A Social Distancing Fail of the Most Fascinating Variety.

Spring has sprung here in Birmingham. Flowers are blooming and trees are filled with pinks and whites and greens. It makes me wistful when we walk around our neighborhood, as seeing the trees around us makes me remember all the trees I can’t see right now at the Botanical Gardens, and Aldridge Gardens, and pretty much everywhere else.

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I mean, we only get like three weeks of Spring in Alabama and then BAM it’s 95 degrees. We don’t have Spring to Spare on Quarantine.

But here we are.

And we are determined to make the most of it.

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(Some more than others.)

(Noah, who normally begs me to take him out every single day to do fun things, is ironically absolutely THRIVING in Quarantine. He gleefully told Chris on our nightly walk, “I LOVE QUARANTINE!!!” then followed it up with “If we didn’t have quarantine, then Mo Willems wouldn’t have started his Lunch Doodles series. And if he hadn’t started Lunch Doodles, then I wouldn’t have become an author!!”)

(Because yes, Noah wrote and illustrated his first book Tuesday. And didn’t sleep Tuesday night because his mind was so abuzz with ideas for the sequel. He’s also built cities out of cardboard boxes, drawn endless pictures, read many books, and in general has proven himself as not an extrovert or an introvert, but clearly a quaranvert.)

(There are even “Coming Soon” posters tacked throughout our house.)

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We’re making the best of it.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have moments of anxiety or frustration or NEEDING JUST A MOMENT TO ONE’S SELF. But I haven’t, as yet, resorted to THE SITUATION found yesterday by one of Ali’s friends, as she was walking through her backyard.

Her parents sent me a picture and I was so amazed that I had to go see it, and photograph it, for myself.

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****TRIGGER WARNING****

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****THERE WILL BE SNAKES****

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****BUT REALLY AWESOME SNAKES DOING AWESOME SNAKEY THINGS****

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****THAT WILL MAKE YOU THANKFUL FOR SOME SNAKES****

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****SO PUT ON YOUR BIG BOY UNDERWEAR (or big girl panties but I find men are more squeamish than women in general)****

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****AND LOOK AT THIS AMAZING NATURE OCCURRENCE. ****

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You ready now?

It was a King Snake and a Copperhead, not at all practicing social distancing.

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And furthermore, the King Snake was EATING THE COPPERHEAD.

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I have not once considered eating my children or any other humans, so I’m going to go ahead and consider that a win.

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But getting to photograph this amazing exchange of nature made my day, my week, my quarantine. And when I do feel the urge to eat someone, I’ll remember how happy these snakes made me (and my hostess.)

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And this is your reminder that King Snakes are better protection than your Golden Retriever. Thank your King Snakes, y’all.

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p.s. If you want to see how big the Copperhead started out, here was the picture my friend sent me as the King Snake started his meal:

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Tasty, no?

Homeschooling Tips for the Quarantined.

I’ve had some readers ask me to write a tips post on homeschooling for those of you who very suddenly found yourselves involuntarily in such a situation, thanks to COVID-19, who is apparently homeschooling’s hardest lobbyist. There are a ton of resources already floating around about that, though, so I’m not going to retread a lot of ground. However, I do have 10ish years worth of homeschooling posts peppered into my blog, but seeing as how I have 2,355 blog posts, I get how it might be hard to find the ones that are helpful RIGHT NOW. So first I’m going to start off with a couple quick notes, then I’m just going to give you a link index of some posts that you might find helpful.

Tips for RIGHT NOW:

  • Don’t panic about cramming in a bunch of education right now. It’s a weird time. We’re all distracted. Focus is nearly impossible. You can’t possibly be expected to accomplish a perfect school day. Relax. Enjoy the forced break. Do fun stuff. Be creative. Don’t worry about getting in every subject.
  • Use the resources being provided by wonderful people for this crisis. Our favorite is Mo Willem’s daily lunch doodles.
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    His voice is so lovely and soothing and his doodles are so fun. We have been looking forward to doodling with Mo every day. James Spann also did a live Science/Weather show today, and it is available to rewatch – it was excellent and I highly recommend it for when you need an hour for the kids to watch something educational while you get stuff done – and it totally counts for science for one day – maybe two.
    Feel free to list the resources you’ve found in the comments!
  • iPad education is awesome. Khan Academy is fantastic for Math and Grammar, and totally free. There are many games for math, spelling, reading, grammar, and more. Kids learn exceptionally well via fun, so why not have some fun.

Links to old posts that might inspire you:
(Disclaimer: These posts are only if you NEED things to do. Do not feel pressure to do ANY of these things. I just told you to relax, remember??)

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215 Read Aloud Books

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  • Playing store is a fun and engaging way to teach math, commerce, bargaining, price gouging, toilet paper shortages and more.

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  • This is old, but here is my first and  second list of iPad educational apps. There are probably lots of better learning apps now, but it’s a start.
  • Here are a few fun ways I encouraged writing letters when my little ones didn’t like to do so, including making a secret code for them to solve, or teaching them how to use invisible ink (with white crayons and watercolor paint.)IMG_0297.jpg
  • Here’s another fun Geography project – tracing the map, then quizzing everyone on what states they’ve visited and making a legend. This would be a fun thing to do to keep in contact with family members right now too – get your kids to call their grandparents, ask them what states they’ve visited, and start a conversation about those trips.IMG_2515.jpg
  • Speaking of Geography, this is the post behind my most watched YouTube video of all time, and it’s not just because of all of my personal re-watches because I love hearing Baby Ali pronounce the states (okay maybe half the watches are mine.) But this is a great time to learn all the states – so why not?

(Okay I had to stop and watch it again. It almost made me want another baby.)

That should be enough to keep you busy EVEN THOUGH I started out this post telling you to CHILL OUT and relax. So you do you. And don’t feel any pressure. Let’s all take a deep breath in, and a deep breath out. Except not in the direction of another person.

(And feel free to ask any questions in the comments.)

 

A Proper Fear of Snow.

The thing about living in the south is that we’re kind of…afraid of snow. We don’t handle it well, as I’ve told you many times, and so it’s hard for us to imagine it as a risk-free endeavor. I mean, we LOVE snow, but if we have snow, it’s a “sit at home and enjoy it” event – not a “travel around and do normal stuff” and certainly not a “travel on roads that are already precarious except now they’re covered with snow and ice.” We equate that kind of behavior with such actions as running up to a bear and sticking your head in its mouth just to check out what a bear uvula looks like.

As I returned to North Macedonia in December – my second visit to the country in 2019, I was slightly terrified of snow and ice, but also laughing at myself for being so fully self-aware of the limitations to my southern imagination.

I tried to downplay it to Chris, who wasn’t traveling with me. “I think it’s just snowy in the villages in the mountains, not the cities. I’m sure it will be FINE. We might not even go into the villages. Who knows.”

But when I found out that we would indeed be visiting a village in the mountains on the day we arrived, immediately after a 24 hour flight, and I saw the video of what the village roads currently looked like, I began imagining how very terrifying a bear’s uvula actually was.

I traveled with my friend Christen, and we were headed to visit our friend Kelly, who was in-country for three months. Our flights were exhausting and had very little breathing room. We were not blessed with an extra seat or even half an inch of legroom on our transatlantic flight. We did not sleep a wink, and here we were, in Europe, 24 hours sans sleep, and now it’s morning – it’s gonna be a while until we get to bed. We were exhausted, but we were in EUROPE. One finds a way to trudge on.

We drove from the airport to our friend’s house, had fifteen minutes to turn it around and change out of our day-old Alabama-weather flying clothes and into the bizarrely innumerable garments that would be suitable for a European mountain village jaunt – more clothes than I wear in Alabama all winter long combined.

(One thing I did learn in 2019, from visiting Chicago in January and Macedonia in December, is how to dress when it’s *actually* cold outside. I now know that you can actually dress to stand to be outside if you know about the pieces of clothing we haven’t yet discovered in the south. (When it does get cold down here, we just assume there’s no way to be outdoors unless you’re running and therefore creating your own heat source. Who knew?! There are WAYS to endure the cold.) So I learned the definition of “Parka” this year and found out that you can get scarves warm enough that they serve a purpose other than annoying your neck and complimenting your outfit.)

So we put on our warmest clothes over the top of our long underwear, then came our parkas, our scarves, our hats, our boots, and then we did a few stretches so that we had the strength to lift our feet while wearing 150 pounds of clothing. A few minutes after arriving, we set out for the mountaintop in the large, safe van with our driver who was a resident of the country, thereby making us completely, totally safe.

The roads in Macedonia seem to have been engineered to be approximately 30% too narrow for single car to pass through, yet somehow they Knight Bus their cars skinny and can fit three cars side by side on the road – one going one way, one going the other way, and one stopped in the middle of the road while the driver runs into the hardware store for a minute.

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(One takeaway I’ve had from my two visits to the country is to quit worrying so much about how close I am to other cars in America – based on their ability to get within a booger’s width of each other, I’ve got MILES between me and the rest of the cars.)

So the roads are narrow. They’re also winding, and, when going to a village in the mountains that rise up immediately from the city, are precisely cliff-side – with no barriers other than the skinny cows and horses that free-roam the mountainside.

190421 macedonia IMG_0379 sHere were some horses we passed on one of those narrow, winding, cliffside roads in April – back when there was no snow to complicate things. 

Our driver laughed at our fear as we climbed steeply up the mountain and first hit ice, then snow, then deeper snow. He assured us that the roads were perfectly safe and it could be much worse – when the roads get too bad, the village residents just park their cars in the road and walk into the village. Did we see any abandoned vehicles? No. The weather was fine.

We made it to the village safely,

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enjoyed the spectacular views through our sleep-deprived, grainy eyes,

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We visited the village school and brought American treats and handmade gifts from our kids to give to the precious kids.

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And then it was time to go.

We were STARVING.

We were zombies.

It was time for dinner.

And at some point we’d really like to attempt that thing called sleep again, would-you-please.

So we pulled out of the village, heading out again on the snowy roads. I looked out the windows and ached to call a “hold on a minute” so that I could jump out and get pictures of the sunset/dusky winter wonderland. But I was hungry and I knew everyone else was too and we were cliffside – I didn’t want to slip-slide away off the edge.

THEN we passed a small herd of cows, headed home for the night. (Our driver slowed down, letting the cows rub us with their udders as they scooted past us on the impossibly narrow road, and laughed as he commented “See? The cows DO come home.”)

But as the cows made their way around us and our driver attempted to bring the van back up to speed, the tires slid.

Then we started sliding to the right – of course we would slide toward the cliffside.

THIS WAS ONLY OUR FIRST DAY IN COUNTRY! It’s not time to die yet. We haven’t even gotten to eat a single meal!

The tires slid again.

We fishtailed sideways again.

Our driver was mumbling from the front seat, saying something about how this never happens.

Then he said “Time to get out and push!”

And he meant it.

The passengers all disembarked, carefully stepping between the car and the mountainside. He tried again now that he was free of all our weight – no luck.

So we literally got behind that big old van and we pushed. And we pushed and we pushed.

IMG_2157 2I swear the edge was edgier than it looked. Or at least it certainly felt like the uvula of a bear to my southern sensibilities.

And the van did nothing but slide closer to the edge.

The driver got out and said “We will need the chains!”

I got my camera out and decided it was time to at least get those snowy winter wonderland pictures I wanted. It’s not like know anything about helping with snow chains.

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Just then, another herd of cows came by. It was as if they wanted me to take their picture.

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They were drama cows if there ever were drama cows.

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The men had tire-shaped chains laid out on the snow by now, and were looking at them quizzically with their arms folded. Clearly there was nothing us womenfolk could or would add to the situation, so we began to walk.

Then we did some quick calculations, converting meters to miles, and realized that, if we didn’t mind trudging uphill in the snow, we could actually walk to the delicious dinner that was so loudly calling out our name.

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And maybe, just maybe, our walking to dinner would really light a fire under the men to hurry up and get that van up the mountain – before we ate all the good cheese.

And so we began to walk. On one of those narrow, curving roads where we were now brushing our udders against the oncoming traffic. Somehow, inexplicably, the higher we got, the less snow there was. And the faster the cars careened toward us.

But we were on our way to dinner. And who doesn’t need a brisk hike after being on a plane for 24 hours?

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Just as we walked into the parking lot of the dreamy restaurant, the men pulled up behind us in the van. They had done it – with a little help from their (village) friends.

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And we lived happily ever after, eating all of the amazing cheese. And no southerners fell off the mountain that night due to snow. Even if we did stare into the uvula of a mountain moose.

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