September 3rd, 2006

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Good Morning!!

"There is an Indian Belief that everyone is in a house of four rooms: A physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time, but unless we go into every room everyday, even if only to keep it aired, we are not complete."

-- Rumer Godden

Today, I set intention to enter and use all the rooms of my home.   The kittens certainly do that.   They become more and more cuddly each day.   The Humane Society called again yesterday to check on them.  I am thrilled about that, and I think of the number of children in foster care, and the number of children who do not get that kind of attention, and I find it sad.  Our social workers and school counselors are overworked.  Perhaps the Humane Society works because of a great number of volunteers,  and the knowing that finding a home for these animals is a solvable problem, while children who need proper parenting is a bigger problem than that.   Perhaps, it seems insurmountable to ensure all children a  proper life with four rooms, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual,  fully filled and aired.  

Today, prayers for all children, and an honoring of the renewal they bring with their huge eyes and soft limbs.  

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 Donald Rumsfeld's Dance With the Nazis
    By Frank Rich
    The New York Times

    Sunday 03 September 2006

    President Bush came to Washington vowing to be a uniter, not a divider. Well, you win some and you lose some. But there is one member of his administration who has not broken that promise: Donald Rumsfeld. With indefatigable brio, he has long since united Democrats, Republicans, generals and civilians alike in calling for his scalp.

    Last week the man who gave us "stuff happens" and "you go to war with the Army you have" outdid himself. In an instantly infamous address to the American Legion, he likened critics of the Iraq debacle to those who "ridiculed or ignored" the rise of the Nazis in the 1930's and tried to appease Hitler. Such Americans, he said, suffer from a "moral or intellectual confusion" and fail to recognize the "new type of fascism" represented by terrorists. Presumably he was not only describing the usual array of "Defeatocrats" but also the first President Bush, who had already been implicitly tarred as an appeaser by Tony Snow last month for failing to knock out Saddam in 1991.

    What made Mr. Rumsfeld's speech noteworthy wasn't its toxic effort to impugn the patriotism of administration critics by conflating dissent on Iraq with cut-and-run surrender and incipient treason. That's old news. No, what made Mr. Rumsfeld's performance special was the preview it offered of the ambitious propaganda campaign planned between now and Election Day. An on-the-ropes White House plans to stop at nothing when rewriting its record of defeat (not to be confused with defeatism) in a war that has now lasted longer than America's fight against the actual Nazis in World War II.

    Here's how brazen Mr. Rumsfeld was when he invoked Hitler's appeasers to score his cheap points: Since Hitler was photographed warmly shaking Neville Chamberlain's hand at Munich in 1938, the only image that comes close to matching it in epochal obsequiousness is the December 1983 photograph of Mr. Rumsfeld himself in Baghdad, warmly shaking the hand of Saddam Hussein in full fascist regalia. Is the defense secretary so self-deluded that he thought no one would remember a picture so easily Googled on the Web? Or worse, is he just too shameless to care?

    Mr. Rumsfeld didn't go to Baghdad in 1983 to tour the museum. Then a private citizen, he had been dispatched as an emissary by the Reagan administration, which sought to align itself with Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. Saddam was already a notorious thug. Well before Mr. Rumsfeld's trip, Amnesty International had reported the dictator's use of torture - "beating, burning, sexual abuse and the infliction of electric shocks" - on hundreds of political prisoners. Dozens more had been summarily executed or had "disappeared." American intelligence agencies knew that Saddam had used chemical weapons to gas both Iraqi Kurds and Iranians.

    According to declassified State Department memos detailing Mr. Rumsfeld's Baghdad meetings, the American visitor never raised the subject of these crimes with his host. (Mr. Rumsfeld has since claimed otherwise, but that is not supported by the documents, which can be viewed online at George Washington University's National Security Archive.) Within a year of his visit, the American mission was accomplished: Iraq and the United States resumed diplomatic relations for the first time since Iraq had severed them in 1967 in protest of American backing of Israel in the Six-Day War.

    In his speech last week, Mr. Rumsfeld paraphrased Winston Churchill: Appeasing tyrants is "a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last." He can quote Churchill all he wants, but if he wants to self-righteously use that argument to smear others, the record shows that Mr. Rumsfeld cozied up to the crocodile of Baghdad as smarmily as anyone. To borrow the defense secretary's own formulation, he suffers from moral confusion about Saddam.

    Mr. Rumsfeld also suffers from intellectual confusion about terrorism. He might not have appeased Al Qaeda but he certainly enabled it. Like Chamberlain, he didn't recognize the severity of the looming threat until it was too late. Had he done so, maybe his boss would not have blown off intelligence about imminent Qaeda attacks while on siesta in Crawford.

    For further proof, read the address Mr. Rumsfeld gave to Pentagon workers on Sept. 10, 2001 - a policy manifesto he regarded as sufficiently important, James Bamford reminds us in his book "A Pretext to War," that it was disseminated to the press. "The topic today is an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America" is how the defense secretary began. He then went on to explain that this adversary "crushes new ideas" with "brutal consistency" and "disrupts the defense of the United States." It is a foe "more subtle and implacable" than the former Soviet Union, he continued, stronger and larger and "closer to home" than "the last decrepit dictators of the world."

    And who might this ominous enemy be? Of that, Mr. Rumsfeld was as certain as he would later be about troop strength in Iraq: "the Pentagon bureaucracy." In love with the sound of his own voice, he blathered on for almost 4,000 words while Mohamed Atta and the 18 other hijackers fanned out to American airports.

    Three months later, Mr. Rumsfeld would still be asleep at the switch, as his war command refused to heed the urgent request by American officers on the ground for the additional troops needed to capture Osama bin Laden when he was cornered in Tora Bora. What would follow in Iraq was also more Chamberlain than Churchill. By failing to secure and rebuild the country after the invasion, he created a terrorist haven where none had been before.

    That last story is seeping out in ever more incriminating detail, thanks to well-sourced chronicles like "Fiasco," "Cobra II" and "Blood Money," T. Christian Miller's new account of the billions of dollars squandered and stolen in Iraq reconstruction. Still, Americans have notoriously short memories. The White House hopes that by Election Day it can induce amnesia about its failures in the Middle East as deftly as Mr. Rumsfeld (with an assist from John Mark Karr) helped upstage first-anniversary remembrances of Katrina.

    One obstacle is that White House allies, not just Democrats, are sounding the alarm about Iraq. In recent weeks, prominent conservatives, some still war supporters and some not, have steadily broached the dread word Vietnam: Chuck Hagel, William F. Buckley Jr. and the columnists Rich Lowry and Max Boot. A George Will column critical of the war so rattled the White House that it had a flunky release a public 2,400-word response notable for its incoherence.

    If even some conservatives are making accurate analogies between Vietnam and Iraq, one way for the administration to drown them out is to step up false historical analogies of its own, like Mr. Rumsfeld's. In the past the administration has been big on comparisons between Iraq and the American Revolution - the defense secretary once likened "the snows of Valley Forge" to "the sandstorms of central Iraq" - but lately the White House vogue has been for "Islamo-fascism," which it sees as another rhetorical means to retrofit Iraq to the more salable template of World War II.

    "Islamo-fascism" certainly sounds more impressive than such tired buzzwords as "Plan for Victory" or "Stay the Course." And it serves as a handy substitute for "As the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down." That slogan had to be retired abruptly last month after The New York Times reported that violence in Baghdad has statistically increased rather than decreased as American troops handed over responsibilities to Iraqis. Yet the term "Islamo-fascists," like the bygone "evildoers," is less telling as a description of the enemy than as a window into the administration's continued confusion about exactly who the enemy is. As the writer Katha Pollitt asks in The Nation, "Who are the 'Islamo-fascists' in Saudi Arabia - the current regime or its religious-fanatical opponents?"

    Next up is the parade of presidential speeches culminating in what The Washington Post describes as "a whirlwind tour of the Sept. 11 attack sites": All Fascism All the Time. In his opening salvo, delivered on Thursday to the same American Legion convention that cheered Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Bush worked in the Nazis and Communists and compared battles in Iraq to Omaha Beach and Guadalcanal. He once more interchanged the terrorists who struck the World Trade Center with car bombers in Baghdad, calling them all part of the same epic "ideological struggle of the 21st century." One more drop in the polls, and he may yet rebrand this mess War of the Worlds.

    "Iraq is not overwhelmed by foreign terrorists," said the congressman John Murtha in succinct rebuttal to the president's speech. "It is overwhelmed by Iraqis fighting Iraqis." And with Americans caught in the middle. If we owe anything to those who died on 9/11, it is that we not forget how the administration diverted our blood and treasure from the battle against bin Laden and other stateless Islamic terrorists, fascist or whatever, to this quagmire in a country that did not attack us on 9/11. The number of American dead in Iraq - now more than 2,600 - is inexorably approaching the death toll of that Tuesday morning five years ago.

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Dimensions -

 I find myself today with a book a friend gave to me, Sightlines, A Poet's Diary, by Janet Grace Riehl.

The book came to me when I was in my chemo daze, and I couldn't relate to it, but, today, I am deeply touched.  Janet wrote it after her sister was killed in a car accident on August 16, 2004.   She returned, then, to the family home in Southwestern Illinois.   She writes:

    "For my 56th birthday in December 2004 I went into a small retreat at King's House, run by the Oblate Fathers of Mary Immaculate in Belleville, Illinois.  During this time, I came to a strong sense that the world is charged with meaning, and that is a poem.  Not could be, but is.  The only trick is to tease out the meaning."  

    And so, she does.

    After my mother died, I would go out to Pierce Point, and the world seemed like a matte painting to me.  I couldn't find the dimension or texture here.  All seemed flattened by her expansion.   I could not settle into feeling this book when I was in chemo.   I had no place to tuck the feeling, no wing, or flap.   Now, I sit with it, deeply touched by her description of washing her mother's bottom, and powdering it.   I am so touched by how our roles change, and what compassion truly is, love.   We don't have to do anything heroic.  Washing the bottom of someone who is ill is the most holy rite.

    This poem comes to me.


                            after pain


                    matte today


                        looking out on birds that, to me, lift like a meow,

                                            from the strength of gravity.


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Poem by Joao Carbal de Melo Neto -

What a way to begin the day, and we do!!    Cock a doodle doooooooo!!


One rooster cannot weave a morning.
He will always need other roosters:
one to catch the cry that he
and toss it to another, another rooster
to catch the cry that a rooster before him
and toss it to another, and other roosters
that with many other roosters crisscross
the sun threads of their rooster cries,
so that the morning, from a tenuous tissue,
will grow by the weaving of all the roosters.


And enlarging into a fabric involving all,
erecting itself into a tent where all may enter,
extending itself for all, in the canopy
(the morning) that floats without any frame:
the morning, a canopy made of a weave so airy
that, once woven, it rises by itself: balloon light.

          by Joao Cabral de Melo Neto
          from the book Education by Stone

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Another Defender of Cesar Millan -

This comes from my brother this morning.  I see that I may have given the critic publicity he did not deserve, and,  from now on, I will better scrutinize what I post.

from my brother Gary:


I saw your blog postings regarding Cesar Millan and have a couple of comments of my own.  Of the guy who wrote the Op-Ed, whether he is really correct on this issue or not, I don't know.  But it seems to me that he may not even care.  In this day and age of critics being everywhere, you can often times get more publicity by openly lambasting something or someone else, credibly or not. 

We've watched the show several times and being a family of dog-lovers, enjoy it very much.  He's a kind man who clearly loves dogs and for anyone believing in reincarnation, you'd have to assume that this man was a dog in a former life.  But I have not seen him being mean to the dogs in any way or treating them with anything but respect.  But what he does do is demand respect in return and dogs, like children need boundaries and need someone, either a parent or a teacher, to respect.  Children grow up and out of that need and become self-sufficient but dogs never do and the people who have problems with their pets on the shows are the ones who are completely letting their dogs run their own households while also intimidating every other pet and/or child in the neighborhood.  And he comes in and very mildly, by tugging on their leash or making a "shhh" sound with his mouth, and regains control and the dogs seem infinitely happier almost immediately, not to mention how much the safety of the neighborhood has been increased in that he often is dealing with problem dogs like pit bulls.

In any case, I'm a bit prejudiced towards critics and I'm convinced they often have hidden agendas in doing so so openly.  This guy got some great publicity, not only from the NY Times op-ed, but it's also all over the internet now.

Also, I disagree with him completely when he says the "pack" thing is long gone.  We have three dogs and, clearly, they know Tanner is the leader of their pack and all he has to do is show his teeth at either of them and they roll over in immediate submission.  They all treat me with extra respect, as our dogs did with our dad, but they clearly know Tanner's the leader of their pack and they look to him constantly for leadership.

In any case, now I'm guilty of giving this critic too much time too, so, enough of him!  :)

Happy day!

Love, G


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Enjoy the clouds!!

I read this and am reminded of Pooh Bear, when he decided to disguise himself as a cloud so as to fool the bees and get some honey.   : )

Maybe we should all join the cloud appreciation society.   It sounds like fun!

Book's sunny take on clouds a surprise hit

Joe Heim, Washington Post

Sunday, September 3, 2006


As metaphors, clouds are almost never good things. There are clouds of suspicion, clouds of anger, clouds on the horizon, cloudy judgments. Clouds loom, darken, threaten, menace. Clouds get in the way of our tan. Oh, we do not like clouds.

And with them, of course, there's the rain: the tears of a cloud that wash out weddings, poison picnics, send us all running for cover. Keep on the sunny side of life, the song tells us, for the clouds and storm will in time pass away.

If ever a feature of nature was ripe for a PR makeover, clouds are it.

Enter Gavin Pretor-Pinney, a deliciously wry writer whose book "The Cloudspotter's Guide" just may rescue clouds from ignominy -- or at least get us to look up as they slip by, ever-changing, right over our very noses. Published earlier this year in the United Kingdom and just this summer in the United States, the 38-year-old Englishman's treatise has been a surprise hit -- at least in Great Britain, where it rests comfortably among the top-10 nonfiction titles. Never mind the silver lining. It turns out the cloud is the thing.

Delving deep into cloud science, but also the lore, literature, art, history and even religion associated with them, Pretor-Pinney provides a thoroughly readable narrative about these wonderful "expressions of the atmosphere's moods that can be read like those of a person's countenance." Clearly these lofty masses of millions of water droplets and ice particles can bring out the poet and philosopher in one.

For Pretor-Pinney, it all started as a bit of a lark. A friend who knew of his peculiar fascination asked him to talk on the subject at a literary festival. Fearing that no one would show up, he declared the talk "the inaugural lecture of the Cloud Appreciation Society." It was a burst of meteorological genius that helped fill the room for the lecture. Not only did people show up, they wanted to join the society -- a society that, oh right, didn't actually exist.

Amazed by the response, Pretor-Pinney wasted little time creating a real Cloud Appreciation Society (, where the only requirements for membership are about $6 and a shared desire to "fight the sun fascists and their obsessions with 'blue-sky thinking.' " The online society has made a global village of out-of-the-closet cloud lovers from 40 countries. So far, more than 5,000 members have signed up.

Soon, new members were contacting Pretor-Pinney asking him to recommend books on clouds. Finding only coffee table books or rigorous scientific journals, he decided to write his own. "It just seemed weird to me that there wasn't a book for the general reader about this subject, which, when I talk to people about it, everyone has something to say," he said in an interview last month. "There's that universal relationship with clouds, whether people like them or hate them." After 28 publishers rejected his book proposal (he still has the rejection letters), one finally took the bait.

Pretor-Pinney says his book and burgeoning society are rekindling a fondness for clouds that is cultured in childhood and then gradually tamped down as we grow older.

"There's something established in people, a connection with clouds when they're young, and then it gets buried or goes dormant," he says. "I think one reason why the book has been this surprise hit is that it has reawoken that childhood interest."

Aside from simply appreciating clouds, Pretor-Pinney wants us to understand them. He wants us to know, for instance, that a mature full-size cumulonimbus cloud is estimated to contain the energy equivalent of 10 Hiroshima-size bombs. And that there is growing evidence that jet contrails, "the bastard son of the cloud family," are having a significant warming effect on ground temperatures. And that whether a cloud produces precipitation depends on the size of the water particles (the fair-weather cumulus clouds are comprised of extremely small water droplets, while a soaking nimbostratus has much larger ones).

He also tells us about Zhonghao Shou, a Chinese chemist now living in New York, who believes the appearance of certain cloud types is a useful tool in short-term earthquake prediction. And he recounts the terrifying tale of Lt. Col. William Rankin, a military pilot who in 1959 ejected from his plane and parachuted through the heart of a monstrous cumulonimbus cloud and miraculously survived to tell his story.

Though his lucid descriptions of clouds meet scientific rigor, Pretor-Pinney is not above resorting to more colorful language. As when he describes the puffy stratocumulus as looking "like someone couldn't find the 'off' switch on the cotton candy machine." A nimbostratus, he tells us, "won't be winning any cloud beauty contests." Underneath a child's lovely drawing of a family and clouds, he offers this trenchant observation: "Six-year-olds are generally rubbish at drawing but, being amongst the best cloudspotters in the world, they are actually quite good at drawing Cumulus."

Perhaps the most appealing thing to Pretor-Pinney about clouds, though, is their inherently democratic nature. "The great thing about clouds is that everyone has something to say about them because everyone has a perspective on them, literally," he says. If we choose, we are all cloud witnesses, free to watch as they reimagine themselves, moment by moment, with nothing to restrain them.

So deep down, maybe we really do like clouds -- maybe they're even good for us. A cigar may sometimes be just a cigar, but a cloud is almost never just a cloud. "Clouds are for dreamers," Pretor-Pinney writes, "and their contemplation benefits the soul. Indeed, all who consider the shapes they see within them will save on psychoanalysis bills."

Wouldn't you know it, there are even studies showing that face time with the sky and clouds really can make us feel better. "There's actually a lot of work on the effects of nature on physical, emotional and social well-being," says Nancy Etcoff, a psychologist and director of the Program in Aesthetics and Well Being at Harvard University. One study showed that patients recovered faster from gallbladder surgery and took less medication when their hospital beds faced windows rather than a brick wall.

In controlled everyday work environments, "our attention is really stressed," says Etcoff. "We are constantly multitasking and focusing on minute things." Stepping outside, she says, we pay attention in an effortless way, because nature is inherently fascinating and always changing. "The birds, the trees, the sky and clouds are very pleasing to us because they capture our attention without us doing anything. They restore our attention, recharge our batteries."

Nowhere is the feel-good vibe of clouds more evident than on the Cloud Appreciation Society's Web site, where members have submitted thousands of cloud photographs (even a cloud of the month!), paintings and poems ("The Banality of Blue Skies," "Clouds -- A Reverie," and "The Other Side (of God)"). There is also a discussion area that is "open to those with thoughts, questions and opinions about absolutely anything. Anything, that is, so long as it is about clouds."

But let's be perfectly clear about this: Clouds are not suddenly cool, hip, happening or stylish. There is not a cloud movement afoot. There is nothing the least bit "it" about them. A few Weather Channel geeks might be able to rattle off the names of the most prominent types of clouds, but for almost everyone on the planet they remain a little noticed backdrop to the daily sally through life. We all see clouds, yes, but do we see them?

"I was trying with the book to get people to look at something that was so familiar, but to just try and think about it in a slightly different way," says Pretor-Pinney. "And that's a kind of shift that I think can happen. They look up and these clouds have been there the whole time, but they look up and go, 'Wait a minute, they are incredibly beautiful and I never really stopped to think about it

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Miniature Golf -

You've been looking up at the clouds.    Now, look down, at a teeny-tiny ball and hit it through, and into,  little holes,  mounding and bounding in, out, and over artificial green grounds.

Fiery dragons and Tidy Bowl waterfalls are serious business in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Janis Cooke Newman, Special to The Chronicle

Sunday, September 3, 2006

(09-03) 04:00 PDT Myrtle Beach, S.C. -- The volcano belching steam over my head was making it difficult to concentrate on the 13th hole, as was Don Ho crooning from the loudspeaker tucked into the palm trees.

Trying to keep my grip loose, I tapped my hot-pink ball, sending it caroming off a corner of fake lava rock and away from the hole -- a move that left me six strokes behind my 11-year-old son and 73-year-old dad, and with zero chance I'd make the list of the Hawaiian Rumble low-score golfers of the day.

At Hawaiian Rumble they take their miniature golf seriously -- well, as seriously as you can take any sport you perform while wearing a plastic lei. Which is to be expected, since Hawaiian Rumble is in the town of Myrtle Beach, S.C., self-proclaimed "Minigolf Capital of the World" and site of the ProMiniGolf Masters, to be held Oct. 19-22. (At press time, the little damage from Ernesto's winds and rain were not expected to change the date.)

Moreover, Hawaiian Rumble's owner, Bob Detwiler, is current president of the U.S. ProMiniGolf Association, an organization that -- despite the fact that the sport's version of Tiger Woods is a 10-year-old girl from the Czech Republic -- is mostly made up of grown-ups.

Miniature golf, that staple of family vacations, was invented as a game for grown-ups. In 1918, a wealthy shipping magnate named James Barber had a miniaturized golf course built on his property in Pinehurst, N.C., now the site of the U.S. Open of regular-sized golf. But it wasn't until 1926 that folks who weren't friends of Barber got a chance to try out the new sport. That's the year Frieda and Garnet Carter, owners of a Tennessee resort, constructed the first public course, assembling the obstacles out of leftover sewer pipe and decorating the grounds with Frieda's extensive collection of garden gnomes. The Carters' "Tom Thumb Golf" was such a success that the resort owners franchised the idea and shortly afterward were obliged to open a gnome factory in Chattanooga.

Along with flagpole sitting, mah-jongg and dance marathons, miniature golf became a popular craze of the 1920s. Courses sprang up all over the country, from rural roadsides to rooftops in Manhattan, and by 1930 America hosted between 30,000 and 50,000 of the Lilliputian links.

But the Great Depression put a damper on enthusiasm for hitting a bright-colored ball through the blades of a windmill, and within 10 years nearly all of those almost 50,000 courses had closed.

It wasn't until the arrival of the Baby Boom generation -- the population responsible for Disneyland and McDonalds -- that miniature golf made its comeback, this time as a family affair. By the end of the 1950s, America's highways were teeming with station wagons filled with restless kids and desperate parents, who were only too happy to pull over and spend an hour whacking a little ball around.

It's not hard to see why the notion of miniature golf as family entertainment has stuck around. What other sport would appeal equally to an 11-year-old boy, a 73-year-old man and somebody indeterminately in the middle? More to the point, what other sport would offer all three of them a level -- if artificially turfed -- playing field?

True aficionados know there's no better place to pursue a passion for putt-putt than Myrtle Beach, the strip of South Carolina oceanfront that locals have dubbed the Redneck Riviera.

Myrtle Beach possesses something in the neighborhood of 50 miniature golf courses. With competition like that, the designers of these pint-sized links have to go beyond sewer pipes and garden gnomes. Way beyond. Which explains why it's impossible to drive the stretch of Highway 17 that comprises Myrtle Beach's main artery without passing whole armadas of sunken pirate ships and herds of spouting elephants.

With only a week in town, we didn't have time to play all 50 (not that my son, Alex, didn't want to try), so we picked the top three as rated by the local Sun News "Best of the Beach" poll. Hawaiian Rumble came in at No. 3.

The Hawaiian Rumble course is a far cry from the flat, fake rock-strewn plots I grew up with. It's hilly, covered with palm trees and hibiscus bushes, and cooled by waterfalls colored Tidy Bowl blue. There's also a partially submerged killer whale and, of course, the 40-foot volcano.

Having managed to maintain my six-stroke lag (an only moderately embarrassing spread), I approached the dreaded 16th hole. This hole is feared even among the pros who come to Hawaiian Rumble to play the Minigolf Masters because of the grading that makes the ball break to the left, and the rise that can send it rolling back to your sneakers.

In a fit of boldness -- and because he is 11 -- Alex offered to take the first shot. Undistracted by the sounds of slack-key guitar drifting from the trees, which made me wish mightily for a mai tai, he counted to 13 -- his good luck mantra -- and putted, sending his ball near enough to the hole to be nonchalantly swept into the cup for a two. My dad, who uses his club as a cane between holes, also conquered the notorious 16th in two.

Now it was my turn. I kept my head down, counted to 13 -- just in case, and pulled back my club. But the moment I made contact, flames erupted from the top of the volcano and my ball sailed off the green and into a hibiscus bush. I finished the day 12 strokes behind.

The next day we assembled at Dragon's Lair Fantasy Golf. Dragon's Lair was voted No. 1 in the "Best of the Beach" poll and features both a replica of a Viking ship and a life-sized (if in fact it had ever been alive), fire-breathing dragon.

"Fantasy Golf" means you're encouraged to forget you're standing around in 85-degree heat in a pair of shorts, and pretend you're deep in the heart of Olde England during the days of King Arthur. To assist you with this, the rules on your scorecard are written in the type of script most commonly found on the menus of British pub-style restaurants and say such things as, "Should thy ball go out of bounds, replace it where it went out and give thyself a one stroke penalty." This, and the fact that the course is laid out around the turrets and ramparts of a not unrealistic-looking castle, makes Dragon's Lair irresistible to any kid who has ever opened a Harry Potter book.

The same pub-style script is found on the signs, located at every hole, that tell the story of the village of Myrtleness. As we moved through the course, I decided that the signs were meant to give players something to do while their fellow golfers putted. However, since Alex and my dad never seemed to go over par, I got only a vague notion of the tale. The two of them, on the other hand, had plenty of time to absorb all the story's nuances.

Near the 13th hole, we were greeted by peals of deranged laughter -- the laugh track of an animatronic jester seated on the castle wall, splitting a seam at his own jokes.

"Know why spiders were always ahead of their time?" the 4-foot-tall jester asked between guffaws. "Because they had Web sites!"

"I'll just take my six-stroke limit," I told Alex and my dad, then hurried off to the 17th.

Despite the jester and the overwrought medieval music (something akin to Camelot meets Lord of the Rings), the Dragon's Lair is a very cool place to play miniature golf. The hole beneath the smoking turret has a door that pulls against its hinges in a creepy way, the Viking ship really is floating on water and every half-hour a dragon with a head the size of a Mini Cooper wakes up and spits fire.

Mount Atlanticus may have come in second in the Sun News poll, but it was No. 1 on my scorecard. What's not to love about a miniature golf course that claims to be a piece of the lost continent of Atlantis and makes you feel as if you've entered a world where it might just be possible to sight an enormous-headed alien, or Elvis in white lamé?

The first hole at Mount Atlanticus is played in a room where the walls are painted with flying saucers, dodo birds and a rendering of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam, in which God is depicted with the blow-dried hair and half-unbuttoned shirt of a lounge lizard.

There are two courses at Mount Atlanticus, the Minotaur Goff and the Conch. We played the Minotaur Goff, mostly because it sounded weirder. We made our way around the course by following a trail of tiny footprints pressed into the pavement (made by miniature Atlantians?) This led us to a series of greens full of dips and rises, most with the holes hidden around corners or on another level entirely.

Mount Atlanticus has no boring holes. At one, Alex watched as his ball traveled through six separate tunnels before being dumped out 3 inches from the cup. At another, we climbed a circular staircase to the tee, located in a tiki hut so high up that we had a view of the ocean -- from which, according to the scorecard, this particular piece of Atlantis drifted to shore.

Mount Atlanticus has a monsoon's worth of blue-tinted water spilling over its three levels. And the grounds are thick with palm trees, thatched palapas and plenty of benches -- a fact greatly appreciated by my dad, whose personal criteria for rating miniature golf courses includes the number of opportunities to sit in the shade.

In the end, Alex and my dad tied. I lost. But only by a few strokes -- so few, in fact, that I couldn't help but remember that the World Minigolf Federation has made some progress toward getting miniature golf admitted to the World Games, a precursor to the Olympics

It is, after all, a sport for anybody.

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Gary Young -

Gary Young in his book, No Other Life:

    Hummingbirds build their nests under the ferns; little cups of lichen, feathers and moss.  They cannot walk, but they can hover in the air.  They can fly forward, and fly back, and when they move into the light, their frail bodies shine with iridescence.  Watching them in the garden, my own voice startles me by saying, look, there's my heart.

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Gary Young -

My son Jeff will be 32 on Monday.   Chris will be 29 on October 6th.   I resonate to this poem by Gary Young.

    I'm a mother, too, she said, and took the child in her arms.  She closed her eyes, kissed his head, smelled his neck.  My baby is twenty-nine, she said, and she handed him back.   

    Perhaps this is what the kittens fulfill in me.  I can pick them up, and kiss and smell them.  They let me do that, and they, snuggle close in my lap, and kiss me in the morning.  We need that place.  

Book Cover

Gary Young -

Perhaps this poem by Gary Young helps me find my place, wraps a ring around my search.

    I'm reading the stars to figure my space here below.  I watch the constellations slide and spill across the sky.  There are star charts geared and matched to our lives, but here is the real map we are born to and fixed on.  Not even the night is still.  We are spinning with the stars, and heaven must wheel as well.

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Again, today -

Since there is no place large enough to contain so much happiness, you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you into everything you touch. You are not responsible.  You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it, and in that way, be known.  

         - Naomi Shihab Nye