The Highs and Lows of Winter.

When you live in the south, you really don’t expect the freezing point to actually mean something. To me, it’s always felt more like a guideline.

“Water could start freezing at 32 degrees.”

But no. I really actually means that water freezes.

And as such, it’s been freezing around here, so we’ve been experiencing the shocking sensation of naturally occurring ice. Who knew that happened south of Michigan?

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We’ve been meandering around town, looking for bodies of water to disturb. And the kids have been perplexed, amazed, and endlessly fascinated by throwing things at the lake and watching the lake fight back.

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(If there’s a rise in general Alabama water volume due to displacement by rocks, that’s on us.)

I’m not saying I’m doing all of this exploring out of the generosity of my heart – I’m pretty geeked out by naturally occurring ice myself. I thought ice was created by ice makers and came out of the door of your fridge in neatly uniform tapered cubes. But ice is way fancier when it creates itself.

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We didn’t exactly attempt walking on water at Oak Mountain, but we certainly considered it. And gave the lake a few good shoves with our feet to see if it was possible. It was not, but the thickness of the ice was nonetheless impressive.

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(And by the way – the most satisfying sound I’ve heard in a very long time is the unique tinkling of a piece of ice being thrown at, breaking into dozens of pieces, and then sliding chime-ingly across a lake.)

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But on our second day of Arctic Alabama Exploration, we hit paydirt.

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There’s something about this fountain – perhaps its extreme shallowness – that made it perfect for an actual attempt at walking on water.

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And so, after a few tentative steps around the edges, the children indeed realized they could do just that.

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I mean, this is SERIOUSLY NOT supposed to happen in the deep south.

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But they were happy to test it out, despite the fact that my dad had just finished telling us a story about a fisherman in Virginia that fell through the ice, and upon asking the locals what they would do about it, they said, “Oh, we’ll find him come Spring – if the turtles don’t find him first.” Dad followed up his story with “Anyone who is trying to walk on ice in Alabama has GOT TO BE stupid.”

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It was treacherous.

And we knew we were taking our lives into our hands.

So naturally, we let my Dad be the first to know of our dangerous adventures.

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Lack of turtles. That’s the key for ice walking.

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So we shall continue our bitter cold adventures until our normal winter temps of the 50s come back very, very soon.

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But we’ll always look down and check for turtles first.

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How are you coping psychologically with the cold?

On Proving that The Mayflower > The USPS

November First.

That’s where this story begins.

It was the day I received an order from England for one of my Roadkill Calendars*.

2018 Roadkill Calendar Cover web

I have shipped plenty of things overseas. I’ve shipped to China – with the endless label written in Chinese. I’ve shipped to Africa. I’ve shipped to England. I’ve shipped to many random places in the world, and I do not suck at it.

The USPS website allows you to buy international postage online, which is nice – because filling out a manual customs form is comparable to shoving a full-sized male Gorilla into a Ziploc snack bag – no international address actually fits into the tiny fields on that microscopic form.

The very day I received the order, I printed my label.

Except that I noticed no postage printed alongside the customs form.

I went through the process again to make sure there was not an additional form to print, and there wasn’t.

I shrugged, assumed the post office was doing things differently now, and dropped it off to ship.

A few days later, the package showed back up on my doorstep, with a handwritten note on it:

“No Postage!”

Calendar September 2018 web

I got back on the website and paid the $13.50 international postage again in the attempt of saving myself from a visit to the actual post office. It is a place of unspeakable horrors, as Portlandia so accurately portrayed:

But after I went through the process again, it printed off exactly as it had before: without postage.

So I gathered both receipts, the package, the new and faulty label, and as much bravery as I could muster and went to Local Post Office Number One in the late afternoon, riskily near closing time.

The parking lot was nearly empty, so I felt that the stars of postal fortune had perhaps shined upon me.

I walked in and was overcome by the smell of hopelessness.

There was one worker and one customer, and it was apparent she’d been there a while. The male postal worker helping her laughed maniacally when I walked in. He yelled over to me,

“Whatever you need, I cannot help you.”

I looked toward the counter. There was a pile behind him, a pile in front of him, and this pile had not yet been moved over to him:

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Every few seconds, he made a sarcastic comment to the customer.

“Oh is that ALL?”

“Just a few more then, huh?”

Calendar July 2018 web

…all while glaring at me in the attempt to intimidate me into slinking out in the SHAME of coming in while he was dealing with this tragedy of over-mailing.

I peeked at her stack of boxes: they were Christmas presents for overseas troops. This fact did not make Mister Postal Worker any less Grinchy.

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But the stars shone upon me and a shimmering unicorn walked out of the back room. Or rather, a smiling postal worker – same difference.

She asked me what she could help me with and I explained my issue and presented my receipts.

“You paid for this package twice? My goodness, honey. You shouldn’t have done that.”

She inspected the package’s markings and said while shaking her head, “Mmm, mmm, mmm, those idiots at the downtown Post Office sent this back. They are SO STUPID. They should know better!”

Calendar April 2018 web

She took out a black Sharpie and wrote on the package, “Postage Paid!!”

“That’ll do it, honey. It’ll ship now!!”

A few days later, like a stray cat that can’t take a hint, it showed up on my doorstep for the second time.

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This time it had a note, also written in Sharpie, that said “No postage – writing ‘postage paid’ is not postage.”

I stopped at Local Post Office Number Two.

It was late November by now, so the lines were beginning to swell with holiday anxiety. I waited patiently for ten minutes while my children waited not-so-patiently.

“Can I help you?”

“I am hoping that you are an expert. I just know you can help me solve this.”

I explained the saga. I displayed my receipts. I pleaded for mercy.

“I can’t help you with that. You need to take it back to Local Post Office Number One. They have a manager over there.”

I tried not to let my tears stain the post office floor.

Instead of taking his advice, I decided to take it to the Scene of the Crimes: I would go to the dreaded, the formidable, the horror movie of The Downtown Post Office.

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I left my kids with Chris and approached the office with a respectable dose of fear.

A man talking rapidly on the phone was coming out of the front door as I approached, and I slipped through the door.

He turned around, huffed loudly, and angrily barked toward me, “You’re welcome!!”

a. He didn’t even really hold the door for me.
b. He was on the freaking phone in mid-sentence. Was I supposed to interrupt him to thank him for his sub-par gentlemanliness?
c. He is absolutely the kind of man who believes that buying a woman dinner on a first date entitles him to immediate relational benefit. And this realization made me want to vomit on his fancy wingtip shoes.

This encounter set my Downtown Post Office visit in motion just the way I expected it to go.

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The line was the kind of line that you could file your taxes, read a Jane Austen novel, call and comprehensively catch up with your best friend from 4th grade, and knit an ugly Christmas sweater all before being granted the privilege of being Next In Line – and I’m pretty sure there were people in that line doing all of those things.

I approached the counter with a look of humble gratitude. I pulled out my growing Package Dossier. I explained my case.

She looked at it all quietly, then said, “I’ll have to talk to my manager.”

She left me. She left me for so long I almost had abandonment issues.

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She finally returned, looking a year older. “He said the online postage system has been messed up lately – he’s seen other international packages come through without the postage printed correctly also. He told me to just print you the postage and it’ll go through just fine.”

Thank goodness. I came to the right place. And also I’m not crazy – I did nothing wrong when buying postage.

She started entering in the address.

“This shows it should be $22.50, and you only paid $13.50.”

“That’s what the online system charged me…”

“Well, online gives a discount, but I can’t. Hold on let me go check with my manager.”

Depression gripped my heart as PTSD Abandonment Issues set in.

Days later, she came back.

“He said I have to charge you the difference. So you’ll need to pay nine dollars.”

“Fine.”

Type, type, type.

She printed postage for nine dollars. I paid her. She said, “This should do the trick. If it doesn’t, come back.”

That was not the hope I was looking for.

Two weeks passed. I felt sure my package had made its voyage across the sea. I mean, HOW HARD COULD THIS BE?! Angelica sailed back and forth between England and New York multiple times during one act of Hamilton. If Angelica could do it in the 1780s, surely a few pictures of roadkill can make the journey before 2018.

Then came the Friday before Christmas. I was in bed recovering from surgery.

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Chris got home from work, walked into the bedroom with his hand behind his back, and said “You’re never going to believe what was on the front porch.”

“Cat poop?”

“Worse.”

“A slaughtered raccoon from that stray cat who won’t take a hint?”

“So much worse. You’re going to be so mad.”

“I don’t want to be mad!!”

“Mad in a fun way.”

He pulled the envelope from behind his back.

I nearly popped my incisions from screaming.

THIS IS NOT A FUN KIND OF MAD!!!!!”

He set the envelope in my lap. That poor package was battered, abused, and humiliated.

Package to England

This time it had come back, according to the sticker, because the barcode had already been used.

There were so many scars and memories on on that package of all my prior visits…

…The scribbled out Sharpie messages…

…The $9 postage…

…All the stickers demanding I do this right even though the post office admitted it was their fault…

The envelope itself was a calendar of my November and December.

So, the week after Christmas, I decided to go back to where it all started.

Local Post Office Number One.

I took a fresh envelope, my stack of receipts from all former post offices, and resigned myself to filling out a fresh customs form – by hand.

As I waited in line, I began the process of rewriting everything. Which is when a man and his son who had been standing behind me decided that I was a prime target for line-cutting. They nonchalantly stepped around and in front of me.

But it was the wrong post office visit to mess with me. I had endured the sarcastic You’re Welcome guy. I had endured the cruel postal worker who didn’t want to process packages for the troops. I WAS NOT GOING TO JUST TAKE A LINE CUTTER.

I pushed around them and took back my place. “I was in line before you.”

“Oh, sorry.” They stepped back a step and looked at each other as if I had a crazed look in my eye (I’m sure I would never.)

I held my shoulders high with the ecstasy of not being taken advantage of (by anyone but the United States Postal Service.)

I hefted my sheaf of documentation up on the counter.

I walked the clerk through a Masters-Level education of what brought me here, to her counter, today.

Calendar August 2018 web

She sighed and shook her head.

“Okay. We need a new barcode. And new postage. And I think we can make this work.”

“Do you want me to use a new envelope since this one is so wrecked?”

“No. Let’s leave part of these stickers the same.”

Type type type…

She read my customs declaration. “This is a calendar, huh? What year is it for? Please say it’s for 2020 – because that’s probably when it’ll arrive.”

“Right? The Mayflower sailed from England to America quicker than this package is getting from America to England.”

“You are so right about that, honey.” She taped my freshly handwritten customs form onto the package.

RIGHT OVER MY ADDRESS.

“Um, I trust that it’s going to work this time, but you just covered up my return address. If perchance it doesn’t work, I really want to be able to know it.”

She sighed, ripped it up, salvaged my address, and re-taped it. I pondered whether this could be a DefCon Nine Postal Worker Solution to a problem package: if you make sure it ends up in the Eternally Lost Package Bin, the customer can’t complain again.

Then she looked at me sternly, with that look you give a stray cat after it craps on your porch for no good reason. “I do NOT want to see you back here again. I do NOT want to see this package again. Got it?”

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“Believe me, ma’am. I feel the same way.”

And this is where we now find ourselves.

My confidence level regarding this fifth attempt is at about 32%. I fully expect to see that mangy package cuddled up to my stray porch cat any day now.

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Thoughts and prayers, y’all. Thoughts. And. Prayers.


* Roadkill calendars are sold out, but if you find yourself in desperate need of one, I can still special order them. Unless you’re in England. Then forget it.

Finding Color in the Gray.

If you follow me on Instagram, you might’ve already read part of this, but I felt like sharing it with a little more detail here.

This week, I finally started venturing out of the house again. I know, I know – I got out the day after surgery to take snow pictures. But then I stayed almost exclusively in bed for the following seven days. In a way, I felt much better right after surgery (albeit in pain) than I did for the week following that (albeit in no pain.)

I was weepy. Super weepy.

My hormones and emotions were all messed up (as surgery and anesthesia always do to me), and I was feeling guilty and gross about doing nothing (because I was in little pain, but if I tried to do anything I was immediately exhausted), and was feeling all the sads because I wasn’t hardly going out of doors, and when I was, it would be after Chris got home from work, which would be after dark, thanks to our super dark Alabama Decembers (the sun sets at 4:40, y’all. Four. Forty. Being on the bleeding eastern edge of a time zone is the worst.)

But on Monday, I took a timid trip out for a careful walk with the kids. We went to Aldridge Gardens, and slowly strolled around the lake. I utilized every bench along the way.

But I carried my camera and took a few pictures. And it felt nearly normal. And I felt nearly alive again.

One of the pictures I took was at a fountain, and I simply liked the look of the wet, smooth, gray stones.

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I liked the texture of glossiness, along with the simplicity of the photo. It was nearly a naturally black and white photo – something I don’t take very often.

While I was editing, just being silly, I increased vibrance (which is kinda like saturation but better) to 100% – just to see what would happen. Would it make the grays more gray and the blacks more black and the whites more white?

I was astonished.

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All those hues were somehow always in those stones, hiding behind their overwhelmingly gray facades. How did Photoshop even identify and differentiate between them all? I couldn’t see but scant differences in the rocks with my eyes.

The transformation of the photo felt like a parallel for what was starting to take place in my mind and my heart.

Life feels gray sometimes. In my case it was temporary and expected, but that didn’t make it feel any less gray. Having anesthesia and major surgery right at the point that the days are shortest and grayest was bound to make me cry on a daily basis. Other people have much, much worse life situations causing their lives to feel gray. And the gray is only made grayer by occurring during the holiday season – the time of year that’s supposed to feel happiest and most vibrant. High expectations and grayness do not mix.

Grayness, by its nature, always feels inescapable. It feels as if it’s always been there and will always be there. Like there’s no way that any color could possibly be left.

But it is.

I promise.

The color is still there, hiding in that overwhelming gray fog, just waiting for the vibrance to be cranked up again. And when you are able to step outside and the world finally has color again, it is an unspeakably glorious feeling. It makes the color feel more colorful than it ever has been before.

“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” ~ John 1:5

“In Your light, we see light.” ~ Psalm 36:9