A Hole-in-Eight (aka: Anything But Mini-Golf!)

“Ugh, I can’t stand mini-golf!” I groaned as my kids and I pushed open the heavy wooden castle doors and stepped outside. “Anything but mini-golf!” The sky was filled with dark, billowing clouds, giving the mini-golf kingdom an ominous appearance. Someone was going to suffer a round a bad luck on the course today.

Me, probably.


My kids, however, did not share my sense of foreboding. Brightly-colored golf balls in hand, they raced over to the first hole, eager to face the challenge. It had one of those loop-de-loop obstacles, then a straight line to the hole. My kids each stepped up to putt, giggling as the ball bounced off the loop-de-loop or returned to the beginning. I shook my head in amazement. How were they able to be so at ease when they had played so poorly? Sheesh…almost like I had raised them well.

I stepped up to putt, already accepting my certain defeat. It had been many years since I had even bothered to pick up a mini-golf club. Even now, my mind was filled with the pitying laughter of the ghosts of mini-golf past; a remnant of those futile attempts which resulted in a hole-in-seven, or eight, or ten, when the par was like, two. I placed my neon yellow ball and took my usual backwards stance, as I am a left-handed golfer, and therefore cursed, as putt-putt courses were clearly designed for the right-handed crowd.


Then I swung.

To my disbelief, the ball swirled around the loop-de-loop, then made a beeline for the hole. It dipped around the edge, teasing, then rolled off to the side. On the second putt, the ball went in. A hole-in-two. My mini-golf unlucky streak was broken!

At first, I thought it was a fluke. But then, I began hitting an almost-perfect game. A hole-in-one on the second hole, followed by another two, then another one. With every great shot, I was starting to hate miniature golf a little less and less. My kids, meanwhile, were producing quite the comedy of errors. My 12 year-old son, who plays actual golf, kept overshooting every hole at least four or five times. My 17 year-old son kept getting shut out by the automatic doors on the little buldings. And my 15 year-old daughter, who has never played golf in her life, magically learned how to chip the ball. Which apparently you’re not supposed to do in mini-golf. She chipped her ball into the bushes, into a pond, and over a windmill. She might have chipped one right onto the head of one of the guests playing on a nearby hole if her aim had been a little better.


I did experience one hole that made my newfound love of the sport falter a bit. It looked deceptively easy – a somewhat straight shot toward a small hill, with the hole hidden in a dip in the center. My kids finished their shots, then for the next ten minutes, gloated as they watched me struggle. “Come on, Mom! This hole is simple!” They taunted, clearly pleased to unthrone the queen, if only for a moment.

After a round of 18 mini-holes, I had achieved the impossible — a total score of 57. I had conquered miniature golf! Whether it was due to a serious streak of good fortune, or a course designed by left-handers, I have no idea. I’m also not sure whether I had so much fun due to so many sub-par holes, or due to the fantastic company I was playing with. I just know that I would totally play mini-golf again, and without the moaning and groaning.

“Okay, Mom,” my kids said as we put away our golf clubs. “Now it’s time to go play lazer tag!”

“Oh no,” I said, as my kids shoved me back through the heavy wooden doors of the arcade castle and led me toward the battle arena. “I can’t stand lazer tag. Anything but lazer tag!”

Fiffer-Feffer-Splunk (aka: Happy World Poetry Day!)

Say-It-With-a-Poem

Today’s a special holiday

observed across the land

a time to honor poetry

the crummy and the grand.

 

Egads! You cry. You rhymed your blog?

Oh dear, such cruelty

to force the world to read your slop

transformed to poetry!

 

Take heart – for only once a year

deserves such accolade

tomorrow, from your memories

these dreadful rhymes will fade

 

(Nature aims to set the mood

with gray and thunderous rain

as though the weather knows it too,

that rhyming is a pain.)

 

I guess I could have skipped the rhymes

and written in haiku

or flowing, esoteric prose

Like Maya Angelou.

 

Or, break the rules like Dr. Seuss

and fill the gaps with junk

like cats in hats and Sam-I-Am

and Fiffer-Feffer-Splunk

 

But genius poet I am not

so my apology

for this experiment

in lame originality.

 

Well, that’s a wrap, it’s time to go

amazing how time flies.

I’d better hustle back to work

and quit this exercise.

 

Now it’s your turn.

Come on…it’s not like you can do much worse.

Let’s honor World Poetry Day

by writing blogs in verse.

poetry talk

Themey Awards (aka: Theme Song Karaoke)

Cameras are flashing. Crowds are cheering. The celebrities have finished parading down the red carpet. Are you ready? It’s time for the Themey Awards!

Yes, that’s a thing. Okay, not a legit thing, exactly. But it should be. With all the buzz over the Oscars, Grammys, and Emmys (and oh yeah, Oscars), I just thought I’d use the momentum to throw in my plug for a new award shoe. One that celebrates some of the most entertaining, memorable music in pop culture.

Theme songs.

I have a huge thing for television show theme songs. Half the time, I never even watch the show. But you’d better believe that when the theme song begins, I am right there in front of the TV, singing along. Theme songs are like the Superbowl™ commercials of the TV world, and they deserve to be awarded. So here we go:

The Theme Song Karaoke Award – Given to the opening theme song that inspires the most people to grab their hairbrush microphones and sing along.

“You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have THE FACTS OF LIFE! THE FACTS OF LIFE!”

Close contender: “Super-powered mind! But can it go canine as it rescues the day from sheer destruction? This is the theme song of Jimmy Neutron!”

jimmy-neutron-boy-genius

Okay, quiet down, everyone. No more singing. Time to move on to category 2.

The Bruised Arm Award – Given to the theme song that results in the most bruised arms, because our co-watchers can’t help but punch us during that one part of the song.

This category resulted in a two-way tie between the theme song from Friends (“So no one told you life was gonna be this way – PUNCHPUNCHPUNCHPUNCH!!!”) and the theme song to Beverly Hills, 90210 (Original cast).

The Top-of-Your-Lungs Award – For the theme song you just can’t sing – you have to belt out at the top of your lungs. And the winner is:

“Are ya ready kids? AYE AYE, CAPTAIN! I can’t heeeaaar you! AYE AYE, CAPTAIN!”

The Gotta-Play-Airdrums Award – Because there isn’t a single person alive who can hear this theme song without jamming along on airdrums, and possibly air guitar, too.

 

The Unexpected Blast-From-the-Past Award goes to a theme song that lots of you either don’t remember or have happily forgotten:

“Believe it or not, I’m walking on air. I never thought I could feel so free-ee-ee!”

(Close contenders included theme songs for The Great Space Coaster, The Patty Duke Show, and Fame).

And finally, we have the OMG, PLEASE GET THAT STUPID EARWORM FROM HELL OUT OF MY HEAD award, bestowed upon the worst of the worst addictive theme songs. First, the runners-up:

  1. “Grab your backpack, let’s go! Jump in! Vamonos! You can lead the wa-ay! Hey hey!”
  2. .”We’re Kids Incorporated! K! I! D! S! Yeah! Kids Incorporated…”
  3. .”I’m just a kid who’s four! Each day I grow some more! I love exploring, I’m Caillou…”

And the winner, by unanimous vote (of one) is:

 

You’re welcome. No, sorry. I really can’t help to remove that earworm. Maybe it only goes away if you find and rescue that poor animal in twouble somewhere.

Anyway, what was your favorite part of the First (and probably last) Annual Themey Awards? I liked that part, too. ¡Adios!

 

 

 

 

Beaches and Banana Slugs (aka: Camping is Boring)

“Camping is boring.”

I stared in shock at my 16yo, whom I had taken camping nearly every summer since he was a baby. “Boring?” I repeated. “How do you figure?”

Apparently, there was nothing to do while camping. No computer games, no WiiU, no skate park or Pokémon Go-ing. Nothing to do but swing in a hammock and stare at trees.

“Can’t we take a trip to a city and stay in a hotel instead?” he asked.

I laughed. Then I set the kids to work planning camping menus, writing packing lists, and stuffing the family minivan with sleeping bags, tents, and other well-worn gear for living in the wilderness. Okay, sort of wilderness. The truth is, we are not backpack-in-the-wild, cache-your-food-in-a-tree, filter-water-from-a-pond campers (much to my disappointment). We are more like state park campers with Coleman gear and a screen house to hide from mosquitoes and yellowjackets. But hey — we’re still getting “Out There.”

 

Our family has camped pretty much all throughout Northern California — Mt. Shasta, Mt. Lassen, and all throughout the Sierra Nevada. We’ve seen gorgeous waterfalls, amazing rock structures, and endless night skies smeared with clusters of brilliant stars. This time, we chose to camp at Big Basin, a huge state park nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We’d been there once before, but decided to return, drawn by the impressive beauty of the giant sequoia trees, not to mention the lack of bears. I love everything about camping except for bears. Especially at night. We pitched our tents, then did the usual camping stuff. We sat around in camping chairs, reading books and laughing over Mad Libs stories. We marveled over chipmunks and the horrid caws of Stellar’s Blue Jays. We spotted a slimy, adorable banana slug and dared each other to touch it. We grilled pizzas and toasted marshmallows and sang silly camp songs. So boring, I know.

 

On day two, we went for a long hike through the forest. We climbed on huge fallen logs and stood inside the hollowed-out trunks of some of the tallest, grandest trees on earth. Afterward, we had soft-serve ice cream at the camp store, then relaxed at camp with Uno cards and other travel games. “But Mom, there’s no Wi-Fi or cell phone service,” said the 16yo, his expression grumpy. “This is so bo-ring!”

 

The next day, we drove down the mountain toward the ocean. Then my three kids rode roller coasters and built sandcastles at the shore while I lay on the beach, devouring a good book under our huge sport umbrella. (The 16yo barely glanced at his phone, although he had service once again).  Later that evening, we returned to camp to enjoy one last evening around the campfire, where I entertained the kids by telling a super-scary story about a scarecrow who came to life.

At last, our camping trip drew to a close. We stuffed away the sleeping bags and tents and loaded up the family minivan. We cleaned up every last trace of our visit, so that the next campers could enjoy a clean campsite as we had. Then we drove away, waving goodbye to the sequoia trees and chipmunks and banana slugs — the only witnesses to our days of music and laughter, our nights of board games and reading books side-by-side under the glow of a propane lantern. No cell phones. No television. No computer screens to keep our family from truly connecting, if only for a few summer days.

Camping is so boring. Thank goodness.

 

Pokémon Go Go Go! (aka: My Super-Fake Video Game Rant)

Dear Nintendo,

What on earth were you thinking? Have you guys completely lost your minds?

I used to hold you in such high regard. Especially back in the days when you churned out seriously cool video games, like Super Marios Bros. and Zelda. It was so clever when you invented the Gameboy, and especially the Nintendo DS. My three kids used to be so entertained, and would sit quietly for hours, punching away at the keypad and fighting Lego villains on the miniscule screen. Your wonderfully simple, mind-sucking products resulted in peaceful family road trips, whine-free visits to the dentist office, and calm evenings between dinner and bedtime as my three munchkins racked up points and conquered digital worlds from the comfort of our living room sofa.

BUT THEN…

You had to go and create a revolution by inventing the Wii, followed by the bigger and badder WiiU. No more were my kids happily glued to their seats, engaged in the gameplay of the peaceful good ol’ days. Now they were on their feet, jogging in place, swinging invisible rackets and golf clubs, and shaking their hips in front of the TV screen. What madness! My quiet family evening dream was shattered by the thumping and jumping of little feet.

AND NOW…

You’ve really gone and done it. Pokémon Go? Seriously!? It wasn’t drastic enough to transform my kids from quiet sitters to noisy movers – now you’re encouraging to go places, too?

The other day, I tried to find one of my teenagers to make him take out the garbage. But you know what? He wasn’t even home! Turns out that he had actually figured out how to open the front door, and walked all around the neighborhood.

“Why would you do such a thing?” I asked him.

“To catch Pokémon, silly,” he told me.

I ended up having to take the trash out by myself.
pokemon-go.gif

If that didn’t take the cake, get this — as my kids have been Pokémon Go-ing, they’ve been meeting other neighborhood families at these so-called Pokestops and training gyms, and holding conversations about their little “adventures.” They’ve also been doing a lot more walking. Yesterday, my kids walked a whole mile in search of Pokemon, then had to text me to pick them up, because it was growing dark. So you know what? I couldn’t just stay at home relaxing. I had to get up off my rump and Pokémon Go Go Go, too.

Thanks a lot, Nintendo. What are you going to invent next — a way to make my kids eat healthier? Yeesh.

Summertime Dreaming, Part 2

Apparently, I’ve been blogging about life in the cave for four and a half years. Four and a half! That’s a long time. It is interesting now, to look back on what life was like four years ago, and to see all of the ways that things have changed. Our family. Job. Schools. As always, Time keeps marching forward, arm-in-arm with her sister, Change.

I came across this one post, Summertime Dreaming, which I published almost exactly four years ago. It was amusing to read the fun, mostly superficial summer goals I’d set there. Let’s see how I did:

Engage in some nice, relaxing Global Thermonuclear War

Haha…it has been a loooong time since I’ve had a good real-time online battle. A part of me misses the days of Age of Empires or CyberNations. But maybe I’ve outgrown my thirst for virtual world dominance.

Wear a Bikini

I totally did it! So rad, right? At the age of 36, I hit my weight-loss target and spent my first (and last) summer traipsing around the beach in a cute little two-piece suit, like a true California girl. Now I can happily move on with life and not have to wonder what it would be like to wear a bikini.

summer splash 031

Drink a Beer

I’m proud to say that I have drunk a grand total of five beers since I posted that goal. No, not all at once. Yes, I enjoyed it (though I still prefer a glass of good wine).

Remodel My Sons’ Bedroom

Yep, did it. Then we moved to a new house.

Write Write Write

I wrote, wrote, wrote.

writing creative stuff

Setting goals does not always have to mean the big, serious plans in life, like career goals, fitness goals, or financial goals. Sometimes, you can take great pleasure in setting small goals that are all about enjoying life, having fun with your family, or growing and learning in tiny ways. Meeting these little goals can result in great joy.

And now to set some small goals for the Summer of 2016. I would like to:

Do a fun programming project

Maybe design a fun new website for readers of Young Adult fiction, or design a relational database of our family’s book library. Okay fine, maybe this does not sound like summer fun to like, 97% of the world, but it does to me.

Try a new water sport

My kids and I already love kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. Learning to surf would be fun. Maybe waterskiing or wakeboarding? Even floating down the river in inner tubes is still on our haven’t-tried-it list.

watercraft fun

Learn to do something new with my hair

I’ll admit it. I am pretty dull when it comes to styling my hair. Wear it naturally curly and short, or wear it straight and shoulder-length. Ponytail or no ponytail. A couple of times, I had it highlighted, and years ago, I even wore it in dozens of mini-braids. But now what? Learn to French braid? Try a hair weave? Dye it some daring new color?

Shop at farmers’ markets

farmers-market shopping

Now that I’ve decided not to grow a veggie garden this year, I would like to make a habit of heading to some of the great farmers’ markets we have in our region. The kids will enjoy this one, too.

Write, write, write

Specifically? Finish something and start sending it off to editors for publication.

Hopefully, whether or not I am still blogging away four-and-a-half years from now, I will be able to look back on this tiny list of tiny goals with a huge smile, knowing that even if I didn’t complete them, I had fun along the journey.

IKEA (aka: Junk We Can’t Resist)

IKEA blue and yellow store It was time to replace the boys’ bedroom lamp, which was broken beyond repair. “Family trip to IKEA!” I announced. A few years ago, my three kids would have lit up at the sound of the word IKEA. They would have jumped up and down, eagerly anticipating a visit to the huge blue-and-yellow building, its magical Småland playroom, and its inviting children’s furniture area.

But now, my kids stared at me, horrified. “No Mom, not IKEA!” they groaned. “IKEA is junk!”

I sighed. It’s the sad truth. Our beloved Swedish big-box store is a producer of junk. Our family has shopped at IKEA since my youngest was a toddler. Every room in our house boasts at least one piece of furniture with a cool-sounding Swedish label. A Stornäs dining table graced with Färgrik dinnerware. A Tromsö loft bed. And yes, one extra tall Billy Bookcase. We bought each piece in a flurry of excitement, and assembled them in the usual painstaking fashion, wielding our tiny S-shaped hex keys. Each piece added a touch of Scandanavian style and beauty to our home.

And each piece turned out to be junk.

Broken IKEA chair

With the exception of the dining table, every piece of furniture we have purchased from IKEA failed in some way within two years. The Tromsö loft bed creaks with the slightest movement. One of our Ingolf dining chairs lost a wood slat. And our once-lovely computer desk is now a mess of stuck drawers and missing handles.

And yet, despite the high fail rate, something keeps drawing me (along with millions of other people) back to shop at IKEA. Could it be the lure of Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce? Is it the exotic appeal of foreign labels and furnishings with odd designs? Is it the impossibly low prices of plastic chairs and build-your-own table pieces?

frustration of assembling IKEA furniture

Maybe. But I have another idea. Right beside me on the (non-IKEA) bed where I’m typing lies IKEA’s current catalog, which is chock-filled with glossy photos of furniture and design ideas. On the cover, a grinning, messy-haired dad is pouring a glass of juice while his barefoot young son smiles up at him while perched on a Mästerby step stool. It is an ideal Saturday morning pancake breakfast scene. Flip through the catalog, and you will find more examples: a young girl happily engaged in play while her mother folds laundry beside her in a perfectly-organized walk-in closet. A young college student relaxes in her chic little apartment while enjoying a bowl of Asian noodle soup. A group of friends gather around a dinner table, smiling as another guest arrives at the door.

IKEA family values

IKEA is not merely selling us products. They are selling us an experience. We want the ideal scenes filled with happy friends and family. We want the perfectly designed homes with spaces for each member of our family. We want the organized closets, the cozy nooks, and the clean and simple look that will surely simplify our complicated lives. Who cares if the tiny showrooms are filled with uncomfortable sofas and flimsy fake wood tables? Those rooms hold a promise of independence, of more time with family, and of finally getting our lives together. Besides, they’re adorable.

IKEA fun kids playroom

But still, they’re junk. Adorable junk designed in Sweden, made in China, and selling the American Dream. I am convinced that somewhere in Sweden, a billionaire IKEA founder sits in his ultra-comfortable chair from Scandanavian Designs, twirling a cheap hex key and laughing at the IKEA shoppers of the world. Well-played, Mr. Billionaire, well-played.

Yes, I did end up dragging the kids along to IKEA that day. We did not buy a cheap lamp for the boys’ room. But we did have an enjoyable time strolling around the store, pretending to live in the tiny showrooms, and playing hide-and-seek (which, if you’ve never tried in an IKEA, is an absolute must). We did not leave the store that day with a cart full of junk furniture, as we had in the past. But we left feeling content, as though we’d finally managed to “get” the true IKEA experience — simple time spent together, enjoying life as a family.