillows, sweatshirts, and backpacks (2) Jack carrying two empty soda cups and Quinn carrying his stuffed cat.

Checking out on our final day of vacation. I like this juxtaposition of what Alex had to drag to the car and what the younger children dragged to the car. Me, I carried my camera.

I have so many things to say about our vacation, but you know me and you know that it will take me some significant time to get a post together about it. That said, it’s always kind of weird to just transition from Vacation Posts to Home Posts without a transitional We Got Home Post, so this is that.

Our Wisconsin trip was really as close to perfect as you can get. We had lots of time to relax, but found enough fun things to do to keep us busy. We had enough cellphone reception and occasional wifi to keep us connected, but not enough to keep us from spending our evenings reading and at campfires.

It was warm enough to swim every day and not rainy enough to keep us from doing things, but it wasn’t this HOLY HELL WHAT TEMPERATURE IS THIS?! that Washington, DC evidently suffered through at the same time. We had plenty of family time and togetherness and bonding, but our kids are old enough that we didn’t have to spend every second on top of them.

We really couldn’t have asked for anything better. I mean, except for the fact that Alex started an affair with a cartoon on this trip.

Two photos: (1) Pokemon Go camera shot of Alex in bed with his arm around Pidgey (2) Pokemon Go camera shot of Alex at a bar with a margarita and Pidgey with a daiquiri

Every time I turned around, that fucking Pidgey was there.

The great thing about arriving home to Casa Stimey is that there were so many welcoming faces there to greet us. On our way home we picked up Ruby the cat at her boarding facility for furious felines and then drove home to hug our less angry cats there. There is also one remaining gerbil that I’d stashed at a friend’s house because I didn’t want him to die on my house sitter’s watch. I figured my friend was more emotionally prepared to deal with the death of an elderly gerbil, so I saddled her with that responsibility.

Photo of a white gerbil lying on his side looking dead.

He survived, although you wouldn’t know it from this photo.

Thanks to all of you for following along on my Facebook page. It was really fun to share our vacation with you. I fully understand how lucky I am to be able to take such a cool vacation with such a kickass family and I appreciate you sort of coming along with us.

#TheStimeysGoToWisconsin

Team Stimey is on vacation right now. Today was our first full non-travel day and it has been lovely. The last week, however, was HECTIC. Sam had camp that required, like, two hours of driving each day, Alex and I both had to fit in work, we all had various appointments, we couldn’t depart for vacation until after Sam’s 6pm on Friday concert…it was a rough week.

All of that resulted in us cramming the entirety of our vacation prep into Thursday evening and then two hours on Friday afternoon. We had most of our stuff packed by 2:30 or so on Friday. I left to drop Ruby off at her vacation spa (still can’t leave her unattended with the kittens—Ruby wants to DESTROY the kittens), which was a full half-goddamn-hour away. Alex used the time to frantically bake cookies.

Because we’re Team Stimey and we needs us some cookies.

Quinn sharpened lots of pencils for his drawing, I stacked rows of cat food and bowls for our housesitter, and Jack ate some cookies. We all did our part. Then we hit the road.

Photo taken of the interior of our car and showing Jack, Quinn, me, and also Alex with a goofy smile on his face.

We were ready for vacation! (As soon as we drove an hour to Sam’s camp. And then spent an hour listening to his concert. And then attending the post-concert reception. And then dropping off his bassoon with a friend to keep it safe.)

Sam kinda won the vacation prep lottery in that he had a really good excuse to not participate in any of it. But he did have to learn to play several songs on his bassoon, so he’s excused.

Sam behind a music stand poised to play his bassoon.

He was really good. One of his pieces moved Alex so much that he cried tears. Real tears.

Then we started the long, hard slog that is driving from Maryland to Wisconsin, by way of a stopover in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Do you know how long it takes you to get from Maryland to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio when you leave at 8pm on a Friday night?

Photo of the interior of my car. All three of my kids are flopped over asleep.

This long.

Alex drove the whole way. I defensively fell asleep for about an hour, not necessarily because I was tired, but because I didn’t want to be awake in the world anymore.

We pulled into our hotel at 1:18 in the morning, which is when I took the above photo. Not ten minutes later, Jack was in the hotel lobby leading a conversation about the original NES versus modern video game systems with the two desk clerks and the cop who was stationed in the lobby for some troubling reason. I really do enjoy that kid.

We all fell into bed, which felt really good. When we work up the next morning, we realized that we had the most scenic hotel in the entire world, what with this view out our window:

Photo of a river and a small waterfall.

It was hard to take a decent photo through the glass. Sorry.

I wanted to go on a run and the kiddos wanted to go swimming, which worked out well. I asked the waiter at breakfast if there was a walking or running path along the river and he told me there was a boardwalk just out the front door and to the right.

I headed out, found the boardwalk, and ran 0.12 miles until it ended. I’m not entirely sure the waiter understood what I wanted out of said path.

I continued running along the river, first on a sidewalk, then through a parking lot, and suddenly into a tire yard with no exit. Troubling.

I turned back the way I’d come and ran back past the hotel. At just about two miles I ran out of sidewalk and was going to go back to the hotel when I saw a trail and decided to run down it. I am so glad I did.

That trail was so quiet and pretty. It ran along the river, but above it atop a steep embankment. There were rock walls and trees and small waterfalls. It was absolutely gorgeous. I wanted to run far longer than I had time for, so I really tried to take it all in during the short time I had.

Two photos: 1)  a selfie of me on the ttrail 2) the trail with a rock wall on one side.

It was so pretty.

And then I tripped on a rock and took three or four giant steps to save myself from falling and almost flew right off the trail and down the slope. Which is why I don’t trail run in my normal life. I am a danger to myself and those around me.

Eventually I turned around and during my run back to the hotel on a flat, well-maintained sidewalk, I took a huge fall smack onto the sidewalk and the dirt beside it.

I am so embarrassing.

The rest of the day is a haze of bathroom stops and gazing out the car window. At one point Alex was all, “I forget how far away Wisconsin is.”

Ya think?

We didn’t arrive until almost 9 at night and it is a huge credit to my kiddos that they were such troopers and did so well. We are staying at a relative’s house on the shore of Lake Michigan, which is so wonderful. We took a quick trip down to the beach and then tossed everyone into bed. Although because Jack and Quinn had to share a bed, measures had to be taken.

Photo of a bed. There is a folded up blanket dividing it in two.

We had to establish a border. YOU SHALL NOT PASS!

It was all pretty worth it though. Today was kind of a perfect day. I intend to tell you more about it, but for now, I’ll give you my kids when they first hit the beach in their swimsuits this morning. There was all kinds of joy and that kind of happiness out of my kids will always be worth the hassle of a long road trip.

Photo of a sandy path down to a beach where you can see three small silouhettes against the expanse of Lake Michigan behind them.

Pure happiness, Wisconsin-style.

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!