The Case of the Dusty Lizard, Resolved

Use the calendar to the right to read Part I (June 18) and Part II (June 19).

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THE CASE OF DUSTY LIZARD

Chapter 3

I was staking out Li’s again, carefully monitoring my fluid intake.  Dusty might have taken the time to identify my regular car, so I was using my own nondescript minivan for the occasion.  Almost on cue, Dusty arrived with Weatherman, the two kids, and the ever-present camera.  She was clearly a cool customer.  Despite my investigation, Dusty stuck to the same dinner routine, including the innocent looking encounter with the manager who once again couldn’t seem to operate the camera.  Eventually she left.  But before she climbed in the minivan she paused, looked across the street directly at me, and waved.   Cool customer, indeed.  I watched Dusty go and then continued waiting and watching.  She was not the target tonight.

Around midnight the lights went out in Li’s.  I slipped out of the van and walked quickly toward the rear exit of the restaurant.  I hid behind a dumpster where I could watch the staff leave.  Last to leave, of course, was the manager.  As he locked the door I stepped behind him and struck a hard blow across the base of his skull.  He fell in an unconscious heap.  He would have a headache the next day, but otherwise be none the worse for wear.  I quickly searched his pockets until I found the memory card.  Dusty wasn’t the only cool customer in this case.

Back at my office I slipped the memory card into my laptop.  I expected the photo viewer to open and reveal pages of authentic looking government documents.  But it didn’t.  Instead, the video player opened and a list of file names appeared marked simply “Episode 1,” “Episode 2,” etc.  I clicked the first one and a moment later watched an old British police box racing through the cosmos, the familiar opening sequence of the BBC sci-fi TV show, Dr. Who.

“It was never espionage,” Dusty said.

I hadn’t heard her come in, but there she sat in the same client chair with a camera in her lap.

She continued, “I have friends in China who enjoy Dr. Who, but their government has declared it ‘capitalist propaganda’ and banned the show.  I’m a smuggler, I suppose, but not a traitor.”

“And your contacts at the NSA?” I asked.

“They developed a high-capacity memory card for NSA agents,” she explained.  “They slipped me a card.  My husband – NSA calls him Weatherman, I think – loads the episodes.  I take them to Li’s.  Somehow they get to China.”

She paused, looking intently at me.

“The question,” she said carefully, “is what you’re going to do about this now that you know.  There are no government secrets at issue, but people could still get in trouble.”

“The NSA hired me to prove that you were giving classified documents to the Chinese,” I replied.  “That appears to be so much egg foo yung at this point.”

“Is there anyone who actually finds you clever?” she asked dryly.

“My mother, I think.  What I was going to say is that NSA didn’t hire me to collect random information for them.  They hired me to prove that you are giving classified documents to the Chinese.  Since I don’t have proof of you doing that, I have nothing to say to the NSA.  I can just report that I was unable to prove their theory.  Of course, that won’t stop them from hounding you.  They’ll find someone else to come after you.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said with a smile.  “The memory card you have is the first half of the last season.  One more card and I’ll be done.”

I smiled back, extracted the memory card from my laptop, and handed it to her.  She inserted it in the camera, shook my hand, and left.

A week later the NSA suits returned.

“I missed you guys,” I said cheerily.

“Don’t be smug,” the first suit said.  “What have you learned?”

“I learned that I really like sesame chicken,” I replied.

Knuckle cracks.

“Okay, okay,” I said quickly.  “I learned that Dusty isn’t giving any of your precious secrets to the Chinese.”

“Exactly how do you know that?” the suit asked.

“Because I, um, obtained one of the memory cards and there were no documents on it.  Only an old British TV show.  If anything, she’s trying to help oppressed people and bring down a totalitarian regime.  You should be thrilled!”

“Did you look at the entire memory card?

“No.”

“And then you gave it back to her?”

“Yes. It’s harmless.”

“Did it ever occur to you that Dusty let you see what she wanted you to see?”

“I don’t see how …”

“I told you hiring this guy was a mistake,” the second suit said to the first.  “He’s such a moron.”

“Not only that,” the first suit said.  “He’s fired.”  Then they left.

I sat and thought about the case.  Dusty had waved at me as she left Li’s.  Is it possible she followed me and then pretended to arrive for dinner?  Is it possible the memory card was planted for me to find?  Am I really a moron?  I needed to know.

I jumped in the car and raced to Dusty’s address, a cozy house on a quiet side street.

There were no cars parked outside.  I walked quickly to the door and noticed an artistic sign that said “Bramble Cottage.”  Strange.  There were no brambles in the well-kept yard.  I knocked hard, like the little sign taped on the door said to.  No response.  I knocked again.  Nothing.  I leaned over to the front window and peered inside.  The place was empty.  Dusty was gone.

When I got back to my office I found an envelope slipped under the door.  Inside was a single Uno card – a reverse card to be exact.  I understood Dusty’s message.  She had turned the tables on me.  She had won.  I had lost.

I leaned back in my chair and put my feet up on the desk.  I studied the card and thought about Dusty for a long time.  There would be another opportunity for this master detective to go head-to-head with the master spy, but not today.   I put the Uno card in Dusty’s file, locked my office, and went to eat at Li’s.

THE END

———————-

I loved this story.  Of course I loved it: it’s all about me, and I’m terribly vain.  Thank you, Jeff, for leaving me as a villain.  I liked being the villain.

———————-

Today was my twentieth wedding anniversary.  I had half an hour free before Darling Husband came home.  What to do?  Pre-write The Blog, work on assessing an essay, or take the tripod out in the 100 degree heat index and get the camera ready for a shot of us heading out to dinner?

Duh.

Here’s the shot of us heading out to dinner.  You can’t tell, but I’m completely sweaty from hauling the tripod all around the front yard.

Darling Husband gave me these lovely flowers, which really make the picture, don’t they?

More Lies, Uno is Awesome, and Stories Are Better with Hand Gestures

Before you read more of Jeff’s lies, I need to set the record straight:

A few years ago I managed to go a full 2 hours without gesticulating even once.  It was on a bet.

The most we’ve ever been to Li’s Buffet in one week was 4 times, and it was a staycation, so it doesn’t count.

Jeff is dead-on right about how long it takes me to take someone’s picture.  When he read that part to his wife (a Nurse Practitioner), he waited for her to laugh.  She didn’t.  He said, “What?  Isn’t that part funny?”  She said, “No.  It’s too true to be funny.”   But that’s why it’s funny, Barbetta.  That’s why it’s funny.

And, most importantly, I am the Uno Master.

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Scroll down or click on June 18th on the calendar to the right to read Chapter 1.

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THE CASE OF DUSTY LIZARD

Chapter 2

Two weeks after the stakeout I was sitting in Li’s with a plate of sesame chicken and spring rolls.  I had carefully disguised myself as a tourist by wearing an “I Survived Pickett’s Charge” t-shirt and spreading a battlefield map on the table.  Eventually Dusty came in with a camera in hand and Weatherman and the children in tow.  Dusty had actually been to Li’s 18 times in the past two weeks, but I was a patient man.  After they were seated, I picked up the map and peered over it watching Dusty.

There was something odd about Dusty’s mannerisms.  She had periods of extreme calm interrupted by sudden bursts of rapid speech and excited hand gestures.  Maybe the calm periods allowed her to rest up for the next eruption.  And always the camera was nearby, if not actually in her hands.  A briefcase handcuffed to her wrist would not have been attached much more securely than Dusty’s camera.

Then there was the family.  Weatherman ate with one hand while constantly checking his iPad with the other.  When he went to the buffet he took the iPad along and propped it on the sneeze-guard.  He was completely consumed in the gadget.  Each of the kids had some kind of electronic game.  They would occasionally reach for a French fry, although not all of the fries made it to their mouths.  Apparently blasting alien droid warriors is sometimes more urgent than eating.  The result was that although Dusty appeared to be carrying on a conversation with her family, nobody was really listening.  The whole scene was a charade permitting Dusty to maintain visual surveillance.  Clever.  Very clever.  I wondered if Weatherman and the kids were conspirators or simply dupes manipulated by a master foreign agent.  While I watched over the map and pondered that question, Dusty got up and approached my table, camera in hand.

“Excuse me,” she said with hands fluttering.  “I’ve never seen that t-shirt before and it’s so funny.  Do you mind if I take a picture of it?”

Refusing might raise suspicion so I said, “No, I don’t mind.”

I laid the map down and stood while she prepared to take a picture.  Unfortunately Dusty didn’t just take a quick snapshot.  While I fidgeted awkwardly, she pushed buttons, turned dials, adjusted settings, checked the flash, fished in a camera bag, set up a tripod, and peered through the viewfinder at objects near and far.  Thirty long minutes later, she actually took the picture.

“Thanks,” she said with a grin before going back to her table.

My sesame chicken was unfinished, but I didn’t want it any more.  Maybe the photo had been nothing, but I doubted it.  I was afraid I had stared too long and too intently.  I violated Rule 8 of the Private Detective Procedure Manual: “Furtive Is as Furtive Does.”  So I left to nurse my pride and plan a new strategy.

I was sitting in my office the next day contemplating the Classic Peanuts comic strip when they came through the door and spread out around my office.  There were three of them; all Asian, all in jeans and black hoodies, and all wearing identical sunglasses, which was odd because it was raining outside.  A moment later Dusty came in and sat in a client chair.  I looked at her.  She looked at me.  We looked at each other.  She was in a calm moment.

“If you wanted to bring me a Chinese take-out menu,” I said cheerily, flashing my thousand-watt smile, “you could’ve just slid it under the door.”  Neither the joke nor the smile had any effect on Dusty or the Asians.

“The photo at Li’s,” I said after another long silent moment.  “That’s how you identified me.”  She gave a little nod and half-smile and continued staring at me steadily.

All of a sudden Dusty leaned forward, put her hands on my desk, and said in a rush, “Why are you following me?”

I decided to play coy.  “I heard that you run a private high-stakes Uno game,” I said.  “I want in.”

“Don’t play coy with me,” Dusty snapped.  “You don’t know what you’re poking around in.  Leave this alone.”

“I can’t do that,” I said.

Dusty sat very still and quiet for several minutes.  Then she jumped up and walked quickly toward the door while spitting commands at the thugs in what sounded suspiciously like Chinese.  As soon as Dusty left, two of them came over, lifted me by the arms, and pinned me against the wall.  The third stepped in front of me and cracked his knuckles.  What was it with the knuckle cracking these days?

“You guys should start a boy band,” I said.  “You could call yourselves ‘N Sushi.”

“Sushi is Japanese, moron,” knuckles said.  Then my world went black.

Later that night I was sitting at home, tending my bruises, and wishing I knew a good Nurse Practitioner.  I was also trying to figure out what to do next.  I knew Dusty was guilty.  I also knew that she knew that I knew she was guilty.  That meant I wasn’t getting anywhere near her anytime soon.  I decided to follow the advice of one of my favorite philosophers, Inigo Montoya, who said, “When the job goes wrong, go back to the beginning.”  In this case the beginning was at Li’s.

To be continued …

———-

The next installment should be the last.  I wonder how it will end?  Jeff hasn’t told me.

Lying Friends, Crab Rangoons, and Don’t Drink Coffee on a Stake Out

After Scott (Birdsall) hacked into my WordPress account and posted a bunch of  fabrications about my (not) dusty house, my other friends couldn’t wait to get in on the action and make up stories, too.

Especially Jeff.

I’ve known Jeff for about 8 or 9 years now. He’s a Juvenile & Standing Master in the county circuit court. Basically, he’s a judge and hears cases involving juveniles.

Master Jeff begged and begged and made such a nuisance of himself, that I finally caved and agreed to let him be a guest writer on The Blog.  I have no idea what he’s going to write, but from all the sneaky laughter, I’m sure I’ll regret it.

Take it away, Jeff:

——————–

When I found out that guests were being offered the opportunity to contribute to the prestigious Dusty Lizard blog I was thrilled.  Ideas began flowing through my mind like a literary Niagara Falls.  In fact, I had so many ideas that it was difficult to choose.  In the end I decided to use this opportunity as a public service.  Many newcomers to Dusty Lizard, and not a few long-term devotees, have asked, “Why is Jackie so fascinated with cameras and so fixated with Li’s Chinese buffet?”  The answers to these and other questions will be revealed in …

THE CASE OF DUSTY LIZARD

Chapter 1

It was a rainy afternoon when they came into my office.  I was leaning back in my chair with my feet on the desk, ignoring a pile of bills and focusing on the sports page.  There were three of them, all in dark suits.  Two sat in my client chairs and one stood by the door.  I put the newspaper down, but not my feet.

“We’re from the National Security Agency, Department of Internal Affairs,” the first suit said.  “We’re hiring you to conduct an investigation for us.”

I noticed it was not a request.

“What if I don’t want to be hired,” I asked with a charming smile.

“We’re going to make it worth your while to agree,” the second suit said, without a charming smile.  The stiff at the door cracked his knuckles and glared at me.

“Assuming you do …,” I began.

“We will,” the second suit said.

“Assuming you do,” I continued, “what am I being hired to investigate?”

“We have reason to believe that an American woman who previously worked at NSA is selling classified information to the Chinese government,” the first suit said.

“So why come to me,” I asked as I put my feet on the floor and swiveled toward them.

“Because she is no longer an NSA employee.  She’s just a private citizen, so we don’t have jurisdiction to investigate her.”

“But isn’t there some other agency that handles that,” I asked.  “CIA?  FBI?  MiB?”

“This is a matter of national security,” the second suit said angrily.  “It’s not a time for jokes.”  More knuckle cracks from the stiff at the door.

I considered my options.  Potential clients weren’t exactly beating down the door.  The secretary I couldn’t pay hadn’t been in for weeks and probably had another job by now.  For the sake of my pride I opened a desk calendar and flipped through it.

“Okay,” I said.  “I should have some free time coming up and, because you boys asked so nicely, I’ll take the case.  What are the facts?”

The file the NSA suits gave me identified the woman as Dusty Lizard.  It was a strange name, but I’ve seen worse.  I once investigated a stork of a man whose last name was Birdtall.  Unfortunate.

Dusty had worked at NSA in some low level gig in the past, but she still had ties to people in the agency.  Now she was trying to live under the radar in a little town in Pennsylvania.  She’d created an elaborate cover as a wife, mother and amateur photographer, but NSA was on to her.

The first red flag was her husband.  He came to NSA’s attention because nobody knew his name.  He was identified only by the code name “Weatherman.”  The second red flag was the camera Dusty carried everywhere.  Dusty was thought by some at NSA to have very superficial social relationships, although others thought that might have been because her ever-present camera scared people away.  The biggest red flag though was Dusty’s frequent trips to a local Chinese buffet called Li’s.  NSA didn’t believe she was going for the food.  Some bean-counter at the agency had calculated that Dusty should weigh 673.24 pounds based on the frequency of her trips to the buffet.  But Dusty’s picture showed a petite woman; suspicious looking, but definitely petite.

NSA’s theory was that Dusty’s co-conspirators at NSA let her photograph documents and that Dusty took the camera to Li’s where she somehow transferred the camera’s memory card to Chinese agents.  Nice theory, but nobody could prove it.  The suits had identified Dusty’s co-conspirators at NSA, but rather than arresting them and tipping off Dusty, NSA was feeding them false documents.  My job was to catch Dusty giving the false documents to the Chinese.

Rule 5 in the Private Detective Procedure Manual is “When in Doubt, Stake Out.”  So, I decided to stake out Li’s.  Most detectives think the key to a good stakeout is the snacks.  I say the key is good fluid intake management.  Sgt. Friday, Columbo, Magnum, Spenser, Mike Hammer – none of those guys ever lost a suspect because they were in the bathroom.

A few days later I was sitting in my car across the street from Li’s, carefully pacing my coffee.  I only had to watch two hours before Dusty, Weatherman and two kids showed up in a nondescript minivan.  Sure enough, Dusty had the camera on a strap around her neck.  I don’t know who Dusty thought she was fooling.  You don’t have to be an NSA suit to question why someone would take a camera to a Chinese buffet.

As I watched Dusty for the first time I considered what I knew about her.  You had to be truly cold and calculating to hide espionage behind two innocent kids and a bunch of tourists in their reproduction Unionand Confederate battle caps.  I would have to be on my game to nab this traitor.

Through the restaurant’s big windows I could see Dusty and Weatherman greet the hostess and follow her to a table.  Along the way they stopped and talked to every server, a cook refilling the lo-mein, and a man who acted like he was the manager.  That was odd because everybody else in the place ignored the staff.  But Dusty seemed to know them all well enough to have a brief conversation with each.  She even snapped a few pictures.  Dusty and Weatherman ate from the buffet, but they ordered French fries for the kids.  Curious.

I had watched for an hour, slowly nursing my coffee, when I saw it.  Dusty and Weatherman had finished their meal.  They collected their kids and belongings and moved toward the exit where they ran into the manager who just happened to be moving toward the door in a seemingly coincidental way.  They all stopped and chatted.  Then Dusty handed her camera to the manager and posed with Weatherman while the manager took a picture.  Or at least he tried to take a picture.  The manager seemed to have trouble with the camera.  Dusty stepped closer to help him.  There could easily have been a transfer between them as their hands fussed over the camera, but I was too far away to be sure.  I was going to have to get a closer look.

To be continued …

Miss Scarlett–in the Conservatory–with the Revolver OR People Will Go To Great Lengths to Get A Mention In The Blog

Do you remember the story I told two months ago, about Lynn and her mother?  Lynn was the person who trained me at my last job.  Lynn didn’t  do a lot of training, but she did do a lot of storytelling.  She later went into sales, which was a much better fit for her than training.

Here’s the story again, for those who never heard it.  You’ll see why I’m reminding you of it soon:

One day Lynn was driving to work on the Baltimore Beltway.  Traffic was at a standstill from a car accident, as usual.  As she neared the accident, she saw that the car in the accident looked like her mother’s car.  She inched closer and sure enough…it was her mother’s car!

In a panic she changed lanes until she was pulled over on the side of the road, right next to the accident.  She burst out of her car, crying and yelling, “That’s my mother!”  The police held her back until she explained, then they led her to her mother, who was strapped down on a gurney, with her head in a brace.

Lynn looked down at her poor mother.  Her poor mother looked up at her, her eyes scared and confused.  Lynn sobbed, “Mother, mother!  Are you ok, Mother?”

She followed them onto the ambulance.

And that’s when she looked a little closer at her mother.

Huh?  That’s not my mother! 

It wasn’t her mother!  It was some other woman who looked nothing like her mother!  She had to tell the police, “Er…that’s not actually my mother.  I don’t know this woman…” and slink off back to her car.

That poor woman on the gurney must have had quite a fright:  “I’m her mother?  Oh no!  I have amnesia!  I can’t recognize my own daughter!

That’s Lynn’s story, and you’ll soon see how it relates to today’s post:

Today, I was walking through the church, when Kris’ 18 year old son hollered out to me.  I’ve known Kris for about 5 years or so, and her son, Eric, started out at about a quarter of my size, and is now roughly three times my size, and I think he’s still growing.  Here’s a picture I took of his family back in December, Eric being the largish one on the right:

If you look carefully, you’ll see that he’s sticking out his tongue.  He was subtle about it.  I took about 5 pictures of the family and didn’t notice the tongue until I got home.  And since Kris’ husband will probably never dress up again in his entire life, this was their very last chance at a nice family portrait.  Bad photographer. You’re supposed to notice when the subjects are sticking out their tongues at you.

Incidentally, Kris asked me today if I’d take another picture of Eric soon for some sort of card.  I’m not sure if I can.  She warned me that he won’t make nice faces for the camera, but that I’d have to try to get him to look good.  I’m pretty sure I can’t bribe him into looking nice for the camera with a new lego set, which was how Michael got his Boy10 to look happy during their Official Happy Family of Gettysburg photo shoot.

But let’s get to the point of the story:  So, today I was walking through the church and accidentally interrupted a meeting with Eric in it.  He hollers out to me, “Hey!  You wrote mean things about me in your blog!”

Of course, you all know he didn’t mean “mean” things.  He meant “goofy, you poked gentle fun at me” things.  You know my shtick.  I make fun of just about everyone I write about in The Blog, but without being cruel or disrespectful.  Eric is lighthearted enough that I’m sure he can take a joke, so it would be quite likely that I have written “mean” things about him.

If I’d ever written about him.

And that’s the problem:  I’ve never written about Eric.  Ever.

I’ve written about his mother.  I’ve written about his father.  Before I started The Blog, I wrote about his sister on Facebook.

But I’ve never written about Eric.

You know how the police will leave out information in their criminal investigations so they can weed out the crazies who think they witnessed the crime, but weren’t actually there?  When a crazy person calls in and says, “Yes! I saw the crime!” but doesn’t know an obvious piece of information, like that the weapon was a candlestick or that the scene of the crime was the billiard room, the police know that this person knows nothing about the crime.  They know it’s someone who has gotten a little too wrapped up in the news story and the line between reality and fantasy has become blurred.

Much in the same way, Eric has convinced himself that he’s made an appearance in The Blog.  “Surely,” he thinks, “I must have been written about somewhere in The Blog.  Everyone else has been written about…”  Just like when Lynn thought she was looking at her mother, when really it was a total stranger, people see what they want to see.

I responded, “What?  Did I write about you?”

“Yes!  Mean things!”

“Oh.  Well, I guess I’ll…just…have to keep it up, then.”

It was a bizarre conversation.  And, obviously I had to come home and write about him.  Hopefully, I’ve been mean enough in this post to made him happy.

———————-

As you may recall from yesterday’s blog, Nephew13 visited this weekend.  You know how when you leave somewhere, you’re supposed to clean up after yourself and “make it better than when you arrived?”  We go by the same standard when Nephew13 visits.  We feel we should send him home with a little more knowledge than when he arrived.

I have to say, I’m really not sure what his parents are doing with him, because we were shocked, shocked, I say, at the things he didn’t know how to do.  We had to give him a crash course on things that surely every 13 year old knows how to do.

We started off slowly by having him trim the tree in the front yard:

And then he sprayed the wasps on the back porch.

Then, he chopped a few cords of wood for us.  Boy7 showed him how by first chopping a cord of his own.

Can you believe he’s never re-wired the breakers in the house?  Boy9 showed him how it’s done.

We were completely gobsmacked when he said he’d never used a blow torch, so we let him practice by fixing our water heater for us,

He ended the day by changing out the transmission fluid in the car.

He was so helpful to have around that we can’t wait for him to come back in July.  When he heard he’d get to come back and help again next month he could barely contain his joy.

Anti-Photography Warfare, A Giant Mushroom, and Knights Defending the Queen

Nephew13, is visiting for the weekend again.  This means that it’s 10:36 and I think we’ve finally worn him out enough that I can type out a quick chatty blog.   The problem is that when he’s here, it’s kind of fun to spoil him, so this time, I let him have as many caffeinated drinks as he wanted.

That was dumb.

I’m realizing that his mother has a very good reason for not giving him too many caffeinated drinks.

Right now he’s on the other side of the room happily playing some game on the computer with little stick figure characters.  I can see a little stick Santa Claus on a sleigh and it’s flying out of control and people are falling off of it.  From all the blood spraying across the screen, I’m sure it’s an awesome game.  (Dripping with sarcasm there, folks.)

Nephew13 is obsessed (obsessed!) with guns and military stuff.  When he read in my blog that I wanted a glock, he took it completely seriously and immediately sent me a facebook message letting me know that he could educate me on everything guns and offering to help me pick one out.

Coupled with the news that I’m learning about guns, Nephew13 was sitting at home an hour’s drive away in Maryland when he read in The Blog that we were here in Pennsylvania living it up at the laser tag arena.  More facebook messages. “Hey, Aunt Jackie (he starts every sentence and fb message with “Hey Aunt Jackie), when I come visit, can we play laser tag??”

Poor kid.  He’s stuck at home doing homework while his Aunt is in PA playing laser tag and learning how to shoot glocks.  Being a kid is no fun at all.

So, I promised to take him laser tagging today.  Laser tag involves stealth and weapons so it’s right up Nephew13’s alley.

There was better laser tag competition this time around, so I didn’t win.  A new sign was on the wall reading, “No nose picking allowed in the arena.”  Once you get rid of the nose pickers, you get a better quality of players.

After we got out of the arena, we bumped into friends whose kids were playing in the kid play area.  Perfect!  These kids have a father who was in the marines and takes his kids hunting.  The oldest boy, Friend12, just bagged his first deer this past winter.  And Friend12 loooves playing Call of Duty almost as much as Nephew13.  There was an instant friendship formed and everyone had a great time.

Including me, because I took lots of pictures with Alex.  Here’s Friend12’s little brother with his mother in the background.  This kid always looks great in pictures:

And here’s a pretty flower outside the laser tag place:

Then we headed over to Li’s Buffet, and met up with Claude and Kendra and their 22 kids.  Darling Husband and Kendra gave me nice smiles for the picture, but Boy9 and Claude were another story.  Boy9 has developed super-fast anti-picture taking reflexes over the past year and half.  As soon as Alex comes out of his lunchbag, Boy9 immediately strikes a pose intended to deter one from taking his picture.   Claude isn’t as fast, so his usual “d-uuh” look wasn’t fully formed when I snapped the picture.  Nephew13 was an unfortunate casualty to the camera.  He wasn’t paying attention at all to the photographic frivolity going on around him.  But he sure did enjoy that cheesecake.

Then, we popped over to Claude and Kendra’s house and Claude showed us the birthday cake he was in the middle of decorating for Girl0, who will be Girl1 tomorrow.  The cake was in the freezer and we said, “A mushroom?”

Claude hung his head in shame and said, “It’s supposed to be a giant cupcake.”  Kendra said, “I told you it looks like a mushroom.”

It’s ok, Claude.  Put some red dots all over it and a smurf figurine underneath and it’d be a great mushroom.

Claude has a beautiful chess set in the corner of their living room, and I would be a sorry excuse for an aspiring photographer if I didn’t take a picture of it:

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that it took 45 attempts to get the shot I wanted.  But, on the other hand, I’m proud that I eventually did get the shot.

Ok—busy day ahead of us tomorrow with Nephew13.  I’m gonna send that boy home with some new skills.  Pop in tomorrow to see the pictures of all the skills we’ve been teaching him.

Sporks, Fat Cats, Naturally Curly Hair, and Shrimp Fried Rice out the Nose

Remember how I told you yesterday that Pam uses the money she earns at the Totswap to take trips to Europe?

So, I was working at the Totswap today and called Pam on my lunchbreak.

Lunchbreak!

I haven’t had a real lunchbreak in 10 years.  It was heaven.  No one spilled their ramen noodle soup all over the table or made me watch Inspector Gadget while I ate.

So I called Pam’s cell phone to see when she was going to arrive at the Totswap tonight so I could ask her to bring me a sandwich from Subway for dinner.  Hey, she owes me.  After I had given birth (birth, people!) she called on the way to visiting me in the hospital.  I was starving and begged, “Can you pleeeeease bring me some shrimp fried rice on the way over?”  But she didn’t!  Yes, I know it’s been 10 years, but I’m not over it yet.  I neeeeded that shrimp fried rice.

So, I called her to ask her to bring me a sandwich for dinner.  I expected to get her voice mail because she should have been at work.  But instead, she answered, a little terse.  “Hello??”

What?  Why is she picking up her cell at work?  I hate it when people do that.  Just let it go to voice mail.  So I quickly said, “Hey, Pam!  Are you at work?”

“No.  I’m in Paris.”

?!?!?!?

“Paris?!  The Paris?”

“Yes, and this phone call is costing me a boatload of money.  Whaddya want?”

“Well, gee.  I was just wondering if you could bring me a sandwich to the Totswap…”

No sandwich for me.  Again!  And the hotdog booth that was parked outside the fairgrounds said they’d close at 5:30, but they closed at 5:00, so no hotdog either.

But then it was time to go and I found myself an hour from home with a credit card in my wallet and no family.  You know what this means, right?

Oh yes.  Shrimp fried rice.

I found the closest China Garden (because aren’t they all named China Garden?) on the GPS and off I went.  No clue where I was.  But I suspected I was somewhere in Columbia, Maryland.  There were windy roads and trees everywhere, with lots of unexpected traffic in the trees and businesses hidden in the trees so that you can’t find anything.  I’ve never gotten the hang of Columbia and all those trees.

And if it’s Columbia, then that means Jo-Ann is nearby.  I called her, “Hey, Jo-Ann. I think I’m somewhere near you.”

“Where are you?”

“I don’t know.  But I think I’m somewhere near you.”

“But…where are you?”

“I can’t find the businesses in all these trees, so it must be Columbia.”

She gave me her address and the GPS showed that I was pretty close.  I asked her if I could stop in for a visit.  “I’m at a China Garden, and I have my own food.  I’ll probably eat my Shrimp Fried Rice on the way to your house.”

And I’m positive that I’ve eaten shrimp fried rice in the past while I’m driving. But it just wasn’t happening today.  It’s probably because they gave me a fork instead of a spork.  Sporks are more stable than forks.  Forks have all those holes in them.  I had rice all over my pants.  And Maryland has a law against handheld phones while driving, so in the spirit of the law, if not the letter of the law, I thought it best not to try to eat rice in the car.

I got to Jo-Ann’s house and sat at the dining room table to eat my rice.  And I couldn’t help but notice her cat.  The cat is very, very fat, and takes up half the room.  I forgot to take a picture, so instead I’ve drawn you a very accurate portrayal of me, the cat, and Jo-Ann.  It’s completely to scale and we all look remarkably life-like in it:

As you can see, Jo-Ann has lovely naturally curly hair.  It’s so beautiful.  She hates it.  I don’t know why.

And, as you can see from the completely accurate picture, that cat is fat.

If you remember a few posts ago, I told you that I don’t have the issues other people have with toilet lids being up or down.  We don’t care.

Jo-Ann responded to that by saying, “I made people start putting the toilet seat down when the cat fell in.”

And I responded to her that she made up that story about the cat falling into the toilet.  Look at that cat!  Even if it could haul itself up on the side of the seat, it would never fit in the bowl.

So we were sitting there, staring at the cat, while I ate my shrimp fried rice and Jo-Ann ate nothing.  She ate nothing because she’s decided to try a diet of eating only non-processed food.  She’s lost one whole pound.

And I can see why.  It’s because she sat there, hungry, but was too lazy to get up to make anything.  Anything that takes longer to cook than a hot pocket is just too much effort.

So, Jo-Ann sat there staring at my shrimp fried rice, and I, who am not on any silly old diet, snarfed down my shrimp fried rice, right in front of her.  There were probably lots of mmmm’s and sighs of bliss over the shrimp fried rice.  And maybe even a few muttered, “Oh man, this rice is good!

And apparently, this irritated Jo-Ann.

Unfortunately for me, Jo-Ann is one of my very oldest friends, and the one thing that makes her so precious as a friend is that even if we haven’t seen each other in a year, we can sit down together and within 15 minutes she’ll have me laughing until I’m crying.

All she has to do is start telling me a story, taking care with word choice and timing.  She knows this, and used it to her advantage.  Hey, if she can’t eat the shrimp fried rice, she might as well get some entertainment out of it.

Quickly calculating in her considerably agile and intelligent brain, she launched into a story about her fat cat attempting to climb the stairs.  She waited to deliver the punchline at the precise moment I had just stuffed a disgusting amount of shrimp fried rice into my mouth and was munching away, probably with bits of rice stuck to my chin.

The ending of the story was something about the cat laboring up the steps and how Jo-Ann stumbles upon the animal, who is passed out from the effort of climbing the steps and in danger of rolling back down the staircase.  She told it much better than I’m telling you here, of course.  And one thing I learned is that it’s not possible to laugh with shrimp fried rice stuffed in your cheeks.  Jo-Ann was delighted when the shrimp fried rice went snorting out my nose and across the table.  (Eeewwww!)

But she wasn’t done yet and she waited to tell the story of the cat’s attempt to jump on the bed until after I’d had another disgustingly gigantic mouthful of food.  She reenacted the cat lumbering across the room and trying to jump and falling back to the floor.

And that’s when the shrimp fried rice got stuck in my lung.  Honestly, Jo-Ann, the only food that’s safe to eat around you when you’re telling stories is yogurt.  Greek, of course.

She was completely pleased with herself for making her friend gag on her dinner, and rewarded herself with some UTZ potato chips.  And I didn’t even make fun of her for it.

Crushing the Opposition, Europeans are Lucky, and Spies Don’t Make Change

Today I got to play lazer tag again–woo hoo!

I’m proud to say that my team won all four rounds (yes!) and that I got the highest score overall (yes!).

Of course, this thrill of victory deflates a little when you take a look at my opponents:

Crowing about winning first place against a pack of nose picking 7-year olds is, frankly, pathetic.

——————

Tomorrow, I’m going to work.  Going to work, as in I’ll get up early (yipes!) and shower and dress before noon, and then drive to a distant locale by a predetermined time.   Just like a grownup!

You may remember that I recently started working for Bridgette, assessing essays.  But that’s not going to work.  That’s working from home.  That’s staying up until midnight, sleeping in until 8:00, eating a leisurely breakfast of ramen noodles, and eventually bathing, dressing and working.

And, honestly, assessing essays isn’t work.  It’s play.  I shouldn’t let Bridgette know how much fun it is, or she might stop giving me money for playing.

Then again, I wouldn’t mind if she continues to pay me in camera gear.  As a thank you for something I helped her with, she bought me some camera stuff.  When we were picking out my thank you gifts, we were messaging each other on Facebook, because why make it easy and call each other?  Why not just send a billion messages back and forth on Facebook and make typos that change the meaning of the sentence, and then type too fast for the other one to respond, so that the responses don’t match the comment above them and nothing makes any sense?

In the middle of messaging each other she wrote, “I’d like to get you a mini tripod.” A couple of minutes later, I heard the faint echos of a gasp coming from far to the northeast.  Immediately after the gasp, these words appeared in my message box from Bridgette “You’ve got a price range over here from 8.99 to $300?????”  All those question marks clued me in to the fact that the gasp I heard was Bridgette falling off her chair 200 miles away in Brooklyn, New York.

Actually, Bridgette, when I checked out the complete range of mini-tripods, it went from $2.42 to $592.95.  The full sized ones range from $9.99 to a hair over $1,700.00.

Camera stuff is expensive.   Really expensive.  It’s if-Darling-Husband-had-known-how-expensive-it-was-before-I-got-hooked,-he’d-have-tried-to-find-a-cheaper-hobby-for-me,-like-collecting-original-Van-Goghs expensive.

So before Bridgette hired me, I was trying to come up with a way to earn a teeny bit of cash to pay for Alex, or a flash or a new lens.

That’s when I remembered Pam.  In addition to her regular job, Pam works at an event called the TotSwap.  It’s held a few times a year in various counties surrounding Baltimore.  People bring the kid toys that they paid full price for, but their little Veruca Salt never touched, and they try to recoup their money by selling them to other overindulging parents at the TotSwap.  Sellers get a cut and the TotSwap gets a cut.

Pam at the Totswap last year. You can see her blurry in the background. It’s the only way she allows me to take her picture.

Pam is really into this.  She offers a service where you can dump all your old kid junk at her house and she’ll go through the hassle of  prepping it for you for a cut of your profit.  She earns about $2000 a year doing this and uses the extra money to pay for trips to Europe.

Europe!

All those Europeans are so lucky.  They can just pop on over to another country any time they want to.  Another country!  It’s unfathomable.  I remember watching a Torchwood episode (spinoff of Doctor Who) and one of the main characters went to Paris for the weekend.  I thought, “Whoa!  How much money is that character supposed to be getting paid!  Paris for the weekend?  She’s gotta be rich!”  And then I remembered that when you live in England, you can swim to Paris.

In fact, Pam has a coworker who ate breakfast at McDonald’s in Belgium, lunch at McDonald’s in France and dinner at McDonald’s in England.  No, they weren’t really fans of McDonalds.  They just wanted to be able to say that they ate at McDonald’s for all three meals of the day, but in three different countries.

Europeans are so spoiled.

Ok—back to the story:

I have no desire to sort through other people’s junk and price it, but Pam said that if I ever wanted a cashier job at the TotSwap for a couple of days, I could have it.  So, before I got my job with Bridgette, I signed up to cashier. And that’s tomorrow.

I can’t wait.  I’ve been waiting to play with a real live cash register since I was 6 years old.

My only concern is that I’ve never had to make change.  Sometimes you hear the dire warnings, “Check your change.  Those cashiers can’t make change,” and I nod my head and roll my eyes and say, “Cashiers!  Sheesh!”  But secretly I worry, “Check my change?  I don’t know how to make change.”

How many times do you hear that “kids don’t learn math in schools these days” because they “don’t even know how to make change.”  I guess my school was progressive, because back in the 80’s, they never taught us how to make change.

I skipped the Work in Fast Food or Retail rite of passage, and went straight to my super-secret government spy agency job.  We never had to make change at the spy agency.

But I’ve been practicing.  I discovered that you can count up from the sale price, instead of doing tricky subtraction in your head.   But I’m still a little nervous that I’ll be the 39 year old aging Gen X-er who can’t figure out how to make change and everyone will make fun of me.

Wish me luck!

Rats, Pirates, Crawfish, Wookies, Pentecostals, and Drums

Finally!  The one who inspired this whole ordeal is coming out from his aquarium and finding his voice!

Every five years, my friend Michael takes a Picture of the Day every day for a year.  In October of last year, he suggested I do the same.  So I did.

Tonight, Michael, my inspirer, has finally written a guest blog.

You’ve all met Michael before:  I went to see Titanic with Michael and his wife, Kim, and I showed a picture just a couple of nights ago of them chatting with us on the iPad.

A few words to describe Michael:  cheerful, energetic, enthusiastic, carefree .  Here he is:

—————————–

Howdy – My name is Michael Connelly and I am tonight’s guest host for the Dusty Lizard blog. You may remember me being described in a previous DL blog as Remy from Ratatouille: crawling thru the sewers of Paris, searching for the perfect bit of fromage… wait, I think she meant…oh, forget it.

I’m taking my guest blogging cues from when I was little. I would sometimes stay up late to watch  “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”.  Joan Rivers often filled in for Johnny and  was the A+ guest host.  Here’s the formula:  Be funny, inject your own style to compliment the host, do not hijack the show to alienate the audience, add a bit or two about yourself, drop a few names, add a bit about the host that the audience may not know, and wrap it all up with a swinging big band number.

Interestingly enough, Joan looks almost exactly the same 30 years later…

The Opening Monologue 

(If I lose you here, you’ll be praying for Jackie to come back.)

So I’m driving down I-95 at 3:45 AM on my way to the Outer Banks, North Carolina. Ahhhh – OBX.  Miles and miles of pristine beaches, warm water, slow-pace, and four-wheeling on the beach.  (Cue banjo music – loud, turn-it-to-11 banjo music). There’s plenty of sharks right off the shore, but you don’t hear about them too often.

But you do hear about all of the Pirates – ARGH!!!

Anyways, I had plenty of road time to think about my guest blog and our friendship with Jackie and Bryan.   I can’t remember the specific aha moment of when we became friends, as the friendship slowly collided over time. We met at church, we have been mutually described as “interesting”, both as couples and individuals. Somehow the friendship just evolved, er, intelligently designed over time to what we are today.

What are we? I don’t know – but a spiffy chart would help!

Being a techno-nerd entrepreneur/consultant who makes a living by sometimes drawing things on walls, I started composing Venn Diagrams of friendship between couples.  Let’s look at the first set of couples –  DW1 and DW2 have a common thread, yet DH1 and DH2 have nothing – this relationship can only sustain the dinner date nite out on a neutral TGI Fridays turf and no more.

Now, here’s the Venn Diagram of Team Connelly and Team Valko.  As couples, we are polar opposite.  Yet there is plenty of overlap that we can all get along on various levels…

Example: I have an extra ticket to a lavish Cajun Cookout hosted by the former White House Chef, Walter Scheib – who would love to go? I’ll call Bryan. He’ll dive into the crawfish etoufee headfirst, just like me.  And we can talk about techno nerdy stuff while we do it!   Jackie needs a sign for Bramble Cottage?  Aha – Kimberly can paint a sign.
DO OR DO NOT, THERE IS NO TRY

Ahhh, the glorious Death Star – the anchor of our friendship.  Well, that and being born-again Pentecostal Christians.  Now there’s a combination that throws off every marketing demographic known to the most savvy ad agency. When either of us do a Google web search, somewhere in PaloAlto, the Google servers groan because they don’t know if they should serve up an ad for LegoStarWarsCon12 or a Benny Hinn Crusade.

Star Wars invades all our lives. I can take a vacation picture of my kids and intertwine it with a Star Wars scene.  Here’s Girl12 and Boy10 playing at Jockey’s Ridge Sand Dunes in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.  It’s like the scene in Episode 4 were R2D2 and C3PO land on Tatooine.

Hmm – Kill Devil Hills – now that’s a good Pentecostal town name.

USE THE FORCE TO FEED YOUR CHILDREN

Did Jackie ever tell you that she went to the opening midnight showing of Star Wars Episode III – Revenge of the Sith? But she had to be careful to plan going to the movie around the timing of breast milk for Boy7 who was a mere padawan at the time.   Again, Google Servers groan – Star Wars Legos, Pampers or Breast Pump Ads?? ARGH!  (Oh no! PIRATES, again!)

And who was by her side?  My mega awesome wife, Kimberly. Imagine the “two mysterious chicks”, as I’m sure the Jedi-robed 16-years olds were calling them, at the midnight showing with all of the StarWars nerds. Now that’s the type of woman who makes a man’s heart go thump-thump.

Ya know what else makes a man’s heart go thump-thump?  Bacon.

YOU HAVE A SISTER….

And in a galaxy far, far away (Detroit, Michigan) on that very same midnight,  my sisters Kelley Riley and Agnes Jensen were also seeing Episode III.    They were wearing shirts like “Sith Happens” and “My brother is a Wookie.”

Yes, Wookie – that is the name that my family calls me. My nieces didn’t even know my real name was Michael until they were in middle-school. I am neither hairy, not tall, nor smelly. But I do retain all the good qualities of a Wookie – I can fix things in a pinch, I’m a loyal friend, and I can tear peoples arms off when I lose my temper.

During one late night cyber chat, I was sharing with Jackie how incredibly smart and talented my sisters are.  Jackie, being an only child, was pleased to hear that some families are not insane.  Well, we Connelly’s are, but in a good way.  My sister Kelley is now also hooked on the DustyLizard blog – she’s probably sitting at her work desk right now going “I’ve made it in life – I am now officially in the DustyLizard blog!”

While we’re talking about families, did you know that my family was selected as the “OFFICIAL HAPPY FAMILY OF GETTYSBURG” – We were the professional models used in all official marketing for Gettysburg – our faces are in the magazines and print ads around the nation.  The paparazzi can be a bit unbearable at times.

DL here: Michael meant to send me a picture of the family here, but I didn’t get it. So I found my (autographed) copy of Gettysburg Magazine and took a picture of the cover. That really is him and his family on the cover.

DL again: Here’s another picture from inside the magazine. They have about 5 pictures of them in the magazine, and you can see them in visitors centers around the nation.

AND NOW YOUR NAME SHALL BE DARTH VALKO, ERR VADER

Speaking of Wookie names, did you know Valko’s considered Darth as a baby name?  Darth Valko – that’s way coool.

My brother and sister-in-law had twins – a boy and a girl.  They are named Grace and Nathanial and we love them so much… but if we were to be so lucky with twins, we would have named them Luke and Leia. Seriously.  Kimberly used her skills to make their baby picture more Naboo-appropriate.

And while we are talking about names, the Valko’s have Clarisse, Alex and Juan the TV.  We name our gear as well.  We have Gerta, the iPad. That’s a strong German name – as she’s the workhorse of the family. And then Svetlana, my iPhone 4s. That’s a good Bond Girl name. She’s techxy sleek, always wears black, and can dismantle bombs in seconds.

Kimberly is convinced that Svetlana will not talk to her. Kimberly tried to use Siri Voice – “Siri, call Michael.”  “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you said,” and kept doing it over and over.  Is Svetlana jealous?  At least when I ask Svetlana, “Who is my wife?” she replies “Your wife is Kimberly Connelly” and pulls up her contact information, just in case I forgot where she lived.

YOU WILL GO TO THE DEGOBAH SYSTEM…

You may not know that Jackie secretly desires to play drums.  HELLO!  I’m a Jedi Master when it comes to percussion.  I’m a formerly nationally ranked rudimental champ and toured for years in competitive drum and bugle corps, where I met Kimberly who was spinning rifles.   Perhaps I should become like Yoda and invite her to my tiny little hut where I will serve unedible soup and watch her get ADHD impatient (I want to learn now!!!).

Well, I have the next best thing than a Yoda hut – it’s called the Fishbowl. Yup – you can see me most Sundays banging away in the “drum booth” at our church. It was designed to keep drums quiet (now that’s an oxymoron!).  When I’m in there I  feel like I am beyond the outer rim. I’d say about, uh, 12 parsecs outside the Rishi Maze.  (C’mon who said that quote??)

Actually there’s nothing Sci-Fi about it – it’s got big old fish-glass windows. I feel like I should put on a snorkel so I can be Finding Nemo instead of glorying God.

Come to think of it, I think Jackie’d be a great drummer – she’s weird and intelligent.  That’s good building blocks for drums. And she has 3 men in the house that could be her roadies to carry around all her drum gear. That’s essential.  We’re soon to see her back-room filled with a sleek drum set.

And in true Johnny Carson style (who was also drummer), I’ll close the blog with arguably the best ever to hit the skins, the late jazz legend, Buddy Rich.  (Click here for Buddy Rich vs Animal from the Muppets.)   I actually once pretended to be his roadie and got to set up his drumset, but that’s a long story for another blog…

Thanks for reading – DustyLizard will be back tomorrow evening! Good night!

Michael Connelly 🙂

Gory Guillotine Movies, Greedy Shepherds, and Gobs of Gold

The wicked state of Pennsylvania does its very best to dissuade one from homeschooling.   This time, its evil plan was to force me to travel great distances, much like Marco Polo traveling to the mysterious realm of medieval China.

Speaking of China, my favorite part of homeschooling is history.  Why?  Because I made the choice to teach World History in a four year rotation, and I’ve discovered that history is fascinating.  I’ve also discovered that China is a very old country with a lot of this fascinating history.  I never learned any of it when I was in school.

When I was in school we learned about Jamestown, The American Revolution, The French Revolution…no wait.  The French Revolution wasn’t taught in history.  I learned that in French class.  They showed us the Gerard Depardieu movie, Danton, where everyone’s head gets chopped off and the blood comes pouring out of their necks.  It was the first time I’d ever seen anything gory like that and I was shocked and disturbed to discover that gory movies are mesmerizing.

Anyway, when I was school we learned about Jamestown, The American Revolution, The Civil War, The American Revolution, Jamestown, The Civil War, and we ended with Jamestown, The Civil War and The American Revolution.  I ended up loathing American history.  It was the same thing over and over and over…

Well, it turns out there’s a whole world out there with lots and lots of countries, and they have some amazingly exciting history.  Hopeless battles with 300 men fighting against an army of 80,000, and the 300 win…well, until they’re betrayed by a greedy shepherd.  Disguised kings who hide from invading armies in a peasant’s hovel and get yelled at by the peasant’s wife for burning the biscuits.  A woman who was supposed to act as regent Pharaoh of Egypt just until her brother grew up, but when he came of age she didn’t want to stop being Pharaoh.  When they told her a woman couldn’t rule, she said, “Then, let’s just pretend I’m a man, shall we?” and she dressed up like a man for the rest of her life, complete with a fake beard, continued to rule as Pharaoh, and everyone just went along with it.

This is great stuff!  Why didn’t they teach me this stuff?

When I was in school, I had 11 years of repetitive American history and one year of World History.  And in that one year, the only time I learned about China was from a Pearl S. Buck novel I was assigned to read.

But now, studying World History over a leisurely course of four years, we have a chance to learn lots and lots of Chinese history.  And whenever we read about China, we are like Pavlov’s dogs, and simply drool and drool until we get to Li’s Buffet for some of those yummy Chinese donuts.

What was I talking about?  Oh yeah, the great distances we must traverse in order to legally homeschool in Pennsylvania and how it’s like Marco Polo traveling to China.

Here’s what I’m referring to: once your homeschooled child turns 8 years old, you must create and sign a document that states things like, “I will teach my kid in the English language,” and “I am not a crook.”  This document must be signed in the presence of a Notary Public.

Notary Public?  What’s that?

I never even knew what a Notary Public was until I had to find one for this burdensome homeschool law.  In case you don’t know, along with performing other mysterious rituals, a Notary Public will look at your picture identification to see if you are the person you say you are, and then they’ll watch you sign a legal document.  They’ll stamp the legal document saying, “Yup.  The person who signed it really is the person they say they are.”

“Darling Husband,” says I, “Where shall we find such a dread Notary Public?”

Fortunately for me, Darling Husband knew where to find such a one.  He gave me a map and I set out on my journey.  First, I had to open the back door, step out on the porch, and open my yellow ducky umbrella.

Luckily, it was drizzling and the hammock was soaking wet, which allowed me to maneuver past this first obstacle that would keep me from my course.  If not for that blessed blessed rain, I would have been tempted to take a nap on the hammock and, much like Odysseus on the island of the Lotus Eaters, many years may have passed before I moved again.

After that, I had to labor up the muddy hill where we can’t get any grass to grow,

…and had to step gingerly over the wet grass (clover) so that I wouldn’t get water all over my sandals, which would take hours to dry and leave me with wrinkled toes for the afternoon.  Or, worse yet, I’d have to change my shoes.

Then, I had to struggle to open the back gate.  Darling Husband has some sort of plastic string thing around the top, that has to be unraveled,

and then the various metal locks that are rusting and stuck have to be forced free while lifting the gate at the same time, a feat which requires the strength of 10 men, or one very determined 122.6 (according to the scale this morning, not counting the shoes) pound scrawny-armed female on a mission to confront the dread Notary Public.

After this incredible journey of traveling through the yard and opening of gates with rusty locks comes to an end, lo and behold, there’s an entire road to cross.

But I was heartened to see that the end of my journey is in sight.  See that building far off in yonder distance?  That is the lair of the elusive Notary Public.

With a last burst of strength, I endured long enough to cross the road, after waiting for the one lone car to putter by, and stumbled on weak and weary legs through the parking lot.  I fell through the door, and from my splattered position on the floor, I lofted my Affidavit of the Supervisor of a Home Education Program form in the air, and, in a voice victorious, cried out, “I need you to witness the signing of this document!”

I signed, the Notary Public observed and stamped my document and then!  then!  the realities of the financial burden set in.  The Notary Public gravely told me, “That will be $375.”  (He actually did.)  But I managed to haggle him down to a staggering $5.00.  With weary arms I hefted my bag of gold onto the counter and counted out the obscene sum.  And finally, like Robinson Crusoe, I made my way back home again after many, many minutes parted from my beloved family.  I announced, “Family!  I made it back!”

Boy9 said, “What?  Back?  I didn’t even realize you were gone,” and we fell upon each other necks with tears of joy at our happy reunion.

Don’t Tell Women They’re Crabby, Brains Work Better Upside Down, and Chocolate For Every Meal


Boy9 likes to wake up hours before the rest of the household, and gets bored easily.  A bad combination.  So, Darling Husband has recently introduced Boy9 to podcasts.  Boy9 begins each day by sitting on his head on the chair in the playroom for an hour or so, listening to his favorite podcast: The Ramen Noodle.

This evening, I was out until about 10:00 p.m. and hadn’t even started thinking about what I’d blog about tonight.  But while I was gone, Darling Husband and Boy9 guest-wrote the blog tonight, in the manner of a podcast.  Here it is:

Me:  Tonight’s guest blog is brought to you by DarlingHusband44 (you can call me DH for short) and DS9…

DS9:  Hey, who is DS9?

Me:  What?

DS9:  I’m Boy9 not DS9!

Me:  Whatever.  OK.   Tonight’s guest blog is brought to you by DarlingHusband44 (hereafter referred to as DH) and Boy9 (and NOT DS9).  This is DS9:

…who looks nothing like Boy9…

Now that that is sorted out, here’s the idea:  It is tough for Darling Wife to write these blogs (and let’s be honest, it’s tough on me, too).  After all, she’s sits here for HOURS writing each night.

Me:   “Are you coming to bed soon?’

DW:  “Yeah, I’ll be there in a minute”

Me:  One hour later in a message sent through facebook messages, “Are you coming to bed soon?”

DW:  “Yeah I’ll be there in a minute”

Boy9:  Yeah I know, and she wonders why she’s crabby in the morning.

Me:  Shhhh.  I am not finished with the setup yet and I really don’t think it’s a good idea to say mom is crabby in the morning (man lesson).

So, anyway, she writes for hours each night.  I don’t begrudge her though.  She’s good at it and it would be unfair of me not to share her talents with the world.  I am one of her biggest fans after all.

Boy9:  (laughing)

Me:  Not that kind of fan….cut it out!

ANYWAY, there are some nights when you can tell she just wishes someone else as talented as she is (well as close as one can get that is) would come to her rescue with a stirringly eloquent missive filled with witticisms.  See, I can use a thesaurus too.

Boy9:  Dad, what kind of name is Bramble Cottage?

Me: What?!

Boy9:  The name of our house.

Me:  It’s the name.of.our.house.  Why do you want to know? …  They can’t see you rolling your eyes in the blog.  Oh wait!  We can take a picture!

Me:  So why did you ask about Bramble Cottage?

Boy9:  I was thinking the true writer could just write about that tonight.

Me:  The true writer needs to go to bed early.  Have I ever finished explaining what this is all about yet?

Boy9:  No.

Me:  What were we going to write about anyway?

Boy9:  Why don’t you scroll up the page and find out?

Me:  ‘Cause I didn’t write it yet, duh!   OK, the idea here is to give you a little perspective on what it is like living in this house from Boy9’s point of view.  However, since this is his current position:

This is pretty much his point of view.

Me:  Doesn’t that give you a headache?

Boy9:  All the blood rushing to my brain makes it work faster and gives me better special abilities.

Me:  (aside – just remember I am only responsible for ½ of his genes)

Boy9:  Do you think mom will let me be the co-host again?

Me:  I don’t know.  Let’s just see how this little experiment turns out, shall we?  What are some of your favorite things about growing up in this house?

Boy9:  I get free meals all the time.  What could be better?  I like the ones with chocolate chips in them.  Right now I am eating an Italian Ice, but the red and the blue ones both taste kind of the same.

Me:  OK.  Italian Ice is one highlight.  Anything else?  Do you like living in a small town?

Boy9:  It’s so small that barely anyone else can fit.  It’s a nice place to be.  Most of the time there is something to do.

Me:  Do you have a favorite memory in this house?

Boy9:  Not exactly but I have a funny one if you want me to share it.  Actually I have two.  Should I do the bathroom one or the tape one?

Me:  I don’t know.  Why don’t you start telling them and we will see.

Boy9:  Well the tape one is that I was listening to a tape and I fell asleep.  Then I woke up and restarted it because I missed it all and I fell back asleep and it happened three times.

Me:  That’s just riveting.  What’s the bathroom story?

Boy9:  It’s just that once when I went to the bathroom, I fell asleep.  I could tell because it was darker than when I closed the door.  What does ribbeting mean?

Me:  Not ribbeting, riveting.

Me:  So both of your fond memories revolve around sleeping?  (You see we are about building memories that last a lifetime in this house, folks.)  We are going to have to be a little more interesting here or you will definitely not be allowed to co-host again.

Boy9:  Hey dad, I think you should give some emphasis to the word definitely and do not type what I am saying.  Really.  Stop it!  Stop typing!

Me: (tee hee hee.  Paybacks…)  So, do you have a favorite TV show?

Boy9: my turn to tipe!

Me:  Why don’t you let me do that?

Boy9:  I like to watch Get Smart, Dr. who, Star Wars, Twylight Zone, Babilon 5

Me:  All fine unprompted choices there, son.  I’m so proud of you.  Hey, why don’t you let me take over the typing for a bit?  So, tell us what you think about your mom’s picture taking.

Boy9:  EEEEEVIL!!

Me:  Evil?  Why would you say that?

Boy9:  Posing every three seconds and messing it up and having to do it again and messing it up again and having to do it again.  Stuff like that.

Me:  But is that merely an expression of evil itself or do you see it is an actual incarnation of evil?

Boy9:  What’s incarnation mean?

Me:  Something to do with a flower.  Anyway, I think we’d better stay away from talking about photography and blogging, probably sore subjects.

Boy9:  Yeah…

Me:  And he licks his wounds.  Maybe he’s just licking the Italian Ice from his fingers.

Boy9:  I want to take pictures of some of the good and bad things in my life.

Me:  Like what?

Boy9:  Like hugging and spilling my milk on the floor.  We should take a picture of me spilling my milk on the floor!

Me:  Uh….no.  Maybe another time.

Boy9:  You have written 1000 words.  That’s a lot of words.

Me:  Yep.  And like your mom says,  I didn’t even have anything to write about tonight.