Friday, June 29, 2012

Captain's Log, Day 80: Preview of a Book--the Club

          I decided to put out a preview of part of a book that I'm working on. The following excerpt was based loosely on a club that my siblings and I created (see Captain's Log, Day 22: A Tale of Three Siblings). Definitely one of the more fun parts of my book to write about!!

          Five kids (Justin, Halley, Jenn, Junior, and David--nicknamed "Marsh") are exploring a house with secret rooms and passages. Jenn and Junior are twins, and their family just adopted Marsh; Halley's family adopted Justin. Jenn, Junior, and Halley are taking the opportunity to show Justin and Marsh around....

          Halley had pushed open a door to find a spacious and rather nicely furnished room. She grinned widely. “So there IS another passage in here!” She flicked on the lights.
          “What is this place?” Marsh asked.
          “It’s a secret room that we found a while back,” Halley explained. “It’s called JAFAR’S LAB.”
          Marsh looked at her quizzically. Junior filled him in. “It stands for Just Another Facility And Ready Sanctuary—Like A Base. First letter of every word, see? It’s kind of a secret clubhouse for us.”
          “Let’s have a meeting and get these two in!” Jenn proposed enthusiastically, grabbing a notebook and pencil off of a shelf.
          “Isn’t that the President’s job?” Halley asked.
          “I can do that in a sec,” Junior said, “but maybe we should ask Marsh and Justin whether they want to belong to our club or not?”
          Marsh nodded enthusiastically. “Sure!”
          Justin had one question as they began to find seats (many of which were large and comfy easy chairs). “Who’s in this club already?”
          Junior began listing them off. “Well, Jenn is our secretary and scout, Halley’s the general and lookout, and I’m the president and treasurer…that’s about it. It’s a pretty small group.”
          Justin nodded. “Ok, sure.”
          Junior glanced around the room. “Where’d my gavel go?”
          “What’s a gavel?” Marsh inquired.
          “It’s…kinda like a small wooden hammer,” Junior replied.
          “Didn’t you break that?” Jenn inquired. “I thought it was still in the shop ‘cause the glue was still drying.”
          “Oh, yeah, that’s right.” Junior frowned. “Hmm…”
          “Here, use this.” Halley offered him her sneaker.
          Junior just looked at it. “I think I’ll just use mine, thanks. I’ve seen where your shoe’s been.”
          Halley snorted and put her shoe back on. “It’s perfectly clean, thank you very little!”
          “And all who believe that raise their hands.” Junior rolled his eyes. “I call this meeting to order!” He smacked his tennis shoe down on the small end table next to his chair. “Secretary, you want to read the notes from last meeting?”
          “Why can’t we vote on their admission, first?” Jenn asked. “And you’re supposed to call me Captain Jack, by the way.”
          Junior laughed. “Sorry, I forgot, Captain. I figure we should read the notes first so these guys know what they’re getting into.”
          “Ah. Gotcha. I’ll do the first meeting—that makes the most sense. This is all third person, by the way.” “Captain Jack” flipped open the notebook and began to read.

                                   First Meeting: 8/30/2010
          2:54 Positions are chosen. Junior is made treasurer, Jenn is made secretary. Secretary doodles while others argue.
          2:56 Halley is made General.
          2:57 Junior the numbskull is made president.

          “Hey, objection!’ Junior interrupted.
          “Overruled,” Jenn replied. “You already objected this once.”
          “That’s editorial slant.”
          “Wow, really? I never would have guessed that,” Jenn shot back dryly. “Now hush up, I’m reading.”

          2:58 Halley is made Fort Status Scout.
          2:59 Jenn is made Architect
          3:01 Jenn is made scout, Halley is made Lookout and Junior is made mapmaker.
          3:02 Everyone gripes.
          3:03 Everyone listens as Secretary reads minutes. President gripes about so-called editorial slant. Much nonsense and commotion from Treasurer.
          3:04 Meeting stalls since Lookout won’t come down from bunk bed. Technical difficulties occur.
          3:05 Member is injured. In the melee, it’s hard to tell who.
          3:06 Secretary tells President to jump in a lake. Outing is planned accordingly. President moves that Secretary reads minutes again. Motion carried.
          3:07 Debate about where sprinklers should be placed around the pond for maximum wetness. Scout’s muffin timers go off. Slight pause to go make sure they weren’t burned.
          3:11 Scout eats the topping off of the muffins and returns. More debate about where to place sprinklers.
          3:12 Lookout daydreams about dragons while Secretary and Mapmaker argue. Small confusion about directions.
          3:12 Placement resolved. Mapmaker draws positions of sprinklers and demonstrates. Unanimous vote to go on outing immediately after parents get home.
          3:13 Debate about what else to debate. Secretary claims that President likes “Ella Enchanted.” Small argument. Bandages administered. Lookout continues to daydream.
          3:14 Lookout couldn’t guard her way out of a paper bag.
          3:15 Treasurer’s report (the Treasurer forgot until now)
          3:16 Debate about club anthem. President offers to give speech and is answered by enthusiastic “boo”s. He gives one anyway and gets stuff thrown at him.
          3:18 Secretary moves to adjourn meeting.
Not so respectfully,
Captain Jack Sparrow, Secretary

          Marsh and Justin were doubled up and laughing so hard, they were having trouble breathing. Marsh finally got his breath back. “So that was the speech?”
          Halley and Jenn yanked off their shoes as Justin stood up and cleared his throat. “Ladles and jelly-spoons…” He ducked a flying shoe. “I stand upon this speech to make a platform. The train I have arrived in has not yet come, so I took a bus—” he fielded a shoe expertly and held it up triumphantly. “—and WALKED!! Ouch!” Another shoe bounced off his shoulder. He stuck out his tongue at the two girls and finished as fast as possible, “I-come-before-you-to-stand-behind-you-and-tell-you-something-I-know-nothing-about!” He dove behind a chair, avoiding the last shoe by a very narrow margin. Marsh and Justin were incapacitated with laughter again.
          Junior peered cautiously around the chair. “Are you quite through?”
          Jenn laughed. “Guess so—we’re out of shoes!”
          Junior emerged from his refuge. “OK, let’s continue then. Do we have any new business?”
          “Duh!” Halley snorted.
          Junior waggled a finger at her. “Respect the president, please. I’m just following the club charter—which you helped write, by the way.”
          Halley sighed. “Ok, fine then. I have new business to bring to the floor.”
          Marsh and Justin looked at each other, confused. “Bring to the floor—what’s that mean?” Marsh asked.
          Junior waved a hand airily. “It just means to bring to the club’s attention.”
          “I think our club is ADHD,” Jenn muttered under her breath to Justin. “I blame the president.”
          Junior glared at her. “Heard that!”
          Jenn stuck her tongue out at him. “Good—you were supposed to.”
          Junior began looking around for his tennis shoe. “OK Halley, what’s the business?”
          Halley looked like she might say Duh again but restrained herself. “I formally propose that we admit two new members to JAFAR’S LAB.”
          “I am totally in favor of this, but just out of curiosity, why are you the one proposing this?” Jenn asked. “You just about flipped when I suggested admitting Jonathan and Marie in.”
          Halley shrugged. “They’re OLD.”
          Junior and Jenn started laughing. Halley sighed. “What I meant was, Justin and Marsh are OUR age.”
          “That sounded really funny the way you said that.” Junior finally located his shoe under the chair he was sitting on and looked like he was wondering why he hadn’t looked there in the first place. “Do I have a motion?”
          “A what?” Marsh asked as Jenn shot her hand up.
          “A motion. It’s an official request,” Junior explained. “Jenn?”
          “I move that we admit Marsh and Justin to JAFAR’S LAB,” Jenn stated.
          “Any seconds?”
          “I second that!” Halley started bouncing on her chair.
          “All in favor say…” Junior thought for a moment. “Prestidigitation.”
          “What’s that mean?” Marsh and Jenn asked at the same time.
          “I dunno,” Junior said, grinning, “but it sounds cool.”
          “Ok, perdisiogitating!” Halley yelled.
          “It’s pedigiostigation,” Jenn corrected.
          Junior sighed. “Close enough. Welcome to the LAB, Marsh and Justin!”

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Captain's Log, Day 79: Family Game Night: Dominoes and Death Threats

          "Dear, you need to MATCH the dominoes," Dad pushed Mom's latest play back off the table. "That's a twelve, this is an eleven. You're off by one dot."
          "I told you to bring a paintbrush," Quill remarked.
          "I shall now inform Mom of the appropriate domino to play, in a language I call 'Liberal Arts Major'," Nemesis stated dramatically, pausing for effect. "It's BLUE."
          "It has a color????" I exclaimed.
          "Very funny," Mom replied dryly, squinting across the table. "Uh, what color is that?"
          "Gray," Dad replied, as we kids almost fell off our chairs laughing.
          "The dog just licked my tile!" Squirrel complained.
          "Well, put that rodent on the ground then!" I rolled my eyes.
          "You know, I really like playing dominoes. You know why?" Dad asked.
          "Why?" Nemesis took the bait.
          "It makes me feel better about myself," Dad joked. "Squirrel, PLAY ALREADY."
          "I don't like this game." Squirrel grumbled.
          "Why?" I demanded. "You're winning."
          "I don't like it!" she protested, accidentally matching a tile backwards.
          I shrugged. "Then lose!"
          "I'm only here for the ice cream. Can I go read until it's served?" Squirrel asked hopefully.
          "NO!!!!!!!" we all chorused.
          Yes, another Sonnek family tradition: game night, with Mexican Train Dominoes being the game of choice for this night. We USED to be able to get through an entire game in a night, but since we learned that the best part of the game lies in heckling opponents, game play slowed considerably. And when certain people *cough*Squirrel*cough* look at other people's tiles, the game can change considerably.
          "Squirrel, don't you dare put a tile there...Squirrel...SQUIRREL!!!!" Dad exclaimed.
          Squirrel snickered. "Oops. Oh well, it's played now."
          "I'll let you take it back," Dad offered magnanimously.
          "Illegal," Quill ruled. "It's your turn now."
          "That wasn't really helpful," Dad grumbled, studying the table. "I'm about to revert to a language I call "shop." This is awful." He reached over to scatter Quill's artistically designed extra domino pile. "I need to draw a tile. train's up."
          "DAD!!!" Quill complained, attempting to rearrange the pile. "No shop language and stop ruining my design!!"
          "Radar has one left," Nemesis pointed out.
          "Oh, yeah. Uno," I chuckled. You're supposed to declare when you have one domino left, but we all decided at some point that saying uno was probably the quickest way to go.
          "You go out and I'll break your little arm," Dad threatened me jokingly.
          "Someone has the double-blank?" Mom inquired. The double-blank meant you scored 30 points when the game went out, and since the goal was to score the least amount of points, it was probably the least desirable tile to go out with. Also, we're pure evil, and if we found out someone had it, we would make every effort to stop him or her from getting rid of it.
          "No," Dad lied, fooling no one. "Dear, it's your turn."
          "He's going to go out," Nemesis hinted, flexing his biceps. "Can I help break his arm?"
          "This game seems to have far more violence than seems warranted," Mom mused.
          "Squirrel, get that candy wrapper off your forehead!!" Quill yelled.
          "It's a fashion statement," Squirrel explained, nonetheless complying with the demand.
          "And don't put it in my POCKETS!!!" Quill and Squirrel commenced a mild shoving match.
          "Is this fair?" I demanded, grabbing Nemesis's arm. "He's never been to the gym in his life, and look at this--he's got bigger biceps than I do!! I spent the entire last semester at the gym, and I still look like a twig! Don't get any ideas, though," I added hastily to Nemesis. "I can still kick your butt." That was entirely true, as I was not only a higher rank in Taekwondo than he was, but also much stronger, even though I didn't look it.
          "He's got his father's build," Mom complimented both Nemesis and Dad in the same breath.
          "That's ENTIRELY unfair," I grumbled.
          "Radar, it's your turn. Are you going out?" Dad asked.
          "Yepp!" I placed my last domino on the table. "I'm out!"
          Dad muttered something under his breath. Squirrel glared at him. "I heard that!"
          "Well, it was justified," Dad complained, holding up the double-blank. "This was the next tile I was going to play!"
          "You have 58 points," Nemesis noted, doing that spookily accurate instant-adding/counting thing he did in his head with Dad's dominoes.
          "I'll count them myself, thanks," Dad grumbled.
          "Work on yours, Rainman," I chuckled.
          "I'm done. 14," Nemesis retorted.
          "I think we need to get ice cream for Squirrel. She's getting impatient," Quill noted dryly.
          Squirrel gave Mom puppy-dog eyes.
          Mom relented. "Fine, let's dish it out," she conceded.
          "YAY!!!" Squirrel almost ran over Quill on her way to the freezer.
          "Squirrel's still winning, guys." Mom checked the score sheet.
          "How does she DO that?" Quill and I asked at the same time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Captain's Log, Day 78: When in Doubt, Summon the Kracken

          "How about the orange one?" I suggested.
          "Idon'tcarecomeonlet'sgo!!!" Katie yelled, jumping up and down with excitement.
          "So...I just grab this end?" Ben asked.
          "Sure, why not?" I grabbed my end and lifted, beginning to walk towards the lake shore. 
          "Hey, don't forget your life jackets!" Dad hollered at us. "And wait for me! I need to show you how!"
          I rolled my eyes as Dad assumed that I knew absolutely nothing about an activity we kids had never tried before. Katie snatched the life jackets and met Ben and me down by the shore. I gestured at the canoe. "I dunno. I think they're going to take forever...Laura and Mom will spend another hour just choosing the color."
          Katie snickered and distributed paddles. "It can't be that hard, right?"
          "Basic physics," I agreed. "I call front."
          "Rear!" Ben exclaimed.
          "Middle!" Katie yelped at the same time, then frowned at Ben. "Wait, you didn't want the front?"
          "Nope," Ben said cheerfully. "I don't want to steer."
          Now that all the hard decisions had been made (and with far less bloodshed than usual), we turned to watch the other three members of the family. Laura had hopelessly tangled her life jacket and was helping Dad fix it while debating with Mom as to a good canoe color. I casually nudged the canoe into the water, and carefully crawled into the front. My siblings turned.
          "What are you doing??" Katie demanded, shocked.
          I shrugged casually. "Might as well sit while I'm waiting. Care to join me?" 
          Katie's eyes lit up. "SURE!!!" She clambered in, managing not to capsize us. Ben hopped in last. I eyed the parental unit, then my paddle.
          "I wonder if we could just drift to the end of the dock?"
          Soon we were out in the middle of the lake and discovering that steering in a straight line was not as easy as we thought. I figured out a system of curves that, while not being very fast, got us where we needed to go. After a while, Canoe 2 (with Dad, Mom, and Laura) joined us out on the lake. I was surprised to see Dad in the back.
          "I thought you were going to steer?" I asked him.
          "I am," Dad replied, raising his eyebrows. "You steer from the back."
          I glanced back at Ben. "Whoops."
          Katie and Ben tried to hit me with their paddles. I ducked. "Whoa now! Come on--I had a 50-50 shot at guessing that!"
          "And you guessed wrong," Katie pointed out. 
          "So, how do you steer?" Ben asked Dad.
          After Dad taught Ben the finer points of steering, we set off together. For some reason, our canoe still refused to sail in a straight line. When Canoe 2 began mocking us, I pulled my paddle in and started banging the bottom of the boat with it.
          "What are you doing?" Mom asked, looking like she didn't really want to know.
          "I'm summoning the Kracken!" I announced cheerfully. 
          A stiff breeze blew up after another hour, turning the water choppy and threatening to capsize our already unstable canoe. Hence, there was much less argument than might be expected when Dad announced a return to base. Someone in our boat suggested a race; I think we were all pretty sure that Canoe 2, with the experience of Mom and Dad, would carry the day, but Canoe 1 never let things like a lack of knowledge deter them from anything. We bent to the task with a will, zig-zagging madly across the lake towards the shore.
          There was much gloating when we beat them. 
          "I was just making sure you weren't going to capsize!" Dad protested, citing his reason for being behind us.
          "Really? That's not what you told me," Laura informed him.
          "Don't worry, dear; we win the efficient competition," Mom reassured him. "And you were doing most of the rowing."
          "I bet we covered twice the distance you did," I said thoughtfully.
          "Now if we could only go STRAIGHT..." Ben and Katie chorused.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Captain's Log, Day 77: *CRASH* *BANG* "YOU'RE IT!!!"

          It is a truth universally acknowledged that any boy in possession of a weapon must be in want of a fight. Actually, on certain occasions, the weapon doesn't HAVE to officially classified as such...
          It was after a jousting match in the barn that I came up with this rather brilliant idea. Nemesis and I were charging each other on bikes, but instead of using our sticks as lances, we were using them more like swords and trying to knock each other off the bikes. The result was a cross between fencing and jousting, with less brute-force trauma than you might expect because we were both lousy shots.
          "You guys want to play Fox and Geese in the apple orchard?" Quill interrupted our duel, wanting to play a game with us but not willing to risk life and limb.
          I shouldered my stick and crashed to a halt (I was a little late on the brakes and hit the wall). "Wanna play bike tag?"
          "What's bike tag?" Nemesis asked.
          "You've never heard of bike tag?" I asked incredulously, pretending I hadn't just made up the concept five seconds ago. My siblings were always skeptical of anything I invented, but an already-established game met with much better reception--presumably because it was assumed that a lack of fatalities lent the game an air of respectability.
          "You try to tag people while on bikes?" Quill hazarded a guess.
          My 12-year-old self was actually thinking exactly that, but pride would not allow me to admit she was right. I did some fast thinking. "No, we tag each other WITH the bikes!"
          "Huh?" my siblings chorused, obvious visions of them carrying their bicycles around dancing through their heads. I toyed briefly with that idea, then dismissed it; while it would give me an unfair advantage (at the time, I was the only one strong enough to carry my bike any great distance), it would immediately be spotted and rejected by the others.
          "No, we ride around, but we just try to bump the other bikes a little," I explained, picking up my bike and ignoring the blood trickling down my leg; such injuries and scrapes were common, and I was really starting to like this game I had invented and didn't want to waste time hunting up a Band-Aid. Besides, I was pretty sure I'd finished off our last box yesterday after I'd fallen out of a tree. Well, several trees. And a cliff.
          I mounted up, rolled forward and bumped the rear tire on Nemesis's bike. "See? Like that. You're it, Nemesis."
          Quill was already racing back to the house. I frowned. "Where are you going?" I yelled after her.
          "To get Squirrel!" she yelled back excitedly, referring to our youngest sister.
          Once Squirrel had joined us in the barn, I re-explained the concept, but this time added a rule that no one could leave the haybarn (I was feeling lazy and didn't want to chase anyone down the driveway). Quill had thoughtfully anticipated the need for an appropriate soundtrack and had brought out a CD of our favorite fast-paced songs, since my boombox was already out in the barn.
          Unfortunately, before we could start, it was noted that we had a slight issue. Squirrel had no bike; she had just finished learning how to ride, but she didn't feel the need often enough to require her own vehicle of transportation. Here, Nemesis showed much intelligence (although it didn't seem so at the time).
          "She can use mine," he offered. "I'll take the tricycle."
          Nemesis never rode the tricycle by sitting on the seat. He rode on the rear axle, leaning back, giving the impression that he was going a lot faster than he was. I pointed out that he wouldn't be able to go as fast, forgetting that in the relatively confined space of the haybarn full speed was unlikely to be obtained. He just shrugged. I conceded the point and soon we were ready to start.
          It was very cautious at first. The tagger would attempt to trap someone in a corner, then slowly roll forward and bump the unlucky sibling's bike. We realized quickly that Nemesis was wise for his years; the tricycle could spin on a dime and evade the efforts of the faster, but less agile, bicycles. Finally, fed up because he hadn't been tagged and we'd been playing for a half an hour, I charged him instead of using the herding process that had been the norm until that point. He was caught by surprise. There was an almighty and resounding crash as I slammed straight into his front wheel. There was dead silence for a few moments.
          Then all heck broke loose. Nemesis whooped and shot after Quill, repeating my strategy with the same success. The CD player switched to a new and faster track, which didn't help calm us down any. With reckless abandon, we smashed our bikes together, yelling and cheering whenever there was a particularly loud or epic crash. A mechanical genius even at such a tender age, I brought up a few tools from the shop and made quick running repairs to our much-abused vehicles, mostly with regards to twisted handlebars and popped chains. Skid marks were sprinkled liberally across the barn floor as we learned new tricks to avoid Nemesis's stupid tricycle (he was INSANELY good at tagging people). When the CD player finally lost its precarious perch and thudded to the ground a few hours later, we were the most bruised and exhilarated set of kids you could ever hope to see. (I was the only one who was bleeding; I kept getting my hand caught in the chains I was trying to fix because I wasn't paying attention.) We set the bikes in front of the barn door and went over to check on the boombox. Fortunately, I had bought an incredibly durable player; aside from a small dent in a speaker, it was undamaged. We contemplated it for a moment, realizing that we were actually rather exhausted. Quill spoke first. "Now what?"
          I picked up my fiberglass-pole sword and thrust it into my belt. "Now we take to the high seas!"
          Quill followed suit. "I'm Jack Sparrow!!!!"
          "Hey, that's not fair!" I complained. "I was gonna say that! And you got to be Jack Sparrow last time!"
          "I'm Ben Sparrow!" my brother announced, starting to duel "Jack Sparrow."
          "I'm Claire!" Squirrel announced.
          "Fine. I'm Anakin Skywalker," I grumbled.
          "That's not piratey!" Quill protested.
          "Then let me be Jack Sparrow!" I retorted and got whacked in the leg with Quill's sword.
          If bicycles could chuckle, I'm sure they would have...after breathing a sigh of relief. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Captain's Log, Day 76: Hanging the Mainsail (and other nautical nonsense)

          "Be careful!! Don't fall!"
          Had my mouth not been full of rope and tarp, I would have yelled "DUH!!!" back down at Captain Obvious. My sister, Quill, was never entirely comfortable with some of my crazy schemes, and in her book, this one was one of my craziest yet.
          My current position was 15 feet off the ground and upside-down relative to the rest of the world. A death grip on the rafter helped keep my 13-year-old kiester from ending up a red streak on the haybarn floor. My mission: to shimmy my way up the rafter and tie the one corner of the tarp to the rafter.
          "You know, we don't need a mainsail," Quill pointed out anxiously.
          That statement REQUIRED a retort. I let go of the rafter with one hand so I could remove the stuff from my mouth. "Of COURSE we need a mainsail! Pirates don't row!"
          "Sure they do!" Nemesis pointed out, citing Pirates of the Caribbean, the inspiration for hyperactive imagination landing me in my current state.
          "Whatever. But I'M not," I retorted, stuffing the "mainsail" components back in my mouth and continuing up the rafter. Once I reached a suitable location, I held on to the rafter with one hand and both legs so I could tie the tarp up.
          "Be careful!" Quill warned me anxiously.
          I rolled my eyes at her, finished my self-appointed task, and scurried back across and down the rafter with much greater speed than I had going up. I opted to jump the last eight feet to the barn floor, promptly getting a splinter in my foot upon landing; a common occurrence, since I never wore any type of footwear during the summer...and sometimes not during the winter, too, if Mom didn't catch me.
          "There! That's one corner done!" I announced proudly as I removed the foreign object from my foot.
          "That's good enough," Quill agreed.
          Nemesis and I stared at her, aghast. "No it's not!" I gestured at the drooping tarp. "It looks crappy!"
          "We could pretend that it got destroyed in a storm?" Quill suggested hopefully.
          I grabbed another piece of rope, ignoring her. "Nemesis, can you throw that side of the tarp up to me when I grab the beam there?"
          "Sure," Nemesis nodded affably. I stuck the rope in my mouth, scrambled up on a bike that I propped against the wall, and made a flying leap for the rafter.
          Two more tries later, I finally managed to grab the rafter with my fingertips. A little frantic wiggling, and my legs held the rafter in a death grip. I reached down, caught the tarp on the first try when Nemesis threw it up, and repeated the earlier process of tying the corner to the beam.
          "Now we need a bowsprit," I commented once I regained the deck. "How about the basketball hoop?"
          "And the area under Dad's office can be the cabin!" Quill exclaimed excitedly, finally getting into the spirit of things now that I was no longer in danger of death. Dad built an office in the upper third of the haybarn, but area under it was as yet undeveloped. There were stairs leading up to the landing, where we tied a hula hoop for use as a wheel. Removing the upper half of a small plastic basketball hoop left the bottom half looking remarkably like a cannon, so we tied the other half to the large basketball hoop as part of the bowsprit. Bicycles were placed in front of the big haybarn doors for a railing, and after distributing the swords and guns (and hunting up our youngest sibling, Squirrel), we were ready to sail.
          The swords were our pride and joy. They were made out of pieces of fiberglass poles that were stolen from Dad's shop downstairs and furnished with duct tape handles. I cut up a few pop bottles and made a beautiful handguard for mine, as I was tired of Nemesis's wild swings landing on my knuckles. The others were slightly jealous of that, so after some slight wheedling I consented to furnish them with similar, although not as fancy, handguards. These swords traveled with us all over the farm, including into the house and the kitchen, where we were usually ordered to "put those stupid poles away and come eat!" (we were only allowed in the house during meals and nights during the summer, as our levels of destructiveness rose exponentially during that season.)
          The guns were built out of wood by Nemesis and me and decorated with--you guessed it--duct tape. We originally made them for our games of "Alien Raider," "Star Wars," and "Space Explorers" that we played out in the treehouse, but they were easily adaptable to "Pirates." We gave a few to our rather skeptical sisters and tried to explain some of the extra features on the guns, but they never used them. Many were the rather surprised pirates who tried to board our ship and were met with a face-full of laser fire.
          Of course, before we could sail, we had to get down to the laborious and argumentative task of choosing names for ourselves. Since I was never fast enough on the draw, Quill inevitably claimed the name Jack Sparrow and lambasted anyone bold enough to challenge her right to the title. My brother, liking the ease of memorization that came with the use of his own name, chose to remain as Nemesis but accepting the last name of Sparrow. Since I was denied the right to use Jack Sparrow, hated Will Turner, and still going through a Star Wars phase, I chose the name Anakin Skywalker. (My sword could deflect bullets.) Squirrel, who wasn't really into the whole story, decided on as fanciful a name as possible and changed it every five minutes. She preferred to not take part in the fighting, but instead was the cook and in charge of the treasure. I usually named the ship...and it was called the "Phantom Menace." Quill claimed it was called the "Black Pearl," but Ben and I ignored her. Squirrel was ambivalent.
          Our storyline for our game never varied and went a little something like this. Once upon a time, there were four orphans with an immense fortune that was seized by a cruel uncle, who turned them out into the wilderness to fend for themselves. Nothing daunted, they raided a blacksmith shop, stole some swords and some highly advanced pistols, commandeered a ship of the Royal Navy, and lived on the high seas as pirates, fending off both the Royal Navy and other pirates. We would raid the ships and settlements of the evil uncle; the amount of battles we got into within a three-hour period would have astonished anyone who was even remotely familiar with the vast amounts of water needed to travel to find all these fights, but we were children. The facts of space, time and plausibility were conveniently ignored.
          Combat never took place without an appropriate soundtrack. We brought out a boombox and a CD of the Pirates of the Caribbean music and played appropriate tracks during out battles. Sometimes, the fight would be interrupted by someone screeching "WAIT!!!" and rushing over to change the song to a more lively and more fitting tune.
          These stories of ours were never ended. It was assumed that we eventually defeated the evil uncle in some fashion, but before we could get to the final battle, there would be an internal conflict, or someone would get bored, or Mom would call us in for dinner. We never picked up the story where we left off. It was always preferable to start over.
          And surprisingly, Dad didn't care about the tarp hanging from the barn rafters, but we never told the parental unit about HOW we got it up there until the appropriate time for punishment was long in about 5 more years or so, this can be revealed!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Captain's Log, Day 75: Midnight Romps!! (Well, 10pm anyway)

          "I was!" my brother hissed back at me. I glared at him--he'd just tripped over something in the hall. It probably was a laundry basket that someone had left out, but I was too busy being stealthy to care.
          Nemesis crawled up to the rail and cautiously peeked over. The dinner party that Mom and Dad were having was still in full swing; naturally, my twelve-year-old self and my siblings had all been put to bed already.
          That didn't mean that we were asleep.
          Quill snickered quietly as we gathered at the top of the stairs. "Watch out for the basket, Squrrel!" she whispered back at the youngest, who was already the biggest risk of any of us as far as getting us all caught went--she insisted on sleeping in the biggest, frilliest nightgown possible, which wasn't exactly built for stealth in either ease of travel or visibility. There was a muffled thunk as, in spite of the warning, Squirrel collided with the basket anyway. Nemesis, Quill and I were forced to clap our hands over our mouths to muffle our laughter. Squirrel glared at us.
          "Shush," I finally managed to croak out.
          The others nodded assent. I took another peek through the railing. All that was visible was the entryway and the hall leading to the kitchen, although I knew the entryway also lead to the dining room. I surveyed the landing dubiously. "Think I can make it down there?"
          A burst of laughter echoed up from the dining room. Quill looked dubious. "The landing is all the way down there..." (a mere 12 feet or so, but it seemed large to us at the time.) "What if Dad comes out of the kitchen?"
          "We run," I reasoned. "But no giggling this time!" It was my turn to throw a glare at Squirrel, who did her best to look innocent. As she was only six and was wearing that stupid white nightgown, she pulled it off rather well. I sighed. "That goes for you too, Nemesis."
          He began to protest his innocence, but I was ignoring him and easing down the stairs. OH NO!! I'd forgotten about the squeaky step, which naturally gave out a protest that, to our ears, seemed about as loud as a dynamite blast. It probably didn't carry any further than the kitchen, but unfortunately for us, Dad was wise to our ways and was probably lying in wait. A forbidding shadow appeared on the wall.
          "Go!!!!" I hissed urgently and scuttled back to my room on all fours, Nemesis behind me. We shot in through the door, closed it behind us, and dove into our bunks. Yanking the covers up, I closed my eyes and tried to breathe softly.
          A couple seconds later, the door opened. I heard Dad walk in and stop in front of our beds. Nemesis let out a loud fake snore, and I tried not to wince, wishing I could smack him. I guess Nemesis's snoring was louder than usual that week anyway, because Dad turned and left without reprimands.
          I gave it thirty seconds, then opened my eyes and sat up. "That was close."
          "Yeah," Nemesis agreed.
          I snorted. "That was so obviously fake snoring."
          "Was not!"
          "Was too!"
          "Was not!"
          The sound of the knob turning cut off our whispered debate and sent us diving back into our pillows.
          "Hey, guys, the coast is clear!" Quill whispered through the door crack. "Want to try again?"
          "Sure!" I bounded out of bed. Nemesis slid down the ladder, and we joined the girls by the rail again. I immediately began slipping down the stairs, carefully avoiding the squeaky step, and alighted with triumph on the landing. Squirrel remained at the top of the stairs, but Nemesis and Quill joined me. Flush with victory, I surveyed the remaining stairs to the entryway. I knew, just around the corner, were the stairs leading down to the basement. I pointed. Nemesis and Quill shook their heads violently and retreated back to the upstairs.
          Nothing daunted, I carefully crept down the stairs, silently rounded the corner, and fled at full speed down the steps to the basement. I paused at the bottom of the stairs, listening for signs of pursuit, then began regaining my breath before my trip back up. I was about to mount the stairs when I paused, went over to the game shelf, and grabbed a deck of Uno cards. Then, I carefully sneaked back up the stairs to the entryway and practically ran the remaining flight of stairs to the top floor and the other siblings. Breathless, I told them of my feat.
          "No way!" Quill and Nemesis hissed simultaneously, clearly disbelieving.
          "Total way!" I retorted proudly, holding up the Uno deck. Quill's and Nemesis's eyes grew wide.
          "Dad!" Squirrel hissed.
          We hastened to our bedrooms. Again, as before, Dad came in. This time, he delivered a warning.
          "I know you're awake; I heard you kids at the top of the stairs. Next one out of bed gets paddled!"
          Hmm, the stakes were too high now for further romps. We kept our kiesters in bed and slept the sleep of the just.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Captain's Log, Day 74: Imaginations Running Wild

          "Nemesis!!! Get yer kiester up here!!! We're under attack!!!"
          "I'm not finished with the proton analysis yet!" my brother complained from inside the command center.
          I readjusted my grip on the deck gun. "We won't be able to finish anything if we don't get another gun online here! We have three more fighters incoming and no time to dive!"
          Nemesis scrambled up through the top of the conning tower and joined me on deck. "I told you we should have dove after we launched that first attack."
          I sighted down my gun at the incoming fighters. "Yeah, but then we wouldn't have been able to collect your samples or take down the other ship. OPEN FIRE!!!!!"
          Machine-gun fire shattered the early afternoon stillness. Two fighters bought the farm, and Nemesis and I threw ourselves flat in an attempt to avoid the strafing of the last two. The fighters shot by over head before banking away for another run.
          I looked over at Nemesis. "Do we have any surface-to-air missiles left?"
          "A couple." Nemesis squinted into the sky. "We'd have to work fast, though."
          "Right." I made a snap decision. "Get back to the helm and prep for diving. I'll lock on to the fighters and launch the missiles."
          I half-fell, half-jumped through the trapdoor that led into the conning tower, Nemesis hard on my heels. A few seconds of busy switch-flipping and Nemesis, at the helm, reported, "Ready to dive, Captain!"
          "Good. Prepare to--CLOSE THE HATCH OR WE'RE GONNA DIE!!!"
          "Whoops! Sorry!" Nemesis battened down the hatch and saluted. "Now we're ready to dive, sir!"
          "Firing missiles!" I flipped the switch and pushed the firing button twice. "Dive!"
          "Captain, one of the fighters is down. The other one deployed countermeasures and is preparing to depth-charge us!" helm reported.
          "Hard to port and brace for impact!" I ordered.
          Two thunderous blasts shook the command center. Nemesis checked his readings.
          "Science station reporting no damage to the samples. The fighters were definitely alien though, Captain."
          I raised my eyebrows at this change of plot. Nemesis looked back at me innocently. "Should I surface and prepare the ship for space mode?"
          "Yeah, why not?" I agreed, turning back to the weapons and tactical board. "The last fighter is burning  for space; I've locked a transmitter to his hull."
          "WHY ARE MY SAMPLES NOT REACTING???" Nemesis exploded. I ignored him.
          "Our radar's tracking the fighter--it just went to warp!" I shouted. "Go after it!!!"
          Nemesis quickly pushed the necessary buttons and spun the wheel. "Hard on his trail, sir!"
          I studied the nav board. "Breakout in three minutes. Shall we effect repairs?"
          Nemesis was busy at his science station. "You do that. I'm working with my samples. Throw me the screwdriver, would you? I need to build a new panel."
          I ignored his disrespect towards a senior officer and chucked a crayon at him. He snatched it out of midair and began drawing his new panel. I studied the life support systems and decided that I wanted an atmospheric containment shield on the top case the machine guns needed to be manned in the dead of space. I grabbed the drill and some wire and hooked up the batteries to a switch and a voltmeter.
          "Dropping out of warp," Nemesis reported. "Oh, and the samples were part of the exhaust from the fighter. The elements are from their home planet."
          "We need to get down there and check it out," I mused, strapping on my blaster.
          "Fighters, incoming!" Nemesis warned.
          "On it." I dropped back into my chair and activated the weapons systems. Once my screen lit up with targets, I settled back with my fingers on the triggers for the mobile gun platform. Nemesis spun the wheel, banking us into a slight turn preparatory to atmospheric entry.
          "Remember, too steep and we burn up," I reminded him.
          "Right, and too shallow we bounce off. I remember," Nemesis rolled his eyes impatiently. "You shoot, I'll fly."
          "Copy that, Lieutenant," I nodded and squeezed the trigger. The plasma bolts tore into the oncoming fighter wave, decimating it. "Oh, crap--Nemesis, put the shields up!!!"
          "On it!" Nemesis lunged for the button.
          "Too late--we're hit! Activate the cloaking shield!" I yelled, frantically shooting everything in sight.
          "Activated! We're invisible now," Nemesis reported.
          I surveyed the damage. "I'm gonna have to do a spacewalk to fix this. We lost our rear thruster."
          Nemesis began prepping the airlock as I quickly drew some new controls to set up an atmospheric containment shield outside the airlock.
          Then I stepped outside.
          The thruster was located conveniently right outside the airlock. I held tightly to the airlock anyway, conscious that a small slip could send me hurtling into the depths of space, or conceivably toward the planet we were now orbiting, causing me to land in a creek (assuming we were orbiting above one...and I didn't burn up in reentry...).
          I clambered back in the airlock. "It's fixed up! Plot a course for the surface, Helm!"
          "Aye-aye, Captain!" Nemesis punched a few buttons and began guiding us down for a gentle landing. The landing gear dropped and we landed in an alien forest. I disengaged the cloaking shield and looked out the viewport at the river of magma flowing by.
          "Where should we..." Nemesis's voice trailed off as a dinner bell was heard ringing in the distance.
          "Lunch!" I suggested, opening the trapdoor. "We could raid the alien outpost up there, eat lunch, and then come back with some data that will let us convert this ship into a walker so we can explore the forest!"
          Nemesis grinned. "I like it!"
          I began unrolling the rope ladder. "Don't forget your blaster!"
          "Hey, you morons, it's time to eat!" My sister Quill was below us, hanging onto the ladder.
          Nemesis and I exchanged a glance. "An alien!!"

Friday, June 8, 2012

Captain's Log, Day 73: PARENTAL DATE NIGHT!!! YAY!!!!!

          "Hey, guess what? Mom and Dad are leaving on DATE NIGHT!!!!"
          This was cause for rejoicing indeed, from both parents and children. Mom and Dad were happy because they could go out to eat without the distractions inherent to a table-full of children; the children, because they got the house to themselves and thus attempt feats of death-defying stupidity that would have definitely killed them should Mom and Dad have been home to see what they were doing. Also, we could throw noodles at each other during dinner.
          The night started at 4:30, usually. Dad would announce the departure and get into the car to wait for Mom. 30 minutes later, Mom would usually be ready, and after giving us a list of things that would potentially kill us that we should avoid, she joined Dad in the car. (The list ranged from running to answering the door--Mom was convinced that as soon as she left, someone would try to kill or kidnap us--which meant that had we followed the instructions to the letter, we would not have been able to stand up and leave the living room where the instructions were given.)
          After they left, we would sit in the middle of the floor like model children, waiting the inevitable return of Mom 2-5 minutes later because she'd forgotten her purse. As soon as the door closed behind her for the second time, we would creep to the windows and watch Dad drive the car out the driveway at Warp Factor 10 because they had a dinner reservation in 10 minutes and they had 20 minutes to drive. After that, all heck would break loose in the house. Hey, the parents were gone!!!
          After about ten to fifteen minutes of running around cheering and screaming our lungs out, Quill and I would assume our roles as the eldest two in the family and the Head Babysitters and gather the younger two for a quick confab. Back when Quill and I first started babysitting ourselves at the young and impressionable age of 10 and 12, respectively, Mom impressed upon us the importance of opening the door to absolutely NO ONE UNLESS WE WISHED TO BE KILLED, KIDNAPPED, AND TORTURED (not necessarily in that order). She revised the rule slightly after we refused to unlock the house for the short-sighted parental unit, allowing us to let them in before they became the cause of our destruction.
          They weren't very specific. Don't blame US.
          The general debriefing Quill and I gave the younger set went something like this. In the event of someone knocking, ringing the doorbell or (if we were especially alert, which we usually weren't) seeing a car drive down the driveway, we would immediately drop flat, be extremely quiet, and carry out our assigned roles. Squirrel, as the youngest, would immediately sneak downstairs to grab the cordless phone. Nemesis, as my assistant, would grab half the knives out of the knife block in the kitchen (only the small ones, though). Quill would snatch the emergency numbers off the bulletin board and begin punching one of them into the phone just in case, and I would collect all the BIG knives and prepare an ambush in the basement stairs while the other three began prepping one of the downstairs windows for a speedy exit by removing the screen. The theory was that when someone broke in, they would hit my ambush and be distracted while Quill placed an emergency call as we fled out the back window to a hiding place in the woods.
          Although why someone would want to drive all the way out to the country, choose the second-to-last driveway on our road, drive up to our house, and kidnap a bunch of hyperactive kids toting obscene amounts of cutlery, I have no idea. Somehow, that thought never crossed our minds.
          After the review of "The Plan," we would adjourn for a game...sometimes freeze tag, sometimes regular tag, sometimes Nerf Wars with modified guns--throwing knives around would probably have been safer in that last instance, as some of us (me) liked super-powered weaponry and took great care in making sure the guns were kept in shape and able to put someone's eye out at 50 feet. After that, Quill and I would make dinner, usually spaghetti or pizza, and attempt to keep conflagrations to a minimum.
          After dinner and the food fight, we would scrub the walls and ceiling and retire to the basement with gargantuan amounts of dessert, the end result being that at the end of the movie we selected, we would have ingested enough sugar to give a hummingbird a heart attack. Sometimes we vibrated straight out of the visible spectrum, which usually meant that after a rowdy game of Tag in the Dark, I would be called upon to Spackle walls before Mom and Dad came back. An occasional rearranging of furniture to hide chocolate sauce stains was sometimes necessary, too.
          After Quill and I ushered the younger set to bed, we would settle down for a game of Slamwich, smacking each other's hands as hard as possible and inventing greater and consecutively more gory fates for the next sibling who dares to step a foot out of bed THIS MEANS YOU NEMESIS GET YOUR KIESTER BACK IN BED OR...
          By the time the parental unit got home, Quill and I were combating the strange combination of sleep deprivation and sugar overload, causing us to writhe in paroxysms of laughter over fairly stupid things. Payment was promptly demanded of Mom, as we discovered she was more generous than Dad fairly quickly, and then beat a hasty retreat to bed before they could discover any damages.
          I usually had to sneak back upstairs at midnight to return to the kitchen the knife I'd hidden under my bed...a fate worse than kidnapping awaited the youngster discovered to be playing with Mom's good kitchen knives. For some reason, "defense against kidnapping" didn't hold up as valid in the Parental Court of Inquiry.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Captain's Log, Day 72: Rule One and Red Lobster

          "MIKE!!! RULE ONE OF LAB!!!"
          Rich quickly cut Mike off before he managed to rearrange our circuit board. Mike attempted to free his hands as he complained, "But your circuit's all wrong! The 100-ohm resistor is supposed to be connected to the end prong of the variable resistor!"
          Ben and I rechecked the circuit diagram. "No, because if we do that, we lose the variance," I pointed out. "End to end is a constant resistance. End to MIDDLE varies it."
          "Well, yeah, you have to move the other connection too," Mike pointed out.
          "Which gives us the exact same thing," I reminded him.
          Mike thought for a second. "We should move it anyway. It will look better."
          Ben sighed. "Rule One of lab, Mike!"
          Rich looked bemused. "Does he always do this?"
          Ben and I yelled "YES!!!" at the same time.
          Mike, Rich, Ben and I were up at the University of North Dakota for a one-week summer lab. Ben, Mike and I had been lab partners for the past few semesters, while Rich was a student we'd worked with long-distance on a couple projects. I'd quickly brought him into our lab group as soon as I met him, and now he was discovering exactly how disorderly and yet strangely efficient our team was.
          Rule One of lab had been formulated by Ben and me during the spring semester. We were working on a process trainer, carefully programming various parameters into a heat-transfer device in preparation for a 15-minute wait to find out if we did it correctly. We got it done and turned it on, and I watched with satisfaction as our graphs for the hot and cold sides of the process leveled out nicely. I figured we all didn't need to be staring at it, so I asked if either Ben or Mike could check calculations from a previous lab. Ben agreed and popped open his computer. I went back to studying the graphs. Neither of us checked to see what Mike was doing.
          Five minutes later, the graphs went haywire. I freaked out and frantically yelled at the other two to GET OVER HERE NOW BECAUSE SOMETHING IS SERIOUSLY WRONG!!!!! Ben and I discussed the issue for a few moments before I noticed Mike fiddling with the external control panel. I pushed Ben aside and scooted over. "Did you find the problem?"
          Mike looked a bit sheepish. "Yeah, these switches were all on manual."
          Ben followed me over. "I set them all on external before we started the experiment!"
          I glared at Mike. "Miiiiiiiiikkkkkkke....."
          "I got bored!" he protested.
          Ben and I exchanged a look. "New rule of lab; Mike is not allowed to touch ANYTHING without permission," Ben decided.
          "Better make that Rule One; this is bigger than the one about safety glasses," I suggested, chuckling a bit.
          "Okay. Rule One of lab; Mike needs written permission from both of us before he can mess with anything," Ben agreed. "I'll write up a form."
          Naturally, once Rich joined our team, we briefed him on the rule. He at first deemed it unnecessary, but after seeing Mike in action a few times, he joined us in complete agreement on Rule One.
          After the circuit incident, we decided to go out to eat at Red Lobster. Ben didn't feel like it, so he stayed at the hotel, and I drove Rich and Mike over. Once we got there, Mike ducked into the restroom seconds before the waiter arrived to seat us.
          "Two?" he inquired politely.
          "Three, actually," Rich inserted.
          "And...uh...could we get a children's menu for the third guy?" I asked quickly, glancing over at the door to the men's room.
          The waiter studied me for a moment before seeming to pick up the situation. Grinning, he asked, "And would he be wanting crayons?"
          "YES!" Rich and I answered simultaneously.
          Mike took the joke rather well, but still ended up ordering off of Rich's menu. The three of us spent an enjoyable dinner coloring and playing games on the children's menu, although Mike pointed out that the waiter was going to come by and think us strange.
          "Let him," I chuckled. "You're the one with the crayon in his hand at the moment. You know, I've never had a lobster at Red Lobster."
          "Why not?" Rich inquired.
          "They're giant undersea BUGS!" I retorted.
          When I got back home, I was asked to help rearrange the house furniture. My brother and I got the plan and began shifting items around the house. Mom hovered nearby, offering suggestions and attempting to help. Finally, I motioned to my brother to put down his end of the desk we were carrying and turned to Mom. "Hey, Mom, I have a quick story to tell you..."
          I ran through the story of Mike and our lab. At the end, I asked, "Get it?"
          "Because I just made a new rule. You get to go off and read while we finish up here." My brother and I picked up the desk again and began walking.
          Mom bent down for a box. "Let me just move these over--"
          "RULE ONE OF MOVING!!!" my brother and I chorused.