Protein Gummies: easy, quality protein when all I want is carbs.

When I eat, I want carbs. Especially when I just want a snack or I’m in a hurry. Carbs are delicious, are the easiest things to eat, and are the easiest things to find to eat. I struggle to get enough protein on a daily basis because protein is high-maintenance and usually just too dense for my tastes – since I have EOE (a throat allergy disorder that narrows my throat over time), traditional proteins are often literally difficult to swallow. I’ve tried many strategies, but usually fake carbs-that-are-actually-protein (like those peanut butter cups they always fool me into buying at Costco) have an aftertaste of death and regret. And protein drinks are, let’s face it – just not enjoyable.

So when I came across the concept of making my own collagen protein gummies, I was intrigued. A protein that looks like a carb and chews like a carb? And furthermore, that is homemade out of actual high quality animal protein – not some weird chemical being marketed by Costco? That could be my ticket to balanced nutrition.

I’m always willing to try new things, such as milling my own wheat for bread, kombucha, and red light therapy – all of which I still do regularly, but protein gummies are my easiest and cheapest experiment yet.

However, like kombucha, I had to get over the weirdness of the main ingredient. A few months ago, I caved and ordered it – powdered bovine gelatin – (yes you heard me right) – and began my protein journey. I have eaten them every day since and….I AM IN LOVE WITH THEM.

They are easy to make, contain 3 total ingredients – 100% bovine gelatin, honey, and 100% fruit juice – are not overly sweet, and are finally giving my body the protein it needs.

When I first started researching this concept, I was a little disgusted at the idea of bovine gelatin, which is Type I and III collagen derived from cow skin and bone marrow. But the more I researched, the more I learned. All gelatin is an animal product – who knew that JELL-O was an animal product? I did not.

But high quality gelatin is a surprisingly cool product: It’s collagen, so it’s good for my aging skin and hair, it supports joint health which my runner’s body needs desperately, and it helps calm inflammation in the body – another thing I constantly struggle with. Nutrition-wise, it is all protein with zero fat. It has all but one essential amino acid, and extraordinarily low calories. So basically, all the things that I need that I’m not getting enough of.

After researching a good bit, I bought my gelatin from Perfect Supplements. Their products are high quality, hormone and pesticide free, carefully sourced, and surprisingly inexpensive when I started combining bulk savings and coupons.

(After I bought a few rounds of products from them and decided that I was going to blog about my gummies, I signed up to be an affiliate and requested a coupon that I could share with you guys – the coupon code OBJECTIVITY gets you 10% off. Combining the coupon with buying multiple products and getting their 20-25% volume discount will make your gummies pretty cheap, should you desire to try them.)

So. I toyed with their recipe a bit to get mine the way I wanted them – they’re a little firmer than the consistency of JELL-O Jigglers. And after I made them, I used my love of an excel spreadsheet to figure their nutritional value and the cost. A double recipe makes 100-120 gummies. And each gummy, approximately 1/2″ x 1/2″ x 1″, has:

1 g protein
10 calories
1.5 g carbs

As for the cost, counting in the honey, juice, and gelatin, a double batch of 120 gummies costs about $7.50 to make.

I typically eat about 20 of them a day, which is pretty filling since they’re pretty large, but is only 200 calories while getting in 20 grams of protein. I have my gummy snack in the afternoon, and they keep me from getting into that afternoon slump.

I definitely feel more full, can tell a difference in my skin and hair, and I also lost 6 pounds in the 2 months immediately after starting my gummy routine – it could have been coincidence, but I tried and couldn’t think of anything else that changed in my lifestyle. My theory is that since I run and hike multiple times a week, and I haven’t gotten enough protein in the past, perhaps that was just my body thankful for finally getting the protein it needed to burn during my exercise.

My Protein Gummy recipe is as follows:

Layer 1:
2 c. 100% fruit juice (NO CITRUS – it messes with the gelatin)
3 tbsp. honey
4 1/2 scoops of bovine gelatin

Put the fruit juice and honey in a wide frying pan and sprinkle the bovine gelatin on top and leave it for a few minutes to let it bloom. This is a fun part of the process that makes the juice look like brains.

When all of the gelatin is soaked up, turn on the stove to medium and warm it up until all of the gelatin is dissolved, but not for so long that it boils. This takes only a couple of minutes.

Pour it into a glass 9×9 pan (or a 9×13 pan if you want to do triple layer, or want thinner gummies) and put in the refrigerator for 3 hours or the freezer for an hour.

Layer 2: repeat all of the steps from layer 1, except change your fruit juice to something else – preferably a notably different color to make them pretty. Pour on top of your first layer and refrigerate again.

After they chill and fully harden, cut them into squares and pull them out of the pan. This part is especially satisfying.

Keep them refrigerated.

Of course you can just do one layer, or one juice, but this recipe is so quick and easy that it’s fun to add color and intrigue, and to mix flavors.

So far, my favorites are peach mango / dragonfruit (the dragonfruit juice from Costco is great, and the peach mango juice is V8) and pear / dragonfruit. I’ve also experimented with three layers – this one is peach mango / tart cherry / dragonfruit.

I tried a Peaches and Cream version, where I used peach/mango for the bottom, and ice cream and half and half for the top.

It was pretty good! They taste a bit more like a treat. But for daily consumption, I prefer the pure fruit.

The flavor can be pretty mild, so I have also experimented with adding 1/4 tsp. of Vanilla into the gummies – this really fleshes out the flavor. Tarter juices do have more flavor – tart cherry being the most flavor I’ve tried yet.

Left to Right: Tart Cherry/Passion Fruit, Peaches and Cream, Dragonfruit/Passion Fruit/Vanilla

I also bought some hexagon ice cube trays and tried making fancy ones.

They were indeed fancy – but pulling them out of the ice trays was much more high maintenance and not nearly as satisfying as cutting them myself.

This recipe takes no time at all and I love that they don’t taste sweet – they’re just a mild little snack that fills me with protein.

Since I’m all about a discount, I’ve tried several other Perfect Supplements products to get the multi-product discount, and have reordered all of them because I have loved them. The lip balm is the first lip balm I’ve ever used that actually seems to de-chap my lips over time and not just make them feel better in the moment, and I love the recipe that they have for acai bowls using their acai powder – but I made a few changes of my own to make it less healthy and more delicious. This is another protein snack I’ve enjoyed if I want something closer to a meal:

Acai Protein Bowl (Rachel’s Version)

1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. Acai powder
1/4 c. peanut butter
1/4 c coconut oil (I ordered theirs – it’s nice)
4 tsp. cocoa powder
4 scoops hydrolyzed collagen (this is totally optional to add more protein – I ordered theirs, so I use it)
A couple spoonfuls of Cool Whip until I get it to just barely sweet

Mix all of these ingredients together, then top it with a little more peanut butter, a little more cool whip on top of that, and then some granola. The above recipe makes about 6 servings worth of the acai base, and it’s better after its refrigerated, so mixing up a batch of this keeps me with a ready acai bowl meal for a few weeks.

Chris the Skeptical Husband never jumped fully on board for my kombucha phase, but he has tried my gummies and is determined to make them a part of his life this year, hoping to replace his late night tortilla chip raids with a pile of protein gummies. He promises to write his own commentary on his protein journey after giving them a good try. He has not, however, tried or shown any interest in my acai bowl. Yet.

The Things that Stick With Us.

Every Christmas around this time, I remember and appreciate a girl that I actually don’t remember at all. 

It was my first semester in college, I was a measly 17 years old (incidentally, the age my oldest will be in just a few weeks, and who just finished her first dual enrollment class on the very same campus). My favorite class that semester was Speech 107 with Mrs. Dudchock. One of our assignments was to give an informative speech, teaching the class about something on which we were an expert, or at least competent.  I remember that I informed the class about my twelve years of being homeschooled (therefore labeling myself right off the bat as That Homeschool Girl.) I don’t recall all of the details of my own speech, but the speech I do remember was from a girl who had worked in the gift wrapping kiosk at a department store. She taught and demonstrated for us the simple tricks and proper ways to wrap presents. I was already a passable gift wrapper, but what she taught us stuck with me, making everything neater, easier, and prettier.

I have no idea what her name was, or what she looked like, or anything about her at all, and it’s not like present wrapping is a life-changing skill. But 24 years later, every time I wrap a present I remember her and appreciate her, and it would be cool to thank her for that.

Of all the things we learn in college, the things that stick with us are often not the things we were actually tested on.

And the impacts of people that I don’t remember and will never see again is a life truth that is well worth keeping in mind as I go about my daily life. 

I wonder if, years later, anyone in that class decided to homeschool their kids, and regularly but vaguely remembers the girl who talked about her bizarre educational upbringing in their speech class. 

Or what other strangers I have passed along the way and have made a memorable impact on. Both in good and <inwardly cringes> bad ways. 

…Or maybe present wrapping is just one of those mindless activities that gives me too much time with my thoughts and I’m overthinking everything.

But it wouldn’t be so mindless if that girl hadn’t taught me all of her tips and tricks. 

The Lady’s Handbook for her Mysterious Illness, and the path to JERFing.

This summer will mark 10 years since I very suddenly began my journey with dysautonomia. Although I try not to think about all of the symptoms all at once, it has and continues to change my life in drastic ways.

Some of those ways are good, like my illness being the impetus for starting Picture Birmingham, which has now donated nearly $60,000 to The WellHouse. Also, dysautonomia is what forced me to become a runner, because running helps with my symptoms a good deal, and on most days, running feels like a positive change.

But of course, living with a chronic illness has changed my life in a lot of less delightful ways, including directly effecting this blog, as my creative writing abilities nosedived. For years, it was painful for me to go back and read my writing from before dysautonomia, but I’ve come to the point where grateful that I was able to record Ali and Noah’s childhoods with such detail, and I love having them all printed in books, which they often read. If they ask me the specifics of a vague memory, I look up the date I wrote about it, and tell them to go read about it – after all, that’s going to better than my memory of the event.

In other downsides, I’ve had multiple surgeries and medical procedures as my dysautonomia has caused other issues in my body – at this point nearly all of my Optional Body Parts have been removed.

The thing about dysautonomia is that it’s always creating new and unexpected issues – the last few years has brought intense noise sensitivity and ear ringing (tinnitus) which greatly impacts my ability to go to restaurants, church, football games, and anywhere where there are sound inputs coming from multiple directions at once. I have an “ear kit” (various levels of ear protection) to help me with this, but it’s still frustrating and much more life-altering than I’d like it to be.

Last year, I read a book, The Lady’s Handbook For Her Mysterious Illness, that contextualized my experience in a way that made me feel incredibly seen. It helped me understand my own experience better, encouraged me, and inspired me. I read it in a few days, then immediately started rereading it, slower and with rampant underlining. I had multiple friends read it, and Chris listened to the audiobook. His understanding of my daily life was greatly widened. I cannot recommend it enough for anyone living with a chronic illness, or for anyone who is close to someone who does.

The book is a memoir about the author’s own struggle with chronic illness, her difficulty in getting the right diagnosis, her struggle with unbelieving and/or uncaring doctors (something that all women with illnesses have experienced), as well as her intense research about the drastic increase of chronic illnesses, especially in women. As she is bedridden from her own (quite extreme) illness, she sets out to figure out why so many of us are sick with autoimmune disorders, nervous system disorders, fibromyalgia, and all of the things us women (and some men) are sick with. As she takes some extreme and desperate paths to try to deal with her own illness, her research is incredibly insightful.

Obviously, neither the causes nor the solutions to our current health issues are simple – it’s complex, multi-faceted, and culturally systemic. But she finds out many helpful avenues to explore, and has great suggestions to heal our guts, our nervous systems, and our cortisol levels.

I was encouraged that I was already doing a lot of things right (such as exercise and a close community), but was inspired to do better with food. Her phrase for eating well is “JERF” – Just Eat Real Food – which is so much easier to insert into my life than all of the complicated elimination diets.

One facet that she spends a good deal of time on is the role of women in society, and their downplayed value in domesticity. Women’s traditional roles as the primary food preparers is the engine of society, and is in and of itself a worthy and industrious pursuit. I am a good cook, but I’ve always seen mealtime planning, and especially remembering to go to the grocery store, as a chore – not as the invaluable key to my family’s health. This book helped me direct my natural Type-A industriousness to providing good food for my family – an entire perspective shift that I needed.

Besides cooking more often and better foods, I made two big changes that have ended up being very fun.

  1. I have been making sourdough bread for several years, but I bought a flour mill and began milling my own flour. I also ordered a new sourdough starter that is a truer sourdough and doesn’t use any sugar in the process.
  2. I began making my own Kombucha, of which I have already given you all the slippery details.

Both projects have felt more like crafting than cooking, and have given me something in which to direct my creative passion.

I began reading about the benefits of fresh-milled flour, and I was blown away by what I didn’t know. I knew that traditional store flour had all sorts of preservatives and additives in it, which is a large cause of our societal gluten sensitivity. But I hadn’t realized that flour loses all of its nutritional value (and, I learned, all of its amazing flavor) within a few weeks of milling. Also, in commercial flour, even whole wheat, the part of the wheat that helps us process gluten is removed, further adding to the gluten sensitivities. Fresh milled flour is full of the nutrients we need, and has the actual whole grain included in the flour, thereby helping us process gluten more efficiently.

I bought this mill and began ordering three different kinds of wheat berries – all through Amazon but from small farms – hard white wheat, hard red wheat, and spelt. It took me a while to get my proportions right, and to learn the differences in rising and baking, but the flavor of the freshly milled wheat is incredible. It has a richness and nuttiness that is unlike any bread I’ve ever tasted.

I’ve also experimented with using the fresh-milled flour and sourdough starter for banana bread, pretzels, and the family favorite, pancakes.

I also got a pasta maker that does all the mixing and shaping for me, and I’ve been making my own pasta with my freshly milled flour. It has all of the satisfaction of a play-doh extruding machine.

I even got the biggest compliment a cook can get from a twelve-year-old boy. When I asked Noah what he thought of my pasta, he said “tastes like noodles to me.”

I did experiment with a friend with gluten sensitivity, to see if she could actually eat my bread without issue, and she could not – she was symptomatic after eating a few slices of fresh-milled wheat bread. So I certainly am not claiming that this bread solves gluten sensitivity issues (though it supposedly can for some, per the marginally-trustworthy internet), but the nutritional value is greatly increased, and the taste is incredible – it has a richness and nuttiness to it that I’m kind of addicted to.

And I know it sounds like it would be expensive, but with bulk wheat berry buying and watching for deals, I’ve gotten my per-loaf cost down to $1.70 (because I’m an accountant and it makes me happy to figure out such things.) $1.70 for a homemade, fresh-milled wheat sourdough loaf seems fair to me.

Specific changes like adding fresh-milled wheat and kombucha to my diet have helped, but I think the overall view that food is important, and preparing healthy food is a valuable and productive use of my time, is the more impactful takeaway.

These food changes, along with changing to liquid supplements for greater absorption (I take Magnesium and Tart Cherry at night to help with sleep and to keep from taking melatonin, and I take Turmeric, Green Tea Extract, Collagen, Glucosamine, and L-Carnitine to help with joints, detoxification, and skin and hair) have made a significant impact on my overall health and energy. Last year, I didn’t run the Lake Martin 27 mile run that I had run three times prior, because I didn’t feel like my body could handle it. It was a discouragement at the time, because I felt like my dysautonomia was degenerative. But this year, not only did I feel perfectly confident to sign up again, I also knew that I’d beat my best prior time – and despite starting in a thunderstorm and the entire course being soaked, I did beat my time by 18 minutes!

It’s an encouragement to know that there are things I can do to feel better. I don’t have control over everything, but I can have hope that by knowing my own body and feeding it good things, I can feel better.

Bird Brain.

I was at church, and my phone and Fitbit had SOS alarms going off. Loud, repetitive, chirping, SOS alarms. Clearly they were automatically set up to notify local emergency response crews, as I could hear sirens in the background, growing closer to church. I frantically hurried through the hallways, looking for somewhere to sit down and fix the problem. I tried turning them off. Resetting them. Switching off the SOS alarm. Nothing would stop the repetition. Nothing would stop the DANG CHIRPING that was about to drive me insane and crack my head open. Nothing would stop the oncoming slaught of worried paramedics, bearing down on the church. Nothing would stop me from the worst fate of all: being the center of attention.

Then I woke up, my watch off my arm and having been flung across the bed, and my head pounding from a ridiculously loud, repetitive, chirping songbird perched right outside my bedroom window. A BIRD was the SOS alarm of my dream, and I couldn’t escape him by waking up.

Oh my gosh why cannot we shoot songbirds.

My head ached. My teeth ached. My body felt hit by a truck. I felt so ridiculously sleepy, but there was no chance of falling back asleep in this kind of pain.

Birds are evil creatures when they’re looking for a lady friend.

I escaped the alarming chirp of my bedroom and went down to my office to start the day with a cup of coffee, my favorite word games, and writing in my diary. Everything was quite a bit blurry and painful, and I began to suspect that this was what a migraine is.

Then, just as I was beginning to emerge the tiniest bit from my fog, guess who showed up at my window.

The same. Dang. Bird.

“Noah, I need you to go out there and kill that bird right now.”

<blank stare>

“Although of course you know that killing songbirds is illegal. But I know you’d be willing to go to jail for your Mamma.”

“I mean…but NOT for killing a bird…”

“Oh. What would you be willing to go to jail for your Mamma for?”

He hasn’t let me know yet. But these are the chaotic thoughts of a bird-induced migraine.

Meanwhile, Noah’s cleaning out his closet, and has found the Official Smallest Thing Still In His Closet. Shoved somewhere into a back corner and escaping all prior clean-outs was an 18-month Elmo shirt, snaps on the back, which fascinated Noah, especially when I explained (after his confusion as to why they were there and was that actually the front of the shirt) that toddler shirts had to have those snaps because toddler heads are so proportionately outsized for their body.

I am pretty sure that he now wants to inspect a toddler close-up now to see this phenomenon for himself.

“How could ANY body fit in this tiny piece of clothing?!”, he exclaimed, as he held it up to his nearly-taller-than-me, shoe-size 10 1/2 body. (By the end of 2023 I expect to be the shortest person in my family. No one prepares you for this particular reality.)  Oh, the days of tiny bodies and giant heads and screaming toddlers and…nope. I’m good with our two double-digit kids who are fully capable of providing for nearly all of their own needs.

One thing that we did experience later in life than most families is food allergies. Noah developed a sudden and severe allergy to cashews and pistachios in late 2019 (though the small-dose-eating-treatment of them has nearly eradicated it), and in late 2022, Ali’s pre-existing sensitivity to dairy became a full-blown we-must-avoid-dairy-at-all-costs extreme sensitivity.

…Which is not at all fair, because Noah happens to hate cashews and pistachios, yet has to eat them once a week to temper his allergy, while Ali adores all things dairy, but cannot have any, at risk of severe full-body-and-mind reaction.

Also, dairy is freaking hard to avoid. Have you ever tried to create a dairy-free Easter Basket? I do not wish it upon you.

In an effort to restore to her the joy of pizza, I attempted to make at-home pizzas Tuesday night, using my bread dough as crust. But I had to make each of the kids their own pizzas, because in a fabulous twist, their pizzas were Mutually Assured Destruction…

  • Noah’s pizza contained real cheese with real dairy that would destroy his sister’s well-being…
  • Ali’s pizza contained cheese-less cheese made from none other than…cashews, which, presumably, could potentially send her brother back to the ER (but hopefully not since he’s been treated.)

I shook my head as I thoroughly washed the pizza cutter between slices. I never thought of us as an allergy family…but here we are. Serving Mutually Assured Destruction Pizza.

If only I could serve a Destruction Pizza to that dang bird, still repetitively chirping out my window.

Book Recommendations For Your Winter.

Whether you need last-minute Christmas gifts or some fantastic books to curl up with on rainy (or snowy, depending on where you are – you lucky, lucky person) winter days, here are my latest favorite books. To check out my past recommendations, click here.

Current Favorite Author: Kate Milford.

She has written 8 (or 9, if you count the one you can only get in .pdf format) books for middle grade, but in my opinion, her books should be adult books – mostly because of their complexity. Her novels aren’t all meant to read in a specific order, and happen in different places, times, and with differing levels of supernatural – but they all tie together in stunningly brilliant ways. I’ve read them through four times, have read them in a different order every time, and have been wowed in a different way each time by catching new methods with which she ties her stories together. And they’re fun reads – her characters, her world-building, and her narrative style is exquisite. She does have an intimidating habit of introducing a whole slew of characters at once, and she sometimes just tosses you into a situation with terms that she does not explain – but if you can keep up and give her a chance, she’s one of the best writers out there. Her biggest stroke of brilliance is that her books get even better with every reread. Start with Greenglass House – it’s the perfect cozy winter book. Her most brilliant book is The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book, but you need to at least read the two Greenglass books first, (and while you’re at it, Bluecrowne and The Left-Handed Fate, oh and maybe also The Thief Knot) to fully appreciate its beauty.

Favorite Newly Discovered Author: Georgette Heyer.

She’s SO MUCH FUN! She lived in the 1940’s and wrote about the Regency period (and sometimes earlier.) Her books are witty, engaging, and fun, light, guaranteed-happy reads. My favorites so far are The Grand Sophy, Cotillion, These Old Shades, Sylvester or The Wicked Uncle, and Frederica.

p.s. – Since she’s been around a while (plus or minus 80 years), Georgette Heyer books are fantastic books to find on Thriftbooks – I do almost all of my book shopping there, because it’s a cheap used bookstore with cheap or free shipping, and they have a fantastic rewards program, so I’m getting free book credits continuously just from buying books from them. If you haven’t checked out Thriftbooks (and signed up for their rewards program), I highly recommend it!

Favorite Shared books with Chris:

Chris doesn’t get nearly the amount of reading time that I do, so when he wants a book, I’m ready with a choice of my top five out of the last 100 books I’ve read, so he only has to read the cream of the cream.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty – I know I’ve mentioned this book before, but it deserves a second mention in the context of sharing it as a married couple. This is an incredible novel that has deep meaning behind it, and is especially meaningful to read if you’ve been married for ten or more years. It asks the question “what would your ten-years-ago-self think about the person you are now?” It’s a lovely book to connect over and discuss how your life / yourselves have changed. I read it years ago, then Chris and I listened to it together over our anniversary trip in 2020, then we both reread it in 2021 after going through some deaths in our family, both desperately not wanting to be changed for the worse by our circumstances. It helps give perspective and thankfulness, but not in a trite way – it sneaks into your soul as you’re enjoying an incredibly well-written novel.

How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich – This book is another magnificent book for marriages. For me, it was as groundbreaking as when I read The Five Love Languages 20+ years ago. It gives framework, science, and logic to why we have the same communication cycles with our spouse (and others) over and over, and how to break those cycles. It applies attachment science adults and to marriage, and it helped me clearly understand myself, Chris, my kids, my friends. (Yes, I am so diagnosing everybody I know.) It also has a wonderful section on how to feel and deal with your emotions through comfort, which has been helpful for Chris and I, as well as for Ali and Noah.

Other books that Chris has enjoyed:

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – a sweeping read when you’re in the mood for an epic story about an entire lifetime. It’s especially poignant now, with all that is going on between Russia and Ukraine.


Things My Son Needs to Know About the World by Fredrik Backman – Don’t buy this one for your husband if you don’t want him interrupting you every 30 seconds with his laughter and absolutely NEED to read you a passage. It’s a delightful book that shows off Fredrik Backman’s ability to write nonfiction as well as fiction. (Anxious People, A Man Called Ove, and My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She’s Sorry are his best novels, in my opinion.) To be honest, I even swoon a bit at Backman’s instagram captions. The man can write. Anywhere, anyway, about anything. And this book is a jewel that’s easy to pick up and read a page or two, laugh out loud, then put down for three months before picking it up again and laughing just as hard.

Favorite Kid’s Books – Noah’s Sixth Grade Favorites:

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus and Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling – Noah and I adored these books. Highly recommend for your middle schooler or high schooler who is going through stuff and needs a character that can understand them.


Nevermoor Series by Jessica Townsend – I know I talked about the first of these books when it came out, but we still think it’s the best children’s series in progress out there. It has incredible world-building and characters, and the scenes she paints are fantastic.



Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper – Noah loved this book so much. It’s a fabulous book to help foster compassion and understanding for other kids (and adults) with special needs.



Favorite Teenage Books – Ali’s Tenth Grade Favorites:

Ali also enjoys Georgette Heyer – she absolutely loved The Grand Sophy.

This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith – it’s hard to find sweet, innocent YA lit – especially romances – but this is a book that Ali and I both enjoyed immensely. It’s a sweet story with a fun premise.


Books that Speak to my Enneagram Two Soul:

I’ve wanted to do a blog post about books that speak to the soul of each enneagram type, but I can only do Enneagram Two since I’m only familiar with what speaks to my soul. If you can report in with books that specifically speak to your enneagram number, please do.

I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Aliferenko – what a heartwarming, beautiful story. It’s how the world should work.



My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman – this was a story of unfolding stories that open up a complicated character and make you fall in love with her.



(Apparently Enneagram Twos require long book titles.)

Books I otherwise Highly Enjoyed:

 All Creatures Great and Small and all following books by James Herriott – my dad read me James Herriott short stories when I was a kid, but it took the show coming out (PBS Masterpiece – the series is truly a masterpiece if you haven’t watched it) for me to realize that Herriott actually wrote novel-length books that told his story in a biographical order. The show is the most heartwarming, redeeming show on television right now, and the books are even more so. They will make you giggle and cry and gag, and you will be truly sad when you finish all of them. Then you’ll want to start them over.

The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell – but before you reread James Herriott, Gerald Durrell is a wonderful stand-in. (Also a PBS Masterpiece show, by the way.) Gerald tells the story about his childhood on the island of Corfu before the Second World War. He has a kooky, bizarre family that he interweaves with his tales of running wild on the island and becoming a boy naturalist. He will definitely keep you laughing – most of the time at his sibling’s expense.


Haven Point by Virginia Hume – I read this one in preparation to go back to Maine, and it was an enjoyable read. Although I enjoyed the entire book, what really shocked me was the similarities to Millie, Chris’ Grandmother’s story with one of the storylines in the book. Millie and one of the characters in the book were both from a farm in Minnesota, moved to Washington DC on their own, attended nursing school during the war, and visited many of the same places in DC. After finishing the book, I reached out to the author and shared the similarities, and she also enjoyed finding out about Millie’s parallels with her book.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – This book is an odd one, as are all of Neil Gaiman’s books, but what I found beautiful about it was the saving of the stories of those departed. One of the more tragic things I had to come to grips about after my Dad’s death were all of the stories that were lost. He had so many experiences that would now be gone from the world. This book treated the stories of the dead with such reverence and beauty.


Attached to God by Krispin Mayfield – This was a refreshing, encouraging read that is also based on attachment science with regards to our relationship with God. I don’t agree with 100% of the content of the book, but overall I found it helpful and interesting.


Deep and Enjoyable:

Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri – I have tremendously enjoyed getting to know the lyrical and beautiful poetic nature of Persian Literature in the past couple of years, and also have read many refugee stories. This book weaves both into one of the most gorgeous books I have ever read. It is heart-wrenching and heartwarming, crushing and redeeming, and will leave you understanding much more about what it really means to be a refugee. This book also has an extra dimension that can be added to it – the author’s sister, Dina Nayeri, also wrote two books about the same childhood. I am fascinated by how two siblings can come out of the same family with completely differing views on said family and experiences, and this brother/sister pair’s views are quite different. I prefer Dina’s semi-fiction book, Refuge, which borrows from her life but weaves it into a fictional story. She also wrote a nonfiction book about her story as well, and includes many other refugee’s stories as well – it is called The Ungrateful Refugee.

The Bird King – This is a lyrical fantasy novel that has many deep and thought-provoking passages in it.


Honorable Mentions: 

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell – This is a novel about a girl shut up in a British sanitorium without cause for decades, and what happens when a niece (that had no idea she had an Aunt) is asked to take custody of her as the sanatorium is shuttered. The idea of this book is fascinating (since this absolutely did happen to women in the early 1900’s), and the author does a beautiful job telling the story with many unexpected twists. Except for the ending. If you don’t mind an unsatisfying ending, this is a mesmerizing book. Or at least I found it unsatisfying – if you love it, do let me know.

West With Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge – This was a fun fictional story about a true event in the Great Depression, when two giraffes were shipped over the Atlantic, survived a hurricane, then were taken by truck across the United States to become the San Diego Zoo’s first giraffes. The book’s affirmation that everyone has a story worth saving and sharing resonated with me.


What books have you loved lately?

The Slippery Slope of SCOBIES.

I never envisioned my life to include caring deeply about a giant slab of living snot.

But here we are.

Not only do I have one pet giant slab of living snot, but I actually have five adorable pets. And I do care for them very deeply.

A SCOBY is the stuff of my children’s nightmares. Literally. When I first mentioned that I was going to attempt to make kombucha at home, one of them gasped and the other squealed.

“That doesn’t mean you’re going to have a SCOBY – IN OUR HOUSE – does it?!?”

It does indeed.

SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. And it’s just as nasty looking as the name implies.

My kids learned about SCOBIES  before I did by a weird and somewhat questionable episode of the Disney show Jessy. After I decided to acquire my own SCOBY, they made me sit down and watch the episode with them to ensure that I really knew what I was getting into. It did not change my mind, nor did it infect my dreams like it had done theirs.

So why, I am sure you are wondering, am I caring for slabs of cultured snot?

For many years, I’ve enjoyed a bottle of Kombucha now and again. But it’s an expensive treat, weighing in at $3-4 a bottle. Sure, it says it has health benefits – but does it really? And if so, are they worth the price? Or is it just an expensive and a little weird drink?

This year became the year to find out.

I ordered my first Kombucha Kit off of Amazon, as one does. It included the gallon jar, a starter amount of tea and even sugar, a few other miscellaneous tools, and a live and thriving SCOBY.

I was beyond excited as that first batch spent seven days in the first fermentation, then two more days in the second. And the seven bottles of kombucha it created were quite incredibly delicious – I had discovered a new and exciting world of cheap (10% of the grocery store cost), delicious, homemade kombucha that felt like a fun craft project, except that I could drink it.

Then, while making my second-ever batch of kombucha, I managed to kill my SCOBY.

It had grown mold on top of it, which means that the SCOBY and all kombucha must be tossed immediately. It hurt me deeply as I dumped the entire jar into my garden. I shed a tear. I said a few words. Then I went to the internet to figure out how I’d become a murderer.

“They’re nearly impossible to kill”, says the internet, “except don’t do this and this and these other 100 things and make sure you do all these things correctly and do not look your SCOBY in the eye and make sure you play its favorite music and no we can’t tell you what that is you have to figure it out yourself.”

In the postmortem, I was able to deduce that I managed to kill my SCOBY by making the tea with the wrong kind of sugar. Who knew that turbinado sugar was not the same thing as cane sugar? I didn’t. Turbinado contains molasses, and SCOBIES do not prefer molasses. They would rather die.

I was legit sad that night, as if I’d killed the family pet. (The family pet that everyone in the family was disgusted by but me, but still.)

But the next day, I doubled down.

I researched and ordered what claimed to be the strongest, sturdiest SCOBY on the internet. Actually, I ordered five of them. And four more gallon jars. I was confident in my success and ready to exponentially increase my production. At least if I killed a SCOBY, I’d now have backups. I just needed to manage not to kill five SCOBIES at once. I brewed their first batches, blessed them, and let them get to work.

Kombucha processing is a multi-step process, and it’s not exactly a process that’s easy to do without making a mess.

There’s also a good bit of multitasking that becomes necessary to efficiently process five gallons at once.

…and (more than) a few containers needed.

There’s also experimentation. Which fruit juices taste best? Are juices better, or fruit puree? Should you add herbs such as mint, lemongrass, or rosemary?

(Pro tip: never use cantaloupe puree. Kombucha enjoys it so much that when you open the bottle it will fizz out perpetually until the bottle is empty. Or maybe it hates it and its trying to escape the cantaloupe. At any rate, don’t do it.)

But the challenge, the crafty perfection, gave me joy and passion.

Even when one of my SCOBIES decided to give off a decidedly rotten-egg-poot smell, my passion was not diminished.

Okay maybe that smell didn’t bring me joy, but the chemistry challenge of it did.

To track down the eggy-flatulence SCOBY, I decided that my SCOBIES were going to have to be named. This way, I could label the finished product according to their SCOBY-Daddies, then track back the foul-smelling drink to uncover the naughty SCOBY.

By this point I was already supplying four other friends with Kombucha (because I overshot my production, or I had wrongly counted on my family to decide to like my kombucha), so I picked out a few names myself and crowdsourced the naming of the last couple SCOBIES.

We ended up with Toby, Moby, Scoby Doby Doo, Linda, and Rufus.

I just thought my SCOBIES were pets before. As I sat and made each of their unique nametags, I felt kinship and maternal feelings for them that had yet been undreamed of.

The eggy crime was able to be traced, and the culprit was Toby. But with a careful splitting of his SCOBY and a  move to a high-risk-high-reward Earl Gray Tea feeder, Toby reformed his ways, quit giving off eggyfart vibes, and is now unanimously the most beloved SCOBY of the family.

It’s really a heartwarming enough story to qualify for his own Hallmark movie.

As I got more confident in my kombucha making, my labelmaking went on an evolutionary journey, becoming more and more fancy – to the point where I might enjoy the labeling more than that kombuchaing.

And my recordkeeping, supposedly for the purpose of identifying the best flavors / time elapses / SCOBY split intervals, well, y’all know me well enough to know that over-the-top recordkeeping is how I roll.

I’m four months about 125 gallons of production into my kombucha journey, and am still enjoying it immensely. Other than the occasional disaster, such as my first exploding quart (Scoby Doby Doo was feeling really frisky that week),

it is now streamlined to where it takes about two hours a week to produce five gallons of kombucha. And each bottle of kombucha costs around 35 cents to make – which is quite the savings over the grocery store prices.

And if I may say so, the output of Toby, Moby, Scoby Doby Doo, Linda and Rufus tastes LEAGUES better than commercial kombucha.

I am by no means an expert, and am probably doing any number of things wrong, but I have kept five SCOBIES alive and thriving for quite some time now, so here are my steps, in case you’d like to make your own:

  1. Make Tea: boil 2 cups of filtered water with 1 cup of cane sugar or white sugar. Add a gallon’s worth of tea bags and steep.
  2. Put the tea in a gallon jar, add water until it’s about 3/4 full. Add your SCOBY and starter liquid.
  3. Leave the SCOBY and its tea alone for 5-7 days, relatively warm, still, and out of direct sunlight. (My super-powerful SCOBIES only take five days, but others can take as long as 3 weeks.)
  4. Wash your hands well. Remove the SCOBY from the jar and put him in a bowl, along with 2 cups of the kombucha – this is the starter liquid for the next batch.
  5. Add 1/3 cup of 100% fruit juice – this is where the creativity comes in – to an airtight pint bottle (or 2/3 cup of fruit juice to a Mason Jar – I’ve found that they are easier to work with), then fill almost full with kombucha. (I also like adding mint from time to time, and sometimes I’ll add in an extra tea bag for a double steep.)
  6. (At this point you start over at step one to make your next batch of Kombucha)
  7. Put the fruited jars in the pantry to sit for another 2 days – but open and reclose (“burp”) them after 24 hours to prevent an extreme carbonation buildup.
  8. On the second day, remove the new baby SCOBIES that have formed on the top of the bottle, then put in the refrigerator. Drink at will and enjoy!

(And don’t forget to make pretty labels and keep a good journal (or baby book?) for your SCOBIES. Because what’s the fun of crafting kombucha without good recordkeeping?)

Edited to add: What are the benefits of Kombucha?

The internet will tell you all sorts of things, and some may or may not be true, so do your own research. Primarily, it is fantastic for gut health. It contains probiotics and antioxidants that help replenish the gut environment. I believe it is also helpful to the immune system and reduces inflammation. The internet, however, will also tell you it prevents cancer and heart disease and diabetes and everything else possible – I don’t know about all that. But I’ll take it if it does!

What the Pinhoti.

Guest Post by Chris the Husband.

There we were, the five of us, unlikely comrades in an unlikely place – a dry-heaving, lost, and injured party – with one unlikely hero to save us all.


12 Hours Earlier:

I stood at the start line in the early dark. It wasn’t very cold – 60 degrees – but the wet blanket of humidity made steam out my breath anyway. I had trained for 9 months on hard terrain with a comprehensive strategy of speed, weight loss, elevation, heat, distance, equipment, nutrition, hydration, and preparation. I’d woken up almost yesterday, ridden a school bus 90 minutes from the finish line, and walked down a long dirt road to the start line. There were 200+ runners standing there with headlamps glowing, as the countdown reached 3, 2, 1.

This was the Pinhoti 100. A race not for the faint of heart. A one-way, 100.4 mile race through the rolling mountains of Alabama.

I took off quickly as planned, and slowed after the first two miles, so I didn’t get stuck in the narrow Conga line of crowded runners on the single-track trail.

The first morning light slowly brightened the cloudy sky in a way that dawn and sunrise were a murky mystery, but in any case, eventually the headlamps were no longer needed and got stuffed in pockets and packs.

The Talladega National Forest is a week or so past peak fall by this time, so many of the trails were covered in colorful leaves, completely obscuring the trail surface below. The line of runners churned the leaves in a dull roar like a nearby waterfall.

I arrived at Aid Station #1 (mile 7) feeling great, and off I jogged, eating and drinking and thinking about now. Run the mile you are in, as they say. Don’t get overwhelmed by the totality of the distance.

Since I had jumped out quickly, I often stepped to the side to let faster runners pass by, and then jumped back in behind them. The trails were narrow, often with a steep side falling away, so trail etiquette dictates that you allow others to pass.

When I got to Aid Station #2 (mile 13.8), I checked my times, and I was 15 minutes ahead of my schedule. I texted my upcoming overnight pacing crew to let them know it was going well.

Photo by Gordon Harvey

Then, less than a mile later, the unthinkable. I stepped a little too close to the edge of the leaf covered trail, my left foot slid down the hill and l landed on my butt with my right leg underneath me. On the short journey to the ground, between the rushing sound of moving leaves, I heard an undeniable cracking pop. I immediately hoped beyond hope that the noise had been a stick in all those leaves.

It had not.

I jumped up and started moving, with the white-hot burn of a freshly turned ankle. I turn my ankles sometimes. They burn for a few minutes, but you run it off. It’s fine. So I ran it off. But it didn’t go away. So I walked it off. But it didn’t walk away.

Five miles later, at mile 18.8, I came into AS#3 with bad news for my crew. I was now barely on schedule, moving slower than I planned, working through this slow-to-ease ankle problem.

I bummed Advil from a crew husband nursing his wife’s split bloody knee and kept going. It got worse. I was using my leg muscles differently to compensate for the ankle, and along with the humidity, I got leg cramps in places I’d never had them before. The cutoff time cushion continued to shrink.

At AS#4 (mile 23.2), I updated my crew again. I was only 20 minutes ahead of the cutoff, as it was relentlessly gaining on me like the Nothing in The Neverending Story. I asked a friend if they had any medical tape, but they did not. I moved ahead.

When I reached AS#5 (mile 28.2), I had gotten to my first drop bag, where I had been able to stash my own supplies. I opened the bag and nearly cried. There were two kinds of medical tape and an ankle brace in my bag that were not mine. HOW? Somebody had found out, communicated to somebody else, and then delivered this stuff to me in time. (I have since discovered my trail angels and thanked them profusely.)

I was only 10 minutes ahead of the cutoff, so I had to decide quickly what to do. I taped my ankle furiously and it did NOT appreciate it. It was no longer a coming and going pain, but a constant one as I squeezed and immobilized it. A volunteer retied my shoe, I refilled my fluids, and away I went, only 5 minutes before I would have been cut from the race for time.

I hobbled while I ate and drank and took a look at my time chart. The next aid station was 8 miles away, up and along Blue Mountain. I’d have to get a lot faster to make that cutoff. But I couldn’t get faster. I experimented with running gaits, but the ankle was being an uncooperative jerk and the overcompensating leg muscles would always seize up. I did the best I could with fast hobbled walking and took very careful slow steps in and out of creeks and over obstacles. It was the only gear I had left.

The miles and the minutes ticked by. But I knew. My crew knew. This was it. The last section. I wouldn’t make it past AS6 (mile 36.2). Toward the end of that section, I was getting in and out of creek crossings on my hands and knees, wrecked from the waist down, and as I would come to find out later, with a torn ligament that will take a few weeks to heal, not a few more miles.

And that’s where the adventure started.


The Blue Mountain section was the prettiest I had seen yet. The past-peak fall was slower to arrive here, so there was more color on the trees and less on the trail. I soaked it up – the moment, the experience.

It was beautiful, even with the disappointment and the pain and the frustration. I wasn’t leaving here with any regrets. It was a freak accident. It happens.

As I pondered all these things in my sad little heart, moving slower and slower through the woods, I thought I heard voices. I stopped and listened. Hmmm.

A bit later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw two people coming around a bend way behind me. Either they left the last aid station right after me, or they were random hikers. Either way, they were about to pass me. But they did not.

I would stop to get in and out of a creek, and they would stop.

I would stop to rationalize my life choices, and they would stop.


I called out to them.

“Are y’all the sweepers?”


“We all know I’m not going to make it in time, so if you want to go ahead…”

“Oh, we have to stay behind you. We have to make sure you finish the section.”

“Right. I’m so sorry!”

I felt slightly guilty holding up these volunteers who were there to pick up course marking flags and making sure no one got left in the woods, until we caught up with RPG.

I walked up on another runner lying on the trail, wearing a rain poncho (it wasn’t raining), vomiting into the hillside. Well, not exactly vomiting. Dry heaving.

“Hey buddy. You okay?” As if.

“Yeah, I’ll be okay.”

“You need anything?”


“Well, just so you know, the sweepers are right behind me. We’re about to time out.”

“Oh, hell.”

Poor guy, henceforth referred to as Retching Poncho Guy. RPG.


We were a fine pair, me and RPG. He did get up and keep moving. He would catch up to me when I was crawling through creeks and over big-stepped obstacles, and I would lose him again going uphill when he’d have to stop and attempt to further empty his long-since empty stomach with an agonizing heave. The sweepers kept a short distance and all together we made a lovely parade.

Unbeknownst to me, once my crew had unanimously concluded that their evening plans were freed up by my tragedy, Rachel headed east to see about extricating me from the middle of nowhere – as this is a one-way race, I would be finishing my 36.8 out of the total of 100.4 miles over an hour’s drive from the finish line where my car was waiting. She texted and searched and found the remote six-mile dirt road she needed to drive up to come get me at AS#6, which is not crew or even car accessible. She hiked to the aid station, then hiked a mile and a half down the trail towards me, passing a sad line of timed-out racers limping toward the early end point of their journey. Finally, at the back of that Corridor of Grief, she found not only me, but RPG.

*RPG not pictured due to a dry-heaving break.

Our now-party-of-five (Rachel, me, RPG, and the two sweepers, keeping a polite distance) trudged in the quickly waning daylight.

RPG, between his heaves, realized that I had something he did not: a ride.

“Can y’all take me with you?”

“Umm, sure. What’s your name?”

Rachel helped me, her hobbled and filthy husband, onto a seat cover in the front seat. Into the seat behind her went RPG, with the seat leaned back, the A/C on full blast, a makeshift blanket over his shaking body, and a request for him to tell us to stop if he needed to lean out of the car, particularly on this overgrown, rutted, rocky dirt road that would jiggle us all for many slow miles.

To get out of her makeshift parking space, Rachel had to make a 20-point turn, all with the reeds so high that they were continuously setting off her overly-paranoid car’s motion-detection sensors. RPG groaned through each one. I attempted to mansplain how she should get out of her extraordinarily tight and dirty parking spot. She did not appreciate it.

“Just close your eyes. I’ve got this.”

“Close my eyes. That’s something I can do.”

We started down the long, bumpy, dirt road, now in the dark.


Half a mile down the road, enter stage left, Nicole and Sage. Amateur hikers, to say the least. They turned hopefully as they heard us coming.

Nicole and Sage were having The Epitome of A Date Gone Wrong.

Rachel had met them earlier, along the Corridor of Grief as she had hiked toward us. They had stopped her and asked for help, explaining that they were from Georgia, had started hiking about ten miles ago, turned around not long ago after realizing they “didn’t know where this trail ended up”, and in the meantime, Nicole had suffered an asthma attack, but seemed to be rallying. Sage was, it turns out, a bit of a misnomer.

Nicole and Sage were dressed for Logan’s Roadhouse, not the Pinhoti Trail. She had a purse (with no food and apparently one long-ago drank water bottle), and neither of them were wearing or in possession of any hiking gear. Their phones were dead, they had no flashlight, it was now past sunset, and they were miles from their car – a car whose location they were not exactly certain of.

Rachel had told them earlier to go back to the aid station and see if anyone there could give them a ride. If they were still there when she got back, she’d see if they could help.

The fact that when they didn’t find a ride, they simply started hiking down the six-mile dirt road that led away from where their car might be, and into miles and miles of nothing, all but guaranteed them a full night in the wilderness of the Talladega National Forest. If Rachel didn’t pick them up, that is, in direct contradiction to all of her mother’s lifelong warnings about picking up (hitch)hikers. But …


Rachel said “Oh my GOSH NO. It’s the Hapless Hikers. I’m sorry guys. I have to pick them up.”

RPG groaned and heaved in response.

She rolled the window down. A short and irrelevant conversation later, Rachel was out of the car, folding down third row seats, moving stuff around, giving them phone chargers, putting Nicole in charge of the food and snacks if me or RPG asked for anything (not that RPG needed anything on his stomach) and then our new Party of Five proceeded wobbling down the dirt road – Rachel, hobbled hubby, RPG, and a pair on the Worst Date Ever.

Rachel tried to get more information on where Nicole and Sage’s car was. They couldn’t exactly say. Based on the general area where they thought it was, it would be at least an extra 40 minutes up the dark and winding mountain, in addition to our one-hour journey back to the finish line – and that’s assuming she didn’t have to drive around for another half an hour while they tried to remember where in the Middle of Nowhere they parked.

RPG heaved again. “We’re over AN HOUR from our cars?? Oh, hell.”

Rachel, the only fully operational adult in the car, made the call. “I’m sorry. I can’t take you back to your cars. I’ve got two other worse off people in the car. But I will take you to civilization. Do you have Uber? Does Uber work out here?”

Nicole said in a doubtful voice, “I don’t have Uber…”

These kids are in their early 20s and they don’t have Uber. They also seemed completely unaware of the peril they’d put themselves in – OVER AND OVER – on this date.

Rachel was biting her tongue – I could feel a Mom Talk rising in her.

RPG was moaning and shaking. And I was shivering and in pain. Rachel kept her foot down – she was not going in search of their car.

So my job became looking on Google Maps and finding a place to drop Nicole and Sage where they could be safely picked up.

Nicole’s job became finding that special person to come rescue them further.

RPG’s job was just to hang on and not barf in the car.

Rachel’s job was to drive through the high brush on the barely-road in the dark through the Talladega National Forest.

And Sage’s job was to take a keen interest in the Pinhoti 100 and all things ultrarunning and pepper us with questions as we went.

We ended up dropping our Hapless Hikers off at the Dollar General in Talladega – the first civilization we found, half an hour from where they started walking down the dirt road. Supposedly a friend named Jenny was up for an adventure to come further their rescue. Three cheers for Jenny.

Thirty more minutes and we were to the finish line.

RPG, now desperately craving whole milk (a craving that started too late for Rachel to run into the Dollar General for him), made it to his minivan to collapse and sleep off his major malfunction.

Rachel got me back to my hotel room, then drove another hour back home, nine hours after she started this journey to save me.

And we all lived to tell the tale. We think.

And the next day, after gathering all my race supplies and making it home myself, I hobbled into the driveway and thoroughly washed the quite visible adventure from Rachel’s pretty car.

Just Another Late Night in Bama.

“That’s a strange sound. What is it?”

It was 10pm at night. I got up and walked behind Chris, out the screen door of our back porch, and onto the unscreened part. I wondered briefly why I was the one investigating the metallic knocking noise, but I am the nosier one of the two of us, so it made sense. And also, I’d heard the noise earlier in the night – but when  I was inside with Ali. So clearly whatever this knocking was needed to be investigated.

I stopped. I listened. There it was again. I craned my ear toward it. The knocking got louder.

“Um…there’s actually something in your grill.”

It’s his grill.

Therefore he should be the one to uncover the grill and figure out what had inhabited it.

“What? In the grill??”

“Yes. It’s definitely inside the grill.”

Chris skeptically walked out the screen door, seemingly unbelieving in my ability to ascertain the truth of the matter. But the insistent and loud knocking proved my point quickly. And my assumptions about who should uncover the grill seemed to be unanimous.

After all, it is his grill.

Chris circled the grill nervously, wondering at which end to start the unveiling process. We both expected the squirrel from Christmas Vacation, ready to flail itself at our faces.

He reached as far as he could, picking up the grill cover with two fingers.

He slowly opened the lid of the grill, and there was nothing. Then he lifted the lid so we could see the underside – maybe it was a bat?

Still nothing.

We both looked with trepidation at the storage cabinet below the grill.

It was all that was left.

Whatever was knocking had to be in there. And we couldn’t put off discovering what it was any longer.

He opened one cabinet door.


Then he opened the remaining door.

I involuntarily cussed.

…Loudly and with a remarkably more southern accent than I would if, say, I hadn’t been suddenly staring at a possum.

“There’s a POSSUM in your grill!!”

And all of a sudden we were living The Most Alabama Moment Ever.

He leapt out of the way.

The leaping, however, was unnecessary, seeing as how the possum was not going anywhere. He seemed to be under the impression that we’d opened the wrong apartment door and we’d soon realize, with shame and embarrassment, that it was his place and not ours.

Chris grabbed his grill brush and began banging on the metallic backing of the cabinet, sure that the strong hint of unwelcomeness would make our guest leave.

It did not. He did not even blink, if possums blink.

Chris didn’t want to get possum hair on his grill, so he wouldn’t touch the possum with the grill brush.

(“I don’t want to get possum hair on the grill…” I only thought it was The Most Alabama Moment Ever three minutes prior to This Most Alabama Moment Ever.)

So Chris went inside and retrieved a broom, then began poking the intruder with the broom handle.

Other than opening his mouth in a toothy rebuttal and gnawing on the broom handle as if it were a welcome-to-the-neighbhorhood Tasty Treat offered by his new neighbors, nothing happened.

Okay fine, he doesn’t respond to aggression, but surely wild animals, once discovered, don’t just sit there. It was time to give the possum the opportunity to take our hint and leave on his own good possummy humor while Chris asked the internet how one convinces an overstaying guest of the possum ilk to leave.

So we spread the cabinet doors wide open and retreated to the screened-in porch, certain that he’d take the opportunity to show himself out.

(Spoiler: He did not.)

Google Help Us.

“Opossums have a strong sense of smell that they use to locate food. You can use this to your advantage by deterring them with scents they dislike around areas they frequent, such as camphor, garlic, onion, hot peppers, molasses, wolf’s urine, ammonia, and pet fur.”


I’m sorry, but who stores their Wolf’s Urine right between the molasses and ammonia? Maybe we’re not as Alabama as we feared.

But just in case, we checked the spice cabinet: we had a decided lack of Wolf’s Urine.

Instead, Chris got out his bulk-sized hot sauce and was ready to advance to Round Three.

He showed the hot sauce to the possum. Maybe he can’t take a hint but he can take a threat?


He de-lidded the hot sauce. Then he splashed the hot sauce in the general direction of the possum with cries of “Ye-ahhh!!”

The possum thanked him for the condiment and implied that it was a fantastic housewarming gift to his apartment.

So now we had a grill that contained

a) a squatting opossum,

b) splashes of hot sauce, and

c) wait a minute…is that grill drip tray empty??

Chris had a large aluminum grill drip pan on that shelf with the possum. Last time he grilled, it was 3/4 full of Conecuh sausage bits, grease drippings, and general grilling castoffs.

Tonight, it was empty. Licked completely clean. Our new friend had to have ingested at least 5,000 greasy calories.

So we actually had a possum sitting on an about-to-blow emergency belly situation in our grill cabinet, surrounded by splashes of hot sauce.

We sat and strategized again. The night was getting later – it was now 11pm – and Chris did not want to go to bed with a possum in his grill.

(Who does?)

So he went inside and found a squirt bottle. He filled it with water – not hot sauce, nor, regrettably, wolf’s urine. He came out with a slightly-terrifying determined look in his eye. This possum had kept us from bed for too long.

A combination of broom handle thwunks, water-sprayed in eyes, and war cries convinced the possum to remove himself from his apartment.

But not….the grill. He was now hanging on the outside of the grill, under the cover where we couldn’t see him, determined not to relinquish his squatter’s rights.

Then when the thwunking and spraying abated, he crawled right back in like the rather inconveniencing fire drill was over.

The thwunking and spraying picked back up. He vacated again. And finally, slowly, annoyed and with the general air of a possum who thinks his neighbors are excessively inhospitable, he ambled down our back stairs, and slowly pulled his full belly into the wild area in our backyard.

And that was that.

Except that it was now 11:15 at night and Chris had to clean up hot sauce, an empty grill drippings pan, and a rather watery possum poop, left presumably as a parting shot.

Just another late night in Bama. Walker Hayes, you go ahead and feel free to turn this into a Viral TikTok Country song.

The Summer Fun Machine.

For every summer since first grade (except for 2020 … which as an aside, the phrase “except for 2020” should be a given addendum to nearly any sentence about anything), Noah has attended two weeks of day camp at our church, Camp Adventure.

It is the most exciting, fun, delightful 70 hours of Noah’s entire year.

Camp Adventure regularly wins “Best Summer Camp” ratings in Birmingham because of the incredible amount of work and creativity put into it to make it the dreamy camp that it is. Every week has a different theme such as Spy Camp, Creative Camp, Build Camp and more, each having its own unique set of applicable contests, celebrations, and activities.

This year, Noah got to attend three weeks. One Hundred and Five Hours of Bliss, which included moments like these,

Photo by Camp Adventure

Photo by Camp Adventure

and a brief moment of Noah-Celebrity (and, incidentally, me-celebrity-by-proxy), when he got to take part in Bread Day:

(Bread Day apparently has a long and winding inside joke of a story that is now camp legend. I was happy to contribute when Noah begged me to let him take a bag of rolls to camp. I was not expecting those rolls to turn my son into a rock star.)

So. Camp is fantastic. Camp is wonderful.

Camp even inspires such purchases as Fish Flops in order to increase ones Camp Clout.

(Okay we could have done without that.)

But the real problem is that camp does not last forever.

And since Ali was volunteering at camp for the second year, she was camp-busy for more of the summer than Noah.

And so, after the extra five minutes it took to sleep off the camp exhaustion,

Noah was sad-bored and dreaming of happier camp days.

Because real life cannot possibly compete with camp.

And one can only stack chair on top of unstable chair to amuse oneself for so long.

And furthermore, mothers seem to have zero compassion and understanding of this concept of Camp Hangover.

So Noah channeled his Father’s engineer-problem-solving mindset and set to work on solving his camp hangover boredom. He asked me if he could have a couple of boxes and disappeared into his room for many hours.

That afternoon, he invited me up to check on his progress.

It was, he explained, The Summer Fun Machine.

In retrospect, I have to admire his vision and his belief in the continuing design.

Because although I was impressed with his construction, all that I saw in Version 1.0 of The Summer Fun Machine was a hilarious irony that he took a Nintendo Switch, a video game system that prides itself in its portability and removal from the need for a stationary television, and made it stationary and unportable.

But….it has pockets!

The storage compartments held the switch components and various games, along with his iPad, to play music while he gamed.

But he knew he could do better.

The next day, the first step of SFM Version 1.1 was to work on aesthetics. So he covered the box logos with paper, with his own hand-drawn logos, and with screenshots of the games that one could play on the SFM.

He also added a top hatch at this point for the iPad to make it more accessible, and put a bluetooth speaker in the hidden compartment to project the tunes. Also, if The Summer Fun Machine was going to reach its full potential, it was officially time to pull out the All-Purpose Tool Box.

Version 2.0 began branching out in its consideration of consumer needs. For instance, one cannot truly enjoy Summer Fun without refreshment, so a candy dispenser was added to the back

(Old hotel keys are perfect flaps to allow only small amounts of candy out at a time.)

And one cannot enjoy candy responsibly unless one has a) a trash can, and b) hand sanitizer, to remove the sticky from one’s hands before touching the video game components. (I’m not sure that is an actual task that hand sanitizer is meant to accomplish, but a mother should not question the schematics of an SFM.)

He took a moment away from the project to regroup and plan, setting some goals and drawing some schematics, this time with the help of his father (lest you think Noah’s handwriting is as passable as the handwriting on the left side of the page.)

They managed to scrounge some unused LED lights to add a serious pizazz to Version 3.0.

Now the SFM now had STYLE.


The final step, which took quite a bit of work and a couple of failed attempts, was to add a fan. Because a SFM User should not get overheated.

And the addition of a velcro dock for the lighting remote control.

Because did I mention that the lighting is music-syncopated?

Yup. It’s time to see The SFM in Action.

So, you ask, were his weeks at home as much fun as his weeks at camp?

Heck no are you crazy?

Finding Millie: The Diary Project.

Chris’ Grandmother, Millie, was a tiny precious woman that I met when she was already quite advanced in age. She was always kind to me, and I liked her very much. I think she liked me, too, as I provided her, at 90 years old, with her first great-grandchild. She met Ali just a couple of times before she passed away 15 years ago. One of my favorite pictures is from her 90th birthday, the first time she got to meet Ali.

I heard a couple of stories here and there about Millie’s early years, and particularly the incredibly romantic and farfetched way she’d met her husband Roy, Chris’ granddad, but my true knowledge of who Millie was – before she was the old lady I knew – was fairly limited.

Until three summers ago, when Chris’ Aunt Kitty gave me Millie’s diaries.

Kitty and I had just spent three days and nights giving end-of-life care to Uncle Leo. We were looking for anything to distract us from our thoughts, our sadness, our trauma, and our lack of sleep.

She handed me the diaries, two five-year journals spanning the years 1937-1946, and said that her mother had given them to her before she had died, and upon giving them to her, Millie had said “I hope you don’t hate me when you read these.”

Kitty was confused by the sentiment and did read them, but didn’t understand why her mother would say that. Sure, her mom had a LOT of boyfriends, but she figured that would be true. But when Kitty read them, she read the diaries down the page – January 1, 1937, January 1, 1938, January 1, 1939, January 1, 1940, January 1, 1941, then on to January 2. So instead of reading them in a narrative, following all of the various storylines, Kitty read them more as standalone diary entries.

As I began reading them in chronological order, I realized that I was the first person in history to read this document, aside from the woman who wrote it. I quickly realized how incredible it was. It was an epic journey through a decade in the life of an independent woman well ahead of her time. There were so many stories hidden inside, so many questions that would stay unanswered, and SO MANY delightful mysteries and people for me to stalk down and learn about.

The diaries begin in 1937 when Millie is 20 years old and living in a boarding house in Minnesota – she had left home at 15, escaping a tiny farm in far north Minnesota where her parents never quite got along.

The narrative follows her as she moves to Washington DC to be near a boy that she knew from Minnesota, sings in the choir of President Roosevelt’s Church, and in general lives a life in DC that could never happen in present day.

The original boyfriend, Bill Souder, photographed by Millie in 1938. He was nearly two years younger than her, so he was still a teenager when she moved from Minnesota to DC to be able to date him.

“Lovely day. President Roosevelt was at church. First time I have seen him. Went to Y.W. Fellowship meeting.”

“Still cold. Gordon called. Later a bunch of 13 of us from the house went to the President’s Birthday Ball at the Mayflower. Saw 14 movie stars. All very interesting, but what a mob of people! Kay Kayser played. Strange – but I was lonely even among all these people.”

She has a few more boyfriends (several overlapping) and records the drama along with it, all while including sidebar comments about her worries about the war in Europe.

“Germany has invaded Poland!! This awful business of war seems to be here. Called up Stenotype school about fall classes. Washed my summer dresses.”

(…because one must still wash their summer dresses, even if war has arrived.)

One of the more dramatic boyfriends, Ruh. Are those sandals that all our Grandmothers wore when we were kids? Did they get them from their old boyfriends? Were those sandals the hoodies of the thirties?

In 1941, Millie moved across the country from DC to Portland, Oregon to escape the above boyfriend (for different reasons than she had told all of us – a fascinating drama that I had to read between the lines and research to understand – and that may be one of the reasons she feared Kitty’s judgement.) The war came to her, as she records amidst her daily doings Japan declaring war on the US, the bombing of the west coast, and the requirements of blackouts in Portland and the fear of more bombings to come. More boyfriends and an engagement (which was quickly broken off) follow. She finds out about The Bolton Act in July of 1943, which offers to pay for nursing school for women agreeing to join the war, and in two months, she moves from Portland back to Minnesota to begin school.

On the train between Portland and Minneapolis, she meets a soldier named Roy Callahan from Birmingham, Alabama who was traveling between army bases.

“Rode all through Montana all day. Had a most enjoyable time on the train. Met Roy Callahan from Camp Adair. His home is Birmingham, Ala. but he was going to Columbus, Ga.”

Roy and Millie have two days on the train together, then she goes on to the University of Minneapolis, and he goes to Columbus Georgia, and then eventually to the European Front.

Within ten days of exchanging letters, they are declaring their intense love for each other. For the next one and a half years, they correspond, seeing each other briefly at various intervals, having many declarations of love, “graphic letters”, and nasty fights in the interim.

Roy came back from the war in 1945, and she assumed that meant they were getting married right away. But when she visited him and his family in Birmingham, Alabama, having already bought and brought her “wedding things”, she found him in a state of extreme “nervousness” from the war – he was not ready to be a husband. Nearly another year passes of ups and downs, fights and pleadings and so very much drama before they finally marry – but after the honeymoon, he makes her go back to Minneapolis and finish her nursing degree before she can finally move to Birmingham with him. The diaries end two months after she begins her life as a married newly-southerner.

The absolute improbability of her meeting and marrying that man, who she would have never met if she hadn’t been on the right train at the right time, astounds me. It seems to me that many of us had multiple opportunities to meet our spouses – we grew up in the same city, went to the same church or school, or ran in the same circles. But Millie and Roy had that one train ride – sitting in the same train car – hundreds or thousands of miles from where either of them originated. Other than that, they would have never crossed paths. The fact that my husband and my children exist rest entirely on Millie making that specific travel decision and being in that specific train car, besides the need for her not to marry one of the many men before him (including not one, but TWO other Roys – she had so many boyfriends that I had to create a spreadsheet to keep up with them.) The entire time I read the diaries, I sensed my husband, and therefore my children, fading like a photograph in Back to the Future.

Besides the diaries themselves, she left photographs, many of which she faithfully documented on the back the dates and people’s names and circumstances surrounding them. She also left documents that corroborate different parts of her story and give a fantastic flair of the 30s and 40s to the story, such as her including her height and weight on her resume.

I read the diaries for the first time three years ago and was immediately drawn into the arc of the story, as well as the mundane parts of her life. I was left to ponder things such as the poor quality of shoes in the 1940s, causing young women to have to get corns “excavated” from their feet with regularity; and the difference between hosiery that one had to mend constantly and the new and exciting nylons that were expensive and easy to melt on the stove.

I was also intrigued by the overarching view of her life – taking in a year of her life in an hour of reading, I was able to see how she changed her personality over time and with various boyfriends. There was the opera and theatre boyfriend, the hiking boyfriend (whom I believe is responsible for her lifelong love of nature and being a founding member of Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve here in Birmingham), and the worst most horrible boyfriend who used her for compassion and mercy (and paying his car payment) while he was cheating on her. When reading about him, I found myself screaming at the diary how much I hated him, wondering why I could see so clearly (from her own words!) what she could not see for many more months of mistreatment at his hand. I feel like I know all of these men intimately, have totally stalked them on Ancestry and found a few of their living relatives, and have also found documents, articles, and histories about them as well.

Last year, I typed the diaries in their entirety (with some assistance from Ali) for the family and a few friends to read. While doing so, I also inserted the photographs and documents into the story, as well as adding newspaper articles, historical images from Library of Congress and other sources, and Ancestry research on her many boyfriends. It was an overwhelming project, but it was an intensely beautiful way to dive deeper into her story and get to know her and all of the various characters better. Figuring out exactly where one of her photographs fit into the diary gave me that exultant feeling of fitting a hard-searched-for puzzle piece in its exact place. It’s an extremely large project – just over 100,000 words – but the short snippet of each diary entry makes it easy to read “just one more month” without getting overwhelmed.

When Chris read it, it was like discovering an entirely different person. He knew his grandmother as an old, sweet, grandmotherly woman who took him to Toys R’ Us and served him cantaloupe that he never ate.

We have talked about the potential for publishing Millie’s diaries, and are open to the idea. They would most likely have to be somewhat abridged, although I have had trouble doing so myself because so many of the entries have place, movie, book, or other historical references in them that I personally find interesting.

“Talked to Betty for a brief minute. Finished “Gone With the Wind”. It’s odd how I love all the others and pity Ashley. And I do hope Scarlett and Rhett find happiness. How hard it is to love and not be loved in turn. Melanie was truly “A very Great Woman” as Rhett said.”

The document needs to be both shortened and lengthened, taking the repetitive entries out, and fleshing out parts of the story that we know, but perhaps she didn’t at the time of writing. I’ve taken a year break from the project because of various life distractions and due to the fact that I’m not sure where to go from here – found the story fascinating, as did some of my friends, but would strangers find it so interesting? I also realize it needs an editor, and an outside opinion. I’ve considered sharing it (or parts of it) on the blog, but I love it as a standalone epic so much that I don’t want to break it up.

While we ponder the future of Millie’s story, what do you think?
Do you have any detailed descriptions of your ancestors lives?
Would you want to read ten years of short diary entries from an independent woman in the 1930’s and 1940’s?
Do you happen to know an editor/publisher of this kind of literature?