The Potentiality of Being Eliminated.

This is just urban legend…rumors passed down from generation to generation…

But I’ve heard that there are those that have their Christmas Card recipient list printed out, ready to receive their reciprocal Season’s Greetings. Each card that comes in gets checked off the list – approved to be bestowed upon the next year with yet another Christmas card.

But if, by the 24th of December (or the first of January if they’re feeling especially charitable), there has not been a 100% reciprocity ratio, all remaining persons get Sharpied off the list with vengeance.

Single elimination.

No grace period.

The end.

If those who have had their Christmas card credit declined want to earn their way back onto The Most Holy of Christmas Card Lists, they must send Christmas cards two years in a row without receiving any such acknowledgement or affirmations for their actions.

Then, on the third year, they may again receive their due blessing of a card in return.

If this is actually true, then I shall get Sharpied this year. I’ve gone back and forth with myself, wrestling for a month. Changing my mind more than Prince changes his name.

Should I? Can I? Will I? Won’t I?

And I have finally decided.

I will not. Not this year.

This year, though wonderful, has delivered me to the doorstep of over-commitment with a decisive thud. Between Picture Birmingham and homeschooling second grade and taking Noah to preschool and blogging and accounting and Dysautonomia and running 100 miles a month to fight Dysautonomia, I am a complete slug by the end of every day.

And the process – OH THE PROCESS – of Christmas cards. The designing, printing, asking for your addresses, addressing, mailing, fretting, and stamping of Christmas Cards….I just can’t do it. I normally never know when to say when but I actually think this might be a when moment. So despite my Type A guilt, I am saying when – for this year, anyway.

We did, however, get family photos done.

So I shall share those. And you can pretend they’re printed on cardstock and addressed to you. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll earn a pass.

But if I get Sharpied, I do know that I deserve it, and I shan’t hold it against you.

Brian T. Murphy shot us again this year, who is really just beyond fantastic. And my kids love him, so that seriously helps.

(Although Noah was disappointed that Brian got a new motorcycle that wasn’t red. I’m not sure what he was thinking.)

But regardless of bike bitternesses, Brian can make my kids laugh.

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And that’s what makes good photos.

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Now, I’m not saying that I didn’t heavily bribe them to smile for pictures,

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Because I totally did.

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Photography without bribery is like baking a cake without butter – it’s not going to work and it’ll probably taste awful.

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So why do that to yourself when for the promise of a few Squinkies and some Swedish Fish, you can have this level of participation?

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But a photographer who can bring out the real laughter is also quite invaluable.

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All of our pictures were taken at my parent’s house, so my Dad brought his motorcycle around as well. It at least has a red stripe, anyway.

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Since Ali and Noah are experts at the trails of Grandkid Paradise, they gleefully ran us around the property to show us where they thought the best photography spots were hidden.

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Ali had her heart set on the tire swing,

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And we agreed – it was a perfect prop for photos.

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So we joined her one by one,

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And attempted our first family photo, heavily featuring Noah’s tongue.

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Then the cousins arrived, and my Dad brought around his Model A – the one in which my parents drove A Lap of Alabama a couple of years ago.

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As always, their personalities had no trouble shining through.

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Some children needed to be turned upside down in order to catch their attention fully,

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While others were too busy being introspective to look at cameras.

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Finally, we attempted it. The first ever professionally taken Full Family Photo.

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I know right. We’re amazing, It was the pinnacle of our parenting achievements thus far. And I absolutely adored how Noah was holding onto Tessa.

Brian just kept shooting the family in every way imaginable – my brother and his family,

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My parents,

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My other brother and his dog,

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And the grandparents with their Grandkids. This may be one of my favorite pictures ever.

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Or maybe this one.

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Eventually, the kids began to wilt,

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But my Dad offered the additional bribery of a ride,

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And all was right in the world again.

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So there you go.

Merry Christmas, and that was way more pictures than would have fit on 5×7 cardstock anyway.

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But I am prepared to accept my Sharpie without bitterness, so mark me out if you must.

The Great Alabama Outdoors.

So, camping.

The weather could not have been more perfect when we arrived to the annual family camping trip. They were the ideal conditions for asking your son to pose for a picture,IMG_1088

When in reality you’re trying to covertly snap a photo of your camping neighbors taking their dog for a walk…in a pink stroller.

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That pup was the most pampered being in that campground, always parked in front of the fan, “walked” to her heart’s content…

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But this camping trip wasn’t about dogs. It was about children, and the wonderland that is having a playground within eyesight and the freedom of coming and going by oneself,

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About being made to carry firewood,

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No matter what your age.

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About playing on the giant rocks in a creek bed that’s never been anything but dry,

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About heading to the playground before breakfast and before being de-pajamaed,

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And before anyone can force you to put your Crocs on the right feet.

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About playing happily with your cousins so that your parents can take a romantic and quiet walk around the campground without any little shadows getting in the way,

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About pulling your grandmother in every direction possible because we all know she’s the most fun person on a camping trip,

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And about sitting around the campfire with your Granddad while making up ghost stories.

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And, since Ali was there and Ali is never unprepared, it was about having a craft table set up and organizing all of your cousins as if you were the activities coordinator on a cruise ship.

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This might mean that you have your first Rainbow Loom disaster and major rubberband de-sorting, but it’s worth it anyway.

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This is our annual family camping trip. Always at the idyllic location of Buck’s Pocket State Park, low in the valley below Sand Mountain in North Alabama.

It’s a place where you take your dogs along to do the dishes,

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(Yes I gagged a little when I saw that,)

Where you force your children to go on long nature hikes,

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(Yes these “paths” were most definitely where we managed to pick up Poison Sumac,)

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Where you teach them how to climb trails that go straight up mountainsides,

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Where you have to come up with a satisfying explanation for the rock-writing along the trail – because after all, some kids can read,

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Where, on some parts of the trail, you wish you were as short as they were,

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And where the view at the top makes it all worth it.

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Well, at least for grownups.

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(But the cousin-to-cousin bonding of such shared trauma cannot be denied.)

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But this is also the place where my Mother has been hosting The World’s Best Treasure Hunt for over two decades and two generations, so all hiking can be forgiven.

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Because the ecstasy of getting your water balloon into a bucket a foot in front of you erases all negative memories.

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(As does finding a new best friend.)

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At night, there are glow sticks to be had, and light shows to be offered.

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But after the children are tucked snugly in their sleeping bags is when the real fun can be had – because the good chocolate comes out for the S’mores, there are glow sticks to burn,

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And fiery air-writing to attempt.

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And then, after all can be had of the State Park, there are new adventures to discover.

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Adventures that require walking up to a ledge and looking over –

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To discover what is sure to be one of Alabama’s most fantastic sights, High Falls Park.

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If ever there were a Troll Bridge, that has to be it.

And of course, there are sunsets.

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Wide, sweeping gigantic sunsets,

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Unbelievable overlooks in the middle of nowhere,

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And awe-inspiring paintings in the sky.

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Sunsets that leave the cows unimpressed,

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Because they see them every night.

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This is Alabama. Come visit us soon.

(And I might even take your dog’s picture while I’m pretending to take my son’s.)

Callaway Gardens, a Photographical Journey.

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Chris and I wanted to go off for my birthday (early, by the way – you still have time to mark October 9 as a Very Important Date on your calendar), but we didn’t know where to go.

We only had a weekend available, so we needed to go somewhere relatively close, and we wanted to go somewhere new, somewhere pretty, and somewhere flat to be able to run.

So we did what any logical person would do: we asked Twitter. And got about four pages of responses. As we weighed your suggestions against our needs, Callaway Gardens, suggested by Katherine, Giann, and Emily, stood out the most.

Located in South Georgia, it appeared to be just what we needed: miles of trails, beautiful scenery, and a good deal of flatness.

So I dumped the children onto my parents, where they didn’t even look up to say goodbye,

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(because who would when there was sand to scoop?), and we skipped town.

As soon as we arrived Friday afternoon, we took off for a run. Because I’m an all or nothing person, and since I’ve discovered the power of a run over my Dysautonomia, it’s kinda all I want to do.

(Sorry, blogging.)

We quickly realized why our fancy suite at the fancy hotel on property had been so shockingly cheap: we were clearly between seasons. Post flower season, pre Fall Foliage season. Our first run felt more like running through the most beautiful campground with lovely amenities and beautiful lakes rather than through the world’s biggest flower garden as we’d expected.

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However, we quickly adjusted and enjoyed the views as they were.

And we managed to spot a few glimpses of fall along our way, making the backdrop of our runs even more beautiful.

140927 Sneak Peek at Autumn

I’m a nature lover of all sorts, so I was also thrilled to spot deer, all kinds of birds of the large variety, and this guy, who obliged me by becoming my pet for approximately 30 seconds.

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And, although I would have rather discovered an actual one, finding this former home of a snake was pretty exciting.

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Between the three days, we ran over 18 miles in Callaway Gardens (it’s a big place, y’all!) and walked at least five more. We discovered beautiful sites such as this chapel,

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And, even though it said “Wedding in Progress” on the sign out front, we took our cues from the silence and risked entry to see the stunning interior.

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It nearly made us want to get married all over again. Except for all the trouble.

Instead, we moved onto Mr. Cason’s Vegetable Garden, which was lovingly flanked with all the gorgeous flowers we’d been missing from our visit.

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The flowers grew around and atop the vegetables and herbs to distract the bad bugs and, furthermore, entice the good bugs to come eat the bad bugs. Who knew flowers were so smart? And here I thought they were just a pretty face.

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Chris discovered the Analemmatic Sun Dial, where you stand on the proper month, lift your arm, and it tells you what time it is.

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I’m positive it works a heck of a lot better when it’s not completely overcast.

We moved on again, this time to the Butterfly garden.

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My favorite part of all butterfly exhibits is the chrysalis room. They’re so fascinatingly beautiful, with their blazing jewel-like quality.

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The paper kite chrysalides were especially fascinating, because they were bright yellow with iridescent qualities and gold highlights – until the butterfly came out, leaving them mysteriously clear, despite the butterfly not being the least bit yellow.

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WHERE DID THE YELLOW GO?

The world will never know.

The chrysalis room was also quite creepy because there were butterflies actively hatching. Watch the black chrysalides closely:

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The butterflies themselves were housed in a garden in a greenhouse of sorts,

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which itself was surrounded by beautiful gardens,

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…which might explain this Blue Morpho’s adolescent angst.

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But if only he knew that out there in the real world, nobody’s going to hang him sliced fruit.

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Nobody’s going to water his leaves continuously.

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And nobody’s going to protect him from butterfly-chasing children.

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At times, I did realize how very fascinating this trip would have been for my children and how it would have counted for like a week of school.

But then we would have never gotten to run. Or celebrate our runs quietly with identical books and frozen drinks.

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Ultimately I felt no guilt. After all, they were too busy to tell me goodbye.

The gardens had their quirks, too. Chris raved about how they had been careful to build their parking lots around trees, making them shady and preserving nature – he thought that was so great. Until he parked in this extraordinarily un-square spot, perfectly lined up on his side and murdering the line on mine.

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He got out.

He inspected. He couldn’t rest until he’d proven that it was clearly the parking space’s fault, not his. (And I had to agree, as much fun as it was to see him perplexed.)

And he moved his car to a more deserving spot.

Building your parking lots around trees can also have other undesirable outcomes, such as root damage. This particularly unfriendly handicapped spot may have made us giggle a little too much.

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The hotel we stayed at had a spa, and every time we got in the elevator, we had no choice but to stare at this woman.

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Which was completely fine until I told Chris “You know, if you look at the picture just right, it looks like holes all the way through her back instead of rocks on top of her back.”

And then he couldn’t look at her ever again without getting an internal shiver.

Of course, we had to find the best views in the area, and there were plenty from which to pick.

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This one was at the garden’s adjoining state park, F.D. Roosevelt State Park, and Chris caught me photographing from atop FDR’s favorite place to think.

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I’m pretty sure I could end a war now if I had to.

And then there were the sunsets.

140926 A Moody Sunset at Callaway Gardens

As breathtaking and gorgeous as all of the views were in and outside the park, a straight shot at the sunset was surprisingly hard to find. After fighting my way through cobwebs and underbrush and running down an abandoned trail for half a mile, I finally found my spot.

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Chris managed to catch my graceful journey out onto my log…

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In my defense, I was carrying a camera and an iPhone, the water was pretty murky, and I was uncharacteristically concerned about a snake slithering by – in my mind, if a snake is in the water, it’s probably poisonous.

Fortunately, I didn’t consider the fact that I was much more likely alligator bait than snake bait – we were, after all, in South Georgia.

But the view was worth every fear.

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Every time I thought I’d caught the best of the sunset, I’d run back up on shore to escape any creepy crawlies and the family of mosquitoes that were munching my flesh…and then I’d look back and see that it just got better, and I’d splash back out to my log.

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Chris was highly amused to watch my ridiculous back-and-forth and asked why I didn’t just stay out on the log until after dark.

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I sneered at him. Was HE out on that log? No. He was safe on shore with nothing to fear but the spiders, who seemed, as they should be, more interested in the skies than him.

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On my fourth trip out to the log, I captured my final picture,

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then told Chris I was done.

We needed to leave.

Before I looked back and it got even better.

But, like Lot’s Wife, I did look back. And through the thick layer of trees, I could see that the skies were pinker than any neon light ever dreamed of being.

The moral of this story is: always stay on your log until it’s completely dark. Even if an alligator has you for a beautiful sunset dinner, the taxidermist will probably be able to recover the camera card.