Friday, May 29, 2009

Mr. I

Ever since Calvin left, I’ve been getting phone calls. You know the kind, there’s a person on the line, but they don’t say anything, they just listen. Normally, I just hang up. But this morning, the Idiot (known in our house as Mr. I) woke me up very early. And, I am not happy.

I could be “freaked” and nervous. But I’ve been down this road before, in a much, much worse form and before there were anti-stalking laws. Now it’s an annoyance—my life is too busy for these shenanigans. So, this morning I talked to the kids about it because I want to keep track of how many of these calls we’re getting in a day. Before I spoke to the kids, I thought “Oh, I have to be careful; I don’t want to scare them.” Clearly, I hadn’t had my morning coffee yet. Teenage boys aren’t freaked out by a stalker. They think it’s uber-cool. They were giddy. After all, they have testosterone, they’re proficient in steel-based self-protection, and the have Jez—the bullet you can re-call.

Now the boys are planning for the next phone call. I’m sure I won’t be able to get to the phone today at all. Matt’s plan is to blow our bo’sun’s whistle into the phone. Jacob’s plan is to laugh and comment on how Jezebel delights to eat human flesh. And Luke’s plan is to curse the caller. Of course, Luke’s idea of cursing is to call someone “The Son of an Incontinent Camel.” Yes, he’s been reading too much Elizabeth Peters.

So, dear stalking phone caller, please don’t forget to call—my boys will be terribly disappointed if you don’t.


Lest you think this post has anything to do with Picasso, let me disabuse you of that notion right away. This post has nothing to do with Picasso—well, actually it does, but in a random sort of way. In case you don’t know what Cubism is…it’s kind of complicated, but it’s a way of showing many perspectives in one painting. For example, showing all the sides of someone’s nose when in reality you’d only see one side of the nose. (I have to admit, one side is good enough for me.)

At any rate, I’m currently working on a new book, and I reached a place where I knew where the plot needed to go, but I wasn’t sure how to get there. It’s like knowing that Montana is north and west of here, but without the interstate numbers and directions it’s a bit of a chore to get there. In fact, you might never get there. Or, it may take years. And let’s face it, I’m getting older.

I needed a solution. A Picasso-esque solution. Frequently, the way to solve a problem, ignoring for the moment a long soak in the bathtub with candles lit, is to look at the situation from a different perspective. Enter Picasso—you see, those art history classes in college do help later on in life. (My kids think I took them just to torture them in the museums we drag them to every time we travel). Back to Picasso.

No. I did not paint a picture of my book. I don’t pick up a paintbrush—I leave that to Calvin who does an amazing job. (Though he does think I can draw beautifully.) At any rate, I needed to look at my novel from a different perspective. Step-sheets. They are sheets of paper (big surprise there) with everything of importance to the plot. They include things the readers know and the things they do not. I put all the plot points on the paper in landscape orientation so that I can see all the threads of the story fabric intertwining. Guess what? Yep. I saw some of what I wanted/needed to do.

Here’s a picture of me with some of my step-sheets. Yes, they are on yellow paper—it makes it more fun. I think Pablo would approve.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Really Big Fan

I understand the purpose of honey bees—they make honey. Yum, especially delicious in a tisane sipped on a summer’s night watching fireflies. You see, I even understand the purpose of fireflies from an aesthetic point of view.

Of course, I have to watch the fireflies from inside the house. Why? Mosquitoes. What is the point of mosquitoes? They seem to exist only to spread disease and misery. I will not expatiate on the vileness of the winged insect. I don’t need to because everyone knows how heinous they are. Other than providing food for bats, which is not something to be scoffed at since bats are cool, I can’t see a reason for the existence of mosquitoes. I suspect that they are a result of the curse. When I read between the lines of Genesis 3, I’m sure it’s implied, “and mosquitoes shall bite the tar out of you.” But, that’s not quite true. They bite the tar out of me, not out of Calvin. He can sit outside on the deck for hours during the cool of the day, and they avoid him. If I venture outside an alert goes out to every mosquito in a ten mile radius. It’s like tornado early warning signals or the tsunami sirens I heard growing up in Hawaii. That reminds me, Hawaii doesn’t have mosquitoes. They have heat and humidity, but they also have tradewinds. All the blood-sucking vampire bugs get blown out to sea and die.

What we need is a giant fan. Instead of spending our money on DEET-containing products that probably lead to cancer of various body parts, we could pool our funds and install a giant fan on Missionary Ridge. We could blow the mosquitoes down to Georgia. Or better yet, install a couple of fans and blow the bugs down to Alabama—I don’t have any friends in Alabama.

I’m accepting donations to the Really Big Fan Project. Maybe I could get government funding—no doubt this would qualify under the stimulus plan. Heck, if they can bail out banks, car companies, and maybe the state of California, then I think the Really Big Fan Project should be able to rake in the cash.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dancing a Jig

Ariel is sick again. This time she has a fever and cold. But regardless, she took her Calculus 2 final. I guess it doesn’t matter if she’s too sick to see straight. It’s just math—all she has to do is type symbols into her do-everything-but-cook-dinner calculator and punch the equals button. Although there is a section on the exam that has to be done without a calculator, but I think even that section consists of writing weird equations full of Greek letters and not actual numbers.

Real numbers are the problem. Ariel nannied for a couple of weeks and her employer asked her how many hours she worked—the rumor is that she had to count them out-loud. Her employer (yeah, Chris, that’s you) apparently laughed and told her she ought to take the derivative instead. But it’s not funny! Do you know how many years I drilled this child in her math facts? And all for naught!

Even Calvin shakes his head and says, “Ariel, how will you ever manage your checkbook?” Of course, this has to be taken with the caveat that Calvin is obsessed with the perfect checkbook—he balances to the penny every month. (In fairness, Calvin has caught lots of bank errors over the years—probably totaling nearly $1000.) I am banished from checkbook maintenance. This happened early in our marriage—sometimes I added when I was supposed to subtract and vice versa. This did not make my husband happy—though I was never overdrawn. Of course, since I hate doing banking, this banishment was not altogether unpleasant. In fact, one could say that I might have danced a jig.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Without Words, Almost

Although I am a “word person,” I will admit there are times when words fail. Times when in desperation to describe something I break out my Roget’s and come away empty. Tonight’s dinner was one of those times.

This morning I went early to Sam’s Club (if you go early Monday morning the meat that didn’t sell over the weekend goes on sale—and I can buy meat I otherwise couldn’t afford) and found a fantastic beef roast.

This afternoon I rubbed it with a spice mixture I found on an “Emeril” website, which is nothing like Emeril’s rub because I had the serendipitous experience of not having some of the required ingredients and that made it perfect—a rub that enhances the meat without overpowering the essential flavors. While I slow roasted the meat, I made a creamed horseradish sauce (yes, I grated the horseradish root while my eyes watered), which came from a recipe book with recipes dated from the times of the American Revolution (or if you’re British, Colonial Rebellion). And before you ask, the horseradish root didn’t have mold yet—next time. (see Mold ) I also served perfect beans—long, thin beans barely heated through with butter, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Because we were having Rebellion Roast I had to make Yorkshire pudding, which absorbs the meat juices and the spilled rub. YUM. To cleanse the palate between bites was a lovely Italian red table wine. (Thank you, Darren and Maggie!)

I could say the meal was delicious, delectable, or even divine (excuse the “D” thing), but none of that will suffice. It was as good as food gets. A feast. A promise of something that we rarely experience in this life.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Notch in My Lipstick Case

After Luke and Ariel’s senior recital, lest you think I’m a music snob, let me assure you I’m an equal opportunity music lover. At another recital (given by professional musicians), I fell in love with Schoenberg. If you’ve never heard of Schoenberg, let’s just say his compositions are what would happen if music married math and gave birth to chaos. Only instead of being a train wreck, it’s a cool, geometric dissonance. Really.

Of course, my kids think I have little taste in music. They point to my playlist at (it’s free), which consists of everyone from Martha Reeves and the Vandellas to the Beach Boys to the Cars to Sting to the Cranberries. When I click on my playlist, Luke shuts his bedroom door. Ariel says, “You’re listening to that?!” Okay, but in all fairness, she likes the Cranberries too. But, it seems to me that most music has a purpose. For example, I do my sit-ups to Pat Benetar. I can “go for the burn” when she sings about “putting another notch in her lipstick case.” And even Matthew, who was walking through our bedroom the other day when it was playing said, “Hey, that’s a cool guitar riff.” Yep, I can do twenty in that riff alone.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Great Reads

Some of the best books being written nowadays are middle grade and young adult books. I think it’s because there’s such an opportunity for creativity. Don’t get me wrong, there are para-normals, sci-fi, etc., that are all options for creativity for adults. But only in MG and YA do you have celebrations of creativity—giddy, over-the-top fun. Consider, Haroun and the Sea of Stories (yes, by that Salman Rushdie). If you don’t know what a P2C2E is, you have not yet lived.

Of course, there’s our buddy Harry. Didn’t you want a Nimbus 2000? I did. That and the time-turner. My kids are thrilled there’s no such thing, or I’d find even more time for them to do schoolwork.

What about the Artemis Fowl novels and the comic book? If Mulch Diggums isn’t the ultimate 12 year old boy laughfest, no one is. Okay, he’s even a Mom laughfest.

And then there’s the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. We just finished reading the last book of the first series, The Last Olympian. Without being a spoiler, let’s just say Percy is an Odysseus with a large dollop of New York attitude who loves both his mortal and Olympian family. And, oh yeah, he’s saves the world, more than once. But not without Annabeth’s help. I think I’d kill for her Yankees’ cap. But then, who wouldn’t…

Thursday, May 21, 2009


For Mother’s Day, my parents gave me a gift card for a pedicure. (My mom, my grandmother, and Ariel also had pedicures.) Now, I have never had a pedicure, which apparently is something of a modern marvel. The Vietnamese pedicurist began running water in the foot basin, put a scoop of purple stuff in the water and stared at me. I smiled back.

She scowled: “Feet, water.”

Me: “Oh, right, sorry.” Why do I always feel compelled to apologize for something I haven’t done wrong? Of course, then I heard Ariel say that exact same thing to the woman who was doing her feet. Like mother, like daughter.

The pedicurist then turned on the “massage chair.” It actually was pretty cool and relaxing, until it decided to knead my shoulders. At that point, my 90 year old grandmother, who was getting her feet done opposite me, laughed uproariously. You see, the chair was kneading my shoulders so hard that my upper body was bouncing out of the chair. I changed the settings of the chair.

The pedicurist glowered at me: “First time pedicure?”

Me, brightly: “Yes.”

Pedicurist: Grunt.

Eventually, the pedicurist gave me the purple sugar leg scrub, which was supposed to remove dead skin cells. This was great until my skin started to burn. My mind filled with thoughts of allergic reactions and swollen skin. One would think that at this point, I might say, “Excuse me, dear pedicurist, but my skin feels like it’s being flayed off my legs. Perhaps, you could wipe off that hideous concoction.” But, I didn’t. Instead I gritted my teeth and daydreamed of Benadryl. Thankfully, the hot oil treatment cooled my skin—it must be a chemical thing.

About this time the pedicurist asked: “Where you from?”

Me: “Chattanooga.”

Pedis: “No, where born?”

Me: “California.”

Pedis: “No. What country?”

Me, hoping she knew California was a state in the US, just like Tennessee: “My mother was born in the Netherlands.”

Pedis: “Oh, that explains. You not look like an American.”

Me: What do you say to that? I smiled, yet again.

Of course, now when I pass a mirror, I wonder: Is it the hair? Or the nose? Or the skin color? Why do I look like a foreigner?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Filly Power

In case you’ve been in a cave somewhere and haven’t heard the results of the Preakness Stakes (part two of the Triple Crown), a filly won. Yep, that means a girl horse, Rachel Alexandra, took on the big boys and won. I know, I know, if the race had been much longer, Mine That Bird would have beaten her. But he didn’t. Even though I really want to see a Triple Crown winner and even though Mine That Bird might have been able to do it, I just HAD to root for the babe. You go, girl!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Waiting, waiting, waiting…

Every morning I check my email, trying not to hold my breath. Who knows if this might be the morning that I get an email from a literary agent saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Though sometimes it’s much nicer, “You’re clearly a talent writer, and your book is inventive, but …” Or, maybe it’s the morning I’ll get an email that says, “Hey, I’d like to talk about your book. When’s a good time to call?”

Of course, the other alternative is that the agent will call out of the blue. “Hey, Connie, I’m The-Greatest-Literary-Agent-In-The-World-Who-Really-Loves-Your-Book.” So, every time the phone rings, part me thinks “maybe.” Then, when it turns out to be a computer-generated voice telling me the warranty on my car is about to expire, I want to shoot the phone and strangle the idiot who created fake phone calls.

In other words, I’m learning the lost art of patience. Personally, I think I’ve learned quite enough already—it’s time to move along to the next lesson. But, just maybe, it’s that attitude that keeps me learning more. It’s especially hard when someone who’s ignorant of the nastiness of the process says, “My friend’s neighbor’s cousin, thrice-removed heard in two days.” I respond with my best totally fake smile, “Isn’t that just great.” In my head, I think, “I will not covet, I will not covet, and I will not bite off this foolish person’s head.”

I don’t know, but the longer I wait, the more I want to bite off the head of something—Matthew has some Easter peeps leftover. Maybe biting off the head of a yellow chick would make me feel better. Except, Matthew’s pretty protective of his peeps…I might lose my head too.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Eye Goo

Our dog Jezebel has been waking up every morning with goo leaching from her eyes. Cal and I have been dutifully cleaning them every morning. But then she got a small sore just below her eyelid. Maybe she had an infection in her eyes. We decided she needed to see the vet, Dr. Walker.

Dr. Walker is a semi-retired, good ole Georgia boy. So everything is straight forward and no nonsense. We like that in people. He’s also cheap. We really like that. So, Cal took Jezzie in. Dr. Walker’s office hasn’t been redecorated since the ‘60s, but it’s clean. Jez strains at the leash in the office not because she’s eager to get out the door, but because there are so many amazing smells and she might not get to sniff them all.

Jez isn’t afraid of Dr. Walker, unlike our previous dog Jill—who was tough, but terrified of vets. Jez’s biggest fear is that Dr. Walker might not stroke her head or scratch her tummy enough before it’s time to go home. Jez got a stroke or two while Dr. Walker checked out her eyes.

Dr. Walker turned to Calvin: “Your dog’s got allergies.”
Cal: “What?”
Dr.: “She’s got allergies—the pollen count’s real high.”
Cal: “Right.”
Dr.: “Just wash her eyes every morning.”
Cal: “Okay.”
Dr.: “Oh, and that leash you have’s no good. Here take this one.”
Cal: “How much do I owe you?”
Dr.: “The leash and visit are free. There wasn’t anything wrong with the dog.”

Thanks Dr. Walker! My only complaint is that if anyone comes over and asks what’s wrong with Jez’s eyes, I have to say, “She has allergies.” That sounds wimpy. I’d rather say, “She has uber-gross-dog-eye-disease.” That sounds much cooler. Or not.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Senior Recital

After sitting through a friend’s three hour graduation last year, Luke and Ariel decided to do a senior recital instead of a graduation. Last night was the night. Actually, it was supposed to be last Friday, but Ariel had the extended version of the ‘flu. Then on Monday, she strained a muscle in her chest—not good for a violinist. I pumped Aleve into her and made her lay flat on her bed with a moisture heating pad. (There was no way the relatives were going to change plane tickets again.) By last night, the pain was gone, mostly.

Ariel played Mozart’s Concerto No. 3 in G and La Trille du Diable by Tartini, otherwise known as The Devil’s Trill Sonata. Tartini claimed he had a dream where the Devil asked him to be his servant. At the end, Tartini handed the Devil the violin to test his skill. The Devil played so well that Tartini couldn’t breathe. Apparently, at some point, he did breathe because when he woke up, he immediately wrote what he could remember of the music. In other words, La Trille du Diable is an early 18th century version of The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

Luke plays the piano and performed Ballade by Debussy, Polonaise Militaire by Chopin, and Gavotte by J S Bach by memory. And he did Prelude in G Minor by Rachmaninoff with the music. If you’ve never had a child play a recital, then you’ve never met worry face-to-face. You can’t relax when the child plays. Instead, you think, “Okay, here comes a nasty section, don’t miss the C natural—oh, good, you got it. Now don’t lose focus, there are plenty of hard bits left.”

For a finale, Luke and Ariel played Bartók’s Romanian Dances duet. It’s a series of six dances that move from fun to spooky to Bacchanalian chaos. Thankfully, we found someone to move/turn the pages for Luke because the pieces move so quickly that Luke turns the pages by swiping his hand across the music stand and throwing pages to the floor—amazingly dramatic, but prone to problems.

During the last rehearsal of the Bacchanalian chaos, Ariel played so aggressively that her shoulder rest popped off. But during the performance, nothing popped. So, I was relieved. Once it was over, I thought I’d be relaxed. But it was then that my hands started shaking. I’d been cool throughout the program, or at least as calm as you can be while mentally talking and praying your children through their pieces. But now, I could hardly pour punch.

This goes to show when you’re thinking of a hobby for your child, teach them needlepoint or scrapbooking. This is way less stressful for the parent. Sadly, I have two more musicians. Gulp.

Here’s a picture.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I Am Not A Cat

Not long after we first met, Calvin told me that I reminded him of a cat. I hadn’t had much experience with cats, but they seemed elegant, dignified and rid the world of rodents. And maybe he meant big cats. Like a black panther or an ocelot. They are lithesome, sleek, and beautiful, stalking through the jungles or the plains. Yeah, I could be one of those.

However, my life progressed, and I had contact with cats. Why do I always have neighbors who believe it’s their calling in life to adopt every stray they can find? These packs of cats watch the world through their tawny eyes with a kind of sneering sophistication. They treat their owners (among whom I gratefully do not count myself) as though the owners’ existence is simply to provide tuna and a warm place to sleep. Affection is withheld until the owner “does his job” in providing salmon, or some other acceptable treat. If the cat is fed Purina cat chow, trust her to hack up fur balls on my driveway.

Contrast this with a dog that brings you his bone, eagerly looking for a pat on the head. Granted, the bone is soaked with slobber, and he probably dropped the bone on your silk skirt. But still, this is an animal who wants to be a part of your life and do his bit to protect you from danger, even if the perils are the blind man down the street and the Pomeranian Devil.

Cats, on the other hand, see the neighborhood as their personal litter box, especially cared-for flowers beds that are nicely mulched. Though I suppose I should fault their owners more than the cats themselves. But cats seem to believe that the entire world belongs to them.

I’ve tried to “tell” the cats that my property is mine, not theirs. First, I sprinkled cayenne pepper all over the mulch. It worked, until the first thunderstorm came. The rain and expense of cayenne forced me to find an alternative solution.

My oldest son, Dead-Eye Luke, can split a cockroach in half with an air-soft pellet at 50 feet. I recruited him to de-cat our front lawn. I gave him permission to leave his schoolwork and nail any cat he saw. (Before you call PETA, please note that the air-soft pellets don’t actually cause irreparable damage to the cats—I actually let my kids shoot each other with air soft guns, provided they wear eye protection.) At any rate, the neighborhood cats now prowl the neighborhood, but avoid our yard completely. They will make a right-angled turn when they reach our property and walk just outside the boundaries—they don’t set a paw on our property. (Luke isn’t allowed to shoot any beast not on our property.)

Now when the neighborhood cats walk by, I think, “I double dare you to try and make a mess of my mulch,” and I smile my Cheshire-like grin—but I am so “not a cat.”

Monday, May 11, 2009

Vodka Repellent

If it’s the month of May, you can count on me spending time Googling mosquito-repellents. You see, I am the queen of mosquito bites. You’ve seen the illustrations of Pigpen with his cloud of dirt—imagine me in the place in of Pigpen and then imagine a cloud of mosquitoes instead of dirt. That is what my summers are like. The bugs bite me on the way out to the mailbox.

Every year I try some new remedy that doesn’t include slathering myself in DEET. I don’t mind the DEET if I’m going to spend the day outside, but going to the mailbox ought not to necessitate a frosting of sticky, poisonous goo. I’ve tried vitamin B—tons of bites. I’ve tried eucalyptus oil—I could get used to smelling like the woods on a rainy day, but it didn’t discourage the bites at all.

I’ve heard that oscillating fans keep the beasties away, but it’s hard to carry my own personal oscillating fan on the way to the mailbox. I need a different method.

I’ve been reading the “natural” websites. They recommend misting yourself with vodka. Yes, you read that right. Misting your skin with vodka. Apparently, mosquitoes don’t like smell of vodka. (I thought that vodka was odorless, but whatever.) The only problem that I can foresee is that my mailman might come to the door one day and spy my spray-bottle of vodka. He’d ask one of my boys (our mailman is extremely nosey), “What’s in that there bottle?” And, I have no doubt, my son would say, “Oh, my mom mists herself with vodka every time she goes outside—it keeps the mosquitoes away.” To which, the mailman, who is also a gossip, would think, “Yeah, right.” Before I knew it, everyone would hear about my “vodka repellent” and they’d think I was imbibing some odd mixed drink from New England…maybe I need to look into alternative ways of dealing with my mosquito issues. I bought a bat house; I should get Calvin to hang it, soon.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Gnashing of Teeth

Ariel’s immune system seems to have finally vanquished the flu scourge, which is good because her brothers were discussing whether she was still under warranty and if she could be exchanged. Sadly, Ariel now has a Calculus 2 final to make up, and she can’t do it until the end of the month when her professor gets back from vacation.

Now if I were Ariel, I would be weeping and gnashing my teeth. I can’t imagine trying to keep a semester’s worth of calculus two “fresh.” But Ariel’s response was “Oh, well.” I suppose I can relate to it on some level. When I was in college I had to memorize fifty Shakespeare sonnets in order to be able to identify a given line, tell which sonnet it was from and then explain the line’s significance in the sonnet. To this day, I can still quotes bits and pieces of the sonnets.

But, sonnets have rhyme and meter. They have poetic plot and purpose (and alliteration and consonance). Math is just, well, numbers. Okay, there are some letters. But, they’re Greek letters and represent some kind of numerical hocus-pocus, which kind of defeats the whole point of adding in letters. For example, what is this supposed to mean?

I’m sure I don’t know. And I’m quite sure I don’t care. Unless Ar explains it to me, again—“Mom, this is so basic--beginner stuff. Let me show you how it works.” Then I pretend to care, for her sake. I hope she doesn’t read this and try to explain it again. Maybe I can beg off and say, “I have to cook for all the relatives.” That could work—she doesn’t know we’re doing burgers on the grill.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Snake Named "Bob"

Yesterday I went outside to check the mail; flu-ridden Ariel came out with me to get fresh air. (It’s my firm belief that fresh air is good for a fever.) As we walked down the steps, we both saw movement in the flower beds from the corner of our eyes. “Please, no” is what I thought and adrenaline pumped through my body. But, despite my wish, it was a snake. Now as you may remember though I like snakes, I’ve had a few brushes with rattlesnakes. Once on a hike, I stepped on a big rattler. Thankfully, he had a big bite of chipmunk in his mouth or he’d have gotten a big bite of me. My second brush with a rattler was in my front yard. I was gardening and brushed a baby rattler with my gloved hand. Since he was as afraid of me as I was of him, we both survived. Actually, he died. Cal killed him with a shovel.

Instead of grabbing a shovel or trying to catch this snake like the kids and used to do with black racers, Ariel and I stood on the steps, trying to decide if this was poisonous. Is his head diamond-shaped? Do the marking look like a copperhead? The last question wasn’t really helpful because neither of us knows what a copperhead looks like. About this time, the mailman drove up. He called out, “What y’all doin’—lookin’ at snakes?”

I saw a great opportunity here, especially since my snake killer, Calvin, isn’t home. “Oh, yes, exactly,” I said. “Could you tell me if the snake’s poisonous?”

So, my mailman lumbered out of his mail truck, which is saying something because his rule is that if he has to get out of his truck to deliver your mail, you can wait to tomorrow. He examined the snake, from a safe distance. “That there’s a rat snake. It’s a good one. It eats bugs.” Personally, I think a snake longer than the size of my entire arm is probably living off of more than bugs—hence the name “rat snake.” But, since he did me a favor and identified the snake I kept my mouth shut.

I thanked him for his help and waved good-bye. When everyone else got home, I told them the snake story. And I explained that the snake lived under the front porch. Matt promptly named the snake “Bob.” So, now we have three hamsters, one bird, one dog, and a snake named Bob.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The End of the World

My children, except for Luke who is a confirmed Luddite, continue to force me into the 21st century. So far, I’ve resisted Twitter and Facebook (though I’ve promised to reconsider it this summer), and I’ve succumbed to email (indispensible), blogging (really fun) and now instant messaging.

Though I’ve succumbed to IM-ing, I’ve not sure I get the point of it. First, when a send-response thing gets going, the chatters tend to talk over each other, especially an impatient, fast typist like myself. And with multiple chatters, it’s chaos—I feel a migraine coming on.

Second, the grammar and spelling associated with IMs is appalling—the teacher in me has conniptions. (In case you aren’t familiar with a Connie-conniption: my eyes light up with dark unearthly burning, my voice become gravelly, the hair on the back of my neck sticks up and I prowl for child-flesh.)

But here’s the worst thing, my kids IM me from their bedrooms! Hello, get off your rumpus and find me—our house is not big and I don’t sit in front of my computer waiting to be IM’ed. Does anybody have any idea what this is going to do to interpersonal communication? Not to mention the grammar-spelling issue!

I could be wrong, but this may be the end of the world as we know it…

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Death, Murder, and Mayhem 3.0

A few years ago, there was an outcry over the violence in computer games. A ratings system was instituted so that Moms like me could make sure we didn’t end up with Death, Murder, and Mayhem 3.0.

Of course, there’s always a way around the system. Even the most “peaceful” games seem to have been programmed by bloodthirsty 17 year olds in the bodies of 30 year old computer programmers.

For example, take Zoo Tycoon. The goal is to create a zoo: house, feed, and care for the animals and keep the tourists happy. If you don’t buy enough trashcans, the zoo becomes filthy. Or if you don’t hire enough zookeepers the animals become sick.

What the game doesn’t tell you is that if you put lions in the zebra/antelope enclosure, nature takes its course. The lions maul and eat every zebra or antelope available. Thankfully, it’s G-rated. Instead of blood there’s a puff of dirt signaling the kill, a few stars thrown into the air and the zebra disappears.

Another game “problem” occurs when an enclosure isn’t tall enough/strong enough to hold a particular animal, the animal escapes. The ever vigilant zookeepers immediately appear, box the animal, and the tourists are safe. BUT, if the player removes a fence or concrete wall, the animals rampage unchecked. Apparently, the zookeepers go on an extended coffee-break.

Without interference, the lions and Bengal tigers stalk and attack the tourists. They grab them by their necks and fling them about like rag dolls. Ariel said, “Look, Mom, it’s just like Jez and her baby.” (see Moloch fiend) The lions and tigers will toss the hapless humans into the air and catch them. And this is a “rated E for everyone game”. I asked Ariel, who’s giddy with fever, how she found out about the great feature. She said, “In the game’s tutorial, they make you remove a section of the lions’ enclosure wall so you can see what happens.” What did I say, 17 year old boys masquerading as 30 year old computer programmers. Even Zoo Tycoon has become Death, Murder, and Mayhem 3.0.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Derby Day

Growing up, I had a cousin who was gaga about horses. Why was a complete mystery to me. Until I was in my thirties.

This is a roundabout story so you’ll have to be a bit patient, but we’ll get there eventually. When Matthew was born, he didn’t sleep much. Not your typical newborn thing, this went on for years and his total sleep for any 24 hour period was about 3 hours. The other problem is that he cried for the remainder of the time.

As you can imagine, this did not bode well for Cal and I getting any sleep. (Though I learned important things: One, like a horse, you can actually sleep standing up. And two, without enough sleep you begin to have funky hallucinations.)

Still, you have to get some sleep. We noticed that Matt loved horses and would actually sit without crying when Black Beauty played on the VCR. At night, every night, we put Matt between us in bed and turned on BB. When it reached the end, we rewound and played it again. Of course, the viewing was slightly participatory because every time BB pooped in the house Matt had to wake me up—apparently, he didn’t realize that seeing that scene once in my life, instead of twice a night, was enough for me. And Matt would wake up either Cal or I to comfort him when the barn caught fire. If I remember correctly, I was woken up more often than Cal because Cal’s response ran along the lines of “Matt, remember a couple of hours ago BB was in the fire, and he got rescued then. He’ll get rescued now too.”

All that to say, after hundreds of hours of BB, you develop a certain appreciation for horses, especially thoroughbreds—their beauty, elegance, and yes, their arrogance. And so, we began watching the Triple Crown, which consists of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. Matt and I study the horses and decide who we want to root for. The Derby is always the most fun because we get to choose from the whole line-up of horses, after the Derby we root for whoever won the Derby in hopes of seeing a Triple Crown winner. I also make Mint Juleps—though we drink them with tacos. (Apologies to all you purists.)

Who are we rooting for this year? Looks like we’ll be rooting for Regal Ransom because he’s one of two horses running in the Derby who are owned by Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, and my dad used to work for the sheikh years ago

Run Regal Run!

(Of course, by the time you read this. Regal will have probably lost—most horses do.)

Saturday, May 2, 2009


Ariel came down with the flu. And, aside from the whole swine flu hysteria, it wouldn’t be a big deal except that she has a Calculus 2 final exam on Monday. So, we had the option of treating it with Tamiflu. It’s supposed to cut down on the number of days you’re sick with the flu.

Being the responsible mother/wife that I am and knowing how little our insurance decides to cover, I called the pharmacy to find out how much this jewel of modern medicine costs.

The pharmacist said, “I can’t tell you without a prescription.”

Now, I’m confused. Then I thought, “Maybe it’s because he can’t be sure how much it will cost us with our particular insurance.” I said, “Can you tell me what the cost price is without insurance?”

Pharmacist: “No.”

Me: “Okay.” I can’t imagine there is a law preventing him from disclosing the cost of medications—so, maybe he doesn’t want me to comparison shop pharmacies. I mean, I completely ignorant of how pharmacies decide what price you pay for things, but comparisons are clearly out of the question. I said, “Thank you.”

Pharmacist: “Yep.”

I called all the numbers listed on the back of my health plan card. Apparently, every office closes at 5 pm, even the call this number before you are admitted to the hospital number. So, I check the insurance formulary on-line. According to the formulary the medication should run $80. In very fine print at the bottom of the page it said, “These prices are only averages and may not reflect the actual price.” Hmm. This does not bode well. What does “reflect” mean? Is it like “mirror twins”—close, but not exactly the same?

I call back the pharmacist, who now had the prescription. He informed me the cost was $120. One hundred and twenty dollars definitely does not reflect $80. Not only are they not “mirror twins,” they’re not even “kissin’ cousins.” They’re more like obscure “second cousins, twice removed.”

We decide not to purchase the medical marvel. And Ariel’s feeling much better today—last night we gave her vitamin C, Tylenol, and raspberry soda. I wonder if we could bottle a mixture of those products, call it Super-Deluxe-Get-Better-In-Time-For-Your-Final-Exam-Miracle-Cure, and market it. No, that’s name too hokey. How about Ariflu? And we could charge $10 and make a killing. No, you’d have to charge at least $80. The more people pay, the more they’re convinced it’ll work—and it’s that whole placebo thing we’re after.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A New Cliché

Clichés come about because a word or phrase is so apropos that everyone uses it. For example, Black as night works because night is very black, unless you live in a sprawling metropolis with light pollution issues.

But some clichés are odd. Work like a dog makes no sense at all. Every time I use it, I glance at Jezebel who’s laying on the floor sound asleep. Jez has never done an honest day’s work in her life.

I suppose the phrase comes from the dogs of yore, which spent their days herding sheep and protecting the flock from wolves. Or, like Jez’s breed, dogs that spent their weekends braving snow, icy water, and forest creatures to retrieve whatever bird the master shot.

Jez, on the other hand, spends her winter days asleep in a patch of sunshine streaming through the living room window. When the sun moves, she wakes up and moves back into the warm patch. In the summer, she works even less. She just plops her body down on the air conditioning vent, and she’s done.

In all fairness, Jez does occasionally stand at the floor-length window and bark at the Pomeranian Devil (see Pomeranian Devil) or the blind man with his red and white cane. (Apparently, they’re both serious threats to our home and children.) And even if Jez’s sound asleep, the moment FedEx/DHL/UPS truck pulls up outside, and she jumps up and snarls and bares her teeth at the guys from the moment they leave their truck until they pull away from the curb.

All that to say, I think we need to find a new cliché. How about work like a mom with four kids whose oldest is five? (That was me 13 years ago.) Or, work like a mom with two graduating seniors who are having a senior recital next week—and whose daughter’s black recital gown needs alterations? Or work like woman who got all of the summer clothes out of the attic at the same time and now has a stack of ironing that includes over 40 garments—that’s real work!