A Meandering Tale of Aliens, Lizards, and Art Appreciation.

Ali drew a picture of an alien.

It was a quite nice alien – friendly, geometric, and with wildly fascinating fingers.


Yes, a perfectly fine alien.

She showed it to me that morning. I praised her delightful drawing and we moved on.

It became a long day, much in thanks to her little brother. Whining, arguing – the works. Thankfully, Ali was quite agreeable and obedient, as is her usual state, but Noah more than made up for that. By that afternoon, I needed a moment.

By myself.

With no little people anywhere nearby.

So I purposefully marched out to the front porch swing – my favorite place these days.

Two seconds later, two little people followed me out. I quickly shut that mess down.

“I need a 15 minute break. I need to be alone, I need it to be quiet, and I need you guys to go inside and let me have my break. I’ll be back inside in 15 minutes.”

“So I can’t stay out here?”, Noah asked in a whine.

“Definitely not.”

They both turned and went inside.

I breathed a long sigh and leaned my head back, enjoying the first calm moment of the day. Which lasted exactly five seconds. Until I heard the screaming from inside. And then crying. And then a lovely duet of crying.

My Mommy Justice Meter bubbled over.

Fifteen minutes! That’s all I asked for – FIFTEEN MINUTES. How hard is this?!

I stomped inside, where they were both standing, crying, barely in the door because that’s as far as they’d made it before everything went to handbasket.

“WHAT happened? WHY are you crying? WHY couldn’t you give me my fifteen minutes?!”

Noah: “She punched me right in the chest!!!”

Ali: “I’m so sorry! I don’t know what happened – I just lost my mind for a minute!!”

Well THIS is a turn of events.

Immediately I knew that something had precluded this rare mauling of her little brother, so my first response, biased though it may seem, was to ask Noah,

“What did you do to her??”

Noah: “I told her that her alien picture was dumb.”

Me, still in the selfish state of mind: “So now I have to think of consequences for two kids instead of my fifteen minute break. Go to your rooms.”

Ali, ever the people pleaser, felt terrible. “I’m so sorry for ruining your Mommy break!”

Poor kid.

It’s really one of those moments where you feel like the justified thing to do would be to praise her for all the times she actually didn’t punch her brother in the chest when he very much deserved it. I mean, if you don’t lose your cool and punch your little brother until the 4,001st time that you could have lost your cool and punched your little brother, shouldn’t you get a prize rather than a punishment?

But alas. That’s not the way the world works. And even if you’re 99.99% responsible, that .01% can be a booger.

So her consequences had to do with not getting to play with a friend later that evening, and she readily accepted it, her guilty conscience starved for something to assuage her self-loathing. We had our usual talk about forgiving yourself, and moved on.

The next day, I had a lunch date with a friend. Since the day before had been fairly rough, I extended my lunch date into a run by myself afterward. I needed quite a few moments of silence, after all – my 15 minutes of porch time had accrued interest. On my run, I spotted the most peaceful looking lizard, lying on his back as if she were sunning herself. Were it not for the puncture on the left side of her abdomen, I might’ve thought she really was just taking a beautiful day’s nap.

IMG_5767 2

I knew she deserved some major props for her pose. I kept running, but began thinking about what would fit her situation. I decided on one of those 1950’s sun-reflector things.


So I re-routed, ran to Rite Aid, bought a pack of Juicy Fruit, and began my run back.

Except that when I got back to her location and opened my pack of gum, I discovered something horrendous: gum manufacturers have quit making silver wrappers! I hate gum so I had no idea they’d gone all paper – and this deception did not make me hate gum any less.

This ruined my entire plan. What could I do with paper wrappers?? Nothing!

I confessed my sad, sad failure via text to my roadkill friend, Tanya. I had failed. I had lost a point in our game. I was the worst.

But she wasn’t going to let me give up that easily. No, she exhorted me to use my brain. Take a minute and figure out what I could do with what I had, even though I’d been thwarted.

Her pushing me to strive forward kicked my brain into motion and I came up with a plan. I ran back to my car and grabbed a pen, then made a book out of the actual gum. Because why not.

I got her all set up just so, then took her picture.


This work of art was titled “When the Reading gets Too Steamy.”

I ran off and left her, as an art installation, where I’d found her – in the entrance of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. We don’t know how many patrons got to appreciate her beauty before she was scraped up and disposed of – or better yet until a predator enjoyed eating her and then having a refreshing Juicy Fruit chew afterward – but I do hope she was appreciated for the beauty that she was.

Of course, Tanya appreciated the work of art very much. But I also sent her to Chris,

Who, in a rare out-of-character move, criticized my art.


But we quickly got things worked out between us and found out it was a text misunderstanding.



But at least he acknowledged that he was no better than his son, and totally deserved a hard punch in the chest.

The Scandalous Side of Botany.

Parental Guidance Suggested.

I love our Botany book. I struggle with finding history and science books that I like, but this one – it’s just perfect. The organization of the chapters is clear and succinct, the writing is beautiful, and the experiments are easy enough that even this severely un-experimenty mom can make them happen.

I love it so much that we’re in week 9 of school and I haven’t abandoned reading it aloud.

(Reading aloud is hard work. And also requires a modicum of non-laziness and non-boredom. By now I’ve usually jettisoned a subject or two for Ali to read to herself because I just can’t take it anymore. But not this year!)

Last week, we were on the porch enjoying our brand new fall weather, and I was reading aloud to my children. There was an Alabama Power crew lounging in the corner of our yard, taking their lunch break from messing with the power pole next to our driveway.

I wasn’t sure if the crew was in earshot or not, but I didn’t really care. They could join us for our educational pursuits if they liked.

So we started with Botany. We were studying the seed chapter, and were learning about the five methods of seed dispersal.

(Human, animal, wind, water, and mechanical. Now you can’t say this blog isn’t educational.)

We were reading about the last method, mechanical dispersal – more specifically, the last example of a plant that uses mechanical dispersal.

The power guys were enjoying their sandwiches by the mailbox, and the kids were intently listening. Ali was taking notes in her workbook as I read the last paragraph in my amplified, sing-songy botany voice.

Another fruit that uses mechanical dispersal is the squirting cucumber.

Um, the what?


Its small, two-inch cucumbers are filled with slimy juice that contains the seeds.

I glanced over at the power guys, trying to determine if they were listening to the lesson and praying that my read-aloud voice didn’t carry to the mailbox.


As they ripen, the pressure causes the cucumber to burst off its stalk and explosively shoot slimy liquid up to 20 feet away! The seeds spew out of the liquid, and voila! Seeds are sent to a new plot of land.


These would be a fun plant to grow. Their scientific name is Ecballium elaterium. If you grow these plants, wait until the cucumber is nice and fat. To make the cucumber squirt, gently shake the vine, but stand back right away so you don’t get slimed!


By the time I got to this part, I was shocked that I’d been able to read with a straight face.


And I was also a tiny bit surprised that one of the Alabama Power guys hadn’t choked on his pickle spear.

I mean sure. The study of botany has had its moments before – talking about seeds and ovaries and whatnot. But this? This was BEYOND. Let’s read it aloud, all together, and just bask in its beauty.

Another fruit that uses mechanical dispersal is the squirting cucumber.

GUYS. I said read it OUT LOUD. I don’t care if you’re at work! Kids in the room? IT’S A TEXTBOOK forcryin’outloud. Let’s start over.

Another fruit that uses mechanical dispersal is the squirting cucumber. Its small, two-inch cucumbers are filled with slimy juice that contains the seeds. As they ripen, the pressure causes the cucumber to burst off its stalk and explosively shoot slimy liquid up to 20 feet away! The seeds spew out of the liquid, and voila! Seeds are sent to a new plot of land. These would be a fun plant to grow. Their scientific name is Ecballium elaterium. If you grow these plants, wait until the cucumber is nice and fat. To make the cucumber squirt, gently shake the vine, but stand back right away so you don’t get slimed!

And THIS is why we homeschool, people. For quality moments like these.

(Additionally, I expect to get an Alabama Power Certificate of Commendation for my efforts in lifting spirits and boosting morale.)

Editor’s Note: I *carefully* searched YouTube for this anomaly. I needed to see it for myself, and it really helped solidify for the children that the squirting cucumber was a plant they should tell EVERYONE about. You’re welcome.

I Still Hate Dogs.

I love ALL of God’s endlessly imaginative creatures.

In fact, I’ve been on an animal finding bender lately.

(And not just dead ones.)

I stalked a giant, pizza-pan-sized snapping turtle down a creek near my house,

IMG_5311 2

(He even had spikes on his tail! I now understand Super Mario. BOWSER WAS A SNAPPING TURTLE.)


I’ve been LOVING getting to know the exotic Mediterranean House Gecko family that’s moved in on our porch – or rather, the Dad lives on our porch, eating all the night bugs,

FullSizeRender 51They’re a bit worried about all the immigration debates. They crawled a long way to get from the Mediterranean to Birmingham, Alabama.

And the babies live in our garage walls. They’re the most cuddly geckos you’ve ever seen.

IMG_5411Of course I put this one back as soon as I finished his complimentary newborn photo sesh.

The giant fishing spider we found while fossil-hunting fascinated me, and I didn’t even mind the Black Widow Spider Tanya found downtown while we were running.

(I mean of all the places I go in the woods and it’s downtown that I see my first Black Widow? Whatever, nature.)

(And you’re welcome for the lack of spider pictures in this post. You know who you are.)

The tiny creatures I find are my favorite. Like the hike we took where we lost count at 80-something baby toads – because toads are best when they’re miniscule (just like humans),

IMG_1568 2

And also baby lizards – not quite as cute as baby geckos, but I try not to give them complexes.


I stalk butterflies sucking the last of the nectar out of the fall flowers with their straw-like proboscises.. (we’re studying Botany this year – don’t I sound smart?)


And I stalk teeny tiny baby alligators that cross the road in front of us in South Alabama…


(Yes I totally got out of my car to photograph this adorable baby while my kids freaked the freak out…)


And my favorite run all season has been the one where I saw two snakes (one of which was a cottonmouth and I yet again misidentified him as harmless and followed him way too closely to get good pictures) (which I’m not sharing yet again because I’m a good person) and this guy, a fighting Crawfish, who let me know he was ready for battle, although he did trip and fall twice while trying to put up his dukes and make a backwards hasty retreat at the same time.


So can we all agree that I really appreciate, adore, and regularly ponder the goodness of God’s creation in the animal kingdom?

Except dogs.

I’ve already laid out my main reasons for my feelings on dogs. But let me share with you what happened this week, which further cemented my eternal feelings of canine animosity.

Every Monday afternoon, Noah and I have exactly 55 minutes to waste while Ali is in gymnastics. It’s that perfect amount of time that is way too long to sit in ones car but too short to go most places.

Fortunately for us, there’s a beautiful park nearby that is right next to the Cahaba River. You can climb the boulders, skip rocks, find crawfish, appreciate the beauty of the wiggly snail trails in the dirt at the bottom of the river bed, and in general appreciate the beauty that the Cahaba flows into Birmingham.



Every time we go, there are dogs and their owners there.

And, it seems, dogs lose any and all sense of obedience and proper behavior when in or near a river.

Last time, we got jumped by two dogs. And both owners, despite my telling them that my son does not like dogs (for reasons such as this), continued to let their dogs jump on us until we left.

This time, there was only one guy and one dog at the river. They looked calm and quiet, deeply involved in their game of fetch. I had high hopes. But we walked the opposite way down the river bank anyway.

After thoroughly exploring, Noah really wanted to check out the island that the man and his dog were on, an island normally not in existence since the water is usually higher. Since it was a rare island, I reluctantly agreed. We walked out to it, purposefully walking away from the whole dog situation.

And it worked.

They continued to play fetch while Noah and I explored.

…Until Noah made the fateful mistake of throwing a rock into the river.

We were so far from the dog that he should have been out of earshot, but no. He heard. And he assumed that Noah very much wanted to play fetch with him.

He bounded by Noah and I and into the river, retrieved the rock, and began jumping on Noah.

Meanwhile, the dog owner was repeating in a calm voice, “Watch out – he will jump on you.”


Dog owners of the world. How about when your dog is actively jumping on my kid, and my kid is screaming, try the words “Come! Sit! Stay!” instead of “Hey watch out there because my dog will invade your personal space and leave muddy paw prints all over you and he might slobber your face while he’s up there because clearly he’s taller than your son so hey you might want to watch out.”

Watch out?!

How is that helpful?

By “watch out” are you just letting me know “Hey! I’m not going to do anything about my dog and we both know you can’t/won’t, so let’s enjoy watching together while my dog clobbers your son into the river!”

These were the thoughts going through my mind as my voice was actually being quite generous (and lying) and saying “That’s okay – he threw the rock – I’m sure the dog was confused”, so I didn’t notice right away that the dog very suddenly changed focus, having grown bored with terrorizing my son, and leapt over to where I was standing and up onto my torso.

I flailed backwards a bit, now covered in mud and the perfume of nasty wet river dog, and began to lose my balance. I flailed more, as the oh-so-helpful dog owner kept quietly repeating “Watch out – he will jump on you.”

I caught myself from falling, but in the process dropped my phone. And we all four watched it bounce, bounce bounce into the river.

At THAT point, the psychotically calm dog owner lost his cool and screamed out an obscenity. He, I, and the dog all dove for my phone.

(I mean an iPhone is as good as a rock or stick for a game of river fetch, so why not?)

I got to it first, pulling it out of the bottom of the creek bed (it was shallow but the phone had still been completely submerged), and began shaking the water out of the headphone jack.

Dog owner apologized and asked if it was okay.

Noah asked if it was okay and said this is why he didn’t like dogs.

I turned off my phone and told them both as much, having heard that the frying of electronics happens because they’re left on while wet.

Dog Owner fumbled around in his pocket and said “Let me give you some contact info in case it doesn’t come back on.” But I was too shaken up, too muddy, and smelt too much of river dog to want to deal.

So I shook my head, turned around and began walking away, and said “That’s okay, have a nice day.”

Yeah. I told the guy to have a nice day.

I’m a southern girl. It’s what you do. It was the most Bless Your Heart statement I could muster at that moment.

Then I realized that the whole dog attack thing had probably taken longer than I thought, and on top of that, I didn’t have a phone I could turn on to see what time it was, and I had a kid I needed to pick up from gymnastics.

So Noah and I took off running.

Which I’m sure didn’t look strange AT ALL.

We made it to Gymnastics at the very moment Ali was let out of class. After securing my child, my stress from the whole ordeal began to catch up with me and I felt quite a deep sadness at the prospect of forever losing my Apple Appendage.

“Tell Ali what happened, Noah.”

He regaled the tale to her, with five year old dramatic flair, reiterating again how much he didn’t like dogs, and she gasped at the prospect of my phone being roadkill.

Or riverkill, as it was.

We went home and I put my phone in a bag with desiccant packets (something I keep around to pack my camera in after an especially humid sunset), and I tried to not stare as it decided whether it would live or die.

After two hours, I couldn’t take the suspense any longer.

I removed it from its isolette in iPICU…

Then I turned it on and…..

It worked.

The dog had failed at frying my phone.

But he had not failed at further cementing my feelings toward his species.