Surgery, Snow, Smoothies, and The Senate.

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All The Laws of Physics were contradicted this past week.

1. It snowed, in Alabama, in early December. Significantly (for Alabama) – 4-12 inches.
2. Said snow stuck, stayed around an extra day, and some snow is still on my yard as I type.
3. I had my uterus removed yet came home looking four months pregnant.

It was a surreal week in all the ways. Snow had been in the forecast for days beforehand, but for the first time in my adult life, instead of planning and scheming on how to best maximize our snow opportunities if it actually did snow, I literally paid no attention to the possibility. I didn’t even deem it worthy to mention to my children. Because it has never, in my lifetime, snowed in early December. Preposterous. Plus, I was having surgery. So how could it snow when I literally could not maximize it? Inconceivable.

So when I packed my children’s bags to go to my parent’s for a few days, I did not pack them snow-ready apparel. I packed them cold weather apparel, thankfully, but no extra clothes or waterproof anything. It wasn’t even something I thought about as I filled their suitcases and mine.

Chris and I showed up at the hospital early Thursday morning, received our pager, and waited for a table to come available – because when you get down to it, having a hysterectomy is no different than going to Ruby Tuesday for a steak and potato.

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As we waited, we had no choice but to direct our attention to the morning newscasts, which were losing their mind over the fact that it was so definitely going to snow the next day. We rolled our eyes and made fun of their 14 hour “window for snow” – glad they can be so precise.

I don’t remember much about Thursday post-surgery, as I slept off and on most of the day. I tried desperately to stay awake and visit with Chris, and insisted on eating and drinking far too quickly after surgery. After realizing that I was so high I could not swallow food, Chris set off on a quest to get me one last Magical Smoothie – a legendary treat only given to new mothers. He had to journey through multiple wards and wings and buildings, negotiate with nurses and plead for a token to take back to his princess, trek back through wards and wings and buildings without allowing his treasure to be stolen by other desperate husbands seeking The Magical Smoothie, and finally, he delivered The Smoothie of Healing to me.

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I’m not saying that smoothie is why I’m able to blog this quickly after major surgery, but I’m not saying it’s not.

As the smoothie slowly helped rouse me from my Sleep of Death that evening, we watched the continuing frantic news about impending snow. Which would’ve been super exciting if a) I weren’t currently catheterized and therefore had zero chance of enjoying it, and b) every single commercial hadn’t been regarding Alabama’s upcoming senate vote.

Being forced to repeatedly stare at these two men while in a state of extreme medical inebriation helped me see through the political issues and realize a couple things.

1. Doug Jones has a couple of spots on his face that need to be checked out. He might need to get in with a dermatologist right away. And there’s not a dermatologist in the state with more open slots in his appointment book than our dear ex-gov, Dr. Robert Bentley. Can someone arrange a rendezvous for these two gentlemen?

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2. I finally realized who Roy Moore’s supervillain alter-ego is. Somebody light up the bat signal – we’ve got a serious problem down here in Alabama.

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After dreaming about those nightmares for half the night, I woke up at 3am to nurses frantically saying “We’ve got to move you!”

I groggily said “Are you kicking me out?”

“Don’t you smell that?? It smells very strongly of smoke in here!!”

Then Travis the Maintenance Man sauntered into my room and started sniffing around the fridge, the vents, my phone charger, and my IV bag – because I have literally never been in the hospital without having a maintenance man end up sharing my room with me.

At 5am, my nurse was frantic enough that she unhooked me from all the things and made me walk – for the first time – across the hall and three rooms down. Which, albeit annoying at the time, did give me a better view as the sun came up – because it was indeed snowing.

Chris arrived around 6:30 (I insisted he go home to sleep because no one should have to sleep in hospital chairs and endure frantic 3am nurses and visits from Travis the Maintenance Man), and we watched the snow fall together, somewhat stunned and a lot worried about our ability to make it home. Chris figured out how to open my window and gift me with snowballs, which is basically why I married him.

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It was around 11am when they said I could leave, and as it turned out, 11am was the exact worst time to use the roads. The snow had accumulated a good deal (and some had turned to ice), but not enough cars had used said roads to make them safe. And, although it was only a (in normal driving conditions) 15 minute drive from the hospital, there were a lot of ups and downs between the hospital and home.

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There was sliding and swearing and stops to breathe deeply and check ones heart rate. The last half mile was the scariest, as it is basically a curvy nonstop downhill cross-your-fingers-and-wish-for-a-sleigh ride.

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But we miraculously made it without incident.

Meanwhile, the children were having the time of their lives at Gramamma and Pop’s.

There were snowball fights,
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And snowmen,
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And sledding,
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And swinging,IMG_0399 s_1

And snow cream and gingerbread-castle-making while their decidedly non-snow-ready clothes were in the dryer.
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Oh – and there was peanut-feeding my mom’s semi-pet squirrel. Because that’s a normal thing that all kids do at their grandparent’s house.
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The snow did indeed last for nearly that entire window of 14 hours that the morning prior’s news had suggested. It was preposterous in all its beautiful white glory. While I rested on the couch, Chris brought me my own fresh snow for snow cream,
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But eventually the temptation was too great, and the roads had ironically become snow-free and therefore safe to walk on, and I insisted Chris take me on a very slow walk around the neighborhood.

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It was as if Satan had sat around and put some serious thought into it. “What could possibly make Rachel take a long walk just 24 hours after having major surgery? I’ve got it!!!”

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The next day, the snow was still a work of art, and we took another walk, then a drive, then one more walk around The Botanical Gardens. It was, admittedly, too much too soon, and I hurt a good deal after the second outing. But the world beckoned to me louder than my abdomen pain.

The oddness of seeing fall colors and snow at the same time was something we have never experienced before, and will probably never experience again.
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The sun had come out and had begun creating micro-snow showers from the trees.

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The scenes of overwhelming white were nearly too much to take in.

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After these absolutely unavoidably necessary outings, I have followed doctor’s orders and stayed in my Lounging Princess Position, and will continue doing so for another week, as I attempt to make amends to my de-uterized abdomen. And – maybe it was the snow, or maybe it was always the magical smoothie, but I feel surprisingly good.

A Week In The Woods

From Monday to Thursday evening of last week, I was in the woods. No wi-fi, perilously spotty cell service, and all the fallishness I could ask for.

(And Ali didn’t mind it, either.)

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We rented a cabin at Oak Mountain State Park, which is close enough for Chris to commute to work, and the children and I never left the park.

It was glorious.

We didn’t abandon our school – that’s the beauty of homeschooling – it can be done on top of a picnic table by a lake.

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We didn’t do a full load of subjects, but our 20+ miles of hiking and half-dozen canoe trips made up for that.

(Science! Physical Education! Field Trips!)

(Some people enjoyed the canoeing more than others.)

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I attempted to make the week have an ‘80s vibe – I told the children that they could roam on their own around the cabin area. I gave them boundaries, flashlights, and instructions to GO. EXPLORE. Be children.

With the exception of sound: remember, children, it’s called Tranquility Lake for a reason.

Oak Mountain Fall Trip 2017 IMG_4657blogYou can see those flashlight beams on the other side of the lake. As children are supposed to be.

They didn’t really do a good job of all that – they tended to still stay close to me like the flock of geese that twenty-teen children are. But I tried. And I shook them from me a couple times, at least.

My parents came and joined us for a day and night, and with them, as always, came adventure. As they are much more experienced at having eighties kids than me, I totally trusted my dad to row Ali right up to a fairly steep dam and spillway to peer over the edge.

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But the more exciting part of that canoe ride was when Dad and Ali spotted a speedily moving object in the water – and began chasing it.

They chased it, it disappeared. They discussed “Could it be an alligator??”

It appeared across the lake, and they chased it again.

Finally, they got close enough for grabbing. It was a very fast-moving fishing pole.

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After a few swipes and misses, Ali was able to grab it before it swam off again – but it fought back.

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Ali almost dropped the pole once – it was pulling seriously hard.

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But whatever The Monster of Oak Mountain was, it broke the line and left Ali as the proud owner of its former fishing pole.

Oak Mountain Fall Trip 2017 IMG_4755blog(We suspected a large turtle…but monster is also totally believable.)

After the Loch Ness excitement, Gramamma helped the kids forage in order to make The World’s Best Fairy House Mansion.

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There were beds and tables and lampposts and salads and chicken and water and…

I mean seriously. Some Fairy stumbled across this estate and I’m sure assumed she’d died and gone to heaven. This project definitely counted as “Charity Work” on the school log.

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One of the things I most love about staying at Oak Mountain as opposed to visiting (it is, after all, only 30 minutes from my house) is the ability to night hike.

Oak Mountain closes at sunset. When we visit, I’m usually sweating about making it out of there – because I’m pushing it to the last minute to get pictures of the sunset that signifies that I’m about to get locked in.

But if you are staying at Oak Mountain, gates are not an issue. So every night after dinner (I took along a huge pot of soup and grilled cheese makings and that’s what we ate all three nights because soup and grilled cheese are always good in a state park no matter how many nights in a row you’ve eaten it), we’d go on a hike together. I got amazing pictures of these hikes, like this one:

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Okay, Chris fared a little better in his nocturnal photographical pursuits:

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It was, admittedly, slightly creepy the first night as we walked around the lake, hearing impossibly loud plops in the water. Too far of a drop for turtles…too loud for snakes…too loud for frogs…we never did figure out what we were scaring into the water, but whatever it is, I’m sure it was a fishing-pole-stealing type of monster.

But those hikes became the highlight of our days – we’d all get flashlights or headlamps or both and head out into the completely silent forest, crunching on the leaves and blissfully soaking in the crisp November air. Plus, it gave Chris another way to enjoy his time there, since he was still going to work. (He also got up early and ran, so he felt a decent amount of state-park-relaxation in spite of going to work.)

The kids spent our days split between a little school, a little canoeing, and a lot of hiking.

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Oak Mountain has so many trails (over 60 miles, plus a bunch of unmarked trails), so no matter how much we hike out there, there’s always more to see and explore.

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Somehow in her foraging, Ali seemed to have stumbled across The Elixir of Perfect Hair – it certainly wasn’t clean or even tangle-freehair, but somehow it looked like this – in the MIDDLE of a hike.

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GAH. The magic of youth.

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The kids recovered from our walks with a little coffee drinking and a lot of card playing. They might’ve transitioned to adulthood last week.

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And Chris and I spent our evenings and mornings staring at the lake and enjoying the silence of sleeping, thoroughly-worn-out children.

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On our last day at the park, our cousins came out in the morning for a hike, and our friends came out in the afternoon for a hike. The energy levels provided by having friends to hike with was unbelievable – despite hiking so much in the prior days, Noah was sprinting excitedly up the mountainside when he had his cousins to hang with.

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They brought along their massive puppy Macro (still not full-grown), which made it all the more exciting. That dog walks like a lion.

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My only complaint about the week was the lack of sun. The temperature was lovely, but the fog made our hike up to the beautiful lookout a bit…anticlimactic.

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With a lot of angling and waiting for clouds to thin, the best shot I got of the fall foliage below was…

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But the kids didn’t seem to mind. Snacktime still happens on the top of the mountain whether you are enshrouded in fog or not.

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In between hikes, we frantically packed up our cabin and checked out, then met our next friends at the demonstration farm,

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…which is the residence of the nicest, most fantastically depressed donkey you will ever meet.

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He will really help one understand the casting decision for Eeyore.

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The demonstration farm also has ponies, a pig, two peacocks (that sadly weren’t in bad moods and so didn’t show us their magnificent feathers), and a herd of extremely frisky and escape-minded goats.

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Lest you miss him in the corner of the picture, this guy was their lookout while they purloined their sweet ride. He was chosen for his stellar ability to look nonchalant.

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We’ve done the whole feeding-the-goats thing before, and it was frankly frightening. You buy a bag of food, and your reward is getting immediately stampeded.

Frankly, you walk up to the window where they sell the food and you’re likely to draw attention.

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However, the farm made a massive improvement since our last visit – they now have a fenced off area from which you can feed the animals in safety.

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That’s right. At this farm, the humans go in the zoo and the animals come visit them. It’s the way things should be, really.

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After our animal needs were filled, we set off on two last hikes.

The first one included Oak Mountain’s fabulous bird trail (where they have rehabilitating owls and birds of prey in large cages tearing apart bloody mice but you don’t feel so bad for the mice after you read the bird’s back-stories on how they ended up there),

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Through the woods, during which the kids went through the bottom of this tree stump and ended up in Narnia, as one does,

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And, on our last leg of hiking, down to Peavine Falls.

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It was the perfect ending to our week of fall, which was just long enough, as I was quite ready to be back in my own bed, with my own shower, and my own refrigerator. And maybe a bit of wi-fi.

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But not before I booked us the same trip for next November – only next time, we’ll be staying the full seven days. Because I might be a little addicted to this season.

It Doesn’t Take a Village [Of Strangers.]

Most of the time, I am highly amused at the odd antics of strangers – especially since I seem to attract so many of the especially bizarre.

However, there is one stranger behavior that irritates me like no other – the “volunteering” to parent my children.

I need my friend’s and family’s help in parenting – they see things I do not, their eyes are pointed where mine are not, and they are, in general, invaluable.

However. I have never come across a stranger, who upon foisting unrequested parenting onto my children, were the tiniest smidge helpful.

For example.

One day my children and I were walking at Railroad Park. They always enjoy stopping at the exercise equipment to play on it. There’s a pedal thing, various bars for push-ups and the like – the usual outdoor exercise stuff.

Ali was at a very low bar and was walking on it like a tightrope. The thing was maybe half a foot off the ground – at most. She was also approximately four feet away from me, where I had my eyes pointed in her direction.

A young guy (not the usual demographic of the Awkwardly Intense Busybody Club) turned to Ali and said, “You need to get off of that – it twists around and you could fall.”

SHE WAS MAYBE SIX INCHES OFF THE GROUND.

AND SHE’S TEN YEARS OLD.

AND I WAS RIGHT. THERE.

Indignant rage bubbled inside of me.

But unfortunately, my genteel southern upbringing took over. I simply herded my children out of the area and ignored the man all together.

(Which for the situation, was 120% as polite as I could have been.)

Every time I find myself in one of these situations, I always regret afterwards that I did not explain to the stranger that I shockingly(!!) am able to safely parent my children even when they’re not around and they make me want to approve letting my children play in a field of thumbtacks just to spite their unrequited helpfulness.

Okay maybe I have rebellion problems.

Anyway.

That brings us to this week.

On Monday, my friend Amanda and I took my kids to a small park along the Cahaba River to enjoy the newly crisp fall air. It was a perfectly lovely fall day, giving hope to all that perhaps soon our humid 88 degree days would be but a memory – at least for a couple of months.

The leaves have just begun changing here (fall comes late here BUT IT’S COMING!!), but I noticed that approximately .005% of the leaves on the ground were actually in fall colors. In my most exuberant of mental states, I yelled for my children that we would be having a Grand Fall Scavenger Hunt – and to find as many non-green, non-brown leaves as they could.

As soon as they whooped with joy and set off to run around the small park trying to beat each other to the prettiest of leaves, an older lady in the parking lot, who was in the act of getting into her car, yelled angrily (venomously even), “There are snakes ALL OVER this park!!!”, then proceeded to glare at me, as if I’d just gleefully instructed my children to find and swallow vengefully furious scorpions.

Which led to the loudest 5 seconds of silence in my life.

Because a) The park is a park and therefore meant to be attended by humans (and wasn’t she just here?), b) as stated before, my #1 pet peeve is strangers parenting my children for me (although she seemed to be trying to parent me and not directly my children so she gets half credit), c) The park is 4.7 acres – how many snakes could we possibly find there because d) I do adore snakes – especially snakes I find in the wild, but e) my momma raised me to be polite even to the most impolite people.

I looked at her. She was still standing expectantly behind her car door, glowering at me, The World’s Worst Parent.

So I called back in a faltered but oh-so-genuine voice, “Yes ma’am!”, which satisfied her enough to allow her to sit down and close her car door.

Immediately I said to my frozen-in-place children, “Find the leaves! And the snakes! If you find one let me know! And don’t let it get away until I see it!”

We searched for an hour and only found leaves. My resentment only grew – both still in rebellious annoyance that the lady had attempted to quash my fall joy and because I hadn’t found a SINGLE SNAKE.

We gathered our leaves and I presented Ali with the award of Best Leaf Collector. The children helped me line the leaves up in a beautiful fall bouquet.

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I kept waiting for the poetic justice of a venomous snake slithering through my arranged ombré of leaves as I was photographing them, but sadly it didn’t happen. So next time I see The Outraged Snake Lady, I’ll be sure to tell her that we looked as hard as we possibly could, but she falsely advertised the features of the park.

Epilogue: Two days later we went out hiking again, found zero snakes again, but did collect the best collection of fall leaves ever collected in the history of hiking dangerously close to life-ending reptiles.
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…Also if you illegally download the following photo, it makes a darned good fall phone lock screen photo, of which you can impress your friends by pointing to it with a horrified look on your face and say “There are snakes in that pile!!!” If you can’t figure out how to illegally obtain my photographs, email or text me and I’ll be glad to send it to you.

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So basically, my children and I risked all, braved untold dangers, and conquered fall – all for your iPhone’s lock screen.

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You’re welcome.