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.

Not-Crazy-Renee and the Creepy Middle Child.

“How’s Not-Crazy-Renee doing?”

I’m sure you’re asking that right now, since that’s what all blog readers want to know when they see me. She is, after all, the all-time favorite blog character.

With good reason.

To answer your question, she’s doing fine.

She still feeds Snakey Butters Buttercup, her five year old’s pet python, every Wednesday night (or every other, if she forgets, and then Snakey gets a two-for-the-price-of-one night.) I was honored to be invited over for the grand event recently. I got to hold Snakey before the meal, letting her snake up my arm and waggle her tongue in my general direction. I was fascinated by how smooth she is – “scaly” doesn’t mean what you think it means. After that, I was privileged to watch as she gave little Mickey one last good hug, then swallowed him with less trouble than I have swallowing a french fry.

Everyone needs this experience with a python.

The week before I visited had been a two-for-one night, and I got this series of texts from Not-Crazy-Renee about the mishaps therein…






I know. At this moment you can do nothing but be intensely jealous that she’s my not-crazy friend and not yours.

Changing the subject.

Earlier this week, I agreed to do her family photos – you know, for Christmas cards and such. I do not do this for many people because OH THE PRESSURE of taking portraits. But I did hers last year, and her kids are super photogenic and therefore easy to photograph at their best, so I agreed.

Last year, her middle child, Jonas, was my favorite to photograph. He’s beyond adorable. (They all are, but he’s my favorite. Can I have a favorite?)

Besides giving me the precious shots I wanted,

_MG_8835 Jonas Fave


he gave me the best “OH NO YOU DI’INT!!” shot of all time:


Right? Right.

So this year, I expected more fantastical photos from him.

However. He decided to remove himself as my favorite and instead, offer me a different sort of treasure.

Out of the hundreds of pictures I took, I got maybe 5 good ones of him.

The rest were his apparent audition photos to be the next Hollywood Evil Villain Child.

He started out playfully evil. The Doofenshmirtz of bad guys.


Then he moved on to Cedric the Sorcerer.


From there he went full-on Joker…


And just a bit of Draco Malfoy.


(Positive he was casting a Cruciatus Curse here…)


But then, when it was time for family photos, is when it got weird.

I told him to smile,

And the kid turned into a …






We tried one more picture up against the ivy-covered wall. We all begged him to smile. And as his sister looked toward the heavens, looking as if she’d seen an angel,


He looked like he had seen something…

or was something….


quite different.


He may not be my favorite anymore, but he’s for sure ready for Hollywood.

Epilogue: In fairness and to soothe the nightmares I just provided you, I did get a couple adorable shots of him,



And precious shots of him with his siblings.




Also, I was able to make this fabulous music video, thanks to his superior inter-photograph dance skillz.

And then, my masterpiece of the year, was this sick beat…

(Y’all remember this post one day when Photographical DJing is a thing. Remember that I, and Jonas, were the pioneers.)

….so maybe he’s still my favorite. Maybe.

(But I’m only retracting my renouncement of him because he looked at me like this after reading this post…)


On Learning the Art of Theme Parking.

On Friday morning of our two mom/five kid adventure, we sat out for our first true undertaking – to Dollywood, the theme park.

I am quite inexperienced at the whole theme park thing – remember Disney? Yeah – they didn’t even let me in the front gate. So I was beyond thankful to discover that Not-Crazy-Renee is actually fantastically adept in the art of theme park planning and navigation.

I mean, I knew she’d done Disney with a baby (something I would never dream of attempting), but she hadn’t told me how good she was. She just quietly researched the park, and when we arrived that morning, she confidently said, “Okay I’ve studied the map and we need to go down Showstreet and through Rivertown Junction to get to County Fair which is where all the rides will be for the kids.”

I hadn’t even thought far enough ahead to fully realize that oh yeah – the rides would be separated by age.

Tip #1: If you’re going to do a crazy adventure, make sure that one of the moms is a planner, and has actually successfully gotten her family into and through a theme park.

But her planning started before we even left the hotel, when she borrowed a sharpie from Ali (what nine year old travels without sharpies?) and wrote her phone number on her children’s arms in case of getting lost.

IMG_4581 copy

(I followed up with writing my phone number on my children…slightly smaller, on the inside of their arms, and without the giant “MOM”. But nobody ever accused Not-Crazy-Renee of not being bold. Remember the Neighborhood Package Thief?)

The phone number thing really was brilliant, and all the other moms at Dollywood kept commenting at our preparedness. However, it’s been five days and my number is still on Noah’s arm. So now it’s beginning to just look like he managed to snag some young lady’s number.

(And if someone saw the way he looks at Loulie, they’d have a pretty good guess of whose phone number he wanted to snag.)


But Dollywood.

The rides were really fantastic. Teacups were a big hit,


As were the bumper cars.

Some took it more seriously than others.


The favorite ride, but also the most complex for our outnumberedness, were the elephants.




Here’s a Theme Park Math Problem For you:

Riders over 48” can ride alone. Riders under 48” must be with a rider that is over 16 years old. The baby in a carrier could not ride. There can only be two riders per elephant. Ali was over 48” and Noah, Jonas, and Loulie were under 48”. Plus, one adult had to stay off to hold Joshua, the baby. How many rounds had to be ridden to let everyone have a turn?

The answer is three, and the bonus answer is that Ali got three turns each time we rode the elephants (Perks for being the oldest.)

1. Adult/Noah, Ali
2. Adult/Jonas, Ali
3. Adult/Loulie, Ali

Thankfully, there were no lines that day, so this was relatively easy to accomplish. But since Elephants were the favorite, we ran this triple circuit multiple times. And sometimes, the kids waiting for their turn actually had a good attitude.


(By the way, Noah was BARELY under 48”. If he’d been over 48”, everything would’ve been easier. Tip #2 from Not-Crazy-Renee The Theme Park Expert: I should’ve glued a one-inch foam wedge to the bottom of his shoes. I want to go back to Dollywood this weekend just to try this BRILLIANT plan.)

At first, due to my Theme Park Status of ignoramus, I was completely confused by all the different height requirements, number-per-ride requirements, and height-measuring poles. But then I began to appreciate it, because there was a ride for every situation.

Jonas got to drive a car:


Loulie and Ali were able to ride a small roller coaster alone:


And everyone was allowed to ride in the Bumblebee and a couple other rides alone, even Jonas and a VERY proud Noah:

IMG_4571I’ve still got the Bumblebee song stuck in my head.

We spent the majority of Friday at Dollywood, until my stamina gave out first.

We’d been awarding everyone’s good attitudes on the trip with Lego Bucks, so we stopped at the gift shops on the way out of the park for an energy pick-me-up, distributing swords and candy to the children, and delicious truffle-things to the mothers (because I am telling you we EARNED ourselves some Lego Bucks.)

IMG_4567Why yes, Noah is auditioning for “So You Think You Can Dance.” Why do you ask?

As we left, I asked Renee how much of the park we’d accomplished in our many hours there. She said about one eighth of the park. One eighth! That made me want to go back without the kids to do the other seven eighths, mostly more intense rides. But it was pretty amazing that there was a whole day’s worth of rides they could ride – it made the concept of theme parking with kids so much more doable.

(I’ve always been a little scared of theme parks. But now I know. If I can do it with two adults and five kids, I can TOTALLY do it with Chris and just my kids.)

The next day, before heading back home, we went to the Waterpark. I was even more skeptical that this would work – The odds were ever NOT in our favor.

But they had three full kid areas, plus a lazy river and wave pool.

Kid area #1 (Little Creek Falls) had two mild slides that the three oldest kids could do alone (even my very risk averse Noah (who won’t even go down the slide at the YMCA pool) went right up and did it – no coaxing required!)



Kid Area #2 (Bear Mountain Fire Tower) was a bit more intense – there was water squirting at every angle, and a giant bucket that doused the entire play area every few minutes. I was shocked my kids were up for this one, but they were – we had to drag them out.


Kid Area #3, The Cascades, was the best kid area in my opinion – it was bigger, yet more laid back and quieter, but still had a couple great slides.IMG_4544

One of the slides was perfect for Ali to take Jonas on, a treat that they both loved.


We chilled for a while at the wave pool,


Which proved to be a perfect Dippin’ Dots / Cotton Candy break for everyone.


Renee and I also each took a turn taking Loulie and Ali on a big raft waterslide – a slide that had way too much adrenaline potential for Noah.


But the real adventure came, ironically, at The Lazy River.

Oh, I wish there were pictures.

We had decided we could do it – Renee could hold Joshua, I could hold Jonas, and the other three could be on their own floats. But the waterfall was loud and the river was somewhat crowded – and I couldn’t figure out how to sit on my float, be able to steer, and hold a two-year-old upright. I followed Expert Renee’s lead and hefted one leg up over the float, balanced Jonas on that leg, and left the other leg hanging down with which to steer, looking very much like Leg Lamp Boat Rudder. I wasn’t sure if my legs would ever go together again.

Meanwhile, Noah decided that a REALLY FUN GAME to play on the Lazy River would be (he didn’t name it this but he might as well have ) “The Drowning Game”, where he kept flipping over backwards in the middle of his float, flailing just below the water level (even though he could totally touch), allowing a couple of seconds to go by, then jumping out of the water laughing hysterically.

And no matter how hard I tried, I could NOT get him to quit playing this game.

We took two laps around because it had taken us the time of three laps to get into the river, so we couldn’t quit at one.

Tip #3: If you are grossly outnumbered by your children, leave the Lazy River to the happy romantic couples who are only dreaming of creating offspring. No need to show them what that dream actually looks like.

Aside from the Lazy River adventures, though, the waterpark was a smashing success. Everyone had a place they could play at a level they were comfortable, we stayed for six hours and the kids would’ve stayed longer, and we left with the same number of children we possessed upon arrival.

We threw everyone into dry clothes, doled out iPads and headphones, and started the journey back to Birmingham, enjoying the lovely view of worn-out, silent, double-screening children.


And we congratulated ourselves. Because we were CLEARLY rock stars.

(With an honorable mention to Ali, who was crazy helpful and much needed all weekend. Tip #4: Don’t travel without a kind and happy-to-help oldest child.)



We were sure to give her many reading breaks and covertly sneaky treats that the other kids never saw. We made being the oldest totally worth her trouble.


A couple days after returning home, Noah called me into his room to show me what he and his Daddy had built the night before at bedtime.

“Look Mom, it’s a time Machine. See? You turn this wheel and you can go back in time.”


“Cool! Where are you going to go back in time to? Or are you going to go to the future?”

“Oh I am definitely going back to Dollywood!”

I’d call that a successful adventure.