Not-Crazy-Renee and the Family Pet.

Not-Crazy-Renee is a homeschool Mom like myself. That somehow puts one in a different category of willingness to do bizarre things for educational purposes. Couple that with Not-Crazy-Renee being not-crazy and…well…

So Loulie wanted a pet snake.

Loulie is Not-Crazy-Renee’s oldest child. She and Noah are tight – so much so that they are already planning their marriage, and they both just turned five a few weeks apart.

Noah is not as excited about Loulie’s exotic taste in pets, especially since it would live long enough to potentially carry into their marriage like a slithery piece of unwanted baggage, but Not-Crazy-Renee was all in. I, being one of those rare snake-fascinated individuals, was also fully in support.

For weeks before Loulie’s birthday, Renee was doing research, learning, and logging onto snake forums to educate herself on everything that she needed to know about being a hospitable owner to a pet snake. And there’s way more than you’d think involved – nocturnal hours, proper humidity and temperature gradient so that they can move between warmer and cooler sides as needed, adequate numbers of hides to prevent stress, and much much more. She bought a vivarium (fancy, no?), all the accessories including a unicorn figurine to keep the new snake relationally engaged, and, finally, visited a breeder to procure the snake itself just in time for Loulie’s fifth birthday.

The snake in question is a Butter Ball Python Morph, and Loulie decided to name her Snakey Butters Buttercup – a perfect name to convey the cuddly, adorable aspects of a python.

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Loulie was very opinionated about the diet of Butterball, though – the recommended diet is one live mouse a week – Hopper sized, no Fuzzies or Pinkies. But live mice are so adorable and Loulie just couldn’t stand the thought of her precious snake killing such a beautiful creature. So she requested that they look into the other, less recommended option – frozen mice.

(Because frozen mice are alienesque and ugly, so their dead state did not bother Loulie at all. Renee is now teaching Loulie the concept of valuing all life whether attractive or not.)

Frozen mice are sold in a box on a block, and you kind of just…chisel off a mouse-in-a-baggy once a week. Then you warm that mouse – carefully – and dangle it in a believably-live way in front of a hungry Python.

It might help to also move the mouse along the cage in a realistic fashion as you would do to get a cat to play with a stuffed mouse – reverse-fishing, if you may.

However, the warming of the mouse is the complicated step.

Mickey is supposed to be warmed carefully and slowly, but time does not always allow careful, slow warming, so despite the warnings on the box,

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(Not the “not for human consumption” warning – that “do not microwave” warning,)

You might attempt to microwave the poor creature. Thank God I got the full textual play-by-play. If only everyone were fortunate enough to be friends with Not-Crazy-Renee.

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“It was in a bag!!” may be the phrase that Not-Crazy-Renee screams at me, in the tone of “We were on a break!!”, every time I refuse food from her for the rest of our lives.

And I’m okay with that. Especially after this final fact about micromouse.

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(Later, Not-Crazy-Renee admitted that when Butterick “snapped that thing up” and gave it a little squeeze, the mouse’s stomach completed the process of rupturing.)

So after the unfortunate microwave explosion incident, they decided to use safer, more proven methods of mousecicle warming.

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I began to realize that Not-Crazy-Renee was way more into ButteredRice than Loulie (despite Loulie’s obsession) when every time I texted her after her kid’s bedtime, she was in the middle of some sort of snakey endeavor.

Such as this night,

 

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And this night.

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After a few weeks of disgusting mishaps and frustrating feeding escapades,

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along with a snake exchange from Snakey Butters Buttercup the First to Snakey Butters Buttercup the Second (because SBB Sr. was snapping at the children as if they were naked dead rats and we all know that snakes should never be aggressive like that), Not-Crazy-Renee convinced Loulie that it was time to attempt a live mouse.

But still. She wasn’t sure Loulie could handle the cuteness, so she snuck into the pet store to buy the first victim.

“What are we doing here, Mommy?”

“Oh, I just have to run in and get something.”

The only pet store in town that sells live feeder mice is beyond creepy – it’s like the Uncle Joe’s Tot Locker of pet stores. It was the creepiest shack in Birmingham when I was a kid, and it doesn’t appear to have been cleaned in the 20 years since then. Any mouse would be thrilled to escape the noxious fumes and gummy cages to find comfort in the warmth of a snake’s throat.

Renee walked in, turned the corner, almost walked into a random giant tortoise slowly cruising around the store, and found the feeder mice.

The employee fished her one out and asked, “Would ya like me to stun him for you?”

“Well, I’m not going to be using him until tonight, so no…”

“Okay. Well, the way I stun ‘em is by grabbin’ ‘em by the tail and just whappin’ ‘em against the wall.”

“Um, Thanks…”

Renee stuffed the mouse in her purse like it was some sort of embarrassing personal hygiene item and scurried out, dodging the tortoise once again.

Then took the kids to lunch.

As one does.

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*Yum to Ashley Mac’s, not the mouse.

Renee is a lot like a first-time-Mom with Butternuts, obsessed and anxious and hovering, so she really wanted full control over this first live feeding. She waited until Loulie went to bed, then invited me over to join in her great anticipation of snake consumption.

Snakes are nocturnal and prefer their food at night, so Renee and I sat in her dark basement together, nervously watching her snake under a heat lamp.

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The breeder had recommended that she move ButteredRoll to a different box for feeding to reduce association with home + feeding and therefore also reduce chances of children’s hands getting snapped at when reaching into the vivarium, so she was in Rubbermaid and the mouse was dumped unceremoniously from the light bulb box in which it had been subtly hidden.

As we sat in the dark, Renee waited and hoped that her baby would decide to eat, distracting herself by whispering nervously to me.

“Snakey Butters Buttercup the Second was from a boob egg, which means that one side didn’t calcify entirely and the egg kinda looks like a boob. This makes the snakes smaller and more docile, but I’m wondering if it also makes them a little dense. WHY ISN’T SHE EATING?”

I worked to distract Renee to keep her off the forums while we waited for ButterPecanPancakes to take the plunge and eat that adorable tiny mouse, all while Renee’s husband waited patiently upstairs for Renee to come back so they could watch Making a Murderer.

But first, we needed to make a murderer out of Butterfinger.

She’d tense up, stick her tongue out to smell the fantastic aroma of mouse, then act disinterested.

She literally licked that mouse, and the mouse totally licked her back, but then Buttermilk changed her mind again.

(All while Renee panickingly whispered, “Is that mouse CHEWING ON my snake?!?!”)

This went on for a half an hour, and I began to believe Renee’s observations about the intelligence of a boob egg dweller.

Until quite suddenly, Butterfly uncoiled all the way, arched her head, and took down the mouse in a millisecond.

She wrapped him up, head in her mouth, as the tiny legs repeatedly kicked her in the scales.

So that she could feel the full impact of Mouse Death, I batted Renee’s leg with my fingertips to the syncopation of the mouse’s little claws.

Then when the mouse had been still for a couple of minutes, the swallowing began.

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Considering the relative size of the mouse and snake, it was a shockingly quick process. All I could think about was how choked I would be if I were Butterbeer right then. I MEAN.

It was fascinating to watch her throat muscles and scales move up and down as she worked the mouse from her mouth down her throat, until all that remained was a mouse tail, which very much made her look like she was having an after-meal smoke.

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The moment was touching, that first live mouse meal, and Not-Crazy-Renee and I bonded immensely from having shared it. It was as if we’d truly experienced The Miracle of Life together. Or The Miracle of Death. Whatever.

But it wasn’t just bonding for Renee and I – it was also bonding for Butterbean and Renee. The next night when I texted her, no longer was she preparing dead mice in some gruesome and squishy fashion. No – thanks to that tummy-filling live mouse, Renee and Buttercream were able to spend their one-on-one time much more productively.

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You Can Check Out Anytime, But You Can Never Leave.

Saturday night, after a full day of snow and fun and constant parent/child interaction, I decided that certainly the kids were prepped for an early bedtime. Or at least I was prepped for them to have an early bedtime.

Introverted Parenting Tip: When traveling with kids, sitting in the hotel bed in the dark listening to tiny snores while chilling with one’s phone and/or computer is absolutely blissful.

But alas. They did not find it nearly as easy to fall asleep as I felt they should. I  began praying hard for God to send melatonin from heaven. I took out a CraigsList ad: “My kingdom for two melatonin gummies.” I researched survival guides for how to make ones own sleeping compound from natural items that could be found on an Alabama mountaintop.

But finally, they fell asleep, Noah not doing so before performing so many flips on his air mattress that he woke up like

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And stayed like this all the way through his morning Ring Pop Breakfast.

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(Because we believe in good nutrition when we’re traveling.)

(And yes. That’s the same pair of long underwear. Pretty sure he wore it for 72 hours straight.)

We wandered outside and found that the snow was slushy and perfect for making snowmen, and the road ice had melted away – or at least, all of the road ice except for one single solitary patch of snow melt / freeze runoff.

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In the one, exact place that I decided to park.

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I had Ice with me, Ice before me, Ice behind me,
Ice in me, Ice beneath me, Ice above me,
Ice on my right, Ice on my left.

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And my car’s shadow was conveniently over the thickest portion.

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Now. It is worth noting that this was not my original parking spot.

My ORIGINAL parking place was now ice free and in the sun. BUT, on Friday afternoon, at the stormiest, windiest, snowiest, blizzardiest, darkest moment, a fully bearded man in a giant parka walked past our window, then turned and knocked on our hotel room door.

Sarah and I looked at each other, frightened at the horror movie setup of the moment.

I cracked the door to the width of a hair.

“Yes?”

“Can I come in??”, he yelled over the wind slicing up the mountain, as our room received a dusting of tiny snowflakes.

I looked back at my hotel room, housing me, another woman, two children, and not even a butter knife for protection.

“Um, what do you need?”

“I NEED TO COME IN THEN I’LL TELL YOU!!”

Seriously at this point I was ready to slam the door in his face.

“I work at the state park just let me in!”

I opened the crack two inches and allowed him to stick his face into the room.

“They told me to come tell you to move your car so it doesn’t slide down the mountain. Park it on the other side of the hotel.”

Then he left. After having spent more time trying to get in from the cold than get us the message. But did I feel bad for making him freeze?

Nope.

(I mean sure he was nearly dead of Alabama Hypothermia but nope.)

So I ran out into the cold and drove my car around the parking lot. But the lower lot looked flatter than the backside lot…which was just as slanted as the lot I was in…so I made a {very very bad} judgement call and parked in the lower lot.

In the exact parking spot that was the last icy patch in the entire park. Nay, in the entire southeast.

I was pondering all of this while watching the children gleefully build a snowman on the sunny Sunday morning, wondering whether I would ever be able to leave, with the last two lines of Hotel California coursing through my mind. When another park guest walked up to me and said, “Is that your red SUV in the bottom parking lot?”

“Yes…”

“Well, somebody just HIT it.”

“WHAT?!?!?”

I immediately envisioned my brand new car t-boned and crushed, and thinking about how long it had taken me to find the perfect Flex just two months prior.

I ran down the hill, crunching in the slushy snow, only to see a State Park truck parked a few feet from my car – my perfectly fine looking car.

I awkwardly skated over to my bumper, nearly falling on the inch-thick ice several times and actually falling once, to discover that Margo had only acquired her first two tiny scratches – scratches that I could only see after I wiped away the dirt.

(Y’all were right about colored cars, for the record. So. Dirty.)

I rolled my eyes at that state park guest who had felt it necessary to tell me “Somebody just HIT it” without any measurement of the word “hit”, then skated back up the hill.

A few minutes later, the State Park had put out these signs:

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It was the last road closure in the state of Alabama and there was one car affected by it.

I’m so special.

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It was now past check-out time, the sunny beautiful day was beckoning me home, and I knew that if I didn’t take things into my own hands, I would never escape.

I scoured the hotel room. A hair dryer! I have an outlet in my car! I could plug it in and heat the ice!

But alas. It was hard-wired to the wall.

Do I have a tire iron in my car?

Nope. Too new.

Any sticks large enough to break the ice? Nope. All the sticks broke.

How about….yasssss. A boulder.

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It should be noted that I’m still not released to lift more than five pounds but if I didn’t do something it’s not like I’d ever see my Physical Therapist again anyway, so better to be fussed at than to live the rest of my life at a State Park.

I threw the boulder at the ice dozens of times, sometimes cracking the ice, and sometimes cracking the rock.

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Two state park workers came to help me – The Bearded Dude who’d frightened us greatly Friday night, and Dude who gave Margo her first scratches. The three of us were quite tight by now after all, having lived through the awkwardness and come out on the other side.

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(Bearded Dude admitted to me that when they told him to come help me, he’d said “WHAT? NOT THE LADY IN 116!! She wouldn’t even let me in out of the snow on Friday!!”)

(We also had many delightful arguments about whose fault it was that I was stuck in the ice anyway – I had not obeyed his parking orders, but he had not forbidden that spot and technically it was on another side of the building, and plus he was super scary so how could I trust him….)

Finally, in a moment of overwhelming victory for me and my two new BFFs, I was able to carefully and slowly back out of my Parking Space of Incarceration. And there was much rejoicing.

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Sarah and I threw our bags into the car and left, dreaming of a fast food lunch.

But my navigation, unbeknownst to me, quit speaking to me on our way out of the park, and so I kept missing turns, and it kept re-routing and giving me longer ways home. By the time I had figured out what was going on, our detour had afforded us to go on multiple back roads and highways (one gravel) that I had never seen in my life. We got to see a quaint water wheel, old downtown Talladega which looked straight out of the Cars movie,

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And what appeared to be a dead cow in a field, surrounded by happily grazing cows.

We were staring at it and exclaiming over how stiff it looked and cows don’t usually lay on their sides and were his legs sticking straight out?? When Noah piped up and said from the back seat,

“Jessy gets rid of dead bodies.”

Um.

I looked at him in the rearview mirror. “Jessy your babysitter?”

“Yes. She gets rid of dead bodies.”

Sarah turned around and looked at Noah and said, “What do you MEAN??”

(After all, Sarah and Jessy are friends, and this is something you need to know about your friend before you find yourself in the backseat of a car helping her with her hobby.)

But Noah was silent, smiling at us creepily.

Sarah said, “Seriously Noah what has Jessy said about getting rid of dead bodies?

…more silence and a giggle.

Amused at the growing creepiness of this conversation, I said, “Have you BEEN with Jessy while she was getting rid of a dead body??”

He finally said, “This one time we were playing a game and Jessy said to Ali, “Don’t die because I don’t want to have to get rid of your dead body.”

And from that statement he assumed that Jessy regularly gets rid of dead bodies.

Because deductive reasoning.


Epilogue: We made it home, I haven’t unpacked the kid’s bag yet, and I checked in with Jessy – she said she’d be glad to give me a discounted rate if I hire her to do both at once – “Hey – can you babysit my kids and while you’re at it, do something with this dead body?” Y’all let me know if you need her contact info.

The Day of Snow.

Picking up from yesterday‘s post…So snow.

Somehow, the kids decided to let Sarah and I sleep in until 9am Saturday morning (blackout curtains are straight from the Holy Spirit), but were thrilled to peek out the window when they did wake up and see the beautiful fantastic dream-come-true half-inch of snow.

I presented them with gifts of brand new gloves and their first ever pairs of long underwear (something that Noah was especially smitten with, telling everyone who would listen that he “was wearing LONG UNDERWEAR!!!”),

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And then they put on all the layers that a child in Northern Alaska would wear and sprinted out to make snow angels,

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And sled down the shortest hill they could find.160123k
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I mean seriously the kid looks like he’s experiencing the thrill of an olympic slalom course but that hill was maybe five feet from top to bottom.

Ali decided to get brave and attempt the road that some teenagers were sledding down.

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Instead of snow, it was coated in a layer of ice and was the cause of all of us slipping and falling throughout the weekend. She sat the sled on the road and gave herself a gentle push.

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She traveled approximately ten feet before she screamed and dug her heels into the ice.

“I realized I didn’t know how to stop, so I stopped,” she explained.

They moved onto snowball attempts, but the snow was a bit too powdery for any sort of possible impact.
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We took many warm-up breaks indoors, them playing Minecraft and Sarah and I chilling on our phones. Snow is exhausting for everyone, after all. (Noah enjoyed getting to take his pants off and do his chilling in long underwear. Because LONG UNDERWEAR!!)

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I finally convinced the kids to go on a walk with me, and we set off up the hill for a long walk to the Bald Rock Boardwalk. I’d seen it the day before in the clouds, and now I HAD to see it in the snow.

We made it a few hundred feet before the whining began.

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They took on the aura of Siberian children forced to walk twenty miles to school, trudging blank-eyed and suffering.

It wasn’t even that cold.

But, thankfully for them, Mandy the Park Naturalist had mercy on their souls and came and picked us up to drive us to the boardwalk.

Miraculously, their energy returned and even doubled when they saw the boardwalk to run upon.

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There were also perfect squares along the way, untouched snow just begging children to angel it.

Mandy was also an expert in lowering angel-makers into fresh snow. I was happy to let her do the heavy dropping.

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Mandy further proved her value as Park Naturalist when she TOOK OFF HER GLOVES to help the children craft a snowman. Both kids were in awe at her inhuman bravery and ability to bear up under such extreme weather circumstances. They were in love.

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She easily became their new favorite person. They told her all sorts of fascinating facts, such as,

“Mommy says I have a good immune system.”

“We have a cat named Fred that visits us.”

“I’m wearing LONG UNDERWEAR!!!!”

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The walk to Bald Rock was magical,

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But the real gift was the sight at the end. A sunbeam, just for us, lighting up the snow-free fields below.

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The panoramic view was remarkable.

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We had planned on leaving Saturday, but the ice was not going anywhere and the highway out of the park was still legally closed, so the kids got lucky and we committed to spending another night, giving them even more time with their prayed-for snow.

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And even a snotsicle or two as a bonus.

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We ate dinner at the lodge that night and watched the stunning sunset through its floor-to-ceiling windows. I managed to control myself and only run out of the restaurant once to get pictures. Mainly because I was a wuss and the wind was indescribably slicy.

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But I’m pretty sure, wind or no, this is the most priceless deck in all of Alabama.

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When we walked back across the icy street to our hotel room, the many colors of dusk had begun, and I managed to step one foot back outside to get a couple more layers of the beams over the mountains.

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The snow day was everything we had set out to experience, but the attempt to leave the next day proved….slightly more complicated.

To be continued…