How to Choose a Christmas Card Photo

I addressed most of my Christmas cards last night. As a result, my hand is cramped into an unfortunate claw position. Rest assured though that if your last name starts with one of the first letters of the alphabet, your address will be legible and delivered correctly.

I cannot make the same promise for you Zs. In fact, anyone Winegardner or later stands a good chance of having their card misdelivered due to an address written with a highly suspect claw-shaped pen grip.

In case you’re wondering, this was Alex’s contribution to the holiday card endeavor:

Photo of Alex licking an envelope.

I always make Alex lick the envelopes. This year he was all, “Can’t you help?!” as if he were being put upon to do the lion’s share of work. I think my expression gave him all the answer he needed.

Clearly if I sent out cards, I managed to take a photo worthy of being put on the card. (Operating under the assumption that I always put a photo on the card, which I do.) That photo was not easy to obtain. I looked through an entire year of photos of my three kids and couldn’t find one that met my high standards (read: three children, no one crying).

Dammit. Time to take a photo.

The resulting photo shoot took two evenings, one meltdown, the decision to eliminate flash photography for sensory reasons, and me shouting, “CAT BUTT!” to make my kids laugh.

Still, it was a struggle.

Photo of my three kids. They are all making faces and it looks like Sam is trying to strangle his brother.

And this was when they were in a good mood.

Even though my kids aren’t always cooperative for group photos, I did have some other options to consider.

There was the gerbil substitution:

Photo of three of my gerbils gathered around a seed bell.

Hand one of them a flute, put an Xbox controller in another hand, and you’d never be able to tell that they’re not my human children.

There was the absolutely hilarious cat photo option:

Photo of a light-up snowman decoration, in front of which is Ruby the cat peering into the camera lens.

I especially love that you can see a second cat in the background clearly wondering what the hell the new floor lamp is all about. (That’s a snowman by the way.)

There was the first-night pre-meltdown photo session option:

All three of my kids. Sam looks all right, but Quinn's eyes are closed and Jack has wet and wild hair.

I only managed to take two photos that night before the whole system broke down, for which I take full responsibility.

There was the hand-drawn option:

Drawing of three stick figures sitting on a couch. Underneath it says "I love you mom —Sam"

This is actually kinda my favorite.

There was the festive but not super flattering Santa photo:

Photo of my three kids sitting with Santa. No one looks particularly good in it, including Santa.

I love that Santa and Quinn have the exact same grimace-smile.

There was the “my family can’t make funny faces if only the backs of their heads are in the photo” option:

Photo in which Alex and two of my kids are faced away from the camera, peering out of a tiny window. I am facing the camera with a big smile on my face.

This was inside the Washington Monument. Quinn was huddled as far away from the window as he could get.

And then there is probably the best option, the one that I dare any of you to find fault with:

Photo of a couch on which no one is sitting.

Not a funny face anywhere to be seen.

None of these actually ended up on the card, which some of you will be getting in the mail and some of you will be seeing posted here on Christmas.

And now that that is done, I begin my quest to take a suitable photo of all three of my children for next year’s card. I’m not kidding. It’s a twelve-month process. Wish me luck.

Race Report: Bourbon Chasers*

* Bourbon is totally gross, by the way. Also, distilleries smell bad. I think maybe the bourbon part of this race was lost on me.

It is (finally, jeez) time for me to tell you about the Bourbon Chase, the relay I ran earlier this month with 11 other people. If you aren’t into reading the whole race report, I can tell you that we finished all 200 of our miles in 32 hours, 36 minutes, and 43 seconds.

This is a link to a short video of us crossing the finish line. LIKE BOSSES. (You have to sit through a quick ad first.)

And here is a photo of Team MLC after we finished:

Photo of the 12 members of my team posing for a photo after we crossed the finish line. We're all wearing neon green shirts and medals.

This is a really good group of people. I felt really proud to stand with them.

That was the short version. The long version lies ahead.

It’s hard to recap a race like this because the team is divided into two vans that don’t spend a lot of time together, so I will leave out at least half of the story. Not to mention that all twelve members of the team undoubtedly have their own stories that are nothing like mine. But I have my story, so that’s what you’re a-gonna hear.

The story starts after I arrived in Kentucky with several of my teammates and we headed to the grocery store to buy food for the vans, including soda and peanut M&Ms. You know, because we’re all about fueling properly.

Because I’m an athlete with total body awareness, the first thing I did was hurt myself getting out of the van. Aaaand someone caught it on camera.

Me getting out of a big white van. I have very clearly just banged my head on the door during my egress.

How I don’t have at least one broken bone at all times I will never understand.

The relay started in Louisville, where they had a night-before party. Said party took place under a bridge.

Photo of Chester wearing a small race bib and posed in front of a concrete banner reading "Louisville," which is under a bridge.

This was early in the evening. Chester is an early partier. More people showed up later.

I had a whole bit I was going to write about hors d’oeuvres and how it’s rare to be served them under a bridge and stuff, but then it turned out that it was too hard to figure out the pluralization and spelling of hors d’oeuvres, but “appetizers” didn’t sound as funny, so you’ll just have to make do with this photo of Chester eating a cocktail meatball and make your own joke in your head.

Photo of Chester next to a meatball on a stick. The meatball is as big as his head.

You can also make jokes about meatpops if you’d like.

The race started bright and early the next morning at the Jim Beam distillery.

Photo of a big building that says "Jim Beam" on the front and a small inflatable race start line to the left.

Picture me, who has been relatively calm up to this moment, breaking out into a flop sweat.

I was in Van One this year (as opposed to last year’s Van Two experience), so my half of the team was on deck as soon as our first runner stepped over the start line at 8:30. I was runner four in our rotation, so I had a bunch of time to stress out before my run. My friend Heather (Disney Heather) was Runner One, so she had substantially less time.

I was really proud of my whole team, but I was especially proud of Heather and my friend Emily, who was also in Van One. Both of them are relatively new runners (like they’ve been running for less than a year) so taking on something like the Bourbon Chase was really brave of them. The greatest thing about it is that both of them killed all three of their legs. I couldn’t be happier for them.

Still, at 8:30 in the morning, all of that was in the future and we were nervous and excited and peering anxiously at the cloudy sky and happily posing for dorky photos.

Me standing next to a statue of Jim Beam. The statue includes a cup in which Chester is sitting.

Chester hadn’t had enough of a party the night before, so he carried on with Jim Beam.

No amount of pacing and wondering if you could just make a break for it and skip out on the race entirely will stop time though, so eventually 8:30 rolled around and Heather headed out for our team.

Photo of runners heading out at the start line. Heather is in a neon green/yellow shirt in front.

Heather (in front in the yellow) earned a four-step head start for answering a trivia question correctly. Way to shave that second off our 32-hour finish time, Heather!

Happily, once the race starts, the nerves go away and the motion of being a support crew and a runner takes over. We didn’t have a designated driver this year (we missed you, Mike!), so several of us took turns driving the van.

Facebook post featuring a photo of me behind the steering wheel of the van. The post says, "This is the scariest part of the race for me—driving the team van. #didn'twreckit"

From Stimeyland’s Facebook page. And, no, I didn’t wreck it, but I wasn’t exactly invited back behind the wheel after my first turn. I wasn’t very good at driving it. I was better as a navigator. And I’m not even all that great as a navigator.

I started my first leg at about 11 o’clock that morning. This leg was only 5.2 miles long, but it had the distinction of being ranked as the hardest leg of all 36 of the legs. This was mitigated by my having less hard legs later. That leg may have been tough, but I absolutely did not have the hardest trio of legs. Not by a long shot.

(Leg.)

Still, that leg kinda sucked. It was ranked so high in difficulty because of all the hills, including a super steep, half-mile long hill at the very end. I think the next two photos say a lot more about this leg than any of my words could.

Photo of me heading off on my run with a big smile on my face. Emily, who has just passed the wrist baton to me looks happy to be done.

Emily has just passed me the baton and I am off on an adventure! Look how happy I am to be running!

5.2 miles later…

I am walking as the next runner takes the baton and heads off on her leg. I look like I could drop dead AT ANY SECOND.

There were more flattering photos taken of me and Marisa at this transition, but this one best captures how I could probably DROP DEAD AT ANY SECOND.

Also, I just noticed that it looks like Marisa and I are shoe twins. That’s exciting!

One of the really fun parts of running these relay races—and I am being completely sarcastic here—is figuring out when, where, and how to change clothes while sharing a van with five other people. I chose to change my clothes in the van at the next transition point when we were waiting for Marisa to run in. Everyone else was out of the van, so naturally I had all kinds of privacy.

Except. This is what they were doing while I was changing.

Photo taken from the inside of the van of one of the team members writing in window marker on the window.

I know! I’ll wait until the whole team is decorating the windows of the van surrounding me before I take my clothes off!

Someday I’ll get the hang of being with other humans.

I feel like Van One’s first legs went really quickly and smoothly. And after watching the weather reports of looming storms that threatened all day, we were super relieved to get through our first runs without rain. Being in Van One instead of Van Two was kind of awesome. We showed up at our vehicle transition area to meet up with Van Two, who had been eating and pacing and touring distilleries for hours by this time.

We were happy to put all of that to an end though by passing them the baton and watching them run off into the afternoon.

Of course, the first thing we did was eat, making sure to post a photo of us sitting and stuffing our faces to pay back Van Two who had done something similar that morning when we were running and they were eating. Also, one of the people at the table ate an entire pizza. It was IMPRESSIVE.

From there, we drove to the place where we were due to meet up with Van Two later that night and we spent several hours futzing about until Runner Twelve showed up, wet from light rain and wearing a headlamp to combat the darkness, passing the metaphorical torch back to Van One.

Screenshot of a Facebook status. The photo is Chester shoved into a van cup holder with cords and keys draped over him. The caption says, "Chester is being treated poorly."

Some of said futzing around.

Our next legs would all be run in the dark. Last year during our relay, I was the only runner who didn’t run in the dark. My place in the running roster, the pace of the runners who preceded me, and the rotation of the Earth at that time of year in New Hampshire had created a situation where I ran seven miles just after sunrise. It was delightful.

Not so this year.

Another Facebook screenshot: In the photo, it is nearly dark. I am making a sour face. The caption reads, "ABout to head out to Run Two: 5.5. miles along Knob Lick Road. Yes. Knob Lick Road. I'd rather be sleeping."

I texted Alex the name of the road and he texted back “Knob. Lick. Road. Penis.” Upon completion of my leg when I saw his text, I showed everyone in the van and couldn’t stop laughing. In retrospect, maybe it was less funny and/or appropriate than I thought it was.

It had been raining on and off for much of the afternoon, but once it got dark, it rained like a motherfucker. No other way to put it. It stopped raining for a few minutes when I was handed the baton and set off onto the Knob Lick.

The weather though, it did not hold.

I was excited about the novelty of the night run—as well as a little nervous—but I could have done without the uber-novelty of a night run that felt suspiciously like I was running through a shower.

Soon enough, I was slogging through pouring rain. It was very dark on my leg so my entire range of vision consisted of the small area that was lit up by my headlamp. The headlamp did an excellent job, however, of illuminating the diagonal streaks of rain that were driving across my vision.

It was a tough run. I started running steeply uphill before the end of the first mile and stayed running up through mile two. The weird thing is that when it is that dark, there is no way to tell where the hill ends or when there is a slight reprieve in the slope. It all just feels kind of hard and upsetting and all you can do is watch lights of cars or runners ahead of you to see if they look like they’re going uphill or whether they drop out of sight down a slope.

It was brutal. I spent a lot of time wondering if I’d ever been wetter while wearing clothes (highly unlikely); whether I’d run a mile, two miles, halfway yet (no, I hadn’t); why this run sucked so much (ugh, tiiiiiiiired). I didn’t run spectacularly fast on any of my runs, but I actually ran slower than I expected on this one. It just sucked all the life out of me. I was extremely happy to see the transition point.

It felt good to put on dry clothes and sit happily in the van eating those peanut M&Ms and Diet Coke while the next runner set off.

I barely remember the transition where we traded off to the next van. The thing that stands out from that transition was the extremely long walk back to our van during which I stepped in a deep puddle, getting my cushy sport slides wet. I had a sad.

I had a happy though upon hearing that we were headed to some unknown high school to sleep in a gymnasium. We pulled into the parking lot, I grabbed my sleeping bag, and I stumbled off into the gym. As I set my alarm and shoved it deep into my sleeping bag to muffle it, it occurred to me that if overslept, my teammates would never find me inside a sleeping bag in that huge, dark, silent room.

“Wake up at 4 am, wake up at 4 am, wake up at 4 am,” I told my brain repeatedly before I closed my eyes.

I woke up at 4 am, thank God, and I felt GREAT.

Facebook status screenshot: (no photo) "$5 for two hours sleep on that bare gymnasium floor is the best bargain I have ever come across."

Today if you asked me if I’d be willing to sleep for only two hours on a wood floor, I would laugh you out of the room. That night, it was the most luxurious thing I could ever have imagined.

That was short-lived, however, as we rushed off to meet Van Two at the Wild Turkey distillery. If you’re ever in Kentucky and looking for said Wild Turkey distillery, just follow the stink. Because that distillery is at the center of it. Dude. the distilling process smells horrible.

I had made peanut butter and jam sandwiches for our van and was busy digesting that and trying to drink Gatorade as I walked to the visitor center bathrooms with Heather, who was next up to run, and Marc. It was cold, it was smelly, my stomach was unsettled, it was still dark, and all of a sudden I had a life-changing experience.

Facebook status: Photo of a huge bonfire with caption "My trip to the bathroom got waylaid by something waaaaaay better."

Seriously. Life. Fucking. Changing.

Ten minutes by that fire and I was warm to my bones, I smelled only nice burning wood, and Wild Turkey was suddenly my favorite bourbon ever. We sent Heather on her way and headed onward.

The last twelve transition points are really fun because runners are really happy to be done. It’s super delightful.

Except when it’s not. There were a lot of really tough stretches for the people in my van on that last leg. Distances were long, there were lots of hills, and there were evidently some demon horses on the course. (Heather came around a corner in the dark only to have her headlamp illuminate the eyes of a big horse whose head was draped over a fence right next to the road. It was, apparently, both surprising and terrifying.)

I watched each of my teammates set off and finish and it was so exciting. It is amazing to see people who have worked so hard and struggled through injuries or pushed way past their comfort levels to complete something so difficult and wonderful. I was (and am) so proud of each of them—both those in my van and Van Two.

My third leg was motherfucking delightful. It was less than four miles long and even though there were a couple of uphill stretches, none of them were extreme and also, the leg ended with, like, two miles of gentle downhill. I felt like I was flying.

Except, that is, when the runner from the team that started eleven hours after we did blew past me like I was standing still. That’s when I felt like I was trudging along like a hedgehog on sleeping pills.

Before that happened though, I was chugging along up and down some small rolling hills, Michael Franti singing “I’m alive…” on the speaker I had on my waist and I felt so purely good and I remembered exactly why I run. For those moments. For that feeling. For that good.

I didn’t run particularly stellar times this year. Last year during the relay, one of my victories was running so much faster than I’d hoped to. This year it was about loving my team and recognizing how much stronger my body was than last year. It was about knowing that an extra three minutes on a leg or a slow slog up a particularly hard hill isn’t that big of a deal in a world where I am willing to spend 32 and a half hours in a van with people who cover 200 miles on foot.

Being a runner, for me, isn’t about being the fastest or the first. It is about finding that feeling. I don’t always find it, but when I do, it is magic.

There are always hills and valleys though. The non-magical time of trying to comb a day and a half worth of knots out of my hair followed immediately after my magic run. It was ugly. It turns out that the braid was not the miraculous “keep hair neat” tool that I thought it would be. Still I emerged victorious. Eventually.

From there, all I had to do was cheer on our runners until we passed the baton to Van Two for the final time. And from there, all we had to do was go to lunch. Chester joined us in his own way.

Three photos of Chester. The first he is sitting next to a bucket of peanuts, the next he is holding a peanut sitting next to the bucket of peanuts, the last, he is sitting IN the peanuts.Last year, as a member of Van Two, we ran all the way to the end. This year, we drove to the finish line and napped in the van until it was time to shuffle over to meet the rest of our team. It was awesome.

Even more awesome was watching our last runner race down the road to where we all joined her in running and/or limp-running the last few meters. It was really cool to be able to cross the actual finish line with everybody.

Photo of Chester with a big medal around his neck. The medal shows two people dancing on a disco floor. The medal reads "Bourbon Chase Fever."

Did I mention that this year’s Bourbon Chase had a disco theme? Because if you don’t know that, this medal doesn’t make sense.

The finish line party featured bourbon and beer and lots of food and juuuuuust a little bit of rain and it was perfection.

Facebook status: Photo of Chester sitting behind a plate with a beef pulled beef sandwich, two cookies, eans, and coleslaw. He sits next to a beer. The caption says "Kentucky, motherfuckers."

We ate a lot of food and I couldn’t even finish my whole beer, like a loser.

And then I started to feel like I’d fall asleep if I sat down, so I was part of the group that championed a return to a hotel, but not before I texted this victorious photo to Alex.

Photo of me holding my medal, which is around my neck.

Tired, but proud and happy.

And that is 8.3% of Team MLC’s story of the Bourbon Chase 2014.

I’m so grateful to have been able to be on a team with these awesome people. Thanks for being so wonderful—all of you!

Two photos, one on top of the other. The top photo says "before" and shows all 12 of our team standing in front of our van smiling. It is before the race. The bottom one reads "...and after" and shows us wearing our medals after crossing the finish line.

Team MLC rocks!

To Bassoon or Not To Bassoon?

Sam plays the flute. I think I’ve been pretty open about that. Well, recently he came home from school saying that his advanced band at school (in which, in case I’ve been unclear, he plays the flute) doesn’t have a bassoon player and they need a bassoon player and, hey, maybe he could be the bassoon player.

Cue me going to the internet to look up what a bassoon looks like.

photo of two bassoonsOkay.

That looks…complicated.

So now Alex and I have to make a decision as to whether we should let Sam play the bassoon in his band. We do not agree. One of us is right and Alex is wrong.

However. On the tiny, tiny chance that maybe I’m wrong, I’m going to let all y’all weigh in on this. Per usual in internet he says/she says, I’m not going to tell you which one of us thinks what.

THE FACTS, UNDISPUTED:

1. Regardless, Sam will continue to take flute lessons.

2. Regardless, Sam will play the flute in jazz band.

3. Sam has agreed to practice both instruments.

4. We can rent the bassoon for $40 a year so only have to pay for reeds and instruction books.

5. Sam’s music teacher is very happy with the idea that Sam might play bassoon in advanced band.

6. Sam has aspirations of being a professional musician and hopes to play in a band or symphony for a living, thus making his parents extremely proud and also condemning them to years upon years of sitting quietly in stuffy concert halls listening to classical music. And the occasional jazz concert.

THE ARGUMENTS, BITTERLY DISPUTED:

Sam plays the flute. He has invested 3+ years in flute playing. He takes flute lessons that we pay for AND drive him to and from every week. We recently bought him a fancy-ass flute. He is very proud of being a flute player. Sam should continue to play the motherfucking flute.

OR

If we let Sam learn to play the bassoon, we will be expanding his ability to enjoy playing music and, hey, learning a new skill is never a bad thing, right? Furthermore, if there are ten million flutists in every band and zero to one bassoonists, mayhap we are making him more marketable and likely to attain gainful musical employment by letting him learn the bassoon. We should just let Sam play the stupid bassoon already.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS:

Will we be diluting his musicianship by letting him play a second instrument before he has mastered the first?

If we let him learn the bassoon, how long before he insists we purchase a bassoon for him?

How loud is a bassoon and how miserable will it make our lives at home when he is practicing, particularly in the early days when he is not very good?

If Sam helps out his band by taking up the bassoon, how grateful will his music teacher be and how many A’s will she give him?

If it turns out that Alex is right and I am wrong, will I have to divorce him or the internet?

Thoughts?

A Word About the Albatross

I have an old college chum that I love dearly. For reasons that will become clear later, I will refer to her as The Albatross. The Albatross is a Badass. Please take note of the capital “B” on that word.

Photo of a large white bird swimming in water.

This is an actual albatross, not my friend The Albatross.

The Albatross is hardcore. At some point she discovered cycling and she fell in love with it, going on cycling adventure after cycling adventure, as well as any number of non-cycling escapades. My favorite is the solo cycling trip she took from coast to coast of Australia.

Yeah. Badass.

Her badassery is not the only fabulous thing about her. She is an all-around really cool person too, but that’s not what this is about.

I had the good fortune of getting to crew for The Albatross more than once for what used to be called the Furnace Creek 508 (and now seems to be called just the 508). That race was a 508-mile bike race through Death Valley. Apparently the course has changed a little since the era my friend raced it, but it continues to run 508 miles through the desert each year.

The 508 is where The Albatross became The Albatross. See, the 508 doesn’t assign numbers to racers, but instead gives them animal totems. I think my friend got the best one.

The Albatross killed her previous races, regardless of result, especially considering how punk rock her approach to them was—and trust me, it was. She also put up with preeettty unknowledgeable and haphazard crews with very little complaint. That is where the hardcore part comes in.

The reason I bring all of this up now is because The Albatross is flying again. She’s racing the 508 this weekend, presumably with a crew who knows something about bike racing and bike repair. I don’t know if she’ll see this before she races, but I hope she knows how many happy, fast, flying thoughts I am sending her way.

Friend, you are amazing. Go get that 508. Fly, Albatross. I love you.

UPDATED: She did it!!!!!!!!!!!!! She crossed the finish line in 41 hours and 48 minutes. That is a hell of a lot of bike riding. You rock so hard, friend!!!

Long Form Exposition: Scenes From Disney World

Photo of a sign painted on a wall. It is a blue arrow pointing to the right with the words "Fun this way!" painted in white over it.

Pretend the arrow is pointing down.

Remember when Chester and I went to Disney World with our friend Heather like a month ago? Well, I’m finally here to tell you aaaaaaall about it. And when I say aaaaaaaall about it, I kinda mean it. This could be a long post, so if you’re not into Disney or Chester or awesome trips, you’re free to skip it.

I’ll start with the snacks we ate on the airplane ride down. (I repeat: aaaaaall about it.)

Photo of stuffed mouse Chester, wearing Mickey Mouse ears, sitting on an airplane tray table. He's sitting next to a package of airplane pretzels and is holding one, which happens to be just the perfect tiny size for his hand.

Isn’t it nice that Southwest makes Chester-size snacks?

We arrived in Florida in the early afternoon, checked into our hotel, and went straight to the Magic Kingdom, because when you go to Disney World with Heather, you don’t fuck around and you certainly don’t mill about in a hotel room during open park hours.

We arrived at the park and took an immediate right turn into the line to meet Tinkerbell because it’s nice to be greeted at the beginning of your vacation by a friendly Disney character. Unfortunately, I came bearing a confusing mouse in a hat and with only marginal knowledge of the Tinkerbell multiverse.

Photo of me, Tinkerbell, and Heather. I am holding Chester in front of me and Tinkerbell is looking at him with a bewildered and amused look on her face.

This photo was taken shortly before things spiraled out of control.

My memory is a little fuzzy about the whole thing, but evidently Tinkerbell knows a mouse named Cheese and asked if Chester was like Cheese and I mouthed/whispered, “Is Cheese a mouse?” to Heather, at which point Tinkerbell started sassing me about, “Of course Cheese is a mouse. Why would I say that if Cheese wasn’t a mouse?” and I didn’t have a good answer and Tinkerbell kept shouting questions at me and then Heather’s phone started ringing in her backpack and Tinkerbell started yelling “HELLO?! HELLO?!” into Heather’s back and eventually we wandered off, befuddled about the fact that we’d just been yelled at by Tinkerbell.

It was AWESOME.

Then we walked outside and it started to pour rain.

Photo of a lamp post decorated with a Disney-themed Halloween decoration in the foreground. Behind it is Disney World's City Hall. It is pouring rain in the photo.

Let’s not even go into the fact that they put up their Halloween decorations in early September. We don’t want to get me riled up about that again.

We spent some time standing under an overhang, convinced that the rainy season in Florida wasn’t really a thing, then we accepted reality and pulled out our ponchos and umbrellas and got down to business.

Fortunately the rain stopped in time for Heather’s first Disney happy freakout: The Appearance of Rabbit.

For those of you like me who might have watched the happy freakout with a blank face, I’m talking about the yellow rabbit from Winnie the Pooh. ( IMG_3242) Rabbit was meeting people for, like, 20 minutes at a time and then he’d go away and Tigger would come for the next 20 minutes and so on.

Heather—who couldn’t have cared less about Tigger—and I spent a tense half hour in line worried that the line was going to move too fast and we’d have to meet Tigger because we got to the front of the line too fast. Then we started to worry that the line was going to move too slow and Rabbit would be gone when we got there. There was MUCH drama, too much to go into, but the end result was this:

Photo of Rabbit, Heather, me, and Winnie the Pooh

We were the last people to see Rabbit before his handlers whisked him away. The Magic of Disney (and sucking up to said handlers), y’all.

The Magic Kingdom on a Thursday evening about a week after school started and shortly after a rain storm is a great place to be. It’s not hot, there aren’t a lot of lines, and the clouds make fantastic backgrounds for photos.

Photo of Cinderella's castle with dark clouds in the background.

Oooooooh. Aaaaaaah.

The nice weather and short lines actually created quite a problem for Heather because we not only did all the things on her itinerary for that evening, but also many of the items slated for the next morning, throwing everything into chaos and uncertainty.

We went back to the Magic Kingdom the next morning, even though it meant we had to re-ride rides (the horror!) and re-look at cool stuff (even more the horror!).

We met a lot of characters on this trip to Disney. I don’t know what it is about them, but every time I met one of these people inside what is probably a germ-covered fur suit, I reacted in a manner similar to this:

Photo of Goofy standing next to me. My arms are up in the air and I have an open-mouthed happy expression on my face. Heather is in the background smiling.

And I don’t even like Goofy. I find him vaguely threatening.

I think it might have something to do with how hard the characters work to entertain visitors. I’m dying to know what the people who wear these costumes really think of their jobs, but they are all endlessly entertaining.

Photo of Heather with Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. He has her pressed up against his chest and is showing off his (fake) pecs and biceps. She has a hilariously trapped and amused expression on her face.

Like Gaston. Gaston was SUPER entertaining. This photo cracks me up every time I look at it.

It rained every evening we were in Florida for at least a little while, but every morning and most afternoons were absolutely beautiful, as you can see from this photo of Rapunzel’s tower, which as far as I could tell served as decor surrounding a bathroom.

Photo of a beautiful blue sky with wispy clouds behind Rapunzel's tower.

Best. Bathroom. Ever.

We had lunch at the Beauty and the Beast-themed restaurant, Be Our Guest, which was really cool. Heather and I both ate some sort of delicious slab of beef and potatoes that was delivered to us by waiters who found our table through the Magic of Disney, also known as the use of surveillance and tracking through our Magic Bands. It was both exciting and creepy at the same time.

Photo of Heather's chocolate cupcake and my strawberry cupcake.

But it came with cupcakes, so I let it slide.

Although there seem to be approximately 85 parades daily in the Magic Kingdom, we only watched one. It was cool. I know it has some specific name/time designation that is important to Disneyphiles in understanding exactly which parade it is that we saw, but all I can tell you is that it took place in the middle of the day and we sat near slightly upsetting white birds who were semi-cannibalistically trolling for turkey leg scraps.

Photo of a white bird eating a discarded turkey leg.

I feel bad even showing this to you.

If that photo makes you as sad as it makes me, here is this way nicer photograph of a white bird posing in front of a boat.

Photo of a lovely white bird on a post in front of a large boat on a small lake.

Consider your palate cleansed.

Where was I? Oh, right. The parade. It was totally cool and had all of the best characters up to and including Anna and Elsa from Frozen, who seem to be the talk of the Disney universe these days. We didn’t meet Anna and Elsa because I think you had to be willing to stand in line for longer than Heather and I were willing to stand in line to do so, but I did get this photo of them in the parade, which I think is just as good.

Photo of a Frozen float in the parade with Anna and Elsa standing next to a statue of Olaf.

Or, you know, nowhere near as good, but good damn enough.

It was fun to see all the characters in the parade, each one more charming than the—AAAAAAIIIIIGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!

Photo of a mime character from Tangled. He's kinda freaky looking.

Except for that guy. That guy is fucking terrifying.

During our wanderings around the Magic Kingdom, I came across many lovely scenes into which it was almost mandatory that I insert Chester.

Photo of Chester in his Mickey Mouse hat. He is sitting on a statue of Cinderella. At the base of the statue are several statue mice also wearing hats and exactly the same size as Chester.

Chester was happy to find his place among other like-sized mice in hats.

Unfortunately, when you take a mouse like Chester to Disney World, sometimes terrible things happen.

Photo of Chester wearing his Mickey Mouse hat on which one ear has broken off.

DISASTER.

Do you want to know something bizarre though? Just a couple of hours after Chester’s hat broke, Heather and I were headed to Hoop-Dee-Doo, dinner theater that is based out of the campground on Disney property. We got there early so we wandered through the gift shop there where we found a key chain featuring the very same hat that had just broken.

There are a few amazing things about this. Chester’s original hat came from a Christmas ornament, making the acquisition of an exact replica of the hat in another form surprising. Furthermore, this one gift shop that we happened upon at this exact time is the ONLY one in all of Disney World that had this hat. (Really. We went to all of them.) Thirdly, we happened to be at that gift shop at the EXACT time that we needed a Chester-sized hat. Fourthly, the keychain part of the hat fit perfectly around Chester’s neck, securing the hat to his body AND giving him that punk rock look that is so popular these days among jet-setting stuffed mice.

Spooky.

In news of other small things in hats to drag around Disney World, I give you this photo taken the next morning in line for Epcot that made me extremely happy.

Photo of Chester in his hat next to a small Beaker (from the Muppets) also in a Mickey Mouse hat.

I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE.

Epcot is Chester’s favorite park because of all the photo ops. Belt in for a series of Chester pics in no particular order. Maybe grab a beer.

Photo of Chester holding a small beer stein that says "Germany" on it.

After all the photos I’ve posted of Chester (and Algernon) with giant alcoholic beverages, it was refreshing to see him holding a mouse-sized drink.

I like France at Epcot because they have delicious warm ham and cheese sandwiches. Chester likes France because of all the similarly eared friends.

Photo of Chester on a shelf with several identical stuffed animals. They are the rat from Ratatouille.

One of these things is not like the other.

Spread throughout Epcot, there are also any number of creatures for Chester to ride.

Chester riding a camel sculpture

A camel…

Chester riding a horse sculpture

…a horse…

Chester riding a burro statue

…a burro…

Chester riding a Chinese dragon

…a dragon…

Chester riding a stuffed caribou

…a caribou…

Chester riding a blue snake that looks like a cartoon sperm

…a sperm.

There are also a surprising number of Chester-sized props, many in the form of hats. Seriously, if you go to Disney, take a small stuffed animal with you and look for funny photo ops. It will make your trip infinity times better.

Chester in a small silver Viking hat.

It’s Viking Chester!

Chester wearing a giant Chester-sized cowboy hat and sitting next to another one that says I <3 Mexico on it.

It’s Mexican cowboy Chester!

Chester holding a Chester-sized bongo drum.

It’s Drum Circle Chester!

It did pour pretty hard around lunchtime on the day we spent at Epcot. We had walked dryly into Mexico and were left staring wistfully through the rain towards the restaurant we wanted to eat lunch at in Morocco. Eventually we poncho-ed up and scurried through the rain only to arrive at our hummus-filled destination juuuuust as the rain stopped.

Epcot was also the location of the weirdest character interaction I had. We were wandering past England and there was Alice, you know, from the Wonderland, just standing there. So I jumped up and down a lot and then Chester and I went up to talk to her and in her adorable British accent she said Chester was super cute and then she asked if Chester was the Dormouse and I was all, “Uhhhhhhhhh…” and she was all, “Do you put jam on his nose?” and I said again, “Uhhhhhhhhh…” and she said, “Mustard! Do you put mustard on his nose?” and to stop what was looking to be a really long, repetitive conversation, I said, “YES!” and then she said, “One minute!” and she went running across the walkway to grab a bunch of mustard packs from the pretzel stand across the way and then she brought them back and handed them to me and then we posed for a photo. It was kind of confusing. I spent the rest of the night thinking about it.

Three photos (1) I am facing Alice. Chester is on my finger and Alice is touching him. (2) I look confused as hell and my mouth is hanging open and Alice looks intrigued. (3) Alice and I am smiling at the camera. I am holding Chester and several mustard packets.

This is a totally accurate representation of our meeting, especially the photo in the middle.

To prepare for each morning with Heather, Chester needed some caffeine. This seems as good a time as any to admit to you all that I relapsed back onto Diet Coke a couple of months ago.

Photo of Chester sitting on a reusable mug full of soda. There is a straw near his mouth.

Chester did too.

I’ll be sure to let you know how the November re-quitting goes.

Where was I? Oh, right, the next day was Hollywood Studios Day. Now, in front of Hollywood Studios is a topiary scene from Fantasia. I always refer to Fantasia as “That horror movie Mickey Mouse starred in” because the first time I saw that movie it scared the crap out of me and I’ve never been able to watch it all the way through since. No one ever quite understands what I mean when I call it a horror movie though.

Until now.

I spent something like 15 minutes explaining this to Heather though so now at least one person understands.

Photo of me standing in front of a topiary Mickey and statues of those terrifying brooms with buckets from Fantasia. I am biting my nails in an exaggerated scared posture.

And was willing to take this photo.

Hollywood Studios was all kinds of fun, but there are some things that stick out in my memory. Like this cupcake:

Photo of Chester next to a GIANT cupcake.

This cupcake was taller than Chester.

In case you’re wondering, that was a chocolate cupcake with chocolate filling, cream cheese frosting, and a thick coating of Butterfingers. It totally defeated me. I could only eat half of it—and I worked really hard. It was quite a cupcake.

Speaking of Chester, he found some rodent friends in the form of Chip & Dale on Hollywood Studios Day. We’d actually seen them several times since we’d been in Florida, but the line was always too long to meet them. (Why? Who knows.) Finally Chester got his chance.

Squirrel characters Chip and Dale flanking me and Heather. One of them is pointing at Chester, who is on my finger.

I have no idea which one of them is pointing at him. They look exactly the same. You would think they would have different colored hats or something. Even so, I’d probably still not know which one was pointing.

There were some other good characters there too. I don’t have a scrapbook. You’re going to have to put up with me showing you all of the photos.

Photo of me with Phineas and Ferb

Jack was totally starstruck when I told him I’d met Phineas and Ferb.

And you can’t beat Sully and Mike Wazowski. I think that the Monsters, Inc. stuff at Disney World is some of the most entertaining stuff there. (This might also be the time to share that Heather provided a joke used in the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Factory show. She glowed for, like, 48 hours.)

Three photos (1) Mike, me, Heather, Sully. Heather and I are making scary monster faces. (2) me hugging Sully (3) me hugging Mike

That photo of me with Mike is one of my favorite things ever. I couldn’t tell if he was ignoring my hug or just didn’t move because of his costume. I was privately amused for a long time over this.

There is a drawing class you can take at Hollywood Studios that was a lot of fun. Chester got really into it.

Photo of Chester holding a pencil poised over a drawing of Mickey Mouse.

It’s okay if you say that “Chester” didn’t do a very good job. Heather’s was better.

One of the things we decided to do that day was go on the backlot tour, partly because we had extra time and partly because the waiting area was covered and it was raining again. There was quite a wait before we finally boarded our bus just as lightning started to flash and an announcement came over the loudspeakers that they were closing the ride. But then our bus started off. Which was, you know, great, but made those of us on the bus wonder why we were expendable.

Sadly for us, we weren’t actually expendable and about five minutes into the tour, they returned us to the exit, which, yay! we get to live! but boo! we wanted to go on the tour!

Shortly thereafter we bailed from Hollywood Studios and headed to Epcot to eat a huge amount of German food. And a fair amount of beer.

Photo of Chester in front of a flight of four beers. His hat is askew.

Look how visibly drunk Chester is.

The next day was our last day (Thank God, right? I mean, how fucking long is this post going to be anyway?) and we were spending most of it at Animal Kingdom. I love this park so much.

Photo of Chester on the ground surrounded by feet.

Chester was excited too.

I took a lot of pictures at this park, but most of them are blurry photos of birds and rhino butts, so I won’t make you look at all of them. Especially since I’ve been writing this post for a stupid week now and I’m ready to just wrap it up already. I will, however, show you this awesome photo we have of Dug from Up and also the kid that was in the movie.

Photo of Russell (from Up), Heather, Jean, and Dug

When we walked in, I gave Dug a vigorous scratching behind his ears. Instead of pretending to bite me, as I probably would have done if I were in the suit, he bent down and wagged his body. It’s almost as if he were saying, “I was hiding under your porch because I looove you.”

Animal Kingdom day was super fun. We ended the day—our last night—at the Magic Kingdom. We ended up meeting Cinderella and Rapunzel shortly before we caught our bus back to our hotel. It was close to closing and I kinda got the feeling that the princesses didn’t want to spend too much time on the childless adults in line when there were scads of kids looking to meet them. I think that Rapunzel actually gave me a little shove after we had our photo taken.

It seemed that our time at Disney was over.

Photo of Chester sitting on top of a suitcase with a Stimeyland luggage tag. He seems to be putting his Mickey Mouse hat in the suitcase.

It was a little sad to pack up to go.

Our adventure started with a fairy yelling at us and ended with a princess pushing us out of line. It was perfection.

This trip to Disney World was such a blast. I feel so lucky that I was able to go and I feel so lucky that I have a good friend like Heather who worked so hard to plan everything and who was willing to put up with me for five days. She’s the greatest. Chester thinks she’s tops too.

Photo of me, Chester, Mickey Mouse, and Heather

Thank you, Heather. :)

Guess What Time It Is?

Photo of Chester, my stuffed mouse, wearing tiny Mickey Mouse ears.Algernon got to go to Disneyworld, so now Chester gets a turn.

Nobody tell my kids that they are in line behind two stuffed mice.

My friend Heather and I are going back to Disneyworld, no kids included. This is actually harder than it sounds because I not only had to get myself ready to go out of town, but I had to get my entire family ready to survive without me. Thank goodness Heather is around to plan everything for everybody. Seriously. If not for her, instead of planning a trip to Disney starting Thursday, I’d be planning a trip to the grocery store—and I’d be doing it badly too.

Wish my family luck. Wish Heather and me a good time. Keep an eye on Chester’s adventures on Stimeyland’s Facebook page. See you early next week.

The Bus Stop

It’s funny, I have started to write posts about the school bus stop near my old house countless times since we started waiting there eight years ago. It is possible that I might have published one or two of them, but I don’t think I did. Regardless, the bus stop was a big part of my life for a long time.

We spent a lot of time there and our experience evolved over the years. Our first year, it was just me and one kid waiting with his little brother. Then there was the year that there were so many kids coming from places not even in the bus stop area that the bus was too crowded and the principal had to ride the bus to make sure kids from outside the area weren’t riding. (Although, frankly, it seems like maybe they should have added a bus stop instead of making those kids walk to school.) Then we stabilized into a core group of neighborhood kids who all followed Quinn in rolling down a grassy hill and messing up their hair and getting grass stains all before the morning bus came to take them to school.

It was a good bus stop.

I have heard that since Quinn left, no one rolls down the hill anymore.

Now we have a new bus stop. Jack’s bus comes right to our house and Alex drives Sam to school, so, just like last year, only Quinn and I have a bus stop wait.

We only have to walk a few houses down the street to get to the stop this year. There were a bunch of moms and kids there today. Yesterday there were a bunch of dads and one mom. I haven’t met many of our neighbors yet, so I’ve been nervous too, just like Quinn. I figure the bus stop is the time to meet these people and force their kids to like mine. (Kidding. Kind of.)

You know what though? It is hard.

There is one super nice woman who introduced herself yesterday and chatted with me today too. Yesterday Quinn was too stressed for us to get anywhere near anyone else, so we were a little isolated and the nice lady (also known as my new neighborhood best friend) only had a chance to introduce herself after I shoved Quinn on the bus.

Yes, quite literally shoved him on the bus. May you never have to do that as you kiss the top of your child’s head and whisper “You are brave. You’ve got this.” It sucks.

After school yesterday, Quinn got off the bus smiling. “It’s only because I was happy that I was at the right stop,” he was sure to tell me, lest I jump to the conclusion that school made him happy. No worries, Quinn. Those conclusions are still far away.

This morning (Wednesday) at the bus stop, things were a little better. I had done some sensory work with him before we left the house and I also had some bravery M&Ms to give him. He was more relaxed and a little less stressed. Plus one of the moms at the bus stop brought a small dog with her, which was excellent.

I still had to shove Quinn on the bus but I totally didn’t have to push quite as hard as yesterday, so that’s something. I did still kiss him on the head and tell him that he was brave.

Then the bus pulled away and the dog lady walked away and the nice lady started chatting with the other two moms there and wasn’t that just the perfect time to introduce myself to these other women, but instead my feet started carrying me away and I walked home wondering why I hadn’t taken advantage of that perfect opportunity.

Spoiler alert: I know why I didn’t take advantage of it and it has a lot to do with the same reasons why my child had to get shoved on the bus: anxiety and some social ineptitude.

I made plans with myself to talk to the women tomorrow, but then I realized that I have to rush off to work tomorrow, so maybe Friday? But what if it’s a dad day on Friday? And then I realized that I have many days to meet these women (and, I suppose, even the dads) and if I lurk close enough and smile broadly enough (that is, in fact, my entire social plan for pretty much everything), eventually I will talk to them.

If, that is, I prep myself with some bravery M&Ms of my own.