Science is For the Birds.

My homeschooling strength has never been science – as a student or a teacher. I buy experiment books and we never open them; we read our science book but never put it into practice; I managed to worm my way out of dissections in both high school and college, whereas by the time my younger brother was in high school, dissected frogs could be regularly found in lunch sacks in the fridge.

However.

When it comes to the Animal Kingdom and our neighborhood, we are keen observers, enjoying the beauty and intricacies of God’s creatures.

Whether it’s Yard Bunnies who allow us to see their beautiful babies, neighborhood cats (and kittens) that adopt us, or Copperheads that I erroneously assume are harmless, we are students.

(Okay. Except for the bats. Never the bats.)

Our latest observations have centered around this nest, lovingly built under the eave of our porch.

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We watched the two birds for days as they built the nest, stealing moss from our yard and somehow managing to find bleached out Easter Basket Grass that we’ve never used.

(I do hate that stuff.)

We further observed when the mother began her roost, having successfully chased her man away. Because everyone knows that Bird Husbands are only good for baby-making and homebuilding.

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With help from my much more nature-educated mother, we decided that she was a Phoebe Bird, and based on her roosting patterns and a little help from Wikipedia, I knew exactly when her babies would hatch.

Unfortunately, that date was going to occur while we were gone for a weekend trip to the beach.

Even more unfortunately, Fred apparently decided that he needed a supplemental snack while we were gone, despite the fact that our neighbors fed him for us, along with who-knows-how-many-other secret families he has.

When we returned, the mother bird was gone, there was a pile of matching feathers in the yard, and a very satisfied-looking cat.

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I texted my mom immediately and asked if she could use her chicken-egg incubator to hatch our babies. She informed me that no, the mother had probably been off of them for too long, and plus none of us were going to want to catch bugs all day and night for those babies.

She wasn’t wrong.

I was matter-of-fact with the kids, reminding myself that children never react to tragedy as strongly as adults assume they will. The Circle of Life is pretty cut and dry before you experience any true pain in life.

We left the eggs alone for a week, anxiously watching for the mother to miraculously return – perhaps she was a prop in a Bird-Watching Expedition or some other such pressing matter! But she didn’t come back, it was a sure thing that our eggs were not going to hatch, and the kids were eager to inspect them.

So I instructed them on how very fragile the eggs were, climbed up on the porch railing, and looked into the nest.

They were exactly as they had when I’d last peeked in (from a distance with a zoom lens) – undisturbed and peacefully resting.

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I let the kids each hold one, reminding them yet again to be very, very careful.

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(Ali’s taped hands had nothing to do with her caution – that there is magical tape that enables her to do amazing cartwheels. Or not.)

Noah asked questions, Ali inspected, and we talked about the different colors and markings of the eggs.

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We rehashed the fact that Fred wasn’t evil for eating their mother – that’s what God programmed him to do. It’s a part of life.

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We carefully set all the eggs back down and just looked at them.

Looking at Baby Bird Eggs

…Until Noah couldn’t stand it anymore and grabbed the whole bunch, then dropped them in horror when his toddler hands got more than they expected.

The Culprit and the Eggs

THIS. Is the look of guilt. Or aversion to yellow slime. Probably the latter.

Egg Smashing Guilt

Chaos ensued.

Noah was grossed out, Ali was indignant over the beautiful eggs, and I was in a frenzy to sanitize my toddler.

Once I was sure he was free of Salmonella, the eggs once again caught my eye. Although one of the three broken eggs was clearly nothing but yolk, the other two appeared to have more to investigate, so I carefully finished opening them.

PAUSE.

Anyone who has a weak stomach needs to tune out now. However, I and the kids found the contents of the eggs captivating, so if you can handle it, click here to continue to page two. If not, feel free to stop.

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Cherries Need New PR.

I spent 31 years of my life automatically assuming that I despised cherries.

There was the cherry cough syrup I was given against my will as a young child, shaping my first impressions of cherries as The Fruit That Tastes Like Gastric Acid.

Then there was cherry-flavored candy – it didn’t matter whether it was Skittles, Starburst, Now and Laters, Pop Rocks, Bonkers or DOTS, cherry was always last in my lineup to eat.

(Right after grape, which also needs new PR when it comes to its candy-flavoring counterpart.)

(Oh – and watermelon. WORST CANDY FLAVORING IN THE WORLD.)

But. Back to cherries. Because cherries, unlike grapes and watermelon, have a catastrophic issue.

After my introduction to cough syrup and candy flavorings, I met my Grandfather’s favorite treat, Chocolate Covered Cherries. Not the chocolate covered dried fruit of today, but the chocolate-covered-moist-maraschino-cherries.

I hated all candies that burst in one’s mouth (remember Gushers?), so Chocolate Covered Cherries were the Nicolas Cage of chocolates and the Sarah McLachlan singing over images of abused dogs of cherries. That nasty bloody liquid squirting into my mouth when I mistook my Granddad’s treats for a truffle….it was child cruelty. Sarah McLachlan should have been singing for ME.

Let’s not skip over the sins of maraschino cherries themselves. According to Wikipedia, they are…

first preserved in a brine solution usually containing sulfur dioxide and calcium chloride to bleach the fruit, then soaked in a suspension of food coloring (common red food dye, FD&C Red 40), sugar syrup, and other components.

Cherry’s PR: “Let’s take a red fruit, bleach it with frighteningly named chemicals, then re-color it red! While we’re at it, we’ll add ‘other components,’ since we haven’t disfigured them enough already.”

The only redeeming value that I could find in cherries as a child (and I’ll lose a friend or two over this admission) was that my favorite candy was Brach’s Red Licorice, which is loosely supposed to be cherry-flavored. But then when Brach’s broke my heart and discontinued my best friend in candy form, my breakup with cherries was solidified.

(Although I will still eat a Twizzler now and then. But it’s not the same.)

As I entered my adolescence, I learned the more euphemistic meanings of cherries, tacky cherry-covered clothing came in style, and then a few years later, Katy Perry made cherries forever synonymous with the taste of Chapstick.

I had literally never tasted a single real, live, unaltered cherry in my entire life until the summer of 2013.

My grocery store had them out in a sample tray.

(Which is smart on their part since my generation is never going to be like, “yeah, let’s try cherries for our fruit of the week.”)

On a whim, I reached in, popped one in my mouth, and scrunched up my face, just waiting for The Nasty to hit my taste buds.

But no!

It was fantastic.

Full of flavor but without juicy explosions, sweeter than I had imagined but without a cough-syrup aftertaste, and all around delightful!

And also, who knew that half of them were shaped like adorable little hearts?

Cherries Need New PR

I was shocked, I tell you. And for the last year, I’ve been addicted.

This fruit had been hiding in plain sight, incorrectly linked with the seediest of flavorings, keeping fruit-lovers everywhere away from their bounty, for at least three generations.

Because Cherries need new PR.

35 Things to Do in Birmingham.

35 Things To Do In Birmingham Alabama

I’ve lived in Birmingham my entire life. Seriously – even college. The longest I’ve ever been away from this city was six weeks at the age of 16 when I went overseas.

As a kid, Birmingham was clearly a dying city. My parents told stories of what it once was, but it was impossible to imagine. Downtown was boarded up, everything happened in the suburbs, and we were all bored.

There was nothing to do.

In the past five years, my city has gone through a beautiful metamorphosis. Residents began having a new sense of optimism and burden to invest in the city. Things began to actually change, and all of a sudden, we had a vibrant, beautiful, exciting city.

(Did you know that we have the number one amount of green space per capita in the nation? A great deal of that has been created in my adulthood.)

It’s officially summertime, and it’s time to get out and explore the city – both the new and the old. If you’re not from Birmingham, you’re on your own. (And you should really consider moving here.) If you are from Birmingham, here are my suggestions.

1. Hike the trails at Red Mountain Park. [Free] They’re beautiful, have fascinating iron mining relics, and some pretty stunning views. Make a checklist of the major lookouts and treehouses and find them all.

Red Mountain Park Grace's Gap Overlook

Some of the trails even look like this. How much more magical could Birmingham get?

Red Mountain Park Railway Trails

2. Tour Birmingham’s Local Coffee Shops. [Cheap] My favorites are Seeds Coffee Company, Church Street Coffee and Books, Octane, Urban Standard, The Red Cat, Hart and Soul, and O’Henry’s. Tell me if you discover any more jewels.

Seeds Coffee Shop

3. Go shopping at The Grand River Outlet Mall. [Free to as much as you want to spend] – They have a great kid’s play area, fantastic shops, and even better deals. Make sure you stop by the welcome center in the food court and get a coupon book.

Grand River Outlet Mall

While you’re in the area…

4. Find the Leeds Memorial Park. [Free] The slides there are taller than any other slides in Birmingham. AND they still have a merry-go-round! If you have children who like thrills, it’s great. And if they don’t, there’s a little kid park, too. If you need lunch afterward, check out Rusty’s BBQ. Rusty will make you feel at home, and he has the best white sauce in the city.

Leeds Memorial Park

5. Eat a hamburger and enjoy the views at Tip Top Grill on Shades Crest Road. [Super Cheap] And while you’re there, walk down to Lover’s Leap. Just hold your kid’s hands well.

Tip Top Grill

6. Visit Aldridge Gardens in Hoover. [Free] Take a stale bag of bread to feed the fish, ducks, geese, and turtles – they’ll be expecting it. Also, find the totem pole on the other side of the lake – it’s pretty fantastic.

Aldridge Gardens

7. Eat an outdoor dinner (or lunch) at Chez LuLu. [Moderate] Leave the kids with someone else if you can – it’s quite romantic.

8. Go to a Movie in the Park at Avondale Park. [Free] The amphitheater there is fantastic, and they have a fantastic operation headed up by Marco of Silvertron Café, which is where you should eat before attending.

Avondale Park

9. Hike The Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve. [Free] A largely forgotten jewel of Birmingham, this mountainside is fantastic. The views are well worth the hike, with or without kids – just don’t try to bring a jogging stroller.

Ruffner Mountain Overlook

While you’re in the area…

10. Eat lunch at The Irondale Café (of Fried Green Tomatoes fame – the food and the movie), then watch trains go by. [Cheap] Make sure you appreciate train graffiti – it’s quite magnificent.

Irondale Cafe

11. Take the kids to The McWane Center. [Moderate] It’s fun, sneakily educational, and is a great thing to do when it’s too hot to go outside.

12. Go to an ArcLight Stories night. [Cheap, not with kids] This is a unique and fascinating event where several people tell short stories from their lives. You will laugh, you will cry, you will learn to appreciate humanity.

ArcLight StoriesPhoto provided by ArcLight Stories

13. Cool down at Steel City Pops in Homewood. [Cheap] If you need lunch to boot, Nabeel’s is around the corner and Little Donkey is next door. Tip: If you have a popsicle aversion like I do (even thinking about the feeling of biting into a popsicle makes me cringe,) get a milk-based one. They’re soft and quite manageable.

14. Go to a movie at The Alabama Theatre. [Moderately Cheap] It’s unforgettable.

15. Plan a walk downtown. [Free] You’ll be amazed at the things you notice.

Downtown Finds

16. Go on a Scavenger Hunt at Crestline Park. [Free] The contest is closed, but you should still be able to find the clues!

Avondale Park Little Local Look N Find

17. Canoe the Cahaba River. [Moderate] I have very fond memories of doing this as a kid, and seriously want to do it as an adult. We did tube the Cahaba a few years ago, and I must say I was a fan of Lazy-Man’s’-Canoeing.

18. Go on a Sunset Walk along the Ridges of Red Mountain. [Free] You knew I was going to suggest this, right? I guarantee it will change your outlook on the city forever.

Birmingham Mist

19. Go to a Birmingham Barons game. [Moderately Cheap] Experience why this stadium is changing the face of Birmingham.

While you’re down there…

20. Visit the LightRails. [Free] It will make any night cheerier.

Lightrails

21. Take a short walk on the Irondale Furnace Trail. [Free] It’s a fun and easy view of some of Birmingham’s industrial history, as well as a gorgeous taste of nature.

Irondale Furnace Trail

22. Railroad Park. [Free] It’s one of our favorite places to hang out after dinner as the sun is setting. They have playgrounds, lakes, walking trails, and more.

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23. Discover the hidden trails at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. [Free] That place is GIANT. You have no idea.

24. Drive a little over an hour to Spring Valley Beach Water Park. [Moderate] It’s been a few years since we’ve visited, but we loved it. They have waterslides, a huge pool, and they allow you to bring in all of your own food.

Spring Valley Waterpark

25. Spend a day hiking, swimming, BMXing, or relaxing at Oak Mountain State Park. [Cheap]

26. Try out the Zip Lines at Red Mountain Park. [Moderate] We did this and it is fantastic. And although it makes a great date, kids can do it as well – that is, if your kids are braver than mine.

Red Mountain Park Zip Line

27. Visit Vulcan, of course. [Cheap] The free park is improved and better than ever, but it’s worth a few bucks to go to the top and see his view of the city. Also, those few bucks get you into the museum, which is always worth a walk-through.

Vulcan

28. Visit Tannehill State Park. [Cheap] I feel like half my childhood happened at Tannehill. And they’re all good memories.

29. Visit The Birmingham Zoo. [Moderate] Go in the mornings – the animals are always perkier, unlike me.

30. Walk along The Jemison Park Nature Trail. [Free] It’s beautiful, easy to manage, and shady. It also has a unique way of getting across the creek.

31. Learn in Downtown – visit The Birmingham Museum of Art and The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. [Free/Cheap]

32. Take a tour of Sloss Furnaces. [Cheap] Make sure you bring your camera – it’s more beautiful than you might think.

33. Head to the Gardendale Splash Pad. [Free] They also have an adjoining playground when it’s time to dry off.

34. Go on a drive through Mountain Brook and see who can spot the biggest house. [Free] Feel free to pretend that Birmingham’s royalty lives here.

35. Go to Bessemer and eat at The Bright Star. [Moderate] You’ll immediately feel like you’re stepping back into Birmingham’s past.

The Bright Star

Enjoy your summer. Explore. And let me know what you find.

And if you’re not in Birmingham, what do I need to come experience in your city?


See more pictures of magnificent Birmingham sights at Picture Birmingham, my photo site that benefits The WellHouse, a local ministry that rescues victims of human trafficking.