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:

160916m-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]
Yes, those are my children descending into the fort alone…way more excited about this adventure than their mother at their age.

160916j-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

160916k-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

160916zd-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

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

160916l-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

Then you walk through this entrance to the actual fort.

160916zc-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

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.

160916u-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

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

160916o-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

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.

250px-Fort_Morgan_Plan_thumb[2]
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.

160916zf-Light-and-Dark-at-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

160916r-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

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.

160916s-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

160916t-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

160916x-Fort-Morgan_thumb[2]

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.

160916y-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

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

160916q-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

160916zb-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

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

160916w-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

160916v-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

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

160916p-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

As well as artillerymen (and women.)

160916-The-Cannon-at-Fort-Morgan_thumb[2]

160916ze-Fort-Morgan_thumb

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.

160916h-Fort-Morgan-Beach_thumb

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.

160916g-Ali-at-the-End-of-the-world_thumb[1]

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.

160916zg-Ghost-of-Noah-at-Fort-Morgan_thumb[1]

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!

160916zg-Ghost-of-Noah-at-Fort-Morgan-Circled_thumb[1]

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

160916zg-Ghost-of-Noah-at-Fort-Morgan-Arrow_thumb[1]

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

160916zg-Ghost-of-Noah-at-Fort-Morgan-Zoom-1_thumb[1]

(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?)

160916zg-Ghost-of-Noah-at-Fort-Morgan-With-Noah_thumb

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.

160916zg-Ghost-of-Noah-at-Fort-Morgan-Zoom-2_thumb[2]

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.

IMG_4161

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.

I-Have-a-big-head-and-little-arms

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.

IMG_4158

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.

IMG_4165

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:

IMG_5422

IMG_5421

IMG_5423

IMG_5424

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,

IMG_4685

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

IMG_4678

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

IMG_4679

And added the dinosaur bone belt after that.

IMG_4683

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

IMG_4688

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.

IMG_5233

And all rocks are still fun to smash.

IMG_5232

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.

IMG_5217

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,

IMG_0355

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.

IMG_5222

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

IMG_0358e

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:

IMG_5261IMG_5260
IMG_5259

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:

alabama-childrens-bookspng-e25e7092fdc53cc5

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.

Into the Mountains We Go.

As a refresher, my family – parents, brothers, sister-in-law, nephew and nieces take a family trip every year rather than giving each other gifts. 2016 was our twelfth trip.

As I mentioned earlier, we stayed in a “resort neighborhood” in the mountains for this year’s family vacation. It was in the mountains in North Georgia, a beautiful area to see, but a terrible area to navigate. There were so many shockingly long dirt roads that I began to actually praise ALDOT, our own inept and corrupt department of transportation.

Oh – and North Georgia is at times exactly how they describe Kenneth Parcell’s hometown in 30 Rock.

IMG_5069As excited as I was about this knife shop, the missing apostrophe IN MY OWN NAME hurt.

The “resort”, and I call it that both in truth and because they really REALLY like quotation marks there,

IMG_5096Where is Bill Pound’s other unnecessary quotation mark?!

was actually a gigantic neighborhood laid out over 5,500 acres that were (and still are) seemingly uninhabitable. The impossibly narrow roads (all 170 miles of them) roll up and down continuously as if someone was shaking out a giant blanket in the wind. The houses hang off cliffs and are surrounded by deer-filled woods.

It was quite peaceful and beautiful, but was full of quirks.

IMG_5094

One day, we took our kids to the resort’s Mini Golf. It had seen better days – Hole 3 had a traffic cone in it, clearly marking its out-of-order status, which was also apparent by its complete lack of carpet.

But we played it anyway. Uneven concrete and all.

Each hole of the Mini Golf was sponsored by a local company or one of the resort’s amenities.

Such as Dottie, Nancy, and Ann’s services:

IMG_5093

The hole would be decorated by theme and matching the sponsor, so this particular hole had frogs, all sorts.

IMG_5092

Including this Tic-Tac-Toe frog who’d really lost his butt in the game.

IMG_5081

The hole for the Corner Store Café definitely made me hungry,

IMG_5091

But my favorite hole was the one sponsored by a local attorney.IMG_5083

The signs around the hole were very stoic and professional, clearly marking this as a well-sponsored hole.

IMG_5082

But the décor added to the hole itself – they were priceless.

…Deeds sure has a different connotation when it becomes “Deeds.”

IMG_5086

And by the time we got to “Appeal”, Chris and I decided that this was meant to be marital advice, not legal advice.

IMG_5085

Because what spouse doesn’t appreciate it when you Say “Pleas”?

IMG_5084

We did lots of hiking and running, both in and out of the “resort”, both with and without kids. Chris and I got just barely off the beaten path of the resort and, right after finding Ord, friend of Mater’s,

IMG_4966

we came across what I was sure held a body

IMG_4964Who knew that Volvo made Chevy Expos?

Another day, the entire family went to Springer Mountain, a one mile trail at the start of the Appalachian Trail. My brother did not tell me that it would be a 7 mile perilous cliffside dirt road to get there, but with a little bit of eye closing and deep breathing, I survived the trip up.

Thankfully, it seemed we had plenty of time to take our hike before the meter maids made it up the road.

IMG_4971

The kids, all adept hikers, did fantastic going up the mountain.

GeorgiaFamVaca_MG_5554

GeorgiaFamVaca_MG_5537

We made it to the top and celebrated by resting, drinking water, taking in the view,

GeorgiaFamVaca_MG_5571

And of course, climbing trees.

GeorgiaFamVaca_MG_5586

GeorgiaFamVaca_MG_5634

GeorgiaFamVaca_MG_5646

On the way home from that adventure, because it clearly wasn’t enough, we took an even longer frightening dirt road (aptly named Winding Stair Gap Road) and visited Amicalola Falls, which was okay from the top,

GeorgiaFamVaca_MG_5650

160902b-Amicalola-Falls

but then tempted you with 600 steps down to see the actual view.

160902-Amicalola-Falls

We managed to cajole the children back up 200 stairs, then sent Chris to get the car to retrieve them.

IMG_4995

IMG_4991

Chris and I snuck away for adventure and intrigue one afternoon, getting lost on dirt roads and trying to find a trail that ended up being closed.

IMG_5033

We took part of it anyway, only to read later that it was closed due to high voltage power lines being put in.

Oops.

Always obey signs, kids.

But we found another trail that was just gorgeous, and ran/walked it together, enjoying all its offerings.

IMG_5070

This is why you visit North Georgia.

IMG_5068

And of course, due to all the outdoors activity, there was plenty of this.

IMG_5015

And this.

IMG_5130

Because what is vacation without chill-out time?

Before we left, we ran out back to the delightful woods behind the house to get our annual family photo. Ali was happy to volunteer to be my model for lighting and tripod setup, and I marveled at her total grownup-ness.

Zannis-Family-Vacation-2016_MG_5755

Zannis-Family-Vacation-2016_MG_5773

Zannis-Family-Vacation-2016_MG_5766

Of course, there had to be a spider on that tree we were going to use. Luckily, we had Pop there to quell all spider fears.

Zannis-Family-Vacation-2016_MG_5900

We finally got everyone in place and snapped before any other creepy-crawlies found their way into our scene.

Zannis-Family-Vacation-2016-Picture-FINAL_MG_5915

And of course, I grabbed a few cousin shots.

Ali, Princess of Organization and Activities Coordinating,

Zannis-Family-Vacation-2016-Ali_MG_5839

Eli, Prince of Original Ideas and Holder of All Animal Facts,

Zannis-Family-Vacation-2016-Eli_MG_5851

Tessa, Princess of Quiet Determination and Winning All The Things,

Zannis-Family-Vacation-2016-Tessa_MG_5897

Noah, Prince of Make-Believe and Matchbox-Car-Road-Making,

Zannis-Family-Vacation-2016-Noah_MG_5984

And Andi, Princess of Playing Happily With Everyone.

Zannis-Family-Vacation-2016-Andi_MG_5814

All five of them are AMAZING at the whole cousin thing.

GeorgiaFamVaca_MG_5694