Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looky What Mr. Lucky Gave Me!

I think I'll stay married to him for another year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Tree with Angel Fiona

I forgot to turn on the flash, but I think it looks prettier this way with the tree lights:
Our dark-haired angel Fiona (whose twentieth birthday would have been this Sunday) holds a giant candy cane. It wasn't till after I took this photo that I realized the pleated shade in the fan light above the living room window spreads behind her like a peacock's tail--or even a nimbus!

Fiona, of course, would look at it and see half a pizza.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Midnight Visit from the Police, OR: Let's Scare Karen to Death, OR--Just a Thanksgiving Tale

If your husband happens to be out late one night on a job, and a police car pulls up in front of your house past midnight but you didn’t even call 911, what are you supposed to think?

If you’re like me, you’ll think the very worst and go into Maximum Panic Mode.

I went to bed around 11:30 pm the night before Thanksgiving, only to be jolted awake less than an hour later by our two barking beagles. My first thought was they were calling out to a neighbor taking their own dog for a midnight stroll, but when the barking persisted, I had to get up and investigate—especially since I was afraid they would wake up the Crown Prince (who was staying with us for the holiday) and Baby Bear.

I carefully lifted a slat in the blinds covering the living room window and peered out. Terror slashed through me as I saw a police car parked right in front of our house. The silhouette of a very tall officer stood at the foot of the driveway, feet apart, facing our house, looking very much as if he were trying to ascertain if anyone was home. There were no cars parked in our driveway, and all the lights were off.

I could only think of one reason for him to be out there. My critique partner, Jean, who writes romantic suspense, has described this very scenario in a few of her books, and it usually includes dialogue along the lines of, “We’re very sorry to inform you . . . we need you to come with us so you can identify—”


The cop remained standing at the end of the driveway, arms akimbo. Why didn’t he come up and ring the doorbell and put me out of my—or rather, plunge me into further misery? Perhaps I should go out there to meet him. “Excuse me, sir, would you mind telling me why you’re in front of my house? You’re making my dogs bark and you’re scaring the hell out of me.”

If only he didn’t look like Gort standing outside the flying saucer. I could almost hear the menacing theme music from the theremin.

But I wasn’t dressed to meet anyone save Mr. Lucky, so I ran back to the bedroom to throw some clothes on. Whimpering and trembling all over, my heart hammering, I returned to the living room window and . . . Gort and the police car were gone.

Now what? Was he on his way back to the station because he thought there was no one home except for the dogs? But he hadn’t rung the bell. At least I hadn’t heard the doorbell; maybe I was still asleep when he rang it and that’s what started the dogs barking.

I didn’t know what to do. Should I call up 911?

“What’s your emergency?” the dispatcher would ask.

“Well, I don’t know that it’s an emergency,” I would say in a tremulous voice broken with panicked sobs, “but my husband is out right now and I just saw a cop parked in front of my house like maybe he was here to—” Scratch that.

Instead I called Mr. Lucky’s cell phone. To my dismay, all I got was voice mail.

By now I was totally freaking. I tried his work place. Maybe he was still there, or maybe someone else there would tell me something . . . or would they?

One of his co-workers answered the phone, and to my everlasting relief, Mr. Lucky was there, safe and sound. His cell phone, he said, was out in the car. But he couldn’t explain anymore than I could why that cop might have been outside our house. The sprinklers hadn’t been running, so it couldn’t be because we were watering on the wrong night.

I was about to go back to bed when the dogs started barking again. I returned to the living room window and—GORT WAS BACK!

At least he remained inside his car, but now what? Was this part of a stakeout? Were we under surveillance? But for what?

I wondered what would happen if I just went out there to ask. Would I get shot? Thrown across the trunk of his squad car and handcuffed? Or be chided with a mere, “Ma’am, get back inside your dwelling, please, and stay there until further notice.”

At least if he came after me like Gort on Patricia Neal, there were no folding chairs in the driveway for me to stumble over and get tangled up in, and no conveniently placed partition for me to trap myself against, instead of just dodging around it and running like hell.

I didn’t want to go out the front door for fear the overexcited beagles would shoot past me and escape. So I turned on all the exterior lights and came out through the garage.

Fortunately, he turned out to be more like Klaatu than Gort.

He met me in the driveway, and politely explained. A neighbor called to complain of a barking dog. I’d heard this same dog several houses over as I fell asleep. But the neighbor seemed to think it was coming from my house. My dogs had been inside all evening, and only started barking when the cop showed up. After determining there was no barking dog outside my house, he’d moved on to see if he could find it elsewhere in the neighborhood, but by that time the owner had apparently wised up and brought his yappy little mutt inside.

The cop then returned to my address to make his report that the complaint was unfounded and our house appeared secure. He remarked that my dogs were actually doing their job very well, and apologized for scaring the bejabbers out of me. He was very nice and professional, and I’m just relieved that my initial fears were as unfounded as the neighbor’s complaint.

Plus, this gave me something to be grateful for on Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Baby Bear Wrecks a Laptop

That’s the bad news. The good news: It wasn’t mine.

Mr. Lucky likes to put his laptop on a folding tray in front of the sofa in the family room. This allows him to simultaneously watch TV and play Lord Master of the Universal Planetary Federation of Civilizations, Empires, and Neighborhood Associations, or whatever that game is that allows him to annihilate the inhabitants of entire galaxies for the resources to build his own shopping mall and theme park.

Except when he’s asleep or at work, he leaves the laptop yawning like a crocodile at all times.

I’ve warned him not to do it, especially if Baby Bear is on the prowl. Anytime Mr. Lucky turns his back on the open laptop, even for a few moments, Baby Bear swoops down and slaps it shut.

That’s all. He closes it and moves on to the next shiny object. That may not seem like a big deal, but on rare occasions, he’s been known to wreak havoc by the simple act of hitting a few random keys, and once he even toppled the tray table and open laptop to the floor, fortunately without consequences.

But it was only a matter of time before certain odds and laws dictated those consequences.

The other night, we sat down to dinner. While Baby Bear is more than willing to pull up a chair and join us, we have a hard time getting him to remain at the table until meal’s end. He always finds a reason to get up more than once during dinner to do something else, even if it’s to close a gaping laptop, which is exactly what he did in this case.

One of the things I like about my own laptop is that I don’t need a mouse. I just use the fingerpad. I find it liberating, especially as the mouse is one less thing for Baby Bear to steal and bury at the bottom of his toybox like a dog with a bone. I know because I’ve had to go on in-house archeological expeditions for his own mouse.

But Mr. Lucky, tool of the mouse industry, insists on having one. And on this day, he left it sitting on the keyboard.

Baby Bear did not remove the mouse; most likely he did not even notice it. All he saw was a wide open laptop, and that would not do. He slammed down the lid. Mr. Lucky yelled. Baby Bear returned to the table to resume dining. Mr. Lucky ran to the laptop, and opened it to discover one corner of the screen was smashed.

He didn’t think the kid would do it. He thought the laptop would be safe, since he could see it from where he sat at the table. He was positive Baby Bear wouldn’t touch it as long as he was watching.

Men. You just can’t warn them and tell them you’re right. They always have to find out for themselves—and it’s always the hard, expensive way that usually leads to a repair shop, the insurance company, an emergency room, or any combination of the three. It’s that Y chromosome.

But until he can get the screen fixed, he’s compelled to do what I had to do when my screen burned out earlier this year: He’s back to the desktop in his office.

Only now he can’t watch TV at the same time—unless he can figure out a way to make the whole setup fit on that folding tray table, or move the TV into his office.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Sluts

A scene in the movie Apollo 13 portrays an astronaut’s wife arguing with her teenage daughter over her Halloween costume. The girl wanted to go trick-or-treating dressed as a hippie, over her mother’s dead body. Even considering the time period of 1969, and from a standpoint of modesty, I for one could find nothing objectionable about the costume, despite the loudmouthed kid sister’s exaggerated observation that, “She’s not even wearing a bra, you can see EVERYTHING!”

I wish that mother could’ve seen what knocked on my door this last Saturday night: Two girls who couldn’t have been more than twelve years old, thirteen tops, identically dressed as sexy barmaids. They wore white, low cut blouses with puffy sleeves off the shoulder, tightly laced bodices, and ruffled mini-skirts that stuck out like open umbrellas. The only things missing were fistfuls of foaming beer steins and some accordion-playing Chippendales in lederhosen.

I waited for them to chorus, “We’re from the escort service,” at which point I would’ve told them they had the wrong house, or demanded an explanation from my twenty-one year old son who stood next to me enjoying the sights. Instead, they chimed, “Trick or treat!”

But even that could’ve been taken the wrong way with the wrong person.

I don’t have the sort of confrontational personality that might have spurred me to ask, “Do your mothers know you’re dressed like that, or did you start out wearing these under the Mrs. Danvers and second Mrs. De Winter costumes that you doffed and ditched as soon as you got to the next block?”

I looked up the barmaid costumes online. I found many remarkably similar to what these girls wore, all very expensive, and sold alongside a wide variety of other adult costumes that—call me an old-fashioned stick in the you-know-where—do not belong on the bodies of young teenage girls. Especially after dark. Let alone on the street.

I’d rather see my daughter go out as a hippie. But only on Halloween.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lady, Are You Dumb or Just Stupid?

You didn’t notice me as you walked by me on your way into the convenience store the other day. In fact, you didn’t seem to notice anything.

I, on the other hand, noticed a lot about you, and I’m still astounded, or I wouldn’t be blogging about it two days later.

For starters, you were well dressed—better dressed than I was, but you were probably stopping en route to work or class, while I was merely slumming with Mr. Lucky. And you had a very nice car. I can’t remember the make (and nowadays most cars look alike to me), but it was a gleaming silver sedan that appeared to be a few years old, as well kept up as its driver.

You parked it next to the passenger side of our vehicle as I stepped out of the convenience store with my pumpkin cappuccino (available for a limited time only). Mr. Lucky held the door for you, and you didn’t even thank him.

I noticed several things as I stepped between your car and mine: Your window was down. Your stereo was playing. Your engine was running.

You had no other passengers, not even a yappy little dog or a great big slobbering dog with head and tongue both hanging out the window. I’m glad I didn’t see a baby.

But you left your purse wide open—as in unsnapped and unzipped with contents visible—on the passenger seat.

Maybe you took your money with you into the store. Or maybe you took just enough to buy your own pumpkin cappuccino. (Only 99 cents in those little “Domo” cups, and I just noticed for the first time ever that there is no cent sign on my keyboard. Didn’t it used to be above the 6?)

How easy it would’ve been for me to reach inside your car and grab that purse. What fun I could’ve had with your credit cards! And making long distance crank calls on your cell phone.

For that matter, I could’ve just hopped behind the wheel of your car and taken it for a joyride—as long as it was automatic transmission. Had it been a stick, chances are good you would’ve caught me before I could figure out how to back out of that parking space without crashing through the glass doors of the store. (I’m totally clueless when it comes to manual transmission.)

Did you think it would be safe to do this because it was broad daylight, it’s not all that bad a neighborhood, and the place—A CONVENIENCE STORE!—wasn’t all that crowded at three in the afternoon? Or do you do this all the time, even after dark?

Or were you taking part in one of those hidden camera shows, and this was an experiment to see what someone like me would do?

Nah. I think you’re just a fool and you’re pushing your luck. Besides, that sort of thing could never happen to you. “I’ll only be a minute, and I can see my car from inside the store the whole time.”

But someone who knows what they’re doing—someone besides me—can take your purse or even the whole car, and be gone before you can drop your partially filled Slurpee in mid-slush and dash back out the door—especially if Mr. Lucky’s no longer there to hold it open for you.

Oh, well. Someday you’ll learn. I just wish you’d learn from reading this blog.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Am I Trapped in a Pac-Man Game, or a Bald Convention?

When I married Mr. Lucky twenty-two years ago, he had a full head of thick chestnut hair that started disappearing at about the same moment I tossed the bridal bouquet over my shoulder and into the hands of my already wedded brother-in-law.

Call it hereditary male pattern baldness or an unfortunate side effect of living with me and putting up with all my nonsense, but the fact remains he is quite bald today, even to shaving off what little he has left. In fact, I’m not even sure what he’d have left if he just left everything alone.

Baldness seems to be all the rage these days, and that caused a problem for me earlier this week.

After putting Baby Bear on the school bus, Mr. Lucky and I drove out to MacDill Air Force Base to shop at the exchange store. We hadn’t been out there in probably six months, and were dismayed the find it undergoing heavy renovations. The store was very much open for business as usual, but everything had been switched around and packed close together to make room for the renovation work, leaving aisles half as wide (or should I say narrow) as they were originally.

It was almost impossible to move in that place, especially with a shopping cart. Everyone had to travel in the same direction through any given aisle, or be trapped. It was like being inside a Pac-Man game: We’d turn into one aisle, only to run into a group of spooks coming in the opposite direction. We could either stand our ground and get chewed up, or we could try and back out, only to run into a rogue spook sneaking up behind us and then it’s Game Over.

Before we even had the chance to put a single item in the cart, we made the mistake of leaving it parked at the end of an aisle to make it easier to search and recover what we wanted off the shelves. Mr. Lucky was about to come out with several bags of Halloween candy and place them in the cart when a little old lady swiftly dropped her purse into the baby seat and seized control of it.

Though his arms were full, Mr. Lucky wasn’t about to say, “Excuse me, lady, but that’s my cart you just appropriated.” Old-fashioned gentleman that he is, he let her go (not that she was going to get very far in that crowded rat maze), and I returned to the front of the store to fetch another cart.

But then I couldn’t find my husband. No matter which aisle I went down, everyone else was moving in the opposite direction. At intersections I collided several times with the very same people. Finally I spotted a bald head over in the electronics department. But of course—where else would he be?

I zigged up one aisle and zagged down another to get to him; there was no other way to catch up to him. I finally pushed the cart alongside him and—“You’re not my husband.”

Well, from the back that bald head looked just like him. Mr. Lucky did say he wanted to look at shoes, so I burrowed my way to the shoe department.

Then I heard what sounded like a harmonica. Mr. Lucky enjoys playing his harmonica, but I didn’t know he’d brought it with him. Could he be trying to summon me, without yelling my name? (Only he usually whistles or makes a cricket noise.) Indeed, the sound came from the back of a bald head several aisles over. I pushed the cart that way and—“You’re not playing the harmonica.”

Nor was he my husband. It was yet another bald guy turning a tie rack that creaked with a sound very much like a harmonica.

I felt like I was in a scene eerily similar to one in the Hitchcock movie, North by Northwest, where the cops ran all over the train station grabbing and spinning around dozens of red capped porters in hopes of busting the one most closely resembling Cary Grant; or Raiders of the Lost Ark, with Indy toppling one basket after another in a frantic, futile search for the kidnapped Marion.

Me, I was slithering up to every bald guy I glimpsed as if I were planning to hit on him. I swear every man in the store was as smoothly bald as the aforementioned Pac-Man. The base exchange is always throwing “appreciation days” for the Military, or the Military Spouse, or the Military Family, or the Military Retiree. Did we happen to come here on Military Bald Guy Appreciation Day?

It didn’t help I couldn’t remember what color shirt my husband was wearing. In the end, he found me, as I stuck out more—something to do with being five foot eleven topped with long dark hair.

It could’ve been worse. We could’ve been chasing Baby Bear through this labyrinth—though he might have been easier to pin down. Just follow the thuds, crashes, and shattering of glass right before the alarms start shrieking and the sprinklers commence spraying.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

About That Balloon Boy: A Grieving Mother's Perspective

First, let me say I am beyond relieved and grateful to God that little boy was never in that balloon.

But it now appears the whole thing was a hoax, staged for a publicity stunt.

If that is true, then this boy’s father clearly has no clue what he did to millions of parents who have lost a child, whether through illness or accident or abduction, or that split second of distraction when a child wanders off, perhaps never to be found again . . . or found, but not alive. We’re all familiar with the old fable about crying wolf. Perhaps, when a child goes missing in the future, people are more apt to wonder if it’s another hoax. Precious moments may be wasted trying to discount that possibility before real action is taken, putting an innocent child in deeper, potentially irreversible danger. I hope to God I’m wrong about that—and as a chronic world class worrywart, there’s nothing I love more than to be wrong about something.

But this man did something else: He tore open the wounds of grieving parents all across the country who saw this story on TV, and were brutally reminded of the indescribable horror that comes with losing a child forever, sometimes in circumstances the parents can barely stand to think about—but must live with for the remainder of their lives.

I’m one of those bereaved parents. And to make matters worse, this hullaballoon took place on the anniversary of my daughter’s death. I heard it on the radio as I drove to the grocery store, and the tears started flowing almost immediately. I thought not only of Fiona, but of how easily something like this runaway balloon could happen to my fast and fearless Baby Bear who is autistic and can’t even talk.

I’m at least grateful that Fiona, who succumbed to complications from a rare autoimmune polyglandular disease, died at home surrounded by those who loved her most. But what if my precious Bear ever slipped away from me in the wink of an eye, and fell into a terrifying situation where he had no escape, no comprehension of what was happening, and no one to help him? It would tear me into so many pieces, I don’t know if I could ever pull myself back together again. It’s precisely because of his special needs and recklessness that I’m so overprotective of him, and can never stop worrying about him or what will become of him if—and someday, when—I’m no longer there.

I came home from the grocery store crying, wondering if they can put a man on the moon, then why can’t they figure out how to rescue someone from a runaway balloon? (I hereby confess: Hot air balloons are pretty, but you couldn’t pay me to ride in one, let alone allow one of my children to go up.) For several hours, my heart that’s been shattered before broke again for a helpless boy I thought was trapped in the balloon—and for the frantic parents. I was unable to function until the announcement he was safe—and what a relief it was!

Every time I see a story about the death or disappearance of a child, I know the hell that child’s parents are going through—a hell I would never wish on my worst enemy—that no grieving parent would ever wish on their worst enemy. It’s a nightmare from which there is no awakening.

And don’t give me any of that “closure” crap. Maybe for the rest of the world, closure comes with the autopsy results, or the funeral, or when a body is found or the killer sent to prison. But for that child’s parents, the doorway to hell always remains wide open, gaping before us as we teeter on the threshold, struggling not to plunge into that dark, bottomless abyss, as we rack our grief-crazed minds to figure out how we are supposed to get through the rest of our lives without ever seeing and holding our beloved child again, never to watch him or her grow up and become what could have been but never will be.

It’s a hell these publicity seekers know nothing about, or they wouldn’t have pulled this stunt.

And it’s a hell I hope they never have to know.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Arrival of Fiona Season

Yes, it’s that day again—the one without the cake and candles.

Every year on this day, we take one of those mini-pumpkins to Fiona, and we place it on the narrow ledge around the bottom of her heart-shaped headstone. Thus begins what I call “Fiona Season” which runs from this day until Christmas.

Fiona Season includes not only the best and happiest family holidays, but Fiona’s birthday, which falls on December 20th.

Her brothers have never cared about dressing up in costume for Halloween, but she always did. In fact, she enjoyed wearing costumes more than she liked the trick-or-treating part. On one Halloween I couldn’t even get her to go to anyone’s door for candy. Instead she wanted to just parade around the neighborhood showing off her pink fairy princess costume.

As Halloween 2000 approached, I wondered how we were going to do trick-or-treating in her wheelchair. I asked her if she wanted to be one of the Powerpuff Girls, for she loved Bubbles, Blossom and Buttercup, and since the popularity of those little superheroines was beginning to spike, the costumes were readily available.

But Fiona was adamant. She didn’t want to be one of the Powerpuff Girls. She wanted to be Cleon, a mischievous, giggly little pink fairy. Cleon was just one of numerous cute characters from Fiona’s favorite video game, Bust-A-Move 4:

Cleon is pictured in the lower left-hand corner

One has to give Fiona high marks for originality. Half the girls that year would probably come out as either Bubbles, Blossom or Buttercup, but what kind of girl would have the imagination to go out as the more obscure, but equally playful Cleon?

Fiona Lingefelt.

With only two weeks before Halloween, we were still pondering how to do a Cleon costume when the angels swooped down and took our mischievous, giggly little pink fairy away.

By the time Fiona Season ends, the little pumpkin is starting to go bad, and we toss it into the nearby woods.

In my fanciful thinking, I can’t help hoping that someday, all those little pumpkins will spawn some sort of enchanted pumpkin patch. I have yet to see it.

Or maybe it really is there, but it’s visible to no one but angels and mischievous, giggly little pink fairies.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Today's Border

The rearranging continues:

I noticed this latest configuration only after putting Baby Bear on the school bus this morning.

A long, boring straight line with only two curves? Oh, this is SO not going to last.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Or Maybe It's Just Another Pile of Dirt

I swear I didn’t do this on purpose. But after sweeping Baby Bear’s bedroom floor, I couldn’t help noticing the shape of the dirt pile. I honestly thought it looked like a heart. So I photographed it:

Afterward, as I plugged the camera’s USB cable into my laptop, Mr. Lucky happened to come into my office and ask what kind of photos I was about to upload.

“Let me show you,” I said. “I want to see if you see what I saw.”

In due course the photo appeared on my computer screen. Mr. Lucky was not impressed. “Yeah, so? It’s just a bunch of dirt. Slow picture-taking day? Desperate for an interesting subject? Or is it time I called those guys with the white coats and butterfly nets?”

“The shape!” I exclaimed. “Check out the shape of the dust pile. What does that look like to you?”

“Oh, the shape.” He leaned forward for a better look. “Oh, I think I see now. Is that supposed to be Mickey Mouse?”

So much for my fleeting dreams of the millions of people who would flock to my blog from all over the world, to behold this marvel of dust and dirt and debris, and ponder its cosmic significance.

I only know what it doesn’t signify. I do not love housework!

On the other hand, who doesn’t love Mickey Mouse?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Border Wars

Mr. Lucky mows and trims the lawn. I pull weeds out of the flowerbeds. I hate doing it—in fact, I hate any kind of yard work, for all that I love a beautifully flourishing garden—but it must be done.

A couple of years ago he spiffed up the flowerbed in front of our house, adding a fancy brick border and covering the ground with reddish-brown rocks. He worked very hard on it and I’ve always liked what he did, especially adding the hibiscus and sunny alamanda bushes.

But this last summer, he got it into his head to expand the flowerbed by moving the bricks farther out. You can see from those reddish-brown rocks where the original flowerbed begins and the expansion ends—at least as of today:

Each time he goes outside, he shifts a few bricks around, saying the border either curves too much or not enough. Each time he calls me to come out afterward and admire his latest handiwork while he regales me with a detailed account of what he did.

“I pulled out these two bricks from over here, and put them down over there,” he’ll say. “I don’t want the border to be too straight, I want it to curve a little more, so I removed several bricks from over here and now I don’t know what to do with these leftover bricks.”

Not to worry. The next day, he figures out what to do with the leftover bricks: He uses them to stretch the flowerbed farther out. Again I am summoned to come out and praise his latest stroke of genius.

“But the border is too straight right along here,” he says. “So we’ll have to find some more bricks.”

And the beat goes on. The lawn is gradually becoming part of the flowerbed. In the meantime, he’s expanding the amount of space for weeds to flourish—and for me to pull.

For some reason, the weeds become more obvious on the flowerbed side of the border.

After putting Baby Bear on the school bus this morning, I went out to remove as much as I could. The sprinklers ran last night, so everything was still quite damp, and that’s when I learned something I never knew all these years: Weeds are easier to pull when the ground is wet.

As you can see by the photos, it doesn’t look as if I did much—but it looked a lot worse beforehand, and I filled a 13-gallon plastic bag! The green stuff pictured toward the front of the newly laid border was the lawn until about a week ago, and dollar weeds are already feasting on it:

My back still hurts from doing it. I know I shouldn’t bend over to pull them, and it’s death to squat. I didn’t want to sit on the bricks themselves as they had little ants scurrying all over them, and the last thing I need in my life right now is—well—ants in my pants.

I suppose I should accept that I’m getting old, and invest in some kneepads.

We still haven’t decided what to plant in the newly expanded place. I would like a flowering tree of some sort. He mentioned a birdbath. I like garden statuary (but no gnomes, please). And I love fountains and fish ponds, but we have to keep a few steps ahead of Aquaboy, aka Baby Bear.

I told Mr. Lucky if he keeps shuffling those bricks around and extending that border, before long there won’t be any lawn left for him to mow—just a whole front yard full of weeds for me to pull.

His reply? “That's the idea!”

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Beethoven's Turkish March

Guess who keeps playing it over . . . and over . . . and over . . . on his electronic keyboard?

The keyboard has some sort of function that plays a variety of popular classical tunes, as well as sound effects. The one simulating fireworks is guaranteed to upset the dogs, but fortunately our Bear isn’t as addicted to pops, whistles and explosions as he is to Beethoven’s marcia alla turca.

Earlier this week he was into Pachelbel’s Canon in D, of which I’m very fond, but to my frustration he’d only let the keyboard play the first six notes before he hit the start button again. Still, that’s infinitely preferable to the girl I knew in the Air Force, who woke up half the barracks at three-thirty in the morning by repeatedly playing Dr. Hook’s “When You’re in Love With a Beautiful Woman” on her boom box (thanks to her, I’ve absolutely hated that song ever since); or even the time Mr. Lucky dinged around with a CD and cassette player to make an obnoxious twenty-minute long version of the opening notes from Michael Jackson’s “Bad.”

I have to admit that Beethoven’s Turkish March is a festive, catchy tune, very upbeat and lighthearted. I wouldn’t mind Baby Bear playing it so much, except I find myself bouncing and skipping around the house in time to it. When I was a little girl, my father had it on a record, played by an orchestra, and I loved it because it reminded me of a merry-go-round.

It’s perfect background music for the three-ring circus that is my household.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Real Baby Bear Comes Back--and Strikes Back

On my bookshelf is a well worn book club edition of The Second Lady by Irving Wallace, published in 1980. It’s a Cold War political thriller about a KGB plot to abduct the First Lady of the United States and replace her with an almost perfect double in hopes of gleaning a vital piece of classified information from the President.* Needless to say, the imposter made a few blunders that nearly blew her cover and raised a few suspicions among certain members of her staff.

But not the President. A typical husband in the grand American tradition, he didn’t notice anything the least bit different about his wife.

The First Lady’s mother would have known something was amiss—if she weren’t conveniently deceased.

Which brings us to Baby Bear. I recently blogged about his uncharacteristically good behavior this summer. I’ve been wondering if he was replaced with a Second Bear these past two months, only to be switched back last week when Mr. Lucky took our older son up to Georgia to visit his grandparents. Baby Bear suddenly went back to being his old rampaging, pillaging, plundering self. Do I detect a sinister KGB plot, or a mere reaction to his father’s absence?

I wanted our chocolate beagle, Bart, to go to Georgia with them. Mr. Lucky agreed, until the night before his departure when his father called to declare, “No dogs!” Showing no fear of his own wife, Mr. Lucky complied. He was gone four days, leaving me with the Bear, two dogs, and no car. And—perhaps worst of all—no chocolate.

So what went wrong in his absence? An homage to the late Mr. Wallace and The Book of Lists of which he was co-author:

1. Bart is the same dog who balks at going outside when his master is away. I suppose I should be thankful that when he expresses his displeasure, at least he does it on the bathroom rug.

2. Barely an hour after Mr. Lucky left, the remote controller for Baby Bear’s Playstation went kaput and I couldn’t get it to work again, not even after charging it up or with the cable still plugged in. I had to call Mr. Lucky on his cellphone for advice. Well, okay, not so much for advice as to cuss him out for having the temerity to leave me when he should have known the controller would die an hour later. He instructed me to turn off the Playstation, unplug everything, then plug everything back in, and reboot the Playstation, talking me through a convoluted process that reminded me of when they tried to restore power to Jurassic Park and get it back online. And while I didn’t have any velociraptors chewing my arms off, I did have to contend with two barking dogs, one angry, frustrated Bear, and a thunderstorm that caused a sudden power surge, briefly knocking everything out and ending our phone conversation in a burst of static. Mr. Lucky probably thought I slammed the phone down on him in rage, and I wouldn’t have blamed him for making the assumption.

3. Later, the controller decided to work properly again. Then Baby Bear dropped it behind the entertainment center. Retrieving it was a job for Indiana Jones, complete with huge clouds of old dust, falling objects (note to self: next time, remove framed photos from top of entertainment center before venturing behind it), and sights no human has seen for seven hundred years.

4. Baby Bear has rediscovered water. When he isn’t dumping it on himself, he’s The Human Fountain, throwing and spewing it all over the house.

5. He’s figured out how to turn on the shower in his bathroom. The shower makes almost no noise compared to the tub faucet, and he seems to know it. I lost count of how many times I found him sitting in the tub beneath the shower spray. Sometimes he was clothed, sometimes not.

6. He loves to rock back and forth. He rocks hard enough on the family room sofa that he can actually make the sofa itself rock back, and a new hole in the drywall behind it.

7. Mr. Lucky called the next morning from his parents’ house. His father had taken his mother to an appointment, and since he didn’t have a key to their house, he and the Crown Prince would be stuck there for a few hours until the parental units came back. I was hard pressed to commiserate with his dilemma.

8. Not surprisingly, I have 0 words to report at the weekly check-in for the
TARA Book Challenge.

9. I had no chocolate.

10. And I still have no chocolate. I AM OWED CHOCOLATE!

*Now why can't I write blurbs that concise for my own books?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Puzzle Time: Find the Hidden Stains in This Granite!

What I like about my granite counter: It looks clean when it isn’t.

What I don’t like about my granite counter: It looks clean when it isn’t.

I can’t just wipe and walk away as I could with previous kitchen counters. No, I have to turn on every available light, and examine the counter from every possible angle, squatting down till I’m eye level with the surface, to better see the spots I missed. I may have to run my fingertips across the surface as if I’m reading Braille, when in fact I’m scanning for little dried blobs of food stuck to the counter, that require more elbow grease than in the initial routine wipe. Then comes the removal of fingerprints. This is followed by another examination that reveals streaks from the wiping.

What I need—but I don’t think it’s been invented yet—is a handheld “granite counter stain detector.” You wave it just over the surface of the counter and whenever it detects a hidden stain, it beeps. The bigger and gunkier the stain, the louder and quicker the detector beeps.

I’m reminded of something Dolly Parton’s character said in the movie Steel Magnolias: “There is no such thing as natural beauty.” She was referring to how a woman has to put a lot of effort into keeping herself attractive.

I think she could just as easily be referring to a granite countertop.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Portrait of a Blue One-Eyed Mummy

That's really Baby Bear wrapped in a fitted bed sheet he pulled from the linen closet for an extremely rare midday nap on the living room sofa.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Baby Bear: 56 Days Without Making Me Scream in Horror

You know how some construction sites come with signs boasting X number of days since an accident? Or maybe you’ve seen that old episode of The Simpsons and the trailer park with a sign crowing Y number of days since the last tornado. I may be tempting fate with this post, but as of today, it’s been 56 days since the last DOBBO, or Disaster Of Baby Bear Origin.

The last DOBBO was on June 6th, when he upended his TV onto the floor so he could use its table as a boost to reach the pull-chain on his ceiling fan.

Not that I’m complaining, but we’re more than halfway through summer vacation and he hasn’t committed any blogworthy atrocities. No floods. No new holes in the drywall. Nothing broken, either on him or around the house. No manager in a pizzeria walking up to me and saying, “Excuse me, ma’am, but is that your son behind the counter throwing calzones at the health inspector?” None of that. And I’ve even cut back on his medication doses!

His typical summer day consists of playing Crash Bandicoot Warped—every day he rips through most levels with minimal loss of life; he knows all the moves and where to jump and pick up gems, what to avoid and how. And yet, he doesn’t use his two thumbs to manipulate the Playstation controller like most mortals. He uses but one hand.

He’s also very much in love with his cordless battery-powered keyboard that we gave him for Christmas. It’s about 37 inches long and so lightweight, he carries it from one room to another. When he’s not playing Crash, he’s playing tunes and rhythms on this keyboard as he rocks back and forth. We use rechargeable batteries in it and I have to charge them up every night after he goes to bed—where he sometimes takes the keyboard to let the rhythm sounds lull him to sleep—because they’re never good for more than a day and if the keyboard dies on him—well, you don’t want to know.

Let us close by knocking on wood.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Someone Please Stop My Husband

Mr. Lucky has long dreamed of replacing the carpet between the kitchen and children’s bathroom with something else. Initially he considered ceramic tile to match that in the kitchen and bathroom, but now that his dream is closer to reality (see previous blog entry) he speaks of laminate wood flooring.

I don’t have a problem with this.

He went on to talk of extending the wood flooring to the dining area and family room.

I can’t say as I have a problem with this, either. In fact, I think it might improve the appearance of the family room. And I’m not the one who’s going to have to unhook and dismantle every electronic component in the entertainment center.

He assured me this wouldn’t be done all at once; that we would do first the hallway, then a month or two later, the dining area, followed by the family room. Eventually, he said, he’d like to do the rest of the house.

Now, I do have a problem with this.

“Fine, but not my office,” I said.

“Yes your office,” he countered. “Think of it. No more dog hair, no more odors, and no more stains that have to be soaked up and sponged and worked out over time. All you have to do is wipe them up.”

I just stared at him in horror.

“What’s the problem?” he asked.

“Problem? Oh, no problem at all. Just that it would mean having to move all my books. Again!”

“Well, of course it would,” he said, with the blithe air of one who knew he would not have to get stuck with that thankless task, since he’d be the one laying the floor. “But it would only be for one day.”

He totally missed the point. The fact remains the books would have to be removed from the shelves, transported to another room along with the bookcases, then transported back and reshelved.

As Betty Boop might say, “No! No! A thousand times, NO!”

Please don’t make me move my books again. If necessary, I’ll start an online petition against it. I’ll stage a sit-in, and go on a housework strike!

So what if he thinks I’m already on day 8,031 of the latter.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Another Day, Another Flood . . . Another Drink, Please

Last week I found a wet spot on the carpet, in the hallway leading from Bear Country to the kitchen. I chalked it up to a certain boy dumping cups of water onto the floor, and laid a towel over it.

Yet the spot wouldn’t go away. Or it would dry up the next day, then mysteriously appear again, usually in the evenings. Was it possible Aquaboy was pouring water in the exact same spot at about the same time every day? Mr. Lucky and I agreed this was quite likely; it was just a matter of catching him but we never did. Then I made a horrifying discovery yesterday morning, after nearly a week of drenching rain over the Sunshine State.

The wet spot had grown and spread—or actually, the spot had spread from an even larger splotch in the adjacent linen closet. I didn’t see it at first because I had about a hundred old worn out bed sheets stacked on the floor of the linen closet. That’s right, I never throw out old sheets because of some nutty idea I have that I might find another use for them one day.

I alerted Mr. Lucky and told him we had a serious problem. He’s been wanting to replace the hallway carpet with tile, and now that he had a good excuse, he promptly ripped up the carpet and padding beneath. Neither of us could find the source of the leak anywhere.

There was no way Baby Bear could have dumped that much water, only to have it soak straight through the carpet to the foundation and underneath all those sheets on the closet floor. The water would have had to show up on the kitchen floor, too, and surely I would have noticed it when I slipped and went flying onto my tush.

No, this was caused by something else, something infinitely more sinister, and what with all the rain we’d had lately, horrible visions filled my head—of plumbing doctors coming to the house with their fancy diagnostic equipment to detect leaks that can’t be seen with the naked eye. Of some guy in a hardhat taking a jackhammer to my floor to reach the pipes underneath, and of water spewing up through my roof like a geyser. Of a sinkhole forming beneath the house, threatening to suck our entire home and everything in it into the muddy bowels of the earth.

Worst of all, of having to move all my books YET AGAIN!

It only took about five minutes for me to become thoroughly freaked out, while Mr. Lucky counseled patience as the floor dried and he watched to see if the water returned.

Sure enough, it did after dinner last night. And he traced the water to this source:

A perfectly harmless canine water cooler
I’d filled it for the dogs about an hour before the water showed up in the linen closet again. It had a crack I never saw when filling it. The water just couldn’t flow across the kitchen floor where I’d be most likely to spot the problem right away, now could it? Oh no, instead it had to seep behind that knotty wooden object (which holds the garbage), beneath the molding and into the linen closet on the other side of the wall.

And here I thought the dogs had been slurping up so much water recently because of the hot summer weather. Lately I’ve been filling it every single night, about every twenty-four hours. Yet I never made the connection between the dogs’ water supply and the mysterious appearance of the water spot in the hallway each evening.

Thank heavens that’s all it was—and for once it wasn’t even an Act of Baby Bear.
We now return to our regularly scheduled insanity in progress.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Why Am I Not Surprised?

Who Should Paint You: Pablo Picasso

You are an expressive soul who shows many emotions, with many subtleties

Only a master painter could represent your glorious contradictions

Sunday, June 14, 2009

From the Nosebleed Section

So I was in my office, sitting at the computer, and I could hear Baby Bear running all over the house, whooping and laughing and evidently enjoying himself. I didn’t hear any crashing or shattering or house-shaking thumps. Finally he galloped into my office. I turned in my swivel chair to see two things on his face: A big smile . . . and blood. It was also splattered on his hands and arms and chest.

I shrieked. He laughed. Fortunately it only took a few seconds for me to ascertain he had a nosebleed and had been wiping at it, hence the horror flick appearance. I took him into the bathroom to ply him with damp washcloths, and called for his dad to look around for bloodstains or any evidence of how the nosebleed might have started. He found none.

Mr. Lucky had been watching TV, and said he hadn’t noticed anything amiss. And I believed him, because anytime I come home after having been out for several hours, the whole house looks as if it’s been pillaged and plundered by barbarians, and he always insists the kids must have done all of it just in the past few minutes, because up to that point he was watching them like a hawk the whole time. Uh huh. He watches them until I pull into the driveway, then he directs his attention elsewhere while my three little darlings gather in a huddle: “Mom just pulled up, so we have to act fast if we want to really make her yell. Sis, you ransack the living room and dining room, and this time, see if you can pull the chandelier low enough to swing it into the curio cabinet. Bro, you do the kitchen, and don’t forget to leave the fridge door open after you spread the leftovers all over the floor. I’ll take the bedrooms and bathroom and see how much stuff I can flush down the toilet before it finally overflows. Good thing we don’t have to worry about the family room, it’s always a wreck.”

It’s like Cat in the Hat in reverse, the part where the goldfish sees their mother's shapely leg out on the sidewalk and they must put everything back in order before she opens the door. I am to believe all this mass destruction took place in the less than single minute it takes me to pull into the driveway, get out of the car, and walk into a house that looks eligible for federal disaster aid, only to find Things One, Two and Three innocently occupied with a Disney cartoon, and Mr. Lucky on the computer playing Sim Galactic Empire or some such.

Fortunately Baby Bear was very cooperative while I stopped his nosebleed and cleaned him up, but of course he ignored my advice to take it easy for a while. I still don’t know what brought it on, and he’s been fine ever since.

But does nothing faze that child?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

In Which Baby Bear Shows Off His Problem-Solving Skills

Remember Baby Bear's Ceiling Fan Tetherball, that led to the shortening of the pull chain for his overhead light? Since then, he's taken to batting the pull chain on the ceiling fan in my office, while I've had to use a stepping-stool to turn his bedroom light off without having to turn off the fan.

So guess what happens when he wakes up at seven in the morning--and on a Saturday, too!--and he wants to turn on his light, but he can't reach that two-inch long pull chain under the ceiling fan? He doesn't have a chair or stepping stool handy, and he doesn't want to wake up Mom.

What's a Bear to do? How about this:

The ensuing thunk launched me out of bed, while Mr. Lucky remained sound asleep.

The table is supposed to sit lengthwise parallel to that wall. The 27-inch TV sat atop it. I think the above picture explains what he did in well under a thousand words. And yes, the TV is upside-down, still attached to the DVD player on the table's lower level.

I could not budge it, not even to turn it upright. I had to wait until Mr. Lucky woke up.

The amazing thing is, the TV still works, though the color is way off now. Everything has a purplish-greenish tinge to it.

Time to show off my own problem-solving skills: I suppose we'll have to get a new, longer pull chain for him to bat at and wind around the fan's motor housing. But do I dare leave the stepping stool in his room until then? Or do I use the wall switch to shut off the light and the fan? (I like to keep the air circulating in his room at night.)

Or do we get a TV table on wheels, and roll the TV out of his room at night? We're already doing that with his computer.

Oh, and did I mention we're only two days into summer vacation?

The bright side: Baby Bear isn't hurt.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I'll Believe Anything Except Reality

Recently, I saw the latest film adaptation of the Jules Verne classic, Journey to the Center of the Earth, starring Brendan Fraser. While it didn’t blow me away, I also didn’t feel it was an hour and a half wasted. It was a vast improvement over a made-for-TV version I saw many years ago, that reeked of “pilot for a TV series that was never picked up” and stole two hours of my life I’ll never get back.

WARNING: Movie spoilers ahead, in case you haven’t seen it but it’s your lifelong dream to one day do so.

While I know the whole “Hollow Earth” idea is just a lot of hooey, I still like the idea of a world within a world. I thought it rather cool that they went in by way of Iceland, and came out via Italy. I didn’t question the speed and ease of their long descent, whether T-rex skulls are seaworthy, or if there should have been issues with gravity once they arrived at earth’s center. I was willing to suspend disbelief and go along with the giant fossilized mushrooms, the flat rocks floating in mid-air like an asteroid field, and the glow-in-the-dark birds sent to help the humans in Disneyesque fashion. And what movie about a lost world within our own real world is complete without the usual rampaging dinosaurs?

I was content to swallow every bite of this fantastic buffet of make-believe, except for one little scene in which they stretched things too far even for my wild imagination: Brendan and his leading lady get thrown out of a runaway mine cart and land flat on their backs—only to stand up, dust themselves off, and walk away.

It was one of those moments where I had to shout at the TV, “Oh, come on!” They should have been killed, or at the very least spent the rest of the movie in body casts and traction.

I have a similar reaction to the 2005 version of
King Kong. I love that movie. I could believe the idea of a remote island in the farthest reaches of the South Seas, where a tiny civilization of people were forced to build a seaside fortress to protect themselves from the giant predatory beasts roaming the rest of the island. I was sold on the notion of the giant ape, the giant mosquitoes, the giant centipedes, the giant everything. I was willing to overlook the men’s superhuman ability to dodge and outrun the stampeding dinosaurs while toting heavy photographic equipment, though I would’ve just ducked into the nearest nook or cranny and let the beasts pass.

Yes, movie fans, I happily gulped it down, every outrageous morsel, till they returned to New York and Kong got to enjoy a playful, heartwarming few moments sliding around an ice-covered pond with Naomi Watts.

This is Mr. Lucky’s least favorite part of the movie. “Oh, come on!” he yells. “Do you know how thick that ice would have to be—and how deep that pond would have to be for ice that thick—to hold the weight of that ape?”

He does have a point. The ice never so much as cracked beneath the weight of the giant ape. Yet a single volley from an army tank blew it to splinters, and Kong was off and running to the Empire State Building, blonde girl literally in hand.

And that’s where I usually get pulled out of the story. Shouldn’t it be so windy at the top of the Empire State Building, that she can barely stand up? And since it is made quite obvious to the viewer that they’re in New York in the dead of winter, one can only imagine the wind chill factor: Shouldn’t she be freezing to death in that skimpy, sleeveless white gown?

I try to explain that away by assuring myself it must be very warm and cozy clenched inside Kong’s fist. But what about when he puts her down to bat at the planes? Or when he finally falls?

Why am I so willing to accept the more fantastic elements of a story, while yelling, “Oh, come on!” at the more mundane, every day elements—the situations I’m more likely to experience than fleeing dinosaurs or falling almost four thousand miles down a cave in three minutes while carrying on a conversation with my fellow fallers?

One final thought on Journey: As I watched it, I found myself contemplating the idea that Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne were two different writers with two different voices, who each wrote a story with the same basic premise: A human ventures down a hole to find a completely different world.

It must have been those giant mushrooms.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jasmine, Bees, and a Butterfly

After some much needed rain every day for the past week, my jasmine tree has exploded with blossoms and buzzing bees dancing all around it:

And because of all the rain, the grass is growing and can't be mowed till everything dries out somewhat. But oh, our whole back yard is perfumed with jasmine and it smells wonderful!

In addition to the bees, yesterday I saw what looked like a huge monarch butterfly fluttering near the tree, which made me think of Fiona. A huge fan of The Simpsons, one of her favorite episodes was where Bart told Lisa that he believed when you die, you get to come back as whatever you want. And Bart planned to come back as a butterfly.

When Lisa asked why, he replied, "Because no one ever suspects the butterfly."

Fiona always cracked up at that. And now, every time a butterfly crosses my path, I wonder . . .

Friday, May 22, 2009

Some Unhappy Faces in the Cereal Bowl This Morning

But at least no one appears to be screaming bloody murder.

If only you guys would come out of the bag looking like Elvis or Angelina or even the Virgin Mary, I could sell you on eBay, make a few bucks, and maybe get my 15 minutes on the local news.

Until then, you're still just Bear food.

Monday, May 18, 2009

About That New Washer

Our old washing machine, almost ten years old and the cheapest we could afford at time of purchase, was starting to act up. Or rather, it was stopping, which required no acting whatsoever.

I would open the lid, thinking the load I’d started over an hour earlier was done, only to find the clothes still soaking in water. I closed the lid; it did not restart. I kicked and pounded it, loudly uttering the standard chant of four-letter, one-syllable words. Another lift and drop of the lid, another good fist-pounding, another proclamation of eternal condemnation, and the washer would grudgingly resume its cycle.

Changing cycles did not solve the problem, and soon I worried that one day the machine would simply die in the middle of a soak. I told Mr. Lucky we needed to do something before that happened and we’d have to find a Laundromat and start dedicating our lives to hoarding quarters.

I don’t even know where the nearest Laundromat is. I’ve heard they’re not the way they used to be, all hot and noisy and full of screaming kids and suspiciously shady characters; that nowadays some are just like Chuck E. Cheese. But with my luck, the nearest one is still the old-fashioned kind “where a laundress can be a laundress.”

’Twas not I, but Mr. Lucky who decided it would be cheaper to buy a new washer than to have the old one repaired. I coveted the front-loading type, if only because it didn’t have that annoying, aptly-named agitator. At least once a month we have to buy a new waterproof mattress pad for Baby Bear’s bed, because they get chewed up by the agitator. When loading the old washer, I had to put larger pieces in the bottom, saving smaller items for the top, lest they get trapped beneath the agitator, or in the case of bras, twisted around it. In fact, there’s nothing that agitates me more than trying to pull a single bra out of the washing machine, only to find one of the straps is tightly wound around the rest of the load.

Since Mr. Lucky also wanted a front-loader, we got one. I would have liked a matching dryer, too—not just on general principle, but because most of the time I have to run the old one through two cycles just to get the clothes dry. (And I do too clean out the lint trap every time.)

But I love my new washer, though it’s taken some getting used to. For one thing, unlike its predecessor, it makes almost no noise, so I find myself going into the laundry room every few minutes to reassure myself it’s still running. I don’t think it would soothe a colicky baby!

And in an odd twist, since the new washer was set up, the dryer has started working more efficiently again. I haven’t had to run double-cycles to get loads completely dry. Apparently there’d been a kink in the giant silver hose behind it all this time, and it became unkinked when Mr. Lucky shifted everything around to install the new washer.

That could have been a serious fire hazard.

I did have one reservation about a front-loading model: It’s—well—front-loading. Meaning a certain Bear might sneak into the laundry room during the rinse cycle, open the door, and presto! Indoor flash flood!

But a very smart washing machine designer/engineer, who obviously has small children and deserves a Nobel Prize, equipped it with a child safety lock!

Now why can’t they do that with refrigerators?
Or even ovens?

Friday, May 15, 2009

In His Own Words: Mr. Lucky Has to Buy a New Washing Machine

I bought a new (sigh) washing machine the other day at the behest of my loving wife . . . $600.00 for one of those fancy frontloading models! Why can’t she just be happy with a scrub board and an old bucket like my mama used? But NO! She needs a fancy state-of-the-art super deluxe cleaning machine.

I personally think the money could have been better spent on something that, in my opinion, is of greater importance . . . you know ... an LCD widescreen TV perhaps, maybe a set of professional harmonicas . . . I have always wanted to buy a motorcycle, to be an “Easy Rider” driving the American backroads with the wind blowing through my long flowing locks . . . any of these I would make better use of than a washer.

But alas, my wife demands that I wear clean clothes. That is when I actually put them in the hamper instead of the many little piles I have placed strategically around the house, guaranteeing that at least once a day she will shout, “I don’t wash clothes UNLESS they are in the hamper!” Or that other classic: “I am NOT your mother!” Of course I have, in the past, tried to wash them myself, but I was quickly chided for “doing it wrong.” What do I care if the darks and lights get combined, or whether my pockets get emptied . . . as long as they are cleaned. And yes, I know it’s a bit silly to wash just one shirt by itself . . . but I didn’t want any lint or dog hair on it from her clothes.

Well, next on Her list is a new dishwasher. I’m happy with our current method, piling the dirty dishes on the floor and letting the dogs lick them clean . . . aren’t dogs’ mouths the cleanest on the planet? . . . anyway that’s what my mama told me.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Looky What I Got for Mother's Day!

Three peachy-pink roses and three little bears--brown for my two sons and white for my daughter--each bearing three heart-shaped boxes containing three heart-shaped candies that say "#1 Mom."
I love my bear cubs . . . and their Papa Bear. He's just right.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Even When the Moon Isn't Full . . .

Baby Bear has been busy this week. Among his latest and most notable achievements/atrocities:

The Flying Toybox: Lately he’s taken to emptying his toybox, one of those all-purpose heavy-duty plastic storage containers. Then he lies on his bed and flips the box around on his feet, occasionally kicking it across the room. Object: To scare the bejabbers out of the dogs and the parental units every time the box slams into the wall with a thunderous bang. Bonus for knocking something over and breaking it. We believe this is why new dents are suddenly showing up in his bedroom wall so close to the ceiling. Though he’s getting there, he’s still not quite tall or long-legged enough to bang his head or kick his feet that high.

Ceiling Fan Tetherball: He loves to play a form of tetherball with the pull chains on ceiling fans. Object: To get the pull chain tangled every which way around the three light fixtures below the fan and the screws that hold them in place. Bonus for throwing the pull chain over the fan blades, causing it to get wound around the motor housing.

This particular chain is the one that turns the lights on and off. Of course he had to score his Bonus after dark, and of course the lights were off, so I couldn’t turn them on to see what I was doing. And of course he had to do it while Mr. Lucky was at work.

Usually I have to get out a foot high stepping stool to untangle the pull chain from the lights. But for the Bonus round, not only did I have to go out to the garage to get the stepladder, but I had move his bed and shovel all those toys he dumped out of the way to better reach the area above the fan blades, where the chain was tightly wound. Did I mention it was dark, with the only available light coming from the hallway?

I don’t know how long I was perched up there, turning the blades one way and then the other, occasionally having to step down and move the ladder to see what was happening to the chain on the other side (in near darkness), but eventually I managed to break the chain, and now all that remains is a two-inch pull.

Which means anytime I want to turn off his lights but leave his fan running (usually at night), I have to break out the stepping stool to do it.

When we bought this house, we figured the 10 foot ceilings would be nice to have because we’re all so tall. At least I thought we were.

The School Toilet: He broke the toilet seat in his classroom. I don’t know if we’re going to get a bill for this, but I only hope the school doesn’t buy their toilet seats from the same source as the Defense Department.

The Home Toilet: I find puddles and wet footprints all over the house, yet I don’t hear any water running in his bathroom, which is right next door to my office. Then, just last night, I caught him in flagrante delicto, dipping his stocking foot into the toilet bowl.

If he’s dipping anything else in there, I’d rather not know.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When One Phone Recording Talks to Another

Our answering machine has picked up a bizarre recorded message several times over the past month or so. Oddly enough, the recording asks for a different person each time—but that person is never someone named Lingefelt.

A woman’s deceptively pleasant voice does most of the talking except when stating the name of the person they’re looking for, then the voice becomes deeper, stiffer, and—dare I say it—more menacing. (All proper nouns are fictional, see previous blog entry.)

“This is National Credit Data Collection Systems of America with an important phone call for Lausanne Davin. If you are Lausanne Davin, please press 1. If you are not Lausanne Davin, please press 2.”

I don’t pick up the phone to press anything, I just listen. Next comes my favorite part of the message:

“If you pressed 1, please stay on the line. If you pressed 2, please do not listen to the rest of this message.”

Excuse me? You dialed my phone number. You’re taking up valuable recording space on my answering machine. Your blathering has interrupted me and pulled me away from matters more important, even if they’re not as blogworthy. This is my home, my private domain, and through your own ineptitude, you have intruded upon it. Therefore, since you are now here, I jolly well intend to listen to every word you have to say henceforth.

It’s as if the recorded caller has never heard of answering machines or voice mail, or they might say, “If you are Lausanne Davin, please pick up.” But they can’t make her pick up anymore than they can make me not listen to the rest of their message.

So I listen to the rest of the message, even though I’m not supposed to. Apparently they don’t want me to know that Lausanne is in deep doo-doo debt and has some serious ’splainin’ to do to her creditors. She is to call a certain number between certain hours on certain days, unless she wants her name reported to certain agencies.

Only why don’t they want me to know? If they think she can be reached at this number, wouldn’t they appreciate me taking the message for her, perhaps even talking to her as a friend who cares, and persuade her to pay her bills? Not that I intend to give her a loan myself, now that I know from this message she'll never repay the money.

Or are they afraid I might use the information against her, spread mean gossip about her? “You remember Lausanne Davin, don’t you? Well, guess what I heard about her? She’s—(gasp!)—behind on her credit card payments! Can you believe it?”

In this day and age, that’s shockingly juicy.

But here’s what bewilders me about this phone call: If you have an answering machine or voice mail, why pick up and press 1 or 2, regardless of whether you’re Lausanne or Karen, if you’re going to hear their message anyway?

Given the circumstances and my own overly suspicious nature (oh, go ahead and call me paranoid if you like, it won't be the first time), I can’t help thinking that if—just for kicks—I picked up this phone call and pressed 1 pretending to be Lausanne, I would not get the same message I’m not supposed to listen to.

Instead, I would get trouble.

I could get trapped in a web of “reverse identity theft” in which I would somehow find myself on the hook for Lausanne’s debts—which could very well extend to overdue library books, parking tickets, arrest warrants, fines from her homeowner’s association for displaying the wrong colored gnome in her flower bed, and don’t even get me started on the unwanted “parting gifts” she might have accumulated from her string of ne’er-do-well exes. Lausanne Davin may not even exist at all, but only be a figment of someone’s imagination, invented solely for that person’s fiendish amusement and potential profit. (Hmm—rather like the “real” Lausanne Davin.)

On the other hand, if that were so, then why have the "press 2" option?

I would rather not know, but instead be thankful for the answering machine. It screens, baffles, and amuses.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Writers: Ever Googled Your Characters' Names?

I did recently—not that I expected to find a few of them now have their own websites and blogs; nor was I looking to IM them (“Please check all the bars for my Muse, then both of you report to my current WIP immediately.”) I was planning to blog a particular subject that required me to use an alias instead of someone’s real name. And since I’ve written many books with many characters, I thought why not engage in some desperately cheap and shameless self-promotion by using one of my heroines’ names?

But considering the somewhat delicate nature of the proposed blog topic—it could potentially cause embarrassment to a person who really does have that name—I thought I’d better Google the first and last names of some of my heroines to see who could be affected.

As it turns out, with the exception of female characters born into a fictional European royal family that starred in earlier novels now crammed under my bed—where I believe they will remain until they turn to compost (the novels, not the princesses)—all my girls are out there.

I was especially shocked to find both Natalie and Athena have posted racy pictures of themselves online. Well, maybe not Natalie so much—when I was working with her, she was always being haunted and bitten on the butt by past embarrassments and indiscretions, and I don’t doubt she continues to be dogged to this day; but I always thought Athena was too goody-goody gracious to stumble into such antics. Sheesh, you think you know somebody . . . Until now I would’ve trusted that woman with my kid, my house key, maybe even my PIN number . . . but alas, my opinion of her has just been flushed down the toilet. And to add insult to injury, it’s now backed up, because unlike Athena’s high and mighty royal throne, mine is just a low-flow.

I finally Googled the name of her husband’s grandmother, who was born Lausanne Davin. That particular first/last name combo didn’t pop up anywhere. And yes, she was born in and named after the Swiss city on Lake Geneva. I’ve heard “Geneva” used as a girl’s name, and I always thought “Lausanne” would be just as pretty a name, so that’s how she got her name. And while she will always be one of my favorite heroines of my own creation, the books in which she appeared absolutely sucked and will never see the light of day again. She was one of my lab mice who endured many explosions of smoke in different colors while I learned how to write something resembling a novel. In those novels and in her file I might have a ton of dirt on her, while on the World Wide Web, she’s so clean she squeaks—and being a lab mouse has nothing to do with it.

But that’s about to change once I use her in my next blog entry.

Friday, April 17, 2009

In Which Karen Jumps Mr. Lucky's Claim

Remember when Mr. Lucky found a computer work center at the side of the road and brought it home? Initially he thought it would be ideal for me, but it wouldn’t fit in my office--formerly the Crown Prince’s bedchamber located just off the family room. (For all the gory and literally soaking wet details on how that became my office, click here.) So Mr. Lucky installed it in his own office--a somewhat more secluded room located in the same hallway as Baby Bear’s lair and private waterpark aka the bathroom—and gave me the table he’d been using for his desktop.

This arrangement worked well for a while, until several months later when Mr. Lucky treated himself to a brand new flat screen TV for Christmas. The phone company was here all day installing gadgets and wiring to make the acquisition worthwhile, and when Mr. Lucky said their package came with free HBO and a zillion other channels that played the same two-star movies ad nauseam while saving the good stuff for their occasional promotional weekends, I knew wild horses couldn’t drag him into his office again. No force in heaven or on earth can fight the power of free HBO over my husband.

Sure enough, he took his laptop and has since built himself a formidable nest at the best end of the sofa. Papers pile up on the end table in the corner between sofa and love seat. While I haven’t actually seen him do it, I am quite sure that when he runs out of space on the end table, he takes his arm and slides it part way across the table, sending a pile of junk on the far side over the edge and giving himself a few inches of new space to fill up.

From the nest, he had a straight shot of less than half a dozen paces to the door of my office. Even with the door closed while I worked, I had this eerie sense of him camping right outside with an ice chest, sleeping bag and oversized umbrella, as if he were waiting for Hannah Montana tickets to go on sale.

My writing suffered. I started agitating to take over his office. Doing so would give me better insulation from the constant drivel of 10 Ways to Break Up in 30 Days with a 40 Year Old Virgin droning right outside my door 24/7; plus I’d be right across the hall from Baby Bear’s lair and better able to monitor him.

“I wouldn’t always be running in front of the TV and blocking your view to stop the kid from flooding the house again,” I argued. (I could always hear Bear turning on the tub from my office, while Mr. Lucky would remain in his nest with water sloshing up to his chin before he finally noticed something amiss—usually when sparks flew out of the back of the waterlogged TV and blew it out.)

But Mr. Lucky’s answer was always, “No!” He had every intention of going back in there . . . someday. After the holidays . . . then it was after he got his W-2’s . . . then Baby Bear got a cold and had to stay home from school on the very day Mr. Lucky said he planned to do the taxes . . . after Baby Bear goes back to school . . . oops, now Mr. Lucky caught Baby Bear’s cold, but as soon as he recovered, he’d go back . . . now spring break was coming and Baby Bear would be home for a whole week, so now Mr. Lucky had to wait until after spring break to go back to his office.

That's when I yelled, “No!” I wanted that office, and I wanted it before spring break, even if I had to move his stuff out of there myself. When he bellowed I would do no such thing, I challenged him to try and peel himself off that sofa and stop me.

In the end, I did indeed do such a thing, and he didn’t try to stop me. I now have triple the workspace with plenty of drawers. I’m only two steps away from Baby Bear Country, and when the door is open, I can see the kitchen and catch unauthorized foraging. I’m writing more, submitting more (it helps to be in the same room as the printer, even with a wireless remote hookup), and am feeling much happier and more productive.

Most amazing of all, I even moved all my books and bookcases (to his credit, Mr. Lucky did help with the bookcases)—and after I declared on this blog that no force in heaven or on earth—save an act of God or Baby Bear—would ever make me do it again.

Obviously, that was before I learned the power of free HBO can have its own effects on me, too.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

I See You Checking Out My Goodies, Mister

You can’t find anything else to do while you stand here waiting, so what do you do? You check out my goodies. Take a gander at my stuff. Oh yes, I see the look on your face. I know that look. I’ve seen it before, on countless other men just like you. You think I don’t know what you’re up to?

As long as you're gawking, I’ll bet you see a couple of things you’d love to get your big meaty paws on, certainly your mouth; but your wife, who’s waiting for you back home, very likely wouldn’t be too pleased about that. For one thing, she didn’t send you here to partake of such pleasures, and for another, she probably thinks those treats—even if they’re her own—are bad for you.

“Remember what the doctor says, Harold,” she’s always chiding. You poor thing. Maybe you have to sneak out of the house for a chance to sample these delights. Or at least look at them and remember the good old days when you could indulge in such delectations without worrying about the long-term consequences.

Honestly, mister—I don’t blame you for wanting to scrutinize what I have, especially considering your motive. That’s why I see no need to hide it from you or the rest of the world. If anything, I feel blessed by the bounty you see, and you can be sure my husband shares that sentiment. Like your wife, he’s also waiting for me at home, but unlike her (trust me, I know this from checking out what you have), he’s absolutely salivating at the prospect of my return.

Believe me, I fully understand and appreciate your interest. I completely sympathize, because I too am a human being just like you, with the same needs and frustrations.

Still, do you have to be so obvious in your perusal? I realize you don’t have a clear view standing behind me. But do you have to step forward, lean over to one side, and practically stick your face in what I have?

Not that I object. In fact, I’d be perfectly happy to satisfy your—shall we say, curiosity. All you have to do is ask.

I’m just that easy. Yes, my husband knows it, and of course he doesn’t mind.

So you should be lucky I don’t hit you over the head with my purse and say, “Look, mister, you can stop counting the number of groceries in my cart—I swear I have less than twenty items, so I have just as much right to be in the express line as you do!”

And my husband can salivate all he wants, but that bag of chocolate is mine and he’s not getting it.

It’s bad for him, too.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Life in the Military, Part II: The Quest for a Floor Buffer

Legend had it that buffers were available for free checkout from the base self-help store. Mind you, there were three hundred housing units on the base. Three hundred military families with floors that regulations “recommended” be waxed and buffed at least once a week.

The self-help store had only three buffers in its inventory, two of which were always checked out while the third was in a constant state of repair. Everyone wanted to know why they didn’t buy more buffers. The answer was always, “The budget only allows us to maintain three buffers. We can’t buy any additional buffers unless it turns out the third one can’t be repaired. Only then can we order a new one.”

Ha! When I was in the Air Force, I got stuck with supply monitor duty, and let me tell you, no one alive today will live to see that new buffer. I know, because I once had to order one.

Somewhere downtown is a store specializing in appliances like vacuums, zambonis, buffers—anything you use on a floor. When I was supply monitor, you couldn’t just go in there, say “I’d like to buy a buffer, will you take a company check?” then walk out of there with said buffer thrust into a plastic bag with the sales slip and a coupon for a dollar off your next purchase of Johnson Wax.

No, nothing that simple or efficient. Instead I had to fill out Air Force Form 601b in quadruplicate, and submit it to the squadron commander for his signature. The 601b included a huge blank block headed JUSTIFICATION. This was an essay question worth more points than anything else on the form. Here I had to explain why it was necessary to spend taxpayers’ money on a new buffer for the office.

“Buffer is needed to buff office floors after waxing,” I wrote.

No matter what you ordered, whether it was a Number 2 pencil or a Stealth bomber, the form invariably came back stamped with the word DISAPPROVED followed by one of two reasons for disapproval. It was either CANNOT IDENTIFY ITEM or INSUFFICIENT JUSTIFICATION.

In the case of the buffer, the form came back stamped INSUFFICIENT JUSTIFICATION.

What the heck more does anyone need than that? What else do you do with a floor buffer?

I called up the supply squadron and asked the clerk there to elaborate.

“You also need a popcorn popper to pop popcorn,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean the government’s going to buy you one. You have to explain why you need to pop popcorn.”

The supply monitor for the crew of the Enola Gay probably put “Atom bomb is needed to end the war with Japan” on his 601b, and it still came back stamped INSUFFICIENT JUSTIFICATION. He would’ve had to explain why America needed to end the war with Japan.

So I redid the form. Under JUSTIFICATION, I wrote, “Buffer is needed to buff office floors after waxing. Floors must be waxed because they are dirty. Dirt has a negative impact on the Air Force mission.”

Again, the form came back stamped INSUFFICIENT JUSTIFICATION. Seems I didn’t explain how dirt had a negative impact on the Air Force mission. How did it keep the planes from flying? Well, too much of it could clog up the engines and—oh, what the hell. The JUSTIFICATION was still INSUFFICIENT.

Eventually I managed to spin such a convincing story (I borrowed a few details from the movie Independence Day—something about aliens attacking military installations in search of wax residue to oil and fuel their spacecraft before moving on to another planet big on military—or wax, if you will—buildup), that the disapproval was changed to CANNOT IDENTIFY ITEM.

Considering the rarity of buffers, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that no one in the Supply Squadron knew what I was talking about.

The supply clerk advised me—with a perfectly straight face, mind you—to attach a sample of the requested item to the 601b.

Hello? Planet Earth calling, will you accept the charges? If I had a “sample” I wouldn’t have needed to order one! Not to mention that even if I did have a sample to attach, it would have required me to order extra large heavy duty industrial strength paper clips—which Supply couldn’t identify, either. I should know. I’ve sent them 601b’s with whole chains of different paper clips dangling from the upper left-hand corner.

The supply squadron clerk, who seemed to have a witty comeback for everything, said if a sample wasn’t available or attachable, to just include a picture of it instead. See previous paragraph above.

Obtaining a picture of a buffer would have further required me to hire a private investigator to hide out in alleys and dumpsters, waiting for one to skulk by. How much do you want to bet I could have gotten government approval—oh, better than approval, but a federal grant for that?

It was too much. Several months earlier I’d gone through a similar rigmarole ordering envelopes. Long, white, Number 10 business size envelopes. You know what I’m talking about. I know what I’m talking about (at least some of the time). I could interview fifty people on the street and every last one of them would know exactly what I was talking about . . . unless they happened to be assigned to the Supply Squadron.

Apparently the stock number I’d given them for the envelopes—which I got straight from the box containing our remaining inventory—was no longer listed in the supply roster. Some bureaucrat at the Pentagon had been charged with the all-important task of changing the stock number, so who knew how to find it now? The supply clerk presented me with a foot thick binder that constituted the roster, and turned to the section listing envelopes.

“Find your envelope here,” he said.

There were more envelopes listed in that roster than there are Smiths in the Manhattan white pages.

Who knew there were so many different kinds? The kind I wanted was so standard, so common, that it should have been at the top of the list.

But I never found it. We had to wait till they mysteriously appeared in the warehouse months later.

Meanwhile, I went to the commander to tell him of my dilemma with the buffer. He fired off a letter to the commander of the Supply Squadron, and finally got (some) results.

The request was finally approved.

And, like everything else in the military supply system, promptly placed on backorder.

In the meantime, we had to continue borrowing the buffer from another squadron across the street. I asked how they’d gotten it and when, but no one knew. The form used to order it was no longer on file. Regulations dictated such forms were kept in active files for one year, inactive for another year, then moved to archives somewhere in the Ozarks. The person who ordered it had long since gone to that great big VA waiting room in the sky.

It seemed the buffers on hand had always been there, even before the base was built; the buildings and aircrafts and runways had merely sprung up around them.

As for the buffers designated for residents in base housing, I’ve never met anyone in base housing who ever actually checked out one of them. In fact, no one seemed to know anyone in housing who’d ever used one of them, simply because they were never available. No one wanted to go off base and spend hundreds of dollars to buy one of their own, but if you wanted to buff the floors in your on-base house, that’s what you had to do, unless you could find a place that rented them.

I didn’t want to, so I didn’t. At the time I had young children. I swept and mopped, and that was it. When it came time to move to another base, we hired a professional cleaning service to clean the housing unit to the standards required by the Air Force, and let them buff the floors.

All military organizations have mottos. I have one for the supply system: