First transition

Operation Caracal, Part 7

Day 13, January 2, 2017

For the return trip we tried to schedule things better, and not try to go quite so far in one day. Our target for the day was at the theoretical half-way point. The last time we drove this route the weather was ugly. Sadly, that was the case again this time. There was heavy rain, high wind, and overcast skies almost the entire way. There was one stretch, from upper Alabama to roughly the Tennessee state line, where the sun was able to make a very welcome appearance. As before, the stretch through Mississippi and Alabama was mind numbing.

Our target was Athens, Tennessee. That town is, almost to the mile, half-way between Hammond and our home. If time permitted, this would have been a nice town to explore. It has some nice historical sites, and good examples of Americana architecture. We filed these as possible ideas for a future trip, because we are likely to travel this route again.

It took over nine hours to get from Hammond to Athens, which wasn’t bad, but still longer than we had hoped. I suspect the weather, heavy traffic around Birmingham, and a lot of construction near Chattanooga contributed to the delay.

We also discovered that when you rent a hotel room, you get what you pay for. We saved a little money and went with a less-expensive hotel chain. Our room was acceptable, with firm beds and a bath that did what they were supposed to do. But, the building wasn’t in the best of shape, and there were signs of water damage. Even so, after the long drive, we were too tired to care.

Well, most of us were. Michael refused to settle down to sleep, and kept turning on the lights. He also tried turning on the television and clock radio. Needless to say, this was not appreciated by the rest of us. But even after being scolded multiple times, Michael would not stop.

However, I had what might be called a revelation. After turning off the lights for the umpteenth time, I soon saw Michael’s silhouette rise from his bed and make a bee-line for the light switch. I watched in the dark, ready to scold him the instant he turned on the light. But I didn’t, and here’s why. For a split-second after hitting the switch, I caught a glimpse of his face. He looked upset, stressed and afraid. When the light came on, his face quickly returned to normal.

At this point I need to include some exposition. Michael has agenesis of the corpus callosum. This could explain his difficulty with language, and hyper-sensitivity to touch. We still aren’t sure of the severity of his case, but regardless, his mind doesn’t work exactly the same as ours.

Michael has never been a good hotel guest. Whenever we travel, and we know we’ll be staying at a hotel, we expect Michael to be difficult. People with ACC often have difficulty in strange places, some more so than others. Michael generally isn’t afraid of the dark, at least not at home. But we weren’t at home.

Consider that Michael was in a strange, new place that he had never seen before, with few or no familiar points of reference. He hadn’t had enough time to catalog his surroundings, which from his perspective, was unrecognizable. When the lights went out, those few things he had been able to process were no longer visible. I think that’s when his imagination starts running, and fills the dark space with all matter of new and confusing stuff. I later did some reading on this, and my guess has support. There have been cases of ACC patients needing constant audio, visual, and sometimes olfactory input. If their input streams are not being filled by external stimuli, their brain starts to create artificial input.

Anyway, back at the hotel, I explained my theory to Lisa and Caitlin. To restore order to his sensory input streams, Michael needs the lights on. And when I say that, I don’t mean he prefers the lights on, he needs the lights on.

We left one of the small lights running as a night light. Michael still kept turning on the other lights, after which one of us would turn them off. This game continued for a while until eventually, in the dim light, Michael succumbed to fatigue and fell asleep. We don’t know if the night light helped or not.

Day 14, January 3, 2017

We had hoped that the second half of the trip would be easier, given that it is collectively downhill. Actually it did go easier in most ways. Traffic was bad in certain areas, but that was the worst of it.

The real problem this day was, apparently, me. Lisa said that for the entire day I had a rather scary glaze over my face, and just didn’t look right. I also had to make several very sudden and urgent bathroom stops over the course of the day. We got home around 6:30pm.

I turns out that my blood sugar had been dangerously high that day, with numbers that are usually used to describe car payments. Stress from the driving could account for some of it, as could the starch-heavy food that travelers are often forced to live on. It’s even possible that my slow metabolism was still processing the red beans and rice from two days earlier. Whatever the case, those blood tests were shocking, and these are things that a type-2 diabetic can not ignore. I started planning some diet changes that very night.

This brought home the fact that 2017, and the drastic life changes it was going to bring, had begun.

The caracal had gone to sleep. We were home.

Stock image found on Pintertest

Caracal travelogue:

  1. Operation Caracal
  2. Louisiana down time
  3. Driveabout
  4. Michabelle Inn
  5. Arrival 2017AD
  6. Dems good eats
  7. First transition

Happy Birthday, Michael!


Today is Michael Vincent’s third birthday. That means he is now out of the terrible twos, and into the terrorizing threes. He’s had a big year! He’s finally starting to communicate, mostly by pointing and by using pictures. He even started preschool in August!

Here are some images of My Son the Cyborg, from 2015.

From my birthday dinner at the Park Lane Tavern in Fredericksburg, back in February.

Playing at Yowell Meadow Park, in March.

Hanging out at Mountain Run Lake Park, in April.

At the Fireman’s Carnival, in May.

Being a boxtroll, in June.

Strolling down the road near our house, in early July.

During the Chicago trip, in July.

Hanging out with the family at Lenn Park, near Culpeper, in September. His mom and grandparents are in the background.


Two views from a school field trip to Round Hill Farm, in early October.


Halloween, 2015, as Captain America!

Caitlin, meanwhile, was Black Widow. Avengers assemble!

Happy Birthday, Michael!


On Friday, November 21, 2014, my son Michael turned two years old.

He had a rough start on life. Those of you who know me personally, or see me on Facebook, know about the trials and tribulations he endured during his first year. The invasive surgery, the physical therapy, and so on. For a long time he needed to use an oxygen pump, but he hasn’t needed that for a few months, and it looks like that big machine will soon be out of our house. Hopefully before Christmas, because we’ve got a busy month coming up.

All the difficulty he endured in his first year seems far away, now. Michael is a tough and resilient little guy. When presented with a difficult situation, he either shrugs and keeps going, or he finds another path. That’s a pretty good model to live by.

Jan '13, M smile
December, 2013

August, 2014

October, 2014

November 21, 2014

House of Supers

For the past few weeks, my home has been hosting a group of superheroes. Well, actually one super villain and two superheroes.

Lady Loki costume

Lady Loki

First, we have Caitlin as Lady Loki, a variation of the intergalactic mischief monger from The Avengers. For most of this year, Caitlin was unsure of what she wanted to be for Halloween. After seeing The Avengers in early September, that was instantly decided. Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of the twisted Norse demigod Loki sent the imaginations of both her and Lisa into high gear, and this amazing costume is the result.

For the basic structure of the costume, Lisa adapted a cos-play pattern she found on Deviant Art. I lost track of how many times she had to run to one of the various craft supply stores in the Piedmont area to get the materials she needed, but the result is a real eye-popper! At this writing, Caitlin has worn the costume (in whole or in part) to three different Halloween parties, and each time she was lauded with complements.

Total construction time for the costume was 30-some hours, spread over a six week period. That does not include the travel time to the various supply outlets. I won’t even guess what that came to. The costume was made from pieces of flannel and leather sewn or glued to a jacket-vest foundation. The various metallic highlights and accessories were made from poster board and matte board, painted with a mix of silver and gold. The helmet was made using paper mache and poster board on a toy construction hat. The horns were made from a Styrofoam, heart-shaped wreath base. The staff is a painted wooden dowel, with the head being made of reinforced poster board and plastic sheeting. A bluish penlight with a tiny crystalline charm completed the “Glow Stick of Destiny.”


The Incredible Hulk

Then we have Michael as the bestial half of the modern-day Jekyll & Hyde character, The Incredible Hulk. Michael’s costume was much easier: we ordered it from an online vendor. A few minor adjustments were made so that it would fit better, and on the whole it turned out great! Given that Michael is playing a character known for his ability to smash, he looks very cute! The costume came with a skull cap that would have made his face green, and given him a bush of black hair. A feasibility study was made to determine what it would take to make the cap not only fit better, but make the hair look more like that of the Hulk. Unfortunately, all attempts at having Michael wear the cap resulted in failure, because he found it inherently uncomfortable. Being just under two years old, there was no way in this or any other universe that he was going to tolerate such a thing being strapped to his noggin. So, the customization of the skull cap never came to pass.

But no matter, he looks both cool and cute.

2014-10-28 09.47.10

Raven pumpkin

Earlier this month, Caitlin acquired a pumpkin as a door prize, and our original plan was to carve it. Instead, it became the subject of a pumpkin decoration contest through her school. Her paint scheme of choice was the character of Raven from the Teen Titans animated series. It should be noted that Caitlin – my daughter the artist – did all of the painting herself. The rind of the pumpkin was cleaned and dried, then she applied tempera paints directly to it. It took almost three coats of paint before the colors finally started to hold. I suspect the rind was sucking up the paint like a sponge. But, she was ultimately successful!

Azareth Metrion Zinthos!

In hindsight, it’s probably a good thing that Caitlin opted to paint the pumpkin instead of carve it. The house is currently awash in scraps of cloth, sheet plastic, old newspaper, and bits of other materials left over from the construction of the Lady Loki costume. But even so, my two girls really showed off their creativity!

Happy Halloween, 2014!


The core costume design for Lady Loki came from the Deviant Art user The Lighted Soul. Within her gallery she provides a tutorial for the coat and cape, and the shirt and tunic.

The Woodland Elf features patterns and instructions for the staff and bracers, and while Crafty Mischief provided instructions for the helmet.