21 Fun, Kid-Friendly Things to Do Around Birmingham This Summer

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly

I don’t know about you, but I’m thrilled summer break is here. No carline, homework, and waking up sleepy boys to rush them off to school. As I sat down to make a list of things to do with my boys this summer (ages 7 and 4), I had so much fun with it, I decided to share it with you.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a compulsive list-maker. As someone who is easily distracted, lists help me refocus when I get off track. It’s also helpful to have a handy plan of things to do when the kids get bored and I’m out of ideas.

This is a list of fun, kid-friendly things to do in the Birmingham area this summer. This is in no way comprehensive, nor is it in any kind of organizational order. Which is how I do things. Keep an eye out for a follow-up post on fun things to do at home this summer. Spoiler alert: it may or may not include making slime.

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly
Photo by Aaron Burden

1. Library Reading Programs – I’ll be honest, this is one of my absolute favorite things about summer. By February, I start looking for library’s announcements about their summer reading programs. We’ve participated in the programs at Clay Public Library one summer and Trussville Public Library another summer. They’re BOTH spectacular.

2. Trussville Sports Complex – Even though soccer season is over, we still plan on visiting our local sports complex as often as possible. First of all, their hiking/biking trails are phenomenal. Also, their new sidewalk trail allows you to ride bikes for miles in both sun and shade. My boys race down the trails while I run alongside. This place is a second home to us.

3. Birmingham Zoo – The zoo never gets old. For this reason, we’ve had a membership for five years running. The animals are forever fascinating, and my boys can never ride the train too many times. The zoo is now having Member Mornings every Wednesday until 9 a.m. with free rides (train and carousel) now through Sept 5.

4. McWane Science Center – When Wesley was 4 and Caleb was 1, my mother-in-law generously gifted us with a membership. Wesley’s favorite place was the Itty Bitty Magic City, and Caleb would sometimes sleep in the stroller while I enjoyed the air conditioner and a place to sit down. Dinosaurs in Motion starts May 13 – September 3rd where life-sized fully interactive metal sculptures with exposed mechanics will wow adults and children alike. And did you know that on the website, there are even at-home experiments you can try?

5. First Avenue Rocks – Indoor climbing gym that will challenge adults and kids under 12. The admission isn’t exactly cheap ($12/child and $16 per adult), plus gear rental. Wesley has been begging me to take him forever, and maybe this is the year we actually do it. I’m betting that with Caleb’s jaw-dropping climbing skills, it’ll be a hit.

6. Leeds Memorial Park – for an EPIC playground with EPIC equipment, you’ve got to check this place out. Tunnel slides that rival waterparks (that may be a slight exaggeration, but they’re impressive!). There’s also a walking trail and small stream. Yes, please!

7. Splash Pads – Don your swimsuits, grab your towels, and slather on sunscreen. Birmingham has several splash pads, including the ones in Leeds, Springville, and Trussville. Trussville requires residence within the city limits. Springville requires $1 per person (worth it!), and Leeds is free. Pick one, or visit all three. Preferably not within the same day, naturally.

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly
Photo by L. Allen Brewer

8. Sloss Furnaces – My 7 year old, Wesley, has a major fascination for this place. The last time Wesley and I we visited here, we were playing hookey from school, so it was just the two of us. It was just before the Freight Fest, and the decorations were already in place. We had no idea when we arrived the gore we would encounter. To my surprised, he thought it was funny, and wasn’t disturbed by it one bit. He was more annoyed than anything that parts of the furnaces were roped off because of the impending event, and he didn’t get a chance to see as much as he wanted.

9. Ave Maria Grotto – I’ve never been here, but I’ve heard this little treasure in Cullman is quite interesting. Known as “Jerusalem in Miniature”, The Grotto sounds just weird enough to check out.

10. Turkey Creek Nature Preserve – This is a great local watering hole for a hot day, and it’s also great grounds for a picnic. Bring your camera. Perfect place for a hike and a splash in the stream.

11. Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park – Go camping, go hiking, go biking, or go for a train ride. This place has endless fun for the entire summer. Jump into the freezing cold streams or explore the mills and plantation homes. Keep an eye on the calendar of events. There’s something special offered throughout the summer and fall.

12. Moss Rock Preserve – can you tell we’re avid fans of hiking? This place is a fascinating location for hiking. The boulders are so fun for my boys to climb on, and by the end of the day, they’re exhausted. Which means a nice, quiet ride home. Score!

13. Oak Mountain State Park – Although this park charges admission, it’s worth it for all this park has to offer. Oak Mountain is nearly 10,000 acres of camping, lakes (for swimming!!), a petting zoo, bird sanctuary, hiking trails, paddling, and more. Also – remember in 2015 when state parks began closing due to government funding cuts? The best way to prevent state parks from closing is to visit them!

14. Argo Park – Parks are so much fun in the summer. Right next to Argo Fire Station and Police Department, we visit this one at least weekly. When the gorgeous red trucks are on the move, every kid present drops what they’re doing to jump up and down, wave and cheer. The playground is clean and well-maintained, and the walking trail is a concrete winding sidewalk that surrounds the equipment. I can get my run in while the boys play. Two birds, one stone.

15. Red Mountain Park – a 1,500 acre park with 15 miles of peaceful trails, historic mines, and two gorgeous overlooks for your kids to stand on the edge of and give you a heart attack. Lots of fun for kids to discover.

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly
Photo by Rob Briscoe

16. Ruffner Mountain – there aren’t enough great things that can be said about Ruffner Mountain. I love that it’s a hidden gem smack in the middle of the city. It’s gorgeous, with breathtaking overlooks and super fun walking trails. We could spend an entire day at this place.

17. Gardens – the Birmingham has two amazing gardens – Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Aldridge Gardens. Both are unique. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens has a cute little library and store near the entrance. Kris and I exchanged vows there ten years ago, so I’m kind of partial to this place. Aldridge Gardens, however, is fun for its own reasons. With a placid lake in the middle and colorful foliage, it’s a picture-perfect visit for sure.

18. Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum – I’ve never been here, but I hear it’s perfect for motor-fans. I think we’ll give it a try this summer. *marks calendar*

19. Railroad Park – any park with a koi pond is worth visiting. This open green space has a walking trail and frequent community events. Sunshine? Wide space to run and play? Don’t mind if I do.

20. Vulcan Park and Museum – Two boys at the top of a tower with a 56-foot-tall statue bearing his rear for the city to see? Why, of course we would go there. Let the jokes begin. Plus, there are TONS of events hosted there over the summer.

21. Regal Summer Movie Express – Regal does something awesome over the summer – $1 movies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10 a.m. A portion of proceeds benefit the Will Rogers Institute, plus – POPCORN.

Did I forget something? Add it in the comments! What are your favorite kid-friendly things to do in the summer?

 

#betheanomaly

Parting Ways with an Old Friend is Never Easy, Even When the Friend is an Unexpected One.

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly

Tonight, I parted ways with a dear old friend.

This friend has been with me for over ten years. I found her in a trash bag full of hand-me-down clothes given to us by a church member.

It was love at first sight.

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly

I immediately began sharing with her stories that I’d been wanting to put on paper for a very long time. She encouraged the creativity like a silent but steady muse.

A few years ago when she began to show her age, I put her back together using decorative tape.

But alas, the friendship was not meant to last.

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly

She began to age more and more.

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly

At long last, I have decided to retire her. She will go on the shelf with my other prized novels and rest, a constant and gentle reminder of how far I’ve come.

She’ll represent the hard work, tears, open heart, vulnerability and thick skin involved in the writing process. And she’ll cheer me on as I dive back into the page and fill line after line with fantastical characters and twisty plots.

I’ve adopted a new writing friend.

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly

(Hello, toes! What lovely polish you have…)

Created from old jeans and imagination, this writing friend will be a tough workhorse for the ideas brewing.

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly

Now, the page awaits.

Life Through a Lens: The Unexpected Thing I Caught in a Photo of My Children

The sun was warm.

It felt like a miracle on my skin after what seemed like a particularly long, bitterly cold winter.

The flowers are out now. Tiny ones that dot the ground in celebratory sprouts as enthusiastic about the sunshine as me.

Wesley and Caleb ran around the park tirelessly. Then, when a school friend showed up, the fun reached a higher level of adventure.

I saw my chance to stretch out on the grass and soak up the warmth. The breeze carried the scent of honeysuckle. Bees buzzing nearby and the kids’ laughter melted with the whisper of the breeze through the trees.

Thin, silvery strands caught my eye as it shimmered like threads of silk. At closer inspection, I realized it was a beautiful, intricate spiderweb billowing like a delicate flag. I raised my phone to take a picture of it, and instead caught something unexpected.

There they were, laughing and playing, enjoying the beauty of the day that God has granted us. It was life. It was the best part of life. Children, in their precious element, expressing their precious hearts at play. A moment frozen in time as brothers and a friend made up rules to a made up game.

Through the lens, I was given perspective.

I wondered about this special kind of innocence. At what point does it change? When does the innocence shift into mature awareness? For many kids, it’s triggered by pain. Abuse. Neglect. The constant quarrel between parents. For others, it happens organically as they grow. Inevitably, however, it doesn’t happen without outside influence. Mean girls on the playground that tease another for her flat chest or skinny legs. The bully boys who make fun of the plump kid or the one with a stutter.

No matter how perfect a parent may be, this shift can’t be prevented. It’s part of normal childhood growth. But as parents, can we minimize the negative impact? Can we equip them to be ready for the harsh treatment of other kids, and ensure that your children treat others with kindness? Is that even possible?

The short answer is yes. But it takes a significant amount of time and attention. Are you prepared to provide that?

Hopefully, you answered “yes”. But here’s the kicker: there is no guarantee your child will take to heart the tools with which you equip them. In those cases, you have to let it go, and let God handle the details.

Otherwise, here are three ways to equip your children for growth:

1. Saturate them in scripture.

“Train up a child in the way he should go [teaching him to seek God’s wisdom and will for his abilities and talents], Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 AMP

What is the way exactly? I mean, how do you know you’re doing it right? There are thousands (probably millions) of parenting experts out there that each have a variation of parenting they strongly recommend.

In all honestly, as long as you are saturating your children in scripture, you can’t go wrong with teaching them how to keep their eyes on Jesus. I’ve been listening to a lot of Joyce Meyer lately, and when we get into the car and Joyce starts up on the CD player, I sometimes turn it off and play music for the kids, saying, “I know you guys don’t want to listen to my boring stuff.” Wesley, however, has asked that I keep Joyce playing. At age 7, he has enough maturity to understand a good bit of what she teaches. He has started asking me questions about some of the concepts he doesn’t understand, which provides the perfect avenue to talk about God.

2. Lead by example.

“Imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 AMP

This is a tough one.

This is a really, really tough one.

Bearing children is the best way to learn how many bad habits you really have. Cursing, road rage, gossip, bad temper, excessive TV, specific TV shows. The list goes on and on. Trying to kick all of these habits are great and all, but the best example you can set is allowing them to see you pray. Allowing them to see you read scripture, and *gasp* quote it. (I’m terrible at scripture memory!) The biggest thing is letting them see Who you turn to for joy, for direction, for comfort, for gratitude. Let them see the godly way you treat other people. Show the kindness of Christ. Your children watch you more than you realize.

The other day, my husband and I were having a conversation in the kitchen that we thought was private. The boys were distracted watching TV, and I glanced at them often to make sure their attention wasn’t on us at that moment. A few minutes into the conversation, Wesley chimed in with a detail I’d forgotten to mention. Without looking our way, he added his two bits, then changed positions on the couch and continued watching TV. I bit my lip and stared at Kris, wide-eyed. How many recent conversations had they overheard that we weren’t aware of? We vowed to be more careful.

3. Show them, firsthand, what kindness looks like.

“Love endures with patience and serenity, love is kind and thoughtful, and is not jealous or envious; love does not brag and is not proud or arrogant. It is not rude; it is not self-seeking, it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered]; it does not take into account a wrong enduredIt does not rejoice at injustice, but rejoices with the truth [when right and truth prevail]. Love bears all things [regardless of what comes], believes all things [looking for the best in each one], hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times], endures all things [without weakening]. Love never fails [it never fades nor ends].” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 AMP

Raising kids takes patience. An abundance of patience. It’s so easy to lose your temper with them. I’ve done it. Everyone has. But by taking our own advice, and focusing our attention on the unconditional love and grace of Christ, we will greatly improve our parenting game. Jesus didn’t need biological children to be a parenting expert. He had the ultimate Father for instruction, as do we, through the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes it takes something as simple as a glimpse through the lens to see your children in a new light.

 

#betheanomaly

Cat Chronicles, Episode #4: Felines and Frostbitten Fronds

Natalie Cone | be the anomaly

January, 2018

With the freezing temps we’ve endured lately (it’s 17° at this moment), my poor plants haven’t fared well. On the first day of below freezing temps, I wasn’t able to get to my beloved plants in time before they were subjected to the bitter cold.

One particular plant, a pretty palm, is in the worst shape. A few minutes ago, as I went over to water it, I noticed it no longer had any life left. All the fronds hung limp and yellow, and have now dried. I pulled them off and watered it anyway, refusing to believe it’s dead.

Can palms come back from this?

As I pulled away the last of the fronds, The Cat stalked in to supervise my chore.

She apparently didn’t approve.

Unnoticing of my grief over the plant, she walked onto the pile of fronds as I attempted to scoop them up, and sat on top of them.

I pulled the fronds out from under her like a rug. Of course, with her deft balance, she never even slipped. Like the magician’s trick of pulling the tablecloth off a table loaded with delicate china.

Then she had the nerve to glare at me as if I were the one being a jerk.

But then, I thought, Could it be possible that she is actually here showing support? Could I have mistaken her glare for a narrow gaze of sympathy?

To test this possibility, I gently reached out to pet her.

She hoisted to her feet and padded away before my fingers made contact with her fur, without as much as a glance over the massive chip on her shoulder.

Snapshots of Joy through Life Lens

Life’s joys are often revealed to me in snapshots – an image etched into my memory that so accurately represent the best parts of my world. Such as …

Pushing Wesley and Caleb in their flying saucer swing, Caleb’s legs sticking straight out with his rubber boots on the wrong feet. His head is thrown back, face red and mouth wide open in breathless laughter at Wesley’s silliness.

Wesley’s little face with cornsilk hair and warmth in his eyes turned up to me as he throws his arms around me in a tight hug.

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Kris’s sincerity and deep love as he looks at me and emphasizes how much he believes in me.

The sun rising slowly, light sliding through the window panes and gradually brightening, as if the sky is relishing the process of dawn.

Catching Wesley helping with his little brother’s shoes so they can go outside and explore together.

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The sound of God’s voice as it pierces my heart through His word, in love and instruction. He tells me I am anointed. He tells me I have been enabled and equipped, and has asked that I put it to use in the exact way that He’s asked.

Caleb holding up his favorite Paw Patrol characters and asking in his little voice, “Mommy, will you play with me?”

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The mounds of laundry piled into baskets, waiting to be folded, because I’ve been too busy playing with the boys to get it done.

Waking Wesley for school and trying to hold my melting heart together as I look at his angelic sleeping face, long lashes and pink cheeks.

The admiration, love and need in Kris’s eyes when he leans in to kiss me. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t wrap me up in a sweet embrace, telling me he loves me and kissing me in a way that makes me weak in the knees.

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God’s constant “love notes” everywhere. Clovers. Blooms. A person’s smile. A hug. The color of the sky. A gentle rain. The song of birds. God’s love is absolutely everywhere.

And so, in snapshots through the macro lens of life, joy can be found.

On the Day that Jesus Died

The morning that Jesus was condemned, I sipped my coffee with contentment while sitting on the back porch.

While He was hungry and thirsty, I savored the sweet flavor of my coffee creamer, and wondered what flavor I should try next.

Photo by Sabri Tuzcu

While crowds screamed for Him to be crucified, I enjoyed the songs of the birds as they moved from branch to branch.

While He was suspended from the wrists and flogged, shredding the flesh of His back, I indulged in a warm shower.

While He dragged the cross up the hill to Golgotha, stumbling, enduring splinters from the wood and the weight of His burden, I sat on my soft couch to fold a load of fresh, clean laundry.

While the nails separated sinew and bone, piercing through skin and muscle, I prepared a warm breakfast for my kids.

Photo by Gianluca Carnicella

While His blood ran thick, red and hot down His arms, down His face, down His back, I filed my nails and polished them in a bright Easter pink.

While Mary watched her son suffer a bloody, gruesome death, I complained of the messy state of my kids’ rooms.

While Jesus groaned on the cross and struggled to breathe, I took a break and sat down for a little rest.

While He promised eternal life to a criminal dying next to Him, I yawned, stretched, checked the clock, and begrudgingly started on my next chore.

While He sighed His last breath with the phrase, “It is finished”, my sins were paid for. My filth was purchased by the ransom of pure, innocent blood.

And He did it without complaint.

In every way, I am undeserving of His suffering and sacrifice.

But good news is coming…

Photo by Jon Tyson