Origin Stories.

Every year about this time, I write a post similar to this one. Then I don’t publish it, out of concern that my words would be misread or misunderstood. This year I decided to go ahead and hit that publish button.

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For the past ten years, the constants of my life have been that I am a writer, a mom, a wife, an accountant, a homeschooler. But four years ago, that shifted dramatically. Very suddenly I found myself sure I was going to die, dealing with daily chest pains and blacking out and heart racing. Four months of every medical test imaginable and I was diagnosed with Dysautonomia. Since that point my life has consisted of working every day at being able to minimize my symptoms. Drinking obscene amounts of water, running nearly every day, abstaining partially or wholly from the delicious parts of life like caffeine and chocolate and sugar, IV treatments, and tracking everything imaginable to see what helps or hurts my situation.

For clarification, I actually do live a fairly normal life, but I work seriously hard at being able to do so.

There are some things I can’t fix, however. I have tried countless things to make my brain work as quickly and as wittily as it used to, and nothing seems to help. Writing takes infinitely longer, and I have shrunk my writing schedule down from 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, times a week to the current 2 and sometimes only 1 time a week. If I happen to go back and read something that I wrote more than four years ago, I end up in a funk for a couple of days because it makes me so mad at how well my mind formerly functioned. And then it frightens me that my brain is in a continuing state of decline, and it’s going to get even worse.

Every year about this time, when my Dysautonomia gets especially rough (thanks, summer) and my brain gets unendingly fuzzy, I struggle with whether I should continue writing, or if I should take that pressure off of myself and quit while I’m ahead. Other times I glance at my blog’s dwindling visitor numbers and ponder whether I’m like a sitcom that’s gone three seasons too long.

But then I remember that the real reason I’m writing is for my children to read. They have 2,100+ posts over nearly ten years, many documenting their lives, and they already enjoy reading and hearing the stories I’ve captured here. Although Ali has reached the age where I don’t write about her as much because she deserves her privacy, Noah still has a lot of childhood left to document. And so I convince myself to keep writing – to not care if I’m boring people or losing readers with my diminished ability to craft words in a captivating manner. I write for the reason I started writing – to record our own personal history book.

(It really is hard to remember that because I love you all so much, and the hundreds of relationships I’ve birthed out of writing are precious to me. But at the end of the day, I try (but often fail) not to stress about my writing.)

So if I don’t write as often as I used to, or if you also notice that my writing style has drastically shifted, or if I take a long quiet break, please know that I’m probably somewhere, racking my brain for words and original thought, frustrated that I can’t remember how to think creatively.

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But as hard as the writing loss has been, from the journey of dysautonomia came my love for photography. Because when my brain was too foggy to form words, I could still tell stories in picture. And since I was now forced to exercise to stay lucid, I was seeing (and appreciating) more of my surrounding world on the daily.

From that birthed Picture Birmingham, my photography business where I sell my prints, note cards, and other photo art products so that I can donate all the profits to The WellHouse, a ministry that helps rescue and care for victims of human trafficking. In the three years of Picture Birmingham’s existence, it has raised over $15,000 for The WellHouse – and zero dollars of that would have existed if I hadn’t gotten dysautonomia.

So although my daily life is affected in annoying and constant ways, and although my ability to craft words and love for writing has been decimated, and although I have to work every day to live normally, dysautonomia has forced me to LIVE to be able to live – and therefore, to help my children also live a life full of seeing our beautiful world. It has forced me to appreciate my state, to explore, to engage in nature, and to do crazy things like go in a wet cave and climb on a slippery pedestal above a 50 foot drop.

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It has changed who I am and what I value. It has given me an appreciation for this spectacular world and an ability to go explore it. It has given me the opportunity to use those explorations to help women that are suffering in ways that I cannot imagine.

So yes, I have an incurable illness. And yes, that’s really stupid and annoying. But as illnesses go, this one does have its blessings. And I am, (at least some of the time,) okay with that.

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Theories on a Grand Target Adventure.

As I was driving down Highway 280 on Saturday afternoon, lost in thought about all I had to accomplish in the next day and week and year and lifetime, I approached a set of flashing police lights in the median. I slowed down, as one does, out of caution and to ensure that it wasn’t a tricky speed trap.

The cars in front of me slowed as well and then we all slowed much slower than we should have slowed because what was going on was super curious in a fantastic sort of way.

The median was only a few feet wide, but it held a lot of items at that moment:

1. A single cop car.
2. A cop, standing in the median, currently occupied with handcuffing and emptying the pockets of an
3. Extraordinarily tall and skinny gentleman.
4. The gentleman’s apparent mode of transportation, which was a Target shopping cart, containing
5. Two industrial-sized mops and a
6. Mop water bucket (uncertain if it still contained dirty mop water.)

Two more cop cars came barreling up the hill toward the party, lights flashing and sirens blaring, because obviously this situation required at least six policemen, especially since those mops were INDUSTRIAL-SIZED.

My mind busied itself for the rest of the day, mapping out this scene and analyzing it in a studious forensic fashion.

Highway 280, for those of you who aren’t from around here, is our everybody-hates-it highway. It’s huge, always crowded, a continual source of irritation to the entire population, and also the victim of constant reworking to attempt to fix the eternal traffic problems. Currently, there are all these you-can’t-turn-left-but-you-can-U-turn lanes, complete with traffic lights that show the U-Turn symbol instead of a left-turn signal. They’ve barricaded other former left-hand turns and even straight-across pathways, one of which added 15 minutes onto my personal travel situation.

So you get the picture – this isn’t some backwoods country lane. It’s a SERIOUS road.

The location of the Target Cart Incident was directly in front of the Water Works reservoir. Mapping quickly in my head and then confirming the mileage with the help of Google Maps, the closest two Targets were…

1. 1.8 miles away, but up a seriously steep incline on Highway 280,
2. 4.4 miles away, on Highway 280, but crossing over the interstate, passing a huge shopping mall (and therefore much traffic), and containing a slight uphill climb, then a fairly good downhill coast.

Target Mop GuyMap not to scale. Curves on 280 attempting to show elevation change. Because I’m super good at maps like that.

I decided option two was where he’d come from, as option one’s steep uphill would have been impossible while riding a Target Cart in traffic traveling at 55 miles per hour. Which means that, coming from the other direction, if he’d only made it to that steep downhill section, he’d have had the ride of his life. Who needs roller coasters when you have a Target Cart and Highway 280?

I envisioned the journey as this: Extraordinarily Tall Gentleman (ETG) riding on the back of the cart, kid-style, while holding onto the handlebars. He would push himself like a skateboard to get going, then put his feet up on the crossbar, lean over (quite a bit due to his height), and coast when he could, hopefully with minimal dirty mop water backsplash.

That covered the where and the how, but more importantly was the why.

Maybe he was the janitor at one of these Targets.

Maybe some snot-nosed kid had spilled the LAST Slushie he was going to clean up.

Maybe some suburbia Mom had sloshed the LAST Starbucks double Frappe from which he was going to destickify the floor.

Maybe in a revolt against Target’s gross misuse of the word clearance, some angry Tennis Housewife had smashed a case of 10% off “clearance” La Croix.

Maybe there’d been a puker in the home goods section. And maybe it’d splashed all over the sheets and towels.

Whatever happened, I envisioned ETG looking at that Last Mess, saying “Oh no. Uh uh. I’m done here”, and walking his Cart de Mop right out the front sliding doors, pushing it to the end of the parking lot, holding on for dear life, giving a loud Braveheart-Style war whoop, and riding his way to FREEDOM from the tyranny of the Kingdom Tarzhey.

I feel like ETG could have had a slightly better escape route planned beforehand, though. 280 drivers are known for spotting – and tweeting – oddities very quickly. Such as Naked Guy with the tripod (not an innuendo) taking selfies of himself – there were two dozen tweets about him before he could snap his first duckface. No, ETG riding a Target Cart with Two Industrial Mops and a Mop Bucket didn’t have a chance. But he did hold on longer than Naked Guy (not an innuendo), so there’s that.

(As an aside, I did in 2014 have a brief(less) Twitter conversation with Naked Guy. I did not get to the bottom of his motive.)

Later that evening, we passed back by the scene of the crime. I was hoping that the cart would still be there – as a memorial to the ET(and Brave)G. But it was gone. Which led to a whole different slew of questions. Did the cops somehow tow the cart back to the correct Target? Did Target come and retrieve their property themselves? Or was that cart and its contents booked as evidence of a Crime of Passion and Adventure?

The world will probably never know. But I feel like ETG deserves accolades for his attempt to escape the oppression of The Target Empire, not to mention for distracting my mind completely from all I had to do that day and week and month and year and life.

And so I’m here to offer it.

I salute you, ETG.

And I promise to attempt to keep my coffee in my cup and the puke in my kid while I’m in the confines of all Targets from here on out – as a memorial to you and your valiant Stand Against Messes.

On Discovering Michigan.

On the First of July, I and my six fellow small group ladies found ourselves in the great state of Michigan. We take a girl’s trip once a year, and whether it is hosted by an Irishman in Bugtussle, includes a contest to find the highest heels in Unclaimed Baggage, or involves the breaking of my elbow and finger, it always embodies adventure. This year’s girl’s trip was located in Michigan so that we could also help decorate for and attend the vow renewal of one of our small group couples, Kelly and Jon.

But we weren’t exactly sure what Michigan had in store for us, to be honest. There were dozens of lakes in south Michigan, but none of them seemed to have heard of the idea of renting out their lake dwelling to hoards of Alabama Moms. Finally, in an act of pure desperation, I rented the one and only place I could find within a 50 mile radius of our destination – and it was a farm.

I was more than a little nervous about this choice – none of us had ever stayed at a farm in the middle of nowhere and what would we do? Where would we get groceries? Would it feel strange?

Our first steps into Michigan were not great. We flew into Detroit and waited for over an hour for the rental car we had reserved months in advance. When they finally found a Tahoe (from another lot) and drove it around for us, her smell wafted before her, and a vapor surrounded her as if the entire board of the National Cigarette Lover’s Convention had ridden cross-country immediately prior. We quickly surmised they’d gotten her from the “Do NOT Rent These Vehicles Out” lot, and we named her Estelle.

So our hour drive from Detroit to farmland included all the windows down, six girl’s hair tangled up with each other, and double buckling – because no one could stand to sit on the back row of cigarette fog.

Our farm, however, was surprisingly gorgeous. The house was bigger than it’d looked online, and we found out that the adjoining Tennis Court and Indoor Pool were reserved solely for our stay.

The farm was owned by an enterprising couple who lived next door. He’d wanted to make some extra money, so he built a tennis court on which to give lessons. She wanted an indoor pool, so he built that for her, and since they were building a new building, they made it twice as long and also created an event space. I’m not sure when they added our rental house to their collection of buildings (and 200 acres of farm land), but their oasis in the middle of miles of crops was a fascinating and peaceful place for a bunch of moms to relax.

The indescribable quiet that comes from being a mile from your neighbors brings with it a sense of peace that we’d never experienced in Birmingham. And the back deck, shaded from the afternoon sun and perfect to enjoy the dry and cool July-in-Michigan air allowed us to watch the rabbits hop by. By the time we’d eaten dinner at 9pm (before sunset) on that gorgeous back deck, we’d made our decision: our small group definitely need to buy a commune farm and move to Michigan.

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After dinner, I announced that I was going on a sunset walk. It didn’t take long for everyone to follow me down the long, quiet, flat road.

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As the sun disappeared, we began noticing a good number of fireflies.

And then the magic happened.

As dusk descended over the miles of fields, we saw that there were millions of fireflies, flying and blinking in waves of astounding beauty. It was impossible to fully capture on video, which made it somehow all the more magical. I tried to photograph them, but it didn’t even begin to capture the sheer number of fireflies before us.

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At least one, and maybe more that one someones, might have cried a bit at the reverence of the moment.

It was such a simple, yet overwhelming beauty.

We started the next morning off with a walk / run / cross-training challenge.

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IMG_9164Pretty sure they were the first humans to ever do push-ups in that particular corn field.

To say running the roads around our farm were different than the roads in Birmingham would be an understatement. The gravel beneath our feet and the ability to see for miles at a time was bizarre and delightful. Each “block” was a mile on each side, which made running around the block ridiculous yet interesting.

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I even found my favorite roadside snack, a mulberry tree, so that at least was familiar.

IMG_9203Why yes I actually eat berries from trees on the side of the road. You would too if you knew how delicious mulberries are. Unless you confuse it with Nightlock.

Since we had an entire tennis court reserved for us, I decided we needed to use it.

I convinced Kristin to play with me, and we were magnificent.

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After a few minutes, we decided we’d keep score by “how many times can we hit the ball back and forth – who cares how many times it bounces first.”

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We set a high score goal of 10, but after 45 minutes and a bucket full of balls (many hit over the fence – home run!!), we’d only scored a 9, and called it a success so that we could go hop in the indoor pool to cool off after our super sportsing.

That night a storm came in and snatched the sunset away from us,

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but experiencing the drama of a storm in the plains was totally worth it.

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Our farm house looked like it was absolutely about to take off, and I felt more than a little bit like Dorothy.

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I passed our landlord on my walk, who said “It’s something, isn’t it? But it’ll pass right over and miss us. It always does.”

“But my radar shows it’s definitely coming right here any minute…”

“Yeah, but it won’t.”

I was sure he had to be wrong because my radar is always right in Birmingham. But he was not. All that drama and it barely sprinkled, allowing us a second night of firefly magic.

The next day was all about decorating for the Vow Renewal.

Or, more likely…decorating ourselves.

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Because when there are bushels of tulle lying around, someone is going to end up with a Bow Bigger Than Their Butt. It’s a rule.

At one point, the groom’s sister-in-law was unsuccessfully attempting to hang lights. They were heavy and not staying in place, and she asked if I knew where another ladder was so I could help her.

“No…but…I don’t mind cuddling with you.”

I mean we’d known each other for a whole five minutes so why not.

I climbed her ladder and nestled my face into her armpit to hold the lights up while she tied them off. I forgot that I have extremely unfortunate balance, and I started to fall straight backwards, guaranteeing to take the lights, the pole, the ladder, and the sister-in-law with me.

Just in time, a guy I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting yet stuck his arm out and caught me. And then stood there for the next five minutes, holding me up while I held the lights up while sister-in-law tied them off.

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About two hours later I discovered that this was Paul, the bride’s brother.

Hi Paul, nice to meet you.

Thanks for keeping me from breaking my everything.

After stealing greenery from roadside shrubbery and decorating until we could decorate no more, we went back to our farm and prettied up.

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The Vow Renewal was perfect and lovely,

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and we stayed on our best, most reverent behavior.

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We had “allowed” Jon, the groom, to come to our farm house two nights prior and cook for us and kill a wasp for us and do our dishes for us, so of course we had to get a picture with our Farm Boy.

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(We tried to convince our husbands that from here on out we would have to take one of them along to be our personal valet, but I don’t think any others were willing to hear and see and live through all that comes with Girl’s Retreat.)

Right as the reception got good and kicked up,

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Three hot air balloons happened to fly overhead.

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Michigan is, indeed, full of magic.

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We caught one more sunset on the way home,

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Lydia caught me catching said sunset,

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And I captured a couple of moments of our last evening, again filled with millions of friendly fireflies that avoided my camera lens.

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The next day we drove Estelle back to the Detroit Airport and gladly abandoned her for eternity, hoping that Michigan also has some sort of magical car rejuvenation process for her sake.

We found the legendary light tunnel in the airport, and I yelled out, “Quick! Do a Charlie’s Angels pose!”

Everyone ran out and posed, and at the last second, Lydia showed us her true hidden talent. Why yes, she’s had five kids. And yes, she can still do the splits.

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…which led to the star of the photo actually being Shocked Christen – and who could blame her. We all felt like Shocked Christen in that moment.

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Christen managed to hold it together for as second take, but it could never compare to the raw emotion of the first shot.

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As soon as we made it back to the Birmingham airport (where it was currently storming) and had our final group hug, we desperately wanted to be back in Michigan. Would we go back to the farm if we could? Absolutely. Would we live in Michigan if we could? At least for the summers.

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Dear Michigan: Let us know if you’re looking for a group of reverse snowbirds.