Friday, December 26, 2008

Portrait of Our Christmas Tree

Santa brought me a small pink digital camera for Christmas. Being married to a professional photographer for over two decades, I've had little occasion to handle a camera all these years, so this--believe it or not--is my first hands-on experience with a digital camera. So far it's taking a heck of a lot of getting used to. I keep wanting to press the LCD screen on the back of the camera against my eye (Mr. Lucky: "WHAT are you DOING, Karen?") instead of holding it out and trying to focus on the perfect shot the new way.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Christmas Tree Up!"

Our Christmas tree is up and ornamented, and if I had a camera, I would post a photo of it here. (I’ve asked Santa to bring me a camera so simple to use that even I, of the many thumbs and wits so dim, can figure it out.)

For over fifteen years now, we’ve had an artificial tree—or as Mr. Lucky calls it, “the tree that saved our marriage.” When he was in the Air Force and we were stationed in California back in the early 90’s, he insisted on driving from one end of the San Joaquin Valley to the other in search of the perfect tree—by his definition, a tall, lush fir that didn’t lose a single needle when he shook it, boasting a retail value of at least $35.00, but sold to him for less than $10.00 because he had a nice face.

We had some hideous arguments that once nearly got us into a car accident. After a whole day of searching in vain for his idea of the perfect tree, we came home without one, and weren’t speaking to each other. After dinner, he stormed out by himself and came home an hour later with the $35.00 tree that earlier that day almost landed us in divorce court.

Two days after that Christmas, he went to Sears and found an artificial tree on sale. It more than paid for itself the following year. It lasted for many years.

A couple of years ago we bought a new artificial tree that stands 7 feet tall, as no one chez Lingefelt is shorter than 5’10”. And God bless whoever came up with the idea of a pre-lit tree! It’s spared me a ton of aggravation. Every January when I put the ornaments away, I would carefully coil up the lights as neatly as possible to no avail. They’d spend the next eleven months in the box tying themselves into knots. Come the following December, I’d spend hours trying to untangle them, laying them out in long trails all over the house, plugging one strand into another to see if all them still worked (every year at least one had managed to strangle itself to death), before they could be added to the tree.

For many years we had musical lights that played seventeen Christmas carols over and over. The lights would blink in time to the music. The Crown Prince loved them, and when he was home and awake, that music had to be on. When the musical lights finally died, we elected not to buy new musical lights. Fortunately he didn’t mind. When he lived at home, he enjoyed helping to trim the tree, and always insisted we put it up the day after Thanksgiving. Failure to do so would result in an endless mantra of, “Christmas tree up, Christmas tree up, Christmas tree up . . .”

For many years we topped the tree with a star that twinkled with multi-colored lights. The Christmas after Fiona died, we didn’t put up a tree at all that year, but went to Georgia to spend the holidays with Mr. Lucky’s relatives. Since then, we’ve replaced the star with a dark-haired angel with outstretched arms. She looks as if she’s supposed to be holding something. Fiona loved pizza, but I have yet to find an artificial pizza the right size for that angel.

But a candy cane fits perfectly in her arms, so that’s what she holds every year. If only I had a picture!

Maybe next year, if Santa brings me that camera.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I Had 100 Days To Write A Book . . .

Back in September, TARA launched the 100 x 100 challenge—to write at least 100 words a day for 100 days, with the ultimate goal being to finish the book in time for our holiday party.

I started out well as evinced
here, even though I didn’t like the story I was writing—this is not a book of the heart, but a book from the bowels—and on most days I wrote over 1,000 words, occasionally topping 2,000.

But alas, I did not finish it. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I was hit with a nasty bronchial ailment that took out all engines and instruments, and I spun down in flames before finally crashing and burning on Day 88.

Yet in those 88 days, I wrote 93,603 words. As the book is supposed to be a Regency historical romance (with as much emphasis as you can pile on supposed), the targeted word count was between 90-95,000 words. So even though I didn’t finish the story, I did prove to myself that at least in theory, I can write a full length book in 100 days—but only if I know where the story is going. In this case, who knows. I’ve been stumbling around in the dark with it, tripping over writer’s blocks and falling into plot holes, or I might well have finished it by now.

This book has a very bright future under my bed. To borrow a phrase from the Queen of England, for me 2008 was an annus horribilus in terms of my writing.

Meanwhile, I’m still coughing out what little remains of my innards, yet I don’t seem to have lost any weight. Let that be my penalty.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Our Other Wedding Anniversary

While July 23, 1987 is the day we were married in a civil ceremony in Odense, Denmark, December 5th of that same year is the day we were married again in a church ceremony in Mr. Lucky’s hometown.

I actually forgot this year . . . but he remembered! In fact, it was the first thing he said this morning: “Do you know what day this is, Karen?”

I hadn’t had my coffee yet, and fighting a bad cold, I coughed out half a lung before I managed to choke out something about it being Friday.

“It’s our other anniversary!” he exclaimed. That man doesn’t even need coffee. He wakes up cheerful. I’m grumpy till at least 4 pm.

He gave me a beautifully beribboned gold box of Lindt chocolate truffles.

How I love that man. If staying married to him means chocolate every anniversary, then I’m in for another year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Baby Bear's Inexcusable School Holiday

Upon coming home Monday afternoon from a day of Christmas shopping with Mr. Lucky, we found a message on the answering machine from the nurse at Baby Bear’s school: He had a runny nose, and would I please call her?

The call came around mid-morning. She hadn’t called a second time, nor had she tried Mr. Lucky’s cell, and by the time we got this message, it was past two o’clock and Baby Bear would be out of school just after three. His school, an Exceptional Student Center (ESC) for children with special needs, is next to a high school that lets out at about the same time we listened to this message. The nurse said nothing about picking up Bear, which was just as well. There was no point in trying to go to his school now, especially with the high school getting out.

Several years ago, when the Crown Prince was a student at the ESC, they called me to get him after he cast up some accounts, and I arrived just as the high school was released. By the time I got the Crown Prince in the car, the People in Orange Vests, who patrolled the parking lots and thoroughfares around the three schools (there’s also a middle school on the other side of the ESC), would not let me out. A sign posted at the entrance to this vortex clearly stated “Buses Only 2:45-3:15 PM” and I was not driving a bus. We had to wait in the parking lot till all the buses had left. Meanwhile, the Crown Prince had to open the passenger door to toss more cookies to the ground. The Person in Orange Vest who stood in front of my vehicle glaring at me was unmoved by my firstborn’s plight. Rules were rules.

Never again.

As Baby Bear got off the bus Monday afternoon, the bus driver handed me a letter signed by the school nurse. It was a form letter. “We will call you immediately if your child becomes ill during school hours. You are expected to arrange for your child to be picked up AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE after receiving our call.” (Caps theirs.)

This was followed by a list of the usual maladies that resulted in children being sent/kept home from school. The nurse had checked Item 8: “Excessive mucus from nose (runny nose), particularly greenish-yellow mucus.”

Neither Mr. Lucky nor I saw any mucus of any color seeping out of that kid’s nose Monday morning, nor did we see any Monday night after receiving this letter. But the bus driver was bound by that letter not to pick him up Tuesday morning. We were to keep him out of school for the next 24 hours.

Meanwhile, I read the teacher’s entry for that day in the notebook he and I use to communicate our thoughts about the progress and behavior of our autistic, non-verbal Baby Bear. According to the teacher, Bear was very active on this day, enjoying himself on the computer, etc. His nose ran a little after he was outside, but the weather's been cold lately. Otherwise, there was nothing to indicate he was unwell.

Tuesday, we still saw no sign of any mucus. Baby Bear was in his usual high spirits, banging on and bouncing off walls, dangling from the rafters, swinging from the chandeliers, and running an entire decathlon in the house. He wanted to go out for donuts, we took him out for donuts. He wasn’t sick. But he had a whale of a good time staying out of school.

Then we got a phone call from the school, a recording which informed us that our child (they referred to him by name) had “an unexcused absence”, and would we please call the school to explain.

ARGH! They’re the ones who ordered us to keep him home on Tuesday because they said he was sick—though he clearly (let alone greenly or yellowishly) wasn’t—and now they were calling it “an unexcused absence”? I was too incensed to call them back.

Today, Baby Bear went back to school without incident, and came home this afternoon with no note.

And still no mucus.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Thanksgiving Report

I will never forget the first real turkey I ever cooked all by myself, fourteen years ago. Despite all the poking and prodding and other indignities required before roasting, we couldn’t find the giblets or gravy packet until Mr. Lucky carved up the bird some four hours later. Oddly enough—and may I say, thankfully—the turkey was unaffected, quite edible and wonderfully succulent.

Then last year, for reasons unknown, though I suspect he couldn’t wait to dig into the pies, he insisted I remove the bird from the oven after precisely three and a half hours of roasting, because the instructions said that was the maximum time for a turkey of that weight.

I was of the opinion that the turkey needed at least another fifteen minutes, perhaps thirty. But Mr. Lucky pointed out the evidence stacked against me: According to the instructions, it was supposed to be ready by now; the button that pops when it’s done had popped; and the tip of the needle on the meat thermometer just brushed the P for Poultry. The state rested.

Since when did he decide to become a stickler for following instructions? I tried telling him that unlike all the other instructions he promptly throws out (along with the corresponding sales receipts), these particular instructions are not set in stone, because ovens and turkeys vary; the button that pops when it’s supposedly done is nothing but a cheap gimmick; and it’s an old meat thermometer, not an oracle. The defense rested.

Justice is not only blind, but she knows precious little about turkey. Mr. Lucky prevailed.

To make a long story short, once the turkey was carved up, there was way too much pink in it. On the plus side, we were spared the usual week of leftovers.

This year I laid down the law to him. I’ve been doing this for years; I think I know my way around a turkey by now. I, AND I ALONE, WILL DECIDE WHEN IT’S DONE.

The turkey was the same size as last year, and came with the same instructions. I pronounced it done at three hours and forty-five minutes.

I was very pleased with it. Mr. Lucky gifted me with one of his rare compliments, and the Crown Prince, who came to stay for the holiday, devoured a whole heaping plate of it. Baby Bear wouldn’t touch it, but when I reheated some leftovers this evening and poured gravy over them, he was very interested and finally enjoyed some turkey.

I’m thankful.

And while reading my previous blog entry earlier this week, Mr. Lucky seized on Phyllis’s suggestion in the comments that we buy one of the smaller frozen pies, and bake it on Wednesday to create that baking pumpkin smell that makes me crazy. He agreed we couldn’t have too many pies.

I wonder if Phyllis could get him to mow the lawn?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pontificating on Pumpkin Pie

I used to make pumpkin pie from scratch every Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day. Well, all right, maybe not from scratch scratch—it wasn’t as if I shot an actual pumpkin and hauled it home on a sled; nor did I make the crust, raise the chickens who laid the eggs, or milk the cow that produced the evaporated milk. I used canned pumpkin and ready-made deep dish frozen crusts.

After mixing all the required ingredients in a large bowl, I’d ladle the pumpkin batter into the pie crusts. I always made two. It was a lot of fun trying to slide a flimsy cookie sheet (they always want to flex at just the wrong moment) laden with two pumpkin pies into the oven without the soupy batter sloshing out. Yes, I’m sure I was doing it the hard way, but the hard way is how I do things. The pies usually turned out well, though occasionally they stubbornly retained liquid centers. But I always loved the smell of baking pumpkin.

That was years ago in the era B.B.B. (Before Baby Bear). Once he grew into a curious toddler, the kitchen became his favorite toy box, and he wandered off with my measuring cups and spoons, my beaters and whisks, everything I needed for creative cookery. If I wanted to bake a pie or cake or cookies, I’d have to go into his room and rummage through his less favorite toy box or under his bed for the utensils I needed. Which brings me to another one of my happy homemaker tips:

Dust bunnies clinging to beaters add interesting flavor and texture to cakes, pies, and cookies!

Mind you, we still keep the knives wrapped and buried high in the cupboard, except for the duller butter knives that also constantly disappear, because Mr. Lucky can never find a flathead screwdriver when he needs one. But will he take my advice to search Bear's room for the screwdriver? Of course not! He's convinced an expedition into that kid's room is fraught with all the perils of the cave in the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The day eventually came when I could no longer find any of the utensils, so we resorted to frozen, ready-to-bake pies. We could still enjoy the smell of baking pumpkin the day before Thanksgiving.

Then last week we went shopping at Wal-Mart for Thanksgiving groceries, and found something decidedly different and downright disturbing about the brand of pie we’d been buying all these years.

It’s noticeably smaller this year.

I’ve heard a lot about this on the news recently, that manufacturers are downsizing their products while keeping prices the same to avoid raising them. The idea is that consumers would rather pay the same for less than pay more for the same. Whereas tuna used to come in 6 ounce cans, it’s now 5 ounces. Yet the directions for Tuna Helper still call for the 6 ounce can, which I’ve never thought was enough for my own taste.

Tuna is one thing, but pumpkin pie is another. At Thanksgiving, we demand big deep dish pies, not tarts. Mr. Lucky and I agreed the smaller pies were unacceptable.

Lately Mr. Lucky talks a lot about making everything from scratch to save money. He clams up when I tell him that if I have to start churning butter, then he’ll have to give up cable TV and start playing the fiddle every evening like Pa Ingalls.

This still didn’t prevent him from suggesting I go back to making pumpkin pies the way I did B.B.B. I had to warn him of the start-up costs: We’d need a new mixer. And since I haven’t baked in years, we no longer have those old Tupperware canisters that I bought at my very first Tupperware party long before we were married, for the flour and sugar. (Who uses the ones for coffee and tea, anyway?) Oh, we’ve bought flour since losing the canisters, but once opened you can’t keep it in the original bag; no matter how big a clip you put on it the stuff insists on leaking out everywhere, and their reusable seals simply aren’t. If we’re to have flour and sugar in the house, then I want a nice set of canisters to put them in. And nice canisters cost money.

We shuffled off to the bakery section of Wal-Mart, where we found the large, deep-dish pumpkin pies we wanted already baked and ready to eat. We brought home two. We only need to keep them frozen till this Wednesday, then thaw and eat Thursday.

If for some reason we don’t care for these pies, then we have a whole year to rebuild our arsenal of cooking utensils, piece by piece.

I think they make air freshener with the scent of pumpkin pie. I know they make candles, but we dare not light candles with Bear on the prowl. I may have to find some, because I fear this Wednesday just won’t be the same without that wonderful smell of baking pumpkin in my house.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Did Roger Rabbit Save My Marriage?

It all started several years ago, when we made our final move from the military base to our new house. Mr. Lucky destroyed a bunch of old VHS tapes, many of which were movies he’d recorded years ago from rentals or off the TV. Most of them were never watched; those that were favored had long since been replaced by DVD. He broke them open and unfurled miles and miles of tape before flinging them into the garbage. Why he felt it necessary to do all that, he has never been able to explain (I suspect it’s some grunting macho guy thing), but it planted in the head of our firstborn, the Crown Prince, an idea that we have yet to exorcise.

The Crown Prince took to destroying VHS tapes we wanted very much to keep. I’m not talking the cheap recorded copies, where the lighting in the picture sort of blinks on and off and is occasionally punctuated by some garbled mess representing a commercial break. No, I mean movies we went to the store and purchased—like Disney cartoons that are only available for a limited time. As in the deluxe widescreen version of Lady and the Tramp. When it came out on DVD several years later, I snapped it up and since keep it under lock and key.

Later, in an effort to keep up with changing technology, he moved on to DVD’s. He’d remove the disc from the case, snap it in two, drop the pieces into the garbage, then return the case to the shelf with the other DVD’s. Neither Mr. Lucky nor I had the slightest clue until we wanted to watch a particular movie, and opened the box only to find it empty.

A bewildering pattern soon emerged. The Crown Prince had removed and destroyed the following movies: The Abyss, True Lies, Independence Day, Speed, Titanic, and The Sound of Music. All were produced and distributed by Twentieth Century Fox; three were directed by James Cameron. I was shocked, as I thought the Crown Prince liked all these movies except for The Sound of Music. In particular, Speed has everything he and Baby Bear love: Explosions, elevators, a bus, helicopters, police cars, jet aircraft, subway trains, and flying baby buggies full of aluminum cans.

The Crown Prince enjoyed Titanic, though every time we watched it and got to the part where Leo and Kate came into her stateroom to engage in a little artwork, I’d say, “Okay, I don’t think we need to see this,” and hit the skip button to the next chapter. After a while, he took the initiative and started hitting that skip button himself at the start of that same scene, and yes, he’d always say, “Okay, I don’t think we need to see this.”

Poor guy doesn’t know what he’s missing. I’m such a mom.

The following Christmas, Mr. Lucky gave me new editions of the DVD’s that had been destroyed. While it was very sweet of him, I sort of wish he hadn’t done it, as they were very expensive to replace. However, I must confess I did appreciate the replacement of The Sound of Music and Titanic, as those were my favorites, especially since he upgraded the latter to a beautifully boxed, three-disc deluxe collector’s edition.

Then came the day I wanted to introduce Baby Bear to the delights of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (I thought he might enjoy identifying with the atrocities of Baby Herman).

Empty. Gone. Destroyed. I was devastated, because that was another movie that was no longer available. It had been a very nicely boxed deluxe set, too.

That was several years ago, when the Crown Prince was still living at home. Then last weekend, he was staying with us for an overnight visit. All was well, until Mr. Lucky woke up Sunday morning and went into the kitchen, where he found some broken DVD pieces in the garbage.

For reasons unknown, the Crown Prince had selected North by Northwest and Airport for destruction. These were another two movies I thought he liked. Planes, trains, and Cary Grant; it doesn’t get any better than that.

But it got worse than that. Already Mr. Lucky was not too happy about this, but then I had to make a point of telling him that under no circumstances were those DVD’s to be replaced. I could live without them, or watch them when they showed up on Turner Classics.

We had a very big argument, and stopped speaking for a while.

Then yesterday, we were at Wal-Mart and happened to be walking by all the racks full of DVD’s when I spotted one lone copy of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I plucked it out and tossed it into the cart, telling Mr. Lucky, “We can replace that but no other.”

I’ll make exceptions for Disney cartoons—and Roger Rabbit qualifies—as those are as precious and rare as Faberge eggs. Only why do they have to be? It causes such grief.

The Crown Prince will be coming over for Thanksgiving next week, and I plan to hide away all the DVD’s.

Oh, and since finding Roger Rabbit, Mr. Lucky and I are speaking again.

Maybe I’ll do like Jessica Rabbit, and bake him a carrot cake.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

L is for Lemmings Locked in Line

If you’ve ever seen any of those old disaster flicks from the 1970’s—think Airport or The Towering Inferno, or in the case of Baby Bear, whose catastrophes usually include water, The Poseidon Adventure—then you have an idea of what it’s like taking all three of my autistic children grocery shopping: Each person has his or her own subplot or drama that intertwines with the others’, all spiraling through a seemingly endless trail of destruction.

Naturally I prefer to go grocery shopping when they’re in school. During the summer months, if Mr. Lucky was deployed somewhere, I would stock up on—nay, horde as many groceries as I could fit into the pantry and refrigerator (one of those big freezers out in the garage would have been nice), simply to minimize trips to the Air Force commissary. But they couldn’t be avoided altogether.

In such cases, we’d go first thing in the morning, right when the commissary opened and it wouldn’t be as crowded. More often than not, it’s very crowded; I’ve since found that Wal-Mart on a Saturday afternoon is like the base commissary on any day of the week.

Aggravating matters is what happens—or doesn’t happen—at the head of the maze (described in previous blog entry) leading to the cash registers.

A supervisor will stand at the head of the line, watching for when one of the registers is ready for another customer. She will then direct the person at the head of the line to that particular checkout.

“Number Eight is open,” she says, and he pushes his loaded cart to Checkout Number Eight.

A few minutes later, the customer at Checkout Number Twelve places the last of her groceries on the rolling belt, and pushes her cart forward to the opposite end of the checkout.

“Number Twelve,” the supervisor will say to the next person in the maze line.

This does nothing to speed up the checkout process. The result is that over the years, many susceptible commissary patrons have been brainwashed, like religious cult recruits or Manchurian candidates, into never leaving the maze for an open checkout until they’ve been directed to do so by the supervisor.

The problem worsens when the supervisor finds something more worthwhile to do in another part of the commissary. The whole winding line screeches to a dead halt, like that scene in the Disney/Pixar cartoon, A Bug’s Life, where a leaf flutters to the ground in the middle of a column of busy marching ants, disrupting the column and effectively splitting it into two. The ant who suddenly finds himself at the head of the newly broken second line is paralyzed with panic, and doesn’t know what to do until a senior ant happens by and guides him around the leaf, until he can link up with the end of the first line, and the bug’s life returns to normal.

Every time I go to the commissary I get stuck behind two such bugs, usually an older couple—we’ll call them Ike and Mamie—part of the extensive retired military community which, at our local base, far outnumber active duty personnel.

No sooner do Ike and Mamie reach the head of the maze than the supervisor is called away to deal with some other, more earth-shattering crisis—someone’s can of cat food won’t scan properly and the cashier can’t punch in the price manually unless both she and the supervisor insert their keys into the register and turn at the same time, like the launching of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Ike and Mamie are left puzzled and totally bereft of initiative.

“I don’t see her anywhere,” says Ike. “Yet there are at least three checkouts that look open.”

Then pick one! I silently seethe.

“I don’t know, dear,” Mamie dithers. “I’m worried about the Rocky Road melting.”

Then get your Rocky Road to the nearest available checkout! I want to yell. Meanwhile, the line has grown out of the maze, and is stretching all the way back to the deli. “Excuse me,” I say, “but what do you think would happen if you went ahead to that checkout anyway?”

Ike strokes his chin. “I don’t know.”

Mamie shudders. “I’m not sure I want to find out.”

“My kids are about to start World War Three,” I say. “Do you mind if I go around you and risk making a mad dash for it?”

Mamie grabs Ike’s arm. “Don’t let her do it.”

He sternly shakes his head at me. “If you were a young single fellow with no one waiting for you back home, I might tell you to take your chances. But you’re a woman. With children. I can’t in all good conscience allow it.”

You’d think there were watchtowers manned with searchlights and armed guards, ready to shoot and kill anyone who dares to make a run for the nearest available register without the blessing of the supervisor lady. This is the United States of America, and most of the commissary patrons have risked life and limb for the freedom to fill their carts with groceries and proceed to the checkout of their choice. Yet here they all stand like frozen lemmings.

Meanwhile, I have to keep the Crown Prince and Baby Bear from breaking out of the maze and racing each other to the nearest door marked “EMERGENCY EXIT – DO NOT OPEN – ALARM WILL SOUND - WE ARE NOT KIDDING - YOU WILL BE IN BIG TROUBLE IF YOU PUSH IT!”

But what child of mine can resist?

Once my darlings do succeed in setting off the alarm, it gets everyone moving—except Ike and Mamie, who don’t want to lose their place at the head of the maze. As the sirens wail amid flashing red and orange lights, I duck beneath the cart expecting to hear machine-gun fire and explosions, and the voice of Alan Rickman booming over the P.A. system, “T minus thirty seconds and counting.” The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse could gallop by through a shower of blazing meteors, reduce everything to a smoldering ruin of ashes beneath a sky choked with obsidian thunderclouds, and I swear Ike and Mamie would still be standing there, wondering if the supervisor lady will return anytime soon to direct them to a checkout, and fretting over the fate of their melting Rocky Road.

Call this my third argument for wanting to pick my own checkout, instead of getting clogged up in the maze.

More recently, the supervisor lady has been replaced by a huge, high-tech device that hangs over the head of the maze. It flashes the number of the next available checkout, and a voice (not Alan Rickman’s) announces, “Next, please!” It strikes me as being very Big Brotherish, and I don't think it makes the line move any faster. People still must be told when they can proceed to the next available checkout.

At least we don’t have to worry about it wandering off like the supervisor lady and my children.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

L is for Lingefelt in a Long Line

This last Tuesday, I spent forty-five minutes in line waiting to vote. Every so often, a poll worker would come out and ask if anyone’s name started with A or G or P, etc. Not surprisingly, they never asked for anyone with an L. I brought along a book to read (The Butler Did It by Kasey Michaels, one I’ve read before; hilarious and highly recommended), and was thankful I didn’t get stuck between two people who happened to be, as they say in Regency England, bosom bows.

I’m reminded of our days in the military, where a lot of time is spent waiting in line for one reason or another, especially at the base commissary where we shop for groceries. We can’t pick any old checkout the way we can at civilian grocery stores. Instead, the commissary uses ropes and posts like the ones at the bank, to create a maze and make lab mice out of us.

Fairness aside, I don’t care for this method of lining up commissary patrons for at least two reasons. In the first place, I usually get stuck between two people, one in front of me and one behind, who happen to be intimate lifelong friends. This happens every time I go to the bank, too. They talk to each other—loudly—and usually about a mutual acquaintance (she couldn’t be a friend—not with friends like these) who isn’t there to take offense at having her gynecological problems broadcast in such gory detail in so public a forum.

It’s very confusing. The lady in front of me appears to be looking at me, when she’s really looking at the person behind me. I have to try and act like I’m not eavesdropping, yet I know the two of them are hoping I’ll become so uncomfortable with their graphic discussion about their hapless subject’s hysterectomy, that I’ll tell the lady behind me to go ahead of me so I won’t be caught in the middle.

Does the woman in front ever offer to let me go ahead, so she can have an unobstructed view of her pal while they continue to foam at their respective mouths over the size of the absent third party’s uterine fibroids? Of course not. Do I ever have the backbone to ask the woman in front of me if I can please go ahead of her? Of course not. I’m Karen Lingefelt.

That, or the two people are long lost friends or lovers who, after—why, it’s been years!—of separation, are reunited right there in line and spend the whole time catching up with each other’s life stories that never seem to include anything I might incorporate into my next novel. Sometimes the line is long enough that if they can find a notary waiting a turn, I might get to be a witness at their on-the-spot wedding.

The second thing I don’t like about the commissary maze is that I’m denied the freedom to choose who I want to wait behind. I’d rather take the checkout with the man holding the armful of junk food for his football game or Star Trek marathon, than the one with the woman my mother’s age, whose grocery cart looks as if she’s planning to entertain the entire Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. She does everything slowly and painstakingly, as if she’s performing open heart surgery on a butterfly.

All patrons are required to present their military ID cards at the cash register. This has always been the rule all over the world, for the three decades I’ve been part of the military. So you’d think after all these years, a military veteran/spouse older than me would know by now to have her ID card ready; but no, she always waits for the cashier to request it, at which point she embarks on a full scale expedition to the bottom of her purse to excavate it. Ditto the coupons and the checkbook, unless she’s paying cash and then it’s usually in coins and small bills, or really really big bills that can’t be changed unless the cashier can find a supervisor with access to the safe.

Even after she’s finally managed to pay, she refuses to move forward until she’s balanced her checkbook and conducted a major audit of her five foot long sales slip, interrupting the cashier while she’s trying to ring up my groceries to question a suspected discrepancy. If the cashier did make a mistake ringing up her groceries, maybe it’s because the customer before her was still hovering around interrupting her with similar trifles. Many’s the time my own full cart has been rung up, and I can’t swipe my ATM card or punch my PIN into the keypad, because the woman who was originally in front of me is still standing there trying to reorganize her purse so as to honor her ID card with a proper reburial.

Next time: What happens—or more accurately, doesn’t happen—at the head of the commissary maze.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Our Halloween: A Nearly Nippy Night!

The Crown Prince came down for Halloween and to spend the night. Mr. Lucky had to work, so I spent the evening running interference between the trick-or-treaters, the Crown Prince, Baby Bear, and the barking beagles.

Halloween chez Lingefelt is like the final reel of the 2005 version of King Kong. Oh hell, let’s change that to every day of the year and the final two-thirds of the movie.

The chain reaction goes something like this: Doorbell rings. Dogs bark. Baby Bear doesn’t like it when the dogs bark too long, and protests by screaming and hitting himself. This, in turn, agitates the Crown Prince. Trick-or-treaters think they have stumbled upon a real life house of horrors, and they run for their frightened little lives. Meanwhile, Karen stands in a daze amid the chaos and wreckage, staring blankly like Jack Black as Carl Denham after Kong makes his escape out of the New York theater.

Only the National Guard, some biplanes and a beautiful blonde can restore order to the beast that is my household. As luck would have it, I’m a brunette.

We decided to keep the dogs crated the whole time, though it didn’t stop them from barking.

The Crown Prince loves to hand out the treats. I insisted on stockpiling, much to Mr. Lucky’s grumbling annoyance, and started feeling alarmed when it was almost seven o’clock and so far only one little trick-or-treater had showed up. I was not looking forward to another one of my husband’s “you and your fear of running out of (you fill in the blank)” lectures that cover anything from gas in the car to milk for the kids, but never housecleaning products. Gazing in dismay at the bags and bags of candy, I started sorting through them, checking for expiration dates to determine which ones might be put aside for next year.

If you read the previous blog entry, you’ll see there can be no happy medium with me. My wit’s end swings from one extreme to the other.

By seven-thirty, things started picking up and I was feverishly ripping open one candy bag after another to keep up with the demand, as the Crown Prince handed out giant fistfuls to everyone who showed up.

We saw princesses and fairies and superheroes, but my award for most memorable costume of the night had to go to someone’s very buxom mother who was dressed as either (a) a pair of county fair “best in show” watermelons, (b) Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl Wardrobe Malfunction, or (c)
Elaine Benes’s Christmas card. No, it wasn’t really showing, though for all that upper spillage, I swear she was just an eighth of a millimeter away from corrupting the children. The Crown Prince and I are both tall people who towered over her, so you might say we were--ahem--"treated" to a better view than most. Because she was so much shorter, it was a struggle to look as if I was making eye contact with her instead of—well, I’m just thankful my son’s hands didn’t follow his eyes and plunge a fistful of sweets down her cleavage.

Things went quiet at about eight-thirty, and stayed that way thereafter. At nine o’clock, we unplugged the jack o’ lantern, turned off the exterior lights, and released the dogs.

When Mr. Lucky came home from work, his first words were, “Is there any candy left?” When I told him two bags plus what was left in the bowl, he said, “Good!”

He never says that about the Thanksgiving turkey.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I Confess: I Don't Like Halloween

The only thing I like about Halloween is that it marks the start of my favorite time of year. I love the late fall—for what it’s worth in Florida—and I’ve always been more of a Thanksgiving and Christmas girl.

I didn’t mind Halloween when we were in the military and lived on base, because the trick-or-treating there was very tightly controlled, allowed only during a two hour window. They never allowed it to run late enough that with each passing hour, the trick-or-treaters grew bigger and older and even scarier than me.

With the two hour limit on the Air Force base, I usually didn’t have to worry about running out of candy, but still I couldn’t resist rationing the stuff. “Here’s a Tootsie Roll for you, a Hershey’s Kiss for you, and for you I have a lollipop. See you next year!” One year, after I dropped a single piece of candy into a teenage girl’s pillowcase, she mouthed off at me with, “Wow! One whole piece of candy! Whoo-pee!” Since I didn’t wake up the next morning to find the car egged and toilet-papered, I felt I got off lightly.

And then there was the little girl who came to the door with her mother, who was pushing a baby in a baby stroller. The girl had her own pumpkin bucket, and another sat on the hood of the stroller. After I dropped the candy into her pumpkin bucket, she said, “You have to give some to the baby, too!”

What a scam! That baby wasn’t even teething yet, and by the time he was old enough to eat the candy, it’d be well past its expiration date. At the time, my oldest son and daughter were toddlers and not old enough for trick-or-treating, while Mr. Lucky was in the living room, slouched on the sofa with the remote control clenched in his hand. He didn’t have to do anything except wait for the two hour limit to expire, so he could eat whatever was left over.

The mother stood behind the stroller, staring me down and daring me to challenge her in front of her children. Back in those days, I was still a doormat, and since this was military housing, for all I knew her husband outranked mine. Without a word I dropped the candy into the pumpkin bucket on the stroller hood, biting my tongue to keep from saying, “Tell your husband he’s welcome.”

Indeed, when I closed the door, I told Mr. Lucky about the little girl exhorting me to give candy to her newborn sibling, and he said, “Ha! No way it’s for the baby—it’s for their dad. Trust me, he’s sitting at home in front of the TV this very moment, waiting to collect his share.”

Just like Mr. Lucky.

Call me neurotic; I know my insistence on rationing the candy is downright irrational. I tell myself I’m only trying to make it last, so everyone who rings the bell will get something. But no matter how much we stockpile, I always worry about running out after twenty minutes. Mind you, I'm also the same person who thinks half a tank of gas is as good as empty.

Mr. Lucky, on the other hand, will lavish the trick-or-treaters with giant fistfuls of sweets, like a returning conqueror flinging spoils to the cheering masses as he rides by in his chariot. He also believes in holding back at least one bag of candy for himself.

One year I did give a few extra pieces to a little girl simply because I thought her costume was so original and amusing. She wore a pair of goggles and an empty toilet paper roll attached to her nose. When I asked what she was supposed to be, she replied, “I’m an aardvark!”

Kids, that’s how you get more candy from grumpy, tight-fisted Mrs. Lingefelt.

I don’t understand myself. You’d think I’d be more excited about this whole business of dressing up in freaky outfits, scaring the hell out of people and shaking them down for chocolate.

After all, it’s what I do every day.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

How I Got My Husband To Take Out The Garbage

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that if you do not put out your garbage the night before pickup, the garbage collectors will come before dawn and you will miss having your garbage hauled away until the next pickup day.

Or at least it’s acknowledged by everyone in the world except my husband.

I would ask him the evening before to take out the garbage, and as he sat staring glassy-eyed at the TV, the remote control firmly in hand with thumb gorilla-glued to the channel-changing button, his mumbled response was always, “I’ll do it first thing tomorrow morning.”

Inevitably, I’d be jarred awake at 5:30 am by the ominous rumble of a big truck, and the thunderous thunk of the mechanism that scooped up the garbage and mashed it in the back of the truck. By the time I leaped out of bed and dragged our garbage can to the end of the driveway—wearing only my nightgown, mind you—the garbage truck had already passed our house and was far down the street, a trail of empty upturned garbage cans in its wake.

And Mr. Lucky? I'd return to bed to find him still happily snoring away.

To his credit, he’s not without his reasons for wanting to wait until morning to take out the garbage. These range from fear of nocturnal scavenging by raccoons, possums, and the FBI, to his assertion that I’m really married to a reverse vampire who will spontaneously combust if he ventures out after dark.

When the Crown Prince was still living at home, he always took care of the garbage can—in fact, he took care of everyone else’s garbage cans, too, and had a bit of a reputation as the neighborhood garbage Nazi. Some of the neighbors appreciated his helpfulness; others were not so amused and filed the appropriate complaints with the board of the homeowners’ association instead of talking to his parents. But since he moved out, the garbage detail fell to me.

Like him, I always take it out the night before, which means the garbage is never picked up any earlier than 4 pm the following day.

Then one night recently, I opened the garage door to take out the garbage can as usual. The driveway was occupied by two vehicles—the Chrysler minivan, and Mr. Lucky’s recently acquired, much prized Chevy Cavalier--or as I call it, The Other Woman.

I suppose I could have tried to maneuver the garbage can around the minivan, then hauled it across the front lawn to the curb. Or, I could’ve squeezed around the Chevy and the low-hanging oak tree on the other side of the driveway, and dragged the garbage can over the neighbor’s front lawn. But instead I took the path of least resistance—the gap between the two vehicles.

It would’ve been a smooth, straightforward passage if not for the side mirror on the Chevy. As I pulled the garbage can past, it grazed the mirror and knocked it askew.

I reported the incident to Mr. Lucky, who said it was okay because the mirror was supposed to be adjustable.

“Yes, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be that adjustable,” I said. “It looks as if it’s just hanging there now. I think I may have seen wires, but it was too dark.”

But because he’s a reverse vampire, and after three hours of channel surfing was still clinging to hope at 11 pm that he might find something on TV worth watching, he said he would look at it in the morning.

So it was that in the cold, gray light of dawn, my dismayed husband found the mirror, still in its heavy casing, lying on the driveway between the Chevy and the minivan. He was like the emperor from the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale—not the one who thought he had new clothes, but the one who lamented his broken, mechanical nightingale.

And like all emperors everywhere, His Imperial Majesty was most displeased. It could not be repaired; the whole thing had to be replaced because—in his words—I had wantonly destroyed it in a fit of jealousy against his Chevy. Well, why can’t I have new rugs and a change of oil, too? Haven’t I always been reliable? Don't I start up, get into gear, and go right away every morning, without having to warm up first? Hasn’t he gotten great mileage out of me?

But the important thing is, now HE is finally taking out the garbage at night. I can no longer be trusted.

Note to Self: Next week, knock off Chevy side mirror with lawn mower.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fiona's Anniversary

It's that other day, the one without the cake and candles.

Dear Fiona,

It's been eight years. We've now had your little brother longer than we had you.

You know he still doesn't talk. Sometimes I'll find him looking at your pictures, and he'll tap on them until I say, "Fiona. That's your sister Fiona."

Sometimes I go strolling with him around the house, and we look at family pictures. I'll ask him, "Where's Fiona?" and he taps on your picture.

He was three years old when you left us, and we have no idea how much he remembers about you, or if he remembers anything at all.

But he does know who you are.

The rest of us--your dad, your older brother, and I--still remember. Oh, how we love to remember!

And we still miss you.

We love you, Bunny Buttons!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Results of My Autumn Quiz

Your Autumn Test Results
You are a playful, spirited person. You have a limitless imagination and amazing creative talents.

When you are happiest, you are calm. You appreciate tradition and family. You enjoy feeling cozy.

You tend to be afraid of change. You are never ready for things to be different.

You find love to be the most comforting thing in the world. You feel at peace when you're with your loved ones.

Your ideal day is active and full. You like to keep busy with your favorite things, and you appreciate a routine.

You are nostalgic. You can't truly appreciate something until it has come and gone.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

EEEK! I'm the Mother of a Twentysomething!

My oldest son, the Crown Prince, is now twenty years old.

Meanwhile, some of my high school classmates are grandparents. I’ve taken to wearing reading glasses on a chain around my neck. I cannot name a single song or artist on the Billboard Top 40. Someone born the same year as yours truly is running for President of the United States. Someone born the same year as my husband is running for Vice President on the opposing ticket. And just the other day, Mr. Lucky adjusted the settings on his computer to a larger, easier to read font.

Add it all up and I’d say it’s officially official: I’m getting old.

I’ve never had a birthday that made me go, “Wow! I’m getting old! What happened to my life?”

But my firstborn’s birthdays always have that effect on me—especially this one. Why?

When he turned thirteen, I was aghast at how time was racing by. Mr. Lucky shared my dismay at the knowledge that we’d become the parents of a (gulp) teenager.

Granted, because of his autism and developmental delays, the Crown Prince probably didn’t have a typical adolescence. Oh, there was the rebellion—suddenly he didn’t want to get out of bed and go to school, and sometimes I’d have to call Mr. Lucky at work, and summon him home to make that boy get out of bed and go to school. He didn’t want to play on the computer or Sony Playstation anymore; instead, he just wanted to “hang out” at the end of the driveway and watch the rest of the world go by. He ate like a python. And his little brother had become a pesky nuisance who never should have been brought home from the hospital.

At the same time, we didn’t have to deal with driver’s ed, and higher insurance rates for the car. He never required an elaborate stereo system that made the whole house shake with something he’d call music, but which his father and I might consider noise. He likes the music his parents like.

We never found cigarettes or booze or bongs or condoms or WMD's in his possession. The closest I came to finding racy pictures in his room were his father’s photography magazines. We didn’t get hysterical phone calls from tearful girls begging him not to break up with them. Nor did we have to worry about him falling in with a bad crowd, or what sites he was visiting on the Internet, or where he was at three in the morning.

He did get to dress up and attend a prom for special students, and while he never turned out for school sports, he does enjoy bowling.

I can’t help wondering now if Mr. Lucky and I had it easier than most parents of teenagers, at least with this particular child. We still have one more to go.

If the present is anything to go by, that’s going to be a lot of fun.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mr. Lucky Saves a Dog

Every morning Mr. Lucky takes the beagles walking around the subdivision. Sometimes, if he leashes up after Baby Bear leaves on the school bus, I go with him.

About a dozen doors down the street is a two-story house with double front doors of frosted glass, one of the nicer homes on our block. As we strolled by, we could make out the blur of a barking little dog who would jump up and down on the other side of the frosted glass. Sometimes Mr. Lucky would take the beagles all the way up to the front door “to say hello” to the little dog. The front yard was ragged and weedy, but we assumed since there were curtains in the windows and a dog barking inside, that there must be people living there, but they were at work all day.

But on Sunday morning, Mr. Lucky discovered those ornate front doors were unlocked. As it turned out, the house had been abandoned by its owners some time ago. Most of the furniture was gone, but whoever had lived there had left the dog behind. Someone across the street said the people who’d lived there were going through a divorce, and the house was in foreclosure.

That explained the sadly neglected yard, BUT WHY DID THEY LEAVE THAT POOR LITTLE DOG TO FEND FOR HERSELF?

It’s one thing to leave a few pieces of furniture behind, but a helpless pet? Mr. Lucky surmised that was why the door had been left unlocked—perhaps the owners had hoped that someone would venture inside and either take the dog, or even set it free to roam the neighborhood and ultimately get hit by a car. I guess they didn’t want that much on their consciences. But why didn’t they try to find a new home for the dog, or at least take her to a shelter? I wonder how much their divorce plays a part in this; if one spouse who didn’t really want the dog kept it anyway, only to abandon it out of sheer spite to the other spouse who may have wanted it. I witnessed similar quibbling when my own parents were divorced more than three decades ago, but theirs was over inanimate dust collectors.

Mr. Lucky brought the dog back to our house, and tried to clean her up. She was a little Shih Tzu, and as shaggy as a dust mop. I’m no expert on this breed—or any dog, for that matter—but Mr. Lucky said when properly groomed, she should look like me (see photo at right)—with long, straight tresses hanging all over. Oddly enough, instead of being offended by the comparison, I was actually amused. He likes my hair long.

The poor little thing was infested with fleas and her fur was matted in places, with a few pink patches. Her teeth were blackened. She had a collar but no tag. We didn’t know her name. I went through the whole gamut of names commonly given to female dogs—Lucy, Abby, Molly, Polly, Sophie, Betsy, Suzy, Katie, even Fifi (which we sometimes called our daughter Fiona), but “the little furball” as Mr. Lucky took to calling her, answered to none of them. She must have had a very unusual, exotic name.

But we had to remember what Mike Wazowski said to fellow monster Sully in the Disney/Pixar cartoon, Monsters Inc., when Sully found himself befriending a fearless little girl he should have been scaring instead: That once you name it, you become attached to it.

The little furball was adorable, and so loving and trusting. She wasn’t the least bit afraid of us, and was eager to be cuddled and loved. She fit very nicely on my lap. We were tempted, oh, so tempted, to keep her and make her a member of the family. But she needed more rehabilitation and maintenance than we had the means to provide, so we concluded we’d have to take her some place where she could get the care she needed, before finding a new home.

Because she was going to the bathroom all over the house, that night Mr. Lucky took some old towels and made a bed for her in the laundry room, which serves as a passage between the kitchen and garage.

From 11 pm to 2 am, she did nothing but bark in that laundry room, and it echoed all over the house. I dozed off and on, but always with high pitched yapping in the background. Finally Mr. Lucky moved her to the garage, where we keep an old futon. Things quieted down after that, but I tossed and turned till about 4 am. I got very little sleep that night, and I had to be up at 7:30 to get Baby Bear ready for school.

Research revealed that all the local animal rescue places were closed on Monday, save for the county animal shelter, so that’s where we took Ms. Shih Tzu, and told them how and where she was found.

The county animal shelter is the same place where we adopted our beagles last year. When we started visiting there in search of a dog or two, the smaller breeds were always spoken for already. They seem to be more popular than big dogs. The staff is optimistic that Ms. Shih Tzu will find a good home very quickly.

I only hope it’s better than the one where Mr. Lucky found her, and that she lives happily ever after.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Unfair Hair

Both my sons are blessed with hair I can only dream of. It’s thick and wavy, and if they go too long without haircuts, they wake up in the mornings looking like Lyle Lovett. I love to run my fingers through Baby Bear’s locks, and he seems to enjoy it. Meanwhile, my own hair remains naturally straight.

I say it’s not fair.

I don’t know whether it’s the result of encroaching middle age (oh, all right, so it's already encroached!) or the humidity in Florida, but my hair no longer holds curls as well as it used to. I can’t remember the last time it was permed, except it was before the photo at right was taken, which was in May 2003. By that time I’d given up on perms because they never lasted more than a few weeks, even when my hair was shorter. Since then I’ve resigned myself to the curling iron—not that I can perform miracles with it.

Daughter Fiona had the same kind of hair as me, long and straight, save for the inevitable tangles. How did the Crown Prince and Baby Bear get so lucky?

What an odd choice of word, because when I asked him, Mr. Lucky said our boys got that thick wavy hair from him. I only have vague memories of that now. When we got married, he did have thick chestnut hair, but it was already receding, and now, twenty-one years later, he’s gone totally bald.

And he wholeheartedly agrees it’s not fair.

His own father went bald, and he has four brothers, all of whom still have all their own hair. This raises the question: Will my sons eventually go bald?

Mr. Lucky is of the opinion that if our oldest was going to lose his hair, we’d see evidence of it already, because Mr. Lucky himself started losing hair as a teenager. He believes the Crown Prince is safe. The fate of Baby Bear’s locks remain to be seen.

I say again: It’s not fair.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rakehell: It's Not Just a Term for Regency Romance Heroes

Fall is here, which doesn’t mean a lot in Florida. I miss the season—the crispness in the air, the changing colors, the anticipation of the holidays and the smell of baking pies instead of barbecue.

One thing I don’t miss is raking leaves, which I had to do every Monday when we were stationed in California, and lived in military housing. On Tuesday, civil servants from the base housing office would inspect everyone’s yards to make sure they were keeping it up to military standards.

We had only one tree in the front yard, yet on a typical fall Monday, after filling half a dozen black garbage bags, there were still leaves carpeting the yard. It seemed for every hundred I raked up, five hundred more dropped out of that tree.

When I awoke the next morning and glanced out the window, I had to wonder if some prankster had emptied every single last one of those garbage bags onto my lawn, because the yard looked as if it hadn’t been raked all year. But the long row of bulging black bags still sat along the curb, waiting for garbage pickup like a group of squat commuters lining up for their city bus connection.

So after breakfast I went back out, rake in hand. An occasional gust rustled the tree branches over my head, blowing another future bagful of leaves to the ground. I felt like Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, only I was battling leaves instead of hordes of walking brooms hauling buckets of water. I’d filled up three more bags when, with sinking heart, I spotted the yard inspector approaching with his clipboard.

“Morning,” he said curtly. “You know you’re supposed to have those leaves raked up in time for inspection?”

“I did. I had them all raked up yesterday afternoon, and more of them blew down during the night.”

The inspector wasn’t buying it. He plucked a pen out of his pocket and began scribbling on his clipboard. “I’ll have to write you up. Base regulations specifically state the yard must be in inspection order by 0730 hours every Tuesday. None of your neighbors have leaves in their yards.”

He was right. All the neighbors had trees in their yards, yet there wasn’t a single leaf in any of them. Certainly there were browning leaves still clinging to the branches of the neighbors’ trees, but with each gust of autumn wind, the dying leaves fluttered frantically across the street before they finally made a forlorn landing amongst the leaves from my own tree.

I’ve heard tales of a mysterious place deep in the sea, where whales go to cock their fins up. If you found the place, you’d see nothing but giant whalebones everywhere. I’ve also heard of a similar, equally remote place for elephants. The front lawn of our house in California must’ve been the officially designated “bone yard” for dying foliage.

No matter which way the wind blew—east, west, north, south—everyone else’s leaves rolled into my yard—and stayed put. I wondered if there was some sort of magnetic field in my yard, a weird geological anomaly that sucked in not only leaves, but other debris, to include everyone else’s litter. Maybe it explained why the neighbors’ kids practically lived in our yard instead of playing in their own.

At one point I watched a plastic bag go billowing and bouncing down the street, occasionally hopping into one yard and then another before returning to the street, until it finally fluttered to a halt in the dead center of our yard. And wouldn’t you know it, that bag refused to budge thereafter. In frustration I picked it up and dropped it into the middle of the neighbor’s yard. It rolled right back, doggedly following me like
The Red Balloon.

In desperation I started beating it with the rake in hopes it would flee in terror down the street to the next county. But instead it only lay there, inert, submissive, a doormat and a glutton for punishment, rather like yours truly used to be.

Every time the yard inspector wrote us up for something, I wanted to see what his yard looked like.

Oh, and right after I finished writing this, I had to get up and go into the living room to stop Baby Bear from using my sofa as a trampoline. As I replaced all the cushions and pillows on the sofa, he went into my office and added the following message to this blog entry:


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Karen Gets a New Workspace!

It all started when Mr. Lucky came home from work after midnight, and woke me up with his exuberant ravings about a desk—a computer work center, to be exact—that he found on the side of the road and brought home to join our happy little family unit.

You'd think he'd found a pot of gold.

This is a habit of his that goes back many years, to when he was an impoverished bachelor who relied on the roadside dumps of other people’s unwanted possessions to furnish his pad. When we decided to wed back in 1987, I brought to our marriage money and refinement, while he came with an elaborate stereo system that cost him several months’ pay, and a second-hand sofa he’d rescued from certain abandonment on the side of a desolate highway.

He knew, with the unerring instinct of one who has spent a lifetime scavenging among other people’s junk, that if he waited until daylight to go back for the computer work center, it would be gone. Indeed, as he loaded it into the back of our minivan at the ghastly hour of midnight, someone popped out of their house down the street with the air of one not looking to see what was going on, but with the intention of grabbing the CWC for themselves. I didn’t ask how he could tell the difference, fearing it might have something to do with the absence vs presentation of a shotgun—or maybe it’s just another instinct peculiar to scavengers.

Mr. Lucky initially thought of letting me have the CWC, as I don’t really have a desk anymore, since he bought me a laptop for Christmas 2005. I really do use it on my lap, usually while sitting in a small leather recliner in my office. The downside is I lack the efficient, disciplined workspace I used to have when using a desktop—when I had a solid flat surface for a notepad, reference books, and the all important, most sacred vessel for my coffee. Sometimes I wonder if this hasn’t had an adverse effect on my recent productivity, or lack of it. I’ve been using rickety folding tray tables, and allowing clutter to pile all around the leather recliner till it now looks as if I’m sitting in a giant bird’s nest.

I agreed with him that an upgrade to my work area might be an excellent idea, before I stood up from that recliner one day to find an egg or two on the seat.

Alas, the CWC was immediately a serious contender for the title of “Biggest and Most Unwieldy Piece of Furniture in the House.” As a corner unit, there was no way it would fit in my office unless we shuffled at least a few of the five fully loaded bookcases in that room.

No. Fricking. Way. Maybe for a million dollars, but until the check clears, no—way! Only two other things could induce me to move those books again: An Act of God, or an Act of Baby Bear.

Mr. Lucky proposed taking it for himself, and letting me have the simple writing table (48” x 30”) that he’s been using for his desktop as well as his own laptop, which is for his business. This was more than agreeable to me, as we could make it fit in my office without disturbing so much as a single bookcase.

We decided to put it under the window, in place of a pair of old, two-drawer nightstands I’d been using as file cabinets (i.e., pack rat storage) since we bought new furniture for the master bedroom. This was a great opportunity to throw out junk which, seriously, I hadn’t looked at since putting it in the drawers. It was a lot of work, but it beat moving books and bookcases.

Most frightening were the manuscripts of books written before True Pretenses—and the earliest drafts of the latter, boasting the header, “Untitled Regency WIP.” It was like looking at my sixth grade school pictures--ewww! No, I didn’t throw them out (like I did with the sixth grade school pictures), but transferred them to one of those heavy duty plastic storage bins.

Meanwhile, Mr. Lucky spent most of yesterday kicking up a lot of dust and rearranging his own office to make his newly acquired CWC fit. I don’t know how he did it, but he made it work, and we had everything in place by the time Baby Bear came home from school.

I now have a desk, with space for my children’s photos and even the recently acquired boom box.

We’re only missing one thing now: A suitable chair! I can’t very well use the leather recliner; I need a real desk chair.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get you one,” Mr. Lucky reassured me. “Next time I go out, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for any desk chairs abandoned at the side of the road.”

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Baby Bear Gives a Hug

This is a very big deal for me, because not only did he surprise me by doing it on his own initiative, but it was a genuine hug, with none of Baby Bear’s trademark booby traps.

Usually I’m the one who makes the first move by holding out my arms and saying, “Huggy huggy!” Then he’ll grab me and with all his strength—and he has a great deal of it—he’ll dig his chin into my shoulder, until I howl with agony and he’s happy. (Both Mr. Lucky and I are wary of what we call Baby Bear’s “killer chin.”)

More often than not, Baby Bear follows up his hugs by doing one or more of the following: The aforementioned chinning; stepping on the most tender part of my foot; knocking me backward onto the nearest piece of furniture, banging his head into mine—it’s a wonder he’s never broken my nose or knocked out my teeth—or pulling me forward and putting me into a headlock until I tumble onto the floor, whereupon he climbs on top of me and chins me in the back.

He could be a wrestler. Sometimes I think I should don a face mask and mouth guard, and arm myself with lots of padding before inviting injury with the wild call of, “Huggy huggy!” Only I never think of that until afterward.

This morning, however, Baby Bear came up to me out of nowhere, smiling as he took my arms and put them over his shoulders. Then he pulled me against him and put his arms around me, holding me snugly as he rested his head on my shoulder.

It was very nice. No kicks, no jabs, no over-the-shoulder back flips, no kung fu grip. And no chin. Just a cozily affectionate hug, and for no reason at all.

That’s my favorite kind of hug.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I Will Not Be Called a Braggy Pants This Week

At TARA, we started the 100 x 100 challenge on September 3rd. The object is to write at least 100 words each day for 100 days, with the ultimate goal of completing That Damned Manuscript in time for our annual holiday party in December. As noted in my previous blog entry, I have to write at least 1,000 words every day if I hope to complete TDM by that time.

One hundred words is really nothing. I rarely write fewer words than that when posting on the various forums and message boards where I’ve been known to goof off when I should be writing a book. I’ve written more than a hundred words here already.

Here is my progress for the first week:

Day 1- 2,444 words. YAY!

Day 2 - 1,629 words. I am the Word Goddess!

Day 3 – 1,741 words. It’s true what Mr. Lucky once told me many years ago, when he first fell in love with me. Yes, I am hot stuff.

Day 4 – 418 words. What can I say? It was Saturday, and obviously I get more done when Baby Bear is in school.

Day 5 – 100 words. And that’s an estimate. I went back over what I’d written so far, and started tinkering, and before I knew it, I was cutting stuff and completely lost track of the initial word count. I know I wrote at least 100 new words, possibly as many as two hundred, but I can’t swear to it. It didn’t help that my eleven year old and forty-three year old were fighting over the TV most of the day.

Day 6 – 282 words. By now I was officially in full-fledged “this story isn’t going to work” mode—the same mode that’s led to so many previous false starts this year. Having just e-mailed the first chapter to my critique partner, Jean, I felt I was now committed to writing this book all the way through—but I didn’t know where to go from here. At this point, the story could be easily resolved in Chapter 2. Not to mention there was zero chemistry between the hero and heroine. And I got no sympathy at all from Drill Sergeant Phyllis, who said, “If you had an amazing word count EVERY day, we’d just call you a braggy pants.”

Alas, the Word Goddess is but a mere mortal, who has to pick up other people’s stinky socks and unwad them before tossing them into the washer.

I was so frustrated and panicked by this morning—Day 7—that I actually resorted to the unthinkable: I cleaned the house!

Maybe it was the fumes from the Tidy Bowl cleaner, or maybe it was when I hit my head on the chandelier and had ghastly visions of chucking the whole writing thing and applying for one of those career opportunities at Wal-Mart, but somehow the solution came to me, and by this afternoon I was rewriting Chapter 2 and feeling as if this story might be crazy enough to work.

Day 7 – 1,314 words. Not bad.

Only 79,000 words to go.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I Have 100 Days to Write a Book

This last Sunday night, my critique partner Jean sent me an e-mail with Chapter 20 of her current work-in-progress (WIP) attached. She asked to see Chapter 1 of my newest WIP. (She just finished critiquing my previous manuscript.)

My heart sank like an anchor into the pit of my stomach. For one thing, my critique partner is also a math teacher, and as math was my worst subject in school, I have a highly irrational fear of math teachers. And for another thing, Jean is like Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction, in that she will not be ignored. She is an accountability fiend, one of the reasons I like working with her.

Alas, I don’t have the chapter. Well, I do—in fact, I have several Chapter 1’s—or would that be Chapters 1?— but none that I would let my dog read, let alone my critique partner. Heck, I don’t know if I’d even let my dog eat them.

I’ve started one manuscript after another this year—I count five false starts off the top of my head—yet after the first few chapters, everything goes pfft!—and the story stops dead in the water, like the Titanic after it struck the iceberg.

After much mulling and hair pulling, I conclude the problem is part change in work environment, and part confusion about what’s the right writing process for me, though I tend to think the two go hand in hand.

In the case of the former, I now have a spouse recently retired from the military, who hangs around the house all day, and likes to play the radio full blast on a station that’s not the same one I prefer when I’m writing. He won’t close his office door because, he says, it gets too hot in there otherwise. His radio sounds as if it’s piped in all over the house.

Once upon a time, I used to work in my office with the door open, while the stereo played my favorite station out in the family room. Lately I’ve had to close the door and forgo music, because of barking dogs, a husband who likes to switch off the stereo so he can change channels on the TV once he tires of his radio, and a sliding glass door right outside my office door. A lot of traffic goes in and out that door all day. And even the closed door doesn’t help. Just this morning, Mr. Lucky opened the door to say, “Did you know that no one else in the world has my name? I found this out on one of those online searches just now. I’m the only person on this planet with my name.”

“Yes, dear, I know.”
I even blogged about it recently.

I told him I needed a boom box for my office. Nothing fancy, just something that came with a radio and a CD player, so I could close my door and still have the music I needed to write. So we went out and bought the boom box, and I added about two thousand words to two thousand words already written on a new Chapter 1—for a total of approximately 4,000 words on my latest do-over.

I have never written a book without music playing in the background. I’ve learned to write without smoking—I quit when I married, but when I was single, I smoked a cigarette for every page I wrote. But I refuse to give up the music.

The other thing dragging me down is my determination to write a synopsis first. This springs from the once in a lifetime fluke event two years ago, when I had to produce a five page synopsis for a
TARA workshop. All the synopses I had on hand were at least 10 pages, and I couldn’t shorten any of them. So I wrote a five page synopsis for a book I’d never written, and except for a confusing resolution—which resolved itself once I wrote the actual book—it turned out better than I expected, and the book I went on to write followed it quite closely.

How did I do it? I don’t know. I only know I haven’t been able to duplicate that achievement since—meaning it wasn’t settled science for me—but a bloody miracle. On the positive side, I’ve since figured out how to halve my ten page synopses.

So I’ve started this new book my old-fashioned way, what I call the Indiana Jones School of Plotting, based on something he said in Raiders of the Lost Ark: “I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go.”

That, and fellow writer and TARA member Phyllis threw down her keyboard like a gauntlet that same Sunday night, and multiple-dog-dared me to write a complete book between now and the TARA holiday party in December.

We’re talking between 90-95,000 words. Can I do it? Will I do it?

It means at least a thousand words a day. I’ve written over a thousand words a day many times. But can I do it every day, for a hundred days, on the same manuscript?

I told Phyllis, “You’re on!”

I have four thousand down already. At least 86,000 more to go.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Daughter of Imagination: A Fiona Story

In the children’s classic, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Laura’s very first doll was nothing but a corncob wrapped in a handkerchief. Later in the story, for Christmas she received a more human-looking—indeed, a more doll-looking—rag doll she named Charlotte.

Our daughter Fiona had something of a reverse experience with a toy collection of characters from the Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast. (I hereby confess: Every time I watch it, I get all teary-eyed at the end.)

For Christmas 1994, Santa Claus brought five year old Fiona the plastic figures of Mrs. Potts the Teapot, Chip the Chipped Teacup, Cogsworth the Clock, and Lumiere the Candelabrum. She was delighted with them, and I still remember when it was her bedtime Christmas night, how she scooped all of them up and took them to bed with her, even though they weren’t as soft and cuddly as the stuffed animals favored by her older brother.

All was well until several months later, when for reasons that will always remain a mystery to us, she put all the characters save Mrs. Potts (whom we can only surmise was granted clemency due to her generous girth) into the microwave and cooked them.

As far as I can recall, that was the first and last time Fiona ever operated the microwave.

Oddly enough, she did it while Mr. Lucky and I were in the family room watching the movie Mrs. Doubtfire, not too long after the scene where Robin Williams accidentally set his fake boobs ablaze.

Flames danced inside the microwave, smoke wafted throughout the kitchen, and black soot dusted the kitchen cabinets, which we planned to replace anyway. Fortunately Fiona was not hurt; in fact, she behaved with amazing aplomb throughout the entire episode—as if this were just another ordinary day chez Lingefelt. (Hmm, now that I think of it . . .)

If one good thing came out of what could have been a disaster on many fronts, it was the discovery that our smoke alarm was kaput. (The ones in our newest home work almost too well. They shriek in horror every time Mr. Lucky broils or even fries something.)

Alas, nothing could be done for Chip, Cogsworth, or Lumiere, and by that time, they were no longer available at The Disney Store, and this was back in the days before we might have been able to find them online.

But Fiona figured out how to deal with it. The next time she played with Mrs. Potts, she substituted a regular Corelle coffee cup for Chip, and stole my alarm clock to take the place of Cogsworth.

The part of Lumiere, meanwhile, was now played by my old breast pump.

Somehow I think that roguish candelabrum would have approved—and maybe wished the curse of the beautiful sorceress had turned him into a breast pump instead.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then improvisation is the daughter of imagination.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

It's Hurricane Time!

According to the current projected track as of this writing, Tropical Storm Fay is following a path eerily similar to Hurricane Charley in August 2004. If it holds, we could be seeing some exceedingly nasty weather Tuesday night.

One area where Mr. Lucky and I have never seen eye to eye is the gas tank. I like to fill it up once it gets down to half a tank. He prefers to wait until he has to get out and push. He claims it’s a holdover from when he was an impoverished 19 year old who could only afford a couple bucks’ worth of gas at a time. Funny how this seems to be the only aspect of his youth he still clings to.

When we went out for Sunday donuts this morning, I noticed the fuel gauge showed half a tank, and told Mr. Lucky we should top it off. He disagreed. Half a tank, he said, was plenty.

“You say that now,” I replied, “but after all the driving you’ll be doing between now and Tuesday morning, you’ll be down to ‘E’ in no time. And in the meantime, Fay will strengthen to Category 1 and there’ll be a mass stampede to all the gas stations. You’ll be waiting in line for hours to get gas, and that’s assuming they don’t run out before you finally pull up to the pump. Then the storm will come and knock out all the power. Without power, the gas pumps won’t work. We’ll be stuck with no gas. And I’ll have something new to hold over your head till death do us part. I’ll bring it up every time we have an argument. Do you really want that?”

“You and your melodramatics. You’re caught up in everyone else’s mass hysteria,” he grumbled. “You’ve bought into all the media hype. And I know what you’re about to say, because it's what you always say--that if I’d been here for Hurricane Charley, we’d still be waiting in line for gas.”

At the time of Hurricane Charley in August 2004, we were living in military housing at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, an installation surrounded on three sides by water. Mr. Lucky, however, was deployed, leaving me with two autistic boys ages 15 and 7. Our Chrysler minivan had half a tank of gas when Charley was over Cuba; I filled it up anyway. It was a Wednesday.

I didn’t go anywhere else until Friday morning, when Charley had entered the Gulf of Mexico and had it sights set on the Tampa Bay area. I’d just put the boys on the school bus when Mr. Lucky’s supervisor called (the people in his office kindly checked up on me while he was deployed) to give me a heads-up: The base commander was expected to issue an evacuation order around noon. Most people would not leave until that order was issued, if at all.

For the next hour I paced around the house, watching the weather map of Florida on the TV with the entire Gulf Coast trapped inside “The Cone of Doom”, debating with myself what to do. I could not take my boys to a designated local shelter where there would be crowds of other people and children. The chaos and unfamiliarity of such a place would agitate both boys (see previous blog entry). Torn from their vital routines, they’d be running amok and screaming all over the place and I’d be constantly chasing them down, trying to keep them from running outside, grabbing other people’s food, wrapping themselves in other people’s bedding. They wouldn’t be able to play the video games or watch the DVD’s that make them sit still for more than a few minutes. They wouldn't sleep, even with their meds. And if they didn't sleep, I wouldn't either; and I'd be in even worse shape to keep them from fleeing the shelter or otherwise terrorizing the other shelterees.

They needed to be in a safe place that was familiar, with familiar people who understood them, where the routines and securities of home could be easily replicated.

That place was their paternal grandparents’ house, 200 miles away in Valdosta, Georgia.

The idea of driving that distance with those boys, without Mr. Lucky, was very daunting, but I had to do it. It was obvious from the Cone of Doom that we couldn’t stay at MacDill. In the end I was so knotted with anxiety and dread that I didn’t want to wait until the base commander issued any order. I figured I might as well pack up and get it over with now.

Around 10:30 am, I loaded up the minivan with the boys’ food and meds; their bedding and clothes, and their favorite toys. I locked up the house and left the base. As I did so, I noticed a long, long line of cars winding from one street to another, all waiting to get into the base gas station where I’d filled up the day before yesterday.

I drove to the boys’ school, pulled them out of their respective classes, and by high noon we were on I-75 headed north. The traffic wasn’t too bad; it was typical of an ordinary early Friday afternoon. Baby Bear rocked in his seat the whole time. All was well until we reached the other side of Gainesville and ran into heavy rains from the outermost bands of Tropical Storm Bonnie, that swept into the Panhandle that same day.

I slowed to a crawl as the road disappeared in a curtain of heavy rain. That’s when Baby Bear decided to do his usual Houdini with the seat belt. He took off his clothes and started slithering all through the minivan, digging and tunneling and burrowing like a giant worm. This was very upsetting to the Crown Prince, who yodeled and thrashed in the front seat next to me.

It was almost like that scene in the movie Jurassic Park, where the guy gets trapped inside a vehicle with a dilophosaurus—also in the midst of a tropical storm. Picture me in that same scene, with the vehicle on a busy interstate and two dilophosauruses—complete with spitting!

This went on until I found the next rest stop. I parked, but left the engine running—which in my frazzled state probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I had this nutty fear that if I turned off the car, it wouldn’t start up again and I’d be stranded with these two boys. I blame it on that ridiculous complex I acquired when our Ford Aerostar broke down in the middle of nowhere in Texas on a Sunday afternoon when everything was closed (again, see previous blog entry).

Do not lock that door, Karen, do not lock that door . . .

After exiting the vehicle, I ran around it in the pouring rain to open the sliding side door, and Baby Bear shot out as if he’d been fired from a cannon. He was nearly naked, wearing only his diaper. I chased him halfway across the parking lot before I finally caught him, and even then I had a hard time keeping a grip on him—he was slippery not only from the rain, but from the perspiration he’d generated from over two hours of rocking. Once I got him back into the minivan, I didn’t even bother putting his clothes back on—I just wanted to get him buckled back in and get the heck back on the road. I strapped him in with two seat belts, wrapping them around him and looping them over and under each other every which way to make him work for another escape. We resumed our journey. He stayed put until we arrived in Valdosta around 4 pm. The evening news showed traffic leaving Tampa and St. Petersburg almost at a standstill.

I don’t know how I did it, but I did it. And I’m glad now that I did it. But I hope I never have to do it again.

Charley made landfall about 24 hours after we arrived in Georgia. Until a couple of hours prior, it was expected to hit Tampa/St. Petersburg, but changed course and hit Port Charlotte instead.

Fast forward to this morning’s donut run. After picking up the donuts, Mr. Lucky turned into the gas station, which was a little more congested than usual. (I wonder why?)

Was he caught up in everyone else’s mass hysteria? Had he bought into all the media hype? No, he just wanted to shut me up, God bless him.

For tranquil is the life of the husband, and wise is he who appeases his wife with the affirmation that she is always right.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Autistic Children in Public

This news article didn’t just hit close to home—it struck me right in the heart:

Autistic Kids’ Outbursts Stir Furor and Guilt

We know our autistic children are disruptive, and we don't like it anymore than anyone else. We don't excuse it, to the extent that we try to avoid putting them in situations where they will disturb other people. But sometimes, we have to take them out--e.g., to the grocery store or doctor's office, where there are other children. I do not relax on any of those occasions, for fear Baby Bear will spit on some unsuspecting person or knock over a smaller child like a bowling ball picking up a spare. In fact, Mr. Lucky thinks I should relax and not be so overvigilant and sensitive to dirty looks.

For the very reasons stated in the above article, we’ve never taken any of our children to church. We trust God understands this, because He’s God. Once upon a time, children like mine were probably thought to be demonically possessed. On the other hand, one might think Baby Bear’s nonsensical babbling is “speaking in tongues” and that he’s full of the Holy Spirit. I do know he’s full of unholy spit, and like the young man described in this article, he deploys it wherever we go. I'm always afraid that one day he'll spit at the wrong person, and suffer violent retaliation.

Baby Bear has never been to the movies, for the same reason he’s never been to church. The Crown Prince, on the other hand, does fairly well at the theater. Even though he’s almost twenty years old, he still likes Mr. Lucky to take him to see the newest Disney/Pixar and Dreamworks cartoons. Not only have they gotten strange looks from people, but once a woman actually approached my husband and son in the theater, and asked if they weren’t a little old for the likes of Finding Nemo. She may have been wary that they were pedophiles on the prowl, and I can understand that concern. Still . . .

Our children are not good travelers. It’s an ongoing struggle to keep Baby Bear buckled in; he liberates himself every time we go out, and we invariably have to pull over and strap him in again. They can handle a drive to their paternal grandparents’ house two hundred miles away, but beyond that, all bets are off. When we moved from California to Florida in December 1993, we drove the whole way on Interstate 10, and the Crown Prince and Fiona all but stopped eating during that week. (Don’t get me started on when the car broke down halfway between El Paso and San Antonio, on a Sunday afternoon when everything in rural Texas is closed. That’s on my Top Ten Worst Moments of My Life list.)

Even without the children, neither Mr. Lucky nor I have ever enjoyed air travel, considering it a necessary evil. We will not board a plane with any of our children unless we absolutely have to. Fortunately, this has only happened once.

When we lived in California, the military doctors at Travis Air Force Base wanted to send the Crown Prince to a specialist at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Right before the military medivac plane took off, the crew insisted on removing him because of the disturbance he created. After being rescheduled for another flight, with doctors’ orders to be sedated, he and Mr. Lucky managed to fly to Texas and back. The consultation, meanwhile, turned out to be a total waste of everything. Mr. Lucky said they could’ve just mailed copies of the child’s medical records to WHMC.

And just like the parents of the kid in the article whose uncle thinks he should be institutionalized, I’ve had to call the police when the Crown Prince, in the absence of his father deployed overseas, became violent toward me and Baby Bear. I didn’t know what the hell else to do. I hated doing it; I hated myself for doing it—so much so that the last time it happened, in May 2006, I let him chase me out of the house and into the driveway in hopes the neighbors might see and call the cops, because I didn’t want to. (It worked. To this day I don’t know who called, but a short while later, two sheriff’s deputies pulled up in front of our house.) He was placed in a group home after that, and fortunately he’s very happy there, but I wish it hadn’t happened that way.

Just taking a trip to the grocery store is a subject for a whole other blog entry.

I’m not complaining; I certainly hope that's not how this sounds. I’m just saying that what’s in that article is dead on, and this is how we deal with those issues chez Lingefelt. (If we had a "normal" kid, we probably wouldn't know what to do with him!)
It’s the life we know, and we can’t imagine any other. But we still love our kids for it.

By the way, the article failed to mention how important it is for everyone, on both sides, to keep their sense of humor about it. That, I believe, is the secret ingredient for dealing with this.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Big Boys and Little Boys

Last night I watched the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. I always enjoy watching this event, especially the parade of nations and the lighting of the torch. My favorite torchlighting had to be at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, when an archer fired a flaming arrow in pitch darkness from the bottom of the stadium all the way up to the torch.

Mr. Lucky slept through that. I thought it was very cool. Since then, I've thought they tried too hard to come up with ingenious ways of lighting that torch--I'm still trying to figure out what the one in Atlanta, 1996, was all about. I liked how they did it last night, with the guy flying around the inner rim of the stadium like Tinkerbell, before he finally lit the torch and the flames spiraled upward into the cauldron.

The fireworks were scintillating and amazing, but then the Chinese invented them.

I was glad to see President Bush there in his shirt sleeves, only to don his coat as he and Mrs. Bush stood up to cheer the U.S. athletes.

But what really grabbed my heart was the above image of the 7'6" Yao Ming, a Chinese basketball player who carried his country's flag for the host nation's team, accompanied by a little 9 year old boy named Lin Hao who was a survivor and hero of the recent earthquake in the Sichuan province (he saved a couple of his classmates).

What is it about these two guys that sticks with me and plays havoc with my mushy, sentimental old heart? After sleeping on it, I realized this morning that they remind me of my own two boys--the 19 year old (20 in October) 6'5" Crown Prince, and Baby Bear who used to be dwarfed by his big brother, but now, at 5'8" (and he's only 10 years old, turning 11 next week!) is swiftly closing the gap.

The Crown Prince is fond of saying that he's "a big boy" while Baby Bear "is a little boy."

Too soon they'll both be very big boys. How tall will Baby Bear be at next Summer Olympics, in 2012? He'll be 15 years old. Will he be as tall as his big brother? Or will he become the bigger brother, if still the younger?

Stay tuned.

P.S. This was my first ever attempt at uploading an image all by myself! (Photo from The Official Website of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games)