The Highs and Lows of Winter.

When you live in the south, you really don’t expect the freezing point to actually mean something. To me, it’s always felt more like a guideline.

“Water could start freezing at 32 degrees.”

But no. I really actually means that water freezes.

And as such, it’s been freezing around here, so we’ve been experiencing the shocking sensation of naturally occurring ice. Who knew that happened south of Michigan?

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We’ve been meandering around town, looking for bodies of water to disturb. And the kids have been perplexed, amazed, and endlessly fascinated by throwing things at the lake and watching the lake fight back.

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(If there’s a rise in general Alabama water volume due to displacement by rocks, that’s on us.)

I’m not saying I’m doing all of this exploring out of the generosity of my heart – I’m pretty geeked out by naturally occurring ice myself. I thought ice was created by ice makers and came out of the door of your fridge in neatly uniform tapered cubes. But ice is way fancier when it creates itself.

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We didn’t exactly attempt walking on water at Oak Mountain, but we certainly considered it. And gave the lake a few good shoves with our feet to see if it was possible. It was not, but the thickness of the ice was nonetheless impressive.

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(And by the way – the most satisfying sound I’ve heard in a very long time is the unique tinkling of a piece of ice being thrown at, breaking into dozens of pieces, and then sliding chime-ingly across a lake.)

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But on our second day of Arctic Alabama Exploration, we hit paydirt.

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There’s something about this fountain – perhaps its extreme shallowness – that made it perfect for an actual attempt at walking on water.

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And so, after a few tentative steps around the edges, the children indeed realized they could do just that.

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I mean, this is SERIOUSLY NOT supposed to happen in the deep south.

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But they were happy to test it out, despite the fact that my dad had just finished telling us a story about a fisherman in Virginia that fell through the ice, and upon asking the locals what they would do about it, they said, “Oh, we’ll find him come Spring – if the turtles don’t find him first.” Dad followed up his story with “Anyone who is trying to walk on ice in Alabama has GOT TO BE stupid.”

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It was treacherous.

And we knew we were taking our lives into our hands.

So naturally, we let my Dad be the first to know of our dangerous adventures.

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Lack of turtles. That’s the key for ice walking.

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So we shall continue our bitter cold adventures until our normal winter temps of the 50s come back very, very soon.

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But we’ll always look down and check for turtles first.

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How are you coping psychologically with the cold?

On Proving that The Mayflower > The USPS

November First.

That’s where this story begins.

It was the day I received an order from England for one of my Roadkill Calendars*.

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I have shipped plenty of things overseas. I’ve shipped to China – with the endless label written in Chinese. I’ve shipped to Africa. I’ve shipped to England. I’ve shipped to many random places in the world, and I do not suck at it.

The USPS website allows you to buy international postage online, which is nice – because filling out a manual customs form is comparable to shoving a full-sized male Gorilla into a Ziploc snack bag – no international address actually fits into the tiny fields on that microscopic form.

The very day I received the order, I printed my label.

Except that I noticed no postage printed alongside the customs form.

I went through the process again to make sure there was not an additional form to print, and there wasn’t.

I shrugged, assumed the post office was doing things differently now, and dropped it off to ship.

A few days later, the package showed back up on my doorstep, with a handwritten note on it:

“No Postage!”

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I got back on the website and paid the $13.50 international postage again in the attempt of saving myself from a visit to the actual post office. It is a place of unspeakable horrors, as Portlandia so accurately portrayed:

But after I went through the process again, it printed off exactly as it had before: without postage.

So I gathered both receipts, the package, the new and faulty label, and as much bravery as I could muster and went to Local Post Office Number One in the late afternoon, riskily near closing time.

The parking lot was nearly empty, so I felt that the stars of postal fortune had perhaps shined upon me.

I walked in and was overcome by the smell of hopelessness.

There was one worker and one customer, and it was apparent she’d been there a while. The male postal worker helping her laughed maniacally when I walked in. He yelled over to me,

“Whatever you need, I cannot help you.”

I looked toward the counter. There was a pile behind him, a pile in front of him, and this pile had not yet been moved over to him:

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Every few seconds, he made a sarcastic comment to the customer.

“Oh is that ALL?”

“Just a few more then, huh?”

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…all while glaring at me in the attempt to intimidate me into slinking out in the SHAME of coming in while he was dealing with this tragedy of over-mailing.

I peeked at her stack of boxes: they were Christmas presents for overseas troops. This fact did not make Mister Postal Worker any less Grinchy.

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But the stars shone upon me and a shimmering unicorn walked out of the back room. Or rather, a smiling postal worker – same difference.

She asked me what she could help me with and I explained my issue and presented my receipts.

“You paid for this package twice? My goodness, honey. You shouldn’t have done that.”

She inspected the package’s markings and said while shaking her head, “Mmm, mmm, mmm, those idiots at the downtown Post Office sent this back. They are SO STUPID. They should know better!”

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She took out a black Sharpie and wrote on the package, “Postage Paid!!”

“That’ll do it, honey. It’ll ship now!!”

A few days later, like a stray cat that can’t take a hint, it showed up on my doorstep for the second time.

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This time it had a note, also written in Sharpie, that said “No postage – writing ‘postage paid’ is not postage.”

I stopped at Local Post Office Number Two.

It was late November by now, so the lines were beginning to swell with holiday anxiety. I waited patiently for ten minutes while my children waited not-so-patiently.

“Can I help you?”

“I am hoping that you are an expert. I just know you can help me solve this.”

I explained the saga. I displayed my receipts. I pleaded for mercy.

“I can’t help you with that. You need to take it back to Local Post Office Number One. They have a manager over there.”

I tried not to let my tears stain the post office floor.

Instead of taking his advice, I decided to take it to the Scene of the Crimes: I would go to the dreaded, the formidable, the horror movie of The Downtown Post Office.

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I left my kids with Chris and approached the office with a respectable dose of fear.

A man talking rapidly on the phone was coming out of the front door as I approached, and I slipped through the door.

He turned around, huffed loudly, and angrily barked toward me, “You’re welcome!!”

a. He didn’t even really hold the door for me.
b. He was on the freaking phone in mid-sentence. Was I supposed to interrupt him to thank him for his sub-par gentlemanliness?
c. He is absolutely the kind of man who believes that buying a woman dinner on a first date entitles him to immediate relational benefit. And this realization made me want to vomit on his fancy wingtip shoes.

This encounter set my Downtown Post Office visit in motion just the way I expected it to go.

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The line was the kind of line that you could file your taxes, read a Jane Austen novel, call and comprehensively catch up with your best friend from 4th grade, and knit an ugly Christmas sweater all before being granted the privilege of being Next In Line – and I’m pretty sure there were people in that line doing all of those things.

I approached the counter with a look of humble gratitude. I pulled out my growing Package Dossier. I explained my case.

She looked at it all quietly, then said, “I’ll have to talk to my manager.”

She left me. She left me for so long I almost had abandonment issues.

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She finally returned, looking a year older. “He said the online postage system has been messed up lately – he’s seen other international packages come through without the postage printed correctly also. He told me to just print you the postage and it’ll go through just fine.”

Thank goodness. I came to the right place. And also I’m not crazy – I did nothing wrong when buying postage.

She started entering in the address.

“This shows it should be $22.50, and you only paid $13.50.”

“That’s what the online system charged me…”

“Well, online gives a discount, but I can’t. Hold on let me go check with my manager.”

Depression gripped my heart as PTSD Abandonment Issues set in.

Days later, she came back.

“He said I have to charge you the difference. So you’ll need to pay nine dollars.”

“Fine.”

Type, type, type.

She printed postage for nine dollars. I paid her. She said, “This should do the trick. If it doesn’t, come back.”

That was not the hope I was looking for.

Two weeks passed. I felt sure my package had made its voyage across the sea. I mean, HOW HARD COULD THIS BE?! Angelica sailed back and forth between England and New York multiple times during one act of Hamilton. If Angelica could do it in the 1780s, surely a few pictures of roadkill can make the journey before 2018.

Then came the Friday before Christmas. I was in bed recovering from surgery.

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Chris got home from work, walked into the bedroom with his hand behind his back, and said “You’re never going to believe what was on the front porch.”

“Cat poop?”

“Worse.”

“A slaughtered raccoon from that stray cat who won’t take a hint?”

“So much worse. You’re going to be so mad.”

“I don’t want to be mad!!”

“Mad in a fun way.”

He pulled the envelope from behind his back.

I nearly popped my incisions from screaming.

THIS IS NOT A FUN KIND OF MAD!!!!!”

He set the envelope in my lap. That poor package was battered, abused, and humiliated.

Package to England

This time it had come back, according to the sticker, because the barcode had already been used.

There were so many scars and memories on on that package of all my prior visits…

…The scribbled out Sharpie messages…

…The $9 postage…

…All the stickers demanding I do this right even though the post office admitted it was their fault…

The envelope itself was a calendar of my November and December.

So, the week after Christmas, I decided to go back to where it all started.

Local Post Office Number One.

I took a fresh envelope, my stack of receipts from all former post offices, and resigned myself to filling out a fresh customs form – by hand.

As I waited in line, I began the process of rewriting everything. Which is when a man and his son who had been standing behind me decided that I was a prime target for line-cutting. They nonchalantly stepped around and in front of me.

But it was the wrong post office visit to mess with me. I had endured the sarcastic You’re Welcome guy. I had endured the cruel postal worker who didn’t want to process packages for the troops. I WAS NOT GOING TO JUST TAKE A LINE CUTTER.

I pushed around them and took back my place. “I was in line before you.”

“Oh, sorry.” They stepped back a step and looked at each other as if I had a crazed look in my eye (I’m sure I would never.)

I held my shoulders high with the ecstasy of not being taken advantage of (by anyone but the United States Postal Service.)

I hefted my sheaf of documentation up on the counter.

I walked the clerk through a Masters-Level education of what brought me here, to her counter, today.

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She sighed and shook her head.

“Okay. We need a new barcode. And new postage. And I think we can make this work.”

“Do you want me to use a new envelope since this one is so wrecked?”

“No. Let’s leave part of these stickers the same.”

Type type type…

She read my customs declaration. “This is a calendar, huh? What year is it for? Please say it’s for 2020 – because that’s probably when it’ll arrive.”

“Right? The Mayflower sailed from England to America quicker than this package is getting from America to England.”

“You are so right about that, honey.” She taped my freshly handwritten customs form onto the package.

RIGHT OVER MY ADDRESS.

“Um, I trust that it’s going to work this time, but you just covered up my return address. If perchance it doesn’t work, I really want to be able to know it.”

She sighed, ripped it up, salvaged my address, and re-taped it. I pondered whether this could be a DefCon Nine Postal Worker Solution to a problem package: if you make sure it ends up in the Eternally Lost Package Bin, the customer can’t complain again.

Then she looked at me sternly, with that look you give a stray cat after it craps on your porch for no good reason. “I do NOT want to see you back here again. I do NOT want to see this package again. Got it?”

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“Believe me, ma’am. I feel the same way.”

And this is where we now find ourselves.

My confidence level regarding this fifth attempt is at about 32%. I fully expect to see that mangy package cuddled up to my stray porch cat any day now.

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Thoughts and prayers, y’all. Thoughts. And. Prayers.


* Roadkill calendars are sold out, but if you find yourself in desperate need of one, I can still special order them. Unless you’re in England. Then forget it.

The Seven-Year-Old Silver Screen Star.

Noah turned seven today.

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And it’s been a long, arduous, lifetime of work for him to achieve his (not-so-much) dream of being a television star, which also happened this week.

All because being a blogger has weird side effects. Such as your images being super searchable, and sometimes your most random image can be the very one that a Supervising Post Producer of an NBC television show is looking for.

Such is the case with this image, which I posted here in 2012.

Lederhosen Baby

I got an email months ago, asking me if NBC could purchase the rights to this Noah to use on the show Better Late Than Never. She explained the idea of the show and the context in which the image would be used, and it seemed fairly harmless to me – even if Noah would probably not be allowed to watch the entire episode (because it’s a family tradition to be a Child Star in things too indecent for children to watch – I was.)

I said sure, and what transpired were many emails, contract signatures, legalese, and sending back and forth of files.

The contract I signed stated clearly that NBC had the right to use this photo in any way they wanted – in this universe (not just this earth) – in perpetuity (or in the after-life) – and in so doing, they could speak of it any way they wanted, including but not limited to defamation, exploitation, and slander.

Seemed reasonable. Especially since they also asked for a picture of me – I’m sure to give visualization to the mother they planned to shame.

I didn’t mention this process to anyone but Chris for quite some time because I know how these types of things work. They take months to finalize, and then the whole thing gets scrapped by the Supervising Post Producer’s Producer who says something along the lines of “I think we need something a bit more airy, teal-minded, and incandescent.”, and then the Supervising Post Producer comes back to you and says “Hey I’m sorry we don’t need your image after all.”

But eventually, I received a check postmarked from Hollywood. And as I was going through the mail that day, I murmured offhandedly while never taking my eyes off the stack of envelopes, “Oh hey Noah, a picture of you is going to be on a television show.”

And because The Year of Six has held record-setting highs of contrariness, HE WAS NOT AMUSED.

“WHAT?!?!? I DON’T WANT TO BE ON TV!!! GET THE PICTURE BACK NOW!!!”

“Sorry. Can’t. Got the check for it right here.”

“NOOOOOO!!! I WILL NOT BE ON TV I WON’T I WON’T!”

“Actually, you will. When you’re 18 you can decide on whether you’ll be on TV or not. But for now, sorry kid.”

“I AM SO SO SO MAD AT YOU!!!!”

He stomped off in an overworked, fake rage.

That night, he told Chris about my sins. And got even more lack of sympathy.

For the next week, Noah continued to randomly remember my trespasses and would offer me a bit of sulky rage just to remind me how supremely awful I am at this whole motherhood thing.

I finally got around to heading to the bank to deposit the check. Just because I’m extra cruel, I reminded him about it as I drove into the bank parking lot. I received in return a Hulk-Like howl from the back seat. In fact, he was acting eerily like the photo that was sold…irony is lost on him.

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Then I had an epiphany.

“You know what? Any time I sell a photo of you kids, it seems like I should pay you a commission. Don’t you think?”

There was a chorus of “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” from all members of the backseat.

“How much do you think I should pay you?”

Ali: “Five dollars?”

Noah: “I was thinking ten dollars.”

Me: “Well, I was thinking a 10% commission is a industry-standard rate. And since I charged them $150 for the photo, that would be fifteen dollars. How’s that?”

“I love you Mommy I love you Mommy I love you Mommy!!!”

“Hold on though. There’s fine print in this agreement. If I pay you commission on photo sales, you have to agree to a.) never grouch about it again, b.) not complain if I tell anyone about it, and c.) not get embarrassed when it airs.”

“Okay!! You can tell TEN THOUSAND PEOPLE!!! I agree!!!”

In case you wanted to know how much a severe bout of contrariness costs to reverse, it’s fifteen big ones.

Even better, I didn’t have to fork over a single cent of cash. He wanted $5 worth of diamonds on an iPad game (usually deemed an absolute waste of money but hey – he’s a celebrity now so if he wants intangible diamonds, he can afford intangible diamonds) and he used the other $10 to buy back his Kidizoom watch from me (which he had previously pawned because he JUST HAD to have a GX Pokemon card which cost $5 and he asked me “Look around – isn’t there anything in my room I could sell you for $5??” And I was all like “Uh, no.” and he said “How about my watch? Would you take that??”, and I was so sick of him having a tiny screen on his wrist that he was always staring at that I was all like “DEAL, baby. But to buy it back you have to pay me $10.” – because I’m a Loan Shark Mother and I think it’s important to learn the pain of predatory lenders at an early age.)

For the rest of the day, he begged, “Mommy can you put me on TV more? Can I be on TV all the time? What else can you put me on TV with??”, and that night as I put him to bed, he gushed my praises again. “You’re the best, Mommy. AND IT’S ALL BECAUSE OF DARN MONEY!!!”

The world kept turning, we got busy with trips and Christmas and surgery, and we all kinda forgot about his worldwide debut.

The Producer had said it would probably air in mid-December, but mid-December has been a Dark Time for me, so it came as a total surprise when I got a text from my neighbor last night…

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Turns out the episode aired last week.

…And Noah was such an integral mega-star of the show that no one even noticed him (or told us about it, anyway) for an entire week.

I pulled the show up online and, after Noah and Ali gasped at seeing Terry Bradshaw jump around naked and pixellated in the preview (Ali: “surely he’s wearing underwear!!”), I quickly found Noah’s tenth-of-a-second of fame around the 8 minute mark of the show and quickly cut it off after it was over.

Noah laughed. Then smiled sheepishly. For just a second.

Then erased his smile, got a world-weary look on his face and said dejectedly, totally forgetting our contract (because after all, those diamonds were long spent by now),

“I’m not happy that I’m famous.”

Which made me pretty happy. Because after all, it takes most actors decades to realize that very thing.

Happy Birthday, kid. Keep that solid, contrary, irritable head on your shoulders and you’ll do all right.

Editor’s note: If you’re astute enough to notice the difference in the photo and the one on the television screenshot, you also might find it hilarious that the photo they used in the show is not the one they asked for, nor the one I sent them, nor the one I signed away in perpetuity for all galaxies. Apparently the Supervising Post Producer’s Producer wanted one that was a little less screamy. And I guess that means my contract is invalid.