Colorado Days Three and Four – Snow, Elevation, and Trains.

The third day of our Colorado trip was the day Noah had been waiting for: Rocky Mountain National Park.

The kid is in the middle of a serious love affair with National Parks, so it didn’t matter how cool horseback riding was (or whether he’d admit it or not) – what he wanted was national parks and national parks only.

We started our day before the sun came up with Chick-Fil-a for breakfast – always good to have a familiar comfort food before driving potentially hazardous mountain roads for which a southerner has no training.

The worker said “Oh, you must be on your way to school!”

We looked at each other and nodded.

Yes.

School.

Exactly that.

If only all of our school days looked like this.

Although it was still mild and definitely autumn in the plains of our home base Loveland, we’d be traveling 5,000 feet in elevation along winding roads straight into an early winter – it would be snowing in the park.

I wasn’t sure how I would do with the elevation change – my dysautonomia didn’t really prefer the heights of Montana, and this would be higher. When we rolled into Estes Park, the tiny town right outside the national park (Elevation 7,522′), it hit me hard. I thought I was going to have to pull over and pass out or throw up or both, and after the previous trip to the ER, Ali was on edge in general about my health. The feeling passed, but I went ahead and warned the kids for good measure: “If I get sick, it’s the elevation, not an allergic reaction. Please do not freak out.”

We continued to the park entrance, where the snow overtook us almost immediately. We kept climbing upward on several miles of curvy park roads, passed a massive herd of elk, not soon after which I was forced to carefully try out my uneducated Alabama snow-driving skills.

We made it to our trailhead at Bear Lake (Elevation 9,449′), and as soon as the kids stepped out of the car, they were freezing.

This was not a good sign.

Thankfully, it was just the first shock and the windy parking lot.

As soon as we got on the gloriously magical first trail around Bear Lake, we were all in awe.


Oh my goodness the majesty. It was nearly too much.

After slowly circling the lake with awe and glee (and me slipping and falling on my butt for the first time), we continued onto our next trail to Nymph Lake. It was more of an uphill hike, and by now the trails were quite slippery and it became difficult to stay upright. There were a few falls, a good number of slips, and a deep knowledge that we would be sore in new places the next day.

But it was totally worth it. And the views on the way there were incredible – ready for their epic journey movie debut.

Nymph Lake was completely covered in snow, implying that it had some level of frozenness to it.


Being that it was still early October, though, one would assume there wasn’t much of an ice layer. Noah, however, was convinced that he needed to see if it would hold him. Clearly his National Park Mania was in full effect, because it took me way too long to convince my normally rule-following overly-cautious kid that NO HE COULD NOT TEST THE ICE OF NYMPH LAKE WITH HIS BODY.
Poor Mistreated Kid.

We continued upward, heading for the next lake, but the trail continued increasing its incline and slipperiness, so we found a trail pull-out with a lovely view and had a bit of a snowball fight and snow angel making and general playing in the snow instead.

We hiked back down, or rather slip-slid back down to the parking lot, and drove carefully to our next trailhead. Thankfully, other parts of the country are delightfully prepared for such weather anomalies as snow, and the snow-ploughs had made the roads completely drivable, despite the ever-increasing snowfall. By now, Alabama would be completely shut down for a week.

Our next stop was the Alberta Falls trail.

The snow was deeper, and coming down harder, and my poor deprived Alabama children really just wanted to have a snow day, so we’d hike about 100 feet, then stop and build snowmen, or have snowball fights, or build igloos made of snowballs, or whatever their bursting hearts desired.




I was happy to stand around and watch and let snow build up on my hat.



Alberta Falls was cool, but hard to photograph. The deep snow hike was really the feature for the kids.

We’d hiked around 5 miles in the snow at that point, which takes a lot longer than a dry hike, so we began our descent out of the park. The snow made the drive just incredible.

Back down in Estes Park, you’d have never known it had snowed on us the entire time we were in the park. It was gorgeous and sunny, and the Aspen trees were glowing in the light.

As we drove back down the mountain and into Loveland, we were greeted by something that belonged on our side of the country – Blue Angels flying directly over our heads.

After a bit of googling, we realized that they had flown in from Pensacola for an airshow in two days, but that they were practicing their maneuvers that day.

We found a place to pull off and watch a bit, and realized that it’s way more fun to watch practice than to wait around at an airfield all day to see these guys. It was a perfect surprise ending to our adventurous day.

Our fourth and final day in Colorado was to be a moving road trip: a stop in Boulder for souvenirs, then on to Golden Gate State Park for a hike, then our final stop, the Georgetown Loop Railroad – something I was personally really looking forward to.

Our hike at the State Park started at an incredible overlook – one that we spent half a second looking at because the wind was SO COLD WE COULD NOT HANDLE IT.

Despite our multiple layers and hats and gloves and the fact that we’d snow hiked in the National Park the day before without issues, my fingers were so numb when we started hiking that they ached an unending ache. Could I get frostbite in Colorado in October? I was finding out.

The hike was downhill into a ravine, where I found one of the only stands of aspen trees that had not shed quite all of their leaves, trees that lovingly provided a skirt of fallen multicolored leaves for me to collect, hike back up the hill holding onto, put into my travel leaf press, and turn into art later.

Thank you, bottom-of-the-hill trees.

We went from achingly cold to sweating and stripping layers way too quickly.

It was as if the state park was in a weather warp instead of a time warp. On our way back up the hill, we were carrying fallen leaves and ten items of shed clothing each. And also sweating.

We made it back up the hill, and the breeze had miraculously disappeared. NOW we could appreciate the view.


From there, we drove through the most incredible mountains, adorable mountain towns, and in general were overwhelmed by the never-ending  beauty and our inability to capture it all.

Our next stop: The Georgetown Loop Railroad. By far the most “tourist” thing we did all week, but an antique narrow gauge train! Through mountain passes! Who could resist??

Not me, that’s who. Even when we almost boarded, heard a loud clank and the engineer yell “Oh NO that’s not GOOD at ALL!!”, then they asked us to wait around for 30 minutes because our engine was broken and they’d have to bring over the spare from the other station, and we might as well go shopping, but we chose not to, which was a good idea since the other train arrived in 7 minutes and they had us board again. Not sure what happened to all those shoppers, but we had a nice roomy train car for ourselves. And we definitely weren’t smug about our decision.

The train was a magical and unique experience.


The scenery was gorgeous, and the photograph lighting was just about perfect.





I mean, it had its loud moments – especially on the way back when the engine was pulling us, and we went from being at the back of the train to the front of the train with the whistle facing us. But worth it? Absolutely.




So what did I learn about our little experiment in one-responsible-adult traveling?

  1. Always carry an epi-pen, even if no one has known active allergies.
  2. If your kids are in double digits, it’s totally doable – even if they change your gate 30 minutes before boarding your return flight and you have to hike/run over a mile in the country’s biggest airport with overstuffed carry-ons to make your flight. We hiked right past screaming toddlers being slowly dragged down long corridors and I thanked the Lord above for older children.
  3. Let the kids research and plan at least some of the trip. It’s an awesome time saver and good Google training.
  4. It’s a totally achievable and worthwhile adventure.

 

Colorado Days One and Two: Anaphylaxis, Hiking and Horses.

In Mid-October, The week after I turned forty, the children and I flew to Colorado.

It was rather a last minute trip, taken because I was desperate to get out of town, there was a great deal on flights and that I was able to combine with several other tricks to make the trip incredibly cheap (I’ll explain how I got four airline tickets, 4 nights of hotel, and 5 days of a rental car for $600 in another post), I turned forty, it fit into our new Natural Wonders Field Trip Plan, I now have to be forty, and Chris, who had to work and couldn’t join us, told me “fly, be free! Enjoy!”, because he’s kinda the best. And trips are the best way to comfort your wife who is now forty.

We flew into Denver, a bizarrely  short direct flight from Birmingham in which I was reminded again that flying alone with double-digit-aged-kids is SO DANG EASY, then we drove an hour to Loveland, Colorado, a small town at the base of the Rockies.

We dropped off our bags at the hotel and went directly to lunch – to a Greek Restaurant Ali had found in her research, as she was thoughtfully trying to carry out mine and Chris’ travel tradition of always eating Greek wherever we go. It was delicious and the kids got to experience cheese being set on fire tableside (Saganaki) and all the other Greek cuisine wonderment.

Which was all fine and great until we were driving back to the hotel, less than two hours after having landed in Colorado with only one responsible adult, and I began having an anaphylactic reaction to *something* from lunch.

It began with a feeling like I had a shirt that was too tight against my neck, and I started frantically pulling at my shirt while driving.

It was at this point that Ali began questioning the wisdom of traveling with only one adult, and perhaps wishing she’d had more than two driving lessons.

By the time we got back to the hotel, my throat felt like it had swollen a good deal, so I took a Benadryl and sat down and tried to stay calm.

Staying calm about throat swelling is not easy when one has two children who are not staying calm about one’s throat swelling.

It was the most upsetting for Ali, who was old enough to envision things like becoming an orphan in Loveland Colorado. After the Benadryl didn’t help and I got to the point where I was having trouble swallowing spit, I decided the safest course was to be in the ER, where at least no one had to worry about getting me medical attention if I couldn’t drive. Or breathe.

Breathing as zen and calmly as I could, I drove one tenth of a mile to the ER that I could literally see out of the hotel room window. They immediately started me on medication to counteract the allergic reaction to who-knows-what (have I all of a sudden developed an allergy to enflamed cheese?), and in the most efficient ER visit in the history of the world, they fixed me, they discharged me, and they filled a prescription to counteract future problems in a grand total of 80 minutes.

It was incredible.

And from there, we drove straight to Devil’s Backbone for a hike. I didn’t have scissors to cut off my sturdy hospital bracelet, so I just let it add flair to the day.

Because we weren’t missing any more of this trip to misguided culinary choices, and what better to recover from a partial anaphylactic reaction than a gorgeous hike in a higher-than-acclimated elevation?

So we started our *real*Colorado trip amongst the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, in awe of the incredible aspens, multiple warnings of mountain lions (much more interesting than the venomous snake signs back home), and incredible views of the Rocky Mountains.

Forgive me for a whole-buncha-photos in a row.



Any question as to why we chose Loveland as our home base should be answered with this hike. 

We did not see any mountain lions, and I felt back to normal, and was so glad that we capitalized on our first day in Colorado AND got to show anaphylaxis who’s boss.

But we did swap around two days of our schedule,  as I needed one more day between me and the ER before I was willing to drive 6,000 feet higher in elevation on curvy mountain roads in the snow to Rocky Mountain National Park.

So for our next day, we chose to stay in Loveland and do a bit of everything – which ended up being an incredible choice.

We visited the Love sculptures all over town,

Found other fun murals in the historic downtown,


Hiked up a butte that had 360 degree views, and was the highest point within the city of Loveland,

But the Butte’s trail dangers weren’t nearly as fun as Devil’s Backbone,

And clearly Ali had zero fear of Golf Course Dangers,

So we went back to Devil’s Backbone and Mountain Lion territory for a bit because it was so incredible the day before.But our most exciting moment of this day was our horseback ride.

That morning I happened to get a Facebook Ad for Sylvan Dale Horse Ranch, and called on the off-chance that they had availability within the next few hours – and they did.

Ali and I were thrilled. Noah did NOT want to horseback ride AT ALL, as you can tell in this picture right after he got on his horse, Hollywood.

Our guide Lori was SO perfect for him. If he acted scared or complained, she’d be like “Here, hold my Diet Coke for a minute. I need to make an adjustment.”

I mean, what can you do with THAT? You can hold the Diet Coke and shut up, that’s what you can do.

The ride was so incredibly dreamy,

So breathtakingly gorgeous.

Climbing up and down mountains on horses was a fascinating sensation – lucky for Noah, Hollywood was the most cautious mountain horse of all time, so he had nothing to pretend to complain about.


By midway through our ride, Noah was actually admitting to the fact that he wasn’t hating his life.

And by the end, he actually said that he liked it. Which is the equivalent of saying “THIS IS THE BEST THING I’VE EVER DONE THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR NOT LISTENING TO MY SILLY PROTESTATIONS DEAREST MOTHER BECAUSE YOU ARE SO WISE AND I AM SO NOT!”

Ali and I agreed that it was the best horseback ride anyone could ever dream of, and we’d totally go back to Colorado just to relive the magic.

I mean, even the barn was magical!

Although our next day’s adventures were also incredibly hard-to-take-in dreamy, horseback riding was ultimately my favorite two hours of the trip. And maybe even Noah’s too, but it will be about 20 years before he’d consider admitting it.

Sequel Post can be found here.

The Bank of Tiny Withdrawals.

In the midst of crazy times, sometimes the little moments stand out as rays of sunshine.

The week after we got back from an epic family trip to Montana, Chris’ Dad passed away. He had been diagnosed with cancer several years ago, but this was much more sudden than we had expected.

So there was sadness and grief, and family and planning, and three days completely full of the details one must attend to for a funeral.

The kids were great sports and great help, and bore up well under the unplanned sadness and stress.

In the midst of all that, one of the more fun conversations I’ve had with my kids in a while sticks out in my mind.

The kids and I decided it to watch “Making It”, the innocent happy crafting competition show with Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. But episode one led to post-show explanations of the concept of sperm banks, thanks to one of the contestants giving an abundance of information about her family background.

After all the explanations were given and questions were answered, I went ahead and recommended to Noah to save his money now and choose not to donate sperm when he’s a poor college kid so that he won’t find himself 75 years old with 37 children, and having to explain that to his wife.

(As an aside: a book recommendation for you – Inheritance by Dani Shapiro. It’s an engaging read and an incredible nonfiction tale of sperm bank mystery and intrigue.)

But back to the kids. (And by kids, I mean my fully developed ones, not any sperm in question.) We also discussed all the ins and outs, such as how you can unknowingly be related to half the town and/or your spouse if sperm banks aren’t ethical with how much they let the same guy’s sperm be used. Having never even conceptualized that such a thing existed, both of the kids found the idea of sperm banks to be completely creepy and bizarre, so I tried to create a theoretical story to show them that it doesn’t have to be weird.

“Let’s take Gloria. Gloria and Pete fell in love and got married, and they both knew that all Gloria ever wanted was to be pregnant and have a baby. BUT – alas. Before that could happen, poor unfortunate Pete got hit HARD in the nuts with a baseball, and he couldn’t make sperm anymore! They both wanted the dream to come true, so was it wrong for them to use a sperm bank if they both agreed to it? It allows them to have their dream of pregnancy and parenthood despite Pete’s unfortunate baseball situation.”

..But Ali was still skeptical. She felt like Pete would always resent the decision, and it would eventually drive a wedge in their marriage.

So there’s that.

(Y’all send thoughts and prayers Pete’s way – he’s still trying to decide whether he should deny his wife’s dreams or risk resenting her in their golden years.)

A few nights later, Noah was standing in the kitchen cutting a watermelon. Chris’ Mom was over, and she asked Noah if the watermelon was seedless.

Noah said “no…there’s seeds. But…. [he crinkled his brow in deep thought.] How do they DO that anyway?! Make seedless watermelons? That’s so weird.”

I quickly replied under my breath, “I guess those watermelons just have to go to the sperm bank.”

Noah snorted, then started hysterically laughing.

And I enjoyed my moment of incredible arrival in parenting – I can now make sperm bank jokes with my kids – and they totally get them.

Montana and Yellowstone: When the Consolation Prize is Better.

“Do you know why I wanted to come to Montana?”

“Nope. Why?”

“I read about it in a novel and it sounded amazing.”

“That is the EXACT reason I went to Maine last year!”

I was thrilled that Ali and I are equally inspired by literature in our desire to see the world.

Fernweh, Chris calls it. The German word (pronounced “feeyen-veh”) that means “far-sickness”, or a desperate desire to go places one has never gone before. I have it. Badly. I can yearn to be in a place I’ve never been significantly more than I yearn to go back to a place I know and love. The Faroe Islands, for instance. Look it up. If those images can’t give you Fernweh, then you definitely don’t have the same disease as me.

Ali…might have it. But she likes being home as well. But when I asked the kids a few months ago “Where in the United States would you like to fly to?”, she immediately yelled out “Montana!!”

(The same instance as Noah yelled out “Hot Tub!!”, which made things very easy to decide.)

The reason for that question was because we had a trip booked and planned for March of 2020 to Washington DC. It was literally the week of the world shutting down and everybody going on lockdown everywhere. We got flight credits for the cancelled trip, and those flight credits had to be used by December of this year. I couldn’t let those expire, so I narrowed down the times we could travel, decided August was our best month, and asked the kids where to go.

Luckily for Ali, Montana has always sounded great to me as well. I mean, if she had said Iowa (no offense, corn,) I might not have so readily made her dreams come true. But I, too, have been interested in experiencing the Big Skies of Montana for a long time.

Our friend Kelly had also had a flight credit because she was going to be traveling to DC with us last year, so we invited her along for the rain check trip. And so it was planned: the kids, Kelly and I would go Monday to Monday,

and Chris would join us on Thursday and stay until we all left on Monday.

I was not in the mood for a road trip, even though that’s basically what you’re supposed to do when you go out west, but I’m always willing to buck tradition, so we decided to go to Big Sky, Montana – a ski resort town – and limit our travel to only Yellowstone, which was an hour south. Other than that, we would explore the area in which we stayed.

I found us an affordable VRBO rental (that ended up being the best, most thoughtfully-stocked VRBO rental ever) a mile from a gorgeous waterfall trail (Ousel Falls) in a neighborhood that supposedly had its own neighborhood moose. I mean, what could be more perfect – I went to Maine and searched high and low for a moose but failed – if I could just spot the neighborhood moose in Montana, my life would be complete.

The kids hadn’t flown since Noah was 2 and Ali was 6. Now they are 10 and 14, and I was instantly amazed at how very much easier double digits makes things.  They loved flying, they were amazed at every detail, they could carry their own luggage, and they could sit with my bag while I got an airport Chick-fil-a biscuit at 5am.…but dang, Noah was cute last time he flew.We flew into Bozeman, an hour north of our destination of Big Sky. I had tried to find us a place to eat lunch, but oddly almost everything was closed. We ended up at a gas-station-attached diner in a state where gas stations sell cow hides in their front yard.

The diner was delicious, and we got our second taste of Montana culture when we noticed a motorcycle gang pulling out of the parking lot – with horns on their head.

We headed south to Big Sky, which was an incredible winding road through the mountains that gave us our first taste of the glorious gorgeousness of Montana. And as soon as we got to our rental, Noah made his trip dreams come true.

We spent the afternoon realizing that we had somehow managed to land in the most scenic, beautiful place on earth – all within walking distance of our rental house.

It didn’t take us long to realize that Montana was a WAY better use of airline tickets than Washington DC – sorry, politicians.

The neighborhood we stayed in was the Meadows of Big Sky. At 6,000 feet altitude, it was a lovely winding 15 minute drive up to Big Sky Resort, where the real mountains were.

Big Sky Resort is a world class ski resort that has inexpensive (relative to skiing) summer entertainment, such as zip lining,

zip swings,

and riding the ski lift up the mountain and hiking back down, which afforded incredibly bizarre weather changes – from 60 degrees and sunny to hailing and sleeting on us (still sunny) to sleeting and raining on us in howling wind (lost the sun for a minute there) back to 60 and sunny. I now understand how people can find themselves in truly perilous situations on mountain hikes.

But hiking with this sort of backdrop is totally worth the risk, even with our somewhat breathless state from the altitude.

In our immediate neighborhood was an incredibly lovely hike to Ousel Falls, with towering spruce trees and deep river gorges.

One of Ali’s favorite moments of the entire trip was climbing the walls of Ousel Falls. She loves being as close to becoming one with nature as possible. Her climbing also helped illustrate the size of the falls.


But we all loved that hike – even though Noah is making some mysterious gang symbol in this photo.

Although there were so many to choose from, and we took full advantage of all of our neighborhood’s plentiful trails, we only tried out one other official hike nearby – Lava Lake, a 2.5 mile out and back trail up a mountain to a mountaintop lake – a hike that ran by a loudly gurgling, gorgeously clear mountain stream for most of the journey up.

The climb was gradual enough that it was enjoyable for (almost) all of us.

But regardless of out-of-breath ten-year-olds, even they can appreciate the grandeur of a lake at the top of a mountain, with other mountains reflecting into it.


Ali, continuing in her efforts to be as one with nature as possible, kept trying to find all the highest spots to climb and perch upon.

And anytime we found ourselves at our rental house in Big Sky, she was somewhere up the dirt road in her well-hidden reading spot, lying in the tall reeds, being visited by a family of 4 deer, and alarming other passerby who were not expecting a mostly-hidden girl lying in the grass with a book.

Photo of teenager in reeds unavailable due to her never revealing the exact location of her secret reading spot.

So that was our foray into the Big Sky area. Other than that, we spent two entire days in Yellowstone National Park, which was just incredible. It was a one hour drive from our house, but the drive was so gorgeous that it felt like part of the tour.

Nearly as soon as we entered Yellowstone on the first day, we came upon stopped traffic – which is always good news in Yellowstone. I didn’t have my camera handy or anything, and yet there was a bison, hurtling toward us, running angrily along the side of the road.

That’s when I realized that park is my dream. And I need to be better prepared for dreams.

I grabbed Ali’s camera and tried to take a picture, but to no avail. Before I realized the lens cap was still on, the angry bison was upon us.

Thankfully, Noah was better prepared, and from the back seat, he shot an iPad video of our first bison as he ran by our car.

Serves me right for all those years I made fun of iPad photography.

Toward the end of the day, though, God had mercy on me and sent another bison slowly ambling right by our car, happy to have his picture taken. Or maybe it was the same bison and he had finally run out of angry energy after a day of entertaining tourists.


Between our two days, we ended up seeing over a dozen lonely bison,

and this herd on a hillside.


We kept a list of all of our animal sightings – a fox, a couple of bald eagles, deer, and several elk (including this incredible scene).

We did not, however, see any moose in Yellowstone, nor did we spot any bears, though at one point traffic was stopped for 20 minutes and when we finally got up to the spot, I hopped out to see what it was, but only saw a tree being violently eaten from below. It felt like a scene from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but we can only hope that it was an invisible moose or bear.

But although the scenery was absolutely stunning, and often more than I could take in,

The thermal features were so much more intense and plentiful than I had ever imagined. In my mind, Yellowstone was a lovely park with animals and mountains and Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Springs. I did not realize that the whole park was a supervolcano working out its anger issues through bubbles and burbles and steams and spews and terrible smells so that it didn’t erupt and destroy half our country.

Noah knew that, though. Because that kid loves his natural wonders. And he was kind enough to get me up to speed as I gasped and ogled at the incredibly alien landscape of the park.


We somehow had miraculously perfect geyser timing (there’s no cell service in the park, so good luck trying to plan your timing after entering), and showed up at Old Faithful three minutes before eruption,

And then happened to be facing the Beehive Geyser for its once-a-dayish eruption, which is taller and more angry than Old Faithful. We were really impressed with our perfect lack of planning.

Grand Prismatic Springs was by far my favorite thermal feature, and we visited it from above our first day,

and from below the second day. Above is definitely the way to see it, though we still enjoyed the boardwalk that walked right by it.

Noah became the most diva of all divas at the Mud Volcanos, which was a rather impressive array of various boiling, steaming, and burbling pits of mud, water, and nothingness that smelled like the worst most potent eggish toots ever created.

He could talk of nothing else for hours – how very much Mud Volcano was his least favorite portion of the park. But in his defense, there was vomit on the sidewalk, so someone in Yellowstone that day was a bigger diva than him.

The West Thumb Geyser basin was one of our favorites. It had a collection of dozens of bright blue, bright green, white, and orange thermal pools, all right up against Yellowstone Lake.

The differing colors are caused by the varying temperatures of the pool, thereby allowing different microorganisms to live in each pool (or in the same pool but in layers, like above), and each microorganism colored the water differently.

Some were boiling or steaming right next to the cool lake. Such incredible physics going on here.


My favorite overheard quote of the entire trip happened at this pool, after having walked the boardwalks and seen all of the above and many, many gorgeous thermal activities…
Two men were standing behind me, and one spoke to the other in an incredibly superior and professorial, yet monotone voice…

“As a microbiologist, I find it hard to get excited about any of this.”

Dude. If you can’t get excited about the coolest example on the continent of your field of study, then you’ve studied too much.

We all agreed that Yellowstone was dreamy.

I would have been happy to stay a week and just stalk and photograph animals. And Noah would have liked to have read every sign and visited every thermal pool (with the exception of mud volcano).

The rays as we were leaving the park were just an added bonus.

During our very last night in Big Sky, we were driving through our neighborhood when Noah yelled “WHOA!! What is THAT!?”

It was….

The Neighborhood Moose. AND HER BABY.


She was being a total cliche neighborhood moose and eating one of the neighbor’s trees in front of their kid’s bikes and Chevy Suburban.

At that moment, My Montana Experience was complete.

I’d found my Moose. I’d seen her incredibly massive nostrils. And I could go back to Birmingham in complete happiness.

This trip was so enjoyable – watching Noah geek out about natural wonders and Ali work to become one with nature, and listening to the two of them giggle hysterically at inside jokes and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. We have four years left of having two kids at home, and we are strategically looking to maximize that time.  We’ve come up with a bit of a four-year master plan to see more of the natural wonders of America together, and do it guilt-free by making it a part of our homeschool curriculum.

Stay tuned, and we will share our journeys here.

Radicalization by Fear.

I wrote this essay in the fall of 2020, before the election and right in the middle of the extreme tensions surrounding the election, COVID issues, and racial justice issues. I would rather not enter into the fray of current debates when they’re actually happening, and still am not debating any of the issues themselves.

A year later, I feel that the tenets still apply, and I finally felt comfortable sharing this. The second part is written to Christians specifically, but if that isn’t your category, I hope you can read the post for what it is, and understand my heart.

We are living in a time and place that is being cultivated by the extremities of fear.

Besides fear of COVID and/or fear of conspiracies around COVID, we now have even more fear being pumped into us as the election grows closer and closer.

Our two political parties have shifted their bait – more this year than ever before. They have gone from having a platform of ideals, beliefs and stances to having a platform constructed of nothing but fears.

They have learned that due to social media, nothing sells faster, draws people in deeper, and makes them more evangelical for a cause more efficiently than fear.

Fear radicalizes even normally logical people.

The fears I see used the most – and this is not an exhaustive list, are:

The Republican Party controls by the fear of:

  • Loss of rights (especially religious and gun rights)
  • Loss of money (through taxes and social services)
  • Criminals and unrest
  • Corrupt / conspiratorial rulers
  • Censorship
  • The concept that life as we know it will be over (with regards to freedom and democracy)

The Democratic Party controls by fear of:

  • Poverty – individually or community-wide
  • Death / disease
  • Injustice and inequality
  • Global warming and environmental issues
  • The concept that life as we know it will stay forever (with regards to racism and injustice)

Here’s how those fears bloom, with the help of social media, into hatred.

Step One: Fear is offered in an attractive way (as attractive as fear can be offered.)

…Democrats offer their fear as a bite of compassion toward others, of human decency, and sometimes through shame and fear of being ostracized/cancelled.

…Republicans offer their fear as a bite of patriotism and religion, the two often so braided together that they cannot easily be unwound, and causing religious people to slowly and unknowingly replace their actual religion with the religion of patriotism, liberty, and freedom.

Step Two: Fear is ingested by those already bent toward those beliefs. As it digests, it morphs and grows.

Step Three: Fear is shared. On social media, through sharing articles that confirm one’s fear of choice. Often accompanied by a status such as “This is terrifying” or some other hot take to impress on the readers the urgency of fear realization.

“Do you realize that unless we do something about this fear, there will be much suffering and grief?”

…But then the sharer sees other people in their social media feeds sharing the opposite fear from the opposite party.

“Did you know that caving to that fear creates extreme suffering and grief in this other way??”

Step Four: They read that opposite fear and it creates deep indigestion and anger as it mixes dissonantly with their own fear.

And hatred is born.

Step Five: Their social media posts, which used to be pleading and fearful and even informational and informative at best, mold and curdle. They turn in their phrasing and slant and become accusatory and hateful, damning and exclusive.

“If you don’t buy into my fear, then just unfollow me!”

“If you are going against my fear, then I will take it as a personal attack on myself and my family.”

Insert anything you wish into those fear spots…

…Wearing masks / not wearing masks.

…Gun control / Right to bear arms.

…Racial injustice / Critical Race Theory.

…Getting a vaccine / not getting a vaccine.

But here’s the bottom line:

ALL of those people on both sides of every issue are being controlled by fear, and being used to breed hatred. And by so doing, they are fulfilling the prophecies that they are fighting against.

…They are fulfilling the fear that life as we know it will be over – because we are a fractured, polarized nation feasting on fear and hatred, rather than seeking logical and compassionate discourse that first looks to love, see, and understand others.

…They are fulfilling the fear that life as we know it will stay forever – because when the discourse is being focused in a negative, hateful, accusatory way, it is not constructive, does not bring anyone over to their cause but only causes the “other side” to further entrench,  and only grows the rifts that they want fixed.

…They are fulfilling the fear of being censored by spreading hate and violence haphazardly, which often leads to spreading misinformation without realizing it.

We must step away from the fear, and from the devices / channels / apps / media / political parties that are using us as vessels of fear. We must be committed to separating our emotions from our discourse, and practice seeing issues from both sides. We must embrace the idea of nuance, as none of our societal issues are rightly answerable by one extreme or the other.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To my fellow Christians:

Over the past two years I have watched as the above pattern has leached through the Christian community at an accelerating rate. It has infected our churches, our community groups, and our families. Social media has been full of the taking of sides, the forming of battle lines, the rude jabs that take place on the internet between people who claim to love and respect each other, and the continuous pushing of fear-agendas and conspiracy theories.

We as Christians are called to live in a different place than this. On a different plane of mental existence. With different focus and priorities and perspective.

Psalm 43 (The Passion Translation) says:

“For you are where my strength comes from and my protector, so why would you leave me now? Must I be covered with gloom while the enemy comes after me, gloating with glee? Pour into me the brightness of your daybreak! Pour into me the rays of revelation-truth! Let them comfort and gently lead me onto the shining path, showing the way into your burning presence, into your many sanctuaries of holiness. Then I will come closer to your very altar until I come before you, the God of my ecstatic joy! Then I will say to my soul, ‘Don’t be discouraged; don’t be disturbed, for I fully expect my Savior-God to break through for me.’ Yes, living before His face is my saving grace!

Specifically regarding the fear that Christians are losing a battle in government, The New Testament’s words about government never had to do with Christians gaining power and influence or not losing their rights. Also, we can clearly see by looking at many of the politicians who have claimed to be Christians that Christian Power does not always promote Christian Values. In fact, often it does the opposite – it corrupts, it exposes hypocrisy (politicians using Christianity to gain votes and then having their own lives exposed) and it ultimately drives many, many people away from Christ.

What the Bible does tell us, repeatedly, about Government, is to submit to it.

1 Peter 2:13-17 (ESV)

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Romans 13:1-2 (ESV)

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 

If we find ourselves in a place where we are suspicious and rebellious against everything that our Government suggests, urges, or promotes, or in a place where we’re quicker to follow any random conspiracy theory than our government, then perhaps we need to reassess our hearts and see if we’re doing that out of true biblical conviction, or out of a seed of fear. Regardless of whether the government is right or wrong, we have been commanded to be subject to it.

On a related note, the Bible tells us not to worry. A LOT.

Psalm 37:8 (NIV)

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.

Philippians 4:6-8 (ESV)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the PEACE of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

What if we applied the second part of that passage to what we allow ourselves to post — or click through and read — on Facebook? And what if, instead of sharing and growing fear, when we feel fear, we apply the first part of that passage?

I know it’s not easy. I’ve personally struggled with fear of judgment from others, and fear of where all of the radicalization of opinions will lead to. I have had too much fear to post this essay about fear. Ironic, no?

So I’ll tell you what I keep telling myself. If you find yourself in a place of great turmoil, anxiety, or depression with regards to anything having to do with the here and now, the temporal, the political, or even the viral, I recommend reducing your social media time, turning off the news, closing your browser windows, moving away from the present, and immersing yourself in the Kingdom of God. The peace that passes understanding is the solution to your fears. It is the reason for our hope. It is the balm to our anxiety and depression caused by living in this fear-addled time. And it is what truly matters.

~~~~~~~~~~

This post is not about any of the specific issues that were mentioned as examples, and will not be a place for debate about those issues. Any comments trying to spread fear or debate issues will be disallowed, for the safety of the environment and the keeping of my sanity.

On 2021, Society, and the Loss of Humor.

I have been doing a lot of pondering, and a bit of mourning on why I cannot write anymore…or why I do not write anymore…whichever it is.

I miss writing terribly, and I’ve tried several times over the past couple years to return to it with regularity, but I find myself unable to do so. I’ve lost my voice, and lost my ability to write in the humorous way that I enjoyed so much.

Part of it is that my kids are grown, and funnier things happen in a life with toddlers. And sometimes when funny things happen to 10 and 14 year olds, they don’t want it shared – which is totally fair.

But there’s a lot more to it than that – because I used to write about way more topics than my kids.

Last month, it struck me that my humor isn’t only gone in my writing. I actually feel less humorous and less light-hearted in real life, and in my head as well.

So then I began pondering that – working through the whys and whats and how I’ve changed and why I’m more reserved and serious.

Although it has been slowly building for several years now, I have a much greater paranoia post-2020 about everything I say. 2020 was a year of breaking apart in new and different ways, along with a breaking apart more violently in familiar ways. COVID became a thing that people had vastly differing opinions on, and there wasn’t always necessarily a predictable pattern on who would feel what – and when. Many people shared their opinions forcefully, leaving those of us who read their opinions to shrink back when we were with them, concerned about offending them. Many of us have even had vastly differing opinions from ourself from month to month.

In every interaction with every human, whether grocery store clerk or best friend, we all learned to have a running commentary in our head. “Am I standing too close for their comfort? Are they offended that I’m not wearing a mask? Are they offended that I’m wearing a mask? Oh my gosh did I just spit a bit when I spoke?? Will they be offended if I don’t hug them? Will they be offended if I do hug them?”

Okay, the grocery store clerk would definitely be offended if you hugged him. But besides that.

We learned these tics from living with the uncertainties of people’s feelings with COVID, and my tics continued on into my everyday life, breaking down every word I said, whether they had to do with COVID or not.

I became more cautious, more grave, more paranoid, and much more analytical of every word and hating myself for all the ways someone could have taken it. I became terrified of nearly all social situations because of the post-social-anxiety I knew I’d have on the backside. I would even pray “Dear God please don’t let me say anything that I’ll find a way to feel awful about afterward.”

I wasn’t saying anything more offensive than I would normally say – in fact, I was, and am, saying far fewer things than ever. But my mind can find a way to create a pathway for any sentence I say to be offensive.

If COVID had been the only issue of 2020 that separated us, we all might have recovered quicker. But there were so many more. It was a year that was determined to pit everyone against each other, and to radicalize many people to the extremes of their leanings. Nuanced, middle-ground people who have friends on both sides and can understand how both arrived at their conclusions backed away and became silent to prevent being attacked by both sides.

In my analysis of what has changed, I further realized that many people now look to the internet to find something to be offended by rather than to be entertained by, or even to be encouraged by. The most innocuous lighthearted joke in an Instagram caption can set someone off, and although sometimes I’m amused by the displaced outrage that comes my way, it always hurts a bit – knowing that anything I say can be misconstrued. One of my greatest fears is people finding me offensive or rude or mean or unlikable – and so, the internet is now a swimming pool stuffed with sharks specially trained to destroy my psyche.

Because of this, the range of things that can be funny is about 3% of what it was a decade ago. For example, Ali, who wants to help me blog (and I have a secret vision of her taking over the blog one day), had this hilarious idea for a blog post and was extraordinarily excited about writing it. “You know Mom, it’s kind of like the one you wrote in 2009…” (She’s been reading all my old blogs via the printed books that I made for the kids.) But I had to explain to her that yes, while her idea is funny, and it is very much like that post I wrote in 2009, you can’t write things like that anymore because some people would read it and misconstrue it in “x” way and be offended.

“Oh. I would have never thought of that connection. But we wouldn’t mean it like that at all.”

I know, but some people would assume we did. Because they’re looking to be offended, not entertained. They’re reading with an eye for insult, not humor.

And so, I talk myself out of writing almost everything that comes into my head. And less things come into my head for lack of exercise. And therefore, I’ve lost my sense of humor.

Because everyone has either lost their sense of humor to their own outrage, or they’ve lost their sense of humor to everyone else’s outrage.

And now with COVID being re-stirred and Delta and masking of vaccinated people and all the arguments back and forth between the angry-because-some-people-aren’t-vaccinated crowd and the Government-can’t-force-me-to-do-anything crowd…last month was when I had to say “enough.” I couldn’t handle reading the extremities of opinions anymore. I couldn’t handle seeing us torn apart as a nation over every single issue. It is dangerous for my mental health and state of mind and frankly, my personality. I don’t like my humorless, frightened-of-every-word-I-say self.

For me, the first step was having Apple limit my Facebook time, so that I could not mindlessly scroll.

(Tip: on iPhones, you can limit yourself by going to Settings –> Screen Time –> App Limits, Then you can choose entire categories of apps or specific apps, and designate an amount of time per day that you’re allowed to use them.)

I left myself enough daily time for quickly checking notifications and seeing what one thing Facebook considers most important for me to see before I get kicked out.

I need away from all of the radicalization, the extremes, the outrage.

I need my heart and my mind to be able to breathe, to heal, to reflect the love and peace of God rather than to be battered and scarred by the world.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
– Romans 12:2

I am hoping that by limiting my intake, my mind can heal and I can find my voice to write again.

~~~~~~~

If you are feeling similar feelings, feel free to reach out – I feel you, I understand what you’re going through. If you’re not, nothing is wrong with you – it’s me, not you. I tend to take every bit of outrage to heart even if it doesn’t apply to me. I somehow feel a tiny bit guilty inside every time I read a rage post on Facebook – even if I’m not in the group it is raging against. So clearly I’m the broken one here, and if you’re not broken, I applaud you, and am a little bit jealous.

A Summer of Mourning.

This has been a difficult summer for us.

Chris’ Dad passed away on September 5, and My Grandmother, Mammaw, passed away on September 17, three years to the day since my Dad died.

Papa with Noah and Ali

 Mammaw on her 90th birthday with her family

We are grieving, we are tired, and we are taking a lot of rest and hermiting time.

The sadness of the summer hasn’t been limited to our immediate family. I have been to five funerals, and Chris went to another one I didn’t go to, bringing our family total up to six funerals in three months (only one of which was due to COVID.)

Also, my precious friend and our pastor’s wife, Kris, was diagnosed with a fatal disease, ALS, which she shares about here:

It’s all….a lot.

We may be a bit quiet and I may avoid peopling for a bit (my own personal needs for grieving are group-avoidance.) But we are okay. And we will be okay.

I wanted to share the incredibly beautiful Eulogy that Chris gave for his dad here on my blog, so that it is saved here for the kids.

~~~~~

I want to share some stories and feelings about my Dad. Everyone’s experience with someone is different. My mom and my brother experienced different things with him, and you all experienced different things with him, but I think my experience with him will be familiar to all of us.

When I was a kid, Dad was in the generation of dads who cut the grass shirtless in ridiculously short homemade cutoff denim shorts. Ya’ll know what I’m talking about. Some of ya’ll’s dads wore those short cutoffs. Some of you wore them. We’ve seen you.

He was smarter than he let on.

When I was about 12 years old, he showed me how fun it is to wash cars. He didn’t have to wash cars after that for a long time. I still love washing cars.

He taught me to drive early, and showed me how fun that was too. I turned 15 one July, and by September I was driving home from Tuscaloosa after football games while he slept in the back seat. He had it all figured out.
And He was passionate about a lot of things.

Before I was born, in his young married wild and free days, Dad bought a Pioneer stereo system with the soft sided floor speakers, the components including the turntable and the big heavy receiver with the smooth-as-butter knobs and the backlit analog needles.

One of my favorite early memories is when he would play Three Dog Night, the Eagles, CCR, Alabama – things like that. But my favorite – and one of his – was Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. He would play “Old Time Rock and Roll” and “Still The Same”, crank it up, and make the floor shake. I loved it.

Some other things he was passionate about:

Alabama Football. My first memory of watching him watch Alabama play football, he was in the middle of the den, on his knees, banging his hands on the floor, extremely upset with how someone was playing.

That’s how I learned that this was important.

As his kids got older, his love for the Tide took a turn into tailgating and season tickets and including family and friends in a big loving community that has cared deeply for each other for the last 33 years.

If you’ve ever been to one of our tailgates and experienced his friendly hospitality, you know what I am talking about. The legacy of the community he started continues today. Mike’s Tailgaters will be on Hackberry Lane this Saturday.

He liked a little adventure. He wasn’t afraid to try something that might not be the best idea. Whether we were flipping a jet ski, putting a ladder in the back of the truck, or rolling a three-wheeler over on top of ourselves, I knew we were having some real fun when he said the magic words: “don’t tell your mother.”

About the people in his circle: if you needed it and he could give it, you had it. He celebrated your accomplishments, supported you in your attempts, and mourned your losses with you.

He never met a stranger. He could make friends with anyone, anywhere, anytime. If you were shy and got stuck in line with him, good luck! He was going to find a way to make you chat.

About gratitude and valuing people: he treated everyone that served him with a high level of personal respect. If you served him a meal, he wanted to know where you were from. If you sold him a game program, he wanted to know how your sales were going compared to last year.

For years, we parked in a lot at Legion Field for football games in the yard of an older man named Robert, who lived in a rented shotgun house right across the street from the stadium. Robert was raising his grandchildren, and Dad knew their names and kept up with them for years.

Now, if he was irritated at you, bless him, he could not hide it. And he had a little bit of a temper. But he was also passionate about second chances: he taught me that you could make mistakes and start fresh and try again.

Once when I was a teenager, we had big plans for a Saturday, and I made some terrible choices the night before and ruined the plans for the day.

(Some of ya’ll know exactly what I’m talking about and I would appreciate it if you would keep your mouth shut!)

Well, I screwed up, and I knew he was going to eat me alive over it. But he didn’t. He sat with me in silence for awhile and then said:

“I’m not going to fuss at you. I think you feel bad enough as it is. I was young and dumb once, too. I learned some things the hard way. The important thing is that you learn them.”

And that was that. He never said another word about it, except “don’t tell your mother.”

So, if you want to honor his legacy today, you can either:

(1) take an old pair of your jeans and make an awful pair of short cutoffs to mow your lawn in, or
(2) you can crank up Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, or
(3) you can value someone new, reach out and bring them into your circle, and love them well.

~~~~~~~

I don’t have nearly the skill with words that Chris does, but this is what I shared on Facebook about Mammaw.

Mammaw was an incredible grandmother – both when I was a child and during my adulthood – I am thankful to have gotten to be with her for so much of my life. In these last three years when she was living with my mom and I got to be a backup caregiver for her, we were able to have so many fun conversations about her life – she saw a mind-blowing amount of historical events and civilization changes in her 94 years (her father once took her to a bar just so she could see her first television), and she had a great perspective on all of it. She was willing to accept each advance with interest and willingness to learn – last Christmas, a few of us gave her an Apple Watch so that she could easily call if she needed help, and she was so excited about it that she cried. She loved being able to tell Siri to call one of us, or to just talk to Siri and ask her funny questions. She was the hippest 94 year old woman on the block. Her nine and a half decades of pouring into her family will impact all of us for the rest of our lives.

~~~~~~~

Alabama History, in Clumps.

School is officially out.

I mean it has been for a while, but if you haven’t noticed, I’ve been having trouble with the writing lately.

Noah made our last day of school signs this year, hence his extra-proud self:

Wait no. That’s just his first-and-last day of school expression.

And yes, 8th grade is done and Ali is officially a high schooler now. Hey that’s cool.

Ali: I’m in high school. HIGH SCHOOL!!! I’m excited and scared and my whole life is completely changing but not really… it’s slightly traumatizing. But in a fun… way…?

(Also, since I got my blog printed into two shelves of books, she’s been devouring all of my old posts, and she now wants to take part in writing around here. So she’s edited this blog post and added in a few asides.)

Noah’s Alabama History year did not go nearly as neatly and chronologically as Ali’s Alabama History adventure four years ago, mostly thanks to COVID. Things weren’t open, things were so limited they weren’t worth going to, and I in general was lazier.

Instead, we tended to do his field trips in clumps – we went to Florence for three days and did a clump up there, including the going to the Jesse Owens Museum in Oakville on the way.(Note that although Noah comes up to Jesse’s shoulder, Jesse’s waist nearly comes up to Noah’s shoulder. The man had some incredibly intense legs.)

The main thing Noah learned was that he was not, in spite of his intense belief in himself, an Olympic-Ready Long Jumper…actually Noah probably thinks he totally made that 26′ 5 1/4″ marker. Because ten-year-old boys always believe in themselves.

We also visited The Helen Keller House (Ivy Green) in Tuscumbia,

Where Noah learned that Helen Keller’s handwriting at age 8 was neater than his at age 10.
We enjoyed our stop at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, which is not just about the band Alabama, despite housing their tour bus,

but also houses this confusing piece of seems-like-it-should-be-in-Texas Alabama lore.

…And also all the things that were actually about music, leaving us shocked with how many incredible musicians came from our state.

We also visited the Florence Indian Mound Museum, 

And had a very icy dam walk – in 70 degree weather. Because Florence is weird. And shady.

I adore Florence, and it was a fun way to get our history in, especially since we took my mom along with us. So the next clump we took on was Mobile – a city I honestly have largely ignored nearly all my life (I’m sorry, Mobile, I was wrong).

This time we traveled with some friends and stayed in a lovely and historic hotel, the Battle House Renaissance, that added to the Alabama History ambiance.

Taking six kids with only two moms to the poshest hotel in town (on Marriott points – because I only travel on points) is not recommended if you don’t want to be remembered by ALL the staff. But the kids did great and had a fantastic time in our extraordinarily and blessedly mercifully massive rooms.

The hotel felt like a palace, including a crystal ballroom with massive murals of the history of Mobile,

and sculptured portraits of the four men who ruled over Mobile in its infancy as it rapidly changed hands: Louis XIV of France; George III of England; Ferdinand V of Spain and George Washington.

We did our best to instill in our children to act like quiet royalty while they were in our royal surroundings, insisting that they talk quietly in British accents,

And they did fairly well – until, while waiting interminably for their breakfast (miraculously quietly), Noah rolled his eyes heavenward long enough to take in the stained glass ceiling and spot… The Hand.

We all looked up.

Then we looked closer.


Those fingers were way too skinny to be a glove.

We were only left to ponder if The Hand belonged to an enemy of  Louis, George, Ferdinand, or George Washington.

Mobile exceeded my expectations in its beauty and walkability. Other than our visit to the USS Alabama, we walked everywhere we went.

Downtown had a gorgeous New-Orleansesque architectural style, but seeing as how very insistent Mobile was about letting you know every half block on every plaque and in every museum and anywhere else they can fit it in that they had THE FIRST Mardi Gras celebration, I’m sure they’d say that ACTUALLY, New Orleans has a very Mobile-esque style.

The USS Alabama was our first stop,

Which is a very large and very easy-to-get-lost-in battleship,


But a great place for a chin-up competition. Who knew?

Ali: I won, just so you know.

We traveled up at least 8 flights of steep stairs and I was hoping the entire time that there was some nice gangplank to get us back down. Nope. Just another eight flights of even steeper stairs.

Ali: That was a bad day to have my hair down.

We did enjoy the in/out board for all the ship’s officers, and felt like we needed something similar in our houses.

But more interesting than the battleship was the USS Drum that was on site as well, which is an incredibly claustrophobic submarine.

But it makes for awesome steampunk pictures.

It’s actually the only part of the battleship site I remember from when I was a kid because it’s just so impossible to imagine full-grown men LIVING in these holes.

Ali: I never want to go in there again.

The USS Drum, at 311 feet long, was nothing compared to the Hunley, the civil war submarine replica that they have below it – at 40 long, eight men would sit side by side and paddle it. PADDLE IT.

Ali: *shiver*

The crew drowned. Multiple times. On the last drowning, the submarine disappeared until 1995, when it was located off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. The real Hunley is in a museum in South Carolina.

(I wish I could have gotten a better size comparison, but in the above picture, the USS Drum is behind the kids, looking like a huge ship but in actuality being a claustrophobic tube. The one in front of them is the Hunley.)

At the USS Alabama site, they also have a hangar full of jets and planes and helicopters and armed forces memorabilia and stories. It’s quite a site for history.

Our next Stop was the History Museum of Mobile. One of my favorite parts of Mobile is how the different museums all tied their pieces of history together.

The kids got to sit in another partial replica of the Hunley and see exactly how tight a fit rowing a submarine would have been – before they inevitably drowned in it.

They also featured our hotel as one of the points of history of Mobile, tying that back in as well.

Other points of interest in the museum included Goat Carts, which are the most bougie child travel arrangement ever,

A confederate ship’s toilet, where they got to pee on relaxing England countryside scenes but despite rumor to the contrary, NOT on Abraham Lincoln (thank goodness),



And a room full of massive, exquisite, incredibly detailed, handmade dollhouses by a man named Aaron Friedman, who, after retirement, was told by his wife that he needed a hobby. I’m pretty sure she never saw him again.





And because no history museum is complete without mummies (whether or not one is in Egypt), there was the mummy room.

…and also a head still with hair on it. Hey y’all – please don’t preserve me.

And oh – there was a hand….


Which looked like it actually could have made a pair to The Hand.

Perhaps we were getting closer to solving the mystery.

After scurrying away from The Other Hand, we went outdoors to Fort Conde, also part of the museum and a beautiful addition to the downtown Mobile architecture.

After all that history, we decided the kids deserved the afternoon off, and took them to the rooftop pool – which was great and perfect until someone decided to break the Number One Rule of Swimming Pools and run on the pool deck,

creating a wound that created the need for a quick errand down the block to the local drug store for medical supplies, and the local Office Supply and Moon Pie Store for superglue.

We glued the child back together and called it a day. 

Our last museum stop ended up being the kid’s absolute favorite – GulfQuest. It was so massive that I thought it was the cruise terminal when we drove into Mobile, but yet we had the place nearly to ourselves.

After the history museum of the day before that required a lot of reading, we had six very excited kids to get their hands thoroughly on the Hands-On Museum.

Ali: I think we managed to get everyone to touch every single button in that room. Multiple times.

The museum was about all things shipping, navigation, and nautical in general. The first thing they told us, though, was that Mobile was not JUST first at Mardi Gras. They were also first at Shipping Containers.

Don’t ever forget. Mobile is first.

As such, the multi-deck museum looked like a cargo ship full of shipping containers – and really was absolutely stunning.


The kids loved every exhibit, steering ships,
learning about various types of propulsion,

and how to send signals with flags.

I also enjoyed the further education in flaggery that I got in the bathroom – I feel all of these things sometimes. I just need the flags to let my family know.

The kid’s favorite game was the Great Gulf Challenge, where they had to make leadership decisions to balance the economy, the environment, and energy. They destroyed the planet multiple times.

Ali: Uh, yeah, that was totally not my fault… hehe…

But the epitome of the experience was the large 3D simulator where they actually got to steer various vessels in various weather situations through various bodies of water. Several scenarios included navigating straight through the Mobile Bay, where they got to see the now-familiar scenery and wave at ourselves as they went by.

GulfQuest was an absolutely incredible and would be worth the trip to Mobile on its own, but we found all of Mobile delightful, and are looking forward to visiting the city again soon.

I do apologize for my ignoring of you for so long, Mobile.

But please don’t add me to your collection of Hands.

The Dark Side of the Island.

Chris and I are on our 20th anniversary trip. We are at Jekyll Island, Georgia, an island with a dark and mysterious past, many dark and mysterious rainforest-like trails, and going with the theme, everything seems to have a delightful dark side.

This island was owned in its entirety in the early 1900’s by a Millionaire’s Club with members with names like Rockefeller, Pulitzer, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and the original J.P. Morgan. Presidents, senators, and cabinet members were entertained here. Finance law was written here. And that was long after all the Spanish treasure hunters and French cotton plantations left. So yeah, there’s a lot of murky history here.

Our fancy hotel has windy ghost whistles that go through the ceilings in the hallway.

The gorgeous interior wetland trails will immediately attempt to give you Triple Malaria by sending 57 mosquitoes to bite you simultaneously.

The alligators have a hand-shaped hole inside of them, and they cannot wait to fill it.

And we’ve loved every minute. But there was one minute in particular that really might have tried to kill us.

The first thing to note is that this particular moment was never supposed to be an adventure. 

We biked 13.5 miles earlier that day, went down some creepy trails that had signs saying not to go down them, found graffiti-covered amphitheater ruins, an alligator, and a sad white horse next to a Cinderella carriage in a barn. 

But this was not that. 

This was supposed to be a casual after-dinner walk. We had on our dinner clothes and we’d already had showers and we were just enjoying the early evening, wasting time until sunset.

An Instagram follower had suggested Shark Tooth Beach. It’s on the back river side of the island, behind the water park, down a winding trail. It’s supposed to be a place you can find shark teeth. That sounded fun. Casual. A nice stroll down a beach in the late afternoon.

The trail to the beach was much longer than I expected. We were both wearing flip flops so not great for a long walk. But we’re sturdy enough people for a mile hike in flip flops. 

We got out to the beach and it was incredibly covered in shells. COVERED. A good number of people were out there staring very determinedly, and I felt immediately like I had no idea what I was doing. I could feel the “you’re such a newb” vibes coming off the other people and in my general direction.

But I kicked around some shells and stared as if I knew what I was looking for. 

We walked on down the beach away from the other people. A few curves in the beach later, we came upon a very chatty kid who breathlessly informed us that shark teeth were black and there’s also a shark tooth island and he was supposed to get to go to it today but the waves were too high but he found two teeth here yesterday and his mom found one tooth today and someone found a mastodon tooth on the island yesterday and he really hopes he gets to go to the island soon. Then he ran down the beach and found his mom and brought back her jar with a shark tooth in it so we could know what we were looking for then he ran back to her and ran back to us with her cell phone to show us the picture of the much bigger shark teeth he’d found yesterday.

It was a lot. But it was helpful info. Seeing as how our imbecilic selves had totally been looking for pearly white teeth.

We got about half a mile down the beach. We hadn’t seen anyone for quite some time. There were insane numbers of sharp shells everywhere, but we were having no luck finding shark teeth. We kept turning corners and going farther and farther away from the trail that led us there.

I’d just said to Chris “We may just not be talented at finding shark teeth” … when I looked down and saw my first shark tooth.

I picked it up and studied its serrated edges and gummy root. It was definitely a tooth. And it was so black and shiny and lovely. I decided that I must have found the perfect place for shark teeth and squatted and scoured. I was right. I found SIX MORE shark teeth right in that area – and zero teeth on down the beach as I hurried to catch up with Chris who kept going deeper and deeper down the beach into no-man’s-land.

He somehow got across an inlet waterway that I wasn’t willing to jump over for fear of losing my grip on my seven perfect beautiful shark teeth, so I yelled to him that I was turning around.

Chris: So, I had it in my head that most people, having walked a mile on a dirt trail from the road to get to Shark Tooth Beach, would not go very far to find the toothy treasures, so my thought was that the further we went, the more teeth we might find. Surely 99% of the visitors to this hidden place wouldn’t want to  jump an inlet to keep looking, so THAT’s where I would find the mother load of teeth. I found zero. 

I went back to my shark tooth honey hole and poked around a bit more. He finally joined me and we headed back down the beach toward the trail that led us here.

But we’d been gone for a while.

And everyone else had already smartly left.

Because the tide was coming in and we didn’t realize it until we realized it. We came up to a turn in the trail and there was very little beach left, and what was left was super thick sludge mud. I’d shlopped down into some of it, about half-calf deep, the first time I passed it and it was very unpleasant and thick and disgusting and hard to get out of and then wash off. Since then I’d been avoiding the soft mud. But at this turn, it was the river, the thick mud, and then the  very thick reeds that appeared to also be in the nasty thick mud.

So I took a step as I was warning Chris.

“The mud is really thick here! It grabs your —” SCHLOOOOP “Ack!! Help!! Gross! Ugh! I’m going deeper!!” SCHLOP SHOOP SCLIP

My foot sunk halfway up my calf. I tried to put my other foot somewhere thicker, but that foot went down as well. I started pulling at my feet but I sank deeper and deeper. Then I was up to my knees and the mud had a sucking GRIP on my feet as tight a baby pig not willing to give up the teat to an annoying sibling.

Everytime I wiggled I sank farther.

Chris, seeing my situation and jumping into Hero Husband Mode, said “Don’t panic! I’m coming!”

Chris: In my defense, the Wife In Distress is a solid cultural construct, and I really had no defensible masculine choice but to charge into this situation without thinking it through. 

And then there was an even louder Shlurrrrrp.

He didn’t weigh the cost of saving his wife, nor did he stop to strategize how he might pull me out without compromising himself. Now he was up to his knees and I was up to my knees and I had a handful of shark teeth and he had my brand new backpack with my brand new camera on his back and I was really beginning to panic (mostly about my camera.)

We struggled and shlurrped in farther. I put my shark teeth in my back pocket and managed to pull out one of my feet, but only to put it down again and create a new shlurrping foothole. Chris did the same. He reached his arm in, trying to free his foot, and now he just had a MudMan Arm to go with his MudMan feet.

I pushed up on his shoulder, but there was no way the mud would let go of both my feet and my flip flops. NO WAY.

I also didn’t see how I could walk back down the razor-sharp-shelled beach without shoes, but if I couldn’t escape the mud, what could I do?

So I pushed up on his shoulder, pulled my foot out of my flip-flop, and sacrificed my first shoe. I tried to reach quickly into my mudhole to grab it, but as soon as my foot left, the hole closed around my shoe, taking it to the depths as its first payment for my stolen shark teeth. We were living in an Indiana Jones world and this beach wasn’t freeing me without trying to kill me first.

My remaining leg was deeper than the first. Even if I paid the hole with my other shoe, I wasn’t sure if I could get out. My first loosed foot was now back to being ankle deep, but it could sink again any minute. At this point I was directing a naughty word toward the mud as I tried to figure out how to escape my imprisonment.

So I sacrificed the second flip flop. And again, the living mud shlurrped it up immediately, taking my flip flop to wherever it keeps its gold coins and pirate bones.

Meanwhile, Chris was still stuck up to his knees, muddy up to his elbow, and showing no signs of escape. I turned to help him, but he said “Just get out! I’ll be okay!”

Chris: Again, stuck with 4 limbs in the schlurp and not knowing if I was about to sink beneath the quicksand mud and meet my demise, the only available testosteroney choice is to tell your wife to save herself.

So I painfully hobbled and shlooped out of the mud and onto as many oyster shells as I could, hoping they’d hold me up. Which they eventually did. Chris shlooorped one foot out, but wasn’t willing to lose his Diva Flip Flops. He somehow managed to go in after it, and pulled it from the bottom. Then did the same with his second foot.

Chris: So, y’know that scene in Temple of Doom where Indy grabs his hat under the closing door? Oofos are really comfortable flip flops. I timed it just right both times to pull my foot out and thrust my hand into the 20″ hole to pull out my Oofo. 

Once I knew he would live and he was out of the worst of it, I came to my senses enough to take  a video of him schlurpping his fourth and fifth steps out of the people-eating mud pit. This is, keep in mind, when he was completely out of danger and into MUCH shallower, less lethal, new baby mud…

To imagine the deepest mud, watch the video again and look behind him at the narrow strip of churned mud right behind him.

I couldn’t believe that he came to save me, but only managed to save his shoes. My shoes? Are being happily worn by Davy Jones.

And here he is desperately trying to cleanse himself. In his very privileged still-owning-shoes state. 

Chris: I’m still cleansing the shoes and my toenails and fingernails. This mud is a fascinating scientific substance. It is at once slippery, squishy, sticky, thick, greasy, clingy, sucky, and yet does not stink. It has no odor. Terrifying.

And here I am (post first and second cleansing) trying not to die or need a tetanus shot while walking half a mile of razor covered beach – because this beach wasn’t letting me go without paying an even steeper price. 

Thankfully, our battle with the mud occurred BETWEEN two party boats full of people driving right by. Although those boozy, happy, boating tourists would have loved the show of two people being sucked to the bottom of a river for taking its shark teeth. Who knows – maybe that’s one of the advertised attractions.

And … my precious shark teeth.


When we originally set out on our stroll, I said “Noah would love it if we brought him shark teeth that we found.” But these babies are my hard. Fought. Teeth. They will not be given to a child. They will be framed and kept forever. 

A friend informed me of the existence in this part of the world of Pluff Mud, which is what this murderous mud apparently was. This site has a great description of it:

The mud can be deceiving and even dangerous. In a single step, ankle deep can become mid thigh. Like quicksand, pluff mud draws you deeper the more you struggle. Below its surface are razor sharp bivalves that will slice bare feet, but heaven help he who enters with shoes. Pluff mud has the sucking power of a Dyson. You can’t call yourself a local until you sacrifice a flip flop or two at the gooey alter.

So I think that officially makes us locals.

Strange Encounters of the Documentable Kind.

Noah had a doctor’s appointment.

A smiling nurse, about my age or maybe a little older, called him back for vitals. She weighed him, then stood him up against the wall ruler to measure his height. 

She put her finger above his head.

“He’s…right here. What is that? It’s…right between 4’10” and 4’11”.”

Noah and I looked at each other. I wondered if she’s trying to do that silly adult thing of quizzing Noah’s abilities on fractions. Or my abilities on fractions? I am not sure.

She continued to puzzle out loud. 

“It’s right in the middle between them. What is that?”

She tilted her head and stared at the ruler. 

Noah, trying to make things simpler for her (but not as simple as to just give her the answer because he knows you don’t get that kind of help in math), said “Well I have my shoes on, so I’m probably 4’10” without shoes.”

She shook her head. And wondered. Then shook her head again. Noah and I grinned at each other.

“I’m just going to have to ask. I’m new here so I’m still learning. But I promise we’ll get that figured out before end of your visit!!!” She gave us an encouraging and confident head nod.

Is she trying to work some calculus function or index BASED on his height? Surely there’s more at play here. So I asked. “Get…what figured out?”

“His height.”

She took us to our room and I could hear her urgently and confusedly talking to the other nurse. 

Then she came back in our room. 

“I’ve got it figured out!! He’s 4’10” AND A HALF. The other nurse was like ‘ummm that’s a half…’ and I was like ‘oh!!!’”

She left the room again.

Noah tilted his head. “Why was that so difficult?”

“I have no idea, son. No. Idea.”

At our next doctor’s appointment, he had to be difficult yet again and be 4’11 1/2″. Fortunately, the other nurse measured him and figured out that tricky half right away.

———————————————————

I had to call Lowe’s customer service.

I hate calling customer service.

I will happily spend three hours on chat to avoid a five minute phone call, but Lowe’s didn’t have a chat option.

A chatty lady answered the phone.

“This is Lowe’s, what can I help you with?”

“I just need to cancel an order. I tried calling the store directly but after 15 minutes on hold they hung up on me.”

“Oh yeah to be honest we’re not even allowed to call the stores anymore because they never answer. But lucky for you I have this great system now – I can EMAIL the stores for you and get it done!!”

“I do love a system that works…”

“Great! Let me just pull it up.” (type type) “You wouldn’t BELIEVE the call I just got off of. The man just COULD NOT BE pleased!! He spent twenty minutes telling me about his complaint (for which she spent 10 minutes giving me the recap) and I offered him every solution I could (for which she told me in detail) and none of them were good enough for him!! I mean, what did he want?? What did he think I could do? I can’t just magic genie a replacement for free for him!!”

ooh boy this is going to be a good one.

“So why do you want to cancel this order?”

“Because I found out that the brand was expensive to fix and breaks often.”

“I understand completely. Don’t you just get so frustrated when companies don’t do what they’re supposed to? Right now I am so mad. I subscribe to a box of monthly panties, and it’s been TWO MONTHS and I haven’t gotten my box yet! And I know there have been two boxes because my sister has gotten both of her boxes and I’ve seen what’s in them. I keep calling and saying ‘WHERE ARE MY PANTIES?!’ and they won’t admit that they haven’t shipped them. And – well, the thing is – I just can’t wear Victoria’s Secret panties like everyone else. I’m of a certain age where the waistbands just roll down as soon as I pull them up and I’m like ‘nuh uh. I WANT MY PANTIES NOW, PLEASE.’”

“Um, yes, exactly that.”

“So that last customer service call I got – I just can’t quit thinking about that guy. I mean, I am not even a homeowner yet myself – I don’t see how he thought I was going to be able to do anything to help him!!”

I was at a loss for how her panties or home ownership had anything to do with my request but for the first time in my life I was glad I made the phone call instead of using chat.

And I sincerely hope that a quality control agent somewhere in the depths of Lowe’s enjoyed that conversation as much as I did.