The Last (Beach) Stand.

It was our last trip of the summer, and our twelfth(ish) annual family vacation – the one we take with my family instead of buying each other presents. Not having to buy presents AND a “free” vacation? It’s such a win.

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We started this tradition when there were no kids, then eventually began adding one kid per year for a half-decade.

The first year that we had all five cousins on the trip, they looked like this:

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And now they look like this.

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I’ll let you guess which of those years was easier.

This year, did all the Florida things.

We beached (count five kids – they’re all there. Did you find them? That’s what we do on the beach – count to five over and over),

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We rainbowed,

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We ran to and from the beach in our pajamas to get a better view,

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We learned what was REALLY at the end of the rainbow,

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(Is she taking a picture of her dog pooping at the end of the rainbow? I did, so I guess I can’t judge.)

We ran into random men with parrots,

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We complained about our hands being covered in parrot germs,

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We sand castled,

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We sunsetted,

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We crab hunted at least three different species (and/or goaded the bravest children into doing it for us),

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(Cape San Blas is apparently the most popular Crab Hangout Spot in the world. See all those dots? Crabs. All crabs.)

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We corralled everyone for family photos, which first requires one tribute for a lighting check, and MY GOODNESS did my tribute offer some flair with his role.

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He’s for sure going to get picked up by a modeling agency solely because of this blog post.

Okay on to those family photos…

(Nope, not that one.)

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(Nope again.)

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(Definitely not.)

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(Okay that one will work.)

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(Since we’re on a roll, we should try a different location.)

(Nope, there’s always that one kid.)

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Oh and every now and then we relaxed.

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We also taught all the kids how to play Mafia, which they then became OBSESSED with, and I realized how remarkably good I was at swaying their collective opinions. I could make them turn on someone with just five words. I felt the addictive rush of power after being on the winning side for 8 out of 8 of our games, and realized that I really should consider a career change to either detective or member of the actual mafia. I’ll let you know what I decide.

And finally, we all studied intensely a pair of giant Walkingstick bugs. When Chris brought them up “as a large gift” for me (then lifted the lid and they jumped toward me and I screamed), he told the kids, “Look! It’s a baby riding on a Mommy’s back!”

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We all oohed and aahed at how adorable this was, and I fussed at the children for trying to detach the precious family.

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“Don’t do that to the baby!! He could DIE!!!”

After asking my resident Twitter Scientist, I discovered that actually, the males of this species are a lot smaller than the females, and the actual connection of the creatures at the rear as opposed to what I suppose I imagined – at the mother’s tiny teat – began to make so much more sense.

That poor female. She thought she had a chance of escape with our kid’s help. And then I stepped in and made them end their detaching process.

I went and found Chris. “THAT WAS NO BABY RIDING ON ITS MOTHER’S BACK!!”

He laughed at me. “I know that! I just made that story up for the kids.”

Five hours later, they were still on the porch. And still very much attached.

That night as I was lying in bed thinking about that exhausted female Walkingstick, I googled and discovered that this particular variety have an extremely unique “odiferous secretion” that they can shoot, with surprising accuracy, up to 15 inches. And furthermore, if this secretion is shot into one’s eye, which is a usual target, it can cause pain as severe as if you’d had molten lead poured in your eye socket. The pain fades in a few hours. The next morning, you wake up with a completely scarlet eye that makes light and pressure so unbearable that you are incapacitated for 48 hours. Your vision continues to be impaired for five days.

Hey, y’all – Alabama isn’t the only Hunger Games stadium.

After sharing these findings with the family, along with my relief that the children were not attacked by that feisty little male, my mom had an aha moment. She said that as we were all crowded around observing our new friends, she suddenly felt like she had something in her eye. It got worse, so she ran inside before we’d realized she was hurting. She couldn’t get it to quit, and finally threw her contacts away, and the pain subsided.

We can clearly conclude that the joy of our vacation was saved solely by a contact lens. We should all be so lucky as to have horrible vision.

So, thanks to Gramamma for taking it in the eye from a pair of amorous sticks for the rest of us, we can safely call this vacation a Thumbs-Up success.

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Into the Mountains We Go.

As a refresher, my family – parents, brothers, sister-in-law, nephew and nieces take a family trip every year rather than giving each other gifts. 2016 was our twelfth trip.

As I mentioned earlier, we stayed in a “resort neighborhood” in the mountains for this year’s family vacation. It was in the mountains in North Georgia, a beautiful area to see, but a terrible area to navigate. There were so many shockingly long dirt roads that I began to actually praise ALDOT, our own inept and corrupt department of transportation.

Oh – and North Georgia is at times exactly how they describe Kenneth Parcell’s hometown in 30 Rock.

IMG_5069As excited as I was about this knife shop, the missing apostrophe IN MY OWN NAME hurt.

The “resort”, and I call it that both in truth and because they really REALLY like quotation marks there,

IMG_5096Where is Bill Pound’s other unnecessary quotation mark?!

was actually a gigantic neighborhood laid out over 5,500 acres that were (and still are) seemingly uninhabitable. The impossibly narrow roads (all 170 miles of them) roll up and down continuously as if someone was shaking out a giant blanket in the wind. The houses hang off cliffs and are surrounded by deer-filled woods.

It was quite peaceful and beautiful, but was full of quirks.

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One day, we took our kids to the resort’s Mini Golf. It had seen better days – Hole 3 had a traffic cone in it, clearly marking its out-of-order status, which was also apparent by its complete lack of carpet.

But we played it anyway. Uneven concrete and all.

Each hole of the Mini Golf was sponsored by a local company or one of the resort’s amenities.

Such as Dottie, Nancy, and Ann’s services:

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The hole would be decorated by theme and matching the sponsor, so this particular hole had frogs, all sorts.

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Including this Tic-Tac-Toe frog who’d really lost his butt in the game.

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The hole for the Corner Store Café definitely made me hungry,

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But my favorite hole was the one sponsored by a local attorney.IMG_5083

The signs around the hole were very stoic and professional, clearly marking this as a well-sponsored hole.

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But the décor added to the hole itself – they were priceless.

…Deeds sure has a different connotation when it becomes “Deeds.”

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And by the time we got to “Appeal”, Chris and I decided that this was meant to be marital advice, not legal advice.

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Because what spouse doesn’t appreciate it when you Say “Pleas”?

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We did lots of hiking and running, both in and out of the “resort”, both with and without kids. Chris and I got just barely off the beaten path of the resort and, right after finding Ord, friend of Mater’s,

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we came across what I was sure held a body

IMG_4964Who knew that Volvo made Chevy Expos?

Another day, the entire family went to Springer Mountain, a one mile trail at the start of the Appalachian Trail. My brother did not tell me that it would be a 7 mile perilous cliffside dirt road to get there, but with a little bit of eye closing and deep breathing, I survived the trip up.

Thankfully, it seemed we had plenty of time to take our hike before the meter maids made it up the road.

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The kids, all adept hikers, did fantastic going up the mountain.

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We made it to the top and celebrated by resting, drinking water, taking in the view,

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And of course, climbing trees.

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On the way home from that adventure, because it clearly wasn’t enough, we took an even longer frightening dirt road (aptly named Winding Stair Gap Road) and visited Amicalola Falls, which was okay from the top,

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but then tempted you with 600 steps down to see the actual view.

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We managed to cajole the children back up 200 stairs, then sent Chris to get the car to retrieve them.

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Chris and I snuck away for adventure and intrigue one afternoon, getting lost on dirt roads and trying to find a trail that ended up being closed.

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We took part of it anyway, only to read later that it was closed due to high voltage power lines being put in.

Oops.

Always obey signs, kids.

But we found another trail that was just gorgeous, and ran/walked it together, enjoying all its offerings.

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This is why you visit North Georgia.

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And of course, due to all the outdoors activity, there was plenty of this.

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And this.

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Because what is vacation without chill-out time?

Before we left, we ran out back to the delightful woods behind the house to get our annual family photo. Ali was happy to volunteer to be my model for lighting and tripod setup, and I marveled at her total grownup-ness.

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Of course, there had to be a spider on that tree we were going to use. Luckily, we had Pop there to quell all spider fears.

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We finally got everyone in place and snapped before any other creepy-crawlies found their way into our scene.

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And of course, I grabbed a few cousin shots.

Ali, Princess of Organization and Activities Coordinating,

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Eli, Prince of Original Ideas and Holder of All Animal Facts,

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Tessa, Princess of Quiet Determination and Winning All The Things,

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Noah, Prince of Make-Believe and Matchbox-Car-Road-Making,

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And Andi, Princess of Playing Happily With Everyone.

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All five of them are AMAZING at the whole cousin thing.

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30A: 2015 Oops Edition.

We were getting ready to go on our annual family vacation when I remembered that I never ever finished LAST YEAR’S annual vacation blog post. We’ve even been to 30A again since this unpublished post occurred, but no matter. I dug it out of drafts to publish as a comparison to this year’s trip. Because why not? It’s my blog and I can publish a year late if I want to. So first I’ll share last year, and my next post will have pictures of this year’s trip.

30A. The phrase (can you call it a phrase?) started showing up on bumper stickers all over Birmingham a few years ago. At first I had no idea what it meant. Slowly, I began to form an idea that it had something to do with Florida beaches…near Seaside…maybe?

I was no expert. I don’t go to Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches very often – I either go to Alabama’s gulf coast beaches or Atlantic beaches. I’m pretty sure this has to do with my subconscious anger at Florida in their beach hogging tendencies. I mean, how many coastline miles did they already have? And they had to swipe the coastline in front of Alabama?

But I digress.

I may not ever forgive Florida for stealing the bulk of our beaches, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t still appreciate those sandy shores {that should be ours} every now and then.

When we started this annual tradition, there were no Grandkids – just a bunch of boring adults. Now, we have a full set that look forward to these trips more than perhaps even the grownups do.

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This year for our family vacation, we headed to 30A. This was our eleventh annual family vacation, funded by not giving each other Christmas, Birthday, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day presents. It’s a pretty fantastic deal, not having to pick out small kitchen appliances that each other won’t use anyway.

I was pretty excited to see what this magical place worthy of bumper stickers was all about. I’ve never even been to Panama City (I know right?), so our trip to the beach was a completely new set of small Alabama highways for me to experience. I missed all sorts of fabulous photo ops, such as a field of cows with each one surrounded by its own set of long-necked birds (I suppose they have a symbiotic relationship where the cow attracts bugs and the birds eat the bugs?), and a cotton field with massive cotton picking machines baling up cotton.

But I did manage to catch a few.

Such as this sign. I mean – have you seen Plar Poop that cheap since 1989? I haven’t.

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We were bewildered by what that sign could possibly mean, until we found this one.

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Those tricksters. Switching letters around at the local Kangaroo must be as much fun as cow-tipping.

We traveled through Opp, Alabama for the first time in my life – all I’d ever heard about Opp was their famous Rattlesnake Races. No one ever mentioned Betty’s flamboyant reputation.

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And then there was the restaurant, taking advantage of everyone’s indecisiveness and capitalizing on that mess.

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“Where ya wanna eat supper, honey?”

“It don’t matter.”

“Okay then. We’ll go there.”

And then, as we got closer to the coast, we found the place that must have inspired the character of Bubba in Forrest Gump.

BDB29EEF-802D-45B9-B3EB-57954D078E50“We got Shrimp Stew, Shrimp Scampi, Shrimp Sandwiches, Shrimp Snow Cones…”

But aside from the rural treats pictured above, we found some really spectacular sights on the way down there, too – such as an Alabama State Park that I had never heard of – Florala State Park.

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(Which is now Florala City Park, thanks to our state’s politician’s State Park budget cuts.)

We also saw plenty of gorgeous cotton fields, just begging me to get out and photograph them (and maybe pick just one piece of cotton. For the children’s education and all.)

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We arrived at 30A and some settled in quicker than others.

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Try carrying luggage past this. It works really great.

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I have a beach quirk: I HAVE to go out to the beach the first day we arrive, no matter how late, and I DESPISE going out on the beach the day we’re leaving, because it’s depressing.

So as soon as we got our bags out of the car, I headed to the beach with the kids while Chris did the grocery shopping.

(He has a quirk that he loves doing a gigantic grocery shopping trip at the beach.)

(I think his quirk is way quirkier.)

As soon as I reached the beach, I realized why people adored 30A the way they do. The water was Turquoise. I had never seen water outside of pictures that beautiful.

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The kids and I stayed out until sunset, loving the beautiful water and sand.

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Each morning, my parents made their traditional breakfast of EVERYTHING,

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And each evening, I made the traditional trek out to the beach for sunset.

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…and moonrise, since they conveniently go together.

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Chris and I took advantage of the long, flat running path to grab my longest run ever – 17 miles.

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Because that’s relaxing, right?

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And the kids, of course, found all sorts of ways to entertain themselves at the beach.

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9EDD5890-ECE1-4022-9E91-221AE09F564FA188414D-2668-41B6-993C-1D31C5B5DCA1…Until it was discovered that the water was full of jellyfish. At which point they panicked.

…Until the ever-present brave young male beach stranger came up and announced “The Jellyfish don’t sting!! See??”

It took us a few rounds of watching him hold jellyfish to believe him, but sure enough, they did not sting. And so I got to hold a jellyfish in the palm of my hand – not exactly a lifelong dream, but an experience nonetheless.

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The neighborhoods of 30A are also fantastic to explore – shops and streets and fountains at which to pose for beautiful photography.

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Every house has a porch swing and cozy windows to relax on,

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Giving one a chance to be charming to one’s mother,

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After having a complete screaming breakdown that morning about getting stuck in one’s own backwards clothing.

FullSizeRender 7Of course I rescued him. AFTER I took a picture. Or ten.

At the end of the trip, there was a giant cousin group hug, that turned into a giant group noogie, as all cousin hugs are supposed to end.

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It helps with the whole family bonding thing, after all. As do annual vacations.

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