Buckles, Blankets and Buffets

This past weekend was our local reining club’s annual awards banquet.  Although she didn’t know it for sure (I still try to reinforce that it isn’t the winning that matters) Annabelle was going to be awarded the year-end buckle for 2014 Short Stirrup Champion.

I really enjoy going to these banquets.  It is fun to catch up with friends during the off-show season when we don’t see each other often, and the auction items are always fun to browse. Last year’s shows are rehashed, triumphs are celebrated, and goals for the upcoming season are said out loud for what may be the first time.  It is fun.

This year, however, we had an added element of excitement. The banquet was for the first time ever to be a themed event (Hawaiian Vacation) and a costume contest was going to be held in conjunction with the other awards.  My good friend Shane Broome had custom-made a gorgeous cooler as the prize for the winner of the costume contest.

In case you don’t know, a cooler is a special type of horse blanket that you put on a horse after he is just washed or really sweaty, and it helps to quickly dry him off.  You can buy a standard cooler at pretty much any retail horse wear outlet, but to own a cooler made by Shane is as owning an original Picasso is to hanging up a framed poster from Wal-Mart.  There is simply no comparison.

I really wanted that cooler.

Since I have been so busy with the kids’ school activities of late, I knew that time to shop for a suitable costume would be at a premium, so the weekend before the banquet I got online to see what Mrs. Amazon could offer up in the way of outfits.  I quickly added to my virtual cart a grass skirt for me and one for Annabelle, a tiny child’s size coconut bra, a package of leis, and for good measure a ten-pack of large silk flowers with hair clips.  I was about to check out when suddenly I saw……..

The Tacky Tourist Adult Size Costume

The costume featured a one-piece pull-on jumpsuit with a large hoop waist and blue Bermuda shorts.  The front of the  jumpsuit featured a prominent question asked by many a hungry tourist, and it was topped off by an extra-large Hawaiian shirt in a stretchy polyester fabric.

I knew immediately it was for me.

I removed the adult skirt from the cart and, chuckling out loud to myself in my empty office, clicked “Quantity: 1” next to the outfit. I added a big ugly hat and some large orange sunglasses with a parrot and a margarita glass on the sides and clicked “Place Order.”  Since I wasn’t guaranteed delivery before the day of the party I sprang for the express shipping, which cost just a bit more than the actual costume itself.

The morning of the party I completed my outfit at our local Wal-Mart, adding some red canvas shoes along with tan trouser socks that looked exactly like a pair of knee-high support hose.

Annabelle pulled her hair back with the big silk flowers and I tied the coconut bra on over her gymnastics leotard.  The grass skirt was a perfect fit.  Desperate Hubby wore a bright red band shirt featuring Elvis in a Hawaiian theme and a bunch of leis.  Batman was the picture of subtlety, donning a lone flower necklace over his favorite red and blue cowboy shirt.  We were a picture.

Well, sort of.  I apparently have still not figured out the settings of my new camera.  The images were all so dark you can barely make us out. And as you can see, Batman declined to be photographed.

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We did get a slightly better photo of Annabelle and me in a brighter corner of the room.  Don’t we look divine?

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In actuality, Annabelle had a real mix of emotions about my costume.  She was at once mortified by my appearance (“MOM!  I can’t believe you are embarrassing yourself in this way!”) and simultaneously sort of intrigued by all the attention it was getting.  It was a hoot.

The costume contest itself was a close call.

My friend Justine’s family was done up in Hawaiian style from head to toe.  Dad was dressed as a Tribal King, with a grass skirt and armbands, a hat similar to mine, and an apron-type pull-over that sported a tanned six-pack covered by a much larger version of Annabelle’s coconut bra.  The beautiful blond sisters were decked out in authentic garb that was really from Hawaii; flowers adorned their hair in elaborate styles, and their gorgeous mom was glowing in a Hawaiian shirt and radiating good cheer.

Another lovely friend wore an authentic Hawaiian outfit with a silk lei and flowers so lifelike you would swear they were real.  She was as elegant as I was tacky.

There was a multi-colored mohawk on our trainer, and another (female) version of the six-pack apron on our club president, Ann.  Competitors abounded.

Shane was supposed to be the judge, but with so many friends vying for her colorful cooler she cleverly recruited the bartender, who knew none of us (well, she knew some of us a little better than others, if you know what I mean) to stand in for her.

Our judge stood in front of us for a long time.  In terms of sheer degree of decoration, the family of the Hawaiian King were sure winners.  Elegant presentation clearly fell to my friend Sherrie.  An award for originality could have gone many different directions.

I was nervous.

But in the end, Tacky triumphed.  The good-natured bartender laughed and said “I just have to go with the tacky family.”

I was thrilled.

Annabelle loved her new buckle, pictured here with Reserve Short Stirrup Champion Kieran.  Sorry about the bad picture.  I really have to read that owner’s manual one of these days.

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We scored big at the silent auction, thanks to the diligent attention of both my dear children, who bid early and often, winning us a few things that I hadn’t even known were for sale.

The evening was a real success in every realm.

The buckle truly is lovely…..

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and fills out Annabelle’s own personal trophy case nicely.  She has now officially tied my fifteen-year show career in number of buckles won.

At the age of eight.

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But I have the cooler.

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It is so beautiful that I simply cannot bear to think of putting it on a wet or sweaty horse.  I have hung it over the end of my bed where I can see it every day.

I think it matches nicely.

Categories: Horse Adventures, Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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.

Categories: Kids Are Funny Creatures, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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.

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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.

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

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.

Huh.

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

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Saturday Morning Run

I love the fall.  I love everything about it, from the cool, crisp mornings to the warm sunny afternoons.  I particularly love to run in the fall, when it is still light early enough for me to get out and back before my kids wake up, the dogs racing joyfully around my feet and bounding through the dewy alfalfa like deer until I leash them at the road to finish my loop through the nearby suburbia. The chill in the air makes my slow pace seem like flying (well, that’s a big exaggeration) but it is exhilarating.

I don’t run every day, nearly, but I do most weekends unless there is a horse show.

I always run alone.  I enjoy the solitude of it.

Today was different though.  For some reason when Batman heard me open the front door to leave, he ran out of his room and begged to go with me.  It was not the first time he had asked, but it was the first time I said yes.

You see, running’s my thing.  It’s one of the few things I do just for me, like yoga, and I cherish the solitude of my thoughts accompanied only by the slow steady pounding of my Asic-clad feet.  I usually take one or both of the dogs with me, but this was the first time in recent memory I was accompanied by one of the kids on my solitary pursuit.

After ten minutes of preparation which included changing his basketball shorts for sweat pants, adding a fleece jacket and, at the last minute, switching his cowboy boots out for a pair of running shoes, Batman and I headed out.

We jogged a ways down the gravel road that fronts our house, past the first hay field, then walked a ways through a muddy access road and through another hay field to the canal bank that runs east of our house.

Batman loves to go down the canal bank, even though I’m always harping at him to stay on the far track away from the water’s edge. You can see how well he listens to me.

We're Off

Canals are really, really dangerous.

Unless you’re Winston, that is.  Then they’re just a big ol’ swimming pool.

Winston Swims

Milo tried and tried to talk himself into jumping into the big ditch.  But he couldn’t get it done.  He just stood on the edge and looked wistfully at the cold, cold water.

Hey Milo – it is only 45 degrees outside right now. Maybe you didn’t make a bad choice.

Can't Talk Himself into it

After a half mile or so down the canal bank we made a turn onto the sidewalk to continue our circle.  Batman is fascinated by sidewalks, since there are none of them directly around our rural homestead.  When we started walking on the sidewalk he said incredulously  “Wow!  So we get to walk through a NEIGHBORHOOD?”

Yep.  Lots of them.

sidewalk

We walked and jogged, walked and jogged.  It wasn’t long before Batman was pretty tired, and we walked more than jogged.  He talked the whole time, about things at school, his hamster, what we were going to do for the rest of the day, like that.

After another mile or so we turned a corner down another street.  When we turned, Batman said “Mom, have you been down this street before when you ran?”  Yes, I answered.  Lots of times.  “How many times do you think?  Twenty?”  Yeah, probably twenty or so, I said.

“Hmmm.  So everything on this street must look really familiar to you, huh?”

Well, that stopped me in my tracks for a minute.

Actually it didn’t.

Usually when I am out for a run I am thinking of a million things other than what I am doing.  I find it enjoyable and cathartic to just pound along, but I am obviously not being very mindful of the moment.  As I gazed around at the some of the tidy houses  we strolled past I saw new things, through the observant eyes of my six-year-old.

There were a handful of purple flowers growing right out of the grass of a nearby lawn.

Purple Flowers

There were mud puddles here and there along the gutter, and he was pretty fascinated when I told him it was from the runoff of sprinklers in the yards along the street.

Oops

He wondered if people had mail in their mailboxes, why did their dogs bark so much, why did that man honk his horn at the other man washing his truck in the driveway, what if we turned down that road by accident and then had to walk all the way back to where we were supposed to be?

The innocent observations of my first grader were pretty refreshing.  I laughed and talked and answered the multitude of questions as best I could.

He got tired when we were about a quarter-mile from home.  But that didn’t bother him.  He just sat down and rested.

Kids are so smart.

Time for a Rest

We completed the loop that usually takes me about 35 minutes in a little over an hour.  But it was time well spent.  It was all new through the eyes of a child.

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Batman and the Gym Not-So-Dandy

When the recreation department flyer came home in the kids’ school backpacks a couple of weeks ago my progeny was all atwitter with the possibilities.  I told them they could sign up for one class each, as long as there was not a conflict in schedule.

It didn’t take them long to choose.  Batman, of course, chose karate, and I blogged about his first class last week.  Annabelle decided she wanted to do gymnastics, for the simple (and I thought perfectly acceptable) reason that she was intent to master the art of the cart-wheel.

When Annabelle wanted to add karate after watching part of Batman’s first class I was all for it.  As I mentioned in my post, I was impressed by the discipline and sheer physicality of the program, and I knew she was going to be bored sitting there twice a week just watching.

What I didn’t think all the way through was what would happen next.  Once we got in the car to drive home Batman announced that we was going to take gymnastics with his sister.  It was only fair, after all, since she gotten to add karate.  Mind you Batman had never seen a gymnastics performance of any kind and certainly had no idea what gymnastics entailed.  I mentioned to him that he would probably be the only boy in the class, to which he shrugged and said “So what?  I’m used to girls.”

OK then.  When I logged onto the rec department website to pay for Annabelle’s karate, I signed Batman up for one month of gymnastics at the same time.

Last night was the first class.  Annabelle hurriedly did her homework after school and I told the kids to change clothes.  Annabelle put on a tank top and her new yoga pants that I had purchased so she wouldn’t get so many mat burns during karate.  Batman dressed himself in a snappy ensemble comprised of a blue hand-me-down ninja turtle shirt and flannel pajama bottoms that ended about two inches above his ankles.  I told him he’d probably be more comfortable in shorts, but he dug his heels in and said he was already comfortable, so off we went.

As soon as we walked into the rec room, which coincidentally was the same room used for karate, I had a feeling there might be a problem.  Most of the kids were already there, and each and every one of them were girls.  There was an abundance of long blonde ponytails, and almost everyone was wearing a leotard.  Batman took one look at his classmates and shrank behind me, his dusty cowboy boots kicking me in the back of my legs and he shifted frantically to stay out of the teacher’s sight.

I walked forward and greeted the instructor and told her the kid’s names.  Annabelle kicked her flip-flops off and headed straight to the mat.  Batman clung to my waist like a drowning swimmer in a lake, and no matter how hard I tried I could not get him to come forward.

The instructor immediately recognized my plight, and I’m sure she was trying to be helpful when she said “If he would feel more comfortable you could change to the 6:15 class.  It has four boys in it.”  She obviously had mistaken my son’s competitive drive to not let his sister have the privilege of more class time than he for any spark of desire that he might have to actually do gymnastics.

After several minutes of whispered discussion and a few wrestling moves on my part, it was apparent that I was not going to get Batman out on that mat.  The little girls all performed a warm up sequence fairly similar to that in karate, and then they lined up to begin practicing maneuvers.

Backward

Batman climbed onto a chair in front of me and sat miserably, kicking his boots back and forth and plucking at this camouflage pajamas.

Baleful Batman

We watched as Annabelle learned move after move, a delighted smile on her face the entire time.  The girls laughed and played and danced around.  They were all really enjoying themselves.

Batman watched balefully, pulling me forward once to tell me that he had expected to be training on the tall balance beam on the other side of the room, not the tiny one that the coach had dragged out and placed on the karate mat.  He didn’t want to do baby gymnastics.

When class was over, the coach gave every girl a sucker.  I am quite certain that was the only moment of remorse that Batman had over the demise of his gymnastics career.

Now shes got it

When we got in the car to go home Annabelle announced that she LOVED gymnastics and hated karate.  I told her that she could stop karate if she wished; just as soon as this month’s lessons were complete.  As for Batman’s tuition, well, I guess I’ll just chalk it up to mommy malpractice.

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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.

Backwards.

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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School, Sweet School……

Ah, we’ve completed another rite of passage here in the Desperate Household.  Today is the first day of school, and my babies are enjoying the kickoff of first and second grades, respectively.

My kids have been literally counting the days until school started, and the send-offs this morning were both quicker and less emotional than last year (at least for the children).  They were terribly excited to see old friends, and with a year of kindergarten behind him Batman had none of the uncertainty facing him that he experienced last year.

I walked the kids to their classrooms to deliver the giant bags of supplies, then it was time for them to go on outside and get in line with their classes.  Batman took off down the hall with nary a glance back; Annabelle hesitated in just a moment of uncertainty, then headed off after him.

Just like that they were gone, my last “I love you…” fading into the echoing laughter and excited squeals that comprise the flurry of activity signifying the first day of school.

We have all enjoyed our summer, I think.  It has been filled with swimming and horseback riding, vacations away and friends here, county fairs and sleepovers.  It has been a busy, but for us, relatively unscheduled summer.  I had said we would cut down on our horse showing this year, (not really meaning it, I don’t think) but the way things worked out we did show quite a bit less than last year, and that freed up multiple weekends to do other stuff.

This was also the first summer that I didn’t put the kids in a regular summer program, so they were hanging around the house with me most of the time and while that was fun, toward the end of summer it was clear that we all needed some routine back in our lives.  I embraced the idea of returning to school reluctantly, but I knew it was for the best.

For one thing, Batman got waaaaaay too comfortable sitting around in his underwear watching Paw Patrol (and occasionally Spongebob, don’t judge me) until noon every day, and for the past couple of weeks Annabelle mysteriously started sleeping in until 9:30, 10…even 11:00 one day, until I woke her in alarm to make sure she hadn’t slipped into a coma overnight.

I also let myself become a little….lax, I guess, in my daily production.  I still got up at a reasonable hour, but usually at 6 or 6:30 instead of 5:30 like normal, and spent a leisurely hour or so taking the dog for a run or working out.  Then I’d have breakfast and drink coffee, watching the news with Desperate Hubby until he left for work and I waited for the kids to get up.

Our days at home were filled with visitors this summer, which kept us busy and entertained.  Our company always seemed to be interested in horseback riding – and even Batman decided he liked to ride towards the end of summer, when he started loping Freckles around the arena as fast as he could get her going (which fortunately wasn’t very fast).

We had some trips away – a pleasant week in McCall with my in-laws and the extended family, a couple of traveling horse shows, and a last-hurrah-of-summer trip to beautiful Garden Valley, where we stayed in a cabin on the river and spent the days hiking, swimming, fishing and (the boys) golfing.

The one thing I didn’t do much of this summer was write.  I worked on a few pieces, and managed to get one complete story written for my Writer’s Group meeting this month, but all-in-all I’ve not been very diligent in that endeavor.  For the few of you who read my blog you probably noticed that my posts have been non-existent since before school got out.

With a more regular schedule I plan to remedy that; I’ve started a brand new writing project that I am excited about, and I need to capture some of our summer memories on my blog, before they fade away like my pronouncement of love this morning in the crowded hallway.

School is back; like it or not.  I might as well as embrace it.

1st Day School 2014

Categories: Horse Adventures, Kids Are Funny Creatures, Life in the Country | Tags: | 2 Comments

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