Friday, July 31, 2009

Bill the Bard

The kids are in Shakespeare camp this week, which means they walk around saying, “Forsooth” and “Prithee.” Both of those words sound well enough, but do they actually mean anything? Are they some Shakespearean version of “Yo” and “Dude”?

“Forsooth.” Is it some kind of slang that means “I have something for the local witch?” In other words, “Here’s an apple For the Soothsayer.”

And what about “prithee.” Is it some kind of abbreviation for “I pray thee,” which we’d render “Hey, dude, can you do this for me?”

This year Luke has some interesting lines. He plays Leontes the intractable tyrant king of Sicilia in A Winter’s Tale. He yells at a poor girl and calls her “dame Parlet.” I asked Luke what it means. He told me, “I have no idea.” But it does sound cool, especially when yelled.

Personally I think it’s from the French “parler,” which means “to talk.” So, bringing it up-to-date, he could call her “Lady Magpie.” Still, Leontes is “the pot calling the kettle black.” All he does is stride around the stage, talking and yammering and nattering some more. During one point in rehearsals, Luke couldn’t remember a monologue and said, “Whatever—Leontes just blathers on for a while.”

Ariel’s role is a little more interesting. Her character Hermione is nine months pregnant is the first couple of scenes, “dead” for most of the middle, and shows up as a living statue in the last act. Being dead did cut down on her lines quite a bit.

Jacob plays Polixenes, the King of Bohemia. Jacob’s claim to fame is that he wants to disinherit his son, beat Luke’s beautiful daughter to make her homely, and kill various people—and he’s not considered the villain in play. (Luke’s the villain and has even hired a hitman to knock-off Polixenes, Jacob. Yep, the mob’s got nothing on Shakespeare.)

At least, Matt’s not walking around quoting his favorite line from last year, “You are an ass!” Though this year like last, he plays the comic relief in the play. He’s the one character who knows what’s going on, who’s doing it, and why. Despite his wisdom, he’s always being pick-pocketed and mooning after a girl named Mopsa who’s about a foot taller than him. But that doesn’t matter, as Bill the Bard says, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tech Support Sans Swearing

A few weeks ago the kids read a magazine article about how to get good service on tech repair calls. They’d been eagerly waiting for me to have to call tech support. But like the watched pot that never boils, our tech stuff was working perfectly.

Until yesterday. A line of thunderstorms swept through Chattanooga. And our phones stopped working. I assumed that the lines were out because of the storm. Though it did seem a bit odd that we still had internet service after I rebooted the wireless router. But who am I to argue with electronic technology. I’ll take what I can get—if the internet works, it’s one less thing I have to deal with.

However, after a few hours, the phone didn’t start working. I had to call “repairs.” The problem is that Cal and I have a distinct division of labors based on ability to do the job or the inability to tolerate the way the other person does the job. For example, I do laundry because I’m fastidious about colors and whites, stain-treatment, zipping up brass zippers so they don’t nick knits, and making sure bras don’t go through the dryer—cuts the life of the elastic. On the other hand, Cal does bills because, well, I reverse numbers—this is not acceptable to someone who insists on balancing to the penny. You get the idea.

The problem is that I have no idea how his filing system works—and I have to find a bill to find the repair number. Thankfully, Cal is meticulous in six drawers of files, which contain everything from sermons to bills to warranties to the dog’s AKC papers.

Using the cellphone, I dialed “Repairs.” And I got the menu. After an overly perky “Welcome to AT&T,” the computer asked me if I “habla Espanol.” The kids, who were eagerly sitting around me in order to make use of their new “tech menu skills” yelled, “Push two, push two!” I don’t speak a single word of Spanish besides “taco, burrito, fajita, enchilada, and mole sausa”—which probably isn’t even correct. But the kids read that the wait time for a bilingual operator is much shorter than a plain-old English speaker. And since the person is bilingual, they can speak English. This seemed like cheating to me so I turned my back on the instigators of wickedness.

Some time passed, I’ve typed in my phone number and tons of other assorted information, and the computer asked for a number where I can be reached. (This struck me as pathetic—obviously it can’t be my stupid land line, which doesn’t work.) So, I began to type in my cell number. After the first two numbers the computer said in a uber-cheery voice, “So you want to restart this phone call?”

“No!” I shouted. Luke said, “Tell the computer you’re going to cancel their service and go with a competitor”—more advice from the magazine article. “Swear at the computer” said little voices who shall not be named because of the naughtiness of what they suggest. (Note to self: censor their magazine reading. No more tech services articles.)

I scowled at the kids. They laughed. More button pushing ensued. Finally, the computer declared, “I’m sorry, we don’t understand. Please stay on the line.” More gnashing of teeth and button pushing followed.

Finally, an uber-jolly man said, “Thank you for calling ATT, we’re sorry you have a problem. How may we assist you?” I considered telling him to stop being so giddy. .I considered telling him that I hate his company. I considered telling him that phone menus are a work of the Evil One. Instead, I whined, “My phone doesn’t work.”

More joviality ensued during which he told me to take a corded phone and test all the phone jacks in the house. I said, “I don’t have a corded phone.” He responded, “Why does everyone tell me that?”

At this point, I had two choices. One, explain that this is no longer the 1960s and I wouldn’t even know where to buy a corded phone. Two, assume the question is rhetorical and wait, patiently. I choose the latter. (At this point, the kids are talking about making popcorn, wondering how my face will next contort, and reminding me that I should have taken the Spanish option. And, of course, there’s one who still wants to hear me swear.)

In the end, the phone dude, who’s clearly been sharing Vicodin with Luke, told me there was nothing wrong with my phone line. Politely, I reminded him that I didn’t have phone service. He explained that I probably had had a microsurge within the phone lines during the thunderstorm. He told me to unplug everything for at least five minutes and the “charge” would dissipate and everything should work. If not, I could call him back. Yeah, right. Guess what? It worked. And I didn’t have to lie about speaking Spanish, swear at the computer, or threaten to move to a competitor. WooHoo!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Teenage Pressurewashers

Because the economy has kept the kids from jobs, we decided they’d work for us. For free because we were providing room and board. Of course, this forced labor is akin to communist labor, which doesn’t work so well—i.e. Matt and Jacob don’t work as diligently if they aren’t being paid.

Cal assigned the boys the job of pressure washing the deck in preparation to sealing the wood. Luke did his portion. Then Jake did his part. When Matt was doing his, Cal went outside to inspect. Luke’s section was meticulously done. Cal glanced at Jake’s; it looked adequate. On to Matt’s section. It looked like important work had been done. After all, Matthew was drenched. Matt’s section wasn’t bad. Except, on one board. On that piece of wood, Matt had emblazoning his name in the wood. Yep, he pressurewashed “Matthew” in the deck in lovely looping cursive. Cal helped Matt “erase” his name from the deck.

After that, we let the deck dry. Just before we were ready to stain the deck, I went outside to water the tomato, basil, and jalapeno plants. Then, I discovered Matt wasn’t the only one who’d tattooed his name into the deck. One corner read “Jacob.”

Jacob ended up outside with a scrub brush and soap and water. My hope is that when we finally get around to staining the deck, there won’t be any “ghosting” where the names show up again.

Hmm, yet another example of why collectivism doesn’t work.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Read this Book

Run, do not walk, to the local library or bookstore and get a copy of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I had heard about the book, but the subject matter didn’t appeal to me so I never checked it out. Ariel did.

Then she forced the book into my hands. I said, “I don’t have time to read this right now.” Ariel’s known me for a long time so she knew what to say, “It’s a treadmill book, Mom.” This got my attention. A “treadmill book” is a book that’s so engrossing that I forget that fact that I’m exercising while I read. (Yes, you read that right. I hate exercising. I’ve been running for over twenty-five years and I still abhor it. But I like what it does—it keeps me strong, healthy, and energetic.)

I took the book from Ariel. And I began to read yesterday, while I ran the treadmill. And then, I had to read while I cooked and while I ate. In fact, I even had to run the treadmill again today so I could read, even though I’d just finished staining the deck and was covered with sticky brown goo. I ran and ran and read and read. When I finally checked the treadmill monitor I’d run a half mile more than normal. And, of course, I just had to finish the book before I showered even though I was now covered in brown goo and sweat.

Are you waiting for a summary of the story? You aren’t getting one. Don’t even read the inside front cover—it’ll spoil a couple of things. Just get the book and read it.

P.S. Day three for Luke. He's so desperate for new foods and flavors that I caught him squirting mustard on his fingers and licking it off. Later, he improved his manners slightly and was eating blue cheese salad dressing with a spoon.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Day Two

Yesterday Luke felt pretty good—that combination of anesthesia, ice packs, hydrocodone, et al. does wonders. Luke says that he’s not feeling too bad today though his sunken eyes and pallid skin tell another story.

But, pain is not what Luke complains about. He can deal with pain. The real issue is food. In particular, meat. Yesterday, he lived off of smoothies. This morning it was smoothies and pudding. And for lunch I blended a “stew” of sausage and sauce, which he said was “okay.”

I tried to serve it to him again at dinner. But it was too much, especially since we were eating hamburgers. Luke grabbed a patty and ripped it into small pieces and swallowed them.

However, he did ask if I’d make him more smoothies because “they’re really good, especially when you freeze them.”

Here’s the recipe—right off the Hodgsen Mill box of Milled Flax Seed.

Strawberry Banana Smoothie
¼ c. milk
¾ c ice cream
½ c. frozen strawberries
1 ripe banana
1 ½ T. milled flax seed*
1 T. honey

*Flax seed is actually a complete protein!! Not quite meat, I realize, but in pinch…

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Poor Luke!

Surgery. This morning Luke is having his four wisdom teeth removed. In preparation for this, he had to do the normal things like not eat after midnight, etc. He also had to take a diazepam (Valium) an hour before his appointment.

About twenty minutes after he took the pill, Luke got the giggles. Now if you don’t know Luke, he’s mellow. He doesn’t giggle. Until today. I asked him what was so funny. He told me, “Nothing.” So I asked, “Why are you giggling?” Luke said, “My muscles feel really weird.” Not too much longer and he started to slur some of his words. Matt and Jacob elbowed each other and laughed behind their hands.

Soon Luke began to wander through the house. I said, “Luke, get your shoes on.” Luke found his tennis shoes and tried to put them on. The problem was that his foot missed the shoe. Completely. Matt and Jacob were nearly on the floor with laughter.

So now I’m in the waiting room. I asked the receptionist how long it would take. Apparently, slicing the gums, burrowing down to the four teeth, ripping them out, stitching things back up and waking from the anesthesia takes only 45 to 60 minutes.

I can hear the sounds of machines making nasty noises. Ugh—shivers. I hate dentists. Though I guess this isn’t a dentist but an oral-maxillofacial surgeon. If that weren’t bad enough, the TV is set to Regis and Kelly. Ugh--completely vapid. And the office has some kind of scent machine pumping out an odor that’s a cross between soap and perfume. Maybe it’s supposed to cover the reek of people puking after anesthesia, but it makes me want to turn on a HEPA filter.

Okay. I didn’t think anything could be worse than R&K TV show, but now there’s some bizarre show where pregnant women are making casts of their bellies so they don’t “forget” (uh, hello, most people don’t want to remember) and they’re having their tummies painted—“it’s relaxing.” Another reason I’m so glad we don’t have television!

An hour’s come and gone. Poor Luke!!

After an hour and one half, the surgeon came and got me. Luke’s case wasn’t as smoothed as they’d hoped. His roots were in the same “canal” as his blood vessels and nerves. He ended up bleeding quite a bit and may be in for some nasty pain. We went home with four prescriptions—the pharmacist told me the hydrocodone and ibuprofen combo should knock him out.

The nurse told us that Luke can’t have meat for two weeks. The problem is that Luke’s not retaining that information. His biggest concern seems to be how long before he can have meat. Each time I tell him that he has to wait two weeks, he becomes mortally offended all over again.

Poor Luke!!!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Newtonian Physics

According to Newton, and I believe him, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” My intellectual mind knows this, but my practical, day-to-day mind forgets.

The other day I was making a massive pot of “creamy black bean soup.” Some for us, and some for a family in the church that just had a baby. Everything was going swimmingly. The onions and garlic were browned in olive oil, the chicken broth had been added, and the corn, the chilis, tomatoes, spices, etc. But, I still needed to add the beans. The first two cans were opened, and their contents were added to the simmering pot. The third can proved more stubborn. The pull-top that was supposed to open the can pulled off. Without even breaking the seal.

At this point, a mind that was functioning on an intellectual plain would remember Newton’s first law. But, that was not my brain. Instead, I grabbed a wooden spoon and pounded on the can with the end of the handle. Nothing happened. I pounded more. Still nothing happened. The can didn’t even appear dented.

Clearly, all that was needed was harder pounding. So, I pounded hard. The handle of the spoon forced its way into the can along with a good portion of the lid. And since the contents of the can decided to obey Newton’s First Law, I was covered with seasoned black beans. Bean juice was in my eyes, ears, nose, and mouth (it actually tasted quite good). Bean juice soaked my clothes and I shivered. Beans and juice covered the floor—the dog pushed me out of the way so she could eat it before I could find a sponge.

For the second time this month, I’ve gotten a food facial. My skin better start looking really good. Either that or I need to figure out how to get the smart part of my brain to talk to the dumb part.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

NEH Class

I am an art history teacher, at least I was this week. In case you don’t remember, back on April 1 I blogged that I’d gotten a very cool grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to teach American Art History. This was the week I taught my class.

Being that I’m a writer by trade and a fiction writer by avocation, I took a storyteller’s approach. Each painting/sculpture/photo/architectural landmark has a story. Part of it is the artist, part of it is how art works, and part of it what the artwork says. Of course, I’m going to mix my metaphors, but…a work of art is a kind of riddle, in our study we find the answer, and that’s where all the fun resides.

The Artists
Some moved our souls with their understanding of transcendence. Some showed us things in a new way. And some made us laugh at human frailty—they said one thing with their mouth and did the complete opposite in their work.

How the Art Works
We learned that “when confronted with a bit of art”* and questioned about it by a teacher, who constantly gives the wrong dates for when the works were completed because she reverses numbers, there are five safe answers: triangular/pyramidal, visual rhyme, halo, and Paris. (Actually, I argued that “halo” was not a great answer and that “contrast” was a better answer, but they didn’t buy it. And Paris has more to do with the artist or his school, but it was one of their favorite answers.) And, lest you think we had too much fun, we spent a lot of time looking beyond the surface aesthetics, to understand why it pleased our eyes.

What the Artwork Says
Some said “The Glory belongs to the Lord,” others said “The Glory belongs to me,” and there were a few that said “Dude, you did way too much partying last night because you can’t be serious.”

In conclusion, I want to thank my students who ranged in age from 9 to 70+ for their attention and eagerness. And thanks to the parents who told me, “I can’t believe my teenagers love art history—who’d have thunk it.” You all made the hours of preparation worth it!! And thanks to the NEH without whose support this would never have happened.

*Thanks to PG Woodhouse who gave me this phrase and taught me/us that the thing to say “when confronted with a bit of art” is “it has a nice patina.” Hey, “patina” should have been one of our five answers!

Here’s a picture of me with a reproduction of a painting by Thomas Hart Benton titled, The Sources of Country Music.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Becoming Part of a Book

Okay, it's your chance to say something. Several years ago, I read a book called The Eyre Affair. To make a complicated story short, let's just say a "real person" was able to read themselves into a book--to become part of the world of books.

Let's say you could do it. And, leaving out the Bible, what book would you want to be in? And why?

I guess I should start. Nope, it wouldn't be one of my own books because I can live there already. I'd love to say Persuasion, but I've worn one of those dresses--yuck. I'd like to try out one of the Harry Potter books, but I'm a bit of a whimp and would prefer not to face Voldemort unless I had to. So, honestly, I'd probably read myself into Haroun and the Sea of Stories. It's absurd, ironic, and gut-bustingly funny.

What about you? I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments section.

p.s. Thanks to Nathan Bransford who had the idea.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ten Top Addendum

(See previous post, Top Ten.)
More GI Joes.

I don't know if these were supposed to be pleas for repair...

......or torture devices.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Top Ten

Top Ten Reasons You Know You’re a Mother of Boys (Sad but true)

1. When you notice that your dining room chandelier has a GI Joe dangling from it.

2. When you find that the boat they’re using to float their playmobile men is actually an athletic cup.

3. When you can’t identify what is actually in your son’s pocket.

4. When you step on legos during the middle of the night on your way to the bathroom.

5. When you realize that soda was invented so that boys could have burping contests.

6. When you can’t find the “extra” taco shells and discover your son ate 22 tacos in one sitting.

7. When you explain to your child that showering once a week isn’t going to cut it.

8. When you find the kitchen “help” having a fencing match with steak knives.

9. When they can quote ERAs, Ks, BBs, and RBIs of their favorite major league baseball players from memory, but can’t remember where the hamper is.

10. When you walk into the kitchen and say to figure standing in front of the open refrigerator door, “You’re eating butter!?”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

United Breaks Guitars

This post is for everyone who has ever been abused by corporate America. For example, it took me months to get Compaq to fix a brand new laptop--I got the run-around, the pass-the-buck, and the it must be your fault, not ours. It's no wonder that companies are failing. If they can't be responsible, they don't deserve to survive.

Enjoy this video "United Breaks Guitars." A creative person takes out his frustration with the irresponsibility of United Airlines.

(Many thanks to my tech guru, Ariel, who showed me how to embed and resize U-tube videos--she used her Texas-Instruments-I'm-way-cool-at-math-calculator to reduce dimensions without making everything look weird.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Great Under-Thirty Conspiracy

Do you know what I hate/abhor/become homicidal about? I loathe being twenty minutes into writing an email or blog post, and then for some reason my finger touches the wrong button and whatever text I’ve written disappears into the electronic abyss. Of course, there’s an “undo” button, but I type very fast and by the time the text vanishes I’ve typed a couple of letters. When I hit the undo button, a “d” or an “s” pops up.

I’ve spoken to the technological geniuses of my home about the situation. Their response is “you shouldn’t type so fast.” Right, that makes me feels better. This morning I was halfway through a blog post and the computer ate it. Who programs these text-eaters? I imagine it’s some skinny kid who’s almost 18 and has been working at Microsoft for 5 years. I don’t know why he wants to make my life miserable. But I’m guessing it’s something like the following: he stayed up too late and his mom had to wake him up to get to work on time. She had to nag him to shower. Then for breakfast she gave him oatmeal instead of Coco Puffs. Then, horror of horrors she ran out of the good coffee and made Folgers instead. (Being forced to drink Folgers would do it for my kids. Folgers would make them ready to lock and load. Actually, when we run out of good coffee, my children send very whiney emails to my mother begging for good coffee since their mother is poisoning them with the cheap stuff.)

At any rate, back to our skinny programmer. He determines to punish all fast typists who are over the age of thirty, of whom his mother is one. So he programs in a “short cut,” which is something along the lines of “double shift Z” or “shift alt.” Some combination of keys that pre-arthritic fingers stumble over. Then he laughs and tells all of his buddies.

A child (Jacob) reading over my shoulder just announced to me, “Hey, Mom, the short cut to delete chunks of text is ‘shift, page-down, and then hit any other key.’” How does he know that?! We don’t have a Short-Cuts Manual lying around the house. I’m sure it must be some great under thirty conspiracy.

Monday, July 6, 2009

4th of July Explosion

Last Friday I brewed some Oatmeal Stout. Some for friends, and some for us. (Those dark beers have all the heart-healthy benefits of wine, which Calvin needs because our insurance won’t pay for cholesterol meds though they will pay for heart attack care. The meds seem cheaper to me, but hey, I’m not an insurance executive. The dark beers are good for me because they are about the only thing besides heavy-duty meds that prevent bone loss, a risk for me because I have tiny bones.) Anyway, back to brewing. I brewed, chilled, and poured the wort into the primary fermenter. (Wort is the beer base consisting of water in which various grains have steeped, boiled malts, hops, Irish moss, etc.)

Then, I pitched the yeast. Cal and I have different opinions on yeast. I like the dried yeast—it takes longer to get going, but it’s reliable. Cal likes the pitchable active yeast because it’s faster and more authentic. It is also HUGELY unreliable. In other words, when you pitch 1 billion live yeast cultures into 5 gallons of malty delight, they go crazy. I pitched the yeast and only muttered slightly under my breath. I put in the air lock. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the chemistry of yeast, here’s a primer. Just like bread yeast, brewer’s yeast digests the sugars and releases carbon dioxide and alcohol. (That wonderful smell of baking bread is a combination of ozone and alcohol—but with bread the alcohol evaporates.) The air lock in the fermenter allows the carbon dioxide to escape while preventing the beer from being contaminated with wild yeast. There’s yeast all around us in this wide world.

Of course, 1 billion active yeast cultures produce a lot of carbon dioxide. Before we went to friends’ house for homemade ice cream and fireworks, we checked the beer. Everything was proceeding smoothly. The airlock was releasing the carbon dioxide properly.

We had a lovely time eating ice cream and watching the fireworks. Then, we went home. The children were the first ones in the kitchen. I heard “OH. Wow.”

Needless to say, 1 Billion live yeast cultures release A LOT of carbon dioxide, enough to easily overwhelm an airlock. My first mistake was inserting the air lock tightly into the primary fermenter. If it hadn’t been in quite so tightly, the CO2 would have just blown out the air lock. But, it didn’t. Instead, the pressure built and built...until the lid blew off the fermenter. Imagine trub (the fancy word for yeast by-products, which really ought to be called “yeast scum”) all over the floor, the cabinets, the WHITE curtains, the counters, the stove, and the ceiling. Yep, if it hadn’t been so funny, I might have been frustrated. But trub on the ceiling really is funny.

Cal helped me clean up and then moved the fermenter to the laundry room. Later, just before we went to bed, I decided to check the fermenter one last time. The lid, which is supposed to be convcave, was convex. I decided to release the pressure by wiggling out the air lock. Let’s just say that 1 billion live yeast cultures' by-products pouring out of a small opening travel with great force. I got a faceful of trub. I suppose if I owned a salon I could charge lots of money for yeast-extract facials (read “a faceful of yeast scum”), but I don’t. So, I washed it off and went to bed.

Friday, July 3, 2009

More Books

Okay, here’s another blog on youth adult books. We do read-alouds in our family. This means that most nights (and sometimes breakfasts and lunches if the book is really good) we get together with some treat, anything from a pot of tea to chocolate to ice cream, and I read aloud. Yes, I even do the voices until my throat is scratchy, usually day 6 or 7 of the read-aloud. Currently, we’re reading the book Queste, which is actually, middle grade. It’s in the Septimus Heap series. Even though it’s middle grade, my family indulges me reading it because the characters are engaging, the writing is good (though the third book was not up to the quality of the rest of the series), and the books are witty.

Before Queste, I started reading Max the newest in the James Patterson Maximum Ride series, but the kids had a conniption. The first couple of books were good—the premise of mutant avian kids while not quite believable was fun, and I genuinely liked the characters. But then Patterson started beating his environmental drum so loud it ruined the story, at least for us. One of the cardinal rules of writing is “Don’t preach—tell a story.”

One more good book, Found, Book 1 of The Missing Series by Margaret Petersen Haddix. It also is middle grade. But hey, a good book is a good book, and I already told you that there aren't too many good YA books that aren't girly books. At any rate, I don't want to be a spoiler for Found, but just imagine that you aren't who you think you are...and neither are some others. Enjoy!