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.

Zero Optional Equipment.

Hello…so I’ve been gone for a minute.

Probably the longest minute I’ve been gone in the 13 years I’ve been writing here (an anniversary that passed during my absence. Happy anniversary, self!)

So you remember last fall when I introduced you to Karen Walker

She was my special friend, that lovely ovarian cyst that was responsible for all things horrible and terrible in my August and September.

Yeah, well, so Karen didn’t exactly appreciate me talking about her behind her little cysty back….So for every month following that post (with the glorious exception of October), she sent a new cyst friend (or two) for me to meet, bringing various and horrible issues along with it.

And finally, after more sonograms than I received when I was pregnant and a Gynecologist change (I went back to the practice from which I wandered when, right after performing my hysterectomy, my doctor fled to Africa. Did you follow that? The main takeaway is that I scare doctors to the other side of the world), in mid-January, I finally had surgery to remove whatever iteration of Karen was with me at the time.

But, since the doctor was in there, he decided to do an extraordinarily deep Spring Clean to make sure there was NOTHING left that could EVER go bad again.

And, seeing as I’ve already had to have my tonsils, uterus, gall bladder, and even a foot bone removed, I didn’t fault him for his preemptive strike at all of my remaining optional features, leaving me as a stripped down DX model with crank windows and a stick shift. I’m not even sure if I have power steering anymore.

He removed…
– My right ovary (leaving only my left ovary to tote the hormonal load, whom Chris has named “Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, officially Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Rachel and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith” – no pressure, lefty),
– The current ovarian cyst, Karen Walker 4.0,
– My appendix (which was apparently inflamed and irritable – probably because she thought Karen was the worst as well),
– Leftover scar tissue from two c-sections and a hysterectomy,
– Endometriosis I didn’t know I had (which was probably looking for its Mommy, my uterus, and crying in a corner because she was already gone),
– A few bits and pieces of things he found here and there that he didn’t like the look of.

So the right side of my body is an empty shell. An unfinished basement. An Easter Bunny that you thought was solid but made you cry because it was very, very hollow.

I’ve now had nine lifetime surgeries, so my CARFAX isn’t great. Fortunately, Chris and I are celebrating our twentieth anniversary in a couple of months (though we’ve already begun because why not have a Twentieth Anniversary Season), and he shows no signs of wanting to trade me in.

This week I’ve started to get my energy back, and I’m seeing improvements over my pre-surgery time spent with Karen. So I think it’s about time to plan her belated goodbye party.

… I needed to wait until she couldn’t be invited.

But we’ll be sure to celebrate Her Majesty Lefty’s ascension to the throne.

Carving Out Time in December

From a distance, December always looks like this euphoria of slow, quiet days and a relaxing break from school.

In reality, December becomes a crazed sprint of shopping, planning, gathering, familying, Christmasing, and Birthdaying.

With two children’s birthdays sandwiching Christmas, there’s never a lull in my to-do list. And then I end up in mid-January, shaking my head dizzily, wondering “What happened and how did I get here?”

This year, though, I happened upon the perfect relaxing craft to help me stop and breathe during December. And I immediately had a vision for how the kids and I could do it together and incorporate it into two different Christmas projects.

The craft is stamp carving, which I found via Instagram via @CraftyHope, and further delved into the deep end of stamp carving wonder in the #CarveDecember hashtag – seriously – when you need a calming moment, go search that hashtag on Instagram. It was so lovely I literally dreamed about it. The process just looked so satisfying. So delightful. So patternous.

The Carve December challenge was started by Julie Balzer of Balzer Designs, and she has some great tutorials and information about stamp carving on her site.

And shockingly, it was not an unattainable art – even my very first attempt.

Now. Mine aren’t nearly as perfect and detailed and artistic as the magical people on Instagram, but I was pretty amazed at how simple it was and how I DIDN’T immediately screw it up with my complete lack of artistic abilities.

Furthermore, it was something that both the kids could easily do without my help or much instruction, and they made some pretty amazing designs.

Okay – they’re actually better at it than I am.

So we used our cleaned-off-for-the-holidays school table and set up an entire stamping extravaganza. It is a glorious mess. A mess that I highly recommend.

It takes very few supplies, and is quite simple.

The three main supplies you need are:

  1. A very small carving tool – I’ve only used the narrowest tip. If you want to be really precise, get this one or this one – they have 1mm tips, but are a bit more expensive.
  2. Rubber Stamp Carving Blocks (it’s kinda like eraser material). The pink ones are the standard ones, but these white ones are extra smooth.
  3. Stamp pads – I prefer super dark ones, and this brand delivers:

Other things you’ll need on hand that you probably already have: paper (the thicker the better), a pencil, a ruler, an x-acto knife or something like it, something safe to cut on (I like this cutting mat) and some damp paper towels for your fingertips.

The steps are:

  1. Cut your rubber into small squares (I prefer 1 inch squares) – this is what I use the x-acto knife for, after measuring it out with the ruler. If you’re doing squares, you’re going to want it to be even for repeated designs.
  2. Draw out what you want your design to be with a pencil, or don’t if you’re going to freehand.
  3. Carve your design, scooping away from your body with the tool. Be sure to hold your mouth right.

4. Stamp it in a satisfying pattern. If it doesn’t look great – keep going. The more you stamp it, the better your pattern will look.

5. Branch out into triangles or hexagons or circles – why not?

The other fun thing to do is to figure out all the different patterns you can make with the same stamp. I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of the full therapeutic value this can bring me, because geometric patterns make me SO VERY HAPPY.

I’ll save our bigger project involving our stamps for a separate post after Christmas, but the first project we used our new-found skillz on were gift tags. It was so easy and fun to make patterns on cardstock, cut them out, and tape them onto presents using our go-to Washi Tape decor.

So if you need a cold January craft, or a quarantine craft, or just some satisfying repetitive patterns to make you feel like you accomplished something, I highly recommend stamp carving. It’s done wonders for the inner calmness of my holiday season.

Birdlet, The Overly Friendly Woodland Animal.

Yesterday as we were leaving a hike at Ross Bridge, there was an extraordinarily tiny bird hopping after Luke, one of my kid’s friends, as he got in the car to leave. I found the bird’s actions strange, and Ross Bridge Parkway is a busy place for a strange bird, so we got out of our car to check on him. Noah, with his typical 9-year-old boy no-holds-barred enthusiasm, ran up to the tiny birdlet. But instead of startling or flying away, the bird just enthusiastically hopped around Noah’s feet, presumedly saying “are you my Mommy?”

So of course I assumed the bird was hurt. One does not simply “hop” around a human.

I asked my other friend, Ashley, who had just driven up to check on the commotion, if she had a box in her car – I would take Birdlet to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at Oak Mountain.

She offered me a Chick-Fil-A drink holder, which seemed like asking for a bird-hopping car adventure. But I presented it to Birdlet anyway, and he hopped right in.

Then he hopped from it up onto my arm.

Then my shoulder.

Then down my back.

Then onto the children.

Obviously they were thrilled with this turn of events, as seemed the case for Birdlet, hopping from child to child like they were the best friends he’d always hoped for.

Meanwhile I was just puzzled. He didn’t seem hurt, but he definitely didn’t seem…normal. What the heck is the bird doing? Does he need rehab or not? Perhaps I shouldn’t be so stringent with my bird behavior normalization. But Ross Bridge Parkway is a busy road!! It’s not a good place for overlovable birds to hang out!

Ashley found a big plastic container, which Noah took and stabbed holes in the lid for air, and we mentioned the rehab center again.

At which point, apropos of nothing (except the mention of rehab), Birdlet jumped off of Ali and expertly flew away into the woods. As if the love potion had worn off and he was back to being a normal, aloof, woodland creature.

(Either that or Cinderella called and said she needed help with chores.)

I said “Well. That answers that question.”

Noah said “At least we helped him face his fear of flying.”

And I’ve had Amy Winehouse stuck in my head ever since. Because if it wasn’t about Birdlet, it’s about nothing at all.