Moments of Vacation.

We’ve been on our annual double-family vacation, during which I took a writing hiatus. I’m still gathering and editing my photos from the trip, but here are a couple of stories from my favorite moments.

The Ghosterhood of the Traveling Skirt.

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All four kids shared a bunk room for the first time this year. It was the most generous bunkroom I’ve ever seen – two sets of double-bedded bunks. I was somewhat afraid that Noah would be a hindrance in this arrangement – either not letting the others go to sleep, or being in general boyish and naggy. But he was not. He fell asleep instantaneously every night and slept deeply, never waking up in the middle of the night.

Except for that one night.

Noah awoke to go to the bathroom at 4am. And some strange things occurred. Strange things for which he was very anxious to tell me about the next morning…

”I can’t go up the stairs to your bedroom anymore because when I woke up in the middle of the night, I saw a teal skirt floating at the bottom of the stairs! It was just hanging there – floating!!!!”

Ali: “Yeah! He said it was just like mine and AJ’s swim skirts!”

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Me: “Did he wake anyone else up?”

Tessa: “He woke me up because he was going through the suitcase and throwing clothes out and GASPING!”

Throwing clothes around and gasping, y’all. At 4am. Naturally, I found all of this extraordinarily amusing (only because all children went back to sleep after The Skirt Situation), but Noah was quite serious. There had FOR SURE been a floating teal skirt and it was certain that STRANGE THINGS were going down in this house. Apparently the suitcase rummaging had been his attempts to find Ali’s teal skirt – and gasping when he couldn’t find it.

(It was in my room hanging up to dry, but I suppose could’ve floated down the stairs…)

The mystery was thrown around all morning, us trying to convince Noah that he had probably just been half asleep or maybe even sleepwalking.

The older two girls asked gigglingly if they could prank Noah with other ghostly occurrences. We assured them that no good could come out of that plan, so no – no more ghosts were necessary.

Ashley (AJ and Tessa’s mom) mentioned that she’d heard someone get up to go to the bathroom, but missed the rest of the commotion.

Then I looked at Ashley’s shorts…and a theory began to form in my mind.

“Wait a minute. Did you sleep in those shorts?”

“Yup.”

“And…did you open your bedroom door and look out when you heard someone get up to go to the bathroom?”

“Yes, I did.”

SHE WAS WEARING TEAL SHORTS. That were very flowy – just like a skirt.

I informed Noah that he had seen Ashley’s bottom half in the dark (her room was at the foot of the stairs he was now terrified of), and had associated it with the swimsuits the older girls had worn the day before. And we all laughed that there had, actually, been a Teal Skirt(ish) Situation after all.

Noah was insistent that this is not what had happened. It was NOT shorts and it HAD been floating. But by the end of the day, Ashley somehow convinced him.

“Maybe strange things aren’t happening in this house after all…”, he surmised.

And I kinda felt like this whole ordeal was payback for him ghosting me with my keypad a couple weeks ago.

Karma’s a ghost, kid.

 

Frogs, Frogs Everywhere.

The frogs were deafening at night. There were multiple lakes and swamps and ponds and puddles near our rental house, and therefore were significantly more frogs per square mile than humans. Tree frogs and bullfrogs were most plentiful – I caught one of each to hold (and to allow them to pee on me.) (Frogs get such joy from peeing on me, and I consider it the price of the thrill of holding a frog.)

The day after the first wave of rain from the tropical storm (more about that later), the kids finally caught a break and were able to go swim in the pool. (Certainly not the ocean – double red flags were in abundance.)

The neighborhood pool was always in possession of some leftover toys or floats from the neighbors, so it makes perfect sense that, upon seeing a large frog-shaped shadow on the bottom of the deep end of the pool, the kids assumed it was a dive toy.

They quickly added doubts to the mix and decided that instead of diving down and picking it up, they’d dive down and investigate.

I was pretty sure it was not, in fact, a dive toy.

After a few unsuccessful kid missions, I got the giant pool net.

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They all crowded around as I went fishing for a giant dead bullfrog.

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I pulled him up, and everyone took a moment of silence for the sad frog (who was accidentally not included in the photo of his funeral. Or maybe not accidentally. Corpse selfies are, after all, bad form.)

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Then I carefully posed him on a beach chair for his last photo, memorializing him forever. As one does.

IMG_8678That feeling when you go to the beach on vacation and your arch-nemesis {Tropical Storm} Cindy follows you there.

But the most important educational moment of this trip is when I realized that bull frogs apparently have saggy man boobs.

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Frothed Frog Milk Espresso, anyone?

The next day, after Wave Number Two of Tropical Storm rains, there was another bullfrog – an even bigger bullfrog – swimming desperately in the out-of-order hot tub. I was able to rescue him as well – but this time, before death.

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As his facial expression implies, he was eternally grateful for my efforts.

The Robin Hood of Animal Memorialization.

There’s been a serious dearth of opportunities for roadkill kit utilization lately. And it wasn’t for my lack of looking for those to memorialize eternally – I had been keeping my eyes especially alert for a rabbit all through March and April, as I had a set of tiny Easter Eggs that really needed a job. The only rabbit I saw took five careful drive-bys to determine that he was missing his head.

Seriously…where is his head? Is it curved under? Turned funny? Under his stomach? Okay there’s his neck nevermind.

So Easter passed without me being able to get a festive photo with which to celebrate. I tried to justify my failure.

At least I got St Patrick’s Day pictures

I was super happy for the Animal Kingdom, as it appeared that the tide had shifted and they were beginning to win The War on Cars. So there was that. But my alt-dead Instagram account had been sitting idly by…sad, lonely, and feeling all the feels.


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Finally, on the day we were leaving for the beach, I got a text from neighbor Not-Crazy-Renee. She’s always good for a tip. And this one was better than most – there was an opossum within walking distance of my house – one who died on a hill (as usual.) ‘Possums take that metaphor very literally.

I quickly grabbed some supplies, my rubber gloves, and my camera, and went on a walk. I decided that, since it was only 5 days past Easter, I could still work the holiday into my theme.

I quickly scattered the eggs, looking right and left, worried that my neighbors would see me. I didn’t want to get called out on the Next Door forum with a passive-aggressive note about “people who leave novelty items by dead animals.”

I wished I’d brought a tiny Easter basket along, but snapped my pic anyway and as casually as possible, walked back to my own house.

Alabama-Easter-PossumIn case anyone was wondering why their baskets were sparse this year, it looks like the Alabama Easter ‘Possum got a bit…waylaid.

Just a couple hours later we left for the beach, and I about flipped with paranoia when we passed by and all the eggs were gone, but the possum was still there.

WHAT HAD HAPPENED TO THE EGGS.

Do I have that tidy of neighbors that went out and carefully collected the tiny Styrofoam eggs because they prefer their neighborhood roadkill to be free of extraneous objects?

Just before I had a mini panic attack, I noticed bright colors in the gutter. The eggs had been blown and scattered by passing cars.

Sigh of relief.

There were no acceptable animals on our way to the beach, but just as we were almost home, I spotted what I’d been awaiting for so long: A fresh, uncrunched armadillo.

Although he was kindly on the side of the road and there was plenty of margin to work with, he was beside a busy road. And I really do prefer to work in solitude.

I nervously got out of the car and pretended to be taking pictures of the extremely unremarkable bushes behind him until there was a break in traffic. I decided to attempt a literary prop first.

Armadillo-Livin-on-a-PrayerLivin’ on a prayer.

But the wind was high and quickly knocked the book over. And it just didn’t quite portray the aura that this particular Armadillo was giving off. He seemed to be more of an outlaw than a man of the cloth.

So I grabbed my second prop, waited again for traffic to stall out, then set up my next pose with great speed. I’m a freakin’ Olan Mills when it comes to scene changes.

Desperado-the-ArmadilloDesperado the Armadillo has been out riding fences for so long now….he’s a hard one…
…but he’s got his reasons.

Yes. This was what he was meant to be. I left the gun with him (for protection from roadkill snatchers, obvs) and sprinted back to the car, hoping to jump in and have Chris gun the engine before I was spotted.

And, as it turns out, my paranoia was totally on point, because I had this conversation with another neighbor, let’s call him Freddy-The-Neighbor (because his name is Freddy) later that week….

 

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I seriously better lawyer up. Because apparently, I’m the Desperado here.

A Perfectly Romantic Roadkill Date.

We first saw him on the way to church Sunday morning.

I squeeeeed with happiness.

He was lovely. His hands were up in the air as if grasping for the light. He wasn’t gory – just looked like he’d been keeled over in shock.

I’d been keeping my eye out for a raccoon for months. I didn’t have one in my collection (I also need a rabbit but I have yet to find one of those in acceptable condition. Please report any bunnies you come across.) And on top of that, I had been needing a medium-sized animal to wear a very fantastic glittery St Patrick’s Day hat – and the deadline was fast approaching.

The first problem, however, was that he was on the side of a fairly busy road that had very, VERY little shoulder.

The second problem is that the fairly busy road in question led directly to my church. And I think you can relate – we all have people in our lives and perhaps especially in our churches that might be a bit put off to come upon us staging and photographing roadkill while they were on their way to church.

So I knew I couldn’t do it directly before or after church.

But we were to come back that evening to take the kids to their musical practice, so I could do it then.

I planned my strategy. I fretted about the shoulderless road. I considered the very real possibility that I still might be spotted by those going to evening church. The ratio of people going to evening church that might be put off by roadkill manipulation and photography is, after all, potentially higher than morning church.

“Listen. If you’re going to be a roadkill photographer, you’re just going to have to own it. You’re going to have to not care if you get spotted,” Chris tried to convince me.

“Yes….but….you don’t understand. That’s part of the challenge – of the fun. If I can prep and snap a picture without a single person – even a stranger – seeing me, I feel a thrill of accomplishment.”

“Okay…”

Before we left for church, I pulled out my St. Paddy’s Day hat from my roadkill kit. There were actually five hats in that dollar store bag. OOOOH…what if I could find five creatures this week and leave them with the luck of the Irish?? It would be as if I were sprinkling my whole city with St Patrick’s Day Cheer.

After dropping the kids off, we discussed our plan. Sunday nights are a short date night for us – an hour and a half of dinner or coffee or in general relating before the start of another busy week.

But on this particular date, that raccoon would be our first stop.

On the way to church as we approached where the raccoon had been laying, Chris said, “Now don’t be disappointed if he’s gone…it’s been all day.”

Sure enough, his roadside spot was empty.

Sigh.

“Maybe he rolled down the hill. We’ll drop the kids off and then come back and go down that driveway below the road.”

“Okay!” Chris is so good at lifting my spirits. And if he were down there, I wouldn’t have to worry about the shoulder or being spotted by churchgoers!

We dumped the kids and drove back down the hill. Chris pulled down the steep driveway below the road. As he backed down, we both strained our eyes to see any sign.

I screamed. “There’s a tail!! Behind that bush!!”

I got out, donned a pair of rubber gloves, and grabbed a tiny hat.

I walked over to assess the situation.

It wasn’t pretty.

It was the first new friend I’d met that STANK. And also, maybe he just fell in a very unflattering pose, or maybe he’d started to swell with the processes of cellular breakdown, but he looked extremely fat – more like a victim of the game “Pin the Raccoon Tail on the Groundhog”.

That and not being able to see his face really made me doubt that he was the raccoon I’d been looking for to add to my collection.

But I tried my best. I gave him a hat, then took a few pictures.

I brought my camera over to Chris for inspection.

“But you can’t see his face….”

“I know. He’s not pretty at all, is he? I’ll try again.”

I found a stick and moved him around a bit, teaching him how to show off his angles a little better. At least you could see his little raccoon facial mask now. But he was still fat.

Chris, meanwhile, was enjoying photographing me photographing my model. See his adorable tail sticking out? If only the rest of him had been so cute.

Shooting Roadkill

I was disappointed.

This was not how I’d wanted to use my hat.

I later Photoshopped the crap out of this guy to make him look this good – I even used the evil skinnying tools on Photoshop to get rid of some of his decomposing bulge, as you can tell by the oval angles of his hat.

Limerick-the-CoonLimerick the ‘Coon
There once was an Irish raccoon 
Who died on the road ‘neath the moon.
But the birds ate his eyes,
And the heat swole his thighs,
Thus the sight and the smell make you swoon.
 – Chris the Husband, whose skill with the quill is undeniable.

But Chris told me to cheer up – we’d just make it a roadkill date! Stop by Starbucks for fuel, then drive around looking for new friends.

This, y’all, is why I married him.

But we had a head start. That very morning, my dear Roadkill Bestie Tanya had sent me several pics from her run with a rather attractive squirrel.

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I’ve found a lot of squirrels lately, which is why I didn’t immediately run out to put a hat on hers.

(Such as Flat Stanley the Squirrel,)

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(And Snickers the Squirrel.)

Snickers the Squirrel“Eat a Snickers.”
”Why?”
”Because you turn into an indecisive squirrel when you’re hungry.”

Squirrels are the low-hanging fruit of the roadkill staging world.

But after my Raccoon failure, I felt that her easy squirrel would be a good, redeeming next target to help me regain my confidence. So we meandered over to where we thought she’d found it and began our search. It didn’t take long, and he was in a delightful pose, looking just as if he’d had a bit too much green ale.

I present to you, Patrick the Squirrel.

St-Patty-the-SquirrelThere’s a Leprechaun in me head,
And I wish that I were dead
For I don’t think he’ll e’er let me be.
Oh, he tempts me with his gold,
And if I were e’er so b old,
I’d strangle him and leave him in the street.
                                                                                                             – Old Irish Drinking Song

And, thanks to the timing of our visit, I was even able to photograph my two favorite subjects at once.

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We spent the rest of our delightful date driving around, watching roadsides and byways while having fantastic and deep conversation about the best places and ways to find new friends, and judging harshly the ones we came across that were unsuitable for our journey.

We didn’t use the last three St. Patrick’s Day hats that night, but a lovely date we had.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.