by Andrea Mulder-Slater
Allow me to preface this post with the following words:
If you have a weak stomach, you probably shouldn't read this.
Having an animal-lover for a child means I'm learning far more about animal behavior than I care to know.
For example, just recently, my daughter informed me that naked mole rats like to roll around in their own urine; grasshoppers spit brown goo when they are nervous and owls - after eating small mammals whole - regurgitate the indigestible parts in the form of pellets.
Yeah. Raising children is disgusting. Almost as disgusting as owls. Especially when they come to you, with their little voices and sweet faces - wooden spoon in hand - asking, "Mom, can you help me make Owl Puke Balls?"
You say yes to the owl barf because frankly, you are far too intrigued (and exhausted) to say no.
To make your own, you will need a small rodent. And, an owl.
Or, you can substitute the following ingredients, like we did.
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 stick of butter
1 tsp cocoa powder (Cuisine Camino makes a fair-trade, peanut/tree-nut-free Dutch processed cocoa powder)
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup of peanut butter (substitute soy butter or sunflower butter for kids with peanut allergies)
1 1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup pretzels (for bones)
1/4 cup coconut (for fur)
Mix brown sugar, butter, cocoa powder and milk in a pan and heat on the stove.
Heat and stir mixture until smooth.
Allow to come to a boil. Then, remove from heat. Try not to hear your child when she tells you it looks like poop.
Hold back the tears as you add peanut butter and oats to the warm combo while your kiddo breaks pretzels into tiny bone-sized pieces. Attempt to block any and all images of mice, squirrels and baby rabbits being devoured by the Barred Owl who lives in your yard.
Add the broken pretzel pieces to the mixture and stir, stir, stir.
Finally, wrestle the coconut into the sticky goop while regrettably hearing the words, "It does look like bones and fur mommy."
Drop spoonful sized chunky lumps onto a parchment paper lined cookie tray and refrigerate for an hour or so.
Display proudly on a plate and enjoy the flavor (and texture) while holding the family's pet hamster on your lap.
Store the remarkably tasty morsels in the fridge for a week or so, or at least until all unsuspecting house guests and members of your household are offered the opportunity to eat "animal vomit."
No, really. And, you're welcome.
The product description read: Witness one of nature's most spectacular transformations - up close - with a reusable, collapsible habitat.
Totally appealing, no?
When I saw the live butterfly garden advertised online, I became restless. Against my better judgement, I knew I had to get one for my insect-obsessed 6 year old. I mean, the kit promised an easy-to-use feeder and complete instructions. And butterfly larvae with food shipped directly to my home.
There was no way this wasn’t happening.
Despite my aversion to having bugs in the house, I placed my order and – as is typical in my area – I requested it be shipped to a drop-off location on the USA side of the border so I could pop across, pick it up and bring the parcel home.
Now before I continue, I want to make one thing perfectly clear… I am a law-abiding citizen. For the most part. I drive below the speed limit. I almost always tell the supermarket cashier if she accidentally rings my apples in at the regular price instead of organic price and I don’t let my daughter pocket stray items that have fallen out their packages onto the floor at Canadian Tire. However, when it comes to rules like Do Not Transport Live Insects Across the Border, I scoff at the law and morph into a criminal. A trafficker, if you will.
Here’s my reasoning. If the insects can crawl or fly to my house from across the river, then why can’t I help them along by giving them a lift in my car? I mean, it’s not like I’m hauling them off to Newfoundland.
On the day of the pick up, I neglected to tell my kid that my mother and I were smuggling FIVE LIVING THINGS into the country, so as not to make her an accomplice. Reentering Canada, we declared our olives, our gluten-free bread and our brand new packages of socks while blissfully omitting the as-yet-unopened box in the back of the vehicle.
Upon our arrival home, my daughter and I opened the carton (which had magically appeared in our kitchen) because one of us was excited to see what was inside. An expandable mesh habitat, a small green feeding device and assorted bits of paper all fell out onto the floor.
“Where are the caterpillars?!!!?”
Panic ensued as mom and I scoured the area. Holy crap where are hell are they? Did they crawl under dishwasher? Are they still in the car? Are they really that small? Are they stuck to the inside of the box?
That's when I noticed the fine print, which read: caterpillars sold separately.
I went online and ordered the critters after being assured by someone at a California caterpillar farm that the creatures would arrive in a timely manner, and would be very, very small – as long as they stayed cool.
On the afternoon of the smuggling, I left my mother and daughter in the car and entered the drop-off location which - truth be known - is a sun porch attached to house belonging to a woman named Nell. Once inside, I spotted the box with my name on it, bathed in beam of bright, hot sunlight. I held my breath and opened the cardboard while people inside the house stared through the windows, becoming increasingly interested in my movements. Inside the box was a small plastic jar, with a flimsy lid and five big, hot caterpillars crawling around in their own poop.
They were f#%*ing ENORMOUS.
I briefly considered running and abandoning the mission, leaving Nell to care for the beasts but instead, I cringed and placed the jar in my purse. My purse! Then, I exited the porch, careful not to trip. In the car, I handed the handbag to my mother who promised to keep it upright at her feet as we traveled through the border crossing.
"What did you pick up?" my six year old inquired.
"Nothing, there were no parcels," I replied, voice shaking. I couldn't tell her. She's a crappy liar and she'd cave at the border.
I begged my mother not to jostle the purse, without being able to explain that there was a very real possibility of five giant hairy beasts escaping their temporary home and appearing at her ankles.
"Anything to declare?" The guard at the Canadian side of the border was not in the mood for chit-chat.
"We bought a carton of milk."
"Any alcohol or tobacco?"
"Live plants or animals?"
"Ha ha! What? No. Of course not."
The border guard stared at me. I stared at the border guard. He looked at my purse. My purse! I looked at my mother. Then, I did the only thing I could do. I opened the rear window.
Within seconds, my mile-a-minute daughter began regaling the man in the booth with tales about the turtle we saved at the end of our road – two years ago. And the donuts she ate - last year and the birthday party she was attending - next week and...
Suddenly, our passports were handed back to me as the guard smiled, said, “Have a nice day” and sent us on our way.
The words fell out of my mouth as soon as we sped away from the booths, prompting my mom to gingerly pulled the jar out of my purse and show it to my daughter who squealed with utter and complete delight.
At home, I had a closer look.
Yeah, that's right.
And with that, our butterfly-raising journey began...