Alabama, The Hunger Games Arena.

For the first time in my life, it has recently been pointed out to me that Alabama is an unsafe place to live. And also for the second time in my life, less than a month later.

I really had no idea. I was in denial. It’s so beautiful…It has to be perfect! All places have these things…right??

The first time it was pointed out, it was by a brand new Alabama resident who grabbed my arm and said with a horrified voice, “Someone told me there were VENOMOUS SNAKES here. That’s not true, is it??”

“Well yeah, sure. We mostly have Copperheads and Rattlesnakes and Cottonmouths, all of which I’ve seen in the last year. There are some others too, I think. But it’s not a big deal.”

She gasped in horror and said, “THEN DOES THAT MEAN THAT THE SCORPIONS ARE TRUE, TOO??”

“Sure, I mean, I’ve seen two in my life, but yeah – we have scorpions.”

I was confused. Didn’t all of America have the same basic set of “Nature to Avoid”?

I moved on. Until I wrote my boob/Cottonmouth post a couple of weeks ago and one of my blog readers came ALL UNDONE.

(Bethany. You know you did.)

She went on and on about how in her state, they don’t deal with wildlife, and this is just BIZARRE, and how is it that everyone in the Horror-Filled State of Alabama doesn’t band together to fight against the treachery of our nature??

Again. I was stumped. I don’t find my state treacherous. I’ve lived here all my life and have never thought any of it was unusual.

But then I began making a list.

We have venomous snakes and spiders (some even like to bite the nether regions of toddlers.) Mosquitoes. Horse flies and the angry Yellow Fly down south. Chiggers (okay they’re the worst.) Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac, plants that regularly tried to ruin my summers as an awkward middle schooler. Lots of fire ants. The dreaded Cow Ant. Bees. Wasps. Hornets. Yellowjackets. Dirt Daubers. Ticks. Snapping Turtles. Flying cockroaches. Stinging Ladybugs. Poisonous Caterpillars that send the strongest of grandmothers to the ER. Bats that cause confusion and delay. Tornadoes. Hurricanes down south. Triple digit heat. Alligators down south but slowly encroaching north. Coyotes. Armadillos that can do a NUMBER to a car tire if you hit one.

(I actually have no factual evidence regarding that last statement but their armor does seem intense.)

Alabama even had a bear run out in front of a car recently, totaling the car and killing the bear.

(My kids were fascinated by this story and said “ARE THERE PICTURES??” I responded with “Y’all don’t need to see a picture of a dead bear.” Ali’s face clouded over with disappointment and said, “Oh. So there’s not a picture of the bear actually getting whacked by the car?”)

(Clearly they’re as deranged as their mother.)

But I digress. After I made The Alabama Danger List, it did seem like a lot.

Maybe Bethany was right.

Maybe Alabama was The Hunger Games.

And maybe, just maybe, I was Katniss. I mean I do hike around with a giant (camera) backpack and a side braid, all the while with sweat dripping off of me from the inhumane heat.

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And aside from the occasional tick and regular mosquito bite, I do a good job of winding my way through the perils of my surroundings, despite my constant outdoorsiness.

(Okay but I did suffer an impressive allergic reaction while I was in Mexico – to a wasp sting that I had received the week before near home. I thought surely I had contracted the Zika Virus. But nope. Just the results of Alabama Wildlife following me out of the country.)

But overall, I am a pretty DANG GOOD Tribute.

However. As soon as I began making this list of vile dangers that I so expertly avoid, The Gamemakers at the Capitol felt it best to throw me a few unexpected challenges.

First there was runch on Thursday with my friend Tanya. We run, then we get a smoothie. It’s what we do.

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On last week’s particular run, we each ordered the Strawberry-Peach Smoothie from our favorite local smoothie maker. And then, two hours later, were both simultaneously and violently overcome with food poisoning.

Oh, the gut pain. It reached all the way up to my boobs. And lasted. And lasted. And lasted.

Clearly we must have been slipped Nightlock in our smoothies. It’s the only explanation.

But I am an AMAZING Tribute. And I recovered. Just in time to go away, out into nature, for my annual small group girl’s retreat.

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We left 30 out of 32 of our children at home with the daddies. So of course, it seemed only right that on Saturday, I should lead a hike on a trail I had never taken. There would be no whining! No “I need to potty”s! No “I’m tooo hooooooot”s!!

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The State Park office warned us that it would be treacherous, but we knew we could handle it. And handle it we did.

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We climbed that boulderous trail with grace and Woman Power, all while having deep and completely unladylike conversations.

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We. Were. Amazing.

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After our hike, three of us wanted to go on a trail run. We took the trail that the State Park rep had suggested as the “better choice” for running.

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It was lovely, but not easy. The trail was not smooth, and had generous amounts of curves and hills and roots and branches and boulders and low trees.

A mile into our run and just a few minutes after telling my friends about Tanya’s very true blog post that runners can’t just become trail runners because trail running is freaking hard, an angry root caught my shoe, tore a hole through it, curled its tentacles around the inside of my shoe, and turned me into an involuntary missile.

I propelled forward, nearly caught myself, but then a boulder said nope.

I flailed forward again, this time headed straight for a broken face against three more boulders who were itching for a human sacrifice, but I threw out my left hand just in time.

I saved face, but not elbow.

I landed, in a wash of pain, knowing I had just ended our delightful trail run with some sort of wretched injury.

And then I began to pass out.

Nurse friend Lydia took my dropping pulse and made me sit, then tried to lift my feet up over my head as I screamed at her as to why she thought this was a good idea.

She’s a pretty DANG GOOD Tribute as well, because she crafted me a sling out of the long-sleeved(?!?!) shirt she had been wearing around her waist to cover the backside of her leggings-as-pants. I might’ve thought her modesty was silly, but I did appreciate the sling. So tip: always have a modest friend in the Arena with you.

I stood up again, then went right back to passing out.

After a minute of sitting, I decided. it was only a mile back. I could power through this.

I stood up again, began to walk, and Lydia decided from my paling face that she’d leave me with Ashley to go “get help.” I wasn’t sure what that meant but didn’t care because I was passing out again. I reasoned that the only way through this was through it and kept walking, and I am here to testify – that is sound medical decision making. The passing out faded, and I slowly made the mile trek back, trying desperately to ignore the pain of every wiggle in my arm.

The hurt began fading as we marched on, taking orange then red then blue then boardwalk trails, carefully retracing our steps.

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As we approached the last trail, Lydia met us with water, an apple, a blood pressure cuff, more of our friends, and a state park official, who was pleasantly surprised that I’d done the hard work of removing myself from a mile of woods without his help.

He filed an “incident report”, taking my name and address and driver’s license number, while I nervously asked if I was getting banned from state parks and begged him not to prohibit trail running because half my friends would hate me. He told me to go to the ER and I nodded promisingly.

He left, and Lydia asked, “What’s the plan?”

I said, “Let’s go back to the house and chill.”

After all, it’s just an arm. There are way worse things to be without. It is my left arm and I’m left-handed, but still. Just an arm.

(I did get a phone consult from my Miracle Max Physical Therapist and a text consult from our shared Pediatrician, and they agreed that I’d probably live without an ER visit.)

(I did indeed live but also totally got stuck in my sports bra for about 20 minutes, but because I’m a DANG GOOD TRIBUTE, I fought that sports bra and I WON.)

We came home on Sunday, so I made a stop by Urgent Care. Turns out, my elbow, although swollen and oddly shaped, was not broken. But my index finger, which I didn’t even realize was hurt until hours after the fall, was indeed broken.

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(Luckily I typed most of this post the night before. Broken fingers are WAY easier to type with than metal splints.)

(Apparently my high threshold for pain is detrimental to my health.)

But I can now add two new treacheries to the long list of Alabama Hunger Games Hazards.

Venomous snakes and spiders. Mosquitoes. Horse flies and Yellow Flies. Chiggers. Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac. Lots of fire ants. The dreaded Cow Ant. Bees. Wasps. Hornets. Yellowjackets. Dirt Daubers. Ticks. Snapping Turtles. Flying cockroaches. Stinging Ladybugs. Poisonous Caterpillars. Bats. Tornadoes. Hurricanes. Alligators. Coyotes. Armadillos. Post-Running Smoothies. And Shoe-Trapping Roots.

How many of these things do you have in your area? Surely we all equally live in The Hunger Games. Right?

The Lilies, the Snakes, and the Misplaced Boob.

It was time for a new adventure. And I wanted to see firsthand, for the first time in my life, The Cahaba Lily.

It’s a famed flower in our area, being very rare, quite endangered, and living in sparse, hard-to-access clumps along the Cahaba River, which is a relatively tiny waterway that winds itself through nearly every suburb of south Birmingham.

So I needed to experience the Lilies for myself. And with my camera. And why not – with my children. So I asked my group of adventurous friends if anyone would like to join us, warning them that this adventure would be in completely uncharted territory and so it was not for the faint of heart or diaper.

The only takers, out of the 20 or so in the group, were my sister-in-law Lindsay with her three kids and Not-Crazy-Renee – but only with her oldest kid this time.

I had a friend, Leigh, who regularly visited these elusive Lilies, who gave me directions on how to get there, including such fantastic advice like “Wear good shoes and watch for snakes…you’ll have to jump over a creek bed…go UNDER the train trestle.”

Sound words.

So we parked in the lot behind the Bar-B-Q place, as prescribed, and set off for adventure.

The first challenge was the “jump over the creek bed.” Either Leigh has Amazonian legs or the last time she went out there it had been during a drought. There was no way us adult ladies were jumping over, let alone our six small companions.

So most of us decided to de-shoe to cross, with a couple others opted for the risk of wet shoes. We got over, re-shoed, and continued our journey. Up the hill,

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under the trestle,

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up a little further,

Hiking-to-Lilies2and there they were.

The magnificent Cahaba Lilies.

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They were bigger than I expected and there were more of them than my companions expected. We were all breathless in wonder of their bright, shining beauty.

It took no time for us to find a way down to the creek, and the kids began re-de-shoeing (in order of bravery) and wading into the creek rapids while I took pictures.

And while Renee found another rock to sit on and said,

“Um. Hey Rachel? There’s a BOOB on my rock.”

I looked over. She was messing with something.

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She moved out of the way and I grabbed my zoom lens and focused on the…boob?

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HOLY CRAP IT WAS A BOOB.

The kids noticed the commotion.

Ali asked, “What’s that?”

I asked, “Is it hollow or solid?”

Noah asked, “Hey miss Renee will you go get me that big shell on that rock? IT’S GIGANTIC!!”

Renee said, “Ummmm Rachel? What do you want me to do here?”

I didn’t know what the right thing to be done was but I had to examine the misplaced prosthetic. Lindsay and I scrambled over.

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“How did it get lost?”

“My guess is a capsized kayak incident. The cutlet just slipped out.”

“That poor lady!”

“I wonder why it’s so wrinkly…”

“I think it’s just because it’s laying down. I bet if we pick it up…”

Lindsay and Renee both grabbed that breast at once. I grabbed my camera.

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This was a bonding moment between the two of them that could never be forgotten. But the hypothesis was right. What a perfect (albeit a bit muddy) boob, when held aright.

So we let the boob live its life and sat around it to take pictures of our children.

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And they were fully photogenic, exploring the waters, looking at the flowers but NEVER touching (thank goodness for Wild Kratts drilling into their heads the severity of “endangered”), smelling the flowers, looking for real shells, and in general living The Good Life.

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A  train even went by, loudly making the day even grander.

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I took plenty of pictures of the Lilies from a distance, but I was aching to get out there. I spent half an hour weighing the risk of tip-toeing out with my massively pricy camera, and finally decided that with Eli’s agility on my team, I could do it. So I called in our most in-tune-with-nature cousin and asked him to hold my hand out to the lilies.

Every rock was covered with tiny shell creatures that felt like I was walking on a bed of nails. And I have terrible balance. But I made it out to the stream to get the pictures I’d craved.

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While I was shooting, Lindsay took a picture of me and sent it to my husband. It took his second look to notice the artistically endowed foreground.

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Meanwhile, some of our children had ventured fairly far upstream and out of earshot. Renee was worried about them, so she’d gone back up trail to check. After I managed to wade back to shore, I joined her.

Four kids were out on a rock in the stream, and Renee and our youngest cousin, Andi, were on the shore.

Andi had just quite nonchalantly said to the other kids, “We found a snake, guys.”

Renee assumed she was trying to freak the other kids out because she was standing next to Andi and had certainly not found a snake. “Andi, we didn’t find a snake!”

“Well. We found a snake BODY, anyway!” She pointed right where Renee was standing.

There was a fairly large adult snake wrapped in piles over a patch of brush.

Renee came and got me. “Hey Rachel? Andi just found a snake down here. I think it’s a Copperhead. Can you come see?”

“Sure! I follow a snake guy on Twitter. I should be able to tell!”

I went down and examined. “Oh. I think that’s a banded watersnake. Definitely not a copperhead. Harmless! But I’ll take a picture and ask my snake guy.”

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I was feeling just swell about myself, diffusing danger and fear like that, and I began taking pictures of the two kids remaining on the rock, Tessa and Loulie. (Ali and Eli had wandered in the water in front of it looking for neon crawfish.)

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They were staring at the clear waters, when one of them yelled, “A snake!!!”

Renee, clearly tired of snake calls, said, “Where? Are you SURE?”

I lowered my camera and looked out in the water. There was a tiny bright orange snake swiftly swimming toward Ali and Eli – with its back arched and its head out of the water and its mouth wide open, angrily showing the white insides of its mouth.

“Oh now THAT is a cottonmouth. Ali and Eli!! GET OUT OF THE WATER!!”

The girls on the rock began freaking the freak out, and Ali and Eli began trying to run on the shelly bottom. Chaos ensued. As Ali scrambled out first, Eli yelled, “We’re supposed to stay together!!!”, and the girls on the rock were LOSING THEIR MINDS.

At one point in our attempt to calm them, I remember yelling over at Loulie, “YOU HAVE A PET SNAKE! Why are YOU freaking out?!” Because I believe in child-shaming, apparently.

The two in-the-water kids were safe, and now it was time to address the two marooned children. Or we could leave them. I mean, they were relatively safe up on the ROCK THE VENOMOUS SNAKE CAME OUT FROM UNDER, as I discovered later when I was editing photos.

SnakeRockLook below the rock right between the two girls.

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This is when it’s good to have a Not-Crazy-Renee in your life.

She looked at me with a determined expression and said, “I’m going to get Loulie. You watch my path and let me know if you see the snake again.”

“So you’re just gonna LEAVE Tessa?” (I’m such an encouraging friend.)

“No. But I can only get one girl at a time. I’ll go back for her.”

(Meanwhile, Lindsay was staying very quiet on the trail with the four children we had left. She would be happy to pray for Renee while she rescued their children. Prayer is powerful, y’all.)

Renee got in the water.

Eli yelled from the trail, “A SNAAAAAAKE!”

Renee yelled up at him, “NOBODY say ANYTHING about a SNAKE unless you SEE one at my FEET!!!!

She was in full yoga pants and tennishoes. Surely that would help her rescue the children. Yoga pants are powerful, y’all.

Right as she stepped on a large, flat rock, I remembered that was the very rock I’d see the cottonmouth swim under when it disappeared from view.

I felt this wasn’t the best time to tell her that, and just watched her feet even harder.

She got to Loulie and commanded, “Okay. I am going to GET YOU OFF of this ROCK, and then I am going to PUT YOU IN THE WATER, and we are going to WALK BACK and you are NOT GOING TO FREAK OUT. GOT IT?!!?”

Her voice was impressive – she could lead infantries with it. Loulie obeyed perfectly. They scampered back to shore.

Then she went back for Tessa.

This time I had the forethought to warn her before she stepped on the snake rock.

She looked at me icily. “You let me step on that rock the first time!”

“It was too late. I didn’t want to tell you while you were already there.”

“Good choice.”

She grabbed Tessa and hurried back to shore.

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I said goodbye to my beautiful banded watersnake with one last close-up picture, then I scampered up to the trail.

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Oh – and later when I checked Twitter…I found out that sleepy, docile, large banded watersnake I’d gotten so up close and personal with? Was also a cottonmouth.

Thankfully, my snake expert @AlongsideWild also sent me a blog post he’d written discounting everything else we read on the internet that day about the extreme aggressiveness of Cottonmouths. They act aggressive, but they really don’t want to bite us.

They’re just a sorely misunderstood snake with anger issues. That’s all.

We emerged from our adventure, amazed that we’d only traversed a third of a mile from civilization – we were sure we’d slipped through a wormhole or out the back of a wardrobe or into a tardis.

As we sat at the playground reminiscing about our day while listening to our children speaking in excited tones to every other kid they could find, we marveled at how the books were actually right. Having an actual adventure is FANTASTIC. And exhilarating and every bit as good as reading a well-written piece of literature. Even with the peril that must also be present to make it an adventure.

We, as well as our children, were over the moon about our travels.

But this post isn’t about snakes. Or lilies or children or even grand adventure.

This post is about The Boob.

And there is nothing more that I want right now in the whole entire world than to see that lonely boob reunited with its rightful chest.

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So please, spread the word. Spread it far and wide. Spread it until we find the prosthetic totin’ kayak rowin’ adventurous women that just happened to capsize somewhere near the Cahaba Lilies on Buck Creek so that we can let her know that her boob is there waiting on her. And that it is enjoying the flowers until they return.


Editor’s Bonus: A research collaboration piece from later that afternoon:

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Finishing by the Skin of my Teeth.

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We. Have finished.

Like the Loaves and the Fishes, God somehow multiplied our days and we got in not the 165 required minimum, and not the 175 recommended, but 176 school days. One hundred seventy-six days of school since I took this picture.

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Despite the wreck.

Despite spending a full week and the better part of a month in bed.

Despite 44 trips to the Physical Therapist.

All of the good in this school year is owed to Ali’s ridiculous sense of responsibility, which translated into her deciding she’d get up early every day and try and finish as much school as she could before I even got out of bed. She’s the teacher’s pet for sure.

Noah’s 4K education might not have been as stellar as it could have been, but I’m not too sad at what we accomplished. He can do basic addition and subtraction, and miraculously, the kid is actually learning how to read – despite how adamantly it goes against his belief system.

But, because pictures are more fun than words, before I continue, let’s look at a few more before-and-afters. Because they make me happy. And maybe at least one or two of you happy, too. (I’m looking at you, grandparents.)

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That last picture may disprove my statement of “Noah is beginning to read” but I swear he does know how to tell whether letters are upside down or not. I think.

And yes, in other news, Ali went from being a kid to a tween this year. For sure. (And I never blogged about her getting braces? Yeah I missed that somehow.)

But at any rate, these students are ready for summer. And so is their teacher.

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Despite us getting in our recommended number of days plus one (an extra day is like a piece of flair in the homeschool world) AND our registrar emailing me back to congratulate me on being the FIRST mom to get ALL my paperwork filed for the school year,

I kinda bombed as a teacher this year.

I mean, it’s not totally my fault and I shan’t take the blame for it. But even after the recovery, I never could get back in control of my organization. My school records that I so lovingly keep? Uh, yeah. I think that stopped around October. Science Experiments? Not a one. Fun craft projects? Zero.

I get a D- in Fun for the two-turd-fifteen school year.

But because of that, I’m obsessively determined that next year is going to be AWESOME. And so, three days before the last day of school, I was organizing and researching and making decisions and ordering textbooks and creating my own hands-on Alabama History curriculum and….

Y’all really might want to consider getting me committed for a psych eval. I think I’m manic. I’m certainly not myself.

 

(No but really I’m super excited about my Alabama History plan. Ali is fascinated by Birmingham and Alabama history, and I don’t want to kill her interest by shoving a terrible textbook at her. If anyone else really hates the awful and sparse Alabama History textbooks, comment and let me know. If there’s enough interest, I’ll share my plans later in the summer, and perhaps blog them separately throughout the school year. So far, the plan includes a vast number of field trips, a good number of library books, historical photo books, biographies, and interviewing some of our older friends and family to see what Alabama was like while they were growing up. And also we’re studying Botany for Science, so that our hikes can serve as history and science outings since most of our hiking destinations are at old iron mining sites. I told you I’m manic.)

Anyway.

Friday was the last day of school, and as such, we planned a family celebration and secret family meeting for that evening.

We ate at one of the kid’s favorite restaurants, La Paz, then guided them out to the ever mysterious and magical clock tower in front of the restaurant.

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…It wasn’t that creepy outside when we had our meeting – but it was slightly raining.

 

We had prepared a two page secret meeting agenda: “Rules of Summer” and “Summer Fun” sheets to inform the children of all that the summer would contain.

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Chris and I took turns making their eyes light up,

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And hands scramble to write down events in their planner.

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They were even excited to hear about the rules of summer, because although we’d been telling them that we were going to have an iPadless summer like last year, we changed our minds at the last minute and decided that they could have limited iPad time during quiet time so that I could actually have time to write and work and stuff without (maybe) Noah constantly begging me to play with him.

As the last item on the agenda, we set them to work making their Summer Wish Lists – what would you like to do this summer?

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(Thankfully neither of them is smart enough to request a trip to Europe, but we did decline a request for a trip to Disney World.)

…And then we went to get FroYo. Because that’s what one does after a Secret Family Meeting under the Clock Tower.

Hallelujah for Summer.