It Doesn’t Take a Village [Of Strangers.]

Most of the time, I am highly amused at the odd antics of strangers – especially since I seem to attract so many of the especially bizarre.

However, there is one stranger behavior that irritates me like no other – the “volunteering” to parent my children.

I need my friend’s and family’s help in parenting – they see things I do not, their eyes are pointed where mine are not, and they are, in general, invaluable.

However. I have never come across a stranger, who upon foisting unrequested parenting onto my children, were the tiniest smidge helpful.

For example.

One day my children and I were walking at Railroad Park. They always enjoy stopping at the exercise equipment to play on it. There’s a pedal thing, various bars for push-ups and the like – the usual outdoor exercise stuff.

Ali was at a very low bar and was walking on it like a tightrope. The thing was maybe half a foot off the ground – at most. She was also approximately four feet away from me, where I had my eyes pointed in her direction.

A young guy (not the usual demographic of the Awkwardly Intense Busybody Club) turned to Ali and said, “You need to get off of that – it twists around and you could fall.”

SHE WAS MAYBE SIX INCHES OFF THE GROUND.

AND SHE’S TEN YEARS OLD.

AND I WAS RIGHT. THERE.

Indignant rage bubbled inside of me.

But unfortunately, my genteel southern upbringing took over. I simply herded my children out of the area and ignored the man all together.

(Which for the situation, was 120% as polite as I could have been.)

Every time I find myself in one of these situations, I always regret afterwards that I did not explain to the stranger that I shockingly(!!) am able to safely parent my children even when they’re not around and they make me want to approve letting my children play in a field of thumbtacks just to spite their unrequited helpfulness.

Okay maybe I have rebellion problems.

Anyway.

That brings us to this week.

On Monday, my friend Amanda and I took my kids to a small park along the Cahaba River to enjoy the newly crisp fall air. It was a perfectly lovely fall day, giving hope to all that perhaps soon our humid 88 degree days would be but a memory – at least for a couple of months.

The leaves have just begun changing here (fall comes late here BUT IT’S COMING!!), but I noticed that approximately .005% of the leaves on the ground were actually in fall colors. In my most exuberant of mental states, I yelled for my children that we would be having a Grand Fall Scavenger Hunt – and to find as many non-green, non-brown leaves as they could.

As soon as they whooped with joy and set off to run around the small park trying to beat each other to the prettiest of leaves, an older lady in the parking lot, who was in the act of getting into her car, yelled angrily (venomously even), “There are snakes ALL OVER this park!!!”, then proceeded to glare at me, as if I’d just gleefully instructed my children to find and swallow vengefully furious scorpions.

Which led to the loudest 5 seconds of silence in my life.

Because a) The park is a park and therefore meant to be attended by humans (and wasn’t she just here?), b) as stated before, my #1 pet peeve is strangers parenting my children for me (although she seemed to be trying to parent me and not directly my children so she gets half credit), c) The park is 4.7 acres – how many snakes could we possibly find there because d) I do adore snakes – especially snakes I find in the wild, but e) my momma raised me to be polite even to the most impolite people.

I looked at her. She was still standing expectantly behind her car door, glowering at me, The World’s Worst Parent.

So I called back in a faltered but oh-so-genuine voice, “Yes ma’am!”, which satisfied her enough to allow her to sit down and close her car door.

Immediately I said to my frozen-in-place children, “Find the leaves! And the snakes! If you find one let me know! And don’t let it get away until I see it!”

We searched for an hour and only found leaves. My resentment only grew – both still in rebellious annoyance that the lady had attempted to quash my fall joy and because I hadn’t found a SINGLE SNAKE.

We gathered our leaves and I presented Ali with the award of Best Leaf Collector. The children helped me line the leaves up in a beautiful fall bouquet.

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I kept waiting for the poetic justice of a venomous snake slithering through my arranged ombré of leaves as I was photographing them, but sadly it didn’t happen. So next time I see The Outraged Snake Lady, I’ll be sure to tell her that we looked as hard as we possibly could, but she falsely advertised the features of the park.

Epilogue: Two days later we went out hiking again, found zero snakes again, but did collect the best collection of fall leaves ever collected in the history of hiking dangerously close to life-ending reptiles.
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…Also if you illegally download the following photo, it makes a darned good fall phone lock screen photo, of which you can impress your friends by pointing to it with a horrified look on your face and say “There are snakes in that pile!!!” If you can’t figure out how to illegally obtain my photographs, email or text me and I’ll be glad to send it to you.

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So basically, my children and I risked all, braved untold dangers, and conquered fall – all for your iPhone’s lock screen.

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You’re welcome.

The Secret Life of a Happy Hiking Heart.

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My children, particularly the youngest, have a propensity to whine when I tell them we’re going on a hike, which is a once or twice a week occurrence, especially in the fall. But forced hiking is the mother of invention, and my children are never as brilliant as they are when the mood hits them to turn a hike into a video game.

They created their favorite game a while back, titled “Super Bonus Power-Up”, but last week they advanced and perfected it so drastically that it deserves recording. So that all children in all the world can learn to enjoy forced hikes.

In the past, this game has consisted on them running up to trees, slapping them, and saying “Super Bonus Power-Up!” to get extra energy for the hike. Using a rather rudimentary version of Parkour, they would bounce off the trees, therefore giving them the magical feeling of being more energetic.

But the Super Super Bonus Power-Up game really amps up the imagination volume.

Here’s how to play.

First, determine what recurring trail markers and features are available.

On this particular hike (our first time to hike the beautiful trails at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve), the children noticed that there were blazes, or trail markers,

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Trail posts,

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And an extra special and unique trail find, diamond signs that seemed to not have much use except to greatly add to our game.

Blog 171005x Turkey Creek Nature PreserveIMG_3770Are they to let bears know that the delicacy of hikers are available in this area? No one knows.

The blazes replaced trees for energy boosts – no longer could any old tree give you a power-up – you had to slap a blaze.

The signposts were extra super power-ups – because obviously.

And the diamond signs became Mystery Boxes.

(It was so Mario up in there.)

Hiking Mario Game

Mystery boxes were extra valuable – too valuable even to fully comprehend.

Me: “What’d you get in your mystery box?”

Noah: “I don’t know – it’s a mystery.”

Noah realized he couldn’t reach all the Mystery Boxes, so he began collecting large acorns, or, as he told me, Bombs. Throwing bombs at a mystery box multiplied the amount of mystery treasures you could receive. This created the need to stop every now and then as he counted slowly to ten while throwing acorns at the poor sign, but totally worth it.

(He did try once to throw a bomb at his sister to slow her down, but she quickly clarified that bomb-to-other-player combat was DEFINITIVELY against the rules.)

So then he tried The Force.

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But she seemed immune, I’m sure due to her superior gaming morals.

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For this particular hike, I further forced them to carry the backpack of snacks and water (as I was carrying my camera backpack.) They swapped it every half a mile. To incorporate it into the game, Noah named it the “Ten Pound Slowdown.” It’s a rough penalty, but you just have to roll with it.

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We made it to the top of the hill, where we found a lovely pollinator garden in which to have our snacks and water.

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(And for me to stop and take a few pictures – my own personal favorite hiking game.)

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After our snack and drinking of most of the water, Noah jubilantly exclaimed “The Ten Pound Slowdown just got reduced to the Two Pound Slowdown!!”

Talk about raising your experience points – everyone loves it when they earn lighter armor.

Their game became so fantastic that they both thanked me multiple times for me bringing them on the hike, and were shocked at how fast it had gone by.

But pictures don’t do their enthusiasm justice. Here’s a bit of terrible video I made for my Instagram Story that day, including a slo-mo stomping of a particularly power-draining puffball mushroom.

So. If your kids need help turning their video games into actual reality (or if you do – because who among us didn’t dream of entering into our Nintendo games??), my children are available as trainers and counselors. But if you ask them to take you on a hike, expect at least a little whining on the front end.

Mario Hike Pipe

Blogging: May Cause International Friendship.

I regularly struggle about this blog. Besides the fact that blogging is a dead art, I have less to write about than when my kids were tiny, I have less time (thanks, kids, for not napping anymore), I have more varied interests that take up my time (running, hiking, photography, reading), and it’s harder for me to write well. Late at night when I can’t sleep and anxiety attacks me in random ways, I sometimes decide to quit writing. But the next morning, I always change my mind. And a chief cause of that is relationships.

I have made hundreds of friends through writing, in dozens of states and quite a few countries. I have met scores of these people in real life, and many of my good friends came from blogging. These bonds were formed because we, for many various reasons, have things in common. We view life out of the same lens (sorry if your lens is as sarcastic and cynical as mine.) We can relate. Because somehow – via comments or social media or emails exchanged in the middle of the night, we connected. We made an impact on each other’s lives simply through the exchanged written word.

This is why I still write. Not as often, not as well-crafted. But I write.

This past week was a reminder of the beauty of this blogging side effect.

A blog reader, who googled “Plus sized blue jeans” and found me half a decade ago when she lived in the jungles of Mozambique, came to visit me last week – for the second time. And she brought her husband along this time – who, for some bizarre reason, agreed to come stay with strangers for six days.

Now back to being residents in their home country of Canada, Rick and Heather are (clearly) the adventurous sort, and as such, we did all the things while they were here.

We greeted them at the front door, and they seemed happy to have arrived…

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Okay no we didn’t try and convince them that this was our house. But it would’ve been exceedingly fun to send them this address and wait for the texts to come in.

Back to what we DID do.

Heather wanted to meet all the people in Birmingham that I’ve “introduced” her to via the internet. So we started with lunch with Katherine of Grass Stains fame. (We tried to get Jamie to join us as well, but she was attacked by an October cold.)

We didn’t manage to get a picture with Katherine at our delightful lunch, but we did, however, find time to take multiple photos of the bathroom.

Because – who knew? The old Federal Reserve building downtown (where our lunch date at Urban Standard was located) turned the old vault into the bathrooms.

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Talk about needing to make a deposit.blog IMG_3447

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Since, on their trip down, Rick and Heather stopped at the biggest everything that they could find (you can see Heather’s Instagram feed for evidence of that), I took her to the OLDEST things.

The oldest baseball field in America (Rickwood Field),

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The oldest castle in Birmingham (Quinlan Castle, built in 1927 – you know because we have so many castles),

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The oldest Giant Amazon Box in Birmingham (okay there are a few others and I have no idea which was built first but they’ve been around for like a week or three),

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The oldest selfie-angel-wings in Birmingham (they’re not quite a year old yet but aren’t they fabulous?)

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And the oldest cannon pointed at downtown Birmingham.

blog Heather and Rick About Town IMG_4564The Canadians are coming! The Canadians are coming!!

We also visited some of the best Birmingham restaurants (Nabeel’s and John’s City Diner) and fantastic Birmingham signage nearby,

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Along with the Light Tunnels,blog Heather and Rick Light Tunnel IMG_4687

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Graffiti of note,

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And OBVIOUSLY the sunset.

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It was basically a Birmingham Second Honeymoon. With tour guides.

Because Heather found such fabulous deals last time she visited, we took another trip to Unclaimed Baggage, a couple of hours away – where all unclaimed baggage of all the airlines ends up.

I hung out in the books section for most of our visit, because I discovered that all paperbacks are $1.49-1.99 and hardbacks are $2.99 (and people read REALLY GREAT books on planes). I bought about 15 books, so I’m set for a few days.

I also reprised my small group girl’s trip tradition of finding the most unsafe pair of heels and trying to stand in them.

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I do not exaggerate when I say that I almost broke myself. And I only put one of the shoes on.

Heather’s husband, Rick, was surprisingly cool with all this – even the shopping trip, where he found himself the hottest vintage Baywatch jacket in all the land.

171015 Moss Rock Preserve High Falls 171012  Weathington Park IMG_4510Did I mention he’s a pastor? He’s going to look so fabulous preaching in his Baywatch gear.

Rick did find the need to DO something, which led him to begging us for access to our chain saw (to cut down a tree that fell through our trampoline during what was left of Hurricane Nate), putting together a “some assembly required” storage box I’d ordered from Amazon, and also I came home one day to my dryer taken apart because apparently, cleaning the lint filter doesn’t get all the lint out. (Who knew?) In his spare time, he made things like this with my children:

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A man’s gotta vacation how a man’s gotta vacation.

But what they REALLY came for…

was Alabama football.

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To see the things our state celebrates so thoroughly, like an elephant taking a poop on a Beetle.

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To see what we do with our excess tissue paper.

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And most importantly, to see Alabama Gameday Fashion at its absolute finest.

We saw it all. Multiple men changing clothes in public, ladies wearing scarves as shirts, all manner of visible bras (and visible oh-well-would-you-look-at-that-she’s-not-wearing-a-bra), and tutus. SO MANY tutus.

Heather said, more than once, and I quote,

“Wh – but Wh – Wh wh wh wh WHY??”

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Because Alabama. That’s why.

We made it into the game, where the culture continued to pour out onto us – this time in the form of significant back sweat of the man sitting in front of – and leaning onto – our row.

blog IMG_3658The back which provided the artisan Alabama perspiration can be seen leaning on Rick’s legs.

We had six days of all the adventure and experience and oddities that Alabama could offer. Which was absolutely delightful.

…As was this Introvert’s ICU ward that I entered upon their departure.

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