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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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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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.