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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When Being an Early Adopter Spins Out.

I am aware and annoyed that the world tends to hate on new things as they come along, picking apart all of the potential dangers and drawbacks before anyone has had a chance to even try them.

Remember when Pokemon Go came out? All the news stories were about people walking over cliffs or wrecking cars (or the possibilities of those things potentially happening) rather than the fact that an entire people group just emerged from their video-game-playing-basements and were all of a sudden getting loads of exercise and Vitamin D and even human interaction.

(I still marvel at the shocking paleness I witnessed those first few weeks when Pokemon Go was THE THING. I’m pretty sure some of those people had never visited outdoor parks in their lives before said parks contained Snorlaxes and Squirtles.)

The 80s in particular were full of this judge-first hobby – especially in Southern Christian circles. The Smurfs were satanic. Dungeons and Dragons was double satanic. Yoga would turn you into a new age witch. And speaking of witches, don’t forget about Stevie Nicks because she was totally a witch. Oh and now that we’re talking about music, any song played backwards will tell you to worship Satan (did you know that Congress actually held hearings on this issue??) And DO NOT read the clouds in “Aladdin” or look at the cover of “The Little Mermaid” or YOU WILL SEE THINGS.

It even carried over to the 90s when Harry Potter was the echelon of all things Satanic. Too far, too far.

I find this outlook endlessly pessimistic and more-than-a-bit off-putting and am seriously happy that the 80s are over. As such, I always try to give things a good, hard, first try before identifying their potential downsides. Why not look for the benefits of new ideas rather than the drawbacks?

With one exception.

Since the moment they emerged in an explosion of fad and frenzy, I have DETESTED fidget spinners.

Detested isn’t a deep enough word. Loathed, perhaps. Abominated. Is that a thing? I abominate fidget spinners.

I abhor the quiet, smoothly fizzing sound when other people use them around me (“isn’t this a No Fidget Spinning section of this restaurant? No? Please seat me in the No Fidget Spinning section – I’m allergic.”) and I am disgusted by the feeling of them spinning around on the top of my own finger, and I despise them spinning between my thumb and index finger. They literally make me shiver with horror. They give me the total heebs. And actual chill bumps.

Of course, every member of my family with the exception of myself owns and regularly carries one of these horrible devices. Including my husband. Even though he conceal carries, it grosses me out just knowing that vile thing is in his pocket.

Before he realized my intense repulsion by The Fidget Spinner, Chris came home one night with a surprise for me and each of the kids. He played it up, acting like he was the best in all the world (which he is. Or was, until this night.)

After presenting the children with thrilling trinkets for which they hugged him and thanked him profusely, he finally pulled out my surprise – and as I’m sure you’ve already figured out, it was a fidget spinner. But not just any bland old fidget spinner – it was a fidget spinner printed with graffiti, and therefore he looked at me expectantly, happy that he’d hit upon one of my many and varied interests.

IMG_2910“My” Fidget Spinner is the one on the far left. Though I would never claim such vileness as mine.

I’m pretty good at faking thankfulness for gifts I’m not thrilled about, but my complete enmity toward these items made me recoil and scream out “EW! I can’t stand Fidget Spinners!” and push it across the table as if it were a box full of hissing cockroaches.

His face fell and I immediately felt bad. And both kids began begging for my rejected gift.

“OOOH DAD! Can I have it?” “No can I have it?” “I’d really love to have it!” “So would I!”

“You could have at least pretended to like it and told me later so that I didn’t have to figure out which kid to give it to.”

I apologized profusely, but stayed vigilant in my absolute refusal of his inappropriate gift.

(It later got used as bribery to get Noah to behave for like three whole days and was totally worth it.)

(Poor Ali. If only she required more bribery, she too could own more fidget spinners.)

Although Ali and Chris are moderate enthusiasts, Noah has become a collector of Fidget Spinners and Widget Spinners (what he calls the two-sided ones) of all sizes. He pines after them and begs me to search Amazon for newly released ones. I do not demonize these pursuits (at least out loud), even though I cringe with thought of the sound of yet another softly spinning object in my house. Instead, I press on, supporting my family and even my son’s horrific obsession.

Even though fidget spinners just have to be Satanic.