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.

On Crossing the Bridge from Kid to Tween.

Dear Ali,

Something about turning nine is clearly a large step – we’re entering into something new, something unknown, a completely different territory of life.

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Maybe it’s not that exact age for everyone, but we sense it with you. You’re growing up, figuring out who you are, becoming more self-aware of your personhood.

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We’ve been having lots of talks lately about what it means to age, boggling your mind with stories of how your future hormones will probably make you want to hate us and hate your brother and hate everything else (and that you can’t let those pesky hormones win), and also, how proud we are of who you are becoming.

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You’re braver than you’ve ever been, you still have your goofy kid side, and you’re brilliant, perceptive, hard-working, and thoughtful.

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Wherever this journey takes you,

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I hope that you stay you,
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That you remember who you are and Whose you are,

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That you remember to set a good example for your brother who infinitely adores you,

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And that you never forget how much we love you.160108i

Oh – and be sure to have fun along the way.

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Happy birthday to the kid who made me a mom…

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I hope that you live the rest of your life with as much vigor and passion as is now contained within you.

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The Grand State Park Tour.

We did it.

A mom, 2 kids, and a Grandmother,

50 hours,

436 miles,

Over 8 hours in the car,

0 bathroom breaks during said drives,

4 State Parks,

3 State Park Restaurants,

2 State Park Lodges,

3 Hikes totalling 6.7 miles,

1,438 pictures taken.

And it only took me a month to actually blog about it.

I had planned this trip for the Monday after the accident, but put it off one week – which ended up being just a few days before I found out exactly how hurt I was. So. Although this trip certainly did not help my damaged muscles, tendons, ligaments, and discs, I am thankful that I was able to do it. Because it was majestic.

We started at Joe Wheeler State Park in northwest Alabama – a quadrant of the state that I’ve left grossly undervisited. It’s only two hours away from Birmingham, but I had never been there despite hearing about how beautiful it was. I feared that we had missed all of the lovely fall colors from leaving a week later than I had originally intended, but we were thrilled that they still had a good bit of Autumnness I craved.

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I soaked it in,watching the birds soar across the surface of the water, and enjoying the appropriate chill in the air.

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The kids immediately found a playground, and then Ali, anxious to start her fall trip notebook, began collecting leaves off of the ground.

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I was surprised at all of the sailboats in the marina – not usually what you see at state parks – but they made for pretty pictures.

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We ate a late lunch at the restaurant in the lodge (Ali said that they had the best ranch dressing in the entire world – and even stuck to that assessment when I took her to Wing Stop later that weekend, which is the place that I think has the best ranch in the whole world), then we set off on our first hike.

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The trail we took was lovely and wide and wound up along the riverbanks. The children deemed it perfection.
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At one point when we were high up above the river, we spotted what looked like a mysterious shoreline below. We all left the trail and scooted down the mountainside (leaving the trail caused Ali to get a mortal scratch from a thorn, something that was featured heavily in her journalling of the day) to check out the Pirate’s Cove below.

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The children giddily searched for “Lost Things” or treasure or anything else they could find, then we crawled back up the hill, carefully avoiding all thorns.

We arrived back where we started, and walked down through the picnic area to find the shoreline. Despite it being overcast, the colors of the trees were so happy and invigorating.

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I sat on a rock and took a photo editing break while the kids and my mom found shells, butterflies, and other wondrous objects made even more wondrous by Gramamma’s enthusiastic educational lessons. I really should have listened to her more as a kid.

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The shore was rocky and serene and seemed just the place where you might have a mermaid sighting. Or perhaps a Lochness Monster.

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We waited, but neither came to us. An extremely extroverted Monarch did find my mom and Ali, though. So there’s that.

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After a beautiful visit at Joe Wheeler, we set out again – this time for a two hour drive east. It got dark before we arrived (WHY can’t our legislation get us permanent daylight savings time? The sun should not set before 5pm. God never intended that), but the lights of Guntersville from our lodge room at Lake Guntersville State Park were magical.

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The lodge was pretty spectacular, also. Each room had a balcony overlooking Lake Guntersville, and the rooms had high ceilings that made them not feel nearly as claustrophobic as they should have with four people, two beds, and two air mattresses.

And the view was totally worth sketching.

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The next morning, Ali and Mom worked on her school journal (seriously I should hire my mother as a full-time tutor), preserving leaves, labeling leaves, and writing about all of our adventures to that point, including that pesky cat briar.

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Then we set off on a hike to explore Guntersville State Park’s beautiful trails.

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My favorite find were these leaves, the darkest fall leaves I have ever seen. They were completely black.

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The kids enjoyed the rock outcroppings and made up superhero games to go with them.

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The fall colors were still very much around as they had been at Joe Wheeler, so I basked in my favorite season.

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We did manage to get lost and wander like the Israelites in Egypt for a bit because I didn’t bother to read the legend on our trail map before we set out – particularly the definition of purple trails, which was “Not marked yet.” And then I started attempting to use the GPS on my phone to get us to the road but kept encountering sheer rock facings.

Just follow the trail maps, people. It’s the best way.

We found our way back to the trail and hiked back out, all of us feeling a great sense of accomplishment despite our wanderings. Our next stop was Desoto State Park. By the time we wandered off of Guntersville’s trails and got lunch on the way to Desoto, we didn’t have as much time to explore before sunset as we’d hoped, so we quickly drove through the cabin area and made mental notes for a future trip,

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then headed to Desoto falls for sunset.

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Desoto Falls is just marvelous. From the top,

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to the middle,
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To the bottom.
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The kids were impressed, but fought me quite a bit about stepping away from the gated area to get this picture. They were equally cutting off all circulation to my wrists.

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We left there and headed two hours east to our last stop, atop the highest mountain in Alabama, Cheaha State Park. It was dark when we got there, so we put the kids to bed and I had a desperately needed two hours of introvert time in the dark, editing photos and blogging.

Sharing space nonstop with my children does not come naturally for me.

The next morning, we walked across the street to have breakfast, which happened to possess this view:

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Bacon and biscuits taste even better while looking at it – I promise.

We drove over to the walkway to Bald Rock, which was a beautiful half mile stroll to the edge of the mountain.

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The walkway ended here, which overlooked Bald Rock. The kids were perfectly happy to stay at the end of the walkway, but I wanted the better view.

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As I expected, it was exhilarating.

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So I forced my children to join me. They wouldn’t quite step out of the shadows, but close enough.

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Next, we visited the fairy tale-esque building that housed the highest point in Alabama.

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The inside was adorable – exactly where one would expect Rapunzel to live.

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When we got to the top of the 64 stairs, I climbed up into the windowsill and looked down upon all the people – just so I could be the highest in the state for a moment. Ali was not impressed.

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Everything about Cheaha had an otherworldly feel to it – especially this castle waterfall,

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And the group retreat lodge. I’m not sure how they won the lottery for Best State Park Architecture, but the ambiance was fantastic.

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The grand finale of our journey was to drive down the mountain to Lake Cheaha and let the children play on the playground – because of course regular old playgrounds are the best part of epic journeys. Meanwhile, I circled the lake and took my last couple pictures.
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I already loved our State Park system before this trip. We have so much rich and varying landscapes in Alabama, and I love that we’ve preserved so many of them for public use. But this trip definitely ingrained in me (and hopefully my children) a yearning to go more. To do more roadtrips. And to explore all of the magical places our state has to offer.

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And I might already be planning our next grand adventure.