Blogging: May Cause International Friendship.

I regularly struggle about this blog. Besides the fact that blogging is a dead art, I have less to write about than when my kids were tiny, I have less time (thanks, kids, for not napping anymore), I have more varied interests that take up my time (running, hiking, photography, reading), and it’s harder for me to write well. Late at night when I can’t sleep and anxiety attacks me in random ways, I sometimes decide to quit writing. But the next morning, I always change my mind. And a chief cause of that is relationships.

I have made hundreds of friends through writing, in dozens of states and quite a few countries. I have met scores of these people in real life, and many of my good friends came from blogging. These bonds were formed because we, for many various reasons, have things in common. We view life out of the same lens (sorry if your lens is as sarcastic and cynical as mine.) We can relate. Because somehow – via comments or social media or emails exchanged in the middle of the night, we connected. We made an impact on each other’s lives simply through the exchanged written word.

This is why I still write. Not as often, not as well-crafted. But I write.

This past week was a reminder of the beauty of this blogging side effect.

A blog reader, who googled “Plus sized blue jeans” and found me half a decade ago when she lived in the jungles of Mozambique, came to visit me last week – for the second time. And she brought her husband along this time – who, for some bizarre reason, agreed to come stay with strangers for six days.

Now back to being residents in their home country of Canada, Rick and Heather are (clearly) the adventurous sort, and as such, we did all the things while they were here.

We greeted them at the front door, and they seemed happy to have arrived…

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Okay no we didn’t try and convince them that this was our house. But it would’ve been exceedingly fun to send them this address and wait for the texts to come in.

Back to what we DID do.

Heather wanted to meet all the people in Birmingham that I’ve “introduced” her to via the internet. So we started with lunch with Katherine of Grass Stains fame. (We tried to get Jamie to join us as well, but she was attacked by an October cold.)

We didn’t manage to get a picture with Katherine at our delightful lunch, but we did, however, find time to take multiple photos of the bathroom.

Because – who knew? The old Federal Reserve building downtown (where our lunch date at Urban Standard was located) turned the old vault into the bathrooms.

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Talk about needing to make a deposit.blog IMG_3447

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Since, on their trip down, Rick and Heather stopped at the biggest everything that they could find (you can see Heather’s Instagram feed for evidence of that), I took her to the OLDEST things.

The oldest baseball field in America (Rickwood Field),

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The oldest castle in Birmingham (Quinlan Castle, built in 1927 – you know because we have so many castles),

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The oldest Giant Amazon Box in Birmingham (okay there are a few others and I have no idea which was built first but they’ve been around for like a week or three),

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The oldest selfie-angel-wings in Birmingham (they’re not quite a year old yet but aren’t they fabulous?)

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And the oldest cannon pointed at downtown Birmingham.

blog Heather and Rick About Town IMG_4564The Canadians are coming! The Canadians are coming!!

We also visited some of the best Birmingham restaurants (Nabeel’s and John’s City Diner) and fantastic Birmingham signage nearby,

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Along with the Light Tunnels,blog Heather and Rick Light Tunnel IMG_4687

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Graffiti of note,

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And OBVIOUSLY the sunset.

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It was basically a Birmingham Second Honeymoon. With tour guides.

Because Heather found such fabulous deals last time she visited, we took another trip to Unclaimed Baggage, a couple of hours away – where all unclaimed baggage of all the airlines ends up.

I hung out in the books section for most of our visit, because I discovered that all paperbacks are $1.49-1.99 and hardbacks are $2.99 (and people read REALLY GREAT books on planes). I bought about 15 books, so I’m set for a few days.

I also reprised my small group girl’s trip tradition of finding the most unsafe pair of heels and trying to stand in them.

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I do not exaggerate when I say that I almost broke myself. And I only put one of the shoes on.

Heather’s husband, Rick, was surprisingly cool with all this – even the shopping trip, where he found himself the hottest vintage Baywatch jacket in all the land.

171015 Moss Rock Preserve High Falls 171012  Weathington Park IMG_4510Did I mention he’s a pastor? He’s going to look so fabulous preaching in his Baywatch gear.

Rick did find the need to DO something, which led him to begging us for access to our chain saw (to cut down a tree that fell through our trampoline during what was left of Hurricane Nate), putting together a “some assembly required” storage box I’d ordered from Amazon, and also I came home one day to my dryer taken apart because apparently, cleaning the lint filter doesn’t get all the lint out. (Who knew?) In his spare time, he made things like this with my children:

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A man’s gotta vacation how a man’s gotta vacation.

But what they REALLY came for…

was Alabama football.

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To see the things our state celebrates so thoroughly, like an elephant taking a poop on a Beetle.

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To see what we do with our excess tissue paper.

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And most importantly, to see Alabama Gameday Fashion at its absolute finest.

We saw it all. Multiple men changing clothes in public, ladies wearing scarves as shirts, all manner of visible bras (and visible oh-well-would-you-look-at-that-she’s-not-wearing-a-bra), and tutus. SO MANY tutus.

Heather said, more than once, and I quote,

“Wh – but Wh – Wh wh wh wh WHY??”

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Because Alabama. That’s why.

We made it into the game, where the culture continued to pour out onto us – this time in the form of significant back sweat of the man sitting in front of – and leaning onto – our row.

blog IMG_3658The back which provided the artisan Alabama perspiration can be seen leaning on Rick’s legs.

We had six days of all the adventure and experience and oddities that Alabama could offer. Which was absolutely delightful.

…As was this Introvert’s ICU ward that I entered upon their departure.

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36 for 36.

books I've read

I have always loved to read, but it has been a pastime, like many, that comes and goes based on my stage of life and ability to concentrate. As a kid I read constantly. As an adult, I’ve had short spurts of reading often, followed by long breaks of zero literary pursuit.

2017 has been different, due to three factors.

1. Harry Potter. I re-read the series at the beginning of the year to stay ahead of Ali, and it inspired a quest for more fantastic literature.

2. #TwitForLit, as my husband so literarily coined it. I grew weary of Twitter this year after having been a loyal reader of my timeline for the better part of a decade. The year’s exhausting news cycle and over-politicization of everything might’ve been the impetus for such a decision. So I traded in my Twitter-reading time for even more fiction. It was a fantastically good trade.

3. September. The end of summer hit me with the force of a giant, sticky ogre. I have finally realized that in my newish Dysautonomia-driven life, September is my worst month. I used to despise January – the darkest, shortest-dayed month. But September is the new January. By the end of summer, my reserves of hydration and energy and ability to withstand Alabama’s oppressive humidity are completely used up. I just cannot anymore. As such, I hibernated in September, reading book after book, throwing myself into other worlds and fictional adventure to medicate my personal frustrations.

(All this could be solved if I could reverse-snowbird the month of September. Perhaps a giant northern road trip in 2018.)

To properly catalog my 2017 reading obsession, I joined Goodreads, about seven years later than the rest of the world. I followed three of my most trusted literary friends to copy their reading habits, then set my settings to private. Of all the crazy intimate details of my life that I share, letting the world see what I was reading felt too personal (I know I don’t make sense.) Several days later, I logged onto my Goodreads account on an actual computer to put in some reviews, and somehow by clicking the wrong tab, accidentally friended every single one of my Facebook friends that was on Goodreads.

The horror.

I went from 3 to 164 friends.

Which meant that 164 people got a notification that I wanted to see what they were reading.

I was mortified.

And I had no idea why.

But at any rate, you might as well friend me now – after all, I’m friends with everyone else.

As of today, I’ve read 36 books this year. In fact, I finished my 36th book of the year the day before my 36th birthday (which was yesterday, lest you haven’t sent flowers yet) – so clearly this was how I was meant to fill the cracks in my year.

So after all that ridiculous prologue (this is why I don’t write books), let’s discuss the books I’ve read this year – or at least the absolute BEST books I’ve read that you must also read.

Best overall read: What Alice Forgot.

I thought this book was going to be fluff chick-lit, but it became so important to me. It had such a unique point of view that would benefit nearly anyone in my stage of life (married with kids), and perhaps anyone in any stage of life. Without ever being preachy or overt, it poses a fascinating question for introspection throughout the book that begs a change in perspective on one’s life. And besides all that, it was simply a delightful, enjoyable read from beginning to end. As soon as I finished it, I texted a dozen friends and told them I insisted they read it IMMEDIATELY.

Runners up for best adult reads this year:

Ready Player One. This book was made for people ever-so-slightly older than me, but I enjoyed it despite not getting all of the cultural references. The premise – a world that is so screwed up that everyone lives in a virtual reality rather than IRL, is disconcertingly plausible. The plot – that a treasure hunt using every 80s pop culture reference imaginable to solve riddles and find clues, is immersive and fun. I’d sworn off dystopian literature after re-reading The Hunger Games and finding it depressing at this moment in history, but this is dystopian as Willy Wonka would create dystopian, which totally hides all the dysfunction in a delightful chocolate coating.

 

11/22/63. This is my first and most likely last Stephen King novel. I don’t do horror, so he’s never been an author I was interested in. On a whim, I read this non-horror book, and it was riveting. Without a shred of historical dryness, it immerses you into the 50s and 60s via time travel, which feels a bit hokey at first but is artfully (and very intricately) pulled off. This book is so massive it should have been a trilogy, but it was totally worth the endless read and multiple rises and falls in the plot. I even got the references to another Stephen King book (It), even though I’ve never read nor watched it. I can imagine that someone who does love S.K. would be thrilled by the referential quality of this book.

 
Book I made Chris read:

Neverwhere. (I also made Chris read Ready Player One but it’s already been mentioned.) Chris needed an immersive book to read last Tuesday while I had surgery (did I mention I had surgery last week? No? Well I did), and this is the perfect other world to enter into and then pop out of afterward. It was my first Neil Gaiman read (I have since listened to the audio book of Coraline), and his unique style of writing, in which he doesn’t explain the rules of the worlds he throws you into but you discover them along with the character, is thoughtful and fascinating. For those who love entering into imaginative and supernatural worlds, this is a fantastic book.

As the Harry Potter series are my favorite books ever written, I am not at all opposed to reading children’s literature.

So here are my favorite children’s books this year:

All around best children’s book: The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict. The fourth in the series of The Mysterious Benedict Society and also the prequel, this book made me so happy. It was a joy to read, and the ending, though not a huge twist, was unexpected and so lovely. I absolutely cannot wait for Ali to read this series – I told her she must read them as soon as she finishes her current series (she’s been immersed in The Land of Stories series – thanks to Heidi for the blog comment recommendation.) Back to Benedict. The first three books in the series were fun as well, though I felt they had slightly too many coincidences and the character of Nicholas Benedict was not nearly established enough to make him as lovable as the books implied. Once I read the prequel, the rest fell in place, and now I want to read the first three again. I would never suggest anyone read books out of the author’s preferred order (especially the Narnia series – those books ARE NOT MEANT TO BE ORDERED CHRONOLOGICALLY no matter how they package them – I was recently in a new acquaintance’s home and helped myself to rearranging them the way they were meant to be read), but this series makes me come close to recommending it. But don’t. It’s such a fantastic series, do this: read 1-4, then go back and read 1-3 again.

Surprisingly good read of the year:

Nooks and Crannies. I bought this because Amazon said “Hey! This book is only $3.49 and you’ll like it since you bought these other books!”, so on a whim I added it to my cart. It was extremely clever and immersive (though as a kid’s book, it surprisingly contained a maybe-murder and the discovery of a dead body – how very un-Dora-The-Explorer of them – but I kind of appreciated the author’s 1980s take on children’s literature.) After reading, I decided that the only thing putting this book in the Amazon Bargain Bin is the title – it’s so stupid and not at all representative of this well-written story. Rename it and raise the price – free advice from me to the author.

Book I want to read again:

Counting by 7s. I read this book altogether too quickly, though I blame the book – it begged to be read in nearly one sitting. It was a beautiful tale of friendship and growth, loss and recovery, grief and rebirth. The characters were beautifully crafted and I really want to know them all in real life.
So. What should I read next? What are you reading this year? What have you loved and not loved?

What’s That Sound, The Dozenth Volume.

Noah-and-his-Drinking-GlassesThese are Noah’s new “drinking glasses.” Hopefully this isn’t his idea of preparing for college.

Ali and Noah were discussing the pros and cons of their various babysitters with my friend Kelly. Noah explained that they have a system of points. Ali insisted the point system is based on a ten point scale, but Noah was quick to explain that more COULD be earned.

“Sarah is my favorite babysitter. And she gets 1000 out of 1000 babysitter points because she introduced me to my favorite cake, Red Velvet Cake, the time when she took us to Butt Cakes.”

Kelly looked at me.

I burst out laughing. And remembered where, exactly, Sarah had taught Noah about Red Velvet.

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Obviously, Nothing Bundt Cakes is now ONLY referred to as Butt Cakes in our house.


“If cigarettes are so bad for you, why are they allowed to sell them?”

I shrugged. “Well, because we live in a free country.”

I launched into a lesson about Liberty and Freedom and America and contrasted it with tyranny. I was pretty sure that Noah had tuned me out for my lecture, for he asked no further questions, which is, in fact, a miracle.

Until the next night, when we were on our way to dinner with Chris, and Chris was grumbling about how late the Alabama football game was going to be the next night.

Noah shrugged his shoulders, sighed, and said, “Well, it’s a free country.”


An unnamed friend’s dog was being quite loud and barky.

Noah rolled his eyes and said “I bet he didn’t cost hardly any money.”.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because he’s so ANNOYING!”


“Wrecking a car is better than killing a cat, right?”

…Not sure what he’s planning, but I’m glad he’s going ahead and wrestling with these issues of morality before he finds himself in the front seat of the car.


Me: “Noah! How are you? Are you loving life?”
Noah: “What do you mean…?”
Me: “Are. You. Loving. Life?”
Noah: “Well I haven’t been alive for that long, so…”

He needs more time with life to consider their relationship.


Noah and I were cuddling on the front porch swing, enjoying a quiet moment in a beautiful day.

Noah: “What are you doing?”
Me: “Just looking at your gorgeous eyes.”
Noah: “Are they pink?”
Me: “Nope. Just beautiful blue.”
(Noah stares into my eyes, rather lovingly…)
Me: “What color are they?”
Noah: “Greenish Brown. Like a ……. dirty lake.”

I gave him a hard time about his choice of metaphor all day, every now and then popping in a random comment, such as…

“So do you like dirty lakes?”

That one put him over the edge.

“No…..! Mom – it’s just a COLOR!!”

So mannish of him. To see no negative association in the facts of the matter. Because in reality my eyes are rather the color of a dirty lake.

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I was in bed one day with especially bad lady issues. Noah came to check on me.

“What’s wrong, Mom?”

“My tummy hurts. “

“Why?”

“Long story.”

He crawled up in bed next to me and got comfortable, propping up on his elbow and looking at me. “Tell me.”

“Uh, not today.”

“Did a watermelon fall on it?”

“Nope…”

“Did the house fall on it?”

“No.”

He finally gave up on understanding my ailments and left the room.

Hours later, that night, he came and found me with a look of eureka on his face.

“You should try to poop, Mom!”

“Um….why?”

He rolled his eyes. “Because your tummy is hurting!”

Thank goodness I have him to find all my solutions for me.


Noah was reading out loud “to me” one night, but I wasn’t paying much attention.

Until he said, “Maury Sharstmus!”

I looked up.

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And now I want to write a children’s book all about Maury Sharstmus, the poor gentleman whose name always gets mispronounced as a holiday.

And also I think I’ll be telling a lot of people Maury Sharstmus this year. No Happy Holidays from me!