Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Big Lump of Coal

I think Dante should have included a ring in the Inferno for people, especially health care professionals, who lie to children. Or at the very least, to mix my metaphors, they should get coal in their stockings.

Our dentist should have a fifty pound lump of coal in his stocking—he lied not only to a child but also to this child’s naïve parents.

The Dentist Who Shall Not Be Named In This Blog, (DWSNBNITB, DW for short) because I can’t afford to be sued for libel, told Cal and Matthew that Matt needed some minor surgery because the roots of his two lower bottom teeth were exposed. DW went on to explain that it was very minor, that Matt wouldn’t be in any pain, and that he’d be running around right after the surgery. Yeah, right.

Matt was a little nervous beforehand. After all, he doesn’t like people poking around in his mouth. But Matt knew it was no big deal—the dentist told him so.

Yesterday Matt and I went to the consult, which was scheduled immediately before the procedure. This is a clever trick because if the procedure was several days after the consult, you’d never come back after the periodontal surgeon told you what was going to happen.

Matt had three frenectomies, which means they cut three frenum along the lip-gum line. This really doesn’t sound bad. But the entire procedure took about an hour and I lost count of how many stitches Matt had. Then came the list of post-surgical care. It started with “This is a very painful procedure—he’ll need to be on codeine for 3 to 4 days.” Hey, what happened to this isn’t going to be painful?! The nurse continued, “Matt needs to stay in bed for 24 hours. He can’t do any running, fast walking, etc., for 3 to 4 days.” What happened to running around right after the surgery?!

Of course, it only got worse. Apparently, the success of the surgery isn’t guaranteed—and the periodontal dude didn’t even give me odds. Grr. If this doesn’t work, then Matt has to have skin graft surgery with either his own keratinized skin or donor skin. (Imagine Matt coming unglued at the words “donor skin”—he’s thinking flesh off a rotting corpse. I assured him that wouldn’t be the case, but I don’t really know.)

After the “procedure,” I took my darling home and went immediately to the pharmacy because I was ordered, in no uncertain terms, to get codeine into Matt ASAP. I went to go pick up the meds. The pharmacist told me, also in no uncertain terms, that Matt ought not to take the full dosage of codeine.

Me: "Uh, the doctor told me to give him 1 to 1 ½ pills."

Pharmacist: "No."

Me: "Why not?"

Ph: "Because he doesn’t weigh enough for that dosage."

Me: "Oh. So what do I give him?"

Ph: "One half of one pill."

Me (weighing the thought of Matt in a lot of pain from this “painless” surgery): "Can’t I give him one whole?"

Ph (trying to hide a scowl): "I guess. But it will completely knock him out for the whole day."

Me: "That’s okay."

Ph: "But four hours later, only give him half a pill."

Me (meekly): "Okay."

Back home, an hour and thirty minutes after Matt’s had codeine not only is he wide awake, his mouth/gums/teeth hurt. I notice his face is pasty white. I placed a phone call to Perio Dude.

Me: “Matt’s in pain.”

PD: “Give him more codeine.”

Me: “The pharmacist said that I can’t.”

PD: “Oh.”

Me: “You understand that Matt’s a high functioning autistic person, right?”

PD: “Yeah.”

Me: “A percentage of them don’t process medication like other people do. Matt’s one of those people.”

PD: “Oh.”

Me: “So...”

PD: “Why don’t you wait another 20 minutes or so, and then if it’s not any better you can bring him back in and I’ll inject him with more anesthetic.”

Right. That’s going to work. I relayed the suggestion to Matt who intimated that he’d rather die than go back. At the four hour mark, I gave Matt another whole codeine pill. (However, the PD gets only a small lump of coal in his stocking because he did call back at dinnertime to ask how Matt was doing. I told him under the watch of Matt’s glaring eyes that Matt was doing fine.)

The day, actually night, was saved by a neurologist friend who understands Matt’s neurotransmitter issues. She told me he could take ibuprophen on top of the codeine. It didn’t relieve all the pain, but it allowed Matt to sleep. Our friend should get all the Christmas gifts that Santa intended for the Perio-dude and the lying dentist. Maybe I’ll write Santa a letter—there’s always next Christmas.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Problem That’s Never Solved

I bet you thought you’d heard the last of the basement flooding saga. If you thought so, you’d be wrong. When we got home from vacation, Cal had the presence of mind to check the basement. Instead of a nice, dry concrete floor, we found six inches of water. The sump pump failed.

At 2:30 in the morning Cal was playing with the pump, trying to jerry-rig it to drain the water. Thankfully, the heater was still working—it shouldn’t have been.

Cal got the pump running, and we got to bed sometime after 3am. The next day he called the plumbing “experts.” They eventually came out. They proclaimed the pit too shallow. I assumed that would mean they’d make the pit deeper. No. Instead they put on a different float-switch. It worked...for two or three days. Now we have the opposite problem. The pump runs and runs and runs until it overheats and the fail safe thermocouple thingy turns it off. Then it cools, and guess what? Yep, it starts pumping again until it overheats. We called the super-duper plumbing guys again. They’re coming again to see what can be done. I’d assume they’re going to dig a deeper pit, but I’ve been wrong before.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Benefits of Country Music

The drive from Fort Lauderdale to Chattanooga is supposed to take about 12 hours. Maybe 13 depending on the numbers of bathroom breaks and how long it takes you to wolf down greasy fast food.

I was thinking we’d get home before midnight. Ha. What I didn’t know is that the state of Florida must have use-it-before-the-end-of-the-year Federal Cash for Clunky Highways funds. I mean why else would the state decide to do road repair the week of Christmas? It doesn’t take a lot of brains to realize that there just might be a lot of traffic the week of Christmas and that shutting the highway down to one lane isn’t a wise idea. Nor are the ridiculous lines at the toll booths on the Florida Turnpike. Speaking of which, it seems to me that toll roads are only a semi-legitimate form of demanding baksheesh (bribery). I was complaining about it loudly in the van, and Ariel informed me that roads don’t qualify as a “public good” and thus from an economics point of view, they can charge whatever they want. Yeah, right. Free roads seem like a public good to me.

At any rate, our getting home on time schedule was thrown wildly off kilter. I ended up driving late at night. I’m not at my best late at night, but Cal needed a nap. In order to stay awake, I cooled the car down until I got a bit shivery—it’s hard to fall asleep when you have goosebumps. But that wasn’t enough. I turned on the radio. We were in Nowhereville, Georgia (just north of Valdosta), and the only station I could get was country-western. Not my favorite, but noise is noise. I listened to one song where the guitar was so loud you couldn’t understand the words, which was probably just as well. The next song came on. A twangy voice started talking about plowing the fields and the girl he loved. That’s okay. I like ballads. Then came the refrain. “She thinks my tractor’s sexy and she loves my farmer’s tan.” I burst out laughing. It woke me up for a good long time. I realized someone should start a music station to play wacky country music to keep tired drivers awake. I bet you could make a chunk of change. Or maybe you could get a government grant: Cash for Country. Seriously.

Here we are swimming on St. Thomas.

Ariel at the gate of a cathedral on Antigua.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Code Red

Before we went on vacation, Cal warned me not to overdo vacation preparations lest I get sick on board. Despite all the “wrenches” thrown into preparations, I stayed healthy on the entire cruise. However, not everyone could make the same claim. Somewhere early in the cruise, a vacationer brought back a nasty, highly contagious gastrointestinal bug from one of the islands. Medical chaos broke loose.

My first clue was one morning I walked into the hall and smelled bleach. Stewards were wiping railings, handholds, door handles, every non-fabric surface with bleach. Hmm. As much as the cruise lines prize cleanliness, I’ve never seen them out with bleach. Later that day a steward bawled out Luke and Ariel for taking a fork instead of waiting to be given a fork (which is what they did the day before). Odd.

Next I smelled unpleasant odors and saw floor fans. After that the ship personnel became very aggressive with hand sanitizing—the stewards had to see you sanitize your hands before you were allowed into the dining room.

Cal started running a fever, stopped eating, and had to be forced to suck ice chips. Then came the announcement. All sick or possibly sick people had to notify the medical officers and be quarantined. Cal was among them.

Speaking the obscure, but native language, of the officers came in handy. Our ship was under “Code Red.” We had very, very high numbers of sick people. Certain dining areas were shut down. Certain activities like chess, library lending, etc., were ended. A DVD we rented was free because the rental woman didn’t want to touch my “card” because we came from a stateroom with a sick person. Even the on-board jewelry store was shut down—touching jewelry could spread disease.

When we arrive in Fort Lauderdale, the entire ship has to undergo a complete sterilization before the next cruise. Cal’s doing better—he’s up and about, though he doesn’t have his appetite back. But I’m hoping and praying that the drive from Fort Lauderdale to Chattanooga is “uneventful” because 12+ hours is a long time if you have to find bathrooms along the way. And it’s even longer if you can’t.

(The rumor circulating is that the sickness is so bad it might make the news.)
Here's a picture of me with a canon at a Napoleonoic era fort. Maybe Horatio Hornblower came here.

Here's photo of Luke--his skin is so tan from the ten days that he looks like a native Carib.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Cruise of Discovery

We visited many different islands on our cruise. St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Barbados, Antigua, and St. Thomas. (I think there were a few others, but I can’t remember.) Most people who cruise get off the ship and take excursions or taxis to visit the sites or beaches. But since the excursions are very pricey and the taxis are just as bad, we opted to do a lot of walking. In the end, though it was a huge hassle, it turned out to be a great blessing.

Instead of zipping from one aesthetically-prepared tourist spot—set up to make American/European visitors feel at home—to another, the kids experienced third world countries. They discovered that third world countries rarely have sidewalks. They saw people filling their water jugs from spigots because they don’t have running water at home. They saw pets riddled with mange and worms. They saw people standing around idly because the unemployment was so high there was no work to be had. They saw waste water from homes running into open sewer systems. (Really scary when you consider it runs untreated into the sea and around the beaches. Also from the color and texture of the waste water it seems to have high levels of phosphates.) They saw historic landmarks covered in trash and treated with contempt.

At one point, Jacob took my hand and said, “We’re really, really blessed to live in the United States.” Gratitude instead of entitlement. That discovery was music to my ears.

The next day we went to St. Thomas, which is one of the US Virgin Islands. Five minutes after we were on the island, the kids said, “Mom, this is like being back in the US.” The streets had sidewalks, people had jobs, and the streets were clean. And, yes, the island had poor people, but their situation was nothing like the extreme poverty on the other islands.

Here are a few photos.
Luke is peering into a cathedral on Antigua. It was shut down (the doors had padlocks on it) because a tourist had fallen through the rotting floor boards.

Here we are on St. Thomas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


The other day we were sitting in the dining room next to a huge window, and Matthew asked me, "What is the name of the bugs that swim in the water next to the ship?" I frowned--bugs that swim next to the ship? “I’ve seen them out the windows,” Matt said. Jake interrupted, “They’re not bugs. But they swim just as fast as the ship.”

Ah, I thought, they are confused. I launched into my “there are no bugs, what you see are reflections of the sunlight dancing across the water” speech. “Besides,” I said, “nothing small could keep up with the speed of the ship—we’re booking.” The boys gave me their “you poor confused parent” look. After the meal, they boys took me through a circuitous “secret” route to the very bow of the ship. We looked over the prow. A couple of minutes later I saw the "bugs." Exquisite flying fish—translucent and glimmering in the sunlight. If I hadn’t seen them, I wouldn’t have believed the boys’ descriptions. They leapt out of the water and their pectoral fins flapped with the grace of wings. And they did keep up with the speed of the ship! When they needed a breath, they dove into the sea.

Later on I discovered that they’re able to “fly” so fast because they’re riding a wind created by the ship. Very Cool!
This is a picture of Antigua (I think). Don't you think this would make a wonderful watercolor painting? (Not so subtle hint to Calvin.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Stormy Weather

Housekeeping note: As I write this post, the ship is nearing Fort Lauderdale. I’m sure it will take me several days to unpack and do laundry, let alone get the last minute Christmas things done. But I have several posts scheduled (one will post per day until they're all posted). I hope you enjoy them.

Before we left on the cruise, Matthew asked what we would do if we ran into a storm at sea. I told Matt that this was the wrong time of the year for storms. I should have said it’s the wrong time for hurricanes because I was completely wrong about storms. We left Ft. Lauderdale Friday night and ran right into a storm. The ship rocked and pitched. Passengers started popping Dramamine like peppermints.

We walked around the ship and watched the swells. Clouds of sea spray filled the promenade. After a few strides you could taste the salt on your lips and feel it on your skin. Later we climbed to the crow’s nest, and I clung to the rails of the ladder that led onto a platform enclosed by windows. Despite the protection, the winds whipped over the wind break. Even though the rains hadn’t started yet, the winds stung like pin pricks and pressed your clothing so tightly to your body it was like a second skin. When I turned my back to the wind, it pasted my hair around my face like a heavy veil.

Of course, the rains started and we had to go below decks. It was our turn to take Dramamine, drink tea, and pretend we felt fine. By Sunday evening the weather had improved though swells continued to make passengers stumble the halls and bump the walls. Everyone looked like they’d had one too many martinis.

Eventually, you do get used to the motion, especially at bedtime. I told the kids it was like getting rocked to sleep. They gave me their “your-mind-has-been-blown-loose-by-the-wind” looks. But that’s what it’s like. I could really get used to it. It’s soothing. Most of the time.

Here's our ship the Statendam at our first port St. Maarten.
Note to my NEH grant art students--Notice the visual rhyme!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Open Road

I learned to drive in Honolulu and then spent the next six years driving in Southern California. Both places are known for heavy traffic and ridiculous speeding. The two might sound like mutually exclusive categories, but remember after you get out of traffic you have to make up for all the time you lost.

That introduction is so you understand that I’ve been struggling with the need-for-speed all my adult life. I’ve gotten much better, really. I’m not a speeder. At least not often. Not until you give me a cup of coffee, music with a backbeat, a car pointed toward Florida. The Highway Patrol loves people like me. But not in the way you might think.

I came around a curve in the far left lane and saw a Georgia Highway Patrolman with a radar gun pointed straight at me. I was going at least 10 miles over the speed limit in a work zone. I slowed way down, but clearly it was too late. As I drove toward the GHP officer I thought he was flagging me down. But he wasn’t. He just smiled and waved. I waved back—very animatedly, as if we were old buddies.

You’d think that I’d have learned my lesson. You’d be wrong. Before long, caffeine, a stretch of road with no cars, and some serious U2 had rolling down the highway. I met another curve. On the other side was another GHP. I slowed a lot. He looked at the car behind me.

The third time I was cruising through Atlanta, blasting by the traffic in the HOV lane. I looked into my rearview mirror and a GHP car was on my bumper. I slowed down again (to the posted speed limit) and waited for the siren and lights to go on. But instead, the GHP car whipped around me and continued at the speed we’d both been going at.

Yes, there was a fourth time. Later when Cal started driving, I said, “I thought for sure I’d have gotten a ticket. Do you think they viewed my slowing down as an acknowledgment of their authority and my fault, and so they didn’t give me a ticket?” Cal raised his eyebrows and made a noise that expressed disbelief. He said, “If it had been me, they’ve given me a ticket.” Hmmm. I guess I should be mildly offended, but it’s hard to work up any outrage.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Forced Labor

Whenever I drive through northern Georgia along the I-75 corridor, I’m always impressed by how pristine the sides of the road are. No bags, beer cans, or paper litter the sides of the road. I could it explain it by saying that in small town Georgia people take pride and ownership of their surroundings. And that may be true, but there are plenty of non-Northern Georgians traveling the interstate. Today I discovered the reason the roads are so clean—prison work detail. Twice today I saw signs announcing Prison Work Detail. Sure enough, prisoners in orange vests were picking up garbage. I can imagine the argument going something like this: “We’re not paying to feed and house these prisoners without them doing something to help pay back the state.” Makes sense to me. After all, I came from the state that put Martha Stewart in jail. The rumor is that her punishment included teaching other prisoners napkin-folding. Personally, I think they should have hit her with a heavy fine and made her pay restitution (though for insider trading I’m not sure who should get the money). On the other hand, maybe picking up some trash isn’t such a bad idea...Of course, I’m the woman who calls her children together for housework by yelling, “Time for slave labor”, so maybe I’m not the best person to make such decisions.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Before vacation, my parents’ miniature schnauzer Skia came to spend the night because Cal was taking Skia and Jezebel to “Camp Edna’s for Dogs.” Skia thinks Jezebel is a demonic creature escaped from the nether regions. Jezebel thinks Skia is a mutant rat with pretensions of dog-ness. We’ve tried to negotiate a truce between the animals, but they are intractable. Skia barks and growls even though her whole body is trembling so badly that her nails are clacking on the floor. Jezebel, on the other hand, bends down so Skia can see her bared teeth and snarly muzzle. Jezebel can’t figure out why Skia won’t acknowledge her obvious dog superiority and make obeisance. Skia wonders why no one has driven a stake into Jezebel.

When Cal dropped the dogs at Camp Edna’s, the retired police officer who runs the place told Cal that he can keep dogs from the same household together and asked if we wanted Skia and Jezebel to be roommates. Cellmates seemed more accurate. But the truth is that they both need solitary confinement. That and maybe a dose of chloroform.

Monday, December 14, 2009

How NOT to Get Ready for Vacation, Part Three

As you’re reading this, remember that I’m probably eating Eggs Benedict, or walking around some island wearing shorts and a tee-shirt, or swimming in sapphire water. It makes all the pre-vacation hassles fade into nothingness.

Well, not into nothingness. One member of our holiday party (my dad) had to take a flight to Iowa two days before we left. This was the day that the blizzard hit Iowa. The flight was diverted to Chicago. And the planes were grounded. Somehow he got from Chicago to Moline. An Amish man picked him up and drove him to Cedar Rapids (not in a horse and buggy—they’re not Old Order). My dad spent the night with these Amish people that he’d never met before. For dinner, they served him hamburgers that were two inches thick. My dad and the Amish man got to be good friends. My dad can go anywhere in the world and make friends. I, on the other hand, can exchange pleasantries, talk about the weather, and then always ask the wrong question. It doesn’t matter what the question is. For example, “Why are you in Chattanooga?” Answer, “I’m attending a Mother Ship convention.” Me: “Mother Ship?” Stranger: “Humanity was founded by an alien race, and they’re going to be returning to take us home.” Me: “Oh.”

Once again, I digress. Back to my dad stuck in a snowstorm in Iowa. The state of Iowa announced they’d be closing the highways because 17 inches of snow were on the road, they were expecting a lot more, and high winds would make white-out conditions.

We all began formulating ways for my dad to get to Ft. Lauderdale in time. Most of the plans involved a plane flight. However, that meant we would have a serious baggage issue. Despite the fact that we were going to be cruising in the Caribbean where we’d only need shorts and tee-shirts, everyone needed lots of clothes, etc. Ariel, for example, needed six pairs of shoes. (Okay, I took five pairs. But mine were legitimate and including running shoes for exercise.) The point is that everyone’s luggage, including my parents’ and my grandmother’s would end up in our van—Cal explained to the kids that they’d be holding luggage on their laps and under their feet on the 11 hour drive. They blinked and said “Okay.” Luke quickly told his siblings that he was too big to sit in the middle of the back seat. They even more quickly said, “Fat chance.”

It ended up being a moot point. My dad drove back to Chattanooga. How he got home in such a short time is probably a question best left unasked, except maybe by his insurance company. The rumor is that he befriended a state trooper and followed him through all of Iowa. That makes sense. No one ever tells my dad that they’re waiting for the Mother Ship.

Friday, December 11, 2009

How NOT to Get Ready for Vacation, Part Two

As if the specter of disease wasn’t enough, the plumbing is acting up. I should have known something was up the other day when the dishwasher poured water onto the kitchen floor. But I was too harried to think it through. Instead I blamed it on Matthew who is the dishwasher loader this month. I figured Matt must have spilled too much water into the door of the dishwasher, and then when he closed it, it poured onto the floor. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s not accurate.

This afternoon, Matt called me. I thought, “Leave me alone! I’m trying to get things ready for vacation.” Matt was insistent. I hrumphed my way to the kitchen. He pointed to the problem. The water in the sink wasn’t draining. What is it about holidays and plumbing!? I remember depositing our entire family plus houseguests on the doorstep of a friend (Nancy, you are amazing!) with about one hour’s notice because our plumbing was completely shut down, which meant no sinks, no laundry, no toilets. Cal and the plumber spent all of New Year’s Day digging out the sewer line. (Thank goodness for sewer insurance.) But I digress, back to this year’s fiasco.

I tried all the easy fixes: running the garbage disposal, etc. Nothing worked. I had two minutes before we had to leave for piano lessons. I did what comes naturally to any Dutch woman; I poured bleach down the sink. Bleach is a cure-all for anything offensive. No doubt it would banish all the heinous clogs. Of course, halfway to piano lessons I realized bleach and Drano don’t mix. Well, they do, but it’s a nasty, potentially lethal combination.

Luke and I tried snaking the lines through the line in the laundry room. But it was a huge waste of time. Eventually I took the sink drain pipes apart. Cal and I snaked the pipes—my wimpy muscles ache are now buffer. Snaking did nothing. Next we tried Drano. Still nothing. Next morning we called the plumber. He cleaned the pipes with super-deluxe-machine-driven-no-buff-muscles snake. It worked. Of course, then we found out that that they raised the price $35 since the last time they fixed our pipes. Cal said, “Huh, last time it was only $50.” The plumber said, “Yep, ever’thing’s gone up since last year.”

At this point, ever’thing would have been fine and dandy. Except one small slip of the memory. I forgot to replace the drainage pipe for the washer in the drain line. You can imagine what happened when the washer decided the wash cycle was over. Needless to say, my laundry room floor is now very clean after I mopped up gallons of soapy water.

I’d like to say this was the end of vacation preparation horrors, but stay tuned...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How NOT to Get Ready for Vacation, Part One

We’re going on vacation! And I’m not sure I’ll have internet access on the ship, at least not affordable internet access. But fear not, dear readers. I’m not abandoning the blog. I have posts that are set to post while I’m gone. And if I have internet access, then you’ll get those too. Now on to today’s post.

I always imagine getting ready for vacation as this lovely anticipatory process where I wash, iron, pack, clean, put a hold on the mail and go. And once or twice, I’ve experienced that. But not this time.

First, the day of his last final Luke came down with a cold. And not just any cold. It was a swollen eyes-constant sneezing-spigot for a nose-type of cold. But he took his final. I’m not sure how and I’m not sure he even cared, but it was finished. He left. Until he remembered that he forgot to put his name on the scantron. He hurried back and his professor let him look through the stack of scantrons to find his.

When Luke told us the story at dinner, Matt asked, “Lukie (Yes, Luke is patient with Matt’s nicknames), were there other scantrons without names?”

After sneezing six times, Luke said, “Several.”

Matt said, “How did you know which one was yours?”

Luke wiped his watery eyes and said, “Mine had distinct smudges.”

Each member of the family opened his/her mouth to argue the reliability of this method. But Luke gave us a nasty look that said, “Don’t say a word, or I’ll put the cold hex on you.” We closed our mouths. I just hope Luke put his name on his own paper, instead of the scantron of the kid who didn’t put his name on his paper because he was failing anyway.

But this was merely the beginning of the troubles. Stay tuned for Part Two in the next post.

The good news—since I wrote this post we found out that Luke got an A in chemistry. Whew! He must have found his own exam after all. Three cheers for "distinct smudges!"

Monday, December 7, 2009

State Championship

On Saturday, Jacob, Matthew, and I got up at 5am and didn’t get home until 11pm. Only one thing will motivate them to do that. First Lego League. For those of you who are new to my blog, FLL is an amazing opportunity for kids from 9 to 14 to build and program a robot. Of course, it’s more than that. The kids are given robot assignments and time limits in which to do them. And they compete against other teams. Last year Jake and Matt’s team took third place in the robot performance category in the State Championships.

This year they worked harder. So they went off to the 7 hour Championship with high hopes. The Championship is more than “robot runs” although they have three of those. The kids also have to do a presentation based on their research—this year they were assigned to research traffic issues. They discovered which areas of Chattanooga had nasty accidents, and then they met with the city’s traffic engineer, researched areas of the country with similar problems, brainstormed solutions to the problem and later presented their solutions to the city traffic engineer.

Of course, the kids didn’t want to do your typical science fair report. One day after a team practice, Jake announced, “I wrote a play for FLL.” I blinked and said, “Oh, right. Uh, maybe I can help you.” Without taking offense, he passed me the script. I read the script. I passed it back. “Uh, this is really good. I wouldn’t make any changes.”

Besides the presentation and the robot runs, the judges (professors from Tennessee Tech, scientists from Oakridge Nat’l Lab, and even a prof from MIT) interview the kids on robot design, leadership, and teamwork. They’re even tested on communication skills.

In one of the teamwork/communication/leadership tests, the judges gave the kids a few props and told them to make the tallest structure they could. After the kids did, they tried to pick up the table and make it taller still. The judge stopped them—lifting the table didn’t count.

A team of ten judges interviewed them about their robot’s design. The kids’ design had unique features (including a “hammer,” a ring tosser, a capture box, and reverse mechanism to go over bumps) that the judges hadn’t seen in any other robot. In fact, the design was unique and effective enough that the judges laughed and shook their heads. I told the kids it’s called “thinking outside the box” and engineering professors love it.

I could go on, but I’ll stop. The kids took third place in robot performance, and they were very happy. But we all sat patiently in the stands as the rest of the awards were called out, even the final big awards “Champion’s Award.” When they called out the number of the second place team, the kids just sat there and I said, “Hey, that’s us.” They were in shock. They never even considered that they could take the second highest award in the state championship.
Then Jacob and his friend Andrew got an invitation this morning—to join the next level of First League. The kids are older, the robots and programming are much more complex, and the competition stiffer. But the sponsors want them to join their team. Cal explained to Jake that it’s like going from triple A to the majors just before the World Series. This First League’s State Competition is in February. And just when I thought we were done with robots and programming...

Friday, December 4, 2009


Most of my readers know that I have long hair. In fact, it’s long and as straight as a stick. Normally, I love having long hair. It’s a wash-and-wear style, and it takes 30 seconds to do—brush, twist, clip. Or, on Sundays, brush, twist, pin, which takes about 30 seconds more.

It’s also very cheap to maintain—Ariel cuts it with scissors to keep everything healthy and tidy. However, she’s been busy with college classes so she hasn’t had time to cut my hair lately. This isn’t a big deal as it means my hair just gets longer. But the one down side is that it tends to tangle a bit (Ariel claims this is ridiculous as I could never have experienced REAL tangling unless my hair was curly like hers. She can get Gordian Knot types of tangles.)

At any rate, to prevent tangles (and keep my hair from touching my neck or face, which I hate) I braid my hair at night. Except one night it was late. And I went to sleep without braiding it. Everything was fine until sometime during the night when Cal’s fingers got tangled in my hair. And then he rolled over. He didn’t wake up. But I sure did!

Needless to say, Ariel trimmed my hair and I’m braiding it every night.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Food Fixation

My children are extremely tired of cabbage. Although, in all fairness, I don’t serve it too often. But they’re tired of seeing a big bag of shredded cabbage in the refrigerator along with a massive container of cottage cheese. You see, I’m in the midst of a food fixation. Currently, I crave cabbage and cottage cheese for snacks—not together. I did try it once. It wasn’t pretty, or tasty.

I realize most people crave ice cream or cookies or salt and vinegar potato chips (actually, I crave those too, but I don’t buy the chips because my lips will shrivel up before I can stop). Before these current obsessions, I had a thing for Greek yogurt, which is basically plain yogurt mixed with white wine vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper. It was delicious. But Calvin complained that it smelled like a men’s locker room. And since I used to eat it in bed while we watched movies...anyway, I had to find a new food love. Enter cottage cheese. In my defense, this isn’t your ordinary cottage cheese. This is the Olympus of cottages cheeses, mildly flavored with the velvety texture of ricotta.

Currently, cottage cheese is pushing the cabbage out. Apparently, cabbage with balsamic vinaigrette smells just like a 19 year old boy’s athletic sock. (Do you sense a theme here? I do.) I have to admit that these food obsessions aren’t new, nor did they start with pregnancy. According to a reliable source (my mom), as a child I was taken to the pediatrician because my skin had turned orange. Why? Too much beta carotene. I had a carrot fixation. Speaking of carrots, I need something to replace the cabbage...

BTW, I'd love to hear comments about any of your food fixations, especially if they're odd.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Law of Entropy

I understand the law of entropy. Okay, I really don’t. But it has to do with statistical thermodynamics, which I don’t understand either. But for the sake of this post, I’m defining entropy as “things moving to a state of disorder.” I see this every day in my life, particularly with regards to my house. Everything is always getting messy.

Here’s the thing. Some scientist needs to figure out why every day is not equally entropic. For example, Saturday is my clean-the-house-day. By Saturday evening, everything is dusted, cleaned, mopped, vacuumed, etc. Assuming “normal” entropy, things should be normally messy. But this isn’t what happens. By Monday morning, it looks like a tornado has plowed through the house. What happened? Do gnomes, trolls, or evil fairies slip out of their homes in the wood work?

I suspect it is the children. I think that after Cal and I fall asleep, all the kids get up and have a party. (This is what Jacob used to think we did after we got him to bed—he thought we watched movies, ate chocolate and ice cream, and did a happy dance. Reality hit when he was old enough to stay up late. He couldn’t believe that we don’t do anything but collapse. Apparently, we are very boring people.) At any rate, I’m sure the children do get up. This would explain why I find stacks of dirty dishes and why I can hardly get the children up on Monday morning. It would explain comic books all over the table and socks on the floor—they’re the ones doing the happy dance.

So I guess we don’t have a variance in the law of entropy that occurs only in our house. Physicists don’t need to stop by. I’d stay up late to catch them, but I’ve already collapsed by then.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Official Christmas Letter Day

Today is the official “Christmas Letter Day.” It’s the day I send out our Christmas letter/photo to our friends and relatives. This year was slightly easier than last simply because I had a gifted 16 year old take our family photo. (Plus, that meant our kids couldn’t make caustic comments about the insanity of taking our picture.) And it meant that our photo looked professional instead of “Ack-our-mother-made-us-take-this-picture-and-we’d-rather-be-anywhere-else-even-the-dentist!” So assuming that Sam’s Club didn’t wreck the photo, which they’ve done in the past, the picture is done.

The official 2009 letter has also been crafted. And it has now passed Kellerhouse inspection. Inspection consists of each member reading the letter. Then each individual responds in one of two ways. If the child doesn’t like the letter, he/she has a conniption and his/her face splits into two pieces while he/she ponders maternal psychosis as the reason why I included a particular bit of information about him/her. The “approval response” is a shrug of the shoulders. Then I say, “So you’re okay with this?” The child must then audibly answer, “Yes.” It must be aurally perceptible because if the child changes his/her mind later, I can defend myself with the audible “yes.”

Next, comes the printing. Assuming I orient the pages correctly in the Xerox machine, it’s not too bad. But I always mis-orient the paper at least once. Plus, the copy machine tends to develop toner issues, which necessitates taking the cartridge out and doing the “toner tango” every five pages. Then, I have to print the labels, using Excel. In case you don’t know, Excel is a “gift” from the nether regions. Having lived in New England for seven years, we have lots of friends whose zip code begins with a zero—Excel refuses to print initial zeros, so each zero must be printed by hand. (Yeah, I’ve been told there’s a way around it, but no one has been able to give me the details. Apparently, it’s “complicated,” so giving my kids pens seems easier than trying to correct a Microsoft programming error.)

Last but not least, is the actual folding and stuffing of envelopes. This might seem to be the easiest part, but you have to plan on a certain number of paper cuts and a helpful child sticking the stamp on the left side of the envelope instead of the right. Another example of “getting what you pay for,” and since I use what’s affectionately called “slave labor”...

Finally, it’s time for the letters to be mailed. I can leave them out for the postman, but he’s unreliable (he delivers mail only when he’s feeling “led”). Or I can take a drive to the post office and deal with all the Black Friday traffic...or not. Maybe the postman is more reliable this time of year. At least, I can hope.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Laughing at the Rain

Many of you may remember the basement flooding fiascos. If you don’t remember, here’s a refresher. After heavy rains, we discovered that the city’s run-off waste water fountains up through a drain in our basement and floods it. What makes the flood even nastier is that it ruins the circuit board of the heater ($500). We called the insurance—they laughed. We called the city. An engineer came over. His schematic of the underground pipes does not contain diagrams of the pipes that our drain led to. But he assured us it was irrelevant because our drain was illegal. Uh huh. All the houses built in the 40s have this kind of drain if they have basements. Clearly, the city dealt with a problem by out-lawing it. Convenient for them. Not for us.

After a couple more episodes of flooding, plumbers were called. We were told to call the experts. “The experts” came. Since no one knew where the pipes were or how deep they ran, they couldn't put a backflow valve on the pipe. But they came up with a plan.

The specialty plumbers came with concrete and a thing that looked like a chainsaw on steroids. First, they poured concrete into the drain. HA! Take that City of Chattanooga. Now you can deal with your own water issues. Then the plumbing dudes revved up the concrete saw. I thought that with the door to the basement closed, we’d be golden. I was wrong. Within fifteen minutes, the house was enveloped in a concrete dust fog. And the smell of burning cement isn’t pleasant. In Matt’s words, “It’s stinks!” Matt and Jake ended up in the master bedroom with the HEPA filter cranked.

Despite everything, by dinner the basement was fixed. We are now the proud owners of a sump pit and an uber sump pump. I can now laugh at the storm clouds. I can shake my head and tsk at the water spouting out of the city lines. And I can say, “Neener” to the city engineer. Of course, he doesn’t care. He’ll just be telling some other home owner that their basement drain is illegal. You just gotta love the government.

Monday, November 23, 2009


The other morning when our wakeup alarm went off, Calvin said to me, “I just remembered a cheer from high school.” I said, “I don’t want to hear it.” Of course, Cal sang it to me (not something that’s especially pleasant at 7 am). Here it is: “R. O. W. D. I. E. That’s the way we spell rowdie. Let’s get rowdie, rowdie.” I said, “You do realize that’s spelled incorrectly, right?” A second of silence passed. “Maybe they did that on purpose.” I pulled the covers up. “And maybe their spelling is horrendous. Otherwise, they just misspelled it because it fit better with the rhythm, which is also dumb. Either way, it's lame. And it’s way too early in the morning for something like that.”

Guess you can tell I wasn’t a cheerleader in high school, huh? And that I’m not a “morning person.” My sense of humor develops only after the first hot influx of caffeine.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Master's Work

Every now and then you read a book and you think, “Only a master could get away with this.” What I mean by that is that you read a great book and you tell your friends about it and they look at you like you have lost what little sanity you once possessed.

For example, I found a book listed on the New York City Library’s top 100 books for kids. The name of the book was Interstellar Pig. I read the book blurb and decided to pick it up from the library and use it as a read-aloud at home. We loved it. We borrowed the sequel Parasite Pig. It was every bit as good as the first (a rare experience). But then my kids tried to describe the book to their friends. It went something like this:

Keller Kid (KK): We read this really great book, Parasite Pig.

Group of Friends (imagine scorning faces at hearing the title): What’s it about?

KK: It’s about this boy Barney, who gets involved in an interstellar game. But he doesn’t know that he has a parasite living in his brain.

Female Friends: Gross.

KK: He and his friend Katie get kidnapped by aliens and taken to this planet.

FF: Aliens?

KK: It’s really good, honest. Even Ariel liked it. Anyway, Barney and Katie end up on this planet run by crabs who want to eat them.

FF (who are now turned slightly away, i.e. the cold shoulder): Why would we want to read that?

KK: Because it’s really amazing.

Male Friends: So what happens?

KK: They have to outsmart the aliens with the help of an alien intestinal worm named Julien who lives in the gut of a dinosaur.

MF: A dinosaur?

KK: The dinosaur is in the spaceship.

MF (with raised eyebrows): Right. And what about the “pig?”

KK: Capturing the “piggy” is supposed to be the goal of the game, but...I don’t want to spoil it for you.

MF (with the look of “I’ve heard you Kellers are odd”): Don’t think we’ll be reading it.

Later I explain to my kids that only a master writer can take the bizarre threads of a story like that and make them work—it’s part of what makes the book amazing. It’s why William Sleator is amazing.

So, readers, have you read any books like that? If so, please comment and tell me what the titles are. I’d love to read more.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Cure for Writer’s Block

Every writer should be forced to sit in the math computer lab—she (or he) will learn the joys of forced writing/editing. There are no distractions. The walls are mushroom gray and oatmeal blah. The white boards are full ghostly calculations of suffers past, present, and, perhaps, future. No internet access for non-UTC students so I can’t surf blogs. No idle conversation to overhear other than the usual Maple profanities. I’ve discovered that you can only win so many rounds of spider solitaire before that gets tedious. Even Ariel doesn’t distract me except to demand that I examine matrices that look fine to me, but apparently don’t work.

In this environment, it’s either write/edit or die of boredom. Hmm. Maybe I could cash in on this. I could start the Connie Keller Writing Method. I could charge people money to bring them to the Engineering, Math, and Computer Science building and force them to sit in Maple lab until they reach their word count goal. That could seriously work. Although I might get sued for cruel and unusual punishment, but it’s worth a shot

Monday, November 16, 2009


Our toilet started leaking. This forced a decision. Either get new toilet guts or replace the whole thing with a new toilet, which was offered to us for free. Hmm. A new toilet would probably save on water. New toilet.

Cal took off the old toilet—oops, big problem. The new toilet was missing the tank bolts. Cal reinstalled the old toilet back because it was too late to buy new bolts. The new toilet stood in pieces all over my bedroom. “It’s okay,” I told myself, taking deep cleansing breaths, “it’s only for a few days.”

A few days passed. Old toilet came off. Cal scraped off the old beeswax seal and put on a new one and new bolts. Great. He secured them. I looked at the new toilet. “Uh, honey....”

He knows my tone. “What’s wrong?”

“The arm thingy that holds the float is snapped in half and there’s no float at all.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

Imagine me swallowing. “No.”

“Right. Let’s go to Ace Hardware.”

After a trip to Ace, Home Depot, and Lowes, we discovered they don’t make plastic “float arms.” Instead, they sell you new toilet guts. We returned home with new guts. Cal replaced everything. He turned the water on. The stalk thingy leaked.
He tightened it. Water back on. The valve for the water line leaked.
He replaced the line. He turned the water back on. It was dry. Yay!! I cleaned the new toilet, mopped the floor, and arranged the flowers on the back of the tank.

A few minutes later, it was leaking again. This time water leaked from the tank-bowl bolts. Another trip to Ace Hardware for new rubber seals. About this time I took Ariel to violin lessons—I was never so glad to have to go to music lessons.

I don’t even want to go into the fact the floaty thing won’t adjust properly. I read the directions, but after thirty seconds I realized that the directions were written by someone for whom English was a fifth or sixth language. I think we need to re-adjust the height of the stalk thingy, which would loosen all the seals that Cal just fixed. Instead, we’re just going to learn to hold the handle down for an extra second or two. So much for saving water.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Who Let The Dog Out?

Everybody has their little obsessions. When Luke was little, he had socks that he’d wear at bedtime and socks he’d where only during the day. Me? I hate messy counters. It drives Ariel crazy because when she bakes or cooks, I often put things away before she’s even used them.

Cal’s obsession is changing the oil in the car. He changes it every 5,000 miles on the dot. (At least, I think it’s 5,000—I don’t know, I’m not an oil person.) Anyway this past Tuesday in the pouring down rain, he had to change the oil. Apparently, it couldn’t wait another day. This wouldn’t be so bad if we had a garage, but we don’t. And the water streams down the asphalt so he was basically lying in a river.

Our dog Jezebel also has an obsession—being wherever Calvin is, especially if it’s in the backyard. (Jez associates Cal in the backyard with barbequing.) Jez also loves car trips. Once when my parents visited, my dad opened his car door and got out. Jez tore across the yard and leapt. My dad stealed himself for the force of the dog, but she glided right passed him into his car, where she waited for whatever trip he’d planned.

Now put these two images together. Cal was in the backyard, and the car door was slightly ajar. Jez whined loudly at the backdoor. Luke, assuming Jez had serious bladder/bowel issues, let her out.

Imagine looking out the back kitchen window. Cal’s under the car soaked to the skin and covered in dead leaves washed around like a shroud by the rain. In the driver’s seat of the car sits Jez her tail wagging and making an occasional bark that said, “Hey, master, are you almost done—where we going?” Of course, to Cal it sounded like, “I’m here to irritate you, master.”

In the end, Cal staggered into the house with leaves stuck to hair and shoulders, dripping muddy water onto the floor and demanding, “Who let the dog out?” It was more Frankenstein-esque than Baha Men, but I still laughed.

p.s. I've just been told that the oil gets changed every 3,000 miles. Now I know.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I’m reading a book that I don’t like. I’ve read a lot of books I don’t like, but they were good books. Right now I'm reading a book I don’t like, and it’s not even well written. The author breaks one of the cardinal rules of writing: Make your main character sympathetic. This doesn’t mean the MC has to be likeable. For example, in the book I’m reading the MC is nice. She’s just not sympathetic. Quinn (lame name) is attractive, wealthy, independent, successful, has a hot boyfriend, ad nauseum. She’s got everything, and thus she's not sympathetic; my only response to her is GAG.

So why am I still reading the book? Obviously, I don’t like the MC at all. The truth is that I like the dead girl Alicia. This is really pathetic because she’s only around for the first six or seven pages. Why is Alicia sympathetic? After all, she’s attractive, independent, etc., too. The difference is that Alicia’s flawed—before her death, she was depressed, mentally unstable, and not a good friend to the MC, which made me like her even more. And then, you discover that Alicia’s hot, wealthy boyfriend probably had her killed because she found out something she shouldn’t. So...I’m reading this book to find out who killed Alicia and why.

I wish the author had switched Alicia and Quinn. Of course, if she had, I wouldn’t have continued reading the book—I don’t care if Quinn dies. In fact, I’d rather she did.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ladybug Graveyard

Every fall the bugs begin to die. But, they prefer not to die, so they seek out warm places. Houses qualify. Cal has killed a cockroach or two. Ick. But, hey, I have absolutely no problem ending the life of a roach.

In fact, I can step on/swat most bugs without blinking. The exception is ladybugs. I really can’t kill a ladybug. Maybe it’s the “Ladybug, Ladybug Fly Away Home” nursery rhyme. After all, any bug who flies home to rescue her daughter Anne can’t be all bad. Or maybe their appeal is their cute little spots and shiny red hard wings that reminds me of a elementary school drawing. The problem is that the bugs aren’t drawings. They’re real bugs, and they’re invading my house, and I can’t bring myself to slaughter their cheerful little bodies.

A friend of mine sprayed the ladybugs invading her home with a mild pesticide. They died. But they didn’t die quickly or normally. Instead they walked in a death spiral and left bug goo with their every step. So her ceiling was covered with swirls of bug scum. I really don’t feel like cleaning bug gunk from my ten foot ceilings. Eventually, the bugs will die and then I can vacuum them up. In the meantime, I’m trying to pretend they’re happy bugs and that is doesn’t bother me a lot when the fly across the room. I hope they die soon, really soon…because they’re not cute anymore.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tug o' War

My almost 91 year old grandmother (Oma) is staying with us. She’s still fairly spry and her mind is still sharp. And though she’s had dogs most of her adult life, even Alsatians, she’s a bit skittish about Jezebel. So we keep Jez separated from Oma. That’s worked very well…until this morning.

This morning, Jez decided to take her big furry Yankees blanket from Matt and Jake’s room into the living room so she could lay on it where the sun streams through the plate glass windows. And as the sun shifts through the room, Jez carries her blanket to the new spot of warm sunlight. This is her favorite habit, besides laying on the air condition vents during the summer. But this morning would be different.

Jez was carrying her blanket through the dining room into the living room when my grandmother spied her. In righteous indignation, my grandmother yelled at the dog for “stealing a blanket.” As if that weren’t enough, my grandmother decided to take matters into her own hands. So she hurried to meet Jez and grabbed the blanket. When Oma did this, Jez thought, “Oh, cool, she wants to play tug o’ war.” On one end of the blanket we have nearly 91 year old Oma tugging. On the other end, we have a one year old black Lab. I think you can imagine what happened. Oma tugged, and Jez pulled right back. Oma heaved, Jez hoed. About this time Matt has caught sight of the problem and loudly (my grandmother wears hearing aids) tried to rectify the situation, but he didn’t have much luck. Drawn by the loud noise, I came to see what’s going on. “Oma!” I yelled loudly, “that’s the dog’s blanket.” My grandmother looked at me oddly (I’m guessing her dogs never had big fuzzy blankets), but she let loose of the blanket, much to Jez’s chagrin. Finally, I explained the situation, and my grandmother laughed heartily.

You’ve heard it said, “Never get into a land dispute in Asia, and never bet against a Sicilian with death on the line”…I’d add to that, “Never pit a black Lab against a 91 year old Dutch woman—you can never tell who might win.”

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Some people collect salt and pepper shakers—kind of weird. I mean, how much salt do you need? Some people collect figurines—too much dusting for someone deathly allergic to dust. Some people collect cars. Obviously they have more money than brains. I’ve always prided myself on not collecting anything because after all, collectors clearly do not have a life.

But now I’m wondering…I have a lot of word books. I own three thesauri—Roget’s, Langenscheidt’s, and a really lame one that I gave to the kids. I own two or three books dedicated solely to abstruse words. I’ve purchased about dozen books on writing. Don’t even get me started on dictionaries, although I will say the best modern dictionary is Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary—every other dictionary pales in comparison. But that’s not too bad. Okay, okay, I admit it, I even own a rhyming dictionary. I’m beginning to suspect I might actually have a collection. What does this mean? Do I still have a life? Or will I be one of those ladies who wears knit purple scarves and owns ten skanky cats? Nah. I hate cats.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Vengeance is Mine

I love gardens, a riot of flowers, or red ripe tomatoes. There is nothing like the scent of a crimson rose or the taste of a sugar-snap pea right off the vine. Sadly, squirrels and chipmunks feel the same way. I’ve caught chipmunks standing on their hind legs and carefully harvesting my Chinese pea pods, and I’ve seen a lush tomato ripped off by a squirrel. Not to mention cherries and raspberries going to the birds.

You’d think our dog Jezebel would be guarding the garden. But no, she’s lying on the air conditioning vent. Besides she’s not that concerned about squirrels and chipmunks. Only cats and weird fur-ball dogs that look like cats get her dander up.

I’d pretty much given up hope of ever getting even with the little creatures, though I have tried mousetraps, netting, and flooding out the chipmunk’s lair—until the water ended up in my basement. (A friend who grew up on a farm suggested running a hose from the car exhaust into the chipmunk’s hole—good thing I tried the water first, or our house would have been carbon monoxided.)

But this summer as serendipity would have it, I got even. And I didn’t even plan it. I wish I’d seen it happen. But we’ll imagine it together.

Bob the squirrel surveys the yard from the chestnut tree, keeping a lookout for Jez. (He doesn’t know that it’s too hot/too wet/too sunny for her outside.) All he knows is that Jez is nowhere to be seen, so he leaps to our deck and skitters to the tomato plant. Much to his disappointment, all the tomatoes are gone. He ate them already. He checks out the basil plant—leaves won’t satisfy his belly. Bob spies another plant. It’s one he’s never tried before—it’s the bush of the knowledge of jalapeno peppers. Bob’s not sure why he’s never tried these before. After all, they are pleasing to the eye and look like they’d increase his knowledge of valuable food sources. Bob plucks one. He examines it closely. Interesting smell, no bitter or poisonous odor. Bob takes a bite. Not bad, he thinks. Then, the oils penetrate his taste buds. His neural connections scream, “Pain!” As Bob runs away, he tosses the jalapeno where I will later find it with one squirrel sized bite gone. I will pick up the pepper and laugh heartily. “Bwahaha!”

They say revenge is a dish best served cold. I think…it’s best served with jalapenos.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Shalt and Shalt Not

Keller-i-vitical Laws

After reading the Levitical laws, it seemed to me that perhaps I could add a few. (Okay, don’t send me theological rebukes. After all, this is tongue-in-cheek, sort of.)

1. Thou shalt not place thy feet upon the table for this is a horror to thy mother and sister.

2. Thou shalt keepeth thy room tidy for a messy room is a grievous offense to thy mother.

3. Thou shalt not burp at a meal for thou liveth not in China, and if thou doest it, thy mother shall make thee eat Brussels sprouts for thy next meal.

4. Thou shalt thank thy mother for each meal she maketh even if she includeth onions in the comestibles. Ingratitude is an evil thou shalt renounce.

5. If thou willt not be assigned extra chores, thou shalt do thy chores without nagging.

6. Thou shalt not scream like a banshee unless an evil burglar breaketh into thy house for thy mother getteth migraines.

7. Thou shalt clean thy hamster’s cage every Saturday for thy hamster stinketh and is a transgression to thy mother’s nose.

8. Thou shalt practice thy piano properly for thy parents payeth for thy lessons and a pox befalleth those children who would not practice.

9. Thou shalt not leave thy dirty underwear and clothing upon the floor. This is a abomination to thy mother.

10. Thou shalt offer to help with thy mother’s chores for thy mother loveth cheerful helpers and will shareth the good chocolate with them that are servant-y.

Friday, October 30, 2009

In a Perfect World…

In a perfect world…

The Yankees would be ahead 2-0

Pizza wouldn’t give me heartburn

Editing would be as much fun as writing

Maple-sucks software would self-immolate

My children would never fight

Editing would not involve trying to find the right verb for two hours

The temperature would not vary by thirty degrees in one day, necessitating
multiple clothing changes.

Stilettos would be as comfortable as Mary Janes

Chocolate would be calorie free

Plumbers would know how to fix the backflow into my basement

In the meantime, I’ll eat chocolate and Tums, wear layers and my Trekker Janes, listen to my daughter complain about Maple, mumble imprecations against the Phillies, pray the basement doesn’t flood, and hope to finish my first edit by Thanksgiving or Christmas. Fat Chance.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More Maple

After my post on Maplesoft software (see yesterday's post), I'm hearing all kinds of things from various people.

1. The name of the product should be Maple soft-swear.

2. "Maple is the devil."

3. From one of Ariel's classmates after trying the Maple assignment, "It's looks like I'm going to get another zero on homework."

4. Even a professor, who has asked that his name not be used, told Ariel NOT to take the Calculus 3 lab because it's a big waste of time (it's all Maple).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Morale Support

A few weeks ago Ariel asked me to come with her to the Math Computer Lab where she had a homework assignment. I wasn’t sure why I had to go, but she was very insistent. When we got there, I noticed that almost everyone had an extra person with them. This seemed really odd. Didn’t these people have other things to do with their time? Or did they know something I didn’t? As I would learn, they were Morale Support.

I know you must be asking yourself why everyone in the MCL brings along morale support. (If you didn’t ask that question, you should.) After all, this isn’t math tutoring. This is where students go to do homework on Maplesoft (Maple is the industry standard for mathematicians, engineers, and scientists). Its claim to fame is that it can do symbolic computation. It can also do palettes, which I thought was an “art” thing, but apparently not.

But we’re still back to the question of why everyone needs morale support. Imagine you’re me walking into MCL for the first time. You notice the people in the room are seated in groups of two. Each group has one person hunched over the computer with a calculator in hand and an angry/anxious expression on his face. (Yes, Ariel and I are usually the only females.) The second person looks extremely bored and occasionally glances at the computer screen and makes comforting noises. You take a seat and break out your book. Then, above the hum of computers, you notice swearing. Not your every day swearing either. These pocket-protector people are mumbling words that would make a drunken sailor blush. So you focus on your book, trying to ignore every other sound. Eventually, I hear growls and murmuring from Ariel. She demands I “look at this.” Being the dutiful mother, I gaze at the computer screen. Nothing looks even vaguely familiar. I say, “Uh, yeah…” Ariel says, “It’s not working.”

Me, noticing her narrowed eyes and flushed face: What’s not working?

Ar, gesturing at the computer: Read it.

Me: Right. (Imagine looking at weird bracket-y things and letters with an occasional number tossed in for fun.) So…this isn’t working.

Ar: No! This is stupid.

Me, deciding it’s best to echo her frustration—though I have no idea what’s wrong: It’s ridiculous.

Ar: This whole thing is wrong.

Me, thinking she’s made a mistake: Oh, did you do the problem wrong?

Ar, shoving the calculator in my face: No. Here’s the right answer. This idiotic Maple thing is wrong.

Me, discovering what my true role is: Maple is stupid!

Ar, 30 minutes later: Argh. My professor input some of the information wrong so Maple spits out the wrong answers.

Me: The professor and Maple are stupid!

Ar, 2 hours later, after she’s fixed the professor’s errors and figured out which Maple functions to use by trial and error (the tutorial’s missing): The printer won’t work—it’s password protected and the system rebooted itself and the math department won’t pay anyone to monitor the lab.

Me: The math department, the printer, the professor, and Maple are very stupid!

Yep, I’ve got my role down pat. Morale support.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hurrying the Holidays

I went to Sam’s Club today, and I noticed that they were selling Halloween tchotchkes, Thanksgiving stuff (stuffing, cranberries, etc.), and Christmas baubles. All at the same time. I’m trying to figure out why. Do they really think that if I see a 30 foot fake Christmas tree for the next two months it's going to create some kind of “felt need” and I’m going to spend big bucks on a gaudy tree? I don’t think so. (Of course, my kids would say that I’d never spend big bucks on anything, and they’d remind me that copper wire was invented my two Dutchmen fighting over the same penny. Both things are true, but that’s neither here nor there.)

I’m sure there’s some marketing/economic reason behind the let’s-innundate-the-consumer-with-the-next-three-holidays’-worth-of-flummery, but I’d rather be able to find the toilet paper and the detergent, which will soon be relegated to a corner of the store with Wolfgang Puck steak knives and aroma therapy mood enhancers. But this reorganization of the store is probably part of the master plan. They want to keep me in the store as long as possible searching for the paper towels, so that I’ll see the 50 spun glass Christmas ornaments and put a box in my cart. But, here’s the thing. I won’t. I’m not buying what I quietly call “Christmas Crap.” On the other hand, the decadent chocolate truffles…they might make it into my cart, especially if Cal’s with me. But that 30 foot tree? There’s still no way.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Carpe Ventum

It’s windy today, and that makes me happy. Why? I have no idea. Maybe it’s because I know the science behind it—a cold front and a warm front crashing together bringing the inevitable thunderstorms, which I love. Maybe it’s metaphorical, i.e. the winds of change. Except that I’m happy, and change isn’t necessarily good. Maybe it’s literary—if I remember correctly the Elizabethan poets wrote that the turning of the spheres spawned the winds. (At least, that sounds like them.) Or maybe it’s theological. I love the feel of the wind on my face and in my hair, a sense of ruah (Hebrew for wind and spirit).

I’m looking out my window, watching the wind rifle the autumn speckled leaves. And even though I’ve got a sink full of dishes and two children to teach, I think I can take just a minute or two to feel the wind. I hope you do the same. Carpe Ventum!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why is the Rum Gone?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the line in the title, it’s from the Pirates of the Caribbean. The kids have some techno-funk version they’ve been playing on the computer. They also want to watch the movie again. (The first one—the second was so inane that we never watched the third.)

Why all this interest in the Caribbean? We are all going on a Caribbean cruise. A ten day cruise just before Christmas! The kids are giddy to visit the interesting places and eat gourmet food. And me? Yes, I’m excited about those things too. But as any mom could tell you, I’m longing for ten days where I don’t have to cook, do dishes, or clean up. Chefs cook, dishwashers deal with cutlery, crystal and china, and maids clean up—every time you leave the room. Yep, I could get on a cruise to nowhere. Of course, the Caribbean with sandy beaches and warm oceans is a million times better than nowhere. Sigh. It’s going to be a long 51 more days.

I’d post a Johnny Depp/Jack Sparrow picture, but the copyright laws still elude my understanding. I guess I’ll ask Ariel to explain them again.

Edited by Ariel to add:

A Picture of Jack Sparrow! (And it's legal because I'm announcing that it was created by firefleyevyx at livejournal)


Monday, October 19, 2009

Cold Weather

In seven days we went from shorts weather to freezing. That meant that all the winter clothes had to come down from the attic. Only Cal (and Luke) can get into the attic since there’s no pull-down ladder. All we have is a cupboard door that opens onto a “J” shaped chute, which ends in the attic. Basically, you have to grab onto the top of the “J” and pull up your entire body. This is not something at which I am particularly gifted. If you need someone to run for 10 miles, I’m your man, actually woman. But hoisting things with brute arm strength—that’s a Calvin specialty.

Needless to say, Cal brought down all the bins. Luke and Ariel take care of their own clothes. But Jake and Matt need direction. The first step is to sort all the summer clothes. Each person makes two piles: Stuff-I-want-to-save and Stuff-I-didn’t-wear-all-summer-and-is-now-going-to-Goodwill-because-my-mom-refuses-to-manage-excess-clothing. This is the easy part. The hard part is the winter clothes. Matt must inspect each hand-me-down; he will wear nothing that is loud and draws attention to himself. Then he must touch each garment to see if it is soft enough. By touch, he can tell if something is 90/10 cotton/polyester or 60/40. Anything under those ratios is destined for the Goodwill bag. Of course, then everything must be scrupulously washed.

During Matt’s touch test, I’ve transformed into a sneezing, swollen-eyed disaster. Actual black circles form around my eyes. I’m horribly allergic to dust. When the doctor ran the scratch test for allergies, I had to get the nurse because the mite reaction was so severe it traveled from my forearm near the wrist all the way up my bicep. My body reacts to dust as though it is evil. A hellish contaminant destined for soul destruction. I think dust allergies are part of my DNA. Every good Dutch housekeeper knows that cleanliness is not only next to godliness—they’re what we call down South “kissin’ cousins.” Of course, for Dutch people are cousins are kissin’ cousins. Dutch people kiss strangers on the cheeks—three times, right, left, right. Whereas all relatives get kissed on the lips. Boy, was that an adjustment for Calvin—he learned the last minute artful dodge, which occasionally gets you kissed on the ear or the jawbone. But that’s another story…

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Five

Hmm. Maybe it’s too soon to do another Friday Five. But since I’m such a risk taker, I’ll give it a shot.

Favorite Five books—and they can’t be from the same genre and they have to be fiction. Here are my five that aren’t already listed on my sidebar.

1. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (young adult fiction)

2. Inferno by Dante (classic)

3. Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (murder mystery with Peter and Harriet)

4. Interstellar Pig by William Sleator (middle grade sci-fi)

5. Screwing Up Time (yep, that’s my book, but you had to see that one coming.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bright Star

On Monday evening I dragged Ariel and Calvin to the movies (courtesy of free tickets). Normally, dragged and movies aren’t used in the same sentence. However, this was a period literary movie called Bright Star.

Bright Star is about John Keats. (If the name Keats isn’t familiar, how about the quote “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” That’s the first line from Keats’s epic poem Endymion.) The movie chronicles the last few years of Keats’s life when he falls in love with Fanny Brawne, who becomes a kind of muse to Keats. Anyway, aside from the fact the movie was about mood more than plot—a type of cinematic embodiment of a Romantic poem, I loved the tragic relationship and enjoyed the movie. However, there was a character named Mr. Brown, who was the most amazing Scottish oaf. If he hadn’t been supporting Keats, I’m sure Fanny would have shot, impaled or poisoned him. I know I would have. Okay, I wouldn’t have really done it, just dreamed about it, or written a poem about it. I’d have entitled my poem “The Late Mr. Brown” a la Robert Browning, who is the most wonderful/hilarious poet I’ve ever read. To those of you who liken reading poetry to dental work without anesthesia, check out “Porphyria’s Lover” or “My Last Duchess.” I guarantee you’ll never look at poetry the same way again.

Monday, October 12, 2009


First, thanks to everyone who participated in “Friday Five.” I’ve got several new movies I want to watch. And if you haven’t posted your choices yet, it’s not too late.

Second, I asked my friend the Chemistry professor about my HEPA air purifier “channeling” radio stations (see The Voices post). He asked a few interesting questions like: “Have you recently moved the filter to a new plug in the room?” Actually, yes! And the voices co-responded with that change. Most likely the filter has an amplifier and the plug is mis-wired (common in older houses) so the plug/cord acts as an antenna.

Now on to the real post.

The other day, Ariel and I decided to do henna tattoos. Let me say up front that I hate tatts. Maybe it’s because they always remind me of the Nazis and the numbers they tattooed on forearms. Or maybe it’s because they make the skin look dirty, and I love the way skin looks in and of itself, especially the way it undulates over muscle and sinew. It only needs a touch of scent, maybe even just the clean smell of soap.

But tattoos from henna dyes can be beautiful—the intricate patterns of lace in a lovely red non-permanent dye. Perhaps it’s the association of henna with weddings, I’ll admit to being a bit of a romantic.

At any rate, Ariel and I mixed up some henna paste, and she did a little design on my shoulder, which took only ten minutes. Henna works by soaking into the skin, and the ten minutes of application is only the beginning. It was supposed to stay on the skin for 4 to 5 hours! Hello—I don’t have time for that! But I gave it at least three hours. Afterwards, Ariel scraped off the dye. “Did it work?” I asked. “Nope,” she said. “It’s kind of barely pink—like you feel asleep on something and it left a slight imprint on your skin.” Great, three hours for nothing.

After a lot of research, Ariel has determined that we made errors. Our henna paste wasn’t moist enough, and it should be warm and mixed with sugar and lemon juice. And henna "takes" better on the soles of the feet. Now she wants to do the bottom of my feet. I said, “Ariel, that means I can’t walk for 4 hours! That’s impossible.” She responded in her best you-are-such-a-silly-mother voice, “Just think of it as enforced writing time.”

Right. Enforced writing time…I think what she really wants is to see if I can actually sit still for four hours at a time. I can’t even do that during the night when I’m asleep. But maybe for lacy soles…as my mother and grandmother used to tell me, “Wie mooie wil gaan moet pijn doorstaan.” (A rough translation: She who would be beautiful must endure pain. You gotta love those semi-masochistic cultures.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Five

Here are five of my favorite movies—I’ve tried to pick movies in different categories. Now you’ve got to go to the comments and list your five favorite movies. That way we can all pop some popcorn and watch a great movie that we’ve never seen before.

Here are mine:

1. Stranger Than Fiction (Modern, literary comedy)

2. North by Northwest (Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock)

3. How to Steal a Million (Romantic comedy)

4. The Bourne Identity (Spy flick)

5. Wait Until Dark (Scary crime suspense)

Don’t forget, you have to comment with your favorite five. I’m looking forward to watching a new movie.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Master

This morning, Jezebel is slinking around the house with her head hanging down and her tail drooping. Why? Because last night she was an emotional basketcase, and this morning she’s embarrassed. A little after midnight, a ripsnorter of a thunderstorm blew in. In fairness to Jez, it’s a little hard to sleep when the room lights up as bright as day and the thunder shakes the windows. But, I just pulled the pillow over my head and went to sleep.

When the storm was near enough that the lightning and thunder were close to simultaneous, I dragged myself out of bed to unplug all the computers. I tried to wake up Ariel—she sleeps like the dead, or undead. At any rate, it was easier for me to unplug her computer than to wake her, so that’s what I did. Next, I unplugged the school room computers. I knocked on Luke’s door—he muttered unintelligibly and grunted out “yeah” in response to my "unplug your computer." At this point, our black dog, who’s supposed to be ferocious and mildly evil, met me in the hall. She gave me her pathetic look--wide eyes and flattened ears. Then she tried to "hide" by pushing her way between my legs. Behind her trailed Matt and Jake, who were vociferously denouncing her two-fold approach to the scary electrical storm. First, she barked. When that didn’t work, she whimpered. Matt and Jake threatened all kinds of evil if she were not removed from their room.

With a sigh, I took Jez to our room and said, “The Master wants you.” Jez trotted around the bed to Cal’s side. And I pulled the pillow back over my head and went to sleep. Yep, there are definite privileges to not being The Master.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Voices

Okay, this blog post is late. I always try to have blog posts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. But if I can get this posted in the next few hours, then technically I’ve held up my end of the bargain with you, my readers.

But here’s the issue, I can’t think of anything to blog about so I’m going to tell you about my morning incident. This morning, I heard voices and thought it was my alarm clock. I got up and went to turn off the alarm and discovered that it was 4 am. My alarm clock hadn’t gone off. I decided that I must have imagined it—I have really weird sleep/wake issues and have been known to sleepwalk or wander the house “looking for the source of the beautiful music,” which exists only in my mind. I didn’t mention the voices/alarm fiasco to Calvin until tonight.

Me: I’m tired because, uh, I thought the alarm went off this morning…but then it wasn’t the alarm. But I thought it was because I heard people talking.

Cal said: Oh, yeah, the voices.

I said: You mean you’ve heard them too, or are you teasing me?

Cal: No. Sometimes they wake me too.

Imagine me scowling: You hear voices at night?! (I suspect he’s getting me back for the numerous times over the past 21 years that I’ve shaken him awake saying, “The police are banging on the door. Go downstairs and talk to them.”)

Cal: The voices wake me up a lot.

Me, scowling harder: I’ve only been woken up once.

Cal: It’s the HEPA filter. (We run a HEPA air purifier in our bedroom because I’m such a light sleeper that the only way I can sleep for more than an hour at a time is with the HEPA running full blast. I blame this weakness on Matthew—sorry, Matt—and his inability to sleep more than a couple of hours at night for the first seven years of his life.)

Me: What?!

Cal: For some bizarre reason the HEPA filter picks up radio waves.

Me (Even though I have experienced this bizarre phenomena, I still can’t believe he’s experienced it too): You’re totally serious and you think it’s the HEPA?!?

Cal: Yep.

Me: I’m going to ask Larry. (Larry is Dr. Mehne, a chemistry professor and my final source of all science, bizarre and otherwise.)

Cal: Yeah, well, it is the HEPA.

Come back next week for “The Saga of the Magnetized HEPA filter, which redistributes radio waves” or “How Cal and Connie both lost touch with reality during the wee hours of the morning.”

Friday, October 2, 2009

American Fun

I was not born with a baseball gene predisposing me to the disease. Nor did I develop “baseball disease” as a child or teenager. However, I married someone with two baseball genes and a serious infection. Still, I resisted. I watched the games, but more out a sense of spousal duty than anything else. After all, I subjected Cal to viewing numerous versions of Jane Austen movies, though even I couldn’t get through the 1940 version, which was more along the lines of what would happen if you dumped Pride and Prejudice in a blender with Gone with the Wind—it’s an ugly mess.

Back to b’ball. (What can I say? I can never get too far from books.) Luke has always loved baseball—he must have inherited the gene. Over the years, he rooted for several teams. But in his teen years, he settled on his team. The Yankees. The team everyone loves to hate. I sat through games—it was a good time to paint my nails. After years of games, I caught a bit of the infection. The Yankees are my team. And my team is heading for the playoffs again. Woohoo! (Okay, I admit it’s fun to have a team that’s always winning—I’m not a masochistic Dodgers’ fan, though maybe they have a chance with the Yankees’ old coach.)

Come next week, I’ll be rooting for Yankees, second-guessing Joe Girardi, and yelling at the umpire—All-American fun

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Going to the store in the South is not a matter of entering the store, finding what you need, paying, and leaving. Nope. That would be “unfriendly,” i.e. Northern, Yankee and an attitude to be rejected, even despised. Instead, you need to “visit.”

For example, when I drop off a dress at the dry cleaners I know I need to chat with Connie (yep, she's the only other Connie I know) about my children, UTC, and her church. This also means I can’t do my errands in ripped jeans (despite what my daughter says is the coolness factor of holey denim) with my hair pulled back in a ponytail or, even worse, in my sweaty shorts and t-shirt after running the treadmill. Otherwise, I’ll be known as that scroungy Northern woman.

Even in big stores like Sam’s Club, I “visit” with Brenda the cashier. And I have to admit, I’m catching some of the Southern approach to life. Instead of getting in the “short line” with the cranky white lady, I wait in Brenda’s line because she’s my cashier. She always has a ready smile and a laugh. We talk about her children and my children, how the Lord’s providin’, the price of groceries, etc. And if my groceries are done and we haven’t finished visitin’—well, we just finish. And once we’re done she goes on to the next customer, who isn’t frustrated or impatient because they understand “we were just visitin’.”

Monday, September 28, 2009

First Jobs

My first job, besides babysitting, was working at a satellite receiver manufacturer. Before I started my “real job,” they had me do one other thing, reorganize their filing system. After I was finished, I was convinced of two things. First, the company was involved in illegal activities. Two, graduating high school seniors ought to be forced to recite the ABCs, or at least sing the alphabet song—you’d think people would know their letters in order, but they don’t.

After the filing, I moved to customer service. This consisted of me answering the phone and listening to people pitch hissy fits. My job was to pacify them by murmuring platitudes. And if that didn’t work, I transferred them to my boss once they began swearing. Needless to say, I discovered that most Americans have the vocabulary of drunken sailors.

My first job is the standard by which I judge my kids’ first jobs. Luke’s first job was umpiring Little League games. Umpiring is similar to customer service—you’re paid to listen to people scream at you. However, umpiring is worse since the people are actually physically present and trying to intimidate you with nasty looks and threats. And, of course, a Little League pitcher can throw a wicked fastball, and he knows just where the pads end. Enough said.

For Ariel’s first job, she tutored at the Chattanooga State Math Lab. This is a hard comparison. Teaching calculations to people who suck at math is like working as a voodoo doll—it’s only great when they stop sticking pins into you. The problem with this comparison is that Ariel actually liked the job, except for the guys with multiple piercings that tried to “befriend” her or the “old” students who said things like “oh, my goodness, you’re the age of my granddaughter, you must be such a smart little girl.”

Jacob started his first job this fall. Jacob is “mannying.” If this is a new word for you, it’s a combination of the words “man” and “nannying.” Jacob is a manny. (Kind of cool, huh?) He nannies four kids. And aside from changing dirty diapers, which his future wife will appreciate, Jacob’s enjoyed the job. After all, he plays outside with them, and the kids are well behaved. When Jacob started this job, I had no idea how it would change my own status in the world. I mean, you always know that eventually your importance in the world becomes derivative, i.e. “Oh, you’re the mother of so-and-so.” But, you tend to deny it. With Jacob’s job, it smacked me in the face. Jacob babysits a little girl that I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to make friends with for a long time. Then one day with wide eyes and an incredulous voice the little girl said to me, “Do you live in the same house as Mr. Jacob?” I said, “Yes.” She breathed out a “Wow,” and I became her friend. As first jobs go, Jacob’s is number one. After all, being yelled at by irate customers or rocking a child’s world—it’s no contest. That’s part of the reason I became a mom and teach, to rock someone’s world—and to be really mean, at least that’s what my kids think.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Every Thursday at the dinner table, Ariel tells us what she’s learned in Linear Algebra. I listen politely and smile at appropriate intervals. She blathers about three-dimensional vectors and invertible matrices while I eat my pizza and then she says, “Oh, and I know how to do encryption now.”

My ears perk up. “Encryption?”
“Yeah.” She takes a gulp of milk, clearly not realizing the amazing coolness of what she’s just said. “You know, encrypting messages. That sort of thing.”
“Luke,” I say, “did you hear what Ariel said?”
“No,” Luke says, “I don’t listen when she stops speaking English.”
“Ariel knows how to do encryptions,” I say.
“Ohhh!” Luke rubs his hands together. “Now the NSA will be after her.”

Sadly, Ariel misses the opportunity to play sexy Spygirl and instead launches into the mathematical “stuff” that you do to encrypt and unencrypt messages—she doesn’t get that matrices aren’t cool and sexy.

Nonetheless, Matt demands to be taught encryption. Ariel laughs. “It takes a lot of math.” She means you have to be an uber-math nerd. That doesn’t seem to mesh with sexy Spygirl. Although the woman in the movie Sneakers was both. Maybe it’s possible…

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Take Me With You

Matt’s hamster Grover isn’t really a hamster. I’m not sure what he is exactly. But here’s a faithful description of what I’ve witnessed. (Ariel will verify it because she was there.)

Here’s the background. Every night Matt moves Grover’s cage to the dining room when he goes to bed because hamsters are semi-nocturnal and spend most of the night running their wheels, which is very noisy. You might not think it’s a big deal, but hamsters have been known to run 8 miles a night—in a wheel that measures 6 inches in diameter. That’s a lot of noisy running.

But, back to Grover. He was in his cage on the dining room floor. Ariel and I decided we needed a bag of popcorn to share while we watched a movie so we headed to the kitchen. We glanced into Grover’s cage. Grover was sitting in his wheel. But not just sitting, he was sitting on his rear-end with his legs hanging over the edge of the wheel and his hands out in front of him, holding a piece of food. He didn’t look any different than a person, except for the hairy body and beady eyes. Then, he had the audacity to look at us and tilt his head. Ariel and I both said, “Did you see that?!”

We chattered all through the popcorn popping. On our way back to the movie, we peeked into Grover’s cage. Now he was walking around. Not on his four paws. He was walking on his two hind feet like any normal biped. In other words, like a person. Once again, we locked eyes, and if I didn’t know better I was sure he was going to say, “What, you’ve never seen a hamster walk?”

I’ve been thinking about it for days now. I do believe that Grover’s a hamster. But he’s not any hamster, he’s a Narnian hamster—I think he ran past the lamppost without thinking and got stuck in our world. And I’m hoping that one night when no one’s around and I whisper, “I believe in Aslan too” that he’ll take me back with him.

Monday, September 21, 2009


The storehouses of the skies have opened, and the fountains of the deep seem to be spouting into my basement. I’m trying to be thankful that we were able to find/buy a second sump pump this morning (our first one keeps overheating and turning itself off). I’m thankful we currently have power so the sumps pumps can run—the electricity has been sporadic. I’m thankful that Calvin was the one who stayed awake all night trying to keep the water level below the air conditioner/heater so I could “sleep off” my migraine. I’m thankful that we weren’t among the many people who were trying to buy sandbags to keep the water from entering their homes—water is much better in the basement than in the living room/bedrooms/kitchen/etc. I’m thankful that we’re not in Walker County, next door to our county, which is currently in a “State of Emergency” and all schools and roads are shut down. That said, I’m trying not to mutter imprecations against the people from whom we bought the house. I’m trying not to blame the city/state for their pathetic notions of water/flood control—okay, I’m not trying that hard. I do blame them. I’d rather have a better storm drain system than a repulsive Urban Art Garden (see previous post).

Oops, I gotta run and check the sump pumps.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Urban Art Garden

I’ve figured out why the city of Chattanooga had to invest in the MTE (see previous blog post). Drum Roll, please. It’s to fund all the Urban Art. The other day as I drove to the Brainerd Tunnel, I noticed that the city had turned the ugly weed patch next to the tunnels into a garden. I like gardens—shrubs, flowers, benches, etc. But, then they installed art. They put up a sign saying “Urban Art.” It seems to me that if you have to notify people that something is “art” there’s a problem. Guess what? This Urban Art is ugly. And not ugly like dystopian, darkness of the soul kind of ugly—I get that. Nope. This is cheap, rainbow-y, flying dove, kitschy hideous.

Since the downtown has some beautiful art, I’m wondering if the Brainerd Tunnel Urban Art Garden got the rejects. Here’s what I think happened. Bob the City Councilman, after a few too many beers at the local micro-brewery, approved the city’s purchase of art. After all, Chattanooga is now a destination get-away according to Southern Living magazine. Bob decided that all we need is some art to make it hip so that we can attract rich tourists. Anyway, one day the art arrives. Beautiful bronzes. Yep, says Bob, these are great for downtown. A few odd sculptures. Well, thinks Bob, we’ll put those on Main Street towards Southside. Then, Bob saw the lame stuff. Bob got a little nervous. This is not the stuff you want tourists to see. But he had to do something with it. A lightbulb exploded in Bob’s brain—an urban art garden in Brainerd near the tunnels. No one will see it because they’re all too busy trying to avoid the MTE. Yep, great plan. Except, well, it’s still ugly. I have one question for you, Bob. Can’t we return it?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


The city of Chattanooga has come up with a new method of funding. It’s called Mobile Traffic Enforcement. Actually, I have no idea what the city calls it. MTE is my name for it. And I’m sure other people have names like #@#**!!

Here’s how it works. The city bought a special van equipped with four windows on one side. Each window has a camera for taking pictures of speeders’ license plates. The city then hides this van and photographs any and all speeders. Don’t get me wrong—I think speed limits are a good thing, especially in residential neighborhoods, etc. And yes, I do have “sour grapes” as the MTE has ticketed our van. But here’s the thing, the powers-that-be have hidden the MTE at the end of a sharply downward sloping tunnel. As if this weren’t bad enough, the tunnel is so poorly lit that you can’t read your speedometer. In fact, the tunnel is more dimly lit now than what it used to be. Conspiracy? Maybe.

Of course, the MTE isn’t always at the tunnel. Sometimes it’s downtown, concealed behind a tall building. Other times it’s hidden on a side street at the bottom of a hill near the old industrial area. You, skeptical reader, might be thinking that the MTE is reducing traffic accidents. You’d be wrong. I’ve had to warn our kids, “Watch out when you exit the Brainerd Tunnel, drivers are slamming their brakes at the end because they don’t know if the MTE is there.”

The other day, I was driving out of the Brainerd Tunnel in the left lane and another car was beside me in the right-hand lane. Both of us were driving exactly 35 mph. (A quick glance in my rear-view mirror told me the MTE was there). A BMW came up from behind and couldn’t get past us. Immediately, he began tailgating me. I looked into my rearview mirror and saw him gesticulating and becoming apoplectic. I just laughed and thought, “Dude, we’re saving you $50. Cope.” So, remember that the next time you’re driving behind someone driving exactly the speed limit—they’re probably saving you from a ticket.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Category Four

Anyone who has been to college can tell you that professors fit into several categories. Category one is the great, but difficult professors—the ones who bring out the best in their students. Category two is the rotten professors who are either too tenured or too under-the-radar to get fired. Category three is a hodge-podge of everything from the “hot” professor (see the chili pepper ratings of “Rate My Professor”) to the disorganized Medieval Lit. professor who forgets his lecture notes to the non-English speaking statistics professor who always says “for-e-wing?” It’s week six of the semester before anyone realizes that “for-e-wing” means “Are you following what I’m doing?”

This semester Ariel has a professor that belongs in a category all his own. He teaches Linear Algebra. (Yeah, I know, anyone who takes Linear Algebra is asking for trouble, but Ariel is Ariel and chose to major in Applied Mathematics, which is totally asking for a trip through a ring of the Inferno.)

Back to the prof. Ariel told me that he’s “ancient—he’s older than Opa, Nana, or Papa.” I don’t think her grandparents will be amused that someone older than them is “ancient.” (Though my mom will gleefully notice that her name was not included so she’s still young.) At any rate, the prof, let’s call him Dr. Farmer—to protect the innocent as well as the guilty—teaches by doing math proofs on the board. This seems legitimate to me; after all, it’s math class. But, he does it, without explaining what he’s doing, nary a word. And then during question time, he answers questions that weren’t even asked. Ariel surmised that his dual hearing aides must not be working.

Of course, the pièce de resistance is that Dr. Farmer likes to re-name his theorems. For example, the name “Theorem 3.05” is too boring. Instead, he’s renamed it “Theorem Dawg.” Yep, he has a heavy Southern accent. According to Ariel, all the students gaped at one another, assuming this was a joke. It’s not. Whenever he refers to Theorem 3.05, he calls it “Theorem Dawg.” He makes up similar names for the other theorems. Now Ariel dreads taking Advanced Linear Algebra and mistakenly saying to her classmates, “Now if we use Theorem Dawg and Theorem Cow, we can solve the matrices and apply this to vectors.” I guess that’s the horror of Animal Theorems. Yet, another reason not to major in math.