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.

The Dangers of Avocado.

There are certain foods that God created for the purpose of letting us eat toppings. Because toppings are a life blessing.

Potatoes, for instance. On their own, they’re not that exciting. But when you add butter and sour cream and cheese and bacon and maybe some bar-b-que while you’re at it, they’re the sparkling unicorn of food.

Tacos. Tacos are nothing BUT toppings. Which is why they’re never a bad idea. Especially when served in soft corn tortillas. Which is the ultimate topping wrapper.

Chili. Chili is an extra special topping food, because it calls for toppings and bottomings.

I use rice for my bottoming. Chris uses Fritos. Some people use crackers, or so I hear.

And for toppings, I’ve always used sour cream and cheese, but have recently discovered the splendor of adding an avocado to my chili topping repertoire. Because Avocado is kind of like my bacon – it’s perfect with everything.

I made a giant vat of chili last Monday night. We had a lovely family dinner, to which I invited my parents. Or I thought I did. I texted my Mom – I would have scrolled to find the text stream where I text both of them at once, but I had onion juice on my hands and really wanted Siri to handle my texting for me.

But mom never answered.

Later that night, I texted Dad.


I felt bad for my text-only ways (a normal human being would have called her parents when not receiving a response to a dinner invitation), but we still had a vat and a half of chili left over (that’s the thing about toppings – they somehow multiply your main dish leftovers because you use so many toppings that you use very little of the actual product), so I told my parents to just come over the next night.

Tuesday night.

I rewarmed the chili, got out the voluminous options of toppings and bottomings, warmed up the cornbread, and prepared for another large family dinner.

The last thing I needed to do was to slice an avocado. I knew my Mom and I would be the only ones taking advantage of the world’s best topping, so I only grabbed one avocado out of the fridge and began slicing it open while talking to my mom.

I did my usual of cutting around the middle, and then opening up the avocado. But instead of my usual THWACK approach to remove the pit (the THWACK approach being where you THWACK the pit with the knife and then twist and pull it out), I did more of a THWACK-saw.

I do not recommend the THWACK-saw approach.

Because the avocado was softer than I had assumed and catapulted loose from the avocado mid-saw…but the sawing didn’t quit. And I was sawing in the direction of my hand.

And, as I was holding the avocado in my right hand, the sawing continued into my thumb. To the point where I definitely heard and felt sawing taking place on my thumb bone.

Sometimes physics is a real turd.

As one does when sawing one’s thumb bone, I screamed and dropped the avocado. I ran to get a paper towel to sop up my outwardly flowing life force and surveyed the damage.

The cut was long, thick, and vomiting blood. But oddly didn’t hurt…at all.

It’s gonna start hurting real soon. Just you wait.

I asked mom if I needed stitches. She took a look and told me to go let my father see it while she hunted down a butterfly bandage. He looked at it and was also uncertain.

…But it still didn’t hurt.

Mom bandaged me thoroughly, causing me no pain whatsoever. I decided to table the matter of my thumb because it wasn’t hurting and I needed to slice my avocado and then there was chili to eat.

Priorities, you know?

Chris wasn’t quite home from work, so I sent him a quick text to help him adjust to the possibilities that lay ahead.

“Just to mentally prepare, we may need to go to the ER later. I cut my hand de-pitting an avocado.”

He answered back, “Sorry. You did that last night, too.”

I pondered what he said.

HAD I cut my hand two nights in a row while de-pitting my avocado? This did seem vaguely familiar. Then I remembered that I had a bothersome cut on my index finger and I didn’t remember how I’d gotten it.

I had cut my hand the night before!

Do I cut my hand every time I de-pit an avocado?

This seemed oddly familiar as well.

Clearly I needed a new strategy for de-pitting avocados.

I prepared my bowl of chili and gave myself an extra serving of avocado. I deserved it, after all.


But then I looked over at my mom’s bowl and she had not gotten any avocado.

Perhaps the adrenaline from the injury made me more frantic than usual. Or perhaps I’m just an insubordinate daughter. But I demanded of her, “Why aren’t you getting any Avocado? EAT THE BLOODY AVOCADO! …Err, I mean that “bloody” in the British sense. Not the literal one. Maybe.”

She quickly spooned herself some avocado onto her chili.

We ate, my hand continued not to hurt or throb or anything remotely uncomfortable, and I actually felt quite energized. Adrenaline really is magical – why haven’t they figured out how to make adrenaline pills yet?

After dinner, I drove up to my neighbor’s house whose husband is a doctor. He’d just walked in from a long hospital shift that I’m sure was delightfully fun, and I accosted him in the basement before he even got to go upstairs and kiss his family.

I brought a fresh tube of superglue with me, because I knew that in the past, when their kid fell and busted her head, they just superglued her back together, because superglue is the same thing as liquid stitches. Who knew?

(Also I love the idea of fixing a broken kid the same way you fix the broken kid’s broken toys.)

I peeled off the bandage for him to assess the damage. He opened up the cut a bit to take a look, and asked me again if it didn’t hurt at all? No, it didn’t.

He didn’t know why I wasn’t hurting, but because of where the cut was (going up my thumb right where it bends), he said that superglue wouldn’t hold it long enough to heal – I really needed a couple old-fashioned stitches.

I drove back home with my feeling-quite-fine hand, and we decided that Dad would drive me to the ER. After all, it might not be as easy to drive after a numbing shot or three in the hand.

Dad and I sat in the ER lobby and people-watched, communicating our terribly judgmental thoughts back and forth with our eyes. Who knew the ER was such a fascinating place? Probably everyone.

It was finally my turn, and the nurse asked me all the questions he was supposed to like, “Have you ever thought about self-harm? Are you sure you didn’t do this on purpose?”

“No. I just really wanted avocado to top my chili. Have you ever tried it? It’s delicious.”

“When did this happen?”

“Around 6pm. But I ate the chili before coming in. Because I worked hard for that avocado.”

He happily dumped me into a room, where a nice ER doctor came in and asked if I’d ever had stitches before.

“Oh yes. On my hand even! From sleepwalking.”

He then wanted to hear all of my various sleepwalking stories as he shot me up and tied three nice little stitches in my hand.

There was the time I broke my nose

And the time I got lost in the funeral home…

And that time I fought Captain Hook

I apologized that my current injury was so boring.

He ran out of the room to get something and I snapped a quick picture of his handiwork. (Click here if you’d like to see it. You’re welcome for the opt-out, queasy people.)

Then he finished stitching me up and told me he’d see me soon, then sent me on my way. And no, he had no idea why I wasn’t hurting, either.

But the moral of this story is, although there are countless useless kitchen gadgets that do various overly-specific tasks, this brand new tool that I bought this week will pay for itself in one use. Because ER co-pays are expensive.


The Fight Against Clutter.

Editor’s Note: I acknowledge that this post is way too long. I apologize profusely for my inability to break it into smaller posts. However, as a token of my sorrow, I offer you loads of pictures of the mess that my life was/is. May you take comfort in that.

I could never put “Homemaker” on my resume.

At an extended family Dirty Santa party this past Christmas, I opened up a gift that contained canning jars, a “Pickles and Jams” recipe book, and various other jelly and jam making accoutrements.

My dad started laughing.


“I’m just laughing because you’re so domesticated and all.”

I defended my level of domesticity vehemently, but to some degree, he’s right.

I can cook (maybe even quite well), but don’t very often.

I can organize my house, but choose not to make that a priority.

I CANNOT garden.

I CANNOT decorate.

And those canning jars and books are still in the gift bag piled in an extremely messy closet.

(They’ll be really useful in about nine months. When it’s time to find new Dirty Santa gifts.)

With regards to my lack of home organization, though, it bugs me. Things pile up VERY badly around here. I’m not a hoarder – I just struggle to make time to throw away. And when I get busy, decluttering is the first thing to get left behind.

(And I’ve been busy for about…nine years.)

The two areas that annoyed me the most were the kid’s (okay Noah’s) play area in the living room (I despised looking at the mountains of chaotically stacked toys every night after they went to bed),


and my office.


I know. My office is horrendous. From it, I run all the books/HR for a small business, plus I run Picture Birmingham, blog, homeschool, do all of our personal finances, and it was the home for all my shoes and crafting stuff.

IMG_5873 2

But besides that, I actually hadn’t even used my office for anything but storage since the wreck – I’d moved the work necessities to our bedroom so I could work from bed since I couldn’t sit with my legs not elevated. So really, the office had just become a dumping ground.


Although these two areas were by far not the only and possibly not the worst areas in our house (I’m looking at you, basement), they were the ones for which I desperately needed a plan.

Around the time these two areas started to annoy me the most, my dear friend Jamie posted on Facebook that she was having home organization help from a mutual internet friend, Tara. I had no idea Tara had such a magical occupation, and immediately began stalking her business. Within a week, I had her out to my house, and she literally opened every drawer, every cabinet, and every closet in my house, then took pictures of the worst of them.

(But only after I made her sign an affidavit stating that she wasn’t one of those neat freaks that assigns moral judgment to the non-neat. Because I’ve met those people. And they make me feel like Refried Roadkill.)

(Tara told me that she believed that everyone had different strengths, and just because organization and neatness weren’t mine, I had plenty of other strengths, and then she made a long list of said strengths.)

(Then I virtually kissed her.)

A week after her intimate encounter with my house, I texted Tara and said, “Um, by the way…I have a bonus question for you. You know my office? The crazy messy one with all the different stuff going on in it? Yeah. So we’re adding a person to our household and I need you to turn it into a bedroom.”

…Because one of our dearest friends, travel companion, and babysitter, Sarah, needed a place to live for a while, and we were absolutely delighted with the opportunity to add her to our family.

IMG_6640Those extra two kids are AJ and Tessa because this picture is from last summer’s beach trip. We’re not adding AJ and Tessa to our family, but if we could, my children’s lives would be complete.

A day later, Tara sent me a report, including a plan to turn my dumping ground into a bedroom.



Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 2.24.12 PM

…With links to what she wanted me to buy. And descriptions of how to rearrange my rooms. And promises to help me do all of this.

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 2.24.30 PM

And her pricing was about 10% of what I thought this sort of Fairy Housemother Magic would cost.

I devoured her report, clicked through those links so many times, and began feverishly trying to accomplish some the things she had suggested before she came out to *really* help me get things done.

Step One: First pass-through cleaning out the office – trash and sell as much as possible.

This represents $200 worth of random crap I found in my office and sold on eBay. Textbooks, Diaper Genie Refills, and more.


After Day One of working by myself, my office went from this:


To this:


A lot still to go, but the progress felt good.

Step Two: Move living room furniture and PURGE KID’S TOYS.

The kid’s loved this part, because they found all sorts of lost treasures under where the couch had been.


…Such as that half-eaten Ring Pop for which they’d been looking for so long.


The decluttering of their toys took a bit longer.


Tara had been very specific about what type of organization containers she wanted me to use, and OF COURSE the only place you could buy them in town was my favorite (nightmare) – Wal-Mart.

So the children and I had spent a harrowing 45 minutes in Wal-Mart matching lids to bins and I swore that I’d find them online – higher prices who cares – from then on.

The benefit of using all of these new containers, though, is that I got all my kitchen bowls back. The kids and their father had been stealing them for various Lego projects for years.


My pile of now-emptied containers only grew, as did my pile of garbage bags.



Oh, the shelves.

These were specific shelving/storage units that Tara wanted in my living room (she recommends them for most people because they’re fantastic.) The idea is that all of our books would be in one place, and ALL children’s downstairs toys must end up in the closed cabinets at the end of each day – or they go to Mommy Jail.

(The toys, not the children.)


I decided I would be a nice wife and attempt to build the shelves during the day so that my poor husband didn’t have to come home from work to build three giant shelving units.

I began the first shelf at 9am and I sent my first SOS text to my dad at 9:02am after opening up the boxes and seeing these bags of hardware.



(That’s all for ONE of the three shelves.)

My Dad said he would stop by in a while, but in the meantime I gathered my feminine courage and set out on my own. Despite the 50,678 screws, the instruction novel specifically said no power tools. So I found a screwdriver and began sorting and attaching all the things.


I made it all the way to step five before making my one and only mistake, but made it all the way to step seven before I realized I had assembled step five backwards.

It also took me ten minutes of staring at it to figure out exactly where I’d gone wrong. And then I dropped the heaviest piece on my leg, giving me a gorgeous knot and bruise that I still possess.

The next step had this note on it, which I believe was supposed to be encouraging but at the moment was quite the opposite.

IMG_7113A DAY?! I have two more units to build!!

By the time my Dad arrived at noon, I had the basic structure assembled, and needed a big strong man to turn the whole shelving unit over so I could assemble the back, then turn it back over so I could finish the front. Which is exactly the services he offered me – that and asking me WHY I WASN’T USING AN ELECTRIC SCREWDRIVER and pointing out that I really needed him to take a few pictures of me BUILDING THINGS.


(Maybe his opinion of my domestication grew seven times that day.)

Dad left and I continued assembling.

After four hours and fifty minutes, I had completed the first unit.


My fingertips were purple and my hands were bright pink, and although pride coursed through my soul, I swore I’d never put together another shelf in my life.


I had to leave the house to go to my last(!!!) Physical Therapy appointment (visit #44, in case you’re wondering), and by the time I graduated from PT (yes, they sang the graduation song as I marched out of the clinic), I was empowered to build more shelves.

Because it’s MANIC 2016.

So I went straight home and began shelf #2.


I had a little help this time…


For approximately two turns of the screwdriver before he declared it too hard.


But because my shelving timing was apparently perfect, Chris walked in the door from work at the exact moment that I needed unit #2 flipped over.



Shelf number two only took two hours and forty-five minutes – I was thinking I should go pro at that point.

For shelf three, I told Chris my hands couldn’t take any more pain. I would be the brains – after all I knew how ALL this should go – and he could be my muscle.

So he went and got the electric screwdriver. Of course.

And I told him what to do and how.

This lasted for about half of the shelf, and lemme tell you it was fun to tell my structural-steel-drawing engineer husband how to construct something, but then it was time for the kids to get to bed and so I took back the shelves so he could read bedtime stories.

Coming in at two hours and twenty-five minutes, the third shelves were built. Tallying up to a grand total of nine hours and fifty minutes, and spanning from 9am to 10:30pm (with PT and a couple breaks built in.)



Step Four: Build Smaller Entertainment Center.

We’ve had our lovely television armoire for about fourteen years, and although we adored it, it was crowding our living room. Tara suggested a much smaller unit. After building three shelving units, this was a yawn for me. Because I’m a professional.

TV Before After

Step Five: Giant Work Day with Tara.

Tara brought a helper and our goal for the morning was to get my office completely ready for Sarah to move in. And we did just that.

This included lots of shredding and throwing crap away,


lots of donations,


Hanging pictures while standing on safe and steady furniture,


And busying children with putting books in rainbow order.



(I enjoyed adding special touch shelves, such as this one, featuring Twitter signs from my sweet friend Katherine and a special purchase from Moist,)


(And this one, featuring our favorite band and handwritten lyrics from them to our favorite song.)


By the end of the day, my office was no longer an office.

Office Before After 1Office Before After 2Office Before After 3

AND my living room was a beautiful, cozy new space.

Living Room Before After

So. Sarah has moved in a week ago (my children are gleefully happy, as are Chris and I, to add her to our family for a while), I’m LOVING the progress in my house, the kids are doing fairly well keeping their toys out of Mommy Jail, and I’m trying to not screw it all up by allowing things to stack up.

I still have about 60% of Tara’s report to put into place, and I and hope to have her out about once a month for a while to force me to get it all done.

…But I still don’t plan on making any pickles or jams.