I'm not generally a superstitious person, because I firmly believe that being superstitious brings bad luck.

Heh. Not really. Actually I have not yet made up my mind as to whether coincidences "mean something" or not. But like all unusual displays of natural phenomena, I love to catch a glimpse of them in action. This one's a doozy!

Last year, a man came back to our little town of Lamar for his 50th (or so--I only got that part third hand) high school reunion. Being on the scene of his fondly remembered youth reminded him of a book he had borrowed frequently from the high school library, then never seen again. The title was something like, Letters from a Hard-Boiled Teacher to his Half-Baked Son.

With this vague info, he dropped into the Lamar Public Library to ask their advice on how to track down an old, out of print book. Now it just so happens that I volunteer at the library one night a week, showing people how to get on the internet. I'm always telling the staff about neat new sites or software I've run across, and so they told the man, "Oh! We know someone who is bound to be able to find it on that new eBay thing! She knows all about it!"

The man was quite understandably dubious, but he wrote down the title, and his name and address, and that info was soon passed to me. It unfortunately didn't have enough of the right sort of details for me to have much luck with various search engines, so I filed it away, figuring that was that.

Within a few weeks, my friend Caro and I were on our regular appointed rounds of garage sales, sifting through a long table of very mixed miscellaneous. Caro, who was looking through the books, made a funny noise. "Another spider?" I asked, because it had certainly been that sort of a startled noise she'd made.

No, she'd found a copy of The Book. Half-baked, Half-boiled, definitely the one. Sadly, it was in pretty crummy shape, very worn, with the cover loose, and full of notes scribbled in the margins. But we figured, why tempt Fate? When will we ever find another one in better shape? Plus, it was cheap, due to the condition. Worth taking a chance on.

So we bundled it up and mailed it to the man, saying we knew it was in poor condition, so he could just have it, and send us whatever he thought it was worth, if he wanted to. We didn't hear back right away, and so we shrugged it off, figuring it hadn't been what he wanted.

Then we got the letter--and a check for a respectable sum! The man was thrilled with the book, not just because we had managed to find one...but because this was the one from the library he had actually read so often fifty-some years ago. The notes in it were written by him! No one else ever checked the book out, you see, and he had come to feel rather like it was his....

And now, it is his. Amazing, but 100% true!

You just never know what you'll find at a garage sale.

Here is your 'Pic of the Week':

This is a photo of me at age 9, taken by a Life magazine photographer. The film he shot was to be part of a photo story (which didn't make the editorial cut) about the first Little Miss Colorado pageant, which way back in 1963 was intended (at least partly) to be a 'spoof' of the contests for the big girls. I was Little Miss Thornton, and my talent entry was a comedy monolog where I 'talked' to my pet rat Odie....

Odie & me


Sand and Sage

Before we get started, I have to confess to making an error in last week's story. Caro pointed out (after I'd already pushed send on #1) that the title of the book I mentioned was 'From a Hard Boiled teacher', not a H.B. Reporter. The only good excuse I've been able to come up with so far is that in my mind, the descriptive phrase 'hard-boiled' summons up detectives...or maybe reporters, or even eggs. Not teachers. However, I am willing to bow to Caro's superior knowledge of the inherent character of education professionals.

Speaking of which, let's pause for a moment of respect for the thousands of school-employee-types who are buckling back into harness right about now, preparing to drag gaggles of giddy youth through yet another school year.

In Home Farm Flock news this week, we are pleased to announce the hatching of two baby chicks, incubated under the jealous jostling of three hens reluctantly sharing a nest box. (Chickens, even free-range chickens, are weird.) Our 7 year old, Mike, who is currently on a Natural History kick, has named them Skunk and Penguin because they are black and yellow in color.

(Divergence #1: I remember when my son Sterling ordered a batch of some special black breed of chicken for his 4-H project--this would be about 12 years ago. Those chicks looked a lot like these. The day they came, my daughter Damaris was the first one home from school, and I complained bitterly to her that the hatchery had sent us the wrong order--baby penguins! I claimed I'd had to take out the heat lamp and fill their cage with ice cubes. And she blinked and asked, "The chick place will take them back and send the right ones, won't they?" She later tried the same ruse on her brother, but I don't recall if he fell for it or not.)

Mike's interest in Natural History is not without a downside. One morning not long after learning all about how spiders get their meals, he was putting on his Spiderman underpants. Suddenly he noticed the pattern of webs all over them, and he shucked them off with a shriek of genuine alarm. Hasn't worn them since. Oh well, we've been planning to switch him over to boxers anyway....

But back to this week's story. About 8 years ago Sterling, the last of the Big Kids At Home, had his final year of 4-H, and I was staggeringly grateful. All three of the kids were good solid 4-Her's, which meant they did their chores with only the minimum daily amount of nagging. Still, a lot of work falls on the parents, especially during fair week, and I'd not been too sad to see all that go. Why, I even missed a few of our Prowers County Sand and Sage Fairs in the ensuing years! But now we have Michael, and of course the grandkids, and somehow, that ol' fair has regained its sparkle!

For little kids, the fair has only two components. All those veggies and jars of canned stuff and art show entries and booths where you can register to win a fancy vacuum cleaner might as well be left home. What they want to see are animals (bunnies in their cages, shorn lambs in special spandex coats, sleepy pigs, and big ol' cows, best admired from a distance)...

...and the carnival. Grown-ups see the tired, bored workers, the chipped paint on grubby signs saying you must be THIS high, and fight to tune out the come-on calls of the barkers. The kids see the lights and the promised thrill of speed and spins, and the ticket price the grownups mutter about isn't a factor in the slightest.

Actually, there are three things the kids like. I was forgetting the parade. If you don't live in a small town, you probably don't go to parades where kids ride crepe paper covered bikes or walk their dogs or sit on handmade floats illustrating this year's parade theme. Here, it seems like all Lamar's banks are required by city statute to take part--and they put on a heck of a show!

The longer you've lived here, the more people there are for you to holler "Hi!" to as they pass by on their float. Some groups toss candy to the kids, which is always popular. Sometimes grown-ups catch the candy instead--but they divide it among the littler parade-goers who aren't catching as much as their scrambling big brothers and sisters. There are even still a few people here who know citizens are supposed to stand up as the first American flag goes by.

Caro was at the fair for pretty much the duration this year. As the final event of her summer reading program at the Lamar Middle School, they had a booth, staffed by actual students as well as our favorite long-suffering mild-mannered librarian. It would be hard to really describe what this experience was like....

A few years ago, at a workshop, the educators were given a method of determining which grade a student was in. If they ran everywhere--6th grade. If they hit all their peers at random times for no discernable reason--7th grade. If they couldn't decide between hitting and kissing peers--8th grade.

Caro spent the fair with this dynamic going on, in an 8 foot square tented booth. She is expected to make a full recovery.

The Sand and Sage is really a very typical rural county fair. And yet, Lamar has its special attributes, and these show up in non-typical events. Like the return of the former World Team Sand Sculpting Championship guy, Dave Henderson. He came back for a second visit this year to create another humongous, impermanent work of art from...sand.

We've got plenty of that around here, and Dave's return was partly based on the fine quality of our local sand. Funny to have so much sand, and not an ocean in sight. (Well, there was an ocean here once, but it went away a few hundred million years ago.) Funny to make a giant sand castle, with livestock pens and show barns for a backdrop, with the baa's of sheep echoing around it, instead of the cry of gulls.

(Divergence #2: Some people think Lamar is named for the sea--La Mer is French for sea--or at least the sea of grass that was once here. Nope. The fine upstanding town founders who stole the Blackwell train station and moved it to Lamar's present location named their new site after some Washington DC bigwig--I think he was the Secretary of State back then--in the pious hope he would grant them special favors in return. I understand they got burnt on that one....)

So here at the Sand and Sage fair, people came and went like the tides, forming an ever changing pool of viewers on the metal benches under the tarp. Sitting in rapt silence, they watched a genius from California create a fantasy from very ordinary material, as they listened to imaginary waves.

Here is your 'Pic of the Week' URL:

Sand Castle at the Sand and Sage. I took this Tuesday, August 17, several days after the fair ended. If you look close, you can see the glow from the lighting system still faithfully illuminating the sculpture. That's the Sand and Sage Show Barn in the background.

Fair Sand Castle


Our Friendly/Family Boy

I haven't had much in the way of unusual and amusing adventures this week. I've spent a lot of time working on the NNNN website (the link is in the sig at the bottom [but you knew that!]). I know by sad experience that going on and on about every little detail of such a project is not a matter of deathless fascination to 99.99% of the world's population. So I shall spare you.

Except for one note. I believe the glitch in the waving flags is resolved. So if you couldn't see the flags before (one for every country I know of where a NNNN subscriber lives!), try now. Go to the main page, find the flashing neon sign (!) that says "Links" and click, then click on "Where in the World?" and enjoy the spectacle!

I suppose you could count washing the five dogs Saturday as an adventure. Due to this year's freak meteorological conditions, or perhaps a curse from on high, we are currently suffering a plague of fleas. Particularly me. For some reason the fleas pretty much ignore Caro and Michael, but flock to me like teenyboppers (does anyone still say teenyboppers?) to an 'N Sync concert. Must be my colorful past as a flea market maven.

At any rate, we bought the giant economy size of flea shampoo and hauled the dogs into the bath one by one. My back definitely notices today, even though Caro did half and Mike "helped". Of course, he meant well. But we had a situation with two lipidly enhanced ladies teetering on the edge of a slippery, soaped-up bathtub, trying to enforce the concept of "SIT! STAY!" to dogs who had a decided wish to be somewhere--anywhere--else. Nothing a 7 year old tried to add to this scenario was likely to be constructive.

So today the dogs look great, and we are a wreck. About par for the course.

Friendly family boy. That's a Michael phrase, a self-description, and a darned good one. Michael has some developmental delays, you see, and it shows the most in his language skills. He has a lot of trouble with things that need to go in order, whether it's numbers or the ABCs or stringing words into a sentence. It seems to be hard for him to catch minute differences of the blends of sounds that make words, too. So he uses 'friendly' and 'family' interchangeably a lot of the time. When I tried to figure out how to explain the difference, I got kind of stuck on the similarities myself, and gave it up to try again some other day.

Before I get started, I want you to know I'm not saying all this about Mike so that people will think I'm some kind of saint. (Even my mom doesn't think that!) I hope no one takes offense, but it really annoys me when I hear the phrase, "God picks the most special parents for these special kids." People mean that in a nice way; I realize that. But if you'd seen some of the situations I've seen, you'd know this little homily is a major insult to the Almighty.

If it is true, He needs to go do some Heavenly Personnel Adjustment in either His Quality Control or Shipping departments. The fact of the matter is that, as with regular babies, sometimes these innocents show up in a family capable of coping with the challenge and becoming a home where children have an excellent shot at making the most of whatever their capabilities are. And sometimes they get sent to their own little hell on earth....

Warning. Button is hot. Do not push.

OK, back to Michael. He's adopted, and only a year older than my oldest grandchild, Zachary. Michael came into our life as a foster child, because both his parents are people with developmental disabilities. In some cases, that doesn't need to be a disqualification for parenting. In this case, it did. Sparing you twice this week, I'll cut what can be a very long story short. I adopted Michael, but he kept his birthname, and his parents are free to come visit.

Ironically, I had rather been looking forward to getting my own life back once the last of the Big Kids graduated from high school and moved on. Re-enlisting in the Mommy Brigade had not been anywhere on my list of things to do in my middle years. And yet I could find no way to square it with my conscience to ditch a baby (diagnosed with his own developmental problems), who was a year old already and would likely be several years older before his case got settled. Perhaps I do have a soft heart, a perfect match for my soft head. But I just couldn't send that sweet little guy, who had been raised in a family he had every reason to feel was his own, out into the morass of the child protection system (Darn! There's another of those pesky hot buttons!) just because it might be a tad inconvenient for me to sign up for another Mom hitch.

So I adopted him. It was way more a miracle than the commonplace biological acquisition of my two homegrown offspring. And I think when you get older, you don't take miracles for granted as much as you did when you were a kid.

It's pleasant to share a home with someone who tells you daily, "You my best friend eber!" Mike also tells this to Caro and the teenage boy next door and the dogs and his Cookie Monster doll, but that's okay. There's plenty of best friendship to go around.

It's tough sometimes, coping with a child with special challenges. But there are benefits there too. Mike goes through stages more slowly. That is a handicap for his school work, but it means the good parts of childhood last longer as well. Even though he's a big and sometimes rowdy 7 year old boy, he will still willingly slip his hand into mine as we walk through a store's parking lot. Sometimes he explains it is so he can take care of me. (Funny to think someday I may need him to. Ideas like that come to you more in your 40s than they do in your 20s.)

I don't know what I might be doing now, if this or that minor event leading up to Mike's adoption had gone another way. But I can't imagine any way I could possibly be happier.

That's worth putting up with a lot of dog-washing "help".

Here is your 'Pic of the Week' URL:

Steve through the ages!

Another of the benefits of having Mike is that if I had not, I might never have gotten to enjoy one of the best TV shows of all time, Blue's Clues! This week's pic is actually a link to a page made by a high school friend of the show's star, Steve Burns. Yes, yearbook pic alert!! A must peek if you are a Blue's Clues fan!

(2002 Update--darn! The page is gone! Sorry!)

just a space bar

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