The Stranger Stuff of Life.

Facebook has suggested that I find a new way to tell my stories.

That’s right, it’s time to quit blogging.

It’s time I started sending you a message on a potato instead.

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I had to go to potatoparcel.com and figure out what was up. I mean, this could be the next wave of communication, guys!

Just like their Facebook sponsored post, the example potatoes on their site were clearly just pictures of plain potatoes with words photoshopped on top of them. The word “congrats” even slightly extended past the potato.

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Although I did like the originality of telling Paul he was evicted by potato, I couldn’t help but wonder what the actual purchased potatoes looked like.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to buy one to find out. I kept scrolling, and they had screenshots of Instagram posts of delivered Potato Parcels.

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Yes. They are HANDWRITTEN POTATOES. Written with a Sharpie. DELIVERED IN A NORMAL MAILING ENVELOPE.

They want to charge me $9.99 (plus shipping, I’m certain) to grab a spud, scrawl on it with a sharpie, and mail it to you.

If these people are making money, then America deserves what we’re getting this election season.

But before I get off on a political rant that I morally refuse to engage in online, let’s move on to other puzzling vegetable issues.

Like, for instance, this sign I saw on a bathroom door.

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So many questions.

Who is taking corn shucks in the bathroom?

Why are they taking corn shucks into the bathroom?

Or,

Is “corn shucks” referencing literal corn shucks, or is it more of a verb, such as, “Dang it Jimmy Bob! Did you just take a corn shuck in the bathroom again? I can smell it all the way out here!! Did you NOT see the sign I put up that said ‘do NOT take corn shucks in the bathroom?’”

I can’t stand it when I walk into the bathroom right after someone’s taken a corn shuck.

On to more puzzling bathroom signs, this one at a doctor’s office.

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t create water when I change. What are these people changing into?

Ali expressed interest in needlepoint and knitting, so I bought her a couple of sets to learn on.

This one, however, confused me.

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Did I just knit a homemade tampon? And why?

Hopefully she has more talent with the thread than her mother.

I totally bought these pens. Because I’m a firm believer in protecting against the ever-present threat of water fading fraud.

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I have a new follower on Instagram. I can’t wait to buy their products.

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Were they sitting in the bathroom one day when they got the epiphany for their brand name?

“Wow that’s green. EUREKA!! I HAVE IT!!!”

There’s nothing harder to throw away than a recycling bucket.

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Now it’s time for another round of “What’s on YOUR car?”

Whatever it is, I bet it’s not as holy as if you were CrossFitting for the for the King of Kings.

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Unless you’re repping essential oils, obviously. That’s always the holiness trump card.

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There’s no farm like a small breed farm, is there? I love seeing those amber stalks of poodles waving in the breeze.

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It was time to pick my Christmas ornaments from the Hallmark Catalog again, and as always, there were some seriously holiday-cheer-filled ornaments to pick from.

Nothing says Merry Christmas like an Assassin’s Creed character jumping from between the branches.

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Or this guy peeking out, looking for someone to devour.

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Only Santa himself can be more festive that this touching Star Trek scene.

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And what IS the true meaning of Christmas if you don’t have the Death Star topping your tree??

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Amazon is my drug dealer. I order my addiction of Gummy Vitamins from them, because they have the best selection at the lowest price.

They have been known to be, however, a bit of an overpacker.

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Nothing says “YES! You’re the one to sell my house!!” like a photo of you with your butt squooshed between two giant red lips on the beach.

IMG_3792I bet those lips were excited to get lugged out to the beach for THAT.
Gives a whole new meaning to “Kiss my butt.”
Maybe that’s what she’s communicating in a passive-aggressive way.
”Don’t like how I sell real estate? Kiss my butt just like these big fat red lips.”

Alexander Hamilton toiled over writing his Federalist Papers just so that one day wine could be marketed with the term at Sam’s Club.

IMG_4097You have no control: Who lives, who dies, who sells your story!

I was stuck behind this dart-loving guy in line for way too long. I got to read each and every misuse of the word “to” on his shirt. And take a picture for you.

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Don’t stare too long. You might find yourself becoming the victim of vudo’n.

The Ghost of Fort Morgan.

It was a dark and stormy morning.

No really – it actually was.

We went down to the beach last weekend to visit the Chris’ Aunt Kitty and Uncle Leo (famous around here for many things, such as Toenail Art and Crochet Shorts.) It was actually a month after our planned trip to visit them, but it had gotten washed out – literally – by the prediction of a bad weekend storm.

So of course, it’d be raining on the rain check weekend as well.

But I had high hopes. There was just a tiny strip of rain that looked like it would be directly over their house for hours. Which meant that if we got out for adventure, we’d escape the rain!

Fort Morgan Historical Site is on our list of Alabama History field trips, but we’re not chronologically there yet. We’re still hanging out somewhere in the murky in-between of dinosaurs and Native Americans, and I really don’t want to mess up the proper order of things.

But, Fort Morgan was semi-nearby. And there was NO rain there – for sure! And I’d heard it was a fun place to photograph. So I ditched my orderly morals and packed up the children and Aunt Kitty to haul down the 25 mile tiny strip of land between gulf and bay, between us and adventure.

We arrived and I was immediately filled with excitement. I haven’t been to Fort Morgan since I was 9, and all I remember was being bored and wishing I was at the beach instead.

I was a stupid 9 year old.

To get into the fort, you have to walk through a bricked tunnel in the hillside:

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Yes, those are my children descending into the fort alone…way more excited about this adventure than their mother at their age.

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Then there’s a small courtyard with creepy windows that almost certainly had ghosts fleeting behind them,

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Then you walk through this entrance to the actual fort.

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Fort Morgan was completed in 1834, after the War of 1812 revealed weaknesses of protecting our shores from naval fleets. It was later commandeered by the Confederate Army during the civil war, and was the site of the Battle of Mobile Bay. It kept being abandoned then reused all the way through World War II, when they trained there to counter the threat of German U-Boats in the Gulf of Mexico.

But you don’t get the feeling that it’s been in use anytime in the past 200 years when walking through its halls.

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You do, however, get the feeling that there are a lot of former soldiers that still might reside here.

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I’m not opposed to the idea of spirits and ghosts being a real phenomenon, especially since multiple members of my own family have had so many encounters with them. And this seemed like just the kind of place that one would meet a friendly ghost or two.

The fact that it was built in the shape of a Masonry Star (or Pentagram, depending on how you look at it) really adds to its creepiness.

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It’s ripe for making National Treasure 3: The Jewels of Alabama. Don’t you think?
Nick Cage could ROCK THIS PLACE.

Shadows and light intermixed at every turn, some rooms awash with windows, and some rooms dank and completely dark.

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Steep stairs, dead ends, chained rooms, and giant artillery shells all give you the feeling that you’re not really supposed to be here, but yet, here you stand, exploring an entirely uncivilized relic of the past.

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It didn’t take long for the rain to catch up with us – that tiny streak over Kitty and Leo’s house transformed into a soaking, wide rain.

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The 40 million bricks that make up Fort Morgan provided ample covering from the elements, so we explored the endless hallways.

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At a break in the storms, we climbed atop the fort to look around.

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The kids loved imagining what it would have been like to be a sentry,

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As well as artillerymen (and women.)

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Before we left, we walked a hundred feet or so out to the end of the world – the southern tip of Fort Morgan, and therefore the southern tip of Alabama.

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For a moment, we forgot the wars, the fighting, the deaths, and the total seriousness of where we were, and it just felt like we were at another part of our state’s beautiful beaches.

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The deluge once again caught up with us, and left us completely soaked before we made it back to the car.

Later that afternoon, when we were snugly inside and I was editing my photos, I suddenly got that eerie feeling again – like there was so much history walking quietly through those hallways alongside us.

And literally, the next photo I came to was this one.

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And I almost jumped out of my skin.

I recognized the profile in the window immediately – it was my son. His shoulders and head were sticking up out of that window ledge – a place he couldn’t have been – and that I knew he hadn’t been. But it looked just like him!

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(Not to mention the creepy face on the wall next to him, but I wasn’t nearly as concerned about that.)

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I started to slowly zoom in, trying to figure out what was going on. It was still Noah – whatever it was.

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(In case only a mother can see it, here it is with an inserted photo of him that I took the same day. Can you see him now?)

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I zoomed all the way in, feeling all kinds of creepiness run through my spine…

Only to find that it was just a jut-out in the bricks. In the perfect shape to be an optical illusion of Noah, when seen far away.

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So what’s the moral of this story?

Explore. Go on adventures. Your kid’s ghost is also out there somewhere. But make sure you have a hi-res camera so that you don’t freak the freak out for the rest of your life when you see it.

Hands-On Alabama History: Weeks Two and Four.

We’re doing a year’s worth of Alabama field trips to study our history in a hands-on fashion. For an introduction to what and why we’re studying Alabama History, click here.

We haven’t moved on from dinosaurs just yet, because I wanted to take my kids to experience The McWane Collection. Housed inside The McWane Center, our local Science/Discovery Museum, most members don’t even realize The McWane Collection exists. It includes nearly a half-million specimens and artifacts related to the natural history of Alabama, hundreds of thousands of which are fossils, all neatly cataloged in these fascinating cabinets.

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Although this area of the museum is not open to the public (for obvious reasons – I mean, look at that gorgeous organization), I was fortunate enough to get to hear about it a few years ago at a Blogger event, so I emailed McWane’s Education Department and asked if my kids could get a quick overview to go along with our history program. We were able to chat with Jun Ebersole, the Director of Collections, who provided us an exciting and quite educational overview of the geological finds in Alabama.

IMG_4164 2This guy is related to a T.Rex, but has longer arms and a smaller head. Clearly Alabama has superior dinosaurs.

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He explained the geological map of Alabama, showing that the green/yellow sections are where dinosaur bones can be found, and making it sound really easy. He said he found one set of bones for a previously undiscovered species along the side of a road, and another just sticking out of the creekbed!

Geological Map of Alabama

Jun explained to us that all the dinosaurs being found in Alabama are new species, and one recent discovery was a new species and genus.

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Being one of only two active Paleontologists in our state, his job sounds pretty exciting – he got to name the above genus and species, and is currently working on proving that another set of bones found are a new species.

A lot of the bones found in Alabama are aquatic, and including giant turtles and menacing fish. Those creeped Ali out a bit more than dinosaurs. Personally, I’d rather meet a giant turtle than a dino, but whatev.

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There is plenty of fantastic information about Alabama’s prehistoric period in the public part of McWane Center, so it is definitely worth putting on the Alabama History visit list, even though the collection is unavailable to the public (but you can peek through the window and see the work in progress, which is pretty fun.)

We’re now determined to find a new species of dinosaurs ourselves, especially since Mr. Ebersole assured us that Alabama is THE place to find fossils right now – we have more than any other state east of the Mississippi River.

He recommended that we go on a field trip with the Alabama Paleontological Society who regularly goes to fossil sites, as well as visiting Shark Tooth Creek, where you can reach in the creek and pull out a handful of shark teeth. (And also, here’s more information to setting up a field trip at McWane Center.)

I KNOW you all want to come visit Alabama to discover dinosaurs now, right??

Here was Ali’s report:

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After this trip, we decided it was time to start our giant Alabama map to document our journeys. Because you can’t do Alabama History without a giant map – it’s just not right.

I got a large foam board and Chris just so happened to have an obsolete-to-his-job giant map of Alabama and its counties. We traced over the top of the map with the foam board underneath,

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Which left an indentation that could then be marked over with a sharpie.

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We then marked the cities we had visited so far (again using the county map to approximate their location,)

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And added the dinosaur bone belt after that.

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As we progress in our studies, this map should get quite crowded.

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We will visit our week three field trip in my next post, but on week four, we returned to the Cahaba River for some fossil hunting. Based on where we (and the Cahaba) fall on the geological map of Alabama, we knew we would only find plant fossils, but they’re still exciting to discover.

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And all rocks are still fun to smash.

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The river was really low, so slate was easy to come by and we found several different plant types. Many imprints were so clear that you could see the veins in the leaves, so the trip doubled as science, since we’re studying Botany.

IMG_0351eWas this plant vascular or non-vascular? A monocot or a dicot?

We also found these clay bowls, because we always find something random at the river.

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I felt sure they were our cousin’s, who I know come to this part of the river and their grandmother is a fantastic potter. But I checked, and no – they did not claim them. So if anyone lost any bowls by the river, they’re still there.

As we were winding down, Ali, who was rock climbing and stone skipping,

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screamed and ran toward us.

“I just saw the hugest spider!! He was SO hairy!!!!!”

“Where? Is he still there?”

She led us over and indeed – the thing was literally bigger than a tarantula – about the size of Ali’s hand, not that Ali’s hand was getting anywhere close to her.

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I say “she” because she very obviously had a large egg sack underneath her body.

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She was amazing. I mean, I had no desire to pick her up or get within touching range (why touch other creatures anyway? I wouldn’t like it if some giant came up and petted me), but as a shockingly huge creature the size of which I didn’t know Alabama possessed, she was a beauty.

I tweeted a picture to my favorite wildlife expert @AlongsideWild who directed me to his BSF (best spider friend) @Cataranea who identified and sent me information on her: She is a Fishing Spider. As in, she catches and eats FISH.

How incredible is that?

Furthermore, she can walk on water despite her enormous size, and while she has her egg sack, she doesn’t eat the entire time because she’s actually holding that egg sack in her jaw. Eventually, she creates a nursery web and puts her egg sack in it for the final incubation / infanthood, so although she’s an exceptionally good spider mom, she’s not into the whole attachment parenting thing. But she does stand guard until they emerge from the egg sack.

I know, I know. Some of you are going to be very upset with me for subjecting you to unrequested massive spider pictures. But nature is fascinating. Even when it’s scary. There’s no reason to not appreciate all of it. No need to be brave enough to pick it up – it doesn’t want to be picked up anyway. Just observe and study in wonder.

(At least that’s what I’m trying to teach my kids.)

(But you can still hate me if you need to.)

Here’s Ali’s report about fossil hunting:

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For those of you studying Alabama History along with us, we’re also doing a lot of reading and book reports to go with our field trips. Here’s a fantastic list created by my friend Carla Jean Whitley of high-quality children’s books about Alabama History:

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She put a lot of time into scouring the libraries and finding books that were well-written and thought-provoking, so be sure to save her article for future study reference.