Rachel, Mommy Matchmaker.


One of my good friends is moving away.

I’m not happy.

Her moving date is over a year away, granted, but I’m still not happy.

However, luckily for her, and thanks to all of you random people who befriend me in other cities, I happen to know someone in the city/state she’s moving to. A blog reader – one of the ones that I’ve actually met in real life while passing through said other city. Because I genuinely do love getting to know all of you – even if I don’t always have time to chat as much as I used to.

(So much angst and guilt about my inability to do so. SO MUCH.)

Anyway. Blog-reader-in-other-city who is now future friends with my friend who is leaving me for other city (are you following so far?) suggested that I become an entrepreneur. That I should open up internet shop – mommyfriendsonly(dot)com.

I mean there’s Farmers Only and Christian Mingle and 420 Singles (because it’s SO hard for pot smokers to find fellow pot smokers, apparently) and even Ugly Schmucks (for people who feel unattractive and/or those who value personality first.)

And, since we’re making a list, here are some other specialty dating sites you can join:

Trek Passions – so that you can find that unique someone that prefers Star Trek: Voyager over ST:TNG. There’s gotta be one out there.

Mullet Passions – Because two Mullets make a right.

Meet an Inmate – In case you’ve always wanted to find yourself an incarcerated boyfriend or girlfriend. According to the website description,

Even though these men and women are in prison, it doesn’t mean that they are bad individuals. The majority of these inmates are loving, clever, reliable, sexy and very passionate. They enjoy sports, music, arts, etc., just as you do. However, they are convicted felons and caution should be used.

Opposite of the earlier mentioned Ugly Schmucks, there’s Darwin Dating. Described as,

Darwin Dating was created exclusively for beautiful, desirable people. Our strict rules and natural selection process ensures all our members have winning looks. Those strict rules ban, among other things, saggy boobs, sweat patches, nerdy glasses and cackly laughs.

I mean, who has sweat patches on their Match profile pics? And no saggy boobs – I guess post-breastfeeding moms are no longer natural-selection-appropriate. EVEN THOUGH WE’RE THE ONES PROPAGATING THE SPECIES.

But I digress.

Salad Match – to help you find a date that likes the same salad toppings you do!

…which is ridiculously inefficient, since Chris and I are perfectly salad matched because of our opposite tastes. He gets all the croutons, bacon, and peppers, and I get all the tomatoes, olives, and onions. Salad Match would have never let us find each other!

So why shouldn’t Moms have a website where they can find compatible Mom Friends? And also girlfriends in general, for those who aren’t Moms?

There is no good reason. I am not going to be making this website, but there is still no good reason.

But here’s the thing. By the fact that all of you are reading my blog, you are, already, matched up by your twisted and kooky sense of humor. And you’re a little dark, too, as you apparently don’t mind all of my train wreck stories. I mean, how could you not be compatible with one another when you enjoy reading about someone else’s colonoscopy and multiple poo disasters?? Not to mention roadkill photography

Anyway. Between your already identified darkly entertained side and the fact that I’ve gotten to know so many of you over the years, I could totally match-make many of you – especially since some of you live in the same cities.

So I created a group.

I’ve been meaning to make a group for other reasons for a while, now – and actually I did make it last August and just never used it – and now I kind of feel like giving it a whirl. Both because I think that many of you would like each other very much, and because I have some stories I want to share that I don’t necessarily want sitting on the front page of my blog for all the crazy commenters out there to find. Or my Dad.

(Sorry, Dad – there are just some things you don’t want to read about.)

So here it is. A Facebook Group. (I know, I know…Facebook is the worst. But it’s kind of the best for groups.) So if you’d like to join, just click and request. I’ll approve you all (after I stalk you thoroughly to assure the group that you’re not an ax murderer or if you are that you only chop up non-bloggers or non-friends of bloggers,) and within the group we can discuss all sorts of fascinating subjects. I can answer questions easily, I can share stories I can’t share otherwise, and you can get to know each other. And maybe, I’ll even match a few of you up to your new best friends.

I can’t wait to get to know you all better! Click here to join…

Disclaimer: Due to the nature of the posts I plan on sharing, I highly recommend this group only for women. If any three of you loyal male readers want to sue me or just blast me in the comment section for sexist-group-creation, I get it. I’m an awful human. As a sincere apology gift, allow me to send you my very detailed 3,000 word post about the new way I’m dealing with my menstrual cycle, and after reading, you can decide whether or not you still care about being in the group. If so, come on in. 

It’s Not About the Journey: 30 Hiking Destinations around Birmingham

30 Birmingham Hiking Destinations

In the past seven days, my nine and five year old have hiked 15 miles with me – and this isn’t unusual for us. There were tears once, whining a few times, and EMERGENCY NEEDS TO PEE twice, but overall, they were excited, running ahead of me, and looking for adventure.

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The secret to this hiking glory is providing them with grand destinations. You’d think that the first time we made discoveries of cool finds would be the most exciting to them, but they much prefer returning to their lands of imagination after they’ve become acquainted with them and named them. I have to convince them to leave behind their known discoveries to chase after new ones.

“We’re going hiking today? Ooh can we go to Moss Rock and go to the Rock Desert and the Dome Rock and a waterfall? Or how about Ruffner Mountain and visit the quarry and the overlook??”

What I’ve learned from my kids is that hiking doesn’t just have to be about the journey – it can be about the multiple destinations along the way. Kids don’t always understand the beauty of the journey, but they totally get the concept of destination. And this isn’t just kids – the more I think about it, I’ve realized that I’m the exact same way, as are most adults. Let’s quit trying to make life about the journey and acknowledge that we as a human race really enjoy destinations.

Here are our current favorite destinations around Birmingham, sectioned off by location, and with notated maps to help you find them. I’ll try to be as succinct as possible because I have so many to share, but if you have questions about how to get to any of them, or questions about what the hikes entail, please feel free to ask in the comments section.

Red Mountain Park

1. The Forest-Attacked Train Tracks – well-hidden, but one of the most magical spots in Birmingham.

150207b Making Tracks at Red Mountain Park


2. The H Ruins (or as I refer to it, “One H of a Trail”) – this would be a fantastic family photo site if your family’s last name starts with H.


3. The cave that has air conditioning flowing out of it…and every now and then, a bat. Stick your face in this cave while walking by: the air feels fantastic in the middle of a run or hike, the bat, not so much.


(This actually did happen to me not long ago. The children were highly amused. The bat and I were not.)

4. Riley’s Roost – The Treehouse with the ruins. Although I love all the treehouses, this one is my kid’s favorite because they love to explore and pretend they’re archaeologists while I lay in the sun on the floor of the treehouse.

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5. Grace’s Gap – this is the furthest destination at Red Mountain – more suggested for adults or really good kid hikers. I think my kids have made it to Grace’s Gap once. But it’s definitely worth the walk if you’re not accompanied by whiners.


6. Goats – Red Mountain Park is currently using goats to clear land, and they just had babies. They’re delightful to visit and hear all of the dozens of varying-pitched bleats.


Map of where to find the above set of destinations (notated with yellow numbers corresponding above) – some points are approximate. (Note: The goat location changes as they clear land, so if they’re not where I said they are, keep looking. Also, if the map is too small to read, click on it.)

RMP Map-Kiosk


Moss Rock Preserve

7. The Rock Desert (Official Name: Sandstone Glade) – This place reminds me of a miniature version of Stone Mountain or Panola Mountain in Georgia. It’s a mostly bald rock face that has boulders to climb on and all sorts of entertainment for children. It also hosts a surprising variety of colorful spring flowers that pop out of the dirt buildup on the rock surface.

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8. Waterfalls – There are so many different waterfalls at Moss Rock, and my children adore them all.



150409 The Falls at Moss Rock




9. Dome Rock – This graffiti-covered natural rock dome is the best emo-kid photo backdrop ever.

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10. Crack Rock. Because who doesn’t want to climb into Crack Rock?


11. Hole Rock. Okay maybe our naming isn’t so great but the rocks are.

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12. Boulder Fields – this is a most fabulous place because all of the giant rocks are going uphill, so you can walk out onto the rocks and be extremely high up with no climbing required. A favorite of height-lovers of all sizes. Also, it’s .2 miles from the parking lot, so accessible even on a non-hiking day. We prefer it to be at the end of our loop – it’s the reward of a great hike.

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150303c Foggy Woods at Moss Rock Preserve

13. The Twisted Branch – it’s just where you need it to be for a quick hike break.


Map to Moss Rock Destinations:
Moss_Rock_PreserveNote: You can download an interactive map to use on your phone from CartoTracks for Moss Rock Preserve. There are so many different trails at Moss Rock and they run so close together that this map has helped me not get lost many times – it’s $4.95 and totally worth it.

Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve

14. The Quarry – my kids adore exploring, climbing, and discovering things inside the quarry. It’s full of spring flowers, dragonflies, and butterflies.

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15. The City Overlook – the coolest hiking destination to see Birmingham. The sunset in the winter months is just fantastic from here.



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16. The Quarry Overlook (Cambrian Overlook) – this lies between the city overlook and the quarry. If you just see quarry, you haven’t gotten to the really amazing overlook yet, but this one holds a charm of its own.

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17. The Old Rail Tunnel – one of our newest discoveries, this mystical tunnel only fits kids (unless you crawl.) Ali tells me there’s a stream and another trail on the other side, but I suspect it might be in Narnia.



There are also a couple of Geocache boxes in this tunnel, something my kids found extremely exciting.


18. The Old Ruins – there are many ruins at Ruffner (a lot of which we haven’t even found yet), but this one is especially accessible and feels adventurous to explore.


19. The Wildflower Bog (Wetlands Trail) – this trail has absolutely gorgeous fall flowers (there weren’t many in the spring – maybe they bloom later in the summer), and also has some rather rickety walkways around a few ponds. The ponds currently house dozens of giant tadpoles that are fun to watch.

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The easy way to get here is from the Eastern Trailhead (it’s the flattest hike at Ruffner Mountain), but if you come down from the main entrance, there’s also a nice overlook on the way, with a much-needed bench.

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Ruffner Map with Destinations notated in blue:


Note: You can access a free interactive Ruffner Map through Google Maps – just pull it up on your phone when you arrive, and the trails should show up. If that doesn’t work, click through from their website.

Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park

20. The Furnace Site – this is probably the easiest hike (really a walk) for new explorers, and has many thrilling facets to check out.



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21. The Waterwheel – this place holds so much charm, from its waterwheel, to the leaky chute going to the waterwheel, to the creek and waterfall next to it. It’s definitely a favorite.

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22. Bubbling Springs – this is a must-visit spot, preferably your last spot after a long hike. It’s a tiny pond over a spring that literally makes tiny bubbles in the water. No matter the time of year, the water is delightfully cold and oddly refreshing. Take your shoes off and soak for a minute – you won’t regret it.


Tannehill Map of Destinations:

Tannehill Trail Map With Points of Interest cropped copyTannehill Trail Map With Points of Interest cropped

Oak Mountain State Park

23. The Treehouse Trail – super easy for beginning hikers, this is a raised walkway trail with six or seven giant bird cages on it. There are owls and hawks and even an Albino Vulture. You can also often catch a trainer feeding the birds something tasty like dead rats.


The Treehouse trail is only about half a mile on its own, but empties out into another trail that can take you many different routes, including up to the nature center. It’s a beautiful trail by a tiny stream.


24. The Dam – about halfway around the lake trail, this is a great motivator for a longer hike (in full circle, the lake trail is 3.4 miles. Totally doable for kids, but not usually without a whine or two.) Having this cool view of the lake (and possibly being allowed to slide down the dam and play in the lake) usually buys you a little time.



25. Peavine Falls – this hike starts out as a wide trail with a gentle downhill grade,

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but before you know it, you’re sliding on your butt down boulders while holding onto roots to get down. Oddly, though, it’s much easier on the way back up.

But the reward is this:

160206-PeavineThe water flow varies tremendously. We’ve been there when it was only a trickle. So if that’s going to disappoint you, make sure you go after a good rainfall.

26. The Old Lake at the Cabins – Okay this isn’t a hike-to destination and I don’t think you’re supposed to go to this lake unless you’re staying at the cabins. But if you happen to be there at sunset and you can be unobtrusive and undisturbing to the cabin dwellers, you must tiptoe out onto the pier and catch a picture.

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27. King’s Chair – only for the determined child but definitely a worthwhile hike for adults, King’s Chair is a glorious sight. It’s exactly two miles up from the trailhead, but those two miles are definitely UP. But this is why you go:


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I’ve only taken one kid up there so far, and it wasn’t one of my own, but she bravely hiked up the mountain.

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Oak Mountain’s online map isn’t high enough resolution to be able to share the locations, but all of the above are easily findable on their trail map. I highly recommend buying a paper copy at the gate for $1. If you can’t find one of the above destinations, please ask me!

Vulcan Trail

This trail is only a mile long and it’s completely flat. You wouldn’t think it’d have that much room to be super interesting, but it is. It’s a great trail for a quick walk on a pretty afternoon. Since there’s only one walkway, I don’t have a map to provide the location of the points of interest. But you can’t miss them.


28. The Graffiti Thing – I have no idea what kind of ruins this is, but my kids always want to climb on it. There’s an abundance of graffiti tags on the trail – it makes for a fun scavenger hunt.

29. The Stairs Leading to the City -It’s pretty cool. One out of two kids agree.

30. The Overhanging Tree – It’s the luckiest tree in the city. And well worth a stop to admire.


We have so many more great treasures around Birmingham to discover, but now you’re prepared with 30 great places to track down. So get out there and hike, and enjoy the destination.

Questions? Suggestions? Destinations? Leave them in the comments!!

Other posts you might enjoy:

35 Things to Do in Birmingham
10 Best Hikes and Runs in Birmingham
Birmingham’s Best Sunset Views

The Fight Against Clutter.

Editor’s Note: I acknowledge that this post is way too long. I apologize profusely for my inability to break it into smaller posts. However, as a token of my sorrow, I offer you loads of pictures of the mess that my life was/is. May you take comfort in that.

I could never put “Homemaker” on my resume.

At an extended family Dirty Santa party this past Christmas, I opened up a gift that contained canning jars, a “Pickles and Jams” recipe book, and various other jelly and jam making accoutrements.

My dad started laughing.


“I’m just laughing because you’re so domesticated and all.”

I defended my level of domesticity vehemently, but to some degree, he’s right.

I can cook (maybe even quite well), but don’t very often.

I can organize my house, but choose not to make that a priority.

I CANNOT garden.

I CANNOT decorate.

And those canning jars and books are still in the gift bag piled in an extremely messy closet.

(They’ll be really useful in about nine months. When it’s time to find new Dirty Santa gifts.)

With regards to my lack of home organization, though, it bugs me. Things pile up VERY badly around here. I’m not a hoarder – I just struggle to make time to throw away. And when I get busy, decluttering is the first thing to get left behind.

(And I’ve been busy for about…nine years.)

The two areas that annoyed me the most were the kid’s (okay Noah’s) play area in the living room (I despised looking at the mountains of chaotically stacked toys every night after they went to bed),


and my office.


I know. My office is horrendous. From it, I run all the books/HR for a small business, plus I run Picture Birmingham, blog, homeschool, do all of our personal finances, and it was the home for all my shoes and crafting stuff.

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But besides that, I actually hadn’t even used my office for anything but storage since the wreck – I’d moved the work necessities to our bedroom so I could work from bed since I couldn’t sit with my legs not elevated. So really, the office had just become a dumping ground.


Although these two areas were by far not the only and possibly not the worst areas in our house (I’m looking at you, basement), they were the ones for which I desperately needed a plan.

Around the time these two areas started to annoy me the most, my dear friend Jamie posted on Facebook that she was having home organization help from a mutual internet friend, Tara. I had no idea Tara had such a magical occupation, and immediately began stalking her business. Within a week, I had her out to my house, and she literally opened every drawer, every cabinet, and every closet in my house, then took pictures of the worst of them.

(But only after I made her sign an affidavit stating that she wasn’t one of those neat freaks that assigns moral judgment to the non-neat. Because I’ve met those people. And they make me feel like Refried Roadkill.)

(Tara told me that she believed that everyone had different strengths, and just because organization and neatness weren’t mine, I had plenty of other strengths, and then she made a long list of said strengths.)

(Then I virtually kissed her.)

A week after her intimate encounter with my house, I texted Tara and said, “Um, by the way…I have a bonus question for you. You know my office? The crazy messy one with all the different stuff going on in it? Yeah. So we’re adding a person to our household and I need you to turn it into a bedroom.”

…Because one of our dearest friends, travel companion, and babysitter, Sarah, needed a place to live for a while, and we were absolutely delighted with the opportunity to add her to our family.

IMG_6640Those extra two kids are AJ and Tessa because this picture is from last summer’s beach trip. We’re not adding AJ and Tessa to our family, but if we could, my children’s lives would be complete.

A day later, Tara sent me a report, including a plan to turn my dumping ground into a bedroom.



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…With links to what she wanted me to buy. And descriptions of how to rearrange my rooms. And promises to help me do all of this.

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And her pricing was about 10% of what I thought this sort of Fairy Housemother Magic would cost.

I devoured her report, clicked through those links so many times, and began feverishly trying to accomplish some the things she had suggested before she came out to *really* help me get things done.

Step One: First pass-through cleaning out the office – trash and sell as much as possible.

This represents $200 worth of random crap I found in my office and sold on eBay. Textbooks, Diaper Genie Refills, and more.


After Day One of working by myself, my office went from this:


To this:


A lot still to go, but the progress felt good.

Step Two: Move living room furniture and PURGE KID’S TOYS.

The kid’s loved this part, because they found all sorts of lost treasures under where the couch had been.


…Such as that half-eaten Ring Pop for which they’d been looking for so long.


The decluttering of their toys took a bit longer.


Tara had been very specific about what type of organization containers she wanted me to use, and OF COURSE the only place you could buy them in town was my favorite (nightmare) – Wal-Mart.

So the children and I had spent a harrowing 45 minutes in Wal-Mart matching lids to bins and I swore that I’d find them online – higher prices who cares – from then on.

The benefit of using all of these new containers, though, is that I got all my kitchen bowls back. The kids and their father had been stealing them for various Lego projects for years.


My pile of now-emptied containers only grew, as did my pile of garbage bags.



Oh, the shelves.

These were specific shelving/storage units that Tara wanted in my living room (she recommends them for most people because they’re fantastic.) The idea is that all of our books would be in one place, and ALL children’s downstairs toys must end up in the closed cabinets at the end of each day – or they go to Mommy Jail.

(The toys, not the children.)


I decided I would be a nice wife and attempt to build the shelves during the day so that my poor husband didn’t have to come home from work to build three giant shelving units.

I began the first shelf at 9am and I sent my first SOS text to my dad at 9:02am after opening up the boxes and seeing these bags of hardware.



(That’s all for ONE of the three shelves.)

My Dad said he would stop by in a while, but in the meantime I gathered my feminine courage and set out on my own. Despite the 50,678 screws, the instruction novel specifically said no power tools. So I found a screwdriver and began sorting and attaching all the things.


I made it all the way to step five before making my one and only mistake, but made it all the way to step seven before I realized I had assembled step five backwards.

It also took me ten minutes of staring at it to figure out exactly where I’d gone wrong. And then I dropped the heaviest piece on my leg, giving me a gorgeous knot and bruise that I still possess.

The next step had this note on it, which I believe was supposed to be encouraging but at the moment was quite the opposite.

IMG_7113A DAY?! I have two more units to build!!

By the time my Dad arrived at noon, I had the basic structure assembled, and needed a big strong man to turn the whole shelving unit over so I could assemble the back, then turn it back over so I could finish the front. Which is exactly the services he offered me – that and asking me WHY I WASN’T USING AN ELECTRIC SCREWDRIVER and pointing out that I really needed him to take a few pictures of me BUILDING THINGS.


(Maybe his opinion of my domestication grew seven times that day.)

Dad left and I continued assembling.

After four hours and fifty minutes, I had completed the first unit.


My fingertips were purple and my hands were bright pink, and although pride coursed through my soul, I swore I’d never put together another shelf in my life.


I had to leave the house to go to my last(!!!) Physical Therapy appointment (visit #44, in case you’re wondering), and by the time I graduated from PT (yes, they sang the graduation song as I marched out of the clinic), I was empowered to build more shelves.

Because it’s MANIC 2016.

So I went straight home and began shelf #2.


I had a little help this time…


For approximately two turns of the screwdriver before he declared it too hard.


But because my shelving timing was apparently perfect, Chris walked in the door from work at the exact moment that I needed unit #2 flipped over.



Shelf number two only took two hours and forty-five minutes – I was thinking I should go pro at that point.

For shelf three, I told Chris my hands couldn’t take any more pain. I would be the brains – after all I knew how ALL this should go – and he could be my muscle.

So he went and got the electric screwdriver. Of course.

And I told him what to do and how.

This lasted for about half of the shelf, and lemme tell you it was fun to tell my structural-steel-drawing engineer husband how to construct something, but then it was time for the kids to get to bed and so I took back the shelves so he could read bedtime stories.

Coming in at two hours and twenty-five minutes, the third shelves were built. Tallying up to a grand total of nine hours and fifty minutes, and spanning from 9am to 10:30pm (with PT and a couple breaks built in.)



Step Four: Build Smaller Entertainment Center.

We’ve had our lovely television armoire for about fourteen years, and although we adored it, it was crowding our living room. Tara suggested a much smaller unit. After building three shelving units, this was a yawn for me. Because I’m a professional.

TV Before After

Step Five: Giant Work Day with Tara.

Tara brought a helper and our goal for the morning was to get my office completely ready for Sarah to move in. And we did just that.

This included lots of shredding and throwing crap away,


lots of donations,


Hanging pictures while standing on safe and steady furniture,


And busying children with putting books in rainbow order.



(I enjoyed adding special touch shelves, such as this one, featuring Twitter signs from my sweet friend Katherine and a special purchase from Moist,)


(And this one, featuring our favorite band and handwritten lyrics from them to our favorite song.)


By the end of the day, my office was no longer an office.

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AND my living room was a beautiful, cozy new space.

Living Room Before After

So. Sarah has moved in a week ago (my children are gleefully happy, as are Chris and I, to add her to our family for a while), I’m LOVING the progress in my house, the kids are doing fairly well keeping their toys out of Mommy Jail, and I’m trying to not screw it all up by allowing things to stack up.

I still have about 60% of Tara’s report to put into place, and I and hope to have her out about once a month for a while to force me to get it all done.

…But I still don’t plan on making any pickles or jams.