The Last (Beach) Stand.

It was our last trip of the summer, and our twelfth(ish) annual family vacation – the one we take with my family instead of buying each other presents. Not having to buy presents AND a “free” vacation? It’s such a win.

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We started this tradition when there were no kids, then eventually began adding one kid per year for a half-decade.

The first year that we had all five cousins on the trip, they looked like this:

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And now they look like this.

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I’ll let you guess which of those years was easier.

This year, did all the Florida things.

We beached (count five kids – they’re all there. Did you find them? That’s what we do on the beach – count to five over and over),

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We rainbowed,

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We ran to and from the beach in our pajamas to get a better view,

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We learned what was REALLY at the end of the rainbow,

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(Is she taking a picture of her dog pooping at the end of the rainbow? I did, so I guess I can’t judge.)

We ran into random men with parrots,

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We complained about our hands being covered in parrot germs,

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We sand castled,

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We sunsetted,

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We crab hunted at least three different species (and/or goaded the bravest children into doing it for us),

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(Cape San Blas is apparently the most popular Crab Hangout Spot in the world. See all those dots? Crabs. All crabs.)

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We corralled everyone for family photos, which first requires one tribute for a lighting check, and MY GOODNESS did my tribute offer some flair with his role.

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He’s for sure going to get picked up by a modeling agency solely because of this blog post.

Okay on to those family photos…

(Nope, not that one.)

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(Nope again.)

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(Definitely not.)

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(Okay that one will work.)

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(Since we’re on a roll, we should try a different location.)

(Nope, there’s always that one kid.)

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Oh and every now and then we relaxed.

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We also taught all the kids how to play Mafia, which they then became OBSESSED with, and I realized how remarkably good I was at swaying their collective opinions. I could make them turn on someone with just five words. I felt the addictive rush of power after being on the winning side for 8 out of 8 of our games, and realized that I really should consider a career change to either detective or member of the actual mafia. I’ll let you know what I decide.

And finally, we all studied intensely a pair of giant Walkingstick bugs. When Chris brought them up “as a large gift” for me (then lifted the lid and they jumped toward me and I screamed), he told the kids, “Look! It’s a baby riding on a Mommy’s back!”

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We all oohed and aahed at how adorable this was, and I fussed at the children for trying to detach the precious family.

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“Don’t do that to the baby!! He could DIE!!!”

After asking my resident Twitter Scientist, I discovered that actually, the males of this species are a lot smaller than the females, and the actual connection of the creatures at the rear as opposed to what I suppose I imagined – at the mother’s tiny teat – began to make so much more sense.

That poor female. She thought she had a chance of escape with our kid’s help. And then I stepped in and made them end their detaching process.

I went and found Chris. “THAT WAS NO BABY RIDING ON ITS MOTHER’S BACK!!”

He laughed at me. “I know that! I just made that story up for the kids.”

Five hours later, they were still on the porch. And still very much attached.

That night as I was lying in bed thinking about that exhausted female Walkingstick, I googled and discovered that this particular variety have an extremely unique “odiferous secretion” that they can shoot, with surprising accuracy, up to 15 inches. And furthermore, if this secretion is shot into one’s eye, which is a usual target, it can cause pain as severe as if you’d had molten lead poured in your eye socket. The pain fades in a few hours. The next morning, you wake up with a completely scarlet eye that makes light and pressure so unbearable that you are incapacitated for 48 hours. Your vision continues to be impaired for five days.

Hey, y’all – Alabama isn’t the only Hunger Games stadium.

After sharing these findings with the family, along with my relief that the children were not attacked by that feisty little male, my mom had an aha moment. She said that as we were all crowded around observing our new friends, she suddenly felt like she had something in her eye. It got worse, so she ran inside before we’d realized she was hurting. She couldn’t get it to quit, and finally threw her contacts away, and the pain subsided.

We can clearly conclude that the joy of our vacation was saved solely by a contact lens. We should all be so lucky as to have horrible vision.

So, thanks to Gramamma for taking it in the eye from a pair of amorous sticks for the rest of us, we can safely call this vacation a Thumbs-Up success.

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Mom’s Worst Adventure Ever.

Sometimes Moms make mistakes.

Sometimes Moms have inadvertently terrible timing.

These things could both be said of me on Wednesday, but I’m going to choose to blame Noah instead.

You see, we had to do an errand. And he decided to wear his extraordinarily dapper hat that Chris and I bought him last year when we went to Isla Mujeres.

The kid looked amazing.

And I hadn’t taken any pictures of him lately.

On top of that, we had no plans for the rest of the day, and we were very near Aldridge Gardens – the perfect place to photograph a child when they’re looking ridonkulously fabulous.

So it would be dual purposed: we’d get outside and take a small hike, and I’d get some pictures of the kid.

Of course he didn’t make this easy on me. He in fact drove a very hard bargain.

“I’ll let you take pictures of me in my hat if you give me 100 pieces of candy.”

“I don’t have 100 pieces of candy.”

Ali: “Just get him a box of Nerds, Mom.”

(She’s so smart.)

Before I answered, he counter-offered, seemingly not wanting Nerds.

“I’ll let you take my picture if you let me pick out one piece of candy on our way home. Whatever I want.”

“Fair enough. I can do that.”

So he grabbed his hat out of the car and we headed toward the entrance of the gardens.

He wanted to get the picture taking out of the way as soon as possible (because he wanted to put his hat back in the car because difficult), so he posed for me two inches past the entrance.

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Yes, I’d made a good deal.

I told him I needed a close-up, so he became wiggly and found all his silly faces.

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He found great pleasure in the fact that he was being difficult to photograph, and laughed a mirthful, evil cackle.

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The irony was not lost on me.

I finally got the shot I was looking for,

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And he went back to the car to drop off the hat.

After all the bargaining, silly faces, and hat putting-up, some rumbling thunder could be heard off in the distance. As we walked back in, I mentioned it to the gentleman that works at the garden gates.

“It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to stay very long…”

“Oh, I think you’ll be fine. It looked like that earlier, too, then just sprinkled for a minute and was gone.”

I checked my radar. Off to the west was the usual summer pop-up storm that lasted 5 minutes and was entirely unpredictable in the direction it would choose to travel.

So we strolled back into the garden, reveling in the lovely day.

It started sprinkling as we were headed toward the lake, so I said “let’s go in the boathouse for a minute until it dries up again.”

The kids happily ran toward the little open-air house that sat out over the lake. It’s the best place to observe and feed turtles and fish and in general enjoy the view out of the sun or rain.

Ali dug some crackers out of her Mary-Poppins-like bag and they happily threw crumbs on the turtles, cooing at the tiny babies. I took pictures of the calm sprinkles on the lake. It was a perfect summer shower.

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Until very suddenly it wasn’t.

The rain cranked up to a level that was so heavy that you couldn’t see the fountain, and the lightning definitively reached our location. Soon, the wind was blowing in the open sides, the thunder reverberating all around us, and my children were no longer enjoying their stay in the boathouse.

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But we were trapped.

The rain was way too heavy to make a run for the car, a quarter of a mile away, and even too heavy to make a run for the house on the hill (home of the public bathrooms and gift shop) and OHMYGOODNESS DID THAT LIGHTNING JUST STRIKE THE HOUSE UP THERE??

It didn’t, I don’t think, but it was seriously close to it.

The lightning and thunder were now nearly on top of each other, and it seemed like we were surely next on its hit list. I listened nervously to the rain pounding on the metal roof above our head. I texted Chris electrical engineering questions.

FullSizeRender 90Unfortunately, he never liked his Electrical Engineering classes.

Chris and I both kept assuming that this thing would pass over any minute. ANY MINUTE. Summer storms do not stick around to attack unsuspecting families in boathouses.

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The minutes ticked by, except instead of ticking, they thundered by. See my little blue dot below? Just barely under all that lightning? Yeah. I didn’t even know my radar had that purplish color in the middle of the storm.

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The thunder got closer and louder to the point that each peal of thunder was followed by my son’s impressive high-pitched scream. Have I ever told you how very much noise rips my soul to pieces?

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Chris kept watching the radar for us and willed that storm to move on.

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I couldn’t look at the apparently lying radar myself because…Noah’s arms had gotten tired.

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After fifty minutes filled with a “pop-up storm” and my son’s screams and stomps and declaring it “your WORST ADVENTURE EVER, Mom!”, the rain finally let up a tiny bit. I measured it as “light enough to make it to the house but not to the car without my camera getting ruined” (it was safely put away in its carrying case but still. This was some seriously submersion-determined rain.)

We ran up the hill and splashed into the nice, dry house. The kids immediately began emptying the paper towel rolls to dry themselves, then plopped onto the floor and began playing cards.

One of the garden’s administrative staff walked through and was a bit surprised to see us on the floor of her bathrooms. We explained. She gasped.

“Oh! I thought I heard screams from my office and I was wondering where they were coming from…”

She disappeared around the corner and came back bearing a bouquet of lollipops.

“Each of you take one. I hear it can help with the trauma.”

She was the garden’s Professor Lupin, giving out chocolate after a dementor attack.

About a half hour later, we were able to make a run for the car, splashing through giant puddles on the way.

We found out later that our storm had seriously flooded the lower lying areas surrounding us – to the point of cars getting pulled into the (usually tiny) creek and carried downstream, turning flips as they went. The bowling alley, a couple car dealerships, some offices, and Chuck E Cheese were all completely flooded.

(Although Chris and I agreed that The Chuck was probably now cleaner than it had been in years. Maybe decades.)

So yes.

I made a bad decision that day.

But I got this picture.

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So there’s that.

Epilogue: Noah chose Bubble Tape for his candy bribe. Ali also got candy for surviving the incident with a bit more grace than her brother. For my prize, I chose spending the rest of the day reading in bed.

On Discovering Michigan.

On the First of July, I and my six fellow small group ladies found ourselves in the great state of Michigan. We take a girl’s trip once a year, and whether it is hosted by an Irishman in Bugtussle, includes a contest to find the highest heels in Unclaimed Baggage, or involves the breaking of my elbow and finger, it always embodies adventure. This year’s girl’s trip was located in Michigan so that we could also help decorate for and attend the vow renewal of one of our small group couples, Kelly and Jon.

But we weren’t exactly sure what Michigan had in store for us, to be honest. There were dozens of lakes in south Michigan, but none of them seemed to have heard of the idea of renting out their lake dwelling to hoards of Alabama Moms. Finally, in an act of pure desperation, I rented the one and only place I could find within a 50 mile radius of our destination – and it was a farm.

I was more than a little nervous about this choice – none of us had ever stayed at a farm in the middle of nowhere and what would we do? Where would we get groceries? Would it feel strange?

Our first steps into Michigan were not great. We flew into Detroit and waited for over an hour for the rental car we had reserved months in advance. When they finally found a Tahoe (from another lot) and drove it around for us, her smell wafted before her, and a vapor surrounded her as if the entire board of the National Cigarette Lover’s Convention had ridden cross-country immediately prior. We quickly surmised they’d gotten her from the “Do NOT Rent These Vehicles Out” lot, and we named her Estelle.

So our hour drive from Detroit to farmland included all the windows down, six girl’s hair tangled up with each other, and double buckling – because no one could stand to sit on the back row of cigarette fog.

Our farm, however, was surprisingly gorgeous. The house was bigger than it’d looked online, and we found out that the adjoining Tennis Court and Indoor Pool were reserved solely for our stay.

The farm was owned by an enterprising couple who lived next door. He’d wanted to make some extra money, so he built a tennis court on which to give lessons. She wanted an indoor pool, so he built that for her, and since they were building a new building, they made it twice as long and also created an event space. I’m not sure when they added our rental house to their collection of buildings (and 200 acres of farm land), but their oasis in the middle of miles of crops was a fascinating and peaceful place for a bunch of moms to relax.

The indescribable quiet that comes from being a mile from your neighbors brings with it a sense of peace that we’d never experienced in Birmingham. And the back deck, shaded from the afternoon sun and perfect to enjoy the dry and cool July-in-Michigan air allowed us to watch the rabbits hop by. By the time we’d eaten dinner at 9pm (before sunset) on that gorgeous back deck, we’d made our decision: our small group definitely need to buy a commune farm and move to Michigan.

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After dinner, I announced that I was going on a sunset walk. It didn’t take long for everyone to follow me down the long, quiet, flat road.

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As the sun disappeared, we began noticing a good number of fireflies.

And then the magic happened.

As dusk descended over the miles of fields, we saw that there were millions of fireflies, flying and blinking in waves of astounding beauty. It was impossible to fully capture on video, which made it somehow all the more magical. I tried to photograph them, but it didn’t even begin to capture the sheer number of fireflies before us.

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At least one, and maybe more that one someones, might have cried a bit at the reverence of the moment.

It was such a simple, yet overwhelming beauty.

We started the next morning off with a walk / run / cross-training challenge.

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IMG_9164Pretty sure they were the first humans to ever do push-ups in that particular corn field.

To say running the roads around our farm were different than the roads in Birmingham would be an understatement. The gravel beneath our feet and the ability to see for miles at a time was bizarre and delightful. Each “block” was a mile on each side, which made running around the block ridiculous yet interesting.

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I even found my favorite roadside snack, a mulberry tree, so that at least was familiar.

IMG_9203Why yes I actually eat berries from trees on the side of the road. You would too if you knew how delicious mulberries are. Unless you confuse it with Nightlock.

Since we had an entire tennis court reserved for us, I decided we needed to use it.

I convinced Kristin to play with me, and we were magnificent.

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After a few minutes, we decided we’d keep score by “how many times can we hit the ball back and forth – who cares how many times it bounces first.”

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We set a high score goal of 10, but after 45 minutes and a bucket full of balls (many hit over the fence – home run!!), we’d only scored a 9, and called it a success so that we could go hop in the indoor pool to cool off after our super sportsing.

That night a storm came in and snatched the sunset away from us,

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but experiencing the drama of a storm in the plains was totally worth it.

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Our farm house looked like it was absolutely about to take off, and I felt more than a little bit like Dorothy.

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I passed our landlord on my walk, who said “It’s something, isn’t it? But it’ll pass right over and miss us. It always does.”

“But my radar shows it’s definitely coming right here any minute…”

“Yeah, but it won’t.”

I was sure he had to be wrong because my radar is always right in Birmingham. But he was not. All that drama and it barely sprinkled, allowing us a second night of firefly magic.

The next day was all about decorating for the Vow Renewal.

Or, more likely…decorating ourselves.

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Because when there are bushels of tulle lying around, someone is going to end up with a Bow Bigger Than Their Butt. It’s a rule.

At one point, the groom’s sister-in-law was unsuccessfully attempting to hang lights. They were heavy and not staying in place, and she asked if I knew where another ladder was so I could help her.

“No…but…I don’t mind cuddling with you.”

I mean we’d known each other for a whole five minutes so why not.

I climbed her ladder and nestled my face into her armpit to hold the lights up while she tied them off. I forgot that I have extremely unfortunate balance, and I started to fall straight backwards, guaranteeing to take the lights, the pole, the ladder, and the sister-in-law with me.

Just in time, a guy I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting yet stuck his arm out and caught me. And then stood there for the next five minutes, holding me up while I held the lights up while sister-in-law tied them off.

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About two hours later I discovered that this was Paul, the bride’s brother.

Hi Paul, nice to meet you.

Thanks for keeping me from breaking my everything.

After stealing greenery from roadside shrubbery and decorating until we could decorate no more, we went back to our farm and prettied up.

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The Vow Renewal was perfect and lovely,

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and we stayed on our best, most reverent behavior.

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We had “allowed” Jon, the groom, to come to our farm house two nights prior and cook for us and kill a wasp for us and do our dishes for us, so of course we had to get a picture with our Farm Boy.

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(We tried to convince our husbands that from here on out we would have to take one of them along to be our personal valet, but I don’t think any others were willing to hear and see and live through all that comes with Girl’s Retreat.)

Right as the reception got good and kicked up,

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Three hot air balloons happened to fly overhead.

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Michigan is, indeed, full of magic.

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We caught one more sunset on the way home,

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Lydia caught me catching said sunset,

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And I captured a couple of moments of our last evening, again filled with millions of friendly fireflies that avoided my camera lens.

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The next day we drove Estelle back to the Detroit Airport and gladly abandoned her for eternity, hoping that Michigan also has some sort of magical car rejuvenation process for her sake.

We found the legendary light tunnel in the airport, and I yelled out, “Quick! Do a Charlie’s Angels pose!”

Everyone ran out and posed, and at the last second, Lydia showed us her true hidden talent. Why yes, she’s had five kids. And yes, she can still do the splits.

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…which led to the star of the photo actually being Shocked Christen – and who could blame her. We all felt like Shocked Christen in that moment.

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Christen managed to hold it together for as second take, but it could never compare to the raw emotion of the first shot.

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As soon as we made it back to the Birmingham airport (where it was currently storming) and had our final group hug, we desperately wanted to be back in Michigan. Would we go back to the farm if we could? Absolutely. Would we live in Michigan if we could? At least for the summers.

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Dear Michigan: Let us know if you’re looking for a group of reverse snowbirds.