Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Captain's Log, Day 160: When the House is Rocking, Don't Bother Knocking

          Radar, Quill, Nemesis, and Squirrel departed the warmth and comfort of the house for the frigid Minnesota outdoor evening. The sun was setting, darkness casting a shadow over the white snow. All of them were bundled up in full winter attire--snowpants, boots, scarves, gloves, hats, coats...the works.
          Of course, a large part of that was because they were wearing shorts and t-shirts.
          Their dad had kindly built the Midway girls a fully insulated and powered playhouse that summer, with the Midway boys helping on the condition that they got to use it on occasion. (Since Radar and Nemesis were 12 and 8, respectively, any "help" rendered was probably not actually useful, but their dad was gracious enough to let them help.) Dad had also gifted them with a heater for the winter months, so that when their mom was tired of them trashing the house, she could order them outside without even a slight twinging of the conscience.
          The playhouse was a marvel, as would be expected of the product of an engineering mind. It was about ten feet by ten feet, with a front porch (rendered useless at the moment by the Minnesota winter) and a second story loft that took up half the inside space. The result was one and a half floors of fun. Radar, of course, disdained the convenient ladder/trapdoor rig in the corner, preferring to jump for the railing and bodily haul himself up. (Or just jump down, depending on what direction he was going.) This, of course, was probably why he was the one who proposed the game of tag, figuring his daring would give him the edge.
          Snow gear piled in the corner, the siblings voted on who would be "it" first. The honor fell to Quill. Radar scaled the loft, crouching in the far back corner, while Squirrel hid on the ground floor directly beneath him. Nemesis ran up the ladder, closed the trapdoor, and sat on it, leading to a brief discussion of what constituted "fair." Radar argued for an open-trapdoor policy (since it didn't bother him any), Quill argued that a closed trapdoor meant a very one-dimensional game with her and Squirrel, and Squirrel (who did not want to be it) sealed the vote with a cry of "Get off it, cheater!" Nemesis yielded to the vote, and the game began--
          --after Radar activated the boombox with their favorite soundtrack of Pirates of the Caribbean...and turned off the lights to give the game the proper ambiance.
          The move, daring as it was, was initially met with protests before everyone realized that their odds of hiding just got a lot better.
          Quill opened up the round by flying up the ladder after Nemesis (or Radar; she wasn't real picky). Nemesis retreated towards Radar, demanding to know why she wasn't going after Squirrel. Quill pointed out that Squirrel was "too easy" as Radar departed the loft over the railing. Nemesis swung a leg over to follow Radar, desperation making him bold, but was tagged by Quill before he had quite gotten up the nerve. Since a ten-second no-tagback rule was in place, he opted to exit the loft via conventional means to pursue Radar.
          Radar planted off the small toy stove and re-entered the loft. Nemesis settled for Squirrel. Squirrel scurried up to tag Quill, but both Quill and Radar jumped over the railing to the main floor. (Quill remarked that the technique was actually not as bad as she'd previously thought.) Squirrel saw the veritable buffet of tagging options on the ground floor and slid back down the ladder with a haste that led Quill to believe she'd fallen off. She ran up to see if her younger sister was okay and got tagged for her pains.
          By now, Radar was back in the loft, so Quill cornered Nemesis. Nemesis charged for the ladder; as soon as he got out of sight under the loft, Radar jumped back down. Nemesis almost tackled him, his charge for the ladder having merely been a feint. Radar wasn't it for long; throwing out a hand, he tripped Quill. Since that technically counted as a tag, she tried to get Nemesis, but Nemesis had already vanished up the ladder into the loft. Quill followed him up, so he jumped over the railing, emboldened by his siblings' prior successes. Quill jumped after him, so he ran up the ladder. The chase continued in that vein for almost a minute before Quill reversed thrust and was waiting for Nemesis when he jumped over the railing. Nemesis, furious, tagged his incapacitated brother, whose laughter wasn't so pronounced that he forgot to immediately pass the designation of "it" off to Squirrel, who was laughing right next to him. Squirrel got Quill, who tried to get Radar--but Radar was long gone, having scaled the loft via railing moments before.
          Quill tagged Nemesis. Nemesis went after Radar again, trying to pull the same feint he'd used before. His older brother, however, was too wily to be taken in by the same trick twice, waiting until Nemesis's head poked into the loft before jumping down. Nemesis went back down; Radar went up. This continued until the ten seconds were up, at which point Nemesis tagged Quill, since she was considered to be the more accomplished at nailing the oldest. She shot up the ladder. Radar jumped down--
          --and almost landed on his dad, who had just opened the door and walked in.
          Dad flicked on the light as everyone froze in instinctive guilt, before remembering they weren't in the "real house" and thus punishments for banging around would not be forthcoming. Dad noted that a) it was dinnertime, b) the loud music had apparently deafened them to the dinner bell, and c) that it was probably 97 degrees in the playhouse and that they could probably turn down the heat.
          Now that their father had mentioned it, they were all pretty hot. Slipping into their boots, they scooped up their clothes and bolted for the house before their astonished dad could point out that summer clothes probably would result in frozen kiesters....
          He didn't rat them out to Mom, though.

Captain's Log, Day 159: Oh, Fudge.

          About three things I was absolutely positive. First, I was hungry. Second, my butt hurt. And third, I had an appalling lack of furniture in my apartment room.
          Also, I liked brutally murdering famous quotes, but that wasn't really applicable at that precise moment in time.
          "So what now?" Rach asked, hanging upside-down over the edge of my bed.
          I had been sitting on my desk, since Rach had declined my chair and I thought it would be rude to occupy the only legitimate butt-rest in the room. We'd just finished watching a movie, which had been of a long enough duration for the desk to get really uncomfortable. At Rach's query, though, I popped up. "I dunno, but it should involve food. I'm hungry."
          "Yeah, me too," Rach complained, face turning red as a result of her position. With a grunt, she righted herself. "Well, sort of. I'm not super hungry, but I could eat something. What do you have?"
          I mentally ran through my pantry. That was a depressingly brief exercise. "Pretzels."
          "That's it?" Rach made a face.
          "In my defense, I was going to get groceries today," I pointed out. "You kinda sidetracked me."
          She shrugged, stealing my dog blanket. "Well, let's go get some groceries, then. Can I use this as a cape?"
          I stuck my tongue out at her. "No."
          A few minutes later, we were installed in the car my parents were loaning me: a Toyota Matrix. For anyone unfamiliar with the car, it's basically the size of a shoebox, and about as intimidating. Rach, of course, thought it was "cute." I told her that she was nuts and promptly smacked my knee on the steering column as I tried to squeeze in.
          "Gah, I wish I had a truck," I muttered, unaware that, in three years, I'd actually get my wish.
          "Why?" Rach demanded.
          "It's small and has the impact resistance of a tin can," I complained, with the knowledge having been gained in a crash I'd been in the previous semester. (Sorry, Ma.) "Also, the horn sounds like it's terrified of the other cars." I gave that some thought. "Actually, it might be."
          She buckled herself in. "Can I hear it?"
          I wrinkled my nose. "Eew, no. It's embarrassing."
          Rach gave me her best pleading-puppy face.
          "Okay, fine." I honked the horn. The car made a noise that Mom once said sounded like a plea of don't hit me! Rach cracked up.
          "See? Told you it was bad," I grumbled.
          "Do it again!"
          "NO. And I'm not looking at you," I snorted, pulling out of the parking lot.
          Not my best decision.
          "RACH! STOP BLOWING MY HORN!" I swatted her hand away. She didn't try to hit the horn again, possibly because she was laughing too hard.
          We made it out Walmart without further incident other than Rach shuffling all the stations on my radio. I let her, since the alternative was apparently the horn. However, a new difficulty was presented once inside.
          "Um...what are we getting?" I asked.
          She shrugged. "How would I know?"
          I gave her a look. She returned it with interest. "What? I thought you were the one who needed groceries!"
          I sighed. "True, but I never made a list! I do need milk, though. Hmm, what goes with pretzels?"
          "Chocolate," Rach replied promptly, investigating various hats.
          My eyes widened. "You're brilliant!"
          "I know," she said absently, trying on a Sonic the Hedgehog ball cap. "Wait, what?"
          "We can make chocolate-covered pretzels!" I exclaimed, making a beeline for the chocolate isle.
          "That is a good idea," she agreed. "What kinds should we make?"
          I gave her a blank look. "There are kinds?"
          Rach started pulling baking chocolate off the shelves and tossing it to me. "Milk, we don't want bittersweet...we could try white...ooh! Butterscotch!"
          "That's not technically chocolate," I pointed out.
          "Whatever," she said dismissively. "It'll still taste great. Come on, let's get your milk."
          We made it back out without further incident; I decided to try to make up a grocery list and do my shopping at a later date. (I still mostly ate at the caf, a decision my wallet rejoiced in while my stomach complained. Caf food was notoriously bad.) Rach promptly honked the car horn five or six times before I could stop her, since I incapacitated myself by whanging my knee into that dammed steering column again. That was impressively painful.
          "I should watch my language," I muttered while pinning Rach's hands to the center console with my forearm.
          "'Damn' is hardly swearing," my horn-happy compatriot pointed out, trying with little success to free her arms.
          I fixed her with a look. "I'll let you go if you promise to not honk the horn."
          She remained mute.
          "...until we park?" I suggested.
          "Okay, fine," Rach capitulated. "Man, I wish I had a car like this."
          "You can have it," I grumbled, putting it in gear. "Besides, you'd never quit honking."
          She grinned. "But it's so cute though!"
          I groaned. "I don't want to drive a cute car!"
          Three minutes, two beeps, and one protracted chase later, we were back in my apartment. My suitmate (well, one of them, anyway), Zach, was hanging out in the living room when we burst in. "Hey guys, what's up?"
          "Chocolate-covered pretzels," I announced.
          He gave me a disbelieving look. "Oh, like you know how to cook?"
          "Shut up," I advised him, dumping my ingredients out on the counter. "Where'd I put my pot?"
          Zach snickered. I ignored him.
          I managed to get locate the pot, while Rach blatantly stole one of Zach's for her butterscotch brainwave. Zach decided that TV was going to be nowhere near as interesting as watching this debacle unfold and pulled a barstool over to the counter. "You should add milk," he offered. "It'll cook better."
          I turned to face him. "I'm pretty sure we don't need milk," I began.
          "Too late," Rach announced, dumping a liberal portion into both pans.
          "First my horn, now my milk?" I demanded, throwing a pretzel at her. She caught it deftly and ate it.
          We started stirring and sneaking handfuls of various chips. However, our concoctions didn't seem to be melting like I was expecting them to. After about five minutes, we were staring at--
          "Fudge?" Rach demanded.
          "That's weird," I noted unnecessarily, sticking my finger in to sample it before belatedly remembering that it was still on the stove. "OW!"
          Zach came over to investigate, then doubled over laughing. "Well...that's not the worst way to screw up!"
          "I told you we didn't need milk!" I protested.
          "We can try again," Rach reassured me, handing me her spoon and taking both pots. "I'll make fudge squares. You melt some more chocolate."
          "Fine. I'm stealing another pot," I told Zach.
          He shrugged. "Don't wreck it. I'm going to work."
          "Have fun," I said absently.
          Rach had finished with the squares by the time I had the chocolate melted. She got some pretzels arranged on a plate, then took the spoon from me and began artistically drizzling chocolate over them. After a few moments, she stepped back. "What do you think?"
          "Nice. You missed a spot, though," I noted, upending the pot onto the plate.
          She glared at me.
          "What?" I demanded. "You get better coverage this way!"
          She burst out laughing. "Engineer!"
          "You know it," I returned. "Let's eat."
          The pretzels tasted great. The fudge was surprisingly good, too.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Captain's Log, Day 158: Woofing Practice

          "Come on, Max! You can do it!" Mom urged.
          I was not passing this one up. As stealthily as I could, I eased my phone out and opened the camera app...
          Mom saw me and gave me a hard look. "I don't need this to be on Facebook--Radar, NO."
          "I just want a picture of the dog," I lied unconvincingly, punching the record button.
          Mom shook her head. "I don't want to be in it. No."
          "Okay, fine," I huffed in mock exasperation, angling the camera at the edge of the table towards Max.
          Mom turned back towards the dog, holding the plate of meat up (leftover stew). "Come on, Maxie! Woof! Woof! Come on Maxie, you can speak!"
          "I think he's taking a movie," Dad muttered.
          Mom rolled her eyes at me. "Please don't."
          Needless to say, I ignored the request. Mom knew as well as I did that if I put it up on the internet (which I wasn't planning on doing), I was a dead man. However, I considered all non-uploaded videos my personal domain. As the one with the newest phone, too, I considered myself the unofficial family recorder.
          My mother turned back to the dog. "Woof!" she invited.
          Maxie's nose twitched. Everyone burst out laughing.
          "I think there's too much negativity in here," Mom objected, plate still in hand.
          "I think you're confusing 'negativity' with 'realism'," Dad offered, prompting another round of laughter from us Midway siblings. The dog was quite friendly, but in the brain department.
          "Maxie, speak!" Mom tried again.
          Squirrel piped up. "You're just confusing him!"
          Max gave her a quick glance before returning his gaze to the plate in Mom's hand.
          "Maxie! Do brain surgery!" Dad ordered.
          Even Mom burst out laughing at that one. "Come on, Maxie, can you speak?"
          The dog drooled a little.
          "Come on, you can speak--"
          "Can you drive a car?" Dad inquired.
          We were all almost crying by this point. Max gave us no more attention and drooled at the plate a little more.
          "Maxie! Tell time!" was Squirrel's contribution.
          Dad shushed her.
          "Maxie! Woof! Woof!" Mom tried again.
          Quill snickered. "Change the oil?"
          "OOH! He almost--no, wait, that was a burp," Dad noted. "I suppose it's sorta..."
          Mom patted the dog's head. "Maxie, ignore them. I know you can speak."
          "He's going to bite your arm," Dad said dryly--a hysterical statement, as Maxie was the gentlest dog we knew. Mom gave him a look; as she did so, Maxie slyly extended his nose towards Mom's hand. A moment later--
          "He licked your plate!" Dad exclaimed. "Eew!"
          Mom shrugged. "I was done with it anyway," she pointed out over the laughter.
          "He's sick of it! He's tired of all this woofing crap--just give the plate up!" Dad intervened on behalf of the now wildly confused dog.
          Mom gave her husband a look of mock disbelief. As she did, the golden retriever put his paws on the edge of her seat and launched himself up to see over the edge of the plate. Mom moved it away, just far enough for him to decide that he wasn't going to be able to make it. He settled back down.
          "He's coming over the top!" Dad said gleefully.
          Quill wiped tears of laughter out of her eyes. "Maybe you should just give him the plate."
          "Oh, he's far too done with this," Dad laughed. "He burped--that's close enough!"
          Mom finally acknowledged the inevitable and began lowering the plate to the ground. Maxie lunged for it and helped it descend much faster.
          Dad and Squirrel were still roaring with laughter over Dad's last joke. "Well, he can eat it now," Quill offered.
          "That's like the other direction," Dad laughed.
          Mom wrinkled her nose at the mess on the floor. "I told you he was gonna have an accident!" Squirrel wheezed.
          "It's woofing in reverse!" Dad offered, still enjoying his joke.
          "He swallowed his woof!" Squirrel offered. Everyone at the table--including Mom--burst out laughing.
          Guess you really can't teach an old dog new tricks...        

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Captain's Log, Day 157: Pride and Powder Digging

          I was humming a little tune to myself as I threw myself into a belly-flop from a full sprint. Normally, this would yield a fairly messed-up stomach (not that such concerns ever bothered me at the tender age of 12), but this time--
          --okay, yes, fine, I was totally humming the "Pirates of the Caribbean" soundtrack. Moving on--
          Anyway, this time, I landed on a slight incline of snow and hurtled at full speed into my Fortress of Awesome. I did managed to get my hands up before I put my face into the back wall; I'd already taken more snow to the face than I'd really cared for in one day.
          Not that I was blaming anything but my own inability to duck.
          After giving it about thirty seconds to settle down outside, I cautiously crept back out. Sure enough, with the inciting factor gone (*cough*me*cough*), the snowball fight had subsided. It may have helped that the resident golden retriever, Max, had gotten involved and made it incredibly difficult to land any shots. He loved catching snowballs; decidedly a mixed blessing, at best.
          "Anyway, as I was saying," Quill was saying to Nemesis, "you should see how far I've gotten!"
          "How many rooms?" I asked quizzically.
          "Just the one," Quill replied, eyeing my suspiciously. "We haven't been out here that long."
          Nemesis grinned. "I already have two," he bragged.
          "Three!" I one-upped him, before my sense of honor intervened. "Okay, two and a half. But the third one is almost done!"
          "You guys have all the tools, though!" Quill protested. "I'm doing this by hand!"
          Nemesis offered her a trowel. Quill gave him a look. "And I don't want tools, thank you," she added.
          "Your loss," I shrugged. "Nemesis, can I get the saw from you?"
          Nemesis handed over the wood saw, flexible blade wobbling in an amusing fashion. "Only for a few minutes. I need it once I shovel all the debris out."
          "You got it." I took the saw with alacrity and vanished inside.
          My cave was almost big enough for me to sit up in, thanks to the extra-large section of the drift that I'd promptly claimed and defended against all comers. Since I was also on the end of our line (we liked to build close so we could easily brag to each other about our progress), I got the entire west side to tunnel into. I had no doubt one of my other siblings would eventually cave in one of their sections and move over this direction, which is why my first order of business was extend my territory as far as possible. My cave and tunnel system currently consisted of two fairly large "turn-around" rooms and a fifteen-foot extension west. I figured that, if my luck held, I could get a good twenty to thirty feet before someone tried to jump that direction for a do-over.
          Tunnel-carving was an art. I strategically scored the end of my tunnel with the saw before turning around in room two and kicking out the loosened chunks with my feet. After reversing direction again, I scooped all the snow into the entry to room two, sealing myself in temporarily while I flexed the saw blade and slid it through the roof to create an arched ceiling, accidentally dumping a bunch of snow down the back of my neck.
          In space, no one can hear you scream. That's equally true in a snow cave.
          I shoved all the loose snow ahead of me into room one before wriggling past it and out my cave entrance to the right. Nemesis was waiting for me. "Saw?"
          I handed it to him. "Shovel?"
          Trade completed, I used the shovel to scoop all the dislodged snow out of room one, packing it into a wall around my cave entrance to make a miniature fort. The shovel blade didn't pull up any grass or anything, since there was a layer of ice from previous snowfalls that had partially melted. I figured that one operation gave me another three feet of tunnel. I was definitely in the lead for the title of "Longest Cave System." Since this particular drift was formed by a combination of fence and hillside, it was a good hundred feet long, easily. I'd have my work cut out for me for the foreseeable future.
          "Radar! Come see this!" Nemesis popped out of his cave and beckoned.
          I jumped over my wall and hurried over. "How is it going?"
          "Take a look!" Nemesis urged and...vanished inside.
          How odd. Normally, our caves couldn't take more than one at a time. This, I had to see. I slithered inside, to find that Nemesis had one-upped me in ingenuity. He'd used the saw to cut through the ice layer and into the softer snow beneath, dropping the floor a good ten inches and creating a space we could sit up in. He'd also somehow managed to hollow it out wide enough to fit not just two, but three. I high-fived him, while privately making plans to duplicate his feat.
          After some small talk, we got down to business. "How far this way did you dig?" Nemesis inquired.
          "I didn't, except for my first room," I answered. "You saw that one, right?"
          He nodded. "So I can go that way?"
          "Sure. Just don't break into my wall," I replied graciously.
          "If I do, I can always patch it," he pointed out.
          I felt like arguing. "Unless it's too big."
          Unfortunately for my private warlike desires, he conceded the point. "I'll be careful."
          Ugh. I wanted an excuse to throw snow at him. I privately decided to hit him with a snowball from behind the safety of my wall later with the pretense of "testing my fort."
          "Hey, guys!" Quill popped in. "Oh, wow. Great cave, Nemesis!"
          "Mine's longer," I felt constrained to point out.
          They both ignored me. "Which way are you digging?" Nemesis asked, just to confirm things. The unwritten rule was that the outside parties let the inside party have all the drift room between their caves, since he had nowhere to go.
          Quill pointed east. "That way. I made a little room back by the fenceline, but it doesn't go very far towards you. Want to dig over to it and make a peephole?"
          "Sure!" Nemesis agreed eagerly.
          I edged towards the entrance. "I'm going to get back to work. Nemesis--"
          "You can have the saw now," he said generously, anticipating my request.
          "Thanks." I reflected, a little disappointed, on how his generosity meant that I should probably forebear from smacking him upside the head with a snowball, at least for now--
          "I still think that's cheating," Quill muttered, following me out.
          Ah-HA! Target justified! I dropped the saw into my fort, scooping up a chuck of snow, and splattering it across the back of my sister's coat.
          "AAH! RADAR!" Quill screeched, throwing a snowball back before taking cover behind Nemesis's displaced snow pile.
          Nemesis popped out. "What's going--oh."
          "Help me get him!" Quill proposed.
          He took her up on it. A few moments later, they were spread too far apart for me to defend against with any kind of effectiveness (long years had taught them how to handle me). Maxie was nowhere to be seen, so I opted for the path of tactical retreat and hurled myself into my tunnel again.
          Back to digging!