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