Not-Crazy-Renee and the Creepy Middle Child.

“How’s Not-Crazy-Renee doing?”

I’m sure you’re asking that right now, since that’s what all blog readers want to know when they see me. She is, after all, the all-time favorite blog character.

With good reason.

To answer your question, she’s doing fine.

She still feeds Snakey Butters Buttercup, her five year old’s pet python, every Wednesday night (or every other, if she forgets, and then Snakey gets a two-for-the-price-of-one night.) I was honored to be invited over for the grand event recently. I got to hold Snakey before the meal, letting her snake up my arm and waggle her tongue in my general direction. I was fascinated by how smooth she is – “scaly” doesn’t mean what you think it means. After that, I was privileged to watch as she gave little Mickey one last good hug, then swallowed him with less trouble than I have swallowing a french fry.

Everyone needs this experience with a python.

The week before I visited had been a two-for-one night, and I got this series of texts from Not-Crazy-Renee about the mishaps therein…






I know. At this moment you can do nothing but be intensely jealous that she’s my not-crazy friend and not yours.

Changing the subject.

Earlier this week, I agreed to do her family photos – you know, for Christmas cards and such. I do not do this for many people because OH THE PRESSURE of taking portraits. But I did hers last year, and her kids are super photogenic and therefore easy to photograph at their best, so I agreed.

Last year, her middle child, Jonas, was my favorite to photograph. He’s beyond adorable. (They all are, but he’s my favorite. Can I have a favorite?)

Besides giving me the precious shots I wanted,

_MG_8835 Jonas Fave


he gave me the best “OH NO YOU DI’INT!!” shot of all time:


Right? Right.

So this year, I expected more fantastical photos from him.

However. He decided to remove himself as my favorite and instead, offer me a different sort of treasure.

Out of the hundreds of pictures I took, I got maybe 5 good ones of him.

The rest were his apparent audition photos to be the next Hollywood Evil Villain Child.

He started out playfully evil. The Doofenshmirtz of bad guys.


Then he moved on to Cedric the Sorcerer.


From there he went full-on Joker…


And just a bit of Draco Malfoy.


(Positive he was casting a Cruciatus Curse here…)


But then, when it was time for family photos, is when it got weird.

I told him to smile,

And the kid turned into a …






We tried one more picture up against the ivy-covered wall. We all begged him to smile. And as his sister looked toward the heavens, looking as if she’d seen an angel,


He looked like he had seen something…

or was something….


quite different.


He may not be my favorite anymore, but he’s for sure ready for Hollywood.

Epilogue: In fairness and to soothe the nightmares I just provided you, I did get a couple adorable shots of him,



And precious shots of him with his siblings.




Also, I was able to make this fabulous music video, thanks to his superior inter-photograph dance skillz.

And then, my masterpiece of the year, was this sick beat…

(Y’all remember this post one day when Photographical DJing is a thing. Remember that I, and Jonas, were the pioneers.)

….so maybe he’s still my favorite. Maybe.

(But I’m only retracting my renouncement of him because he looked at me like this after reading this post…)


On Learning the Art of Theme Parking.

On Friday morning of our two mom/five kid adventure, we sat out for our first true undertaking – to Dollywood, the theme park.

I am quite inexperienced at the whole theme park thing – remember Disney? Yeah – they didn’t even let me in the front gate. So I was beyond thankful to discover that Not-Crazy-Renee is actually fantastically adept in the art of theme park planning and navigation.

I mean, I knew she’d done Disney with a baby (something I would never dream of attempting), but she hadn’t told me how good she was. She just quietly researched the park, and when we arrived that morning, she confidently said, “Okay I’ve studied the map and we need to go down Showstreet and through Rivertown Junction to get to County Fair which is where all the rides will be for the kids.”

I hadn’t even thought far enough ahead to fully realize that oh yeah – the rides would be separated by age.

Tip #1: If you’re going to do a crazy adventure, make sure that one of the moms is a planner, and has actually successfully gotten her family into and through a theme park.

But her planning started before we even left the hotel, when she borrowed a sharpie from Ali (what nine year old travels without sharpies?) and wrote her phone number on her children’s arms in case of getting lost.

IMG_4581 copy

(I followed up with writing my phone number on my children…slightly smaller, on the inside of their arms, and without the giant “MOM”. But nobody ever accused Not-Crazy-Renee of not being bold. Remember the Neighborhood Package Thief?)

The phone number thing really was brilliant, and all the other moms at Dollywood kept commenting at our preparedness. However, it’s been five days and my number is still on Noah’s arm. So now it’s beginning to just look like he managed to snag some young lady’s number.

(And if someone saw the way he looks at Loulie, they’d have a pretty good guess of whose phone number he wanted to snag.)


But Dollywood.

The rides were really fantastic. Teacups were a big hit,


As were the bumper cars.

Some took it more seriously than others.


The favorite ride, but also the most complex for our outnumberedness, were the elephants.




Here’s a Theme Park Math Problem For you:

Riders over 48” can ride alone. Riders under 48” must be with a rider that is over 16 years old. The baby in a carrier could not ride. There can only be two riders per elephant. Ali was over 48” and Noah, Jonas, and Loulie were under 48”. Plus, one adult had to stay off to hold Joshua, the baby. How many rounds had to be ridden to let everyone have a turn?

The answer is three, and the bonus answer is that Ali got three turns each time we rode the elephants (Perks for being the oldest.)

1. Adult/Noah, Ali
2. Adult/Jonas, Ali
3. Adult/Loulie, Ali

Thankfully, there were no lines that day, so this was relatively easy to accomplish. But since Elephants were the favorite, we ran this triple circuit multiple times. And sometimes, the kids waiting for their turn actually had a good attitude.


(By the way, Noah was BARELY under 48”. If he’d been over 48”, everything would’ve been easier. Tip #2 from Not-Crazy-Renee The Theme Park Expert: I should’ve glued a one-inch foam wedge to the bottom of his shoes. I want to go back to Dollywood this weekend just to try this BRILLIANT plan.)

At first, due to my Theme Park Status of ignoramus, I was completely confused by all the different height requirements, number-per-ride requirements, and height-measuring poles. But then I began to appreciate it, because there was a ride for every situation.

Jonas got to drive a car:


Loulie and Ali were able to ride a small roller coaster alone:


And everyone was allowed to ride in the Bumblebee and a couple other rides alone, even Jonas and a VERY proud Noah:

IMG_4571I’ve still got the Bumblebee song stuck in my head.

We spent the majority of Friday at Dollywood, until my stamina gave out first.

We’d been awarding everyone’s good attitudes on the trip with Lego Bucks, so we stopped at the gift shops on the way out of the park for an energy pick-me-up, distributing swords and candy to the children, and delicious truffle-things to the mothers (because I am telling you we EARNED ourselves some Lego Bucks.)

IMG_4567Why yes, Noah is auditioning for “So You Think You Can Dance.” Why do you ask?

As we left, I asked Renee how much of the park we’d accomplished in our many hours there. She said about one eighth of the park. One eighth! That made me want to go back without the kids to do the other seven eighths, mostly more intense rides. But it was pretty amazing that there was a whole day’s worth of rides they could ride – it made the concept of theme parking with kids so much more doable.

(I’ve always been a little scared of theme parks. But now I know. If I can do it with two adults and five kids, I can TOTALLY do it with Chris and just my kids.)

The next day, before heading back home, we went to the Waterpark. I was even more skeptical that this would work – The odds were ever NOT in our favor.

But they had three full kid areas, plus a lazy river and wave pool.

Kid area #1 (Little Creek Falls) had two mild slides that the three oldest kids could do alone (even my very risk averse Noah (who won’t even go down the slide at the YMCA pool) went right up and did it – no coaxing required!)



Kid Area #2 (Bear Mountain Fire Tower) was a bit more intense – there was water squirting at every angle, and a giant bucket that doused the entire play area every few minutes. I was shocked my kids were up for this one, but they were – we had to drag them out.


Kid Area #3, The Cascades, was the best kid area in my opinion – it was bigger, yet more laid back and quieter, but still had a couple great slides.IMG_4544

One of the slides was perfect for Ali to take Jonas on, a treat that they both loved.


We chilled for a while at the wave pool,


Which proved to be a perfect Dippin’ Dots / Cotton Candy break for everyone.


Renee and I also each took a turn taking Loulie and Ali on a big raft waterslide – a slide that had way too much adrenaline potential for Noah.


But the real adventure came, ironically, at The Lazy River.

Oh, I wish there were pictures.

We had decided we could do it – Renee could hold Joshua, I could hold Jonas, and the other three could be on their own floats. But the waterfall was loud and the river was somewhat crowded – and I couldn’t figure out how to sit on my float, be able to steer, and hold a two-year-old upright. I followed Expert Renee’s lead and hefted one leg up over the float, balanced Jonas on that leg, and left the other leg hanging down with which to steer, looking very much like Leg Lamp Boat Rudder. I wasn’t sure if my legs would ever go together again.

Meanwhile, Noah decided that a REALLY FUN GAME to play on the Lazy River would be (he didn’t name it this but he might as well have ) “The Drowning Game”, where he kept flipping over backwards in the middle of his float, flailing just below the water level (even though he could totally touch), allowing a couple of seconds to go by, then jumping out of the water laughing hysterically.

And no matter how hard I tried, I could NOT get him to quit playing this game.

We took two laps around because it had taken us the time of three laps to get into the river, so we couldn’t quit at one.

Tip #3: If you are grossly outnumbered by your children, leave the Lazy River to the happy romantic couples who are only dreaming of creating offspring. No need to show them what that dream actually looks like.

Aside from the Lazy River adventures, though, the waterpark was a smashing success. Everyone had a place they could play at a level they were comfortable, we stayed for six hours and the kids would’ve stayed longer, and we left with the same number of children we possessed upon arrival.

We threw everyone into dry clothes, doled out iPads and headphones, and started the journey back to Birmingham, enjoying the lovely view of worn-out, silent, double-screening children.


And we congratulated ourselves. Because we were CLEARLY rock stars.

(With an honorable mention to Ali, who was crazy helpful and much needed all weekend. Tip #4: Don’t travel without a kind and happy-to-help oldest child.)



We were sure to give her many reading breaks and covertly sneaky treats that the other kids never saw. We made being the oldest totally worth her trouble.


A couple days after returning home, Noah called me into his room to show me what he and his Daddy had built the night before at bedtime.

“Look Mom, it’s a time Machine. See? You turn this wheel and you can go back in time.”


“Cool! Where are you going to go back in time to? Or are you going to go to the future?”

“Oh I am definitely going back to Dollywood!”

I’d call that a successful adventure.

Not-Crazy-Renee And The Dollywood Adventure.

A couple of weeks ago when we were on our way home from our beach trip, during the window of “Last Hour of the Road Trip Home” which has a very strict rule of “No serious conversations because we WILL get snippy with each other”, I got a text from my dear friend and neighbor, Not-Crazy-Renee.


She continued to explain to me that she would like for me to possibly go on a road trip with her – to Maine. Which would take two 10 hour days to get there, it would include a stay for about three days, and then two 10 hour days to get back.

Just me and her. Oh – and our five kids.

Although her timing on asking me to go on an epic road trip was super poor, I was still intrigued. Because Maine. And scenery. And adventure.

So I inquired further.


IMG_4595 copy 2IMG_4595 copy


Despite how well I know the little-bit-crazy parts of not-crazy Renee, the ludicrous INSANITY of “can you leave 16 hours from now and put in an entire workweek in the car with five children even though you’re not home yet from your last road trip?” just stunned me.

Yet I was STILL slightly interested. Because I’m a glutton for adventure. However, our family had already made plans for the upcoming weekend and there was just no possible way to make it work. But I had been promising Not-Crazy-Renee that I’d road trip with her all summer, so I re-upped that promise and determined in my heart to make it come true – sooner rather than later.

And so I began to look around and plan – where could we take five children and not hate ourselves for it? Where could children the ages of 9, 5, 5, 2, and 9 months all have fun and not make us lose our Mommy Poop? We discussed this at length.


After considering many options and trying to optimize all the components to making our complex situation actually fun, we landed on Dollywood – the DreamMore Resort and the theme parks. And ironically, our plans didn’t fully come together until the day before we were supposed to leave. So at least I also provided that feeling of thrill and panic that she had attempted to give me with her Maine proposal. And on top of that, both our husbands were going out of town, so if nothing else, we were saving ourselves from Daddyless weekends at home.

We left Thursday morning, bracing ourselves for exhaustion, screaming children, and hating life. The odds were NOT ever in our favor. But we started out knowing we were rock stars, because we packed seven people for two nights this amazingly lightly:


We were already winners.

The car trip went shockingly well, thanks to half a dozen screens. Twenty minutes before we arrived, reveling in the fact that no one had cried or even whined, we started to get hopeful. Maybe we could actually handle and maybe even enjoy this adventure we’d gotten ourselves into.

Ten minutes before we arrived, the screaming began. One kid started crying, one kid started screaming because the other kid was crying, two kids began whining and covering their ears, and we began our Lamaze breathing. Childbirth ain’t got nothing on a minivan full of screaming children.

But we arrived, and they were immediately distracted from their whining by the glory that lay before us.

“WHOA! Are we staying in a castle?!?”

“Yes, yes we are.”


They squealed with delight and couldn’t wait to explore their new kingdom.







One of the first things they noticed was the recurring theme of butterflies. It became a game to count how many different places butterflies were featured in the hotel, all the way down to the toilet paper monogram.

Another feature helped the kids remember why the name Dolly Parton sounded familiar to them: the Imagination Library. Her book benches featured some of the best books she sends in that free program – including the first book, The Little Engine that Could.


On that first night, they were fully entertained by just exploring. The hotel, the playground, the fire pits around the pool (we didn’t make s’mores but it was fun to see other people doing it), the barn, and this old truck, which made for some pretty epic photos for Noah and Loulie’s future wedding slideshow.




(Obviously, this part of the slideshow will need to be played to the tune of “I Will Always Love You” in deference to Dolly, who provided these magical moments.)

But magic or no, the injury list didn’t take long to start piling up. Within two hours of arriving, one kid had rolled off a bed, and another kid had stuck their fingers into the opening elevator crack and panicked as they watched their fingers being sucked in.

(If this ever happens to you, yank hard on said kid’s hand. It will rip free with all fingers in tact and a much higher respect for elevator safety.)

Our rooms were beyond ideal for our situation. We couldn’t have done what we did without the fantastic layout. We had two adjoining rooms, each with a bunk room and a separate king bedroom.



So at the end of each night, each family had their own kid room and their own Mommy Room. Granted, Renee had to share her room with the baby, but Joshua was by far the easiest guest of the weekend. How could you not want to share with this face??


And if that weren’t enough, I had a sunset view from my bed. Clearly Dolly designed her hotel with me in mind.

View-from-Dreammore-ResortYes of course I posed them for this picture. They were way too busy playing to care about sunsets.

I even took sunset pictures out the window – and Dolly cleaned her windows well enough that they came out like this.


The resort had Dolly memorabilia in every part, which led to many interesting conversations about her. Such as this philosophical conversation I had with Ali:

“So is Wood not her last name?”



“No! It’s Parton.”


“She just owns the place so she named it Dollywood…kinda like Hollywood.”

“So a woman named Holly owns Hollywood?”

Makes sense to me.

As for Renee and I, we were quickly realizing that outnumberedness, along the number of very small children, meant that every moment of our trip was going to require a quick “okay, what’s our strategy?” conversation.

How will we get our bags in?
How will we get food?
How will we get this poopy diaper changed?
How can I go pee?

(I know that there are many families with five or more kids that probably live their whole life in strategy-mode, and I appreciate those people all the more after this weekend.)

There was a lot of “okay you take those three, I’ll take these two” and “can you watch this one for a second?” and even more of, to the children, “Do NOT tell us what you want to do. We’re here to have fun. We’ll make sure you have fun. Don’t. Ask. For. Anything.”

(That didn’t work. OBVIOUSLY.)

But despite their constant requests to do ALL THE THINGS ALL AT ONCE, thanks to Dolly and the joy of being with each other, the kids had an incredible time.

Next time, we talk about our adventures at the Theme Parks. Yes, you heard me right. We took five kids to 
more than one theme park. So don’t call us wusses.