A Journalled Year.

This delightful kid turned eleven yesterday.

13 180105 Falling Rock Falls c IMG_0465 s

Ali recorded her year much better than I did, so I thought we’d tell the story together.

January 2017: her tenth birthday, and when she finally allowed me to start calling her a tween.

03 Ali-3-2017b s

Also, she made sure to record her little brother’s fairly impressive abilities.

Ali's Diary IMG_6927 2 s

February: She’s always up for a craft project of any kind. In fact, she may craft harder than anyone has ever crafted in the history of craftswomanship.

02 Fimo ProjectIMG_3930s s

She also ran her third 5K (and began feeling eerily close to me in the height department.)

02 IMG_4522 s

In her February writings, she took the time to express her lifelong displeasure in the Chick-Fil-A cow’s ability to spell. (She has long told me that she thinks it’s just awful that they teach little kids how to spell wrong. I did not know, until reading her diary, that she uses them as a scapegoat for her own spelling missteps. It’s fair.)

a 02 Ali's Diary IMG_6919 2 s

March: She’s always excited about any adventure and more willing than ever to take risks and try new things.

03 Pine-Mountain_MG_6407_0082 s

She also recorded this fairly quirky moment.

Ali's Diary IMG_6925 2 s

If you can’t end a story of inexplicable mouth bleeding with TTYL, are you really tweening?

April: She’s a model oldest cousin,

04 Easter-2017_MG_7991_1720 s

She’s cool enough for awesome sunglasses but not too cool to bury her Dad,

04 April 2017 beachFullSizeRender 75s s

And she doesn’t believe in spoilers. Even in one’s personal diary.

Ali's Diary IMG_6926 2 s

May: Who needs water shoes to walk on a rocky riverbed? Not ten year olds.

05 170519 Cahaba River Exploring Trussville_MG_0003 s s

Ali finished her Alabama History project with flourish,

06 Alabama-History-Book s

Our last field trip involving standing under one of Alabama’s finest accomplishments.

05 170523b-Dreams-of-Space s

She always loves reading,

05 Last Day of School on Ruffner Mountain _MG_8599 s

And, when necessary to tell the story correctly, she believes in a good, solid illustration of crying and injured children.

a 05 Ali's Diary IMG_6920 2 s

(And, if you cannot properly see the injury due to scale of drawing, by all means show a magnification.)

a 05b Ali's Diary IMG_6921 2 s

June: She’s an angel. Especially when compared to her competition.

06 Ali-Noah-Wings-Karate-Chop s

She’s still 100% committed to her literal lifelong best friend, AJ.

06 June 2017 Spurlahan Trip _MG_9384 s

And she realized that she likes having a pictoral journal of herself, so is willing to pose for any picture, including holding a giant peach that most believe to actually be a giant peach-colored butt.

06 June 170225-Holding-Up-The-Peach s

Also, ants are the worst, no matter what your age – mainly because it only takes 180 seconds to go from digging up sassafras roots to being the proud owner of a cluster of ant bites.

Ali's Diary IMG_6935 2 s

July: Ali decided she was going to become a woodcarver when she grew up, so Pop took her to get whittling tools (with which I managed to mortally wound myself but she uses still unscathed), and she began her career on soap, as one does.

07 IMG_0467 s

…Which is less dangerous than her backup careers – snake charmer,

07 IMG_8042 s

or supervillain.

07 Ironman-Catwoman-3 s

She also managed to record her brother’s most humiliating moment of the month,

a 07 Ali's Diary IMG_6923 2 s

Along with a total stranger’s:

a 07 Ali's Diary IMG_6928 2 s

August: She continued being a helpful cousin,

08 2017-Family-Vacation-Cousins-Pic_MG_3358 s s

A helpful photographical muse,

08 170818d Sunset on Cape San Blas _MG_3175 s s

08 ali-beach-8-2017 s s

08 August 2017 Family Vacation FullSizeRender 99 s s

And a helpful sister.

08 Ali-Assisting-Noah-climb_MG_9697 s

She also recorded her once-in-a-childhood opportunity to experience a partial eclipse (I know, I know – we should have driven up to the total eclipse. I still have regret.)

a 08 Ali's Diary IMG_6929 2 s

September: Ali started the Fifth Grade, which sounds super old.

08 First Day of School 2017 IMG_1950 s s

Her excitement for adventures-in-the-woods went a bit manic like mine does every fall, which was quite convenient.

09 170929 Tannehill IMG_3490 s

And, lucky for her father, her joy from football also grew twelve sizes. Except when she gets stung by mysterious creatures.

a 10 Ali's Diary IMG_6932 2 s “But not all was good…”

She also realized The Way Things Are with Alabama Football.

a 09 Ali's Diary IMG_6930 2 s

October: Our multi-weekly hikes kept her a step ahead of her friends,

10 Ethan climbing wall to Ali IMG_5191 s

And she cracked the code to happiness.

a 10 Ali's Diary IMG_6936 2 s The definition of happiness always includes “etc.”

November:

11 Ali-11-15-17-IMG_0235 s

She volunteered at Habitat for (Fairy) Humanity and built a house from the ground up,

11 Oak Mountain Fall Trip 2017 IMG_0297 3blog s

She discovered the joy of coffee (when liberally creamered),

11 Oak Mountain Fall Trip 2017 IMG_4849blog s

And she truly Became One With The Fall.

11 171107 Ali in Endless Leaves IMG_9045S s

11 171108 Walk in the Woods at Oak Mountain IMG_9308S s

11 171108 Walk in the Woods at Oak Mountain IMG_9344S s

11 171108 Walk in the Woods at Oak Mountain IMG_9423S s

11 171111-Leaves-Sunset-and-Football s s

11 171120 Leaves and sunset atop Ruffner Mountain IMG_2384 s s

Also, her football commentary and illustration abilities became ESPN-Ready.

a 11 Ali's Diary IMG_6937 2 s

a 11b Ali's Diary IMG_6938 2 s (Although when I read the lips of angry coaches and players, that’s not usually what they’re saying.)

December:

12 Ali-12-18-17-IMG_7664 s

She perfected the art of climbing a tree that clearly wanted to be climbed,

12 171218 Aldridge Gardens IMG_7700 s s

She got to make a fantastic December snowman,

12 IMG_0376 s_1 s

And she helped me get kids to smile for Christmas photoshoots,

12 Ali-and-Noah-helping-Photo-Shoot-12-4-17-IMG_6779 s

Including when that kid was just simply her brother.

12 Ali-Noah-2017-Christmas-IMG_8174 s

Also, her nonchalant ability to move on after documenting illegal residents is a lesson to me in not sweating the small (and furry) stuff.

Ali's Diary IMG_6934 2 s

January 2018: Her basketball career is flourishing.

IMG_6856 2

Our long bout of sub-freezing weather has fascinated her, making her eager for a daily adventure to experience this wild and wonderful Natural Ice.

13 180103-Ali-Through-The-Ice-IMG_9529 s

13 180104 Walk on Water  and Icy Day IMG_9781 s

13 180104 Walk on Water IMG_9764 s

She is and will continue to be my eager adventure partner,

13 180105 Falling Rock Falls c IMG_0580 s

Along with my equal-sharing partner in pants, socks, shirts, jackets, hairstyles, and very nearly height.

13 IMG_6667 s

I, for one, am quite excited to see where the year of eleven takes us.

The Highs and Lows of Winter.

When you live in the south, you really don’t expect the freezing point to actually mean something. To me, it’s always felt more like a guideline.

“Water could start freezing at 32 degrees.”

But no. I really actually means that water freezes.

And as such, it’s been freezing around here, so we’ve been experiencing the shocking sensation of naturally occurring ice. Who knew that happened south of Michigan?

180103 Icy Hike at Oak Mountain IMG_9540

We’ve been meandering around town, looking for bodies of water to disturb. And the kids have been perplexed, amazed, and endlessly fascinated by throwing things at the lake and watching the lake fight back.

180104 Walk on Water and Icy Day IMG_9651

180104 Walk on Water and Icy Day IMG_9654

(If there’s a rise in general Alabama water volume due to displacement by rocks, that’s on us.)

I’m not saying I’m doing all of this exploring out of the generosity of my heart – I’m pretty geeked out by naturally occurring ice myself. I thought ice was created by ice makers and came out of the door of your fridge in neatly uniform tapered cubes. But ice is way fancier when it creates itself.

180103 Icy Hike at Oak Mountain IMG_9557

180103 Icy Hike at Oak Mountain IMG_9469

We didn’t exactly attempt walking on water at Oak Mountain, but we certainly considered it. And gave the lake a few good shoves with our feet to see if it was possible. It was not, but the thickness of the ice was nonetheless impressive.

180103 Icy Hike at Oak Mountain IMG_9509

(And by the way – the most satisfying sound I’ve heard in a very long time is the unique tinkling of a piece of ice being thrown at, breaking into dozens of pieces, and then sliding chime-ingly across a lake.)

180103-Ali-Through-The-Ice-IMG_9529

But on our second day of Arctic Alabama Exploration, we hit paydirt.

180104 Walk on Water IMG_9714

There’s something about this fountain – perhaps its extreme shallowness – that made it perfect for an actual attempt at walking on water.

180104 Walk on Water and Icy Day IMG_9741

And so, after a few tentative steps around the edges, the children indeed realized they could do just that.

180104 Walk on Water IMG_9774

I mean, this is SERIOUSLY NOT supposed to happen in the deep south.

180104 Walk on Water IMG_9764

But they were happy to test it out, despite the fact that my dad had just finished telling us a story about a fisherman in Virginia that fell through the ice, and upon asking the locals what they would do about it, they said, “Oh, we’ll find him come Spring – if the turtles don’t find him first.” Dad followed up his story with “Anyone who is trying to walk on ice in Alabama has GOT TO BE stupid.”

180104 Walk on Water IMG_9765

It was treacherous.

And we knew we were taking our lives into our hands.

So naturally, we let my Dad be the first to know of our dangerous adventures.

IMG_6695

Lack of turtles. That’s the key for ice walking.

181014-Walk-on-Water-IMG_9778

So we shall continue our bitter cold adventures until our normal winter temps of the 50s come back very, very soon.

180104 Walk on Water and Icy Day IMG_9780

But we’ll always look down and check for turtles first.

180104 Walk on Water IMG_9768

How are you coping psychologically with the cold?

On Proving that The Mayflower > The USPS

November First.

That’s where this story begins.

It was the day I received an order from England for one of my Roadkill Calendars*.

2018 Roadkill Calendar Cover web

I have shipped plenty of things overseas. I’ve shipped to China – with the endless label written in Chinese. I’ve shipped to Africa. I’ve shipped to England. I’ve shipped to many random places in the world, and I do not suck at it.

The USPS website allows you to buy international postage online, which is nice – because filling out a manual customs form is comparable to shoving a full-sized male Gorilla into a Ziploc snack bag – no international address actually fits into the tiny fields on that microscopic form.

The very day I received the order, I printed my label.

Except that I noticed no postage printed alongside the customs form.

I went through the process again to make sure there was not an additional form to print, and there wasn’t.

I shrugged, assumed the post office was doing things differently now, and dropped it off to ship.

A few days later, the package showed back up on my doorstep, with a handwritten note on it:

“No Postage!”

Calendar September 2018 web

I got back on the website and paid the $13.50 international postage again in the attempt of saving myself from a visit to the actual post office. It is a place of unspeakable horrors, as Portlandia so accurately portrayed:

But after I went through the process again, it printed off exactly as it had before: without postage.

So I gathered both receipts, the package, the new and faulty label, and as much bravery as I could muster and went to Local Post Office Number One in the late afternoon, riskily near closing time.

The parking lot was nearly empty, so I felt that the stars of postal fortune had perhaps shined upon me.

I walked in and was overcome by the smell of hopelessness.

There was one worker and one customer, and it was apparent she’d been there a while. The male postal worker helping her laughed maniacally when I walked in. He yelled over to me,

“Whatever you need, I cannot help you.”

I looked toward the counter. There was a pile behind him, a pile in front of him, and this pile had not yet been moved over to him:

IMG_2778 2

Every few seconds, he made a sarcastic comment to the customer.

“Oh is that ALL?”

“Just a few more then, huh?”

Calendar July 2018 web

…all while glaring at me in the attempt to intimidate me into slinking out in the SHAME of coming in while he was dealing with this tragedy of over-mailing.

I peeked at her stack of boxes: they were Christmas presents for overseas troops. This fact did not make Mister Postal Worker any less Grinchy.

Calendar November 2018 web

But the stars shone upon me and a shimmering unicorn walked out of the back room. Or rather, a smiling postal worker – same difference.

She asked me what she could help me with and I explained my issue and presented my receipts.

“You paid for this package twice? My goodness, honey. You shouldn’t have done that.”

She inspected the package’s markings and said while shaking her head, “Mmm, mmm, mmm, those idiots at the downtown Post Office sent this back. They are SO STUPID. They should know better!”

Calendar April 2018 web

She took out a black Sharpie and wrote on the package, “Postage Paid!!”

“That’ll do it, honey. It’ll ship now!!”

A few days later, like a stray cat that can’t take a hint, it showed up on my doorstep for the second time.

Calendar January 2018 web

This time it had a note, also written in Sharpie, that said “No postage – writing ‘postage paid’ is not postage.”

I stopped at Local Post Office Number Two.

It was late November by now, so the lines were beginning to swell with holiday anxiety. I waited patiently for ten minutes while my children waited not-so-patiently.

“Can I help you?”

“I am hoping that you are an expert. I just know you can help me solve this.”

I explained the saga. I displayed my receipts. I pleaded for mercy.

“I can’t help you with that. You need to take it back to Local Post Office Number One. They have a manager over there.”

I tried not to let my tears stain the post office floor.

Instead of taking his advice, I decided to take it to the Scene of the Crimes: I would go to the dreaded, the formidable, the horror movie of The Downtown Post Office.

Calendar May 2018 web

I left my kids with Chris and approached the office with a respectable dose of fear.

A man talking rapidly on the phone was coming out of the front door as I approached, and I slipped through the door.

He turned around, huffed loudly, and angrily barked toward me, “You’re welcome!!”

a. He didn’t even really hold the door for me.
b. He was on the freaking phone in mid-sentence. Was I supposed to interrupt him to thank him for his sub-par gentlemanliness?
c. He is absolutely the kind of man who believes that buying a woman dinner on a first date entitles him to immediate relational benefit. And this realization made me want to vomit on his fancy wingtip shoes.

This encounter set my Downtown Post Office visit in motion just the way I expected it to go.

Calendar June 2018 web

The line was the kind of line that you could file your taxes, read a Jane Austen novel, call and comprehensively catch up with your best friend from 4th grade, and knit an ugly Christmas sweater all before being granted the privilege of being Next In Line – and I’m pretty sure there were people in that line doing all of those things.

I approached the counter with a look of humble gratitude. I pulled out my growing Package Dossier. I explained my case.

She looked at it all quietly, then said, “I’ll have to talk to my manager.”

She left me. She left me for so long I almost had abandonment issues.

Calendar February 2018 web

She finally returned, looking a year older. “He said the online postage system has been messed up lately – he’s seen other international packages come through without the postage printed correctly also. He told me to just print you the postage and it’ll go through just fine.”

Thank goodness. I came to the right place. And also I’m not crazy – I did nothing wrong when buying postage.

She started entering in the address.

“This shows it should be $22.50, and you only paid $13.50.”

“That’s what the online system charged me…”

“Well, online gives a discount, but I can’t. Hold on let me go check with my manager.”

Depression gripped my heart as PTSD Abandonment Issues set in.

Days later, she came back.

“He said I have to charge you the difference. So you’ll need to pay nine dollars.”

“Fine.”

Type, type, type.

She printed postage for nine dollars. I paid her. She said, “This should do the trick. If it doesn’t, come back.”

That was not the hope I was looking for.

Two weeks passed. I felt sure my package had made its voyage across the sea. I mean, HOW HARD COULD THIS BE?! Angelica sailed back and forth between England and New York multiple times during one act of Hamilton. If Angelica could do it in the 1780s, surely a few pictures of roadkill can make the journey before 2018.

Then came the Friday before Christmas. I was in bed recovering from surgery.

Calendar December 2018 web

Chris got home from work, walked into the bedroom with his hand behind his back, and said “You’re never going to believe what was on the front porch.”

“Cat poop?”

“Worse.”

“A slaughtered raccoon from that stray cat who won’t take a hint?”

“So much worse. You’re going to be so mad.”

“I don’t want to be mad!!”

“Mad in a fun way.”

He pulled the envelope from behind his back.

I nearly popped my incisions from screaming.

THIS IS NOT A FUN KIND OF MAD!!!!!”

He set the envelope in my lap. That poor package was battered, abused, and humiliated.

Package to England

This time it had come back, according to the sticker, because the barcode had already been used.

There were so many scars and memories on on that package of all my prior visits…

…The scribbled out Sharpie messages…

…The $9 postage…

…All the stickers demanding I do this right even though the post office admitted it was their fault…

The envelope itself was a calendar of my November and December.

So, the week after Christmas, I decided to go back to where it all started.

Local Post Office Number One.

I took a fresh envelope, my stack of receipts from all former post offices, and resigned myself to filling out a fresh customs form – by hand.

As I waited in line, I began the process of rewriting everything. Which is when a man and his son who had been standing behind me decided that I was a prime target for line-cutting. They nonchalantly stepped around and in front of me.

But it was the wrong post office visit to mess with me. I had endured the sarcastic You’re Welcome guy. I had endured the cruel postal worker who didn’t want to process packages for the troops. I WAS NOT GOING TO JUST TAKE A LINE CUTTER.

I pushed around them and took back my place. “I was in line before you.”

“Oh, sorry.” They stepped back a step and looked at each other as if I had a crazed look in my eye (I’m sure I would never.)

I held my shoulders high with the ecstasy of not being taken advantage of (by anyone but the United States Postal Service.)

I hefted my sheaf of documentation up on the counter.

I walked the clerk through a Masters-Level education of what brought me here, to her counter, today.

Calendar August 2018 web

She sighed and shook her head.

“Okay. We need a new barcode. And new postage. And I think we can make this work.”

“Do you want me to use a new envelope since this one is so wrecked?”

“No. Let’s leave part of these stickers the same.”

Type type type…

She read my customs declaration. “This is a calendar, huh? What year is it for? Please say it’s for 2020 – because that’s probably when it’ll arrive.”

“Right? The Mayflower sailed from England to America quicker than this package is getting from America to England.”

“You are so right about that, honey.” She taped my freshly handwritten customs form onto the package.

RIGHT OVER MY ADDRESS.

“Um, I trust that it’s going to work this time, but you just covered up my return address. If perchance it doesn’t work, I really want to be able to know it.”

She sighed, ripped it up, salvaged my address, and re-taped it. I pondered whether this could be a DefCon Nine Postal Worker Solution to a problem package: if you make sure it ends up in the Eternally Lost Package Bin, the customer can’t complain again.

Then she looked at me sternly, with that look you give a stray cat after it craps on your porch for no good reason. “I do NOT want to see you back here again. I do NOT want to see this package again. Got it?”

Calendar March 2018 web

“Believe me, ma’am. I feel the same way.”

And this is where we now find ourselves.

My confidence level regarding this fifth attempt is at about 32%. I fully expect to see that mangy package cuddled up to my stray porch cat any day now.

Calendar October 2018 web

Thoughts and prayers, y’all. Thoughts. And. Prayers.


* Roadkill calendars are sold out, but if you find yourself in desperate need of one, I can still special order them. Unless you’re in England. Then forget it.