Moms Need Retreats.

A couple of months ago, my husband gave me an assignment. He demanded that I plan a trip for the moms in our small group. He also made the suggestion that changed everything.

“Pick a date. You’re going no matter what. And whoever can join you, great.”

…Because we’ve tried this before, and it’s never worked. At least once a year, all of us mothers start talking about how very much we need to get away, and dream about a beach trip. Or a mountain trip. Or whatever, as long as no one is asking us to wipe their butt or pour their juice or fix their Lego creation for the fifth time in five minutes.

(Because we love our children. Very much. And to be able to love one’s children very much, one must escape from said children. Regularly.)

But anyway. Every other time we start planning, we start by suggesting weekends until we run out of weekends, and never is there ever a weekend that we’re all available. So Chris’ suggestion of “If this is just you, great. If it’s everyone, great. Just plan it and see who can come” was brilliant.

And it totally worked. Because six out of nine of the moms were able to make it work.

IMG_3350l-r: Kristin, me, Nikki, Kelly, Anne, and Ashley.

See these happy shiny faces? These Mommies are all loving their kids better this week – because they left for the weekend.

(We were super sad that the other three moms couldn’t go, but as soon as I got back, Chris told me he’d “obligated” me that morning at church to plan a make-up trip for the others, and for any other moms who wanted/needed a repeat.)

I headed north early on Friday so that I could get us set up in our rental house and get a run in before our weekend of laziness kicked in. But it rained on me all the way, so I felt magnetically drawn to stop at Noccalula Falls in Gadsden on the way up – to see what it looked like at overflow levels.

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For comparison, this was the same waterfall last August:

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It was totally worth getting my feet sloshy-wet to see.

It was still raining when I arrived at our destination, Gorham’s Bluff, and the moisture made the view of Lake Guntersville eerily steamy.

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I ran while I waited on the other moms to arrive, and managed to scare a herd of deer and a rabbit with my apparently intimidating presence (either that or they don’t approve of leggings as pants, either.)

I highly enjoyed the beautiful views,

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which was good, because as soon as it quit raining, everything became completely enshrouded in fog. The valley was white nothingness, and the lodge immediately looked like the setting for a murder mystery, just like the first time Chris and I visited.

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When the other moms arrived, they didn’t even believe me that there was a valley beneath the clouds. We spent the evening chatting and doing nothing, just as all moms dream of doing every evening.

The next morning, the fog was still there, and they still doubted my stories of views and valleys. We biked and walked around the property, disappearing and reappearing in the fog, all feeling very much like we had just entered into a Hollywood thriller, and we were going to start being picked off one by one any minute.

Foggy Bicycle Riding

It was deliciously exciting.

Bicycling into the fog

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Then, right as we were about to leave for a small road trip (literally – I was driving away), the fog lifted. Everyone jumped out of my car and eagerly ran to the edge of the ridge to see what was below.

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And they believed me at last. Redemption felt fantastic.

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Then we continued on. They had all read my stories of Unclaimed Baggage, and wanted to experience it for themselves. And let me tell you – six moms loose in that store with no kids nagging to leave is a mighty force.

Besides almost all of us finding things we actually bought and loved, we also discovered some very special garments.

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The review happening here was, “Eight dollars for the best night of my life? Yes ma’am!”

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We texted pictures to our husbands, knowing full well we were making their weirdest dreams come true.

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And then we found the shoes.

Oh, the shoes that people pack to fly on a plane. WHERE are these people going? HOW do they have such good balance? And WHAT do they do to make it through security without their footwear being declared a weapon?

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It took Ashley a full five minutes to get into these shoes, and she could not let go of the rack, but the effect was totally worth it.

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Nikki’s were an iridescent purple/green magical color-changing shoe – totally meant to be worn in a production of Wicked.

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And when Kristin, the tallest member of our group, put on her selected pair,

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We knew it was time for a photo op with Ashley, the shortest member of the group.

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Because it was the Mommy version of Shaq and Kevin Hart.

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We went back to Gorham’s Bluff and soaked in the majesty of our surroundings.

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We found their waterfall,

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The Old Lady Arm Tree,

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And the best place to hang off the mountain and watch the storms in the distance.

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…which is when Kelly and Kristin spotted it.

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A blue van in the bottom of the ravine.

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We all clamored to the edge to get a better view, all while postulating wildly about how it arrived at its destination.

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Was it a high school kid’s prank?

Someone who got lost in the fog?

A victim of the North Alabama Mafia?

WHAT. HAPPENED.

I of all people cannot let a mystery lie, so I asked the innkeeper later, after one of our beautiful meals.

She said, “A blue van? We don’t know about a blue van. There’s a really old car somewhere else down there…but it’s not a blue van. I guess I’ll be needing to call the Sheriff’s department…”

My eyes widened. I schemed as to how I could stay indefinitely at the fog-covered inn to write my first True Crime novel. Or if I could rappel off the mountain and discover the secrets for myself.

The other moms peacefully wiled away the afternoon reading, gazing, and talking, while my brain paced back and forth in my head, trying to solve The Mystery of The Blue Van.

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Which I didn’t do. Yet. But you better believe I returned to the scene of the crime at sunset – just to make sure nothing had changed.

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On Sunday before I left, I took a final bike ride, and I made a last round of photography before I left,

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and then I drove back home, back to real life – and, back to a tornado.

And that’s why Moms need retreats. Because our lives are often a tornado – sometimes literally, but most of the time figuratively.

Discovering The Soul of Trains.

Last Sunday was our annual trek out to Calera to visit Thomas the Train. But this year, we managed to get there earlier than usual, and it was much less crowded than it has been in the past. These two factors gave us ample opportunity to explore everything else at the location – something we’d never really done before.

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The destination in question is the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum. I will readily admit that I have a subconscious avoidance-reaction to any location with the word “Museum” in the title. This can be traced back to my childhood where I, a very efficient and quite impatient child, had to wait on my mother, a person with zero concept of the passage of time (literally – it was a big eureka moment for my parent’s marriage when they figured this out) who greatly enjoyed reading every placard, and observing every angle of the most obscure artifact. Combine this with the fact that I was homeschooled and therefore visited all the museums with my mother and…I have an aversion to the word Museum.

(I’m sorry I was such a naggy kid, Mom. I fully appreciate all your efforts now. But I’d rather appreciate them NOT at a museum, if you don’t mind.)

So that also may be why I’ve never explored the location of our Thomas trips before.

But I can now say definitively that, Thomas weekend or not, every little (and big) train lover needs to visit this museum. Admission is free, and they have some fantastic artifacts of train culture gone by, almost all being open to being climbed upon and explored up close.

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(And very few placards to be read.)

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They have rows of old rail cars, engines, and cabooses to check out,

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and train tracks to (safely) play on – because what kid doesn’t want to play on train tracks?

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(Notice Thomas chugging into the station in the top left corner in the above picture. He’s pretty cool, too.)

They have old railway crossing signs that still function, manual track-changing cranks that really do shift the tracks,

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and really, really fantastic trains. It’s basically the best playground ever for the train-obsessed.

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And all those families who want to get their family photos made on train tracks? This would be the place to do it. (I emailed the museum to see if they allow that, but I haven’t gotten an answer yet. I’ll update if I do.)

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Seeing Thomas, of course, was fantastic as well,

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Along with meeting Sir Topham Hatt,

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getting to buy Thomas umbrellas,

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And some Masters-Level golfing.

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As usual, Thomas got a Hero’s welcome from Noah…and Ali. Because you don’t get too old for your first hero.

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And this year our ride took place on the Double Decker train car, which was pretty much thrilling.

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(And it had a nice view.)

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The train cars used for Thomas’ rides belong to the Museum, and so there are other opportunities to ride on them, as well.

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Since Sunday, Noah has asked me daily if we can go back and visit the trains. He knows he only gets to visit Thomas once a year, but now that he’s discovered everything else out there, he’d very much like to take a daily trek to the train yard, peeking into windows and imagining all sorts of adventures.

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And I have to admit…I kinda want to go back, too.IMG_5512

(Especially if I could figure out how to photograph a sunset behind those trains.)

Disclaimer: This post was not sponsored or requested by anyone. I’m just so thrilled that I discovered that I, too, can enjoy museums that I wanted to share it with you. Plus it’s a really fun place to take pictures.

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Cherries, Take Me Away.

My life has been the definition of “train wreck” lately.

Nothing devastating or life-changing – no worries. Just a constant onslaught of sicknesses and injuries and roadblocks and traumatic doctor visits.

The upside is, they often make good blog posts.

Y’all have read about some of them, but I haven’t written about a lot of things because I have a rule for myself – never write about something until you’re on the other side of it – otherwise, it comes out whiny.

And nobody likes to read whiny.

(A rule I clearly broke with my Printing Woes. But hopefully Sukhad added the humor back in for me.)

Anyway. One very special blog reader, Melissa, from Prosser Washington, picked up on the undertones of my rather unpleasant start to 2015. And she commented after this post that she was going to send me some chocolates, thereby solidifying her spot as my Best Friend Forever [That I Probably Won’t Ever Get to Meet].

Because by chocolates, I knew she meant Chukar Cherries.

I knew this because she had sent them to me once before. AND THEY CHANGED MY LIFE.

They’re made in her hometown, and they’re basically the most luxurious chocolate-covered dried fruits and nuts ever concocted. All the combinations are divine, and the flavors they put together are the essence of chocolate fantasies. The last box she sent me contained eighteen different varieties of heaven dipped in chocolate.

After receiving them last time, I also started getting the catalogs. And with each one, I nearly ordered myself another box (to hide from the children and eat embarrassingly fast), but always somehow intervened before I delved into what was sure to become a serious addiction problem.

So when the Melissa mentioned a box of chocolates, I was pretty intensely elated.

The hope of those chocolates carried me through finishing my Kid’s Market preparation.

They carried me through recovering from a sinus infection.

They carried me through the mothering of sick children, blowing their noses on my pants, wiping their boogers down into my shirt, and hacking all night long.

They carried me through falling while running and injuring, bruising, or scraping every joint on my body, and the resulting physical therapy.

I knew that Washington is a long way away and it would probably take a good bit for them to arrive, but the hope of chocolate covered cherries and berries and pecans and hazelnuts in eighteen different varieties carried me through.

Until I got an email from UPS, telling me that they needed to let me know that a package headed to me from Chukar Cherries had a slight problem.

Slight.

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WHAT. THE WHAT.

MY CHOCOLATE WAS IN A TRAIN WRECK.

I read that email three times, and then contracted an unstoppable case of the giggles. If there was anything more fitting for my life at that juncture, I could not possibly imagine it. The chocolate I was receiving because my life was a train wreck got caught up in an actual train wreck and I’m pretty sure the space-time continuum folded in on itself.

I started checking the UPS status of my cherries, waiting to see when they would resurface, imagining a UPS worker walking along the side of a train track, plucking chocolate covered cherries out of the grass and placing them, carefully sorted, back in my trays.

Every morning, I checked. Every morning, nothing had changed. Every morning, I assumed my chocolates had been eaten by the roadside chickens and cows before they could be collected and repackaged.

(Because there are totally roadside chickens and cows next to all train tracks, just waiting for derailments and the resulting chocolate spillage. Right?)

The above email came on March 3. The shipping status of my package did not update again until I received this email on March 9.

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My poor cherries, after having been spilled onto a rickety train trestle spanning a crocodile-filled ravine, were now encapsulated by a snowstorm, shivering their fragile chocolate coating off.

Or perhaps, they were stuck in a Sharknado – after all, it didn’t specify the weather type.

You never know.

Until somehow, they weren’t. UPS fought train and snow and sharks flying through the air and my chocolate dropping off the grid for over five days, and still managed to deliver those precious, life-giving chocolates – just one day after they were originally due.

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When the box arrived, my warm tingly heart burst within me.

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I wish I’d gotten a better picture of that big red sticker – it said “Perishable Goods – Open Immediately.” But I didn’t have time for good photography – I had a package to open. I had chocolate-covered cherries to rescue.

They had been through a lot, after all.

I could relate.

Oh, the bliss of discovering that Melissa, Fairy Godmother of the Blog Realm, had indeed sent me that giant box of utopia again – along with a couple of other precious, blissful, renewing treats.

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The endless array of beautifully coated goodness made up for all of the train wrecks – both figurative and literal.

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And that box of cherries took over where the hope of cherries left off.

They carried me through running a half marathon perfectly fine, and then reinjuring myself the next day during my “recovery run”.

They carried me through not being able to walk for two days, then finding out that I would have to go to Physical Therapy 2-3 times a week for 6 weeks.

They carried me through multiple technological breakdowns – including those blogged and those only shared in Facebook comments.

And they’re still carrying me through. And doing a darn good job of it.

So from now on, when my life starts spinning off-balance like a washing machine whose drum came loose and is shaking the house down with its ear-shattering rhythm, I shall not waver at the thought of ordering myself some chocolate covered cherries – because mothers are best fueled by good chocolate. And Chukar Cherries most definitely balance everything out.

(Even if they have to survive their own train wreck to do so.)