The Birthday Post.

Today is Ali’s eighth birthday.

And, in my ongoing effort to lazify my life, she has to share it with her brother.

(On here, anyway.)

His birthday is six days before Christmas, and hers is 14 days after Christmas. This unfortunate timing may make me the worst sort of Mom when it comes to actually focusing on my kid’s birthdays, but I do try.

Noah had a small family birthday party for his fourth birthday (Hot Wheels Themed by his request – who knew Party City carried that?),

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And Ali had two dear friends spend the night for her birthday celebration.

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Although I may have fallen down on the job of spectacular Pinterestified birthday blowouts, I think they both had fairly decent years…

In January, we had our #SnowChasers adventure, where we desperately sought snowy adventures, only to actually leave behind the most apocalyptic snow and ice event to ever hit Birmingham.

(Seriously. While we were down in a cozy cottage watching the sunset over the lake in Eufaula, Chris was sleeping in his office for two nights – because he couldn’t leave.

But I’m off track. This post is about the children.

Ali was all in on our adventures,

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Fully embracing the snow,

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…and sand.

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Noah…was not as confident in my vacation planning skills.

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But he managed to have a few moments of happiness where he, also, appreciated the beauty of our journey.

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And he also got to learn how to use a wine glass, because apparently the State Park restaurant has never had children.

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In February, Ali just focused on looking pretty,

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While Noah was forced to do this.

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Eventually, potty-training was indeed achieved – but only because my Mom asked him.

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However, in a show of serious logic issues, his first dentist’s visit didn’t bother him a bit.

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In March, Ali met her new best friend.

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And Noah did he did what he does best – spreading mischief and bringing chaos to his sister’s perfectly aligned world.

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In April, Noah met his hero and celebrity crush.

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And Ali perfected her hipster artist waif look.

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In May, we went to the beach with friends,

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Where much bonding took place.

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And Cheez-its.

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Wave-hopping became a skill to be mastered,

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And everyone did indeed do just that.

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Other happenings included Noah perfecting the art of not listening to his sister,

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And Ali disapproving of her cousin’s idea of fun. Because someone might get hurt, obviously.

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In June, Ali repaid Noah for all of his brotherness,

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Noah studied the physics of liquid,

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And they were both agreeable to my photography attempts.

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In July, Superheroes abounded at our house,

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as the world always needs new heroes.

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There were also many playground trips,

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And Ring Pops.

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In August, Noah managed to get himself into more sticky situations,

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was the model birthday party guest,

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And started preschool.

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And Ali started…Second Grade.

08 August

September was football season,

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And popsicle season.

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In October, our family morphed into The Lego Movie,

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including a Princess Unikitty,

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And Emmet.

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November brought leaf piles and hiking,

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Along with a little bit of exploring.

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Our surroundings seemed to highlight how giant Ali was getting,

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And how tiny Noah still was.

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December was a month full of adventure and intrigue, including an awkward visit with Santa,

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A new excitement about running from Ali,

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(including running her first unofficial 5K),

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And a full appreciation for our wonderful late Alabama Autumn.

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And here they are now, both another year older – eight,

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And four…

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And maybe a tiny bit wiser.

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Maybe.

And now it’s time to set off on twelve months of new adventures.

Happy Birthday, kids! Maybe next year you’ll even get your own posts.

Maybe.

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.)