Where the Wild Things Go

Somewhere around the middle of November the Direct TV service in Batman’s room quit working.  I tried all the usual fixes: unplugging it; resetting the box according to the directions on the screen; plugging and unplugging the cables.  Nothing worked.  The screen was plagued by a bouncing Direct TV image that informed us the receiver was unable to talk to the satellite.

I was busy, and truthfully I thought that Nickelodeon and the Animal Planet could use a break from Batman’s devoted attention, so I didn’t get around to calling for repairs right away.

In fact I didn’t get around to calling for repairs for almost two months.  I finally got a chance to call last week, and the first available service appointment was today.  That worked out well, since the kids have the day off from school and we could be home waiting during the four-hour window of our appointment time.

The technician arrived bright and early and went right to work. 

He checked the receiver.  It was fine.

He checked the satellite and that was fine. 

He checked the cable to the satellite and that was fine too. 

He was admittedly puzzled.

Finally he came back into the house and together we pulled the little dresser that the TV sits on away from the wall.  The nice technician picked up a few stray DVD’s that had fallen behind the big old TV, and with a clear path he shown his flashlight into the dark corner.

This is what he saw.

Dug a hole

A gentle pull on the cable that ran out through the wall to the outside world revealed this:

a lone wire

I guess we now know two things:

1:  Where Batman’s hamster Wampstey was hanging out until Sparkles the Elf  found her and convinced her to go back to her cage, and  

2:  Hamster’s have VERY strong teeth.

Oh, and maybe a third thing. 

Wamstey doesn’t like Nickelodeon or the Animal Planet.

As the technician bid me adieu and walked out the front door he said, more to himself than to me, “I really think I’ve seen everything now.”

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The Stand In

Every parent can remember those moments when your child makes you so proud you could just burst (or burst into tears) at the thought of it; those times when you simply cannot even express your profound feeling of delight in an accomplishment or a deed.

I believe those moments are to be savored and reflected upon, revisited and reinforced, so that they can be emulated and hopefully repeated in further iterations throughout the child’s life.

I had one of those moments with Batman last week.

My son and I went alone to karate that night.  His sister had announced earlier that same evening that she did not want to continue with karate lessons.  She had been kicked rather hard in the ribs when sparring during the prior class, and left the floor near tears and wincing with pain.  She is a tough kid when it comes to riding horses but she does not enjoy being pummeled, and though she showed some talent for the sport it was clear that karate just wasn’t her thing.

Batman was enthusiastic about his sister’s departure from their shared class.  As I said, Annabelle had a natural talent for the sport, and in the strict ranking system that is employed in their group she was one rank ahead of her brother.  Her leaving gave Batman an automatic rise in stature.  He thought that was pretty cool.

I delivered the news about Annabelle’s departure to Sensei Ed (the instructor) when we got to class.  He was shocked to hear that she was leaving, but agreed that karate is not for everyone.  Then he looked at Batman.  “You are going to have to work extra hard now to make your family proud,” he said. I don’t think either he or I knew at the moment just how literally that phrase would apply to class that very night.

The class started as normal, with the lower-ranked white belts on one end of the mats, with the higher ranked yellow and the single purple belt in a line at the other.  One of the white belts was lined up with the higher ranks, performing all the moves of the kata with the more advanced students.

Once the groups had finished practicing their kata, the warm-up sparring began, with the sensei picking out two volunteers to go hand-to-hand and foot-to-foot on the mat.  After just a bit of warm-up an unusual thing happened.

Sensei pulled aside the highest ranked white belt, the same young man who had been performing kata with the upper ranks before, and gave him an unusual command:  he was to choose someone to fight for him.  This had not occurred in our class experience to date, so all of the parents and students watched curiously.  The boy seemed unsure of what was taking place too, and after glancing around a bit he turned and pointed at Zach, who as the next lower rank was standing right next to him in line.

The Sensei turned to Batman and asked “Do you agree to fight for H?”  Zach nodded, having no idea at this point what was going on.  “OK,” Sensei said.  “Let’s get started.”

He pulled out the lowest ranked white belt and she and Zach squared off on the mat at Sensei’s command, then sparred for about a minute, with the instructor watching the clock carefully.

Karate Spar 1 (2)

When he called “Stop”, Batman and the little girl bowed to each other and Zach started to sit down.  “No Zach,” called Sensei. “You stay in.” Zach shrugged and returned to the middle of the mat, where he was met by the next-ranked white belt.

This routine continued on.  And on.  After about the first three rounds we all got our first clue about what was going on.  The young man who had selected Zach as his stand-in was not sparring, but sitting watching the action intently.  When his attention wandered for a moment the Sensei immediately stopped the fight and squatted next to the young man.  “You watch what is going on out there.  Zach is out there fighting for YOU!”

The boy’s mother was sitting a couple of chairs away from me and she rose and walked to where I sat.  “I think that Zach is doing the sparring for H’s yellow belt test for him!” she said.  Ah, that made sense.  She had told me the previous week that H had been hit hard in a sparring match and his ear-drum had been perforated.  He wasn’t allowed to spar until it was fully healed.  Apparently Sensei had decided to go ahead with H’s test, using a stand-in to exhibit the sparring skill.

It seems to be the norm that a student does not know exactly when their belt rank test will be administered.  Although we’ve been in karate for only a few months we have seen two or three yellow belts awarded, and the student never seems to realize he or she is being tested until the sparring begins and they begin fighting up through the ranks.

When a student is tested for the higher ranking belt they are required to spar with every student in class that night, from the lowest to highest ranking, fighting continuously with only a couple of quick breaks for water.  It is a true test of the candidate’s stamina and strength, not to mention commitment to the practice.  It can be almost brutal to watch but it is a required rite of passage for the discipline.

Batman knew that he was not yet being considered for a yellow belt, so I was sure he had no idea why he was sparring with every student.  Nonetheless, he fought courageously through all the white belts.  Then he started on the yellow belts.

Karate Spar 5

Some of the higher ranked kids were not only much more experienced than my seven-year old, they were also years older and a lot bigger.  Batman was not intimidated at all.  He even got some great hits in on the bigger kids.

Karate Spar 6

After a candidate fights his way up through all the individual ranks, he must take on two competitors at once.  Before this round started, Sensei approached H and asked if he still wanted Zach to fight for him.  He said yes, so Sensei asked Zach if he was willing to continue fighting.  My son nodded solemnly.

Batman still had not figured out what was going on, but he fought gallantly against the two higher-ranked yellow belts.

Karate Spar 7

And then against two lower ranks.

Karate Spar 10

Next was the hardest test of all.  After fighting about a dozen rounds already, the candidate must do two rounds where they spar against three classmates at one time.  For this fight they get to choose their competitors, who are lined up in rank order on the floor.  Usually the student chooses others who are right around the same ranking as themselves for this portion of the test.

Batman stood for several seconds surveying his choices.

Karate Spar 13

When he made his choice, the other parents and I shook our heads in disbelief.  He called his competitors quickly, from left to right, starting with the highest ranked student in attendance that night, a purple belt who outranked him by a few years and many belt colors, and then the two highest-ranked yellow belts.

Sensei Ed gave a sharp laugh of incredulity.  “Are you sure you want to pick those three?!”  Batman nodded solemnly.  He had no idea why he was fighting, but he was going to make the most of it.

Before the match started Ed admonished the higher ranks to be judicious in their attack, and reminded them that Zach was but a lone white belt.

Karate Spar 14

It didn’t look like they pulled many punches to me.  Batman held his own, and once again got in a few good points on them.  Sensei kept yelling “Good!  Good job Zach!”

After that fight Batman had one match left.  This time he chose two white belts and one yellow belt.

He told me later he was getting a little tired by then.

When the last match was over, Ed lined the students up according to rank, with the  young H standing in front with him.  Then he did something we’d never seen before.  He asked Zach to come up and sit beside H.  After that he performed the ritual of awarding the classes’ newest yellow belt, with Zach sitting right beside him the entire time.

Karate Award Belt

Then Ed asked Zach to stand before his classmate, and instructed H to shake Zach’s hand and tell him thank you.  He then explained to the class and bystanders what some of us had already guessed: since H was qualified to test for the next rank but was unable to fight, Sensei exercised a very rarely used provision that allowed the candidate to choose a stand-in for the sparring portion of the test.

Finally Zach realized what he had been doing.

Karate Congrats Friend

The group got a break for some water, and Batman bounded over to me.  His head glistened with sweat and he looked exhausted.  But he was happy.

When class resumed a minute or two later there was time enough for a little more sparring.  Sensei Ed asked for volunteers.  I don’t know if he or I was more astounded when Batman waved his hand wildly in the air.

“Are you sure you want to go out there again Zach?  Aren’t you tired?” he laughed.

“Nope!” Batman asserted, so out he went.

Karate Spar 16 (2)

When class was over Sensei pulled Zach aside and talked to him privately for several minutes.  The only portion of the conversation I could hear was the teacher thanking him for fighting so hard for his classmate, and telling him what a great job he had done.

Finally Zach joined me and he was all smiles as we walked out into the chilly darkness.  “What did Sensei say?”  I asked him.

“He said he thought I was almost ready to be tested for my yellow belt!”  Batman beamed.  His hard work had obviously impressed his teacher.

I told him how proud I was of him, but I don’t think he really comprehended the absolute pleasure that I took in his performance.

It’s something only a parent can understand.

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The Further Adventures of Sparkles the Elf

Our Christmas Elf, Sparkles, has been with us for a little over two weeks now, and she is doing her best to entertain us with her antics.  While it is certainly impossible to top her Christmas miracle of locating and re-caging Batman’s beloved Wamstey, she has tried her hardest to do at least something every day.

Some of her efforts have been (quite frankly) a little boring.  Like appearing to bounce around in the various Christmas trees decorating our house.

Sparkles Little Tree

Leaving a message written in marshmallows on the kitchen table was only slightly more entertaining.


She has gift wrapped a variety of items around the house, like Annabelle’s NRHA plaques that decorate the walls in the living room.

Sparkles Wraps

And a couple of pictures in the hallway, matching Annabelle’s beribboned door.  To Batman’s horror, she reclined on top of one of the picture frames for an entire afternoon.  He implored me to utilize my mommy-elf-touching-dispensation to move her somewhere else.

He said it “didn’t look safe up there.”

Sparkles More Wraps

The elf also wrapped the recliners in the living room.

Sparkles Bubble Wraps

And then used the same bubble wrap on the pillows of both kid’s beds.

If the wrapping looks a little cursory to you I urge you to bear in mind that Sparkles is a very busy elf, and sometimes it is better to do something a little quickly and imperfectly than to do nothing at all.

Sparkles Wraps Pillows

The elf was probably also in a hurry when she toilet papered both kids’ rooms last week.

Sparkles TPs

But she did take time to quickly dress-up the antlers that Batman got last year after Daddy’s deer hunt.

Saprkles TPs Horns

And then sat there all day the next day wrapped in the tissue.

Sparkles Antlers

It appeared that Sparkles had a little more time to prepare this snowy diorama on the dining room table.

Sparkles Rides Slider

This has been by far Annabelle’s favorite Sparkles adventure this year.

For an elf she has pretty good taste in horses.  She is riding NRCHA World Champion Topsails Rien Maker, or “Slider,” autographed by none other than Slider’s owner and rider, Russell Dilday.

Sparkles thru snow

Russell graciously inscribed “To Annabelle:  Keep on Ridin’ and Slidin’.  Russell Dilday.”  She cherishes the little Breyer toy.

Sparkles Slider Autograph

Sparkles and Slider are leading none other than NCHA World Champion mare Bet Your Blue  Boons.  We have “Bet” in the house because she is the maternal grandmother of our great little mare Freckles.

She sure looks pretty in all dressed up, doesn’t she?

Sparkles Decorates Bette

Last night the elf delivered some of me and the kids’ favorite cookies.  I say “some of” because apparently she got hungry on the way back from the North Pole and ate three whole cookies, as well as a small bite out of the one she was holding.

That’s the only explanation I can think of.

Sparkles Oreos

The elf has a little over a week left with us before she returns to the North Pole with Santa until next year.

I am hoping she will write the kids a letter reminding them to be good and stop chasing the dogs with the remote control truck and to brush their teeth without being asked.  And to stop fighting in the morning too, while she’s at it.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sparkles Performs a Christmas Miracle

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the kids (Annabelle, anyway) didn’t seem terribly impressed with the vehicle that Sparkles the Elf had chosen for her entrance this year. They weren’t unappreciative of the elf’s offerings, don’t get me wrong, but I think we all know that Sparkles has a pretty big reputation to live up to around our house.

When we awoke today, it seemed that Sparkles had hardly moved at all.  She reclined languidly across the top of the hutch in the corner of the living room, laying right in front of the model of Venus that I Annabelle had made for her science class project last year.  Her eyes appeared barely open, and she seemed sleepy and quiet.

Sparkles Rests

I had the fleeting thought that maybe Annabelle was right.  The elf was tired.  Or past her prime.  Or something.

Little did I know.

Sorry, I have to back up now seven or eight days to start this story properly.  Bear with me.

The kids and I took a trip to California last week.  We went to pick up a wonderful new horse that Annabelle has been given the privilege of riding for the next show season.  That story and the trip in and of itself is a whole blog on its own.  To be written, I promise.

Anyway, when we got back from the trip the kids were overjoyed to see their small house pets and play with them for the first time in several days.  Since Annabelle was suffering from an ear infection and couldn’t go outside, they amused themselves with putting on a few animal competitions with the pets at hand, namely their two hamsters and a fluffy white guinea pig named Polly.

Somehow during the initial zeal of competition that Tuesday afternoon, the top of Batman’s hamster cage was left, shall we say, unsecured.

I’ll add here that Batman’s hamster is actually one of the few rodents that we have owned that l like.  Her name is Snowball, I think, or maybe it’s Princess, but whatever, she is one of two of the several hamsters we’ve had that has never bitten anyone.  I realize that’s not a terribly high standard of gentility, but hamsters are just not always the nicest creatures, in my experience.  Snowball/Princess, whatever, (the kids actually call her Wamstey, some variation of Hamstey, which is, well, you get the picture) had actually gotten so tame that she would ride around on Batman’s shoulder, clinging no doubt in terror to his shirt or the skin underneath, but looking for all appearances like she was having a good time.  I could even hold her.

She was a nice hamster.

On that Tuesday afternoon Wamstey escaped from her cage.  Into the messy, disheveled maelstrom that is Batman’s room.  I wasn’t feeling so swell myself at that time, having what I learned a few days later was strep throat, so finding the hamster wasn’t on the top of my priority list.  In our two or three-year experience with small furry pets, we have lost several, and found them all.  The longest gone had been Annabelle’s previous pet hamster Copper (the other hamster that never bit anyone) and he went missing for one whole day before being discovered in her underwear drawer, where he had chewed holes in a whole week’s worth of new Barbie underpants (they had Barbie on them, they didn’t belong to Barbie, FYI).

I kind of forgot about the missing rodent that day, and at some point the next day I asked the kids if they had found her.  No, they answered, they had not.  Even though Annabelle was really pretty sick, I made them both go into the room and empty out the toys and other rubble that was under the bed and look more carefully for Wamstey.  No luck.

I remembered at this point the one time before that Wamstey had escaped.  She had only been gone for about ten minutes that time when I walked into the dining room, the furthest room geographically in our little house from Batman’s centrally-located bedroom, on an unrelated errand.  I heard some faint scratching in the corner.  Wamstey had somehow traveled through the whole house unseen to arrive in record time at that far wall.

This might be a problem.

Another couple of days passed.  Batman had the audacity to ask if we could please go to Petsmart and get another hamster since his obviously was not coming home.  Absolutely not, I answered.

The kids got on YouTube, on the Hamster Channel (yes there is a Hamster Channel) and looked up how to find your lost pet hamster.  That afternoon they removed the hamster cage (an aquarium, actually) from the dresser where it usually sits and placed it on the floor.  They took some big books from Annabelle’s bookcase and made steps up the side of the aquarium and sprinkled hamster treats all around the floor and up the steps.  It reminded me a lot of the bird/rabbit/squirrel traps that me and my siblings used to set in the yard featuring a cardboard box propped up by a stick and a long piece of string.  I humored them, sure that the hamster was gone for good, or at least from that room for good.

Milo ate all the hamster treats approximately five minutes after the kids put them down.

That evening I voiced my concern to DH over the fate of the hamster.  We have a couple of outside cats, barn cats more or less, that do come in the house on occasion. They had been inside non-stop since we had returned from California.  While these cats do wear baby clothes and sometimes ride around in a stroller, they are stone-cold killers, and I regularly find dead offerings ranging from mice and birds to the occasional squirrel on our back porch.  We also had Milo, the hyper and prey-driven mutt who would definitely devour any loose hamster in sight, as well as Maddie, who is old and deaf now but has killed more than one mouse or gopher in her time.  The hamster may have met her demise right here within our walls!

DH dismissed my worries about our hamster prey animals, mostly.  He correctly pointed out that if one of our hunters HAD assassinated the hamster we would have probably discovered evidence of some kind.  Icky but true, I decided.

Last night when I was tucking Batman  into bed I picked up the aquarium and sat it on the dresser where it belonged. I was tired of tripping over it when I put his clothes or toys away.  My son screamed in outrage.  “MOM!!! YOU CAN’T PUT THAT BACK UP THERE THE HAMSTER WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO REACH IT!!”

“The hamster’s not coming back, son.  It’s been a week almost.  She’s not even in this room anymore.  I’m sure of it.”  I said this gently.  I did feel bad for him.  “No, mom.” he said.  “Sparkles is here now.  She’ll use her magic to get the hamster back in her cage!”  “OK,” I sighed, “we’ll give it one more night.”  I sat the cage back on the floor and straightened the books.  “NO MOM, the books have to stay like that.  They are steps so Wamstey can get inside.”  I rearranged the books and gave my delusional son a kiss goodnight.  Then I walked back into the dining room as I had several times already, to see if I could see or hear the hamster.

No luck.

This morning I looked up at Sparkles relaxing on the hutch.  I was proud of her for moving during the night, since she was so tired and all.  I made some coffee and watched a little of the 6 a.m. news, and went outside and fed the horses, bunny and cats.  I filled up Winston’s heated water bucket on the back porch and poured him two cans of kibble.  Then it was time to wake up Batman.

I walked into his room and glanced at the mess surrounding me.  The room was in even more disarray than usual after being tossed several times in search of the missing Wamstey.

I glanced at the hamster cage on the floor as I walked by, thinking I was going to clean this whole mess up when the kids left for school.

When what to my wondering eyes did appear?  Two beady eyes and white rounded ears.

The hamster was back in her cage.

She's home

I could not believe my eyes.  There she sat, burrowed in the fresh bedding the kids had installed, washing her face contentedly.  I laughed in delight and whooped and woke Batman. “Look!! LOOK who’s back!”  Batman climbed out of bed and stretched, a big smile on his face.

“I told you mom.  Sparkles is magic.  She used her magic to get Wamstey back.”

Who Me

When I got home from picking the kids up from school this afternoon Sparkles had moved from her perch on the hutch to the top of Wamstey’s cage.  She appeared to be watching the hamster sleep happily in her fluffy blue bed.

Sparkles Watches

The kids took this as proof positive that she had in fact found and returned Wamstey to her cage during the night.

I can’t say I disagree.

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Elfed Again in 2014: Sparkles Returns

As fall winds down and Christmas edges ever closer to the horizon, the kids in the Desperate Household have been getting increasingly excited about all the pomp and circumstance that comes with the holiday season.

Yesterday morning I was signing Batman’s reading log for school and he squinted at my writing in puzzlement.  “What’s the date, mom?”  I told him December 1, and he shrieked with glee.  “That means it’s almost Christmas!!”  Yes, I told him.  Nearly.  We had a brief conversation about how long, exactly, it was until Christmas.

When we got to the number of weeks, Batman’s eyes got big.  He looked at his sister and said “Sissie!! We only have three and half weeks before Santa comes. We better hurry and be good!!”

I agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiment.

Annabelle and Batman are at the age now where they have each, independently, heard rumors at school and in various places that there is, in fact, no Santa Claus (shudder).  They have made the (I think wise) decision to continue to Believe.  As my astute little Annabelle put it “I think, Mom, that if you don’t believe in Santa then he won’t come see you. If you do believe in him, he will.”  She backed up this analysis with the fact that the kids at school who believed there was a Santa always got presents from him.  Those who didn’t, never did.

It makes perfect sense.

In conjunction with the visit by the fat man in the red suit, the kids have been overjoyed with anticipation over the impending arrival of Sparkles the Elf.  Sparkles has come to spy on our family for the past two years, and performed such a number of exciting escapades during her visits that I am honestly not sure what she can do to continue, let alone top them, this season.

Really, I mean I have no freakin’ idea.

Anyway, arrive Sparkles did, yesterday while the kids were at school.  Her manifestation this year looked like this.

Shes back

I thought she was fairly clever to spell out “Be Good” with the M&Ms, and she had written a well-worded letter telling the kids that basically they’d better stop fighting or Santa was cutting them off, for reals this time.  She said how she hated to have to give Santa a bad report on a family, then, for good measure, she added a paragraph about how tired she was from making toys and how the kids SHOULD NOT FREAK OUT if for some reason she did not return to the “shop” (Sparkles has gotten pretty casual with us by now) one night, because it did not mean she was sick or dead or paralyzed or anything at all really, she was probably just resting.

She brought her now-traditional Christmas mugs and a brand new can of hot cocoa mix, along with two stuffed reindeer and a Christmas Countdown calendar for each child.  I thought she was pretty generous.

The questions started just as soon as the kids approached me in the pickup line at school.  “Had I left the house?” (Sparkles has a history of only showing up when no one is home) and “Had Sparkles come?”  (I said I couldn’t answer that question), and so on and so forth, over and over again at an increasingly higher pitch for the whole five-minute drive home.

I had not shut off the engine in the truck before my excited progeny were out and bounding toward the house.  They whooped with excitement when they spied Sparkles at the top of the little tree.

Then they settled in to read the note.

Reading Note

Annabelle read the whole thing out loud, carefully sounding out any words that were somewhat unfamiliar.  Apparently Sparkles and I share the same propensity for using expansive and unwieldy language, preferring two or three words where one would do nicely.

The reading took her a bit.

Reading from the Back

When she was finished reading the note, the kids summarily destroyed the carefully designed M&M message that it had probably taken Sparkles at least fifteen minutes to design, stuffing as many of the red and green candies in their mouths as possible.

They opened their individual Christmas Countdown calendars and devoured the little chocolate snowmen hidden under the flap marked #1.  Batman expressed his delight over the calendar, but his sister was less than impressed.

“She brought us this same thing last year,” Annabelle said matter of factly.  She started to walk away, then stopped and turned, briefly.  “I’ll bet Sparkles was tired from all the flying to get here.  That’s why she didn’t do much when she got here this time.”  Then she continued on to her room.


I guess Miss Sparkles the Elf had better get her game on.

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Karate Kids

Our family embarked on a whole new adventure this week:  Batman and Annabelle have started karate.  It seems like a natural extension of their ongoing desire to bludgeon each other with their hands, a dog toy, a stick, or perhaps a Barbie doll artfully swung by the hair, on a daily basis, only now I’m hoping they will gain a little restraint and finesse from their formal training.

Originally, only Batman was signed up for the class, but the whole family was in attendance for the first assembly, which was held at the YMCA just a mile from our home.  It’s not that we’re the type of family who has to do everything together; quite the contrary actually, with Annabelle and I going one direction to a horse show many weekends while Batman and Daddy head out to fly the plane or play golf at a local course.

For this occasion, though, we were all in attendance, mainly because Batman refused to go without me, Desperate Hubby really wanted to be there to watch, and Annabelle couldn’t stay home alone, much less would she consent to missing a chance to see her little brother get pummeled by someone other than herself for a change.

We arrived a few minutes early for the practice to find most of the class already  warming up.  The gi clad group was busy running lines, hopping like frogs and doing push ups.  Batman was the only one in street clothes, since the nice lady at the recreation department had recommended waiting for a month or two to make sure he liked the training before investing in the outfit.

My son joined the group shyly, but within a few minutes was hopping along just like all the other kids.  I could tell Annabelle was very interested in the process, and shortly after our arrival she pulled me close to her face to whisper “Could I do this too, mom?”

That sounded like a perfect idea.  The rigorous exercise and strict discipline that I had witnessed in only the first ten minutes of class had already won me over.  Like I always say, a tired dog and a tired kid are the best in breed.

I walked over to the instructor and asked him politely if Annabelle could join in, promising I would stop by the city rec office the next day and pay her fee.  He generously welcomed her to the class, and we were officially a two-karate family.

First off, the kids had to learn how to fall. While the other class participants practiced higher level skills as a group, Batman and Annabelle were taken to the far side of the mat along with a few of the more advanced kids and an assistant instructor.

Annabelle squealed with glee and she fell down over and over again.


Falling Back

Frontwards.  Backwards again.

I was thinking that all of the experience she had falling off of Reno was coming in pretty handy.

Practice Falling

Batman had to practice falling correctly, too.  He picked it up a little quicker than his sister, probably since she has been pushing him to the ground since he was old enough to talk back to her and steal her toys.

Falling Down

After they had mastered the falling technique, they went with the other kids to get suited up for some sparring.

The instructors painstakingly explained where the “hit zone” was on the opponent.  Which was a good thing, because my two little angels sure don’t observe such niceties when they are hitting each other at home.

The First Match

Annabelle approached her opponent cautiously at first, probably because it felt weird to be hitting someone who wasn’t her own flesh and blood, but eventually she got into the whole swing of things (har har).

Karate Girls

And then it was Batman’s turn.  In contrast to his sister, he didn’t waste any time going after his opponent, with more enthusiasm than style at first.

Go Batman (2)

After all the kids had sparred a couple of times they got a little breather to get a drink and remove their gloves.

When the line at the drinking fountain had dwindled, the class got into formation to practice a new technique.  I didn’t catch what this technique was called, but it basically entailed pushing your opponent to the ground (no hitting was allowed in this encounter) and trying to pin him, sort of like in wrestling.

I immediately dubbed this exercise “My Living Room.”

Ah, my kids were right at home with this one.

Looks Normal

You might even say they were naturals.

Looks Like Home

Once they were done wrestling each other around they each got a chance to practice on a new opponent.  Batman drew up his best friend from kindergarten.  But that didn’t slow him down.

Serious Action

Annabelle was slightly more restrained.  She told me later “Mom, I was afraid I was going to HURT her.”  She is used to Batman’s screaming and faked injures to try to get her in trouble, I guess.

After she “My Living Room”ed one of the other girls, she got to participate in an exercise that involved three kids taking on one kid, with the goal of pinning the single opponent.

It reminded me quite a bit of the pig mud wrestling the kids did at the fair this year.

I immediately dubbed that exercise “Play Date.”

Three on One

After everyone participated in “Play Date” there was a short ceremony awarding one of the boys in class his yellow belt, which he earned in a test that went on simultaneously to the other kids’ practicing.  It was pretty cool.

After the awards ceremony the kids all had to participate in a hand-shaking line, going from highest skill level to lowest skill level, with each child required to shake the hand of each and every other in the class.  I’m not proud to say it, but this exercise was halted briefly near the end because my lovely daughter passed right by her brother and refused to honor him by shaking his hand.  Go figure.

When we got back home the kids went right outside to “practice.”  The beauty of this was that although they didn’t treat each other with any more restraint and respect than they ever did, and threw each other on the ground mercilessly (just like usual) for about an hour, there was no crying and not even a little tattling.

You see, now they’re not fighting – they’re doing karate.

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Batman Has A Birthday

My baby boy turns six this week, and last weekend we celebrated with what has somehow become our traditional kids birthday party.  I must admit that I lobbied pretty hard for a “destination” type party this time – maybe Chuck E Cheese, Wahooz, the Zoo – somewhere with a defined location and parameters, and someone else to clean up after.  I’m not proud of it, but that’s the truth.

Batman persisted though, and in the end I was glad he did.  It is fun to share the amenities that we enjoy with other kids (and adults too).

So, we cleared the garage (more or less) and set up some tables and chairs, mowed the lawn, and rented a bouncy house complete with a slide.  A few kids from school were invited, along with family and friends, and the party was on.

Grumpy and Reno went above and beyond the call of duty by giving non-stop pony rides from 1:00 to about 5:30.  They were good sports.

Pony Rides

Reno was in big demand for those who hadn’t been on a horse much before.

More Pony Rides

The kids also rode bikes.

Bike Rides

And four-wheelers.

Four Wheeler

Played on the bounce house slide.


Posed for pictures on the bounce house slide…..

Girlson Slide

and played hide and seek.

Hide n Seek

The lively crowd whacked the heck out of a Spiderman piñata.

Spider Man Pinata

Batman tried his best, but in the end it was friend Shawny who set the candy free.

Shawny Pinata

Which resulted in a feeding frenzy of totally expected proportions.

Candy Grab

Toward the end of the party there was a cake.  A “Frozen” Movie cake.  With princesses on it. 

Cake Closup

But Batman didn’t care that it was a somewhat, er, feminine theme.  He loves “Frozen”. 

And it did have blue icing.

Frozen Cake

After the children’s festivities wound down Grandma Kay and Grandpa Vernon came by to visit and have dinner with us.  Baby Rex (and his momma)  stayed too. 

G Vernon and Baby Rex

We just celebrated Grandma Kay’s birthday a couple of weeks ago, and I think she looks younger every year.

Kay and Milo

Friends Kari and Tom came to see us as well, and we were all treated to an impromptu beauty pageant.

Grandpa Vernon had the tiebreaker vote, and he pronounced blond Kampbell the winner, since she had the most teeth out of the three contestants.

Beauty Pageant

After dinner wound down, we had three extra kids for the night. 

Annabelle and her two friends, Kampbell and Jelissa, spent the night in her room, watching movies and doing each other’s hair and makeup.  Cliché I know, but true.  At the age of seven.  Wow.

Batman and Kade played in his room, watching “Frozen” over and over again and playing with the cool new toys he got for his birthday.

Early the next morning all three girls were awake early.  They wanted to ride. 

So ride they did.  Until a torrential downpour arrived to send them all scurrying back inside.  I’m pretty sure that Grumpy and Reno were happy to see that rain!

Three Girls

The party finally wound down with the departure of our final guest at about noon on Sunday. 

It was a full twenty-four hours of fun.  I can’t wait until next time.

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Hoppy Trails, Snowfluff

We had to say goodbye to another beloved family pet yesterday.

Annabelle’s little bunny, Snowfluff, began exhibiting some unusual symptoms on Saturday afternoon.  She had her little head turned slightly to the side, like our dog Toby used to do when he got an ear infection.  As the weekend went on the tiny bunny got progressively worse, to the point where her furry head was turned almost upside down on her body.  In just a few short hours she was so unbalanced that she couldn’t eat pellets out of the purple dish she shared with Batman’s bunny, Princess, and she hopped in dizzying circles around the cage trying to eat her hay.

Yesterday morning I searched for a veterinarian to take a look at the bunny, starting with our usual small animal vet and progressing through the three other valley clinics they referred me to.  Each of the four phone calls went the same; they did not have an exotic animal vet available until later in the week.  For some reason I got an inspiration, and remembered reading a newspaper article about a small veterinary office right near us, with a single practitioner who treated all sorts of small animals.  I looked her up and with one phone call we had an appointment for right after school.

The kids and I rushed home after class to get the bunny, and Annabelle held her wrapped in a towel in a little plastic drawer on the drive to the vet, talking to her and trying to calm her down.   She sat on the wooden bench in the small office and answered the questions asked by the receptionist bravely, but I could tell she was really worried about her bunny.

Poor little Snowfluff was so disoriented that she would occasionally just start spinning in the towel, her entire body thrashing in an effort to right herself.  It was heart wrenching to watch.

Waiting for Doctor

The veterinarian was very kind, and it didn’t take her more than a minute or two to diagnose the problem.  Snowfluff had a grievous infectious disease that causes lesions of infection inside a bunny’s head.  Because the infection was deep in the skull it was impossible to treat effectively, and the only kind thing would be to put the bunny to sleep.  Many bunnies from pet stores (like Zamzow’s, where we got ours) are carriers of the disease, the vet told us.  Some bunnies develop the lesions and some do not.

Soft-hearted Batman was inconsolable at the news, and the vet gave Snowfluff a sedative to quiet her (which got Batman’s attention, as he asked in a snuffling voice “Is that the killing shot?”), then left us alone in the examining room for a few minutes to say goodbye.  After only a few minutes more the vet walked out and handed us a small cardboard box with Snowfluff’s body inside.  Batman insisted on opening the box and stroking the bunny, tears falling on her soft fur as he reached inside and kissed her one last time.

We’ll bury Snowfluff outside, next to Batman’s departed bunny this afternoon once the ground dries up a bit.  The vet told us that we should not acquire another bunny as a pet while  Princess is still alive, since while she might never develop the disease herself she was surely a carrier of it after living with Snowfluff for the past few months.

We talked a lot about Snowfluff after we got home, and about what happens when you die.

Batman said he prefers to think that Snowfluff is a wild bunny now, living in heaven with Batman/Blackie, the bunny that Winston the Maniac Dog dispatched last fall.

As for Miss Annabelle, she is using the opportunity to lobby for another hamster.

Sep Bunny Dress Up

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A Sunny Spring Day (kind of)

It was a positively spring-like day yesterday morning.  Temperatures were near sixty degrees, and the sun shone brightly.  The kids and I were excited to take the horses to the foothills for a nice long ride to enjoy the day. 

Unfortunately, we were competing with daddy, who was planning a fishing trip to Lucky Peak, so at the last moment we lost our male companion and it was just Annabelle and me. 

She caught the horses and took their blankets off so they were ready to load.

Getting Ready

We made the forty-minute drive to Eagle in good form, and got saddled up to head out. 

Walking to the Gate

There some clouds moving in, and the wind was a little more than brisk as we walked to the gate, but we were still happy.  Annabelle rode happily along, eating her peanut butter and jelly sandwich as she went.

Eating a sandwich

We climbed and climbed to the top. 

Up the Mountain

And when we got there the wind really hit us.  It was, well, freezing.

But Winston still went for a swim.

Winston Cools Off

Annabelle worked on getting Reno in the pond for several minutes until I told her we had to keep moving or freeze to death.  He ultimately declined the swim.

Trying to swim

We saw a strange bone on the far south side of the mountain, and we couldn’t decide what it had come from. Annabelle wanted to pick it up and bring it home.  I said no.

A Strange Bone

We were very happy to get in the warm truck as soon as we got down the hill.  I had not anticipated the strength of the wind and had forgotten just how cold the foothills can be when the breeze is coming off the snow. 

As for the fishermen, well, they had no bites.  Batman summed up the trip in this sentence:  “I really don’t know why someone would name that place Lucky Peak, because there is definitely nothing lucky about it!!”

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Batman Earns His Spurs

For the past three years or so Annabelle and I have enjoyed a wonderful but mainly solitary enjoyment of our mutual horse obsession.  We have spent days riding the trails of the Boise Foothills, practicing our reining maneuvers in one arena or another, or traveling to horse shows near and far together. 

The men in our family spent those same hours flying around the valley in small airplanes, playing guitar, or just hanging out at home.

That all changed yesterday.

For the past couple of weekends, actually, when Annabelle and I made the drive to Kuna to ride our horses, Batman has chosen to come along with us rather than stay home with daddy.  In a surprising turn of events he has chosen to ride Grumpy, all by himself, trotting and even attempting a lope now and then, cruising around the indoor arena in random patterns and weaving in and out of the unpredictable traffic that is typical in a busy reining barn.

Last week Batman complained that Grumpy was not trotting enough.  He was frustrated that he kicked and kicked and Grumpy walked and walked.  When we went to ride for the second day in a row last Sunday, my manly little boy was so desperate for speed control that he elected to use Annabelle’s spurs. 

Her PINK spurs. 

That was all well and good until we arrived at the barn to find a local trainer and two clients doing some work in the arena.  A male trainer and his two male clients, actually.  Batman sat down in the dirt outside the gate and demanded that I take his spurs off.

He WAS NOT riding in pink spurs in front of other boys.

By the by, a conversation was started with the other boys in the arena.  Batman admitted that he had been wearing spurs but had taken them off outside the arena because they were pink.  When his new friends didn’t seem taken aback by the color of his training aides, he wanted them back on.

And a whole new relationship was born.

Batman + Grumpy + (a little) Speed = Nirvana.

And then the lobbying stated.  Batman wanted his own (non-pink) spurs. Immediately. We didn’t have time to stop to get spurs that day, but later in the week I pulled into the local tack store on my way to the barn and picked out a nice pair of youth spurs and some tooled straps.

Batman was beside himself with excitement when he got home from school that afternoon, and he couldn’t wait to try them out.  Yesterday we finally got the chance. 

We loaded up the horses and headed to Eagle Island State Park for a nice long ride. It was to be Batman’s first-ever real trail ride where he was not being led on Reno by me on another horse, and I was hoping it would go smoothly.

We got saddled and mounted up with no problems.  I thought the new spurs looked very professional.


We rode to the small mountain of sand and gravel on the north side of the park, and the kids climbed their horses to the top to pose for photographs.

Annabelle and Reno Standing Tall

Batman stood patiently for his pictures, although I knew he’d really rather be using his new spurs to trot Grumpy down the trail.

Batman Standing Tall

We had a wonderful ride, looping around the entire park for a nearly two hour ride.  Annabelle kept exclaiming “Mom!  This is so much fun!!” 

Batman concurred, explaining excitedly that he found it so much more enjoyable to ride when he “was steering, instead of just being led.  It is much more fun to be in charge of your own horse!”

As for me, I just smiled and enjoyed the view from my position in the back of the pack.

View from the Back

Near the end of the ride we stopped in a big grassy meadow, and the kids trotted and loped around in circles, performing a semblance of the Short-Stirrup reining pattern that Annabelle has had memorized since she was four, only this time in a “pairs” formation.

Pairs Reining

We were all frozen, but grinning ear-to-ear when we got back to the trailer.

Something tells me that my riding program will never be quite the same again.

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