Puzzlin’*

* See here.

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

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

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

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

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

I think you know what is coming next.

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

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

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

Photo of Jack putting a piece into a different puzzle.

A puzzle buddy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of Seven, RIP

I was on my way out of the house today to take Sam to bassoon lessons when I glanced at the gerbil tanks. Everything looked fine except I could only see two gerbils in the boy tank, where there are normally three. Mouse was conspicuously absent.

Sadly, Mouse hasn’t been doing very well as of late. He’s been losing weight and has been looking increasingly…rumpled. Mouse was one of the original gerbils and as he was about two and a half years old, I knew he was nearing the end of his lifespan.

I asked Alex to check on him as I left, knowing in my heart what I was going to hear.

Alex says that the other two gerbils had buried him in the corner, covering him with their bedding. Alex exhumed him from that shallow grave and buried him in our rodent memorial ground (newly established), telling him that he was my favorite (he was) and that we all loved him.

Photo of a young speckled white gerbil.

This was the first photo I ever posted of Mouse here. May he rest in peace.

I’ve known that this was coming for a while. It was like this with the mice—several months of a slow withering of numbers. Mouse was the first of what will be a long, sad line of gerbil deaths over the next few months.

Poor little guy. I’m going to miss him.

Photo of me holding Mouse after I first brought him home.

Mouse and I bonded quickly.

Photo of Mouse gripping the outside of his exercise wheel. He was spinning it from the outside.

Mouse was always his own gerbil, doing things his own way.

Photo of Mouse in a tiny Mickey Mouse hat.

And, of course, this.

Two photos, one of a brown gerbil eating out of a gerbil bowl and one of a white gerbil eating off of a seed block.

I gave Creeper and King extra seeds and treats after cleaning their tank this afternoon. It was like an, “I’m sorry you had to bury your father” snack.

The house seems empty without him.

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.

Dinner, Team Stimey Junior Style

Although this looks like a pretty ordinary photo, there is not a single thing that I don’t love about it:

Photo of my three kids at the dinner table. The situation will be described in the post below.

(Click to embiggen.)

It so perfectly describes my family. Now I’ll use a thousand words* to tell you exactly how it describes my family.

First of all, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there on the left sits Starfire in a chair. She sat there nearly completely still for a solid 15 minutes all like, “What in the actual fuck? Where is MY plate of spaghetti?”)

I don’t know that we need to go too deeply into our food choices, but there IS a green salad on the table, so maybe that makes up for the canned crescent rolls there on the lazy Susan.

Speaking of that green salad, you might notice that Sam and Jack each have ONE piece of lettuce on their plates. Neither of them was able to finish it. In his defense, however, Jack did lick his. Barely.

You might notice that Sam is ingesting nourishment when I took this photo. That is because he never stops putting food in his mouth. He ate four helpings of the spaghetti. (And then said he was too full to eat his tiny scrap of lettuce.)

You should now move your attention over to Quinn, who looks completely disgruntled. Let the record show that he, in fact, was completely disgruntled. His reasons were twofold: (1) Quinn does not care for spaghetti. Or apparently salad with “cream,” a.k.a. salad dressing. (2) Jack was eating his spaghetti with his fingers, which makes Quinn gag—and scream, apparently.

My house is a riot of conflicting access needs.

Jack tried really hard to eat his spaghetti with his fork, but, c’mon, it’s spaghetti.

Also, you can rest assured that I didn’t actually give Jack poison to drink for dinner.

All in all, a pretty accurate representation of our family dinners. At least no one burst into tears when they arrived at the table and saw what I was serving. That has happened in the past. Often.

Lest you think Team Stimey dinners are all screaming fights and food refusal, I offer the next two photos, which show the end of dinner when Jack spent a good five minutes scripting a joke that *I* didn’t get, but that Sam and Quinn found HILARIOUS.

Photo of my three kids. Quinn has his head back and is laughing uproariously.

You can’t tell, but Sam was laughing too.

Photo of Quinn and Jack. There eyes are locked and they are both smiling. There is a box of double chocolate Krave cereal on the counter behind them.

Jack and Quinn have a really tight connection. This photo totally captures that. I love it.

Also, please don’t judge me for my terribly sugary and non-nutritious cereal choice visible in the background.

* Actual word count: 387

Love

I took a really quick trip last weekend to Southern California. My beautiful aunt passed away late last month and I felt an overwhelming compulsion to hop on a plane and go hug my uncle. Which I did.

There are some things in life that feel really unfair. Losing the love of your life far earlier than you should is one of them. It makes me so sad to know another amazing couple to whom that has happened.

So I’m going to take this opportunity to try to put some love into the world via my aunt’s creative husband and beloved dog.

Photo of a small black and white dog standing next to rocks placed together to spell "LOVE"

You have all my love and friendship, Uncle S.