Moms Need Retreats.

A couple of months ago, my husband gave me an assignment. He demanded that I plan a trip for the moms in our small group. He also made the suggestion that changed everything.

“Pick a date. You’re going no matter what. And whoever can join you, great.”

…Because we’ve tried this before, and it’s never worked. At least once a year, all of us mothers start talking about how very much we need to get away, and dream about a beach trip. Or a mountain trip. Or whatever, as long as no one is asking us to wipe their butt or pour their juice or fix their Lego creation for the fifth time in five minutes.

(Because we love our children. Very much. And to be able to love one’s children very much, one must escape from said children. Regularly.)

But anyway. Every other time we start planning, we start by suggesting weekends until we run out of weekends, and never is there ever a weekend that we’re all available. So Chris’ suggestion of “If this is just you, great. If it’s everyone, great. Just plan it and see who can come” was brilliant.

And it totally worked. Because six out of nine of the moms were able to make it work.

IMG_3350l-r: Kristin, me, Nikki, Kelly, Anne, and Ashley.

See these happy shiny faces? These Mommies are all loving their kids better this week – because they left for the weekend.

(We were super sad that the other three moms couldn’t go, but as soon as I got back, Chris told me he’d “obligated” me that morning at church to plan a make-up trip for the others, and for any other moms who wanted/needed a repeat.)

I headed north early on Friday so that I could get us set up in our rental house and get a run in before our weekend of laziness kicked in. But it rained on me all the way, so I felt magnetically drawn to stop at Noccalula Falls in Gadsden on the way up – to see what it looked like at overflow levels.


For comparison, this was the same waterfall last August:


It was totally worth getting my feet sloshy-wet to see.

It was still raining when I arrived at our destination, Gorham’s Bluff, and the moisture made the view of Lake Guntersville eerily steamy.


I ran while I waited on the other moms to arrive, and managed to scare a herd of deer and a rabbit with my apparently intimidating presence (either that or they don’t approve of leggings as pants, either.)

I highly enjoyed the beautiful views,


which was good, because as soon as it quit raining, everything became completely enshrouded in fog. The valley was white nothingness, and the lodge immediately looked like the setting for a murder mystery, just like the first time Chris and I visited.


When the other moms arrived, they didn’t even believe me that there was a valley beneath the clouds. We spent the evening chatting and doing nothing, just as all moms dream of doing every evening.

The next morning, the fog was still there, and they still doubted my stories of views and valleys. We biked and walked around the property, disappearing and reappearing in the fog, all feeling very much like we had just entered into a Hollywood thriller, and we were going to start being picked off one by one any minute.

Foggy Bicycle Riding

It was deliciously exciting.

Bicycling into the fog


Then, right as we were about to leave for a small road trip (literally – I was driving away), the fog lifted. Everyone jumped out of my car and eagerly ran to the edge of the ridge to see what was below.


And they believed me at last. Redemption felt fantastic.


Then we continued on. They had all read my stories of Unclaimed Baggage, and wanted to experience it for themselves. And let me tell you – six moms loose in that store with no kids nagging to leave is a mighty force.

Besides almost all of us finding things we actually bought and loved, we also discovered some very special garments.


The review happening here was, “Eight dollars for the best night of my life? Yes ma’am!”


We texted pictures to our husbands, knowing full well we were making their weirdest dreams come true.


And then we found the shoes.

Oh, the shoes that people pack to fly on a plane. WHERE are these people going? HOW do they have such good balance? And WHAT do they do to make it through security without their footwear being declared a weapon?


It took Ashley a full five minutes to get into these shoes, and she could not let go of the rack, but the effect was totally worth it.


Nikki’s were an iridescent purple/green magical color-changing shoe – totally meant to be worn in a production of Wicked.


And when Kristin, the tallest member of our group, put on her selected pair,


We knew it was time for a photo op with Ashley, the shortest member of the group.


Because it was the Mommy version of Shaq and Kevin Hart.


We went back to Gorham’s Bluff and soaked in the majesty of our surroundings.


We found their waterfall,


The Old Lady Arm Tree,


And the best place to hang off the mountain and watch the storms in the distance.


…which is when Kelly and Kristin spotted it.


A blue van in the bottom of the ravine.


We all clamored to the edge to get a better view, all while postulating wildly about how it arrived at its destination.


Was it a high school kid’s prank?

Someone who got lost in the fog?

A victim of the North Alabama Mafia?


I of all people cannot let a mystery lie, so I asked the innkeeper later, after one of our beautiful meals.

She said, “A blue van? We don’t know about a blue van. There’s a really old car somewhere else down there…but it’s not a blue van. I guess I’ll be needing to call the Sheriff’s department…”

My eyes widened. I schemed as to how I could stay indefinitely at the fog-covered inn to write my first True Crime novel. Or if I could rappel off the mountain and discover the secrets for myself.

The other moms peacefully wiled away the afternoon reading, gazing, and talking, while my brain paced back and forth in my head, trying to solve The Mystery of The Blue Van.


Which I didn’t do. Yet. But you better believe I returned to the scene of the crime at sunset – just to make sure nothing had changed.


On Sunday before I left, I took a final bike ride, and I made a last round of photography before I left,


and then I drove back home, back to real life – and, back to a tornado.

And that’s why Moms need retreats. Because our lives are often a tornado – sometimes literally, but most of the time figuratively.

The Summer of June Bugs.

As Chris and I sat on the lawn of Gorham’s Bluff basking in the wonders it possessed, we noticed an impressive bug convention going on around us.

Chris watched them reservedly and said “Are these ground bees or something?”

I stared down at them, waiting for one to do a fly-by for me to identify, then squealed with glee.


“They’re JUNE BUGS!!”

He looked at me skeptically.

“Don’t tell me you’ve never tied a string around a June Bug’s leg.”

He scooted over a few inches.

I explained.

Every summer of my childhood, we anxiously awaited the arrival of June Bugs. They never came in June, though, tricky little buggars. They arrived in early July. Upon the first sighting of a glowing green back, we would run in, beg our parents for string, and set out to catch our newly arrived pets.

(It should be noted that our parents were the ones who taught us this skill, so they always had June Bug String around for us to carry on family tradition.)

We chased and chased those stupid bugs – they’re harder to catch than fireflies but easier than a fly would be if perchance anyone ever wanted to catch a fly. But they’re big and nearly incandescent so they’re easy to spot – if only they’d stay in one place for a summer second.

When we caught one, the real struggle began. Unless you’ve ever turned a flying beetle over on its back and tried to hold one of his legs still enough to tie a string around it, you really can’t understand the hardships of my childhood.

But the glory of victory – it was well worth the trial.

As mentioned, June Bugs don’t hold still for long, so once we uprighted our freshly tied new pet, he’d immediately fly away – only to find that he was now an Alabama Kite. He’d fly this way and that, and we’d hold onto our string gleefully as if we were walking our miniature flying dog around the yard.

Finally, he’d get tired and sit down.


I would sit Indian-Style beside him (these were the days before Criss-Cross-Applesauce, obviously) and nudge him with my index finger.

“Fly, Juney! FLY!”

nudge, nudge, nudge.

June Bugs are stubborn creatures, though, and once one realizes that his only path to freedom is to be boring, he will stick at boring like a woodpecker boring through a chimney.

So we’d attempt a leg-untying, which sometimes resulted in a leg being untied and sometimes in a leg amputation, and set off to find his more gullible relative.

June Bugs were greatly anticipated summer fun – right before Lightning Bugs and right after the now-illegal high-dive at the Fraternal Order of Police swimming pool. Until the fateful summer that we had aged enough to observe these June Bugs in their natural environment. And realized that they enjoyed our yard not because of our superior skills in human-insect interaction, but because they ate our dog’s poop.

And let me tell you. Finding out your pet June Bug is actually a second cousin to the Dung Beetle can really ruin the magic of childhood.

But we persisted through our adversities. And replaced our June Bugs with pet rabbits.

…And now Chris thinks I grew up on Mars. Help me out, people – who else had flying-pets-on-a-string when you were a kid?

On Declaring Independence.

I know that you’ve all been waiting with intense anticipation for an update on the fallout of Noah’s stomach virus.

I am here for you.

I am gleeful to report that, although it did last through the night and he woke up Thursday morning with his bed in such an abominable state that if I described it I’d have to burn my blog, it did end quickly after that. And more importantly, whatever parasite he licked off of only God knows what disgusting surface was blessedly not the type that spreads to other family members.

So, gloriously, we were all free of spurting out of any orifices just in time for the holiday weekend.

And as we’d been in our-life-is-falling-apart-at-the-stomach-seams mode, we found ourselves having not planned ahead a single minute of our Fourth of July.

So we did what any loving parents would do and made our children hike two miles up a mountain in the woods.

140704b Ruffner's View of Birmingham

(With one in a diaper. JUST in case.)


(He can’t believe I just told you that.)

On their way up the mountainside, they both managed to find gender-stereotypical pieces of nature, of which they took a moment to appreciate once we allowed them to sit down.


Seriously guys. That was unstaged.

…As was Noah’s near-use of his rock when I actually asked them to pose for me.


And he wonders why she doesn’t trust him.


That night, we set out on an unplanned attempt to find a vantage point for Birmingham’s fireworks show above Vulcan. We had no idea where to go and were entirely uncertain as to whether our children would be whiny-sleepy, interested, or petrified, as Noah had a bit of a traumatic fireworks experience last fall, and this was the first Fourth of July we’d been in town in many years.

I applauded my husband’s ability to withstand such tenuous uncertainty.

We ended up on the Children’s Hospital Parking Deck, where they had actually roped off the top deck for viewers, and were quite kind to everyone who had found their way up there.

Better yet: we made it in time for sunset.

140704d God Shed His Light on Thee

A sunset which, for a moment, even turned red white and blue. JUST FOR ME. (And everyone else.)

140704e Red White and Blue

Our children were excited and self-entertained while we waited for 9pm to arrive,




Chris had the forethought to pack popsicles,


My Parents, Grandmother, and Brother joined us after we let them know we found the best view in Birmingham,


And when the fireworks began, Noah relieved us all by saying “I do like these kind of fireworks!!”


From Puke and Poo Hell to Family-Togetherness Utopia…clearly God did indeed shed His Grace on us.


I took my DSLR, set it up on a tripod, adjusted it to what I hoped would work, then carelessly snapped about 250 crappy fireworks photos without even looking through the viewfinder. Chris suggested that I pick the least blurry ones and create a composite image of the night, which turned into an obsessively geeky exercise in Photoshop Layering.

140704 Vulcan's Show

(But I totally got fussed at by my seven-year-old for not including one of the upside-down smiley fireworks.)

(So here you go.)

Smiley Firework

The next morning, gloriously, (how often does the climax of a story come after the fireworks are over?), I dumped my disease-free children at my parent’s and Chris swept me off to North Alabama.

For Recovery from Motherhood.

(It’s a real thing, y’all.)

140705c Weathington Point

We visited the above, Weathington Park, then continued to one of our favorite retreats, Gorham’s Bluff.

140705 A Gorham's Bluff Sunset

We ate, we rested, we read, we biked, we talked, and we got to sit on the edge of a ledge and see this.

140705b Beams over Gorham's Bluff

Happy Independence Indeed.

(p.s. I love my children.)

(p.p.s. But sometimes distance makes the heart grow fonder.)