Thursday, December 31, 2015

Surviving Winter Break

You're probably reading this in 2016. If so, let me get this out of the way first: Happy New Year! May your 2016 be your best year! We'll talk about resolutions and goals and what not, but that will come another day. Today we're looking back. Specifically, we're looking back at the last week and how Team Stimey made it through without just flat out giving up and letting our kids play video games 24/7 for all of winter break.

Let's start with Alex. Alex went to New York for concerts. Lucky him. Fini.

Now for the rest of us.

My sister (Ann) brought one of her kids (Jacob) to come visit for the week after Christmas. They're actually still here, so they're helping us get through the rest of the week.

Unfortunately, Alex and I introduced Ann to The Walking Dead shortly after she arrived so now I not only have to try to keep my kids off video games 24/7, I have to try to keep Ann off of Netflix 24/7 AND break up fistfights between her and my kids as they fight over the television. It's a whole thing.

So, if ever you are stuck in a house with four boys, a sister, five cats, four gerbils, and no school, here are some suggestions on how to pass the time.

First, that five cats thing is essential. Because there is nothing like kittens to kill a few hours.

That is Jacob. He likes cats. My sister’s wife is deathly allergic to cats, so this is really his only chance to hang out with them. The cats, fortunately, are happy to oblige.

It is also important to note that just because Christmas is over, that doesn't mean you have to stop doing Christmas things. For example, I dragged everyone to the local nature center for the Christmas light show.

This is Ann. She’s a doctor. Do you know how annoying it is to watch The Walking Dead with a doctor?

The lights were fun. Quinn and Jack particularly enjoyed the caterpillar tunnel in which they spun and spun and spun. I tried one rotation and almost fell over.

As Kang says, “We must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!”

I discovered that telling four young boys to sit in a row and smile is nearly as futile as asking three of them to do it.


But if you ask them for "now a silly one," they will comply almost instantly.


The next day we went to the American History Museum, which I called the American History Fun Zone because Quinn has a nearly anaphylactic reaction to the word "museum."

He wasn't fooled.

I took a photo to remember where we parked the car.


Then I took a photo to remember where the munchkins were.

Quinn declined to participate.

Fortunately I'm not an idiot and this isn't my first rodeo, so I knew what I needed to do to make Quinn let go of some of his anxiety and let himself start to have fun.

Unsurprisingly, it involved spinning something.

Interactive exhibit? Check! Something that spins? Check! Sneaking him a piece of chocolate that no one else sees? Double check!

Not everyone was so enamored with the interactive play area.

Stupid Sam, outgrowing stuff. Ann too.

Jack and Quinn, however, were delighted. They kept us in the interactive exhibit for quite a while as they made up stories of their "inventions." The American History Museum is dumb enough to allow just anyone to write just anything and have it displayed on a touch screen for anyone to discover. Sorry, American History Museum patrons.

In case you can’t read it: “Invention of a Golden Coooooooow: A cow jumped over the moon and into a dude who was trying to throw up in space. The cow hit him, rebounded off him, and flew into a volcano and became gold. The end.” This story was way less offensive than the one he wrote about the invention of fart gas.

And Jack’s: “Aperiture Science Panels: As people know, our walls don’t move, but panels make it a reality. Also if spikes are welded to it, it is a crusher. We sell them too.” At least Jack put the word “science” in there.

Our success in the interactive area carried over into a successful visit to a couple of other exhibits.

Dammit, Jacob. Way to make us look bad.

Uh oh. I think we’re starting to rub off on my sister’s kid.

Every single thing we've done with all four kids has had a big element of sitting down to eat food. It turns out that if you feed children, they are happier. And it turns out that if you promise kids imminent food, they will continue to walk through an exhibit instead of dropping to the ground in panic.

Who fucking knew?

I include this photo of Ann and Jacob at lunch, simply because it is super cute.

Every single thing we've done with my sister has also had a big element of finding coffee as well. It turns out that if you feed her caffeine in the form of a latte, she is much happier.

Who fucking knew? (Well, all of us knew this one.)

I am highly entertained by this post-museum photo of all four kids waiting for Ann, who is in Starbucks.

But, if not for Ann's incapacitating coffee habit, I wouldn't have captured in a photo this easy love, comfort, and joy in each other that Jack and Quinn share.

These two.

Then there were naps. Lots of naps.

In a fit of surprising craftiness, we also made chocolate chess pieces, something Quinn has wanted to make for Sam for a long time.

We had plans to create a whole set out of white and milk chocolate, but before he left for New York, Alex washed the thin plastic mold in the dishwasher so we can never make them again.

I also made Ann fix my bathroom door jamb.

She’s older than me. I think her determination to prove she could fix it is an eldest sibling thing. Cool by me. I’m pretty lazy. I think that’s a youngest sibling thing.

It wasn't all handywomaning and chess pieces though. There were some vigorous games of Exploding Kittens and Twister and that trip to the gymnastics place and lots of other fun stuff. But mixed in with all the fun, there must come the non-fun.

Dum dum dum...

The zoo.

Ask Quinn. He's not a fan of anyplace where he has to walk around and look at things. At first things were okay. Quinn and Jack went on the carousel. We discovered that the zoo has five lions JUST LIKE we have five cats. We determined that I might not fare well in the wild.

Sam spun a little thing to find out what he said was his fortune. He came up with, “Our mother is gored by a wild pig. She dies.” Dammit.

Then it got uphill and hungry and the reptile house was too hot and the outside was too cold and I had to give Quinn my coat to put on top of his own coat and he insisted on hot food and we waited in an outdoors line for food for like 45 minutes and finally we ate and everyone was happy and we set off to see the pandas and discovered that the pandas weren't on display. It was a rough day at the zoo.

Thank God the otters were out and adorable.

If those otters had been inside their otter house, I would have entirely lost my shit.

But you guys, even though the zoo was a little bit of an exercise in frustration, it all turned out okay because we discovered that one of the otters is named PICKLES. JUST LIKE OUR CAT PICKLES!

See?! (Jack says, “Illuminati confirmed.”)

So not the  most satisfying zoo day, but still all right because of these guys:

What do you think is up with Sam restraining Jack in every photo? I’m going to have to start paying attention to that.

Now we're hanging out all together (except for Jacob who went to bed at 8:30 when the rest of us snuck back downstairs to watch New Year's Rockin' Eve). And that's where we are at 10:58 pm on New Year's Eve.

Happy 2016, friends. I truly hope you have a wonderful new year, full of love and family and joy.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fall Omnibus Race Report: Kensington 8K, Rock the Creek, Across the Bay10K, Run Under the Lights, Turkey Chase, and the Snowflake 5K—Damn,That's A Lot of Racing

I accidentally ran 6.3 miles yesterday.

My family had gone out to breakfast and since I'm doing a Thanksgiving to New Year's run streak, I decided to get my daily run in by hoofing it home from the restaurant. I ended up taking a route I'd never run before, full of suddenly ending sidewalks, treacherous street crossings, and about three more miles than I had anticipated.

That 6.3 and my ability to do it is the result of a fall full of trying to get back on the running wagon. 2015 wasn't the greatest of years for me in terms of consistent running. I lost some fitness, I lost some speed, I gained a couple pounds—it kinda sucked.

In fact, running in general was starting to suck and that's not okay with me.

Happily, you can come back from that. Lately my runs, including yesterday's, have felt really good. It looks like my fall running program has had a positive effect.

Part of that fall running program has been a whole bunch of races, none of which I have managed to write a race report for, much to the chagrin of Lyda, one of my running buddies, so I have decided to put them all here in one post and together we can track my journey back into runninghood.


This is Lyda. I run a lot of races with her. You will see her again. Also, I love this photo.

You will also see some of the same people over and over in this post, as they are my race friends. (I can't believe I have running race friends. Who am I?)

This is them: Heather, me, Bob, Lyda, and Marc.

Now that you know the characters, on to the race reports.

The Kensington 8K in September

This race was not a lot of fun for me to run. It was particularly memorable both because I was sick for it and also because my family came out to cheer me on. Quinn ran alongside me for a few minutes, not for moral support, but to ask questions about whether he was allowed video game time. It was both hilarious and highly irritating.

Proof that I finished.

This race is five miles long and I felt every damn one of them. Even though it was a tough race to run, I was happy that I was still able to run five miles all in a row, considering I hadn't done that for weeks.

Rock the Creek Relay in September

This was a six-person, nearly 30-mile relay that I ran with my normal racing buddies and a new teammate named Jenny.

This is us.

Each of us had a leg that was about five miles long, which is why I was happy that the Kensington 8K had proven to me that after a long summer of barely running, I could still run that far.

This relay was super fun. It was like all of the fun of a two-day, 200-mile relay, with no sleeping in a van or staying awake for 30 hours. My teammates are so much fun and they all crushed their legs. Plus they brought Doritos with them.

I captained the team because I'd been the first one to find the relay and harass my friends into running it with me. I got to assign everyone their legs and plan the menu for the van (water and Diet Coke, pretzels and peanut M&Ms). I also got to design the team t-shirts.

See, the race was flamingo themed for some reason, hence my choice of a concerned-looking flamingo.

In fact, that relay was such a blast—except for the five miles I had to run. Those were terrible.

It was flat, it wasn't that long, but, lord, it was painful. It was during this race that I realized just how much speed I'd lost. It sucked to run what should have been an easy stretch and to struggle so much. That was when I realized how much of my running fitness I had lost and that I could no longer rely on past running ability to continue to race. I realized that I had to start training again in earnest.

So train again, I did. It certainly wasn't every day, but it was enough so that my next race was not terrible and was, in fact, pretty awesome.

Across the Bay 10K in November

I love this race. The course crosses the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, heading up the span for about a mile, then down the other side for three, finishing with a couple miles on the other side of the bridge. I ran it last year by myself and had a great time. This year I convinced my friends that running across the bridge was way less scary than driving across it and they agreed to join me.

Yes, that is the sunrise. Yes, it sucks that most races start in the early morning.

I expected to suffer on the first, uphill section of the course, but it turns out that training actually works and I was able to run without struggle. In fact, training actually makes running fun. The long, gradual downhill wasn't just not a struggle, but it was fucking joyous. I hadn't been that happy while running for a long time.

I even stopped and took this photo to remember it.

It was a gorgeous day. I felt bouncy, I felt happy, I remembered why it felt so good to run.

This is me feeling good. Running.

Even the loooooong school bus ride back across the bridge in heavy traffic to our car was not that bad, even considering the bus driver had to ask the passengers for directions on how to get on the bridge. It was a little bit concerning. But, still, our enthusiasm couldn't be diminished.

I really like this photo, from our happy expressions, to our awesome medals, to the photo bomber who got lost behind my giant head.

I'm already signed up for next year's version of this race. Just watch it be sleeting and miserable.

Run Under the Lights in November

My next race was one that I wanted to run just for fun. There is a Christmas light display that people usually visit by driving through it in their cars. This race takes place before the display opens and entrants get to run the course. It is limited to not that many runners and sells out within hours.

There is a good reason for that. It was pure fun. Lyda and I were able to score entries and suited up in our warm clothes to run 5K the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Normally at races, I'm kind of an isolationist asshole and refuse to run with anyone. This time I asked Lyda to run with me. Turns out that it's fun to run with people. Who knew?

This was definitely the way to see the lights. And evening races are the way to go.

Also, the after-race refreshments taught both Lyda and I that neither of us want to eat chili after running a race. Or smell it. We decided to skip that part of the race.

Turkey Chase 10K on Thanksgiving

Last year I did a running streak where I made myself run at least one mile each day between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. That resulted in a 5K PR on New Year's, which taught me that building a solid base is a really good way to start a year's worth of training.

I decided to do the same thing this year starting with this 10K. I intended to up the mileage a little bit from last year though. Last year, I ran between one and three miles most days of my streak. I didn't do many long runs at all. Originally, I was going to make myself run at least 2 miles each day this year, but that ended the first day I was forced to run on my treadmill and got bored after one mile. So instead, I'm working on doing more longish runs, hence my accidental 6.3 yesterday.

I ran the Turkey Chase with Bob and Lyda. Well, not with, because I was back to being an isolationist asshole, but we started together and met up again at the end. The turkey chase course is a tough one. There are lots of hills and also people who can run faster than me dressed as turkeys, but for me, it felt really good. It signaled to me that I am coming back, that my training is working. I still didn't run fast, but I ran strong.

And I got to hang out with a couple of turkeys.

Oh. No. Wait.

I got to hang out with these turkeys.

Snowflake 5K in December

My last race for 2015 took place in mid-December. This race was tiny—like 25 people tiny. I was pretty sure that I was going to come in last.

So in an effort to come in 24th instead of 25th, I decided to push a little bit past my regular comfy training/racing pace.

See how speedy I look?

It worked out really well. I didn't beat my PR (set last New Year's Day, remember?), but I did run faster than I have been. I came in before a few people and OH MY GOD HOLY SHIT I WON MY DIVISION.

First person who asks if I was the only person in my division gets kicked in the shins.

Also, there was one other woman between the ages of 40 and 49 and evidently I ran faster than she did. So there.

This is me after my division award was announced. It was maybe the best moment of my entire life.

It turns out that it can work in your favor to run in tiny races. This was a pretty big deal for me. I spent the rest of the weekend reminding my family of my win whenever it seemed vaguely appropriate. Or even when it didn't; give me this moment, folks, it is unlikely to happen again.

Heather, on the other hand, came in third of all the women. And, unlike me, this is a feat that could be repeated—she's a great runner. It was an excellent morning.

And there you have my fall race omnibus report.

Hopefully those of you who enjoy running posts have enjoyed this. Those of you who are annoyed by running posts can take relief in the fact that there was only one post for all of these races.

Just wait until next year though. We're going to be all about the running around here. I'm going to run a 5K on New Year's Day, which will be the first of many races. I have some ambitious goals for the coming year, starting with the Pittsburgh Half Marathon in May and hopefully culminating with a marathon early in 2017.

I have goals.

Stay tuned. :)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas Prep, 14 Years Later

Fourteen years ago, Sam was two months old and Alex and I were looking to do Santa right. We spent significant brain power making sure that he had the best first visit with Santa possible. We checked with all the parents we knew to find out which Santa was The Best Santa and we ended up driving, like, an hour away to a mall where we had heard that The Best Santa worked.

We dressed Sam in a powder blue one-piece sweater and coordinated our visit with his naptime to ensure the best possible photo.

I wish I had the photo handy. It was adorable.

Also, that visit was pretty much meaningless to Sam.

This past weekend, we stopped our three visibly dirty children in the middle of a front-lawn wrestle match to stuff them in the car and take them to Santa, complete with dirt stains and twigs in their hair.

Things change.

It’s cute, but not powder blue sweater onesie cute.

It's a trip to think of everything that has changed over the past fourteen years. One of those changes is definitely a willingness to let little things like perfection in Santa photos go.

In addition to our annual visit to Santa last weekend, we also made our annual visit to the local rescue squad that sells us our Christmas tree. Because we like to do things wrong, we arrived at the tree lot well before they opened for the day.

Fortunately, there was an EMT there who was more than happy to give us a tour of their trucks and explain all of the gear and medicines and also how drug dealers really don't care about their customers.

It was totally awesome.

Jack explored every part of that ambulance that he was allowed to.

The kiddos also killed some time by hiding in the trees, which they tend to do every year.

I swear that I take this same photo every year. I guess some things don’t change.

Naturally our tree was far too big for our limited corner space, but oh so very beautiful.

My kids outdo themselves decorating it every year.

Things change, yes, but I think they're getting ever better.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Jack's Debut

Jack's school play was this past weekend. After hours and hours and weeks of rehearsals, he performed Friday night and Saturday afternoon and evening. He was triumphant and delightful and hilarious and wonderful and totally Jack.

It's not easy to cram all of that into a small role that mostly involves standing in one spot and not speaking, but he totally did it.

However, the experience as a whole wasn't perfect. In fact, I just wrote and deleted seven long paragraphs about the issues I have with the way everything went down for Jack. What it boils down to is that often inclusion isn't what we want it to be, especially in after-school activities. But then I decided that I didn't want this post to be about all of that. I want it to be about my awesome kid.

It would be easy to look at his struggles and feel as if he was less than successful, but instead I choose to look at how tremendously kickass my kid is.

Without even telling me, he created a monologue and auditioned for a play. He didn't know anyone in the cast and he sat through hour after hour of rehearsal where he was required to mostly sit on a gym floor and watch other people rehearse. He was brave enough to get up on a stage to perform in front of a crowd. He was willing to do all of this for a very small role. He did all of this while autistic. Any way you look at it, Jack did a great job.

He is so brave. I don't think he is even aware of how brave he is. I tried to let him know that by buying a "shout out" in the play program.

I hope he really understands this as truth.
Every performance that I watched—and I watched all three of them—left me grinning from ear to ear. I love my kid so much. And I am so damn proud of him.

Whenever I asked him if he'd enjoyed being in the play, he said he did. Honestly, that's all that matters to me.

You deserved your applause, Jack. Every bit of it.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Still Alive!

Who is the motherfucking managing editor around here? Whoever it is has fallen down on the job, that's all I have to say. November 4th? The last post was November 4th?


I don't like that it has been so long. I hope to get back to a more regular posting schedule. I think it is mostly a matter of getting back in the habit and also figuring out how to use my laptop on my actual lap instead of at a desk, which is where I've always written before but where I spend far less time than I used to.

Anywho. I figured that since I've been away so long, I'd catch you up on stuff. Let's see... Well, it's December; how did that sneak up on us? We spent the Thanksgiving weekend decorating the outside of our house for Christmas because Alex says it's less depressing to come home from work late at night when there is a festive deer and candy canes outside. I'm not sure what that says about his attitude about seeing us after a long day, but I'm not going to look at that too hard.

Look how preeeetttty!

As for Thanksgiving itself, we had a lovely day. We hung out and ate and we had a five-legged turkey.

Did you know that you can buy EXTRA turkey legs? You should do it.

We call it a beetle turkey. It eliminates a lot of screaming at the Thanksgiving dinner table due to the traditional 3:2 children:turkey legs ratio.

Alex's mom visited that weekend. Check out what she brought with her:


These are amazing. She totally nailed all of their markings. Incredible.

So that's Thanksgiving. What else?

Jack's play is this weekend. I am so proud of him. He originally had two nonspeaking parts in the play, but at some point, the teacher eliminated the scene in which he had his bigger part, so now he has a veeeerrry small part somewhere in act two. But you know what Jack has done? He has spent HOURS at rehearsal. He has done so with good cheer and enthusiasm. He is ready to perform and I could not be more proud of him.

He has definitely struggled a little and I'm actually more than a little bit annoyed about some of the ways things have gone down over the past couple of months, but none of it is on Jack. He is a motherfucking champion. I'm so lucky he's my kid. I'll let you know how the play goes. I haven't decided if I want to or should write about the stuff that's pissed me off—most of it is how non-inclusive after school activities really are in practice—but I will absolutely come back and post photos of how awesome my kid is.

Sam is busy preparing for a test he has to take to get into the high school program he wants to attend. He's also preparing for the three band concerts he has next week. The next seven or eight days are going to be pretty intense.

Quinn is doing pretty well. He has his ups and downs, but he is producing art like this:

Quinn’s imagination kinda rocks.

So, all in all, pretty all right.

Are we caught up? Am I properly chastised for my absence from this page? Are we all wishing Jack to break a leg this weekend? Okay then, I will see you soon!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Kitten Schism

We have a kitten problem.

“Oh, hai!”

Seriously. They're a HUGE problem.

And I know you're looking at them and thinking, "Oh, they're soooo cute and sweet looking, how could they be a problem?" and to that I just say oh, man, you don't even know. For, like, ten pounds of cat, they have disrupted our household in a serious way.

Last May, when we started thinking about adding to our cat family, we were a little nervous. It seemed risky to get additional cats when we already had three, because our original cat ecosystem was SO delightful and we were afraid of disturbing it. Assuming everything would be fine, we adopted Pickles, up there on the left, and Sharky.

Ecosystem —> KABLOOEY!!!!

Now we have two ecosystems.

They're both super delightful ecosystems, but they are distinct.

Two is better than one, right? (Wrong.)

See, one of our cats, Ruby, HATES the kittens. She hates them with a white hot intensity that I didn't expect from such a goofy cat. It is inexplicable how much she hates them. But hate them she does.

As for the other two cats, one of them—Starfire—is totally fine with the kittens. The third cat, Oreo, is a little bit ambivalent. She'll hiss at them and then she'll sniff at them and she would occasionally play with them, but mostly she seems to follow Mean Girl Ruby around and meows the equivalent of, "Is that what you're wearing?" *eye roll* "Brown fur patches are soooo six years ago."

(Pickles: "Raise your hand if you've ever been personally victimized by Ruby.")

Ruby chases the kittens. She bats at them and she tries to bite them on the butt. As a silver lining, the kittens' terror has made them bond very strongly with us. They used to spend all of their time on the couch next to us—or hiding under one particular chair. Honestly, it was a little sad.

But cuddly. Very, very cuddly.

You know how when you were a kid, you would pretend that the floor was lava and you couldn't step on it? That was the kittens' life, because the floor? The floor belonged to Ruby.

“Please don’t leave us.”

We have always kept the kittens in our bedroom at night so they feel safe while they sleep. But these fucking little cats are so helpless that we had to carry them downstairs in the morning and carry them back upstairs at night.

“I’m sure these things at the end of our legs are supposed to do something, but I’m just not sure what.”

We have tried very many things to bring peace back to our animal kingdom. We have a Felaway diffuser, Ruby wears a delightfully scented, purple calming collar, and we have been very liberal with treats around the kittens. We have even given Ruby chewable Prozac for cats. Seriously. We had a whole conversation about Ruby's right to self-determination before we decided the kittens had a right to not be bitten on the ass every day and we started stuffing pills into Ruby.

We've had some success, but Ruby still HATES the kittens. And much as I always swore that I would never live in a segregated house where one set of cats lived in one place and another set lived in another, that is what we have come to. We've temporarily moved the kittens to our bedroom until Ruby either forgets they exist or forgets that she hates them. Or until one side or the other dies.

Sometimes I'll put Ruby in the bedroom and let the kittens hang out in the main part of the house. It takes the kittens a while to figure out that they're safe though. The other day, I brought the kittens downstairs, put them on the couch, took a shower, went to the grocery store, went and took an oath to become a notary, came home, and they were in the exact same spot where I'd left them.

That’s Sharky in the back with the circles under his eyes.

Seriously, I carried them to the litter box the other day. They are CATS. That's why you have cats, so you don't have to take them to the bathroom. (See above, re: kitten problem)

After they realize that Ruby isn't coming for them though, they relax.

I know they look alarmed still, but that’s because I was shouting their names at them.

I don't like to leave Ruby upstairs alone, so I usually put Oreo with her. This has had dire consequences for Oreo.

Yes. That IS Oreo’s head stuck under the door to my bedroom.

Evidently, Oreo was going to tunnel out.

I sent Sam for the camera as I rushed to save her. I don't know what she was thinking. Very clearly she has no concept of her giant body. She was like Winnie the Pooh stuck in the honey pot. And just like Winnie the Pooh, it was difficult to get her out.

I couldn't jam her head back through so I had to slide her over to the edge of the door to free her. Unfortunately, her body was acting as a wedge, so it was hard to to push the door open enough to give her head room to slide out. It was a whole thing. A whole hilariously tragic thing.

She's okay. She's embarrassed, but she's okay.

We won't be using that door to confine Oreo anymore.

So now you have the whole story of The Great Kitten Schism of 2015. It turns out that there is a downside to having five cats. I KNOW. WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED?

I will say, however, that our goal in getting the two additional cats was that there would always be a cat within arms' reach. I was going to say mission accomplished, but as I write this, there is no cat anywhere within sight. With all we've done to make these animals happy, that is some buuuuullshit.

These five cats are seriously lucky that they are so individually delightful because as a group, they are a huuuuuuuuge problem.