Drought Updates from Lake Purdy.

On November 4th, right before it was announced that we were in a Stage Four Drought Emergency, I took a trip to our water supply, Lake Purdy, to see what it was looking like.

November 4:


A few days later, I went back to take sunset pictures.

November 11:

161111e-Lake-Purdy-Drought-SunsetFor more of the sunset pictures, click here.

For reference, this is what Lake Purdy looked like in June:

June 10:


It finally started raining a little over a week ago, and has rained what has felt like quite a bit since. The rain let up yesterday, so the kids and I fled the house for an Alabama History field trip today. While we were out, I decided to take them to Lake Purdy to see how things were looking.

It was fairly disheartening at first – it didn’t look that different.

December 7:


November 4:


The “stream” seemed slightly wider, but not by much.

December 7:


November 4:


But the kids found the whole scene amazing. We pretended to find giant dinosaur bones,

December 7:


And they seriously enjoyed the challenge of “walking on the cracks:”

December 7:


We came upon a couple of delightful gentlemen who showed the kids arrowheads and 1800s pottery they’d found, and tried to give them pointers on what to look for.

December 7:


As we got further down the stream toward what is left of the lake, things definitely started to widen out. This looked much better than last time.

December 7:


November 4:


There were birds chirping and flying overhead,

December 7:


December 7:


and despite the giant expanses of dryness, life seemed to be coming back to the lake.

December 7:


November 4:


But the most exciting moment when we started back toward our car and noticed tiny, vibrant streams seeping up through the cracks.

December 7:


November 4:


The dry earth is slowly giving away, from the inside out.

Alabama History…Err, Geography: Horse Pens 40

All I knew about Horse Pens 40 was that it was one of the places that will live in infamy of the “embarrassing” stories my parents tell about me.

(I’m not really embarrassed but I assume they keep telling the same stories over and over in hopes that I will become so – revenge or something, I assume.)

All our parents have those stories, right? For me, there’s the time I cleaned the kittens with my tongue, the fact that every Thanksgiving they prepared “chicken” for me in the kitchen because I hated turkey (yeah, it was turkey), and the infamous Horse Pens 40 camping trip where I screamed all night long, to the point that one of the other campers called the cops to come check to make sure my parents weren’t beating me.

I had not been there since, and I don’t know that they ever wanted to visit again, either. Perhaps we were on a “Banned Visitors” poster somewhere as well – who knows.

But I decided it was worth the investigation for our Alabama History project.

So Carla Jean and I loaded up the kids and drove to Steele, Alabama – right on the other side of Ashville.

The basic premise of Horse Pens 40 is that there are lots of rocks. And people have used these rocks as hideouts for many, many years – early civilizations, Native Americans, Civil War soldiers, moonshiners, and the like. There were also multiple battles fought amongst the rocks.

Now, it’s a rock-climbing mecca and Bluegrass concert venue. My kids love climbing rocks, so it had to be a good decision, right?

We arrived and the place looked deserted. No one in the ticketing office, or at the entrance. We wandered into the general store and restaurant and no one was there, either.

We tip-toed back out of the abandoned store and walked toward the rocks. Horse-Pens-40_MG_9657_3635

At first glance, it appeared that there was just one wall of rocks and then forest. But we quickly discovered that the rocks went on…and on.



The formations were fabulous. Caves and cracks and footholds and nooks and crannies.


Every formation had its own unique and fun features for the kids to play on – trees to climb,


Troll heads to defeat,


Cracks to wedge into,



Cracks that actually looked like (butt)cracks…


Flat vertical rocks to pretend to lie down on,



Bumpy rocks for learning yoga moves,


Smooth rocks for not falling while perfecting those moves,



Rocks that look just like elephant carvings,


And finally, a rock with the best view.




I can’t say that we learned much about Alabama History on this trip, but we experienced where history happened and oh-my-goodness did the kids LOVE it. They both declared it their favorite field trip yet, and we could have stayed for hours longer had our stomachs not all started growling (the weakest link in our field trip game is that I don’t believe in packed lunches.) The infinite fun to be had on the rocks, the countless caves to explore and paths to walk – it really was just spectacular.


I was ready to go back as soon as we left – and so were the kids.


As usual, Ali’s report tells the story better than mine, so here you go:


Not-Crazy-Renee and the Big, Big Favor.

As all good adventures do, it all started out with a text. A text from Not-Crazy-Renee, specifically…right before she headed out of town for the holidays.

Renee Text Snake


Explanatory Footnotes for this text:

1. SBB refers to Snaky Butters Buttercup, Renee’s five-year-old’s pet Ball Python, who has grown a good deal since I last shared photographs of her.
2. She wouldn’t starve. Snakes eat once a week but she sometimes gets a two-for-one week when Renee misses a week. This was just discussed in the last Not-Crazy-Renee post.
3. Another neighbor’s chicken did indeed pass on to the wild eternal yonder (via a black trash bag) while I was on chicken duty. No one has trusted me with anything larger than Fuzzy the Betta Fish since.

So although I knew I didn’t have to feed a Python, by myself, with no instruction booklet, I’m always down for an adventure.

But this one worried me more than most.

I admit it: I was a more than a little nervous about my ability to not botch this up.

I mean, I like Snakey Butters Buttercup a good deal, and I’ve held her once and seen her fed twice, so obvs I’m an expert.

But what if the unexpected happened?

What if, when I pulled the top off, she took advantage of my newb status and suddenly leapt out of the cage and sprinted under a heavy piece of furniture?

Or what if she choked on the mouse?

I mean, what all could go wrong while I was alone in the house with a python, a mouse, two cats, and my children?

But despite my misgivings, I added Snaky Butters to my color-coded to-do list.


…and I asked Siri to remind me about meal procurement.


And so we went to the pet store – not a place I frequent often, due to my anti-pet status.

I did a slow walk around the store, looking for mice, while the children fawned over the adorable bunnies and gorgeous parakeets and in general upped their desire for pets by tenfold.

I walked to the counter, picked the guy with tattoos and gauged earrings (because he wouldn’t be grossed out by the fact that I was buying something alive that would soon be dead), and told him I needed one adult mouse.

He started toward the back of the store, and I followed.

“What do you need it for?”

“A snake. My neighbor’s. I’m feeding her while she’s out of town. Because I’m the best neighbor.”

He looked at me with distrust in his eyes.

“Do you even know how?”, he said rather condescendingly.

“I’ve watched twice. I’m going to call and let her walk me through it.”

“Do you know how to stun the mouse first?”


“You really should do it OUR way. You just put the mouse in a plastic bag THWAP it on the counter. And why does she feed the snake LIVE mice anyway? You know she can get them frozen.”

“Yeah, she tried that first. It didn’t go well.”

“I bet she just likes watching the snake eat live food. Most people do.” He waggled his eyebrows menacingly, implying that Not-Crazy-Renee has a sadistic streak.

We walked into a tiny closet that smelled of a twenty year collection of artisan mouse pee. As I choked and stumbled out the door, he asked “Do you want to pick out which mouse you want?”

“No. I just need a mouse.”

He reached in and grabbed a mouse by the tail as it wriggled, desperately trying to reunite with its family of 47. “If you want to really impress your neighbor, I can give you some tips about how to swap her snake over to frozen mice.”

“She’s really good at googling. I’ll let her do that if she wants to.”

He plopped the mouse in a flimsy box and headed back up front. “Okay…are you sure? My snakes used to eat live, but I’ve successfully moved them ALL to frozen…”

“I’m good. I promise,” I said as I quietly wondered how many, exactly, “ALL” meant.

“Frozen is cheaper….” He rang me up. “That’ll be $2.71.”

I think Renee can handle $2.71 per week of snake food.

We got out to the car and I realized that I didn’t have a secure place to store my wiggly, squeaky, rocking-the-paper-thin-box snake food on the way home. I didn’t trust the mouse (after all, they sometimes chew through their containment), and I didn’t want to put it in the seat next to me and then stop quickly and propel the box to the floor, setting the food free in a moving vehicle.

So I did the most logical thing: I handed a live mouse-in-distress to my five-year-old.


“Hold the box carefully. Don’t put your fingers in the air holes. Do NOT open the top.”

“Okay mom.”

On the way home, I listened to Noah and Ali’s running commentary on the new friend.

Noah: “His name is Dunlop.”

Ali: “If I were to make a movie about Dunlop, it would be titled ‘Dead Ahead’.”

Noah: “Dunlop smells like shrimp. Want to smell him through the hole? Ack! He keeps nosing me through the hole!!”

We pulled up into Renee’s driveway and I sighed with relief – we did not have a runaway situation.

I put Dunlop on the table and watched as he nosed his last airhole.


It’s the Circle of Life, Dunlop. The Circle of Life.


I put Renee on speakerphone, and I started rehearsing what I knew.

“Okay. I know I have to stun Dunlop, but first, I need to put SBB in her feeding box, right? How do I get this lid off?”

“Loosen the strap. If she’s under her rock, lift it straight up. Then find the metal hook in the windowsill, and lift her into the box with it. Did you find the hook?”

“I’ve already gotten her into the box.”

“Whoa. You’re quick.”

The hardest part was transferring Dunlop. He did NOT want to leave his cozy new home.

His tail snagged.

Then his little foot snagged.

The cat was waiting right under my feet to take care of any escaped snake food.

Finally, Dunlop was transferred, then stunned.

“Did he faint, Mom?”, Ali asked, intently attempting to understand all the steps of her first feeding.

“Yup. So he won’t bite Snaky Butters.”

I dropped the mouse in and Snaky immediately began constricting.


“It’s almost like they’re hugging!! ….. Why is she hugging him so LONG?”, Noah asked, quickly growing bored with the process.

Noah moved on to the kid’s riding toys, but Ali watched as Snaky arduously worked the apparently largish mouse down the hatch.




And then we were done.

And I immediately knew I had solidified myself as THE Number One Neighbor in The United States of America.

I’ll be waiting by the mailbox for my official commendation from The White House.