Sunday, December 26, 2004

Happy update! 

Remember the story of Trouble, the kitten who narrowly escaped death high on a bridge in Daytona? Well, Trouble made the local list of Faces of 2004 in the Daytona Beach News Journal. She's looking mighty sweet in this News Journal photo:

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Family reunion, part I 

In much the same way that my kids think a "cavity check" is the special security check at the post gate, I grew up believing a "gang bang" was a get-together at my Grandma Jernigan's house. That is, after all, what my father called it, at least when Grandma wasn't around. We would descend on her house--6 granchildren spanning 10 years--and feast on ham and cheesy potatoes, chicken and dumplings, and the best banana pudding ever made.

One thing you have to know about my grandmother is that she was photo happy. As much as we have come to treasure the photos she took, the sight of Grandma with a camera in her hands inspired dread in the 6 of us. Any photo shoot was sure to drag on, with Grandma stage directing the whole thing: "Now a little more to the left. Hold it. OK, now do your arm like this like a ballerina!"

In May 1989, we had a photo session that got a little bit goofy. After we took every other arrangement possible, we 6 cousins flopped down on the floor with our heads together and posed for the best shot of the day:

In the years since, reunions with all the cousins have grown rarer and rarer. We got together though for Grandma's funeral in January 2002. I'm sure the man in charge of the funeral parlor thought we were quite crazy when we assumed the position right there in his lobby and re-took our favorite shot:

Today all 6 cousins and their respective parental units descended on my cousin Laura's house in Orlando for a Christmas reunion. We munched on ham and lasagna and watched our own children tear through Laura's house like we used to rip through Grandma's. At the end of the evening, we moved the coffee table out of the way and dropped to the floor for the 2004 edition of our trademark photo:

Other notable photos for today were my cousin Becky with her boyfriend Eric:

And my cousin Julie with her baby Emma:

We are returning to Orlando tomorrow for another day of family fun. I would dearly love to get a shot of the great-grandchildren in our classic pose, but I have my doubts. Getting 8 kids as young as 1 and as old as almost 15 in one place is a lot like herding cats. I'm sure Grandma wouldn't have backed down from that photographic challenge though!

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Saturday, December 25, 2004

One of these things is not like the others . . . 

Can you pick out Willis from Annabelle's new slippers?

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Merry Christmas! 

It's a one-wheeled Christmas here in DeLand, FL. Just like there are no atheists in foxholes, everybody believes in Santa during the run-up to Christmas. Mike is no exception and asked the jolly old elf to bring him a 5-foot-tall giraffe unicycle. I don't know how Santa fit this sucker in the sleigh or got it down the chimney. You can click on this picture to watch a Windows media file of Mike mastering the giraffe:

Annabelle hadn't thought to ask for a unicycle, but she was plenty pleased with the one that Fred and I gave her. Click on this picture to see her getting started with a little help from Mimmy and Papa Boyd:

Annabelle has become an American Girl maniac and asked Santa for her first AG doll. Her doll of choice was Josephina, and she was very excited this morning to see Josephina sitting beside her stocking:

Mike got a diabolo, which he hopes to add to his repertoire of circus stunts:

Jenny's fiance Jeff surprised us last night and hung around long enough this morning to watch the kids get their Santa presents and unload their stockings. Here's Jeff enjoying his Christmas gin:

As part of my ongoing campaign to showcase the cats enjoying the Christmas tree my mom worked so hard to put up, I offer you this shot of Celia:

We've had as pleasant a Christmas as possible under the circumstances. It's not the same though without Fred, and we miss him terribly, especially today. I do think that going to Florida has been a good move for us. The constant activity has been a welcome distraction and is definitely helping the time go by more quickly for us.

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Friday, December 24, 2004

Christmas happenings 

Yesterday I got to meet another one of my internet buddies. My sister and I took the kids over to Leesburg to meet Wendy and her son Rory, who are vacationing in Florida for the holidays. I've "known" Wendy since we lived in Hawaii, but this was our first IRL ("in real life") meet.

We met for lunch at Red Lobster. The kids were shy at first but soon warmed up and were chatting eagerly about dogs, cartoons, and Playmobil sets. After lunch, we got to meet Wendy and Rory's dog, Woody. Jenny took this picture of our group:

Today my Grandma Grace came over for Christmas dinner. While Dad gave Mike some guitar pointers, Grandma gave Annabelle her first ukulele lessons:

The cats are taking turns basking under the tree. Today was Oliver's turn:

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From Fred--Holiday Greetings 

Dear Loyal Readers of the Taylors' Blog and Bonnie's Board Buddies:

Happy Holidays from Iraq. I am well and safe. I wish I were elsewhere, but they call them orders for a reason . . .

I want to thank you all for keeping me and most of all my people in your thoughts and prayers. I can tell you without them I would have written at least half a dozen letters of condolence to families. In the last 7 months, my people have had that many close calls. Only divine intervention prevented fatalities and serious injury. The attack at Mosul was the most recent such event.

I want you to know that your continued prayers are appreciated. Thanks. They will mean that my people will redeploy to their loved ones at the end of their tours.

I wish each of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

'Twas the night before the night before the night before Christmas 

Long-time readers may remember from last year the Austrian story of the Krampus. Krampus is the demonic sidekick to St. Nicholas. While jolly old St. Nick hands out candy, Krampus beats naughty children with bundles of twigs.

Since then, I have felt that our American tradition of threatening lumps of coal that never seem to materialize no matter how horrid a child acts is somewhat weak when compared to the Austrian beatings. I was therefore thrilled beyond belief on our trip to Salzburg last month when I found chocolate Krampus (Krampi?) in the candy store, and naturally I bought several in a variety of sizes to put in the kids' stockings this Christmas. I packed them carefully into my overstuffed backpack for the trek back to Mannheim and then sent them on their way to Florida with the United States Postal Service.

Tonight I opened up my candy box and made a horrifying discovery. BOTH of my big Krampus got busted somewhere along the way:

Is there anything sadder than a broken demonic folk figure? The one bright spot is that we got to eat them, and my goodness were they ever tasty! Here's my dad with a Krampus head, just before he declared "Get thee inside me, Satan," and popped it into his mouth:

And in other Christmas news, my mom suffered a bout of temporary insanity and put up a tree while we were away at Disney. Do you know how much fun a Christmas tree is with 5 cats? Willis, Eddie, and Celia have all had multiple squirtings from the water bottle we're keeping handy. Oliver tried to taste it, and Lucy (the diabetic cat) enjoys lounging beneath it:

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Five days with the big mouse 

[Written January 18, 2005, but stuck here to preserve chronology]

We spent the better part of a week at Disney with Annabelle's friend Annie and her family. My sister came with us for most of the time, and all in all we had a blast. I think I will let my ImageStation album tell the story, although I must share one rather interesting story that I unfortunately have no photos of.

I was standing in the checkout line at the store in EPCOT's French sector, when I noticed that my right shoe had come untied. I had a backpack on my back, and a buttpack on my front, and I was exhausted and just didn't have what it would have taken to bend over and tie the laces. Mike was standing there twiddling his thumbs, so I said, "Hey, dude, do your poor ol' mom a favor, will ya, and tie my shoe." In spite of the untold years I spent tying his laces in his formative years, Mike balked at my simple (if lazy) plea for help.

All of a sudden the man ahead of me in line turned around, knelt down, and TIED MY SHOE! And then he tied the other one, doubling the knots on both shoes to keep me securely laced for the remainder of the day. Isn't that just amazingly nice and horrifically embarassing, all at once?

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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

For anybody who might be wondering, Fred was not in Mosul for this most recent attack. He was there last week though, and has eaten in that dining facility.

We gave up on MGM Studios this afternoon at around 2:00 when the crowds became unbearable. I got back to the hotel room, turned on the computer, and saw the news and immediately had my own mini-breakdown. There is so much I want to say, about how much I hate this war, about how sick I am of hearing people "support" it when it hasn't required one ounce of sacrifice for them, about how disappointed I am in my fellow Americans that we would ratify the continued reign of that lying dirtbag we call a president. I can't do it right now though because I'm shaking too hard to type coherently and I keep having to go back to remove all the curse words. Just know in your heart that when I say "lying dirtbag," I'm thinking something much, much worse.

We have had fun at Disney, but I am glad it's almost over. We have traveled plenty since Fred deployed, and I always feel a bit strange to be having fun when he is not. The level of forced hilarity and frolic here though feels downright perverted. One must always be on one's guard not to rip off one's clothes in the middle of Main Street U.S.A. and jump up and down shouting: "Jesus Christ, people! There's a WAR on!!! What is WRONG with you?!?"

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Saturday, December 18, 2004

Magic Kingdom yesterday. Animal Kingdom today. EPCOT tomorrow. Feet. So. Sore.

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Thursday, December 16, 2004

Blogging will be spotty at best and nonexistent at worst for the next week. We're at Disney with some friends and . . . gulp! . . . our hotel room doesn't have high-speed internet. I'm traumatized but shall muddle through as best I can. Try not to miss me too much.

In the meantime, check out today's Honolulu Star Bulletin for some amazing big-wave surfing photos. When the waves at Waimea Bay are 20 feet and ridable, invited surfers from around the world converge on Oahu's north shore for the Quicksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational. (Yes, the very same Eddie Aikau we named our cat after!) Fred and I had the rare privilege of getting to watch some of the tournament live our last winter in Hawaii, and hearing that they had the Eddie yesterday makes me feel homesick again for Hawaii.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Have I ever mentioned that my parents run a cathouse?

They started off small when they rescued Celia from the local animal shelter 16 years ago. Two years later, my mom added Lucy to the collection. Nine years after that, they graciously took in my cat Oliver when we moved to Hawaii, land of the godawful rabies quarantine. (Even without a quarantine, dragging Oliver to paradise would not have been a realistic option. He is a poor traveler who uses each roadtrip as an opportunity to demonstrate the multifaceted digestive system.)

One day my sister rescued a stray black cat and named him Willis. She kept him for a few months and then left him with my parents for a weekend. That weekend is well into its third year.

Willis does not fit in well with the older cats. He attacks Celia and Lucy, and he bestows upon Oliver the kind of affection generally expressed in prison. Accordingly, the 3 older cats and Willis cannot be in the same room . . . ever. This means that my parents go through each day in an elaborate ballet in which they move cats around their house. Major military campaigns are planned with less precision.

When we came over from Germany for this extended vacation, we brought our cat Eddie with us. Eddie is named after legendary Hawaiian big-wave surfer Eddie Aikau (say "eye-COW") who was lost at sea during an attempt to paddle for help for the crew of a swamped voyaging canoe. His bravery inspired the saying "Eddie would go," and we named our new cat accordingly. It was our promise to each other that no matter where we may go, Eddie will go as well.

Interestingly enough, Eddie and Willis are nearly identical twins. Fortunately, they get along well, and Eddie had adapted to the cat-shuffle schedule. The black kitties spend each night out in the sunroom while the old ladies (Oliver is one of the girls) have the run of the house. At around 10:00 each morning, Willis and Eddie come in while Celia, Lucy, and Oliver are locked in the master bedroom. Shift change happens at about 3:30 in the afternoon and then again around 6:00. At 10:00 everyone moves to their bedtime positions.

This evening I was lying on the couch, watching a movie, and Eddie came to me and snuggled up on my chest. A few minutes later, Willis piled on as well. This was remarkable because while Eddie and Willis romp together enthusiastically, this was the first time we've seen them cuddled up together. Mike grabbed my camera and took a picture to document the event:

Don't they look happy together? The kids and I think a duo this cute should be able to stay together. We are lobbying my folks to let us add Willis to our cat collection when we return home, but my mom isn't sure she's ready to give him up. My father is enthusiastically in favor of the plan, but Mom needs more convincing. Feel free to sign my guestbook giving your support to the "Free Willis" movement.

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What Mike Wants For Christmas 

Because, really, doesn't every 12-year-old kid need a pogo stick capable of lifting him 5 feet into the air? It would be like a trampoline, only instead of falling down onto the nice squishy matt, he could fall right on the street. Splat! Read about it here at Amazon and make sure to watch the video demonstration.

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Monday, December 13, 2004

Reunited and it feels so good . . . Here is a picture of Annabelle with Blankie and Tim the Bellhop at the Renaissance Hotel this morning:

If you want to get a better idea of how raggedy poor Blankie is, click here. You can really see the tatters.

After we retrieved Blankie, we picked up Jenny's fiance and headed for the Vans skatepark. Mike and Jeff got suited up in their pads and helmets and cruised out to the ramps, while Mom, Annabelle, and I cruised out to the mall. We returned an hour later to check on the boys and found them applying ice to Jeff's broken arm:

The attendants at the skatepark had called 911, and the paramedics soon arrived and splinted Jeff's arm for him. He passed up the ambulance ride, so we took him over to the hospital. He was quite the trooper in spite of the pain. After about an hour, Jeff's new best friend--Nurse Barbara--started an IV and got the good stuff flowing, and he managed to snooze off and on for the rest of the afternoon while we waited for the doctor. If you click on this picture, you can watch the drugs take effect:

The doctor finally arrived and agreed that, yes, the bone was broken and displaced. Jeff got to go to the other side of the ER for even better drugs, which enabled the doctor to shove the bone back into place without Jeff screaming and climbing up the curtains.

All in all, today was quite a mixed bag. Getting Blankie back--good. Jeff breaking his arm--bad. Mike getting a free shirt from the dudes at Vans when I sent him to the front of the store to buy a clean shirt to wear to the hospital--well, that was good, but not good enough to justify the broken arm.

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I just spent 20 agonizing, gut-wrenching minutes. Annabelle was preparing to go to bed and came to me with the news that Blankie is missing in action.

Blankie, for all its skanky raggedness, is actually New Blankie. Annabelle received the original Blankie as a gift from my friend Eleanor shortly after she was born. An extravagently expensive, impractical concoction of fine handkerchiefs and the softest flannel on earth, Blankie was the kind of baby present that one could receive only from somebody who had both no children and exceptionally fine taste. I was determined that Blankie, unlike so many other exquisite possessions that we acquire throughout our lives, would be used and appreciated even if that use proved detrimental to her beauty.

No matter where we went, I always wrapped Blankie around the baby Annabelle. Once she became mobile, she carried Blankie with her, often wrapped around her head. That is how it happened that Blankie and Annabelle grew to be inseperable.

By the time Annabelle was 3, Blankie was looking very sorry indeed, so I had my cousin Julie locate New Blankie in a fancy-schmancy baby boutique in Ft. Lauderdale. I had thought that New Blankie would be a replacement for the now-called Old Blankie, but this was not to be, at least not for a couple of years. During this time, she wandered around swathed in 2 blankets--one old and disgusting, one new and beautiful.

Eventually Old Blankie got to be so fragile that she (yes, Blankie has a gender!) had to be put away in Annabelle's dresser for her own protection. This left New Blankie to bear the brunt of Annabelle's love and affection, and now New Blankie is as tattered and stained as the original. My mother and I half-joke that we will one day have to find a way to incorporate Blankie into Annabelle's bridal bouquet.

Annabelle, however, doesn't care about and in fact probably doesn't even notice Blankie's wretched state. While she no longer treats Blankie as a fashion accessory, she would never dream of going to bed without her. Blankie has been to a dozen countries, made multiple trips across 2 oceans, and spent last night in the Renaissance Hotel in Orlando. Apparently, the Renaissance agreed with Blankie, for it seems that she has decided to extend her stay an extra night.

As soon as I heard that Blankie was missing, I called the hotel and spoke with a security guard, the only person who is there to talk to half-frantic mothers on the telephone at midnight. At first he suggested that I contact lost-and-found in the morning, but when I explained to him how potentially tragic this could be, he agreed to go in search of Blankie. He called me back 20 minutes later with the happy news that Blankie has been located and "secured for the evening" (his words, not mine).

There was true rejoicing, and I marveled at how big my baby girl is getting to be that she can face going to bed without Blankie for the first time since she was 6 weeks old. I promise you though--we will have Blankie back in our hands by noon tomorrow.

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Sunday, December 12, 2004

Greetings from the Renaissance Hotel in Orlando! The kids and I are down here spending the night with my sister Jenny. As I type this, Jenny's fiance Jeff is throwing beanbags at my kids and making fart noises. Such conditions I'm forced to work under!

Jenny's company held their holiday party here at the hotel tonight, and Jeff and I were her dates. Jenny went all out glam, complete with professionally done hair and makeup, while I opted for aloha festive:

Here's a closeup of my dress fabric, which features Santa, elves, and reindeer driving classic cars:

While the grownups were down at the party, the kids amused themselves up in the room by playing on the computer:

And drawing cartoons, like this one that Mike did:

I'd never been to a corporate holiday party before, and I was quite impressed. I loved the open bar, and the food was delish! I met up with the sister of a guy I went to high school with and had a great time chatting with her. We tried to save Jenny from being the caboose on the conga line, but by the time we got there, the line had disintegrated.

We also had a little brush with fame when author Ed Bloor and his wife Pam chose to sit at the last 2 seats at our table. I wanted to get a picture of him for the blog, but I got suddenly shy.

The evening culminated in watching Jeff help Jenny undo her updo. If you click on the photo, you can enjoy it, too:

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Saturday, December 11, 2004

My sister presented me with an interesting gift this evening: a slipper made out of feminine hygiene products. She's like some sort of demented cobbler, but apparently she's not alone. If you google the words "maxipad slipper," you get a surprising number of hits, like this charming pair that are just right for the holidays.

My slipper is more sleek and elegant, since we had only minipads on hand:

On a related note, did you know that you can make a Christmas tree ornament out of a tampon?

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Friday, December 10, 2004

One of the blogs that I read regularly is [random acts of alex]. Yesterday he had a post recommending another blog, so I went to check it out. And then I spent the better part of the next hour there.

Dooce is an amazingly well-organized website run by a young mother in Salt Lake City. She writes with breathtaking honesty about her life, right down to her struggles with constipation and depression.

I am so jealous. Not so much of the constipation and depression, mind you, but of the rest of it. The Daily Photo. Her beautifully composed mastheads. And most of all, the way all of her posts are indexed into clear categories, like Family and Poop. I can't even get around to updating my links or getting the "86-43-04" off the bottom of my page (fat lot of good it did, eh?), and here she is--depressed and constipated and yet so well indexed I could weep. I have no good excuses unless laziness counts as one.

Go check out Dooce's site, and if you read nothing else, make sure you read her posts about Depression. This is one chick who deserves a book contract.

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Thursday, December 09, 2004

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful news! The promotion list for colonels in the JAG Corps came out at 0730 today and . . . Fred's on it!!!! We're all just positively thrilled. Fred even called from Baghdad and had me wake the kids so that he could tell them the good news himself.

Now, if only we knew where we'll be moving next summer, I'd really be able to breathe!

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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

One of the first things Annabelle bought upon arriving in Florida was an enormous bucket of sidewalk chalk. Since then she has created many stunning works of art like this one:

Meanwhile, Mike continues to work on his juggling skills. I'm getting him ready to run away to join the circus, which seems much more economical than paying for 4 years of college. You can click on the picture to view a short Windows Media clip of him practicing:

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Monday, December 06, 2004

The other day we awoke to find a real cheery story on the front page of the Daytona newspaper. Seems a tiny little kitten had managed to get itself stranded on a strip underneath a bridge some 65 to 70 feet up in the air. Firefighters worked for several hours to get to the poor little critter, but they just couldn't reach it. Finally, rather than leaving the kitten to starve to death, the firefighters set out poison-laced food and gave up.

Isn't that a happy way to start the day? As though one doesn't generally feel bad enough about any news that rates a spot on the first page, we got the additional thrill of knowing that a doomed kitten would soon be making its final exit.

Today though we got the happy news that the kitten is safe and sound. Apparently, the kitten had the good sense to stay away from the poisoned food, but was still crying to be rescued several days later. The fire department decided to take another stab at a rescue, this time using a trap baited with sardines. Within a couple of hours, they had their cat and the cat had a new name ("Miss Trouble") and a new home with paramedic Gail Irvin:

And in other quasi-local news . . .

We were flipping channels the other night when we heard the town of Inverness mentioned on a repeat episode of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show." Seems the town had planned a festival in celebration of the local water turtle commonly known as the "cooter." The problem was . . . that's not the only thing commonly known as a cooter. In the interest of maintaining my PG to PG-13 rating, I won't say anything more except that you should click here if you want to watch something that is pee-your-pants funny.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Oh, we have been having a lovely time this evening creating talking emails! Basically, you choose a photo and add some words, and the website animates the subject in the photo to look like it's talking. I created a special one for Fred from our cat Oliver. Click soon--it will only last for 14 days!

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