A Journalled Year.

This delightful kid turned eleven yesterday.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.)

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

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She also recorded this fairly quirky moment.

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

April: She’s a model oldest cousin,

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

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

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

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Ali finished her Alabama History project with flourish,

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

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She always loves reading,

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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or supervillain.

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

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Along with a total stranger’s:

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August: She continued being a helpful cousin,

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A helpful photographical muse,

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And a helpful sister.

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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.)

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

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

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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.

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

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And she cracked the code to happiness.

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


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

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

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And she truly Became One With The Fall.

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

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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.)


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

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She got to make a fantastic December snowman,

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

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Including when that kid was just simply her brother.

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

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January 2018: Her basketball career is flourishing.

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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.

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

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

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

On Building Ones Own Race Car.

Noah is six years old, and this year was his fifth year to attend the Petit Le Mans race. My dad is a Tech Inspector for the Le Mans series, and the importance of being related to such a cool guy might have gone to Noah’s head.

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Granted, I don’t think most kids would blame him – the access he has enjoyed is unparalleled.

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This year was Ali’s first year to join us (she has always preferred to have a quiet weekend alone with Gramamma – no headphones required), and also perhaps the last, as my Dad retired after this race.

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The very next weekend, my kids were at my parent’s while Chris and I were at a football game. My dad was already settling into his retirement quite gracefully, really enjoying his time away from automobiles. Because Ali, Noah, and my Dad built a coaster car together.

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I cannot very well tell you about the process since I wasn’t there, but Ali wrote a paper to help me out.

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Gramamma sent me pictures of the process, which further helps explain how a coaster car works.

She documented the plans…

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The manual labor (and professor),

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The racing details,

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The mechanic’s signatures (all hand-built luxury cars feature this),

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And the inaugural voyage, where Noah took out a blueberry bush on his way down.

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As you can imagine, there were both successes and crashes…

Both of which Noah also documented for us in his diary.

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If you’re not lying in a swarm of grass beside a car at the end of the day, did you really have a fun time at your grandparent’s house?

I think not.

Editor’s Note: Regarding the odd color choices, Noah insists on writing in his diary according to his Synesthesia colors. This takes FOR-freaking-EVER, but it makes him not complain about writing. So I just make sure I’m out of the room, enjoying my morning coffee, for the process.

A Week In The Woods

From Monday to Thursday evening of last week, I was in the woods. No wi-fi, perilously spotty cell service, and all the fallishness I could ask for.

(And Ali didn’t mind it, either.)

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We rented a cabin at Oak Mountain State Park, which is close enough for Chris to commute to work, and the children and I never left the park.

It was glorious.

We didn’t abandon our school – that’s the beauty of homeschooling – it can be done on top of a picnic table by a lake.

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We didn’t do a full load of subjects, but our 20+ miles of hiking and half-dozen canoe trips made up for that.

(Science! Physical Education! Field Trips!)

(Some people enjoyed the canoeing more than others.)

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I attempted to make the week have an ‘80s vibe – I told the children that they could roam on their own around the cabin area. I gave them boundaries, flashlights, and instructions to GO. EXPLORE. Be children.

With the exception of sound: remember, children, it’s called Tranquility Lake for a reason.

Oak Mountain Fall Trip 2017 IMG_4657blogYou can see those flashlight beams on the other side of the lake. As children are supposed to be.

They didn’t really do a good job of all that – they tended to still stay close to me like the flock of geese that twenty-teen children are. But I tried. And I shook them from me a couple times, at least.

My parents came and joined us for a day and night, and with them, as always, came adventure. As they are much more experienced at having eighties kids than me, I totally trusted my dad to row Ali right up to a fairly steep dam and spillway to peer over the edge.

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But the more exciting part of that canoe ride was when Dad and Ali spotted a speedily moving object in the water – and began chasing it.

They chased it, it disappeared. They discussed “Could it be an alligator??”

It appeared across the lake, and they chased it again.

Finally, they got close enough for grabbing. It was a very fast-moving fishing pole.


After a few swipes and misses, Ali was able to grab it before it swam off again – but it fought back.


Ali almost dropped the pole once – it was pulling seriously hard.


But whatever The Monster of Oak Mountain was, it broke the line and left Ali as the proud owner of its former fishing pole.

Oak Mountain Fall Trip 2017 IMG_4755blog(We suspected a large turtle…but monster is also totally believable.)

After the Loch Ness excitement, Gramamma helped the kids forage in order to make The World’s Best Fairy House Mansion.

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There were beds and tables and lampposts and salads and chicken and water and…

I mean seriously. Some Fairy stumbled across this estate and I’m sure assumed she’d died and gone to heaven. This project definitely counted as “Charity Work” on the school log.

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One of the things I most love about staying at Oak Mountain as opposed to visiting (it is, after all, only 30 minutes from my house) is the ability to night hike.

Oak Mountain closes at sunset. When we visit, I’m usually sweating about making it out of there – because I’m pushing it to the last minute to get pictures of the sunset that signifies that I’m about to get locked in.

But if you are staying at Oak Mountain, gates are not an issue. So every night after dinner (I took along a huge pot of soup and grilled cheese makings and that’s what we ate all three nights because soup and grilled cheese are always good in a state park no matter how many nights in a row you’ve eaten it), we’d go on a hike together. I got amazing pictures of these hikes, like this one:

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Okay, Chris fared a little better in his nocturnal photographical pursuits:

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It was, admittedly, slightly creepy the first night as we walked around the lake, hearing impossibly loud plops in the water. Too far of a drop for turtles…too loud for snakes…too loud for frogs…we never did figure out what we were scaring into the water, but whatever it is, I’m sure it was a fishing-pole-stealing type of monster.

But those hikes became the highlight of our days – we’d all get flashlights or headlamps or both and head out into the completely silent forest, crunching on the leaves and blissfully soaking in the crisp November air. Plus, it gave Chris another way to enjoy his time there, since he was still going to work. (He also got up early and ran, so he felt a decent amount of state-park-relaxation in spite of going to work.)

The kids spent our days split between a little school, a little canoeing, and a lot of hiking.

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Oak Mountain has so many trails (over 60 miles, plus a bunch of unmarked trails), so no matter how much we hike out there, there’s always more to see and explore.

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Somehow in her foraging, Ali seemed to have stumbled across The Elixir of Perfect Hair – it certainly wasn’t clean or even tangle-freehair, but somehow it looked like this – in the MIDDLE of a hike.

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GAH. The magic of youth.

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The kids recovered from our walks with a little coffee drinking and a lot of card playing. They might’ve transitioned to adulthood last week.

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And Chris and I spent our evenings and mornings staring at the lake and enjoying the silence of sleeping, thoroughly-worn-out children.


On our last day at the park, our cousins came out in the morning for a hike, and our friends came out in the afternoon for a hike. The energy levels provided by having friends to hike with was unbelievable – despite hiking so much in the prior days, Noah was sprinting excitedly up the mountainside when he had his cousins to hang with.

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They brought along their massive puppy Macro (still not full-grown), which made it all the more exciting. That dog walks like a lion.

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My only complaint about the week was the lack of sun. The temperature was lovely, but the fog made our hike up to the beautiful lookout a bit…anticlimactic.

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With a lot of angling and waiting for clouds to thin, the best shot I got of the fall foliage below was…

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But the kids didn’t seem to mind. Snacktime still happens on the top of the mountain whether you are enshrouded in fog or not.

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In between hikes, we frantically packed up our cabin and checked out, then met our next friends at the demonstration farm,

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…which is the residence of the nicest, most fantastically depressed donkey you will ever meet.

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He will really help one understand the casting decision for Eeyore.

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The demonstration farm also has ponies, a pig, two peacocks (that sadly weren’t in bad moods and so didn’t show us their magnificent feathers), and a herd of extremely frisky and escape-minded goats.

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Lest you miss him in the corner of the picture, this guy was their lookout while they purloined their sweet ride. He was chosen for his stellar ability to look nonchalant.

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We’ve done the whole feeding-the-goats thing before, and it was frankly frightening. You buy a bag of food, and your reward is getting immediately stampeded.

Frankly, you walk up to the window where they sell the food and you’re likely to draw attention.

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However, the farm made a massive improvement since our last visit – they now have a fenced off area from which you can feed the animals in safety.

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That’s right. At this farm, the humans go in the zoo and the animals come visit them. It’s the way things should be, really.

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After our animal needs were filled, we set off on two last hikes.

The first one included Oak Mountain’s fabulous bird trail (where they have rehabilitating owls and birds of prey in large cages tearing apart bloody mice but you don’t feel so bad for the mice after you read the bird’s back-stories on how they ended up there),

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Through the woods, during which the kids went through the bottom of this tree stump and ended up in Narnia, as one does,

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And, on our last leg of hiking, down to Peavine Falls.

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It was the perfect ending to our week of fall, which was just long enough, as I was quite ready to be back in my own bed, with my own shower, and my own refrigerator. And maybe a bit of wi-fi.

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But not before I booked us the same trip for next November – only next time, we’ll be staying the full seven days. Because I might be a little addicted to this season.