Vacation … it never lasts long enough

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Riley and I and my mom and dad spent the last five days in Gulf Shores, Ala., at the beach. The sand was sugary white and not a tar ball in sight, but we did see several jellyfish.

As soon as we got there, we had lunch at The Hangout. The food is overpriced, but the atmosphere is fun – it’s right on the beach with live music and fun for the kiddies. Riley enjoyed climbing the sand dune and posing in the adirondack chairs.

We hit the beach that evening and stayed until nearly dark. Which we did every night.

Instead of eating out all day every day, we bought groceries and had breakfast and lunch in the condo. We also had hot dogs, and bacon and egg sandwiches on two nights. Another night we ordered from Pizza Hut. The other night we ate at Desoto’s, which my mom and dad loved. I’m not much of a seafood eater, but I did enjoy the fish.

Of course, most of our time was spent at the beach and the condo pool. I can never get enough of the beach. I would love to live there, but not among the crowds. I want a little house on the beach with very few neighbors and a little mom and pop grocery store and a good cafe.

Our final day there, I took Riley to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo and Fort Morgan. She was all smiles and told me it was the best day ever.

The trip home was fine until just north of Birmingham, when I blew a tire in the left-hand lane on I-65. I couldn’t get over because there was so much traffic. I called the Highway Patrol, but no troopers were in Jefferson County at the time (really? what’s up with that?) and the service patrol doesn’t work on weekends (again … really?), so the lady connected me to Hurst Towing. The guy helped us unload some of our beach bags to get to the spare and jack. And he changed the tire for free! But I couldn’t go without paying him something, so I did.

We made it home safe. I’m thankful for such a great time with my family.

Tornadoes wipe out part of my community

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I found this receipt from Hackleburg, 115 miles away, on our sidewalk the day after the storm.

After 5 days without power, I’m finally charging my computer and blogging about what has happened in my community and the state. And I’m asking for your help.

Tornadoes ripped across Alabama on Wednesday, from Tuscaloosa to Huntsville. While Tuscaloosa is getting most of the attention, it’s not the only place affected.

Several small towns were obliterated. Towns where I played softball, towns that I drove through on my way to Brewer State Junior College, towns whose schools I covered during my time as a sportswriter.

Communities gone. Thousands of people are left with nothing.

Part of the damage in the Lawrence County community of Mount Hope. Photo by Matt McKean/Decatur Daily

Mount Hope.
Hackleburg.
Phil Campbell.
Carter’s Gin.
Harvest.

All these places need help. So fire up your phone and text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 to tornado relief here in my beloved Alabama. Or visit Red Cross to give online.

You can also donate blood; it’s a lifesaver that’s always needed.

If you live near any of these places, see what they need … bottled water, clothing, diapers, feminine products, food, tarps … and donate some goods.

Or you can sign up online to volunteer in the cleanup.

The sky just after the storm went through Wednesday night.

My neighbors and I have been sharing food, shelter, hot water (some have gas water heaters and generators), and companionship. Having wonderful neighbors has been a blessing, especially when you’ve got a bored 9-year-old who doesn’t know what it’s like to live without electricity for more than an hour or two.

We still don’t have power at my house, but there is power at work, so I’ll go back tomorrow. Two days without pay is two days too many. Riley will be with my parents until we get power back and school starts back. Ryan is without power and needs to work when he can, too.

Grilled SpaghettiOs for lunch

I am so grateful that my family and my home made it through these devastating storms this week. And I’ll be doing what I can to help my neighbors and community heal and rebuild in the coming weeks and months.

I hope you’ll help, too.

AV therapy, softball, dance, Bama basketball

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Since Riley’s therapy was cut back to every other week, we’ve been focusing on getting her to think about graduating from auditory-verbal. She has two goals right now:

1. Look at the person who’s talking
and the person you’re talking to.
2. Talk in complete sentences.

She’s doing pretty well with those two objectives, but I still have to prompt her occasionally.

Our therapist completed vocabulary testing last week and to everyone’s surprise Riley scored at or above her chronological age! We think it’s the first time she has hit or surpassed her “real” age and not her hearing age. She is on the right path.

We are working on synonyms and antonyms, idioms, context clues and inferences – important things heading into fourth grade next year. Riley is also supposed to be making notes of words she doesn’t know when comes across them in her reading.

Report cards come home Thursday, so that will tell the tale. Her weekly grades are mostly A’s and B’s, with a smattering of C’s and a D here and there. No more F’s, though. The lower grades seem to come whenever new material is introduced, which is why preteaching is so important. And, obviously, I haven’t been doing enough of that lately.

Also, her class is reviewing for state testing in math right now. Third-graders take the SAT (I think that’s the name), and I’m anxious to see how she does. Geometry, fractions and decimals have all been part of the curriculum this year.

Dance class is getting busier … she’s taking only acrobatics this year, but costumes are coming soon and picture day is in two weeks. Riley is good at acro; she’s almost got the back walkover and a one-hand cartwheel is a piece of cake. Next year, I’ll probably let her go back to taking two or three classes because dance is something she excels at.

Softball is starting next week; several practices have been rained out, so her team this year (all new to her except for two) will be rough around the edges. I will brag a bit about Riley, though. She is one of the fastest and has one of the strongest arms on the team. Her throwing is much improved.

The divorce was final last month, and I’m selling the house. I’m glad it is over, and we can move forward.

Oh, and, Roll Tide! Basketball season was fun, but I think the Tide got hosed by being left out of the NCAA Tournament. Winning the NIT would be nice, though. Go, Bama!

White Christmas

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Turns out instead of a blue Christmas, I had a white Christmas. And a happy Christmas.

Riley and I woke up to about two inches of snow on the ground and it fell steadily until around noon. We built a snowman, threw snowballs and caught snow on our tongues. It was awesome.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

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Riley has to finish these three before getting the next one.

I took Riley to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid a couple of weeks ago. It was a snap decision. We got home from my parents’ house on Friday evening at 4:30, saw the trailer about 5 and were showered and at the Rave by 6. She loved it! I enjoyed it, too, but the main character, Greg Heffley, was not my favorite. Rowley was.

Now, Riley has the books, but I haven’t read them, so I had no idea what the story was. Greg was not a nice friend, and having a pain-in-the-butt for an older brother was no excuse. Although, Rodrick was kind of cute. Rodrick is always getting Greg in trouble, and Mom never gives Greg the benefit of the doubt. Dad? He’s just clueless, while little brother Manny is adorable.

What I loved about Rowley (aside from his red hair) is that he’s just himself. He dresses how he likes, he plays, and he’s a good friend. Angie was a cool character, and I would’ve liked to have seen her in the movie more. She could be a great role model for girls.

Patty was hilarious. We’ve all known a super obnoxious kid like her, right? The girl who always has to be first, always in the spotlight and always makes sure everyone knows how great she is. Ugh!

Fregley (who is from Alabama) was disgustingly funny. But ewww! Gross! And Chirag … what a cute kid! The “cheese touch” cracked me up not only for its absurdity, but also for the way Chirag told the story. Classic middle school.

It’s worth the trip to the theater, and it led to a discussion on how to be a good friend. Like Rowley. Even if your friend is a little different. Like Rowley.

The movie made me want to read the books. And I will. As soon as I have time.

Fitness Fridays = Physical Fridays (Apolo Ohno still rocks)

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My brother and I are all smiles at the end of my first 5K. Riley was a big motivator at the end. Can I get back to that place?

I’ve got to start somewhere and right now that’s just doing some kind of physical activity each day.  With my surgeries, my dad’s emergency and long recovery, I never got on track with my fitness goals. So instead of making these grand plans to run/walk 5 times a week, etc., I’m going to just try to do something active every day.

This week I did laundry: loading, unloading and folding and putting away. Ryan usually does the laundry, but with the change in my schedule, I’m able to do more around the house. Last night, I danced (in high heels) as Harry Connick Jr. (more on that later) sang at the VBC Concert Hall. Tomorrow I’ll be at Riley’s softball practice, likely helping out by chasing down foul balls. Every little bit helps.

I’ve edited my big goals:

Do 10 real pushups
Wear my GAP boyfriend jeans (in my closet since 2007) smallest size Lane Bryant jeans
Do the Ribbon Run 5K in October Cotton Row 5K in May
Wear my cute workout tanks/shorts again
Get my calves back into my tall boots without spillage
Carry Riley to bed without giving myself a hernia
Fit into my Bama T-shirts this football by the end of softball season
Outrun 8- and 9-year-olds at softball practice next spring by the end of summer

So those are my big goals … today. They might change tomorrow or next week as I have more time to think about where I’m headed. I will also have to decide what steps I’ll take to meet these goals. Next week’s post will cover that.

The Olympics are winding down, and tonight we saw why Apolo Anton Ohno is one of the best short-track speedskaters in the world. He had to jump over one of two skaters who went down in the quarterfinals, and he avoided another spinout in the semifinals.

He won his eighth medal as he anchored the U.S. to a bronze in the team relay. He should’ve had nine, but a ticky-tack call by a Canadian judge disqualified him (he had the silver) in the 500-meter because he touched one of the Canadian skaters. However, a different Canadian skater put his hand on a Korean skater. Then the Korean skater touched that Canadian. But who was disqualified? Ohno, the skater who was in fourth place at the time. Judging is far too subjective in speedskating.

After that disappointing ruling, Ohno came back to skate an incredible race in the relay to pull the USA to the bronze after being fourth for most of the race. His heart and drive are incredible. There’s no quit in him. A good reminder as I start my fitness journey: If an obstacle slows you down, don’t quit. Make the leap and keep skating.

A Southern afternoon long ago

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This short short story is just a compilation of memories from my childhood. I’m not sure if the people and dates actually match up, but this is a snapshot of a day in the life of two little kids in Town Creek.

We were at some cookout somewhere on the river.

After School

by Tiffani Hill-Patterson (April 7, 1999)

Rrrrriinnnnngggggg. Finally. School is out. Time for a Coke and a candy bar.

I grab my books and wait on my little brother, Michael, to meet me at the end of the hall. I’m 10, he’s 7 and we both go to Hazlewood Elementary School.

“What took you so long?” I ask.

“Miss Davis made me stay after,” Michael says.

“Did you get in trouble for not having your homework again?” I ask him.

“Yeah, I’ve got to get a note signed, too,” he says, frowning.

“Oh, well, you probably won’t get a whipping or anything. They’ll just make you miss ‘The Dukes of Hazard’ tonight.”

Daddy is waiting for us at the end of the road by the school. Our house is right across the highway, but he doesn’t want us to cross the big four-lane by ourselves. So he meets us whenever he is off work to help us. If he’s at work, we walk to the babysitter’s because Momma works, too.

“Hey, y’all,” Daddy says. “How was school?”

“Fine,” we say together. But Michael hands Daddy his note.

“What happened with your homework?”

“I forgot about it. We had baseball practice and I forgot.”

“Well, I’ll let you off this time, but from now on you better have it done,” Daddy says sternly.

“Yes, sir. Can we go to the store now?” Michael asks as we begin to scurry across the highway. Traffic is heavy at this time of day in our little town. High schoolers who drive and parents who pick up their kids from school form a line that stretches about 100 yards from the red light past our house.

“Not yet. I’ve got to go to the post office and go pay some bills,” Daddy says as we reach our road.

“Awwww. That’ll take forever,” I whine, walking up to the carport.

“Get in the truck and we’ll hurry,” Daddy says. So we all climb into the old gold Chevy, roll down the windows and turn up the radio. The post office is two minutes up the highway and City Hall, where Daddy pays the water bill, is a minute from the post office.

We pull up to the post office and climb out of the truck.

“Daddy, can I open the box?” I ask. Daddy picks me up and tells me the combination of letters as I turn the knob. I get the box open and out tumbles the mail – a Field & Stream, a couple of “duns” as Daddy calls bills and a Marvin Morgan Furniture circular. I love getting the mail.

Daddy gathers all the mail while Michael and I stare at the FBI “Wanted” posters behind the glass casing. We memorize the faces, just in case.

Back in the truck we head down the street to City Hall so Daddy can pay the water bill. He never understands how it can be so high. It’s probably because Michael and I run the hose outside for so long, squirting each other to death.

Michael and I play with the radio a minute, and then Daddy walks out the door. Uh-oh. Mr. Hoover stops Daddy to talk.

“Look, Michael,” I say, nudging him with my elbow. “Now, we’ll be here all day.”

“Yeah, Mr. Hoover always talks too much.”

After listening to The Oak Ridge Boys sing “Elvira” on the radio, we finally see Daddy shaking Mr. Hoover’s hand and walking to the truck.

“Can we go now?” Michael asks.

“OK,” Daddy says as he cranks the truck. “Where do you want to go? Clayton’s or Mr. Reg’s?

“Mr. Reg’s,” we yell.

Mr. Reg has a punchboard that you can play for a quarter. We love to punch out that piece of paper, hoping to win something.

We go home, get out of the truck and walk through the backyard to Mr. Reg’s. It’s easier to walk than drive and park at Mr. Reg’s. His parking lot is on the corner of two highways and it’s barely big enough for one car. So we walk through our grass, stop on top of the grate to look down the water drain, jump up and touch the Joe Wheeler State Park sign, and finally step into the cool, damp store.

“OK,” Daddy says. “Tell Mr. Reg what you want.”

“I want a Coke and a plain Hershey’s bar,” I say.

“I want a Dr Pepper and a Whatchamacallit,” Michael says.

“And I’ll take a Coke and a bag of peanuts,” Daddy says.

“All right,” Mr. Reg says and hands us our food. “That’ll be $2.50.”

As Daddy pays for the goodies, we grab the drinks out of the cooler and stick them under the bottle opener and pop off the caps.

We walk back to our yard and settle under our big oak tree next to the highway.

Daddy dumps his peanuts in his Coke, and Michael and I tear open our candy bars. We play the car game – the red cars are mine, the blue ones are Michael’s. And that chocolate tastes so good.

Look! It’s snowing!

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The precipitation keeps changing from snow to sleet to rain. School was dismissed at 11 a.m., and Riley just got home. Looks like I’ll be working from home tonight, my next-to-last night with the newspaper. I sure don’t want to take the chance of getting stuck there.

I took this video from the back door this morning.

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