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.

Adult Smash Cakes are the New Promposal.

It’s hard to identify what a decade is about when you’re in the midst of it, but oh-so-easy after they’re over.

The ‘70s didn’t know they’d be remembered for their Disco and groovy polyesters. The ‘80s didn’t imagine we’d mostly recall their patchy vests and Duck Head shorts. And the ‘90s had no idea we would think of them and reminisce on the beautiful days of music.

Okay maybe I’m biased.

However, I believe I have cracked the case on what the twenty-teens will be remembered for.

Their ability to narcissistically turn every happening into a massively overblown moment.

“Oh, in the 90’s, y’all just asked people to prom? Well then. We will hire a skywriter or ask on the Jumbotron or (Dear God please no) get a tattoo to ask our girlfriend to prom.”

(That’s right. As if their girlfriend needed them to get a tattoo to invite her to an event for which she full well knows she will be invited to. I mean, if you’re inviting the super hot girl you’ve never even spoken to, get a tattoo. But if you’re inviting the girl you’ve been dating since your freshman year, a note card and perhaps a small bouquet will suffice.)

The twenty-teens also have a penchant for taking things that are typically considered mundane or undesirable and turning them into a FREAKING EVENT.

This is the generation of rainbow-dyed armpit hair, purposefully squiggly eyebrows, nose hair extensions, selfie nails, and of course, glitter pits.

crazy trends of twenty teens

Another aspect where turning a mundane thing into an event occurs is within the term “Adulting.” Let’s stay un-grown-up even when we’re definitely supposed to be grown up and then groan about it being extremely difficult when we have to, say, pay our car payment or, maybe have a job, or, heaven forbid, LOAD THE DISHWASHER.

The agony.

It’s totally chic.

This digital generation is but a season away from professional photoshoots of scented divorce papers being served in hot air balloons. And life-sized body cakes served in chilled coffins alongside the IRL caskets of loved ones. (Of course, all perfectly filtered for the ‘gram.)

So it makes total sense that these kids who were promposed to and attempt to do as little adulting as possible would invent the trend of Adult  Cake Smashes.

Just search the hashtag #adultcakesmash on Instagram if you want to feel better about your life.

Adult Cake Smash

I’m not going to show you multiple photos of this event because I really want you to go yourself, check it out, mouth agape, accidentally drooling on your iPhone.

But allow me to describe some of the trends within this trend for you, just to whet your appetite. Or bile.

So the idea is to take the ubiquitous one-year-old photo op that we all had and turn it into something for a twenty-something (or even thirty-something) year old woman (or, in rarer but still existing cases, man. Yes, man.)

There are almost always tutus, booze, and sparkles involved in these pictures. They’re the foundation that the A.C.S. is built on.

From the foundation, you can build your Smashing Good Time via two main paths.

….1. You can go the Cutesy Little Girl way, and give yourself pigtails, have a chalkboard stating how many months old you are, what your favorite candy is, and what you want to be when you grow up. This option can also include a tiara, much pink icing, and maybe even a hobby horse and/or Barbies.

….2. Or you can take the Super-Sexed-But-Trying-To-Act-Like-I-Always-Look-Like-This route, where you want to familiarize your Instagram followers with every aspect of your over-glittered body, all while having the expression of innocence and naïveté on your face that says “Oh, it’s sexy when I’m wearing nothing above the waist except strategically placed icing? I had NO idea – I was just trying to recreate my one-year-old photos!”

(Yes. I did see that specific photoshoot while researching for this post. I am not exaggerating.)

But to pull off the Super-Sexy A.C.S, you don’t have to be completely nude – no need to put the future of your Instagram account in danger. Instead, try wearing a gold sparkle bodysuit, perhaps. Or mermaid shells are always a nice touch.

(If you’re a dude, your choices are much more straightforward. You just have to decide if you want a hamburger-shaped cake or Star Wars Death Star cake. And what kind of beer you want next to your cake while you’re smashing yourself into it.)

Once you decide whether you’re going Cutesy or Sexy or Dude, you then must decide how much icing you want on your face. Do you want to look as if you head-butted your cake, spreading the actually-carefully-placed-icing all the way to your forehead and creeping into your hairline? Or do you want the more subtle look, as if you just picked up a hunk and shoved it in a still-awkward-with-fine-motor-movement-toddler way toward your mouth?

Because heaven forbid that we let on that we can, at this age, actually eat cake like a normally-functioning adult. The only thing you never see in an A.C.S. is a dang FORK.

But. In all of my research into this matter, I did find the exception. The one pair of Cake Smashers that ABSOLUTELY deserved the event, the cake, and the mess of icing.

These 100 year old twins.

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So. If you have a twin and you both live to be 100, I absolutely INSIST that you have a cake smash.

But the rest of you could do with a bit more adulting.

A Tale of Two Muses.

I tend to be a dichotomous person. I sometimes exhibit characteristics that seem diametrically opposed, such as having purple hair and being a homeschool mom. And writing extensively on the internet but never mentioning politics (in a serious manner, anyway.)

Opposites make me extraordinarily balanced. Right?

Because of that extreme personality balance, I take photos of sunsets and seek out the most beautiful vistas, and I take photos of roadkill (after giving them props of course, because roadkill-only pictures would just be downright lazy.)

I appreciate the beauty in both – the most lovely of scenery and the most deranged of humor.

And this year, you, too, can remember whichever one you want – all year long. Because I have them BOTH available in calendar form.

Calendar 2018 Choices[4]

It’s kind of like a personality test. Which calendar brings you happiness? A reminder that the beauties of fall will come again,

2018 Calendar October161114c-Playing-by-the-River[15]

or inspiring quotes to remind you that New Year’s Resolutions will kill you?

Calendar January 2018 web[10]
Which do want to gaze listlessly at during a stressful work day? A glittering view of Birmingham during ice skating and the holidays,

2018 Calendar December161202-Ice-Skating-at-Railroad-Park[13]

or a possum reminding you that the right oils can cure anything?

Calendar November 2018 web[9]

Do you need more poetic views in your life,

2018 Calendar April170602 Sunset at Railroad Park _MG_9334 s[16]

Or an uptick in poetic mice?

Calendar February 2018 web[9]

Both calendars support great causes – 100% of the profits of the Roadkill calendars are donated to The WellHouse (who rescues and cares for victims of human trafficking), and all of the profits of the Birmingham calendar are split between The WellHouse and Mission Birmingham (who works with local businesses and government to support the transformation of Birmingham and caring for its resident’s needs.)

So whether you find your most joyful place from Cahaba Lilies in a rushing river,

2018 Calendar May170429 Cahaba Lily_MG_8544_2405[16]

or from a chipmunk reimagined as a massive terror,

Calendar October 2018 web[8]

you will be helping others.

They’re both five dollars off through the end of the week, and either are perfect for wedding presents, Dirty Santa gifts, and baby showers. Or even in lieu of flowers at funerals, depending on the personality of the deceased. Or maybe not funerals.