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.

Not ANOTHER Outdoorsy Post.

 

So I took 2,457 pictures this past weekend while we were at Oak Mountain, and edited and kept 265. It took me approximately 16 hours to go through them all and save and edit, so I decided that I would subject you to more of them. Because I deserve your attention, guys. And also because they sucked away all my time and I haven’t had time to write anything else.

Sometimes you jump over the creek,

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and sometimes the creek jumps on you.

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Tiny flowers make me happy.

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Running to the top of a hill to check out some ruins. Turns out, it was a fireplace. I’m sure it was left behind by the vikings or something.

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It took a day to get him in the water. But this was a starting point.

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The hike down to Peavine is terribly steep with lots of boulders and climbing involved. Hence why I packed her several pairs of workout clothes. But no. She wore a maxi dress. Makes for better pictures, anyway.

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And also, she totally didn’t care.

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One of the things the State Parks asked me for were pictures of people using the Equestrian Trails. Luckily for me, a trail went right past our cabin. I spotted a group of riders, ran ahead on another trail to intersect their trail, accosted them, asked if I could take their pictures, ran ahead of them on the Equestrian Trail careful not to step in any giant piles of crap, and then took each rider’s picture as they came by.

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All the horses seemed to love the attention, but this horse was quite convinced that my camera was certainly a lump of sugar waiting just for him to attempt to eat.

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I found this thistle on a walk. It made me happy.

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This was the point that I realized I could walk for months and never run out of different and fascinating trails.

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When I got up at 4:45am to hike up to King’s Chair in the dark, I was supposed to meet friends and hike with them. But it was dark and I couldn’t recognize anyone and I panicked that I was going to be left all alone in the dark so I started hiking by myself. When I came up the last hill to King’s Chair, it was such a spectacular sight to see so many people lining the cliffs.

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I was able to find my friends for the hike back down. You know when it was light and I had no trouble at all seeing my feet.

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But before we hiked back down, I was sure to elbow my way to the front of the 80+ people watching the sunrise to snag a few pictures. I know. RUDE.

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I seriously had no idea that the Oak Mountain demonstration farm existed. That they had an Pony and Peacocks and a Donkey made it all the more fascinating – this was not your usual petting zoo fare.

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I also adored that the Peacock kept showing off its wonder and the goats were like “We’ve ALL SEEN YOUR AMAZING FEATHERS. Just staaaaaahp.” Actually they didn’t even care that much. They just ate their grass and ignored him.

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The Donkey was the Peacock’s antithesis. Poor guy had a perfect Eeyore expression.

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We became besties.

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Until Noah bought a bag of food. Then he abandoned our BFF relationship and took up with Noah.

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But the Peacock, who was as vain as the cliche suggests, was happy to pose for an Emo photo shoot.

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He even picked out the perfect rustic brick wall for a backdrop to make his features shine.

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At least two of the goats were noticeably pregnant – both in their belly size and the fact that they’d shank a baby goat to get to the food. And they did knock several with their horns – they’re clearly going to make great moms. BUT. They were also SO pregnant that you could feel the baby goats squirming around inside – and see their bellies being kicked and jostled. So I guess they deserved their edgy attitude.

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Ali adored canoeing as much as I do. I’m trying to convince her to go on a canoe trip on the Cahaba, but she’s quite convinced that she’s a lake canoer, not a rocky riverbed canoer.

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I have no idea why Noah struck this pose. But I hear he’ll be starring in Zoolander 12.

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And finally, here are some of the random strangers that let me take their pictures for the State Park’s Photo Collection. Because Random Strangers are the best.

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Aaaaand….now I’m ready to go back. Who’s with me?

On Running Away While Staying in Town.

Starting Friday afternoon, I took an unexpected four day/three night vacation.

…Something about that sounds like I went to prison, but no.

We, as a family, discovered the pure joy in taking a completely unplanned weekend getaway.

It all started at noon on Friday. Chris had told me he was going to be trail running the next morning at Oak Mountain State Park, and he’d love for us to join him out there for a day of family fun after his run. I also help out the state park system every now and then to provide them with pictures for marketing to help keep the state parks open (because we’ve had our share of State Park…and all other sorts of governmental drama in Alabama lately), and they had requested some specific pictures not long ago. It hit me that this might be a perfect weekend to stay in one of the cabins there, take pictures, play as a family, and get away. I checked with Chris, and he told me that in fact there was also a Birmingham Ultra Trail Society (BUTS, my favorite group acronym ever) trail run up to King’s Chair for sunrise on Sunday, and that I should go to that.

Well that sealed the deal. There’s no way I’d do a pre-dawn trail run if I weren’t staying 2 minutes from the starting point. This was a fantastic chance to see something I’d probably only see once in my life, and I was for sure now. This needed to happen.

But the chances that the ten cabins in the biggest state park in Alabama were not all booked seemed farfetched – especially since it was 3pm on Friday before I was able to check. But I contacted them anyway. And to further the trend of everything coming together for us, a wedding had just been cancelled and eight of the cabins were now available.

I mean sure. I was sad for the people who cancelled their wedding one day beforehand, but, better to realize mistakes before rather than after the nuptials. My condolences / congratulations, former couple.

And I was appreciative of the sudden availability of cabins.

It was 3:13pm when I got confirmation that we had a cabin for two nights and began packing. Check-in was at 4pm. I pulled out of my driveway at 3:59pm, everything packed except for Chris’ clothes, which he would get on his way after work.

I was pretty proud of my mad packing skills.

I have so many pictures to go through and thoughts to sort out and I’m sure I’ll come back and share more about our trip, but until then, here are the nine reasons why this spontaneous jaunt half an hour away might have been the best family vacation we have ever taken.

  1. We didn’t overplan or overpack – we had (nearly) everything we needed with only 45 minutes per adult of prep and packing. The things we forgot (mental notes for next time): folding chairs, paper plates and cups (there were real plates and cups in the cabin but who wants to do dishes), and a net to catch bugs, frogs, and turtles (just kidding, turtles. Kinda.)
  2. There was no internet and spotty cell service (“Tranquility Lake” might be code for “You might as well throw your devices out the window”.) We perfected the cell spots around the outside of the cabin for checking in and not being totally unplugged, but the forced unpluggedness was really quite lovely. Chris and I sat on the porch every night, listened to the extraordinarily loud (and, we suspected, amorous) frogs,  and felt no guilt about the fact that I just couldn’t blog and Chris just couldn’t read Twitter. I mean sure I could’ve written and published later, but I didn’t. I only opened my computer for photo editing.
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  3. The cabins are at an ideal location within Oak Mountain. There are 10,000 acres out there, so you can drive 6 miles between various activities. But at the cabins, there’s an unofficial trailhead as many trails cross paths there, there are canoes and boats, there’s a few tiny beaches and a lovely dock, and a gorgeous waterfall I didn’t even know existed less than half a mile away. So there was plenty to do, and also plenty to keep the kids entertained while we were at the cabin.160417_MG_0522

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  4. We decided on Sunday that we wanted to stay an extra night, and so Chris was able to just commute to work the next morning. I remember doing this as a kid from Tannehill State Park – we would “vacation” during the week, and my Dad would just drive in to work every day. I’ve always wanted to recreate this experience, but Tannehill is way too far from Chris’ office. Oak Mountain isn’t super close, but it’s not undoable. We are definitely looking at doing this more often, and would LOVE for friends to rent other cabins at the same time, and just have complete and absolute kid heaven.
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  5. The lake is small enough that Ali and I or Ali and Chris could canoe (she adored it) while Noah played at the dock (he allowed me to take him on a couple canoe trips but wasn’t a voluntary fan) and whichever responsible adult was in the canoe could keep an eye on him. Noah also could yell to said canoe, but somehow couldn’t hear me yelling back “BE QUIET!!” The kid doesn’t understand the meaning of “Tranquility Lake.”
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  6. There are SO MANY DISCOVERIES to be made at Oak Mountain. We still can’t even comprehend it all. Besides there being a ridiculous number of miles of trails (over 60) and many of those trails being vastly different in terrain and foliage, there were all sorts of things we didn’t even know existed. Like the demonstration farm with peacocks and donkeys and goats? No idea that was there. And Flip Side, the zip line ski park? I knew it was there, but just barely, and we haven’t done it yet but OH MY GOSH it looks fun. And then there are paddle boats and kayaking and paddle boarding and the BMX track and even golf. For so long we stayed at many other state parks but never Oak Mountain because “it was so close to home it didn’t feel like vacation.” We were wrong. SO WRONG.
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  7.  Our kids are at the perfect age for outdoor vacations. They hiked without complaining (mostly), endlessly played together perfectly, thanked us many times for taking them on a last minute trip (they found out about it 15 minutes before we walked out the door and didn’t know where we were going until we arrived), and enjoyed the lake without us worrying about them. I mean, I want to take the kids to Disney, but based on our track record, I think that perhaps we may be more cabin-in-the-woods kind of family than a theme park kind of family.
  8. Something about the unplannedness made it feel that much more relaxing. It was such a surprise to our systems that we all four appreciated it so much deeper than usual. It’s probably a feeling that is entirely unrecreatable, but it was just magical.
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  9. King’s Chair is an awesome hike and view, but one I’ve never done with kids (too steep) or for sunrise (too dark.) Staying out there for so long made both challenges much more attainable, and I did both. In the same day. My feet nearly fell off.

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So, friends and family. We will be planning more cabins-at-Oak-Mountain trips soon. And you really should consider joining us. Because I think we might have discovered Heaven In Birmingham.

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More pictures and less words to come…