“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

A Christmas Confessional

Ok. We caved.

In June, Joanna Leigh found it in a flyer. I admit, I used her wish to get her to go to bed, to make potty training progress, to inspire good behavior. It was the Pink Car.


By October, I knew it was serious. Maybe I had overused it or maybe she’s just persistent. Whatever. She would not let go of or forget about the Pink Car, a Barbie Ford Mustang convertible, no less. I knew I had to act fast. I jumped in our car – the real one – and headed for Wal-Mart, where she had seen it in person.

Oh, ma Gawd, they didn’t have one. They told me it was last season’s thingy, and said if I could find it, it would be on sale. This year’s thingy was a off-road jeep-type thing, totally no good for a princess.

I got home and called every Wal-Mart in central Alabama. No deal. By now my pulse had quickened.

I went on-line. There it was. But full price. I whipped out my MasterCard and read off the number. It would be shipped to the local store for no additional cost but at full price. When it got here, I had until the end of October to pick it up; it has been in our unfinished basement covered by a tarp for two months.

My husband is putting it together as I type. Two hours ago he said, “It’s not going to take too much to get this together.”

He’s cursing. “There’s no battery indicator light like it shows in the book,” he screamed up the stairs.

We have three days to get it together. Now he can’t find all the stickers that go on it. Bah Humbug.

I don’t regret the excess. Joanna Leigh is so sweet and anxious to have gifts for everyone. The night I was cutting up fruit for her school party and putting it all in storage bags, she came in the kitchen when I wasn’t looking, got handfuls of plastic bags, put a bunch of her toys and trinkets in them, zipped them up, and said they were for her friends at school.

There will be plenty of photos to come.

The Early Period: Photos by Joanna Leigh

No, the photos aren’t 3-1/2 years old, she is. Joanna Leigh got my point-and-shoot camera and took them herself. I can’t resist posting them. Catching me brushing my teeth made her howl with laughter.

I really can’t believe I’m putting all these on the Web. For posterior. Or is it posterity?

Merry Christmas. I’ll be on holiday for a week or so. Please come back to Spittin’ Grits.

Butterflies Free-for-All

Butterflies of Alabama, a new book from the Gosse Nature Guides series of The University of Alabama Press will be of interest way beyond the borders of Alabama -- to butterfly lovers, nature aficionados, conservationists and environmentalists, photographers, and outdoors people.


All photos copy-righted by Sara Bright






For added sweetness, the book’s scrumptious beauty will make it a wonderful gift in most places on the globe for most ages.

The butterflies of this state, all 84 known species, migrate, some far and wide, like the magnificent Monarch; some are highly localized and seen infrequently out of their area, like the West Virginia White.


West Virginia White ©

As luck would have it, it flutters into the northeast part of Alabama. One species has only recently been documented anywhere – the Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail – but like the West Virginia White, was spotted (in 2008) in Alabama’s Appalachian foothills.


Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail ©

To see several localized species, you’ll have to go to the beach – in Alabama, to Baldwin and Mobile counties – including the Great Southern White, Queen, and the Eastern Pygmy-Blue.

These creatures are all beautiful enough to lure you to their sites.

Butterflies of Alabama is not, however, just another pretty book. It’s an education, thanks to the fastidious work of photographer Sara Bright and writer Paulette Haywood Ogard. Each species entry includes photos and text (in non-technical language) revealing the whole life cycle in its natural habitat, from larva to caterpillar to beautiful adult.

Zebra_0005Zebra Longwing ©


Nature Journal

The first in the Gosse series (published earlier this year), Nature Journal, by L. J. Davenport, also goes beyond its intended use as a nature study guide for observing Alabama’s flora and fauna species in their habitat. Each chapter begins with a photograph, some lovely, some silly (like the ocellated flounder flatfish), and some gross (like the yukky Cedar apple rust galls).

Nature Journal

The photos are followed by an always witty and detailed essay about the species in the photo:

One drizzly spring day, while wriggling through a thicket in Franklin County, Alabama, I came face-to-face with a most horrible sight: an entire cedar tree “eat up” with orange oozes, dripping dew like a thousand noisome noses. But – intrepid biologist that I am – I felt no fear, for I only faced the teliohorns of cedar apple rust (CAR).










Cedar Apple Rust galls © L. J. Davenport

The refreshing voice and style of the essays are followed by several lined pages for your own creative observations and descriptions. Or poems. Or character studies. Or personal essays. Or whatever you’d like to write. Davenport’s essays have also, by the way, instructed you as to how to observe and detail your subject.

The Naturalist’s Art

The Gosse Nature Guides series pays homage to Philip Henry Gosse, English naturalist, watercolorist, and inventor of the marine aquarium who spent nearly a year on what was then, in 1838, the Alabama frontier teaching planters’ children in Dallas County. His original watercolors of Alabama insects are housed in the British Library in London. but can be seen and admired in the UA Press book that rounds out this trio of value-added natural history publications: Philip Henry Gosse: Science and Art in Letters from Alabama and Entomologia Alabamensis, by Gary R. Mullen and Taylor D. Littleton.


The book presents, for the first time, Gosse’s full-color art, as well as a concise biography of Gosse.

The Gosse series will continue with publications by naturalists and experts. The book on Alabama ferns is almost ready for publication, and books on mammals, birds, wildflowers, and mushrooms are in the works.

These books have made a promise: that each succeeding work in the Gosse Field Guides series will continue to offer high quality art and expertise for the general reader.

Thanksgiving 2010: Resuscitation

As Thanksgiving memories recede, letting in the tidal wave of Christmas that swallows America, I have to express my thanks for two things: Teddy’s resuscitation and Joanna Leigh’s good report.

Teddy getting a bath

The Teddy thing is HUGE. He not only lives, he lives successfully washed. I was seriously concerned for his life. I thought he had coded.

I introduced Teddy about a year ago, here. He is what our counselor/child psychiatrist describes as a TO, a transitional object, important especially when a child is experiencing psychological separation anxiety.

He is important enough that Joanna Leigh would not allow me to keep him long enough to send him through the washer, and I became more and more frightened that he might be carrying the Bubonic Plague. At the least, I believed he was implicated in Joanna Leigh’s bouts with strep throat.

Teddy getting a bath

But the other day, she had on a new dress in several shades of pink, a purple plastic necklace, and a new bobbed haircut. Distracted by all this, she forgot and left him at home when she left for pre-school. I ran to the den to watch them actually leave the driveway. I gave them enough time to return for Teddy, but they didn’t. I hauled it upstairs and grabbed him with some throw pillows that needed washing, thinking they might cushion the blows from the agitator.

Teddy after his bath and dry

I checked him several times during the cycle to see if his guts were still intact.

He dries and lives.

Teddy sunning after his bath

And we have an appointment with our counselor this week – a good thing, as Joanna Leigh continues to suffer from this sorrowful grief from the loss of her mommy. And, by the way, I ain’t doing so hot either.

This weekend she had a rough time. Saturday morning she woke up fussy and whiny. Then she said, “I want my mommy.” She came over and got in my lap and I just held her for a while (and secretly cried).

Later we were driving through Holt, a partly scuddzy area known for drugs, when she said, “This is where my Mommy’s house is.” I said, “Honey, it’s not there anymore; your mommy had to move far away.” Then she said, “Then we have to go find her. I want to find her.”

We were on the way to a friend’s house, who invited her over to make a gingerbread house. What a treat! She invites some children over every year for their own special event for a few hours. She has some of the “building” done according to the child’s age and abilities. Joanna Leigh did well in decorating her house.

She wanted to adorn the gingerbread figure to be her mommy, rather than do two as Mamma Jo and Papa. As “mature” (HA!) as I am, it hurts my feelings, as well as makes me hurt for her.

That evening, I fussed at her for something, and she started crying. Then she started saying, “Mommy. Mommy,” through the tears. I said, “Your mommy is not here. You live with Mamma Jo and Papa, and you have to follow our rules. Mamma Jo is taking care of you because your mommy is far away.”

Yet the report last month from her counselor/psychiatrist was welcome news:

“Well, I’m giving you about as good news as I ever have. Joanna Leigh is doing well. Her development is on target and she’s bright,” said Dr. Margaret.

Enough said. There’s plenty of collateral damage with drug addiction.

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