Hands-On History: Brierfield Ironworks

After a few false starts, we finally got back into the groove of history field trips after the holidays. It’s harder now, because our dear friend and adventure comrade Carla Jean has moved to Colorado, and nothing is as much fun when you lose your buddy.

We set out to Brierfield Ironworks, a furnace built in 1862, used for a minute to make iron for farm implements until the owners were strong-armed into selling it to the confederate army, then used to forge iron to make cannons, then promptly destroyed by the union army and never truly resurrected, despite a few attempts. I’d heard it was a less impressive Tannehill, but we often like the “little guy” places, so we wanted to check it out for ourselves. It was also the only furnace actually owned by the confederate army, so it definitely fit into our history studies.

Briarfield_MG_3581_7330s

We arrived and found that we seemed to be the only people at the historic state park. There were log cabins and historical buildings scattered about the grounds, sitting peacefully and quietly.

Briarfield_MG_3728_7478s

We found the one titled “Information Office”, and opened the creaking door to find a kind lady who gave us a trail map and sent us on our way. We first walked over to what was left of the furnace, covered by an oversized carport to protect further decay.

Briarfield_MG_3660_7411s

Briarfield_MG_3589_7339s

Unlike Tannehill’s furnace, which is made of giant stones and is still in beautiful condition, Bibb Furnace was made of bricks, and many of its bricks were pillaged for other projects during World War II. As such, there’s not as much left.

Briarfield_MG_3574_7324s

Noah liked the mining cart, though. Mining carts make everything better.

There was a lovely hiking trail above and around the furnace, where we found the old reservoir and several other interesting artifacts.

Briarfield_MG_3617_7366s

Briarfield_MG_3618_7368s

Briarfield_MG_3620_7370s

Briarfield_MG_3625_7375s

Briarfield_MG_3626_7376s

Briarfield_MG_3632_7382s

We used the opportunity to spot seedless vascular plants, the chapter we were reading in botany at the time.

Briarfield_MG_3607_7356s

We adored the covered bridges scattered throughout the park, acting as bridges in some places and covered picnic pavilions in others.

Briarfield_MG_3653_7403s

It was an easy 1.5 mile circular hike, which was just about the right amount, since Ali was rather overdressed for the hot February day and Noah can always find something to whine about.

Briarfield_MG_3642_7392s“The sun is so bright, Mommy!! I need away from the sun!!”

The most fascinating feature that Brierfield possesses are the bright and dark green rocks all over the park – we at first assumed that they were some of the very minerals that drew people to create a furnace here (Tannehill was created around the red ore mineral line – could this be green ore?)

Briarfield_MG_3597_7347s

The pieces ranged from tiny to small boulder size, and we compared and contrasted color and features. Ali noticed that they had many holes, so surmised that they were like sandstone – on the softer end of the rock spectrum.

Briarfield_MG_3600_7349s

We also talked about how cool it would be to come upon a mineral line like this long ago – and what if it had been gold? We had just read about the Alabama Gold Rush the day before, so we daydreamed about happening upon a whole area of golden nuggets the size and quantity of these curious green rocks.

After we finished our hike, we went back into the welcome center and asked the kind lady about the green rocks. She informed us that they are actually slag, left over from the years of furnace operation. Slag is stony waste matter separated from metals during the smelting or refining of ore. This made the finds more exciting – we had found byproduct from the Civil War era.

Briarfield_MG_3592_7342s

While she explained this to us and I examined the beautiful pieces of slag she had in the gift shop, Noah shopped, itching to spend his allowance.

“Can I buy this, mom? How about this? And this?”

Without ever really looking up, I agreed to his purchases. He slowly counted his dollars while the nice lady giggled – I assumed she was pleased with his independent economic prowess. It wasn’t until we got to the car and he proudly showed me his new possessions that I questioned my hands-off parenting strategy.

IMG_4159 2

And that, dear readers, is how a family ends up with a confederate flag shot glass that says “Heritage not Hate.”

Geez.

I’m the best.

After our hike, we visited the playground, where the kids fawned over the vintage playsets,

Briarfield_MG_3703_7454s

while I enjoyed creating super creeptastic “Dementors Are In The Neighborhood” footage.

On the way home, I slid through KFC to get the kids some food.

As we were pulling around, Noah said, “Hey Mom, can you roll down my window?”

“Sure…”

“Thanks! I want to show them my new little cup that I got at the gift shop!”

“NOOOOOOO!!!”

Geez.

I’m the best.

Here’s Ali’s report on this trip and another stop we made on the same day – but I will write about that fascinating place next time.

Brierfield Ironworks Orr Park Small

On Creating a Roadkill Kit.

The cliché “You Snooze, You Lose” has never been truer than it is with regards to roadkill.

I sadly lost both a raccoon (would’ve been my first!!) and a beautiful armadillo last week because I put off for tomorrow what I could have done today.

These two sad misses occurred for two reasons:

1. Both creatures were very close to the road on main thoroughfares and I don’t want to die while shooting dead things, and

2. I didn’t have a clear idea of how to stage the precious creatures. Their memories must be properly preserved, after all. No hurried, personality-less photos here.

It made me start to wonder if I could make a deal with Streets and Sanitation to drop off all fully-in tact critters on my road for 24 hours…would a $20 bribe be enough?

My neighbors already love me so much…

Anyway.

The cliché “An Ounce of Preparation is Better than a Pound of Prevention” has never been truer than it is with regards to roadkill.

So I decided that it was high time I had a roadkill kit in the back of my car. Ready for swerving stops on highways and biways. Ready for many scenarios, poses, and carcasses.

So I swung into my children’s Favorite Place in The Whole World, The Dollar Tree.

(It’s the children’s favorite because they didn’t know it existed until Noah’s Godparents took them there and they were astounded at an entire store of items for the same price. Every time they stay with them they make a glorious visit and gleefully come home with random trinkets such as front desk bells, fly swatters, and very roughly hewn washcloths.)

The kids were thrilled with this deviation from my normal shopping habits and couldn’t wait to see what exactly had prompted this delightful outing.

“What are you getting Mommy? Huh Huh Huh?”

“You’ll see…”

I walked down the aisles, grabbing various and random items such as leprechaun hats, toy soldiers, and energy drinks.

“WHAT are you doing with all this?”

“You have to figure it out…”

“What do baby pacifiers and Easter eggs have to do with each other?”

“Think about it…you can get there.”

“Are these sharks and balloons for someone’s birthday?”

“Of course not…”

“Get Well Soon Cards and a toy gun??? I don’t get it, Mom…”

“Keep thinking…”

They proposed all sorts of wrong ideas. Each one I shot down and encouraged them to continue using their powers of deductive reasoning. It was a school day, after all. And kids these days don’t do nearly enough thinking.

Finally, as we were checking out and surrounded by other human beings, Ali said, “I think I figured it out. Is this all for your roadkill note cards?”

“Ding ding ding!!!”

I happily took my purchases, added them to a box with a few pairs of rubber gloves and a pair of Squirrel Underpants I was gifted by a blog reader, and am now driving around ready for whatever comes my way. Or rather, whatever doesn’t come my way.

Roadkill Kit

Because the cliché “Life Comes At You Fast. {And So Does Death}” has never been truer than it is with regards to roadkill.

It was days after creating my One of a Kind Kit that I finally had a chance to use it. It’s not that I hadn’t seen any roadkill – I’d seen plenty, but I’m very particular. I’m a Roadkill Diva, if I’m being honest. To be classified as @happyroadkill, you must be still mostly in tact and recognizable. No intestines can be visible. The more lifelike, the better. And, if you ask my kids “Where does your mom draw the line?”, they’ll be quick to tell you. “She draws the line at former pets. Because that’s sad.”

Saturday night gifted me my first qualified opportunity.

We were in two cars and driving from the park to dinner. I spotted a new friend and quickly did a U-Turn to pull over. Chris drove past me, puzzled and confused. I was sad that he wasn’t observant enough to know what was happening.

IMG_3850

(Those last two texts were later in the evening when Noah was taking his very melodramatic once-a-week poop. It has nothing at all to do with this story except that one cannot possibly crop out such goodness.)

Anyway.

There was indeed a squirrel. I parked and began rummaging around in my box, as the kids excitedly inquired as to my plans.

“What are you going to use, mom? Huh? Huh? Huh? The balloons? The soldier?”

“Hmm…let’s see. I really want to use the leprechaun hat but when is Saint Patrick’s Day? Hey Siri! When is Saint Patrick’s Day?”

“Saint Patrick’s Day is on Friday, March seventeenth, two thousand seventeen.”

‘Yeah…not time for that. He looks like he was going out for a long pass. Let’s go with the football.”

“Oooh, yay mom! Good choice!”

staged roadkill“Verne, I think we’re going to need to see the instant replay to know if that was a catch or not.”

Poor guy. Definitely looked like a victim of targeting.

A car was coming up behind me so I hurriedly jumped in the driver’s seat and carefully scooted around Julio the Squirrel. I watched in my rearview mirror as the car slowed and observed my art installation. Meanwhile, the kids were horrified.

“WHY did you LEAVE the football??”

“Because it was touching a dead squirrel…”

“BUT THAT WAS A FOOTBALL!! YOU COULD USE IT AGAIN!!”

“That’s why we went to the dollar store. So that we could create our art and leave it for others. And also so that we could not carry around dead-thing-touched-props. It’s okay. We have plenty more.”

“When you run out of things in your box, will we go back to the Dollar Tree?”

“I imagine we will.”

“YAAAAAAY! Thanks for leaving the football, Mom!!”

Because the cliché “Waste not, want not” has never more false than it is with regards to roadkill.

The Reset Button.

It should be mandatory that all mothers get a day to themselves after the holidays are over, and perhaps two days if their children’s birthdays sandwich the holidays. There is a significant amount of damage done to the maternal figure’s inner wiring that can only be repaired by complete isolation and a significant break from the 794 questions that they are required to answer per day.

(Assuming said mother is an introvert. I don’t pretend to know what the alien species of extrovert mother needs to reboot.)

Chris provided me my first retreat four years ago when he, for my requested Christmas present, sent me off on a Mommy Retreat at a local hotel. I decided at the last minute that weekend that I didn’t want to be alone the whole time, so I invited him to take me out to dinner and stay over one night. It was productive, perfectly blissful, and the reset I needed to start the year.

Since that trip, I have done a couple variations on my January Need For Escape, including two snow-chasing adventures (one just me and the kids, and one including a babysitter), and a hybrid reboot trip. All were fun, but not quite the purity of the Mommy Retreat.

After 2016, I definitely needed a bit of a reset. I mean, who doesn’t?? But also, I had a strong urge to feel productive and get some stuff accomplished.

So I booked a hotel room in Montgomery, a smaller city a little bit over an hour south of Birmingham. It’s Alabama’s capitol, but it doesn’t exactly have the greatest reputation as a destination. However, the kids and I had taken two trips there for our Alabama History project, and I was delightfully surprised at what a pleasant city it seemed to be. Chris and I love exploring small towns, and my Marriott points could go a long way in Montgomery. So I got two nights at the Renaissance overlooking the river at a total cost of $4.15. A retreat with no spending guilt attached? I’ll take it.

Montgomery Trip 170115-Montgomery-daybreak

I arrived alone at 1pm on Friday, got settled in, and immediately set off for my maiden run through the city. I strongly believe that the best way to understand a city is to explore it on foot – you get acquainted with both the personality of its people and its buildings. I saw and read at least a dozen historical placards, found the church that Martin Luther King Jr. pastored, and met MANY strangers – because everyone in Montgomery will absolutely speak to you if you run by them.

Montgomery Trip 170114ALTb-Dexter-AvenueMartin Luther King Jr. was pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church from 1954-1960. You can see the state capitol from the beautiful little church…

Montgomery Trip 170114e-First-Baptist-Church-MontgomeryThis is the First Baptist Church. Never have I ever seen a more castular church in Alabama.
p.s. I know castular isn’t a word.

Montgomery Trip FullSizeRender 61This fountain features ladies bathing themselves and others. It was a hot day in January. I totally got it.

Montgomery Trip IMG_3595

Montgomery Trip IMG_3609Montgomery is officially smarter than Birmingham: They didn’t tear down their beautiful historic train station.

I vowed then and there that next time my kids and I visited a city for history-learning purposes, I would make them walk it – we had missed so much on our two trips!

Montgomery Trip IMG_3614

That afternoon, I set off into a frenzy of blissful productivity. For five and a quarter hours – until 10pm, I Excel Spreadsheeted and Quickbooksed and Crunched Numbers and made journal entries. I worked on all the year-end stuff that had to be done for Chris’ company, and adored every minute of it.

I’d forgotten how much of an accountant I am at heart – it’s just that it’s not nearly as much fun when you’re being interrupted every five minutes with a request for another snack or an extra show or to please come play a game. But give me an isolated hotel room and a spreadsheet that needs creating and I. Am. In. Heaven.

It nearly made me miss my full time accounting manager days of yore, but not quite.

The next morning, I focused on writing productivity, getting a couple blog posts organized and composed. Meanwhile, in Birmingham, Chris dropped our kids off at Noah’s wonderful godparents and drove down to Montgomery to join me. I took him back on my running route to show off the city, the river, the capitol, and the fountains. He also was charmed by the city and repented of misjudging it. We’ve driven much farther in the past to have a weekend getaway in less charming southern cities, and were happy to add Montgomery to our repertoire.

Montgomery Trip IMG_3662

After our run, we headed out onto the rooftop pool deck – in January – a week after a “snow” storm – because Alabama. It was well over 70 degrees and perfectly lovely for sitting and soaking up some winter rays.

Montgomery Trip IMG_3665

Then he took me out for a sunset drive, of course.

Montgomery Trip 170114c-Montgomery

Montgomery Trip 170114g-Alabama-River

Montgomery Trip 170114b-The-Capitol-of-Alabama

Our hotel was in the restaurant/nightlife section of Montgomery, so we walked across the street to SaZa Italian for dinner. It was one of those places that made you immediately wish it were in your city, and was such potent pasta that Chris came back to the hotel room and passed out for two hours – I forced him to wake up and watch SNL with me.

We got up early Sunday and had our long run – 9.5 miles around Montgomery, focusing on the beautiful historical residential areas, and going through two college campuses – Huntingdon College and Alabama State University. I learned that people don’t talk to you nearly as much if you’re not a single girl running through the city. Huh.

Montgomery Trip IMG_3730Huntingdon College looked more than a little like Alabama Hogwarts.

Montgomery Trip FullSizeRender 63We even passed our sadly sleazy Governor’s house. But that’s another story for another day.

It seemed that running as a pasttime has not really “made” it to Montgomery. In our 9.5 miles, we counted five other runners. In Birmingham, we would’ve lost count before the first mile was done.

(Of those five, two were a couple running together. As they passed us, the man said, “I have 17.6. What do you have?” and the woman answered, “I’m showing 19.1 miles.” I was convinced they were just trolling us, and I SO BADLY wanted to pass them again and say to Chris, “I’m showing 35.4. What do you have?”)

We had the most lovely guilt-free breakfast buffet at the hotel following our run (bacon never tasted so good),

Montgomery Trip IMG_3658where our water wore granny panties

then laid around for a bit, after which Chris headed out to go get our children, leaving me for the last three hours for a bit more productivity and silence to finish the rebooting process.

Every time I get away like this I remember the incalculable value in a reset, and vow to make it happen more often. So next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by life and kids and responsibilities and maybe even want to work on an Excel spreadsheet for 5 hours, I highly recommend raising a white flag and yelling “Reset, reboot, RETREAT!!”