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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The Perils of Sunset Chasing.

So the sunset betrayed me last week.

Birmingham isn’t an easy city to photograph – we have hills and trees and trees and hills.

BUT.

The downtown area is in a basin. So if you can get above it in any way, it’s MAGNIFICENT. Besides the mountain ranges on the south and east sides, there are parking decks. I’ve investigated several of them, but had heard of another – at a different angle – that was supposed to be sublime.

The inventor of the fantastic group InstagramBham, Blaine, was the one who first mentioned this deck during a news interview. I tried to find it…but I couldn’t. I tried again…and failed. I finally asked him for specifics…and I found it.

Clearly built in the 70’s, it looked more than a little creepy, as parking decks go. On the side I approached first, it said “NOT OPEN TO PUBLIC” and “VETERAN’S AFFAIRS PARKING DECK.”

I look like a Veteran, no?

I drove around to the corner and it told a different story.

“BIRMINGHAM PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION”

“FREE FOR FIRST HOUR”

Okay this was good. Because I had no cash. I rarely use the stuff anyway, but I had quite inexplicably used every last dollar in my possession that day.

(But I was fairly certain that just in case, I had a bit of stray money amidst the moon dust in the bottom of my purse.)

I drove around and around and around, slowly circling upward around the infinite floors of the parking deck.

I was alone on the top, which made me partially relieved and partially nervous. What if someone else came up here? What if they weren’t a good person? Parking decks aren’t places that ladies should hang out alone…

Oh – did I mention I was alone? I was alone.

I clutched my phone and my camera and my car keys and did a 360 look around the deck every 45 seconds. I’m not usually such a wuss but I was in a different part of downtown than I was used to, and the buildings did look a bit creepy that night.

140604 Downtown Inside Out

In a good way.

I relished the sunset.

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Every angle was amazing,

140604c Waves of Sky

Every cloud was perfectly placed.

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I couldn’t have picked a better night to visit a new place, and I was thrilled to add this parking deck to my repertoire.

140604d Sunset In the Midst of Birmingham

Once the last pink cloud faded away, I hopped in the car and began my descent. The parking lot grew seven more layers from the time I entered.

…And then I realized that you had to do this weird every other corkscrew thing to get out – long, short, long short – so I might have just gone in seven extra circles.

Finally, I got to the gates.

“PUBLIC PARKING – LEFT LANE”

No problem. I had my ticket. I had been there less than an hour. It was a free sunset.

I pulled up to the meter – the one that I assumed would eat my ticket – and there was a sign.

“AFTER HOURS PARKING $2”

Gone was the long and fancy rate sheet from when I entered. Two dollars to get out, and two dollars was the only way you’re getting out.

It’s okay. Surely I can scrounge up two dollars. SURELY.

I pulled out my industrial strength mining sifter and began going through the contents of the bottom of my purse.

Old receipt…

Soft Mint from the Mexican Restaurant…

Unused Diaper…or is it?

But there was no cash.

Oh no. Oh no no no.

I pulled out my wallet. Maybe I stowed away some cash in a hidden compartment. Maybe I had enough change. Surely there was some way I could get myself out of this parking deck before the Ghosts of Veterans began floating about.

But no.

I had a few dimes, a nickel, one quarter, and three pennies.

The night turned on me and became spontaneously dark. Silent and dark. The feeling of being trapped crept up the back of my neck and I pondered how typical it was for someone to simply crash their car through the gate.

After all, the sign had lied to me…

I emptied my wallet. A couple coupons, all-too-useful credit cards, and my checkbook.

And I was in an abandoned parking deck at 8:15pm in nearly-North-Birmingham.

I heard a sound approaching from the left.

A security guard walked up. He looked just like Morgan Freeman if Morgan Freeman were more wiry.

(Which he probably is in real life. All movie stars are. Stupid cameras and their stupid pounds.)

Officer Freeman stared at me. And said nothing.

As I desperately dug, I explained my predicament without the use of commas.

“The deck said it was free for under and hour and I used my last few dollars to get my husband into the pool this afternoon and I can’t find any money except for this change and OH the machine only takes quarters so it’s useless to me anyway and I have no idea how I am going to get out of this deck.”

I didn’t mention that my crashing-through-the-gate strategy wouldn’t work any longer since he showed up.

He finally spoke, in a measured, soft tone. “It’s two dollars after the cashier goes home. And she leaves at seven.”

This would have been useful information to have included on the sign at the entrance. But whatev.

“But the rate sheet…I wasn’t prepared…it didn’t say anything about after hours charges!”

He continued to stand over me, silently. Just like Morgan Freeman would, as he wisely let me learn to solve the problems of the universe for myself.

root, dig, mine, excavate

I started scratching off the inner layer of my purse, hoping that purses eat change like dryers eat socks. I looked more and more like a cat trapped in a garbage can.

Finally, he spoke.

“How much do you have?”

“Well…let’s see. 93 cents. Oh DANG IT!”

I had dropped a dime. I opened my car door, desperately pawing around for it. But it fell into some sort of crack in the universe and was surely in Narnia by now, most likely growing into a dime tree.

Feeling even worse, I began to empty out all of my car compartments to prove to the security guard that I had nothing else.

He slowly stuck his hand in his pocket, as if he had the magic key to let me out.

I found three more pennies and added it to my handful.

He fiddled with something in his pocket, seemingly still waiting for me to ‘fess up that I actually had plenty of money.

I reached my hands into the inner folds of my car’s private places and drew them back empty.

He silently pulled out a shiny token and put it in the meter. My shackling gate lifted.

I poured my grimy, sticky, triple-coated change into his hand, thanked him profusely, and sped out of the deck – before that Evil Bar went back down.

And I promised myself – and the Skinny Mr. Freeman half a mile behind me – that I would never sunset chase without cash. Ever again.

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The Origins of Topper.

A couple of months ago, Chris and I took our nasty, stale, extraordinarily aged wedding cake topper on our anniversary trip. Our thirteenth anniversary trip.

Topper Chases the Sunset

Topper got to enjoy every aspect of Asheville, The Grove Park Inn, Sunset Chasing, Chocolate Shop Visiting, and we even took him to The Biltmore Estate.

Topper Visits Biltmore

I’m waiting for them to contact me to tell me that he was the first wedding cake topper to visit their fine estate, but in the meantime, let’s assume as much.

(For the record, this isn’t the most ridiculous thing Chris and I have ever done together. It was probably making this meat bouquet. Or lying our way to the top of a skyscraper still under construction.)

(The key to a happy marriage is being absolutely ridiculous together as often as possible.)

The unsheathing of Topper made me think back. More than thirteen years…to when I planned my wedding.

First of all it must be said that getting married at nineteen years old certainly cut down on a lot of the perfectionism that I would have now. Which is totally a reason to get married young.

Also, I thank God daily that I got married in a pre-Pinterest world.

Okay maybe not daily. But I totally should.

Because back then? All we had were wedding magazines – and at most, three different publications. These are the very books from which all of my wedding ideas emerged.

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They were monstrous at the time, but my head would have exploded if someone had tried to explain what brides would have to sift through in the future.

One of these books contains my wedding dress, carefully tabbed with a 90’s pastel blue post-it note.

Wedding Dress Ad

(I did not, however, wear those Mickey Mouse gloves with my dress.)

I literally picked my dress from that picture in that magazine – and then had to drive two hours to actually see it in person. I picked my cake design from a picture in another magazine, one that I unfortunately couldn’t locate in yesterday’s basement excavation.

But the cake.

Let’s talk about that cake.

My budget was tight, as was my timeline, so my choices were quite limited. Also, I wanted a cutting-edge cake design that had to be decorated in fondant, which was totally a fresh invention back then, thereby limiting my choices even more. I interviewed a couple of the more affordable cake bakers in town, and had settled on one fairly well-known baker.

We’d gone to her shop, tasted her cake, she assured me that she could make the modern, geometric, whimsical cake from my magazine clipping, and she gave me until Friday to let her know my answer.

I was pretty sure when we left the store that she was our cake baker, but I had one more tasting. I called back the next day from my Power-tel Flip Phone (it even had a screen to show the numbers you were dialing) to tell the Cake Mistress that yes indeed I would like to procure her services.

“I can’t do it. I gave your spot to someone else.”

“Wait. What? You said I had until Friday to let you know. It’s…Wednesday!”

“Someone else wanted it. I gave it to them. Good luck getting your cake.”

She was rude, did not apologize for her clear lack of integrity, and hung up on me.

I panicked.

I was at work when the tragic call happened. I hunted down my boss, burst into tears, and told her I needed to take the rest of the day off to handle wedding crises.

(Because that’s what engagement is, people. Endless Wedding Crises.)

(Also? Misery. ENGAGEMENT IS MISERY.)

I ran to my car, pulled out my travel Yellow Pages and began calling every other bakery in town.

Cake Calendar

(In my basement digging, I also found the above 2001 calendar. I can’t believe I put off deciding on my cake until only 40 days before my wedding. Clearly I’m to blame for this catastrophic cake hunt.)

I found a baker that would take me, then drove over to discuss the details. They refused to use fondant, but assured me they could make my cake just as well with regular icing.

That evening, one of the original horrible baker’s employees called me after he left her shop.

In a furtive whisper, as if she had bugged his phone, he offered to make my cake for me on the sly.

“I heard what she did to you. I’m so sorry. She’s awful. It’ll take some maneuvering on my part to make sure she doesn’t find out what I’m doing, but I don’t want you to be without a cake.”

I told him that I appreciated him putting his life at risk for me, but had already made other cake arrangements, and they had assured me they could make the cake I wanted.

But they were wrong.

I hated both my wedding cakes – they were so sweet that the first bite gave me a headache (hence why Topper survived), and they looked nothing like my cherished magazine picture. The color was beyond muted – just last month as we were discussing Topper, Chris said, “Wait. Our wedding cake was green and white?? There’s no way there was any green. It was white!!”

Wedding Picture with Topper

(And he was nearly right. But believe it or not, that cake is supposedly two-tone.)

The Groom’s Cake, although you could at least see the detailing and appreciate the off-center layer placement, skated the line dangerously between two shades of turd brown.
Groom's Cake

And I know that poo and chocolate both have claims on the color brown, but some shades are closer to one than the other.

But at least I had cakes.

Many years later, I was searching the internet for something on my iPhone as Chris drove down the road.

(SO much easier than that travel Yellow Pages.)

And I began that convulsive laughing that makes you choke on hiccups.

Because I ran across current-day internet reviews of the original baker – the one that did me wrong.

After I regained my composure, I shared over a dozen of them with Chris, in the form of a dramatic reading.

Here are just a few of the jewels describing her fantastic personality…

 

NEVER AGAIN

I used to love this bakery, but the last two cakes I bought from them were very dry. When I complained, you would have thought I committed a crime.

NEVER NEVER AGAIN

When the cakes were delivered it was terrible, the wedding cake had part of the icing separating and the grooms cake was not at all what I ordered, so I called X immediately because the delivery driver said you will have to call X. It took me over three weeks of going by the store calling and emailing before she finally responded and her response was as follows, and I hope you are sitting down. We can’t guarantee the delivery of our cakes as if it is too hot the cakes may melt and if it is too cold they may have problems. When I told her what all was wrong with the cakes she said well you ate it didn’t you. What was I supposed to do keep the cakes for 3 weeks before she finally called back.

Stay Away!

X has hands-down got to be one of the worst businesses in the area. X herself is mean and ornery, and her staff is just as bad. They shout at each other across the store, things like “I have to go teetee!” Right in front of customers! If your order is wrong, and it often is, then they do not take responsibility for it. All of their cakes look like they were made in 1993. Unless you want a wedding cake that is distinctly redneck, stay away from this place and go to real bakery that is staffed with professionals!

If only I’d had full access to the internet’s glory back then.

Except without Pinterest. Obviously.