Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Painting

Once a year Calvin paints a watercolor. He started this one during the week of Spring Break and finished it on Monday. It's a painting of Matthew petting a calf when Matt was two.

Sadly, the overexposed lighting of the photograph of the painting doesn't do justice to the skin tones or the dimensionality of the wood, but at least you'll get an idea. Enjoy!

Monday, March 29, 2010


This week was the Meachem Writers’ Workshop. A friend told me about it and since it’s free, I signed up. In fact, I also submitted, which means that my work was going to be critiqued.

I went to some of the readings—poetry. Not just any poetry, but esoteric, literary poetry. At that point, I began to get nervous. You see, I submitted the first two chapters of my newest novel, which is not literary. It’s called genre fiction, specifically a murder mystery.

Often there’s “no love lost between the literary writers and the genre writers.” I was convinced my writing was going to be reamed. Then I read an agent’s post of what not to do in the first page of your novel. I did it. I wanted to delete the first two chapters and start over. But it was too late. With a heavy heart, I dragged myself to the crit session. I steeled my backbone and prayed I would be gracious and not tear-up. (Sometimes crit sessions can be nasty.)

My novel came very early in the session. The structure went like this. You present your novel, then you shut your mouth and aren’t allowed to say a word, all the other writers makes comments on your work (they’ve read it before), then the leader (published professional) makes final critiques, after which you’re allowed to ask questions to clarify, then they’re allowed to ask questions. This is fairly standard procedure.

My name was called. With a gulp, I said, “Well, my novel’s a murder mystery.” The workshop leader said, with what sounded to my nervous ears like sarcasm, “Obviously.” (A dead body shows up at the end of chapter one so this makes sense.) Now I thought, “Crap. He hates my work. Let’s just get this over with.” So I finished up with something along the lines of, “The main character finds the body of her friend, doesn’t want to get involved, forces herself to get involved and solves the case.” At this point, the leader could have said, “Tell us something we don’t already know.” But he didn’t.

The first crit was nice. She like the chapters and wanted to read the book. Phew. That was a softball. The next crit started off with a line saying that he thought one of the characters seemed Native American. I thought, “What? That’s totally out of left field.” Then the workshop leader interrupted. I put more steel in my backbone and put on my I-can-handle-this face. He asked, “Is this your first draft?” I nodded, thinking, “At least, that can be my excuse.” Then he said, “In these pages, every word is exactly where it needs to be. Not one is out-of-place. It is very smooth. And the voice is very strong. The only critique I have is about the dead body. I used to be a trial attorney and worked criminal law—your body should be more deteriorated and the gun used should be a .22.”

The only reason I didn’t have to pick myself up off the floor was that I’d steeled my spine so much earlier. After this pronouncement, the session became a love fest. I was even asked to read a few paragraphs for some high school students who were observing, and then my word choices were explained to them by their mentor.

This would all be wonderful, except for one thing. I almost deleted those nearly perfect chapters (which I honestly don’t think are all that perfect). It’s kind of scary to discover that I’m really bad at judging my own work. In fact the only reason I haven’t altered the first two chapters even after the Meachem is that I promised Cal I wouldn’t.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Five

We’ve done music, books, and movies. Today, we’re doing board games. (Thanks for the suggestion, Andrew.) What are your five favorite board games?

Here are mine:

1. Louis the Fourteenth. (I’m not sure I’ve ever won this one. But I love the intrigue, influence peddling, etc.)

2. Settlers of Catan. (I like this one a lot because I almost always win. However, this is not so much a testament to my game playing as it is the fact that when we play the kids mostly ignore me and I can win “through the backdoor.”)

3. Battleships. (I don’t win at this one either. My kids say I’m too predictable. But I like the game a lot.)

4. Bang! (More a card game than a board game. But I love the Italian-flavored spaghetti western theme and that the life points are restored by beer.)

5. Scrabble. (Is there anything more fun than this old classic? Nope. Don’t covet, but I have an especially cool rotating board with raised edges around each letter opening.)

Those are my favorites. What are yours?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why You Stop Reading

I recently returned some books to the library. Normally, I return books that I’ve read. This time it was books that I’d started and chosen not to finish. I don’t do that very often. Usually if I get a book, I finish it.

Then I started thinking about why I didn’t finish them. As a writer, I could learn a lot from why I as a reader chose not to finish a book. So, I’ll discuss the reasons below, and I’d love for you, my readers, to think about what I say. Do you agree?

The first book I started to read was Remember When by Nora Roberts. (Big caveat: I’m not recommending that anyone read her books, and especially not my young readers. Some of the situations are very adult and gratuitous.)

First off, I’m not a fan of her books or their genre, but she’s a famous writer, the library had this book, and the jacket blurb sounded very interesting. So, I started it. I liked many things about the book. I found the main character sympathetic and engaging—somebody who’d be a good friend. But I couldn’t finish the book even though I forced myself to sit down and read several times. Why? Tension. The book didn’t have enough tension. The relationship tension (will the MC and her boyfriend get together, can this relationship work, etc.) was broken very early in the novel when they moved in together. And though they initially had a squabble, it was brief and everything was hunky-dory. I felt no desire to read on about their relationship because everything was fine.

The other source of the book’s tension was a cache of stolen diamonds. I honestly didn’t care about the diamonds—I knew where they were, even if the characters didn’t. And the characters weren’t really making much of an effort to find them. On top of that, the “bad guy” didn’t seem all the bad. I kept being told he was a bad guy, but I didn’t find him all that threatening because I didn’t really see/feel his “badness.”

In the end, I returned the book to the library. I had the book for over a month and couldn’t finish it and kept choosing other books to read instead.

Basically, for me, a lack of tension killed this book.

The Poisoning in the Pub by Simon Brett.

This book had two flaws for me.

First, the book had some tension (suspense) issues, which is a big deal given that this was a mystery book. I was about 1/3 of the way into the novel and no one had died. A bunch of people had food poisoning, but other than a trip to the harm, no foul. I assumed that sooner or later someone would die. But the dead body was taking a bit long to show up. I might have forgiven this except for flaw number two.

In order for a novel to work, the main character must be sympathetic. That doesn’t mean nice. I can put up with rotten behavior from a character, but I must be given a reason to care for the character. (In fact, I just watched the premiere episode of an old TV show called Canterbury’s Law. In it, the MC did a lot of things I could not justify. But I gave her leeway because her motives were pure. And then, in the end, I discovered something about her that, though it didn’t justify her behavior, made me understand/forgive her.)

Now in all fairness, Poisoning in the Pub is the 10th in a series, and I’ve never read any of the other books. Maybe a faithful reader will know all the sympathetic aspects of the MCs, but I didn’t. Instead, I found her a bit condescending. She’s wonderfully patient with all the people around her who aren’t quite up to her tolerant standards, etc. But she just strikes me as self-satisfied without a hint of humility.

The combination of a slow tension build and a non-sympathetic MC made me return this book to the library after three days.

Personally, I find that these two aspects are among the most important to me as a reader. I find myself overlooking a lot of things including: lame dialogue, unrealistic situations, even some plot issues if the tension is steady and building and I like the MC.

Now here’s my question for you, readers. What makes you return a book? What makes you think this book isn’t worth my time?

I’m waiting eagerly for your answers. They’ll help make me a better writer. Thanks.

Monday, March 22, 2010


I filled out my census form and, you can ask my kids, I stomped my feet and grumbled loudly. I even considered including a paragraph explaining my outrage, but Cal said, “they’ll never read it.” He was right so I didn’t bother to write anything. As I walked out to the mailbox, I realized that in my previous post I never explained the root of my anger at this governmental intrusion. After all, I’m no rabid anti-government anarchist or John Birch Society member.

The root is the stories I heard as a girl. My dad is a member of the Mayflower Society, so on one side I bleed stars and stripes. On the other side, my mom is an immigrant to the United States. She and her family came after “the war,” World War II. And the stories they told were of the terrors.

One of the stories I heard was about the friends of my grandparents who disappeared. My grandparents (Opa and Oma) got together with their Jewish friends once a week for cards. Because of the curfew, they’d sneak out of their house during the middle of the night (breaking the curfew law) and run across the street barefoot—in case Nazi soldiers were nearby they couldn’t hear them running across the cobblestones. One night Opa and Oma arrived at their friends’ house and found the door standing open. Their friends been rounded up, never to come home again. Opa (my grandfather) said the Nazis did it at night so the neighbors wouldn’t know to come to their defense of their friends. And what made these round ups so easy? Records. The Dutch trusted their government implicitly and gave them all the information they asked for including ethnicity, religion, occupation, etc. When the Nazis took over, the Jews and any other “undesirables” were easy pickings.

I know the census information is available a million other places, but a voice in my mind whispers, “The less they know, the better.”

Friday, March 19, 2010


Over the past couple of years, we’ve had birds in our attic. They rip the metal grating that Calvin carefully staples over the vents, and they raise their young. It’s a constant battle, but surely we’ll win at some point. However, this year we’ve had a bit of a distraction that’s kept us from even thinking of the birds. It’s a squirrel.

Yes, Rocket J. Squirrel has taken up residence in our attic. How do we know it’s Rocky? (For those of you who don’t remember, Rocky was the squirrel in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon. I loved Mr. Peabody better. But then, he was a dog so that’s self-explanatory.)

Back to Rocky. We know it’s Rocky because this squirrel’s smart. You see, Cal doesn’t want a squirrel living in the attic so he borrowed a cat trap. It’s a humane cat trap, and Cal intends to capture Rocky and transport him far, far away.

(Digression: If the squirrel’s Rocky and we’re trying to capture him, does that make Cal Boris and me Natasha?)

Cal laced the trap with crackers covered in peanut butter. We’ve been told it’s a favorite of squirrels. This morning we heard the trap “pop.” Cal pulled himself into the attic. No we don’t have a pull-down ladder. Instead, we have a slanted gap. You have to have serious upper body strength to get up there.

Through the ceiling I heard grumbling. It turns out that Rocky picked the trap. He burrowed into the insulation and came up at the bottom of the mesh trap. Then he carefully gnawed the crackers through the bottom of the cage.

Tonight Cal found pieces of wood that fit into the back of the trap and we tied them in place so Rocky couldn’t shift them to get at the food. Then Cal put the trap lengthwise on beams to make it even harder for Rocky. Now we’re all listening for the “pop.” But so far, no dice. Rocky is trying to figure it out. I’ll let you know what happens. If we catch him, we’d better keep our eyes open for Bullwinkle. Doesn’t he always rescue Rocky?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

When Quirinius was Governing Syria

The other day I got a notice telling me that I’d be getting a census form in the mail. It sternly warned me that not filling it out was a violation of the law. Whatever. I shredded the notification letter.

The census finally arrived today. Not that I was waiting for it. It’s just one more thing on my to-do list. Now I get the whole distribution of the House of Representatives thing—I know this is important. And I can almost buy the whole write down your age thing if they’re hoping the eventual Social Security debacle might be avoided (hint: nope). But the census has nothing to do with my race, ethnic background or whether I own my home, and if so, does it have a mortgage. Hello? Is the Congress thinking of taxing me more based on these factors. And if I were Hispanic, why does the Census Bureau need to know if I’m from Mexican, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, Cuban, or other Latino background? Are they going to base their international diplomatic policies on that? I’m sorely tempted to write in Salvacublatarican. But, you know, that would be breaking the law.

They also have a note informing the filler-outer of the form that all information is confidential. I’m sure it is, until someone hacks it. Cal’s had his identity stolen before. And I had an employee of the Social Security agency tell me that identity theft is pretty much a crap shoot. If someone wants your number, they can get it. Why? Because everything is so very secure.

I did like one thing. On the back, in fine print, is an address where you can send your comments on the burden of this paperwork. Hmm. I’m not sure I feel “burdened.” In fact they did give me a blog topic. But I do prefer the government mind their own balancing the budget or dealing with the deficit.

Monday, March 15, 2010

I Despise/Hate/Abhor Cats

Yeah, despise, hate, and abhor are strong words. But they are the result of experience, not just the borrowed prejudices of my Lab Jezebel (she also hates squirrels).

I haven’t always hated cats. Years ago, I was ambivalent about cats. But their demeanor was always a bit suspicious—the way they carried their heads aloft, arrogantly sneering at people and dogs. It seems to me that cats never got over being worshiped in Egypt. But still, I figured cats had a place in life, just not in my life.

Then I had more exposure to cats. We visited a friend’s house. Their cat pranced his way across the room and onto the table (Okay, it may be a Dutch cleanliness thing, but animals DO NOT belong on surfaces from which you eat!) Anyway, this cat made his way to Ariel (she was three) and sat down right in front of her. Then without any provocation, he reached out and slashed Ariel across the face with his claws. It took every ounce of my self-control not to grab the cat by the throat and twist. The cat owner apologized vaguely.

If cats weren’t enough, cat owners often are. Cat owners have told me that cats are great pets because you never have to clean up after them. Yeah, right. It’s because your neighbors have to clean up after them. I had a neighbor with seven cats. She didn’t litter box them. Nope, that would be too much work for her. Instead they used my flower beds as a litter box. I got to clean up after them. (I was pregnant twice while we lived there and the threat of toxoplasmosis made me mutter a lot of imprecations on my lazy neighbor and her “babies.”)

Or what about the neighbor whose cat waited outside people’s screen doors to run inside as soon as the screen opened. While we lived there, I heard a lot of other neighbors screaming at said cat owner. Eventually, the cat disappeared. Or maybe we moved. I hope it was the former.

My most recent cat experience has nailed the lid on the coffin of my cat attitude. We discovered on Saturday that a cat got into the church and had probably been there for the week we were on vacation. Do you know what damage a cat can do in a week? Every room was covered with cat urine and feces. Cal and several other men spent hours and hours cleaning, scrubbing, and steam cleaning. Did it make a difference? Not much. When I walked into the building yesterday, my eyes started watering from the cat-derived ammonia. The building would probably have been better off with a fire.

Then yesterday Cal got very sick. A doctor friend said it probably came on too quickly to be toxoplasmosis. It’s probably just whatever’s going around. I prefer to blame the cat.

Did I mention that the cat spent all day yesterday stalking the church building, trying to get in again. Cats are a plague. But they’re nothing that a .22 couldn’t handle. Heh, heh.

Actually, I’ve never fired a gun. But a girl can dream...

P.S. Hey, guys, thanks for breaking the 10,000 hits mark!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring Break, part two

We had a great time at the Frist Center. The paintings, especially the Pre-Raphaelites were exquisite. And they had a fabulous Dutch “vanity” painting. After the Reformation came to the Netherlands, much of the painting of the time period changed. Instead of the Madonna and child, you get emotional paintings of every day people and things. And you get the vanity paintings, which are among my favorites besides Vermeer. In these paintings the painter would paint much of the beauty of things—food, possessions, especially the trinkets of the wealthy. And then amongst these trinkets the painter would include something very different. Sometimes it was as simple as a broken glass or times a skull. The viewer was supposed to remember the brevity of life and not be caught up with accumulating possessions. At any rate, Ariel found it first—a skull tucked in the far left corner. And there was a beautiful orb that contained a reflection of the painter. Fun, fun. The only downside to the exhibit is that the collector that amassed this huge

collection had a predilection for nudes. They were everywhere—Jacob said, “Why are there so many paintings of naked people?” Though, Jake’s been to lots and lots of museums so the nude isn’t a great surprise. The other bummer is that they wouldn’t allow us to take any photographs. (No, I wasn't planning on taking pictures of the nudes. Only the Pre-Raphaelites.) I was really bummed. A lot of museums allow photography as long as you don’t use a flash. But they didn’t. However, I did get a shot of the building that housed the museum. It’s an old central post office that was build in the Art Deco style and it was fantastic—like being in a Jeeves and Wooster set in New York City.

The Frist also had an ancient Greek exhibit. They had scads and scads of urns. *Yawn* And they had a cool Corinthian helmet—looked very Spartan. Again no pictures though. One other cool thing. They had a Greek gods personality test. I turned out as Athena. Oh yeah, the goddess of wisdom! Cal was Odysseus (more hero than god). Someone else in the family came out as Polyphemus (cyclops). Guess who?

Of course, that exhibit was great preparation for our visit to the Parthenon. Nashville has a full scale replica of the Parthenon. The attention to detail is astounding. They made actual casts of the figures on the Parthenon. (Done before the Turks stored munitions in it and blew it up by accident.) They did research—using detailed drawings from the 1600s. I thought the replica would be lame, but it was awesome. And for those of you who saw the Percy Jackson movie, yep that’s the Nashville Parthenon—though they used a sound stage for the inside shots.

Hope you enjoy the pictures.

Here's the Art Deco post office that houses the Frist.

Here's a photo of the pediment of the Parthenon.

Here's a photo of the six of us by one of the columns.

Here's the statue of Athena. It's covered in 23.75 carat gold leaf. In her hand is Nike. Her face is heavily made up. I thought, "The painter went crazy." But, apparently the ancient Greeks thought so of their Athena statue too. Historical evidence says that the ancients complained that she looked too much like a "lady of the evening."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring Break, part one

Instead of trekking somewhere for spring break, we're staying home and visiting local attractions. Today we became spelunkers and went to Ruby Falls. For those of you who don’t live here, Ruby Falls is a waterfall in an underground cavern.

Okay, we weren’t really “spelunking” because we followed a tour guide and the path was lit with electrical lights. But we did go down 1000 feet into the limestone mountain, and we could pretend we were the original cavers, who crawled through the very narrow openings, which have since been enlarged and paved. We saw amazing stalactites and stalagmites. Not to mention columns—tites and mites that reach and coalesce. And then we arrived at the grotto and saw the falls. It was beautiful. We took a walk behind the falls and got to look up into the backside of the falls. The water looked the diamonds shimmering in the light.

Our tour guide gave us a fascinating lecture on why we did not want to drink the grotto pool water—it’s loaded with magnesium. Not that the magnesium would hurt you. Only it has about four times the concentration of the magnesium as in Milk of Magnesia. Our tour guide assured us that there’d be no way a person who drank the water would be able to get back to the elevator “in time.” (There are no bathrooms down there.) On that happy note, we kept all of our mouths closed when we went under the falls.

I’ve included a few pictures of the trip. I hope you enjoy them. Next stop, Nashville. No, not the Country Music Hall of Fame. We’re going to Frist Center for Visual Arts, which has an exhibition of Pre-Raphaelites. Then we’re off to see the Parthenon—but not the one in Greece. More on that later.
Here are Matthew (ears plugged because the sound of the water is thunderous bouncing off the walls of the cavern), Ariel, Calvin, and a bunch of strangers going back behind the waterfall.
Here's Cal. Note the height of the ceiling and the fissures in the rock. Ariel's the only one who whopped her head against the ceiling.

Here's Jacob with two stalagtites named "candle" and "cactus"--the only two you're allowed to touch. The rest are protected by federal law.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Perfect Spring Day

Yes, I realize that this post was supposed to go up yesterday. For those of you who never realized it, I post on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. And today is Tuesday.

Are you looking for a good reason I didn’t post yesterday like I broke my leg, the water heater exploded, or we went out of town. Sorry. It’s nothing like that. I was just one of those few days that morph from bad into perfect.

The bad started early. For months now Ariel’s had problems with her computer. It shuts down randomly, not from virus software but from overheating. I suspected that her fan must not be working properly. Anyway, I did the mother-nagging thing. “Ar, take your computer in to the UTC tech people. They fix student computers for free.” Ar did her nagged-child thing. “Yeah, yeah, I will I’m just really busy right now. Exams, classes, hanging out with friends.”

So it went until yesterday. Yesterday the computer wouldn’t boot up—it had damaged OS (operating system) files. Apparently, the last time the computer shut down it tweaked the files. Ar called Dell tech support (it’s spring break so the UT computer experts are on vacation). Yeah, they could fix it to the tune of $120. gulp.

Ar decided to wait until the computer geeks are back on Monday. But she has a paper due on Wednesday, this Wednesday. And she didn’t have a backup file. In fact, none of her files are backed up. (A bad thing since it looks like she may end up with a factory wipe of her computer.) So Ariel spent the morning retyping her paper—thank goodness she had a hard copy. BTW, for all you writers and students—back up your documents. You can use a data stick. Or you can email your documents to yourself and stick them in an e-file. That way if your house burns down or you lose you data stick, you still have your book, story, or paper.

If Ariel’s computer woes were the only part of the day, I’d have blogged on it yesterday. But the day transformed. I bought some hosta and bleeding heart roots and planted all 17 of them. I had to dig out rocks and hack away roots, but nothing compares to a spring day spent outside before the mosquitoes wake up or the humidity rises. And besides my hands were utterly filthy, I was sweaty, and had a bleeding knuckle. Yep, it doesn’t get much better for a gardener.

After the plants were planted, I lay back in the porch swing, smelled the sweet air, listened to the birds, and felt the sun warm my winter-chilled bones. It was perfect, except for the niggling thoughts about Ariel’s computer. But in the spring air, you can forget anything.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Recycling Luke-style

Let me say right off that I do recycle. Still. I used to be a Recycler (note the capital R) when we lived in Santa Cruz, California. (Some country-western song years ago told you to live in Santa Cruz once, but leave before it makes you too soft. But that’s another story.) Anyway, I was an uber-recycler. I had bins for glass, paper, cardboard, cans, plastic, and yard waste. I dutifully washed the glass, plastic, and cans and removed labels. Of course, then I read in the newspaper that recyclables were all being dumped in the landfill. Okay, yet another notation in the why-I’m-so-cynical-about-government file.

I didn’t give up recycling; after all, it kept me from having to pay for trash pickup for two trash cans. But I wasn’t so diligent anymore. And when we moved to New England, let’s just say they’re not big on Recycling. (I’m will not discuss the incidents with the trashman because it didn’t have too much to do with recycling.)

Fast-forward to Chattanooga. They’re actually fairly recycling friendly. We recycle all of our yard waste—the city picks it up for free and they give out free mulch, which helps with water conservation. (I’m totally into “free.”) Plus, they have monitored recycling centers that are clean and easy to use. Just drop it off. Anything from motor oil to batteries to paper, etc.

I know you’re asking yourself, “I thought this post was about recycling Luke-style.” Be patient, we’re coming to that right now. Last Sunday night, we forgot to put out the trashcan. The college kids were over and we forgot—trash pickup is in the wee hours of Monday morning so there was no reprieve.

Now we have a full trashcan and no where to put this week’s garbage. So Cal instituted Trash Austerity. He set up an extra trash can next to the kitchen trash can and labeled it “paper.” He told us that every bit of paper waste needed to go into the paper can. We all nodded dutifully.

Things worked fine. Until Cal went to empty the paper can.

He pulled out the liner and yelled, “Who put papertowels covered in bacon grease into the recycling can?”

Answer: Luke. His explanation: Paper towels are made of paper and, therefore, belong in the paper recycling.

Cal and I explained that “contaminated” paper is NOT recyclable.

Luke: Ah, right.

Another day or two passes.

I looked into the paper recyclables and saw a dead squished cockroach. (Cockroaches are coming out of dormancy and seeking for a warm home.) I yelled for Luke. It turns out that Luke didn’t think that cockroaches were all that contaminating. (I get that they are “clean” bugs, but...) Anyway, we have a few more days left before Sunday. I wonder what else will turn up in the paper bin.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


It’s March!! WooHoo.

I hate February. The only thing going for it is that it’s the shortest month. Okay, it has Valentine’s Day. But that’s a hokey, made-up holiday so it doesn’t count. I suppose you could count Presidents’ Day, but why? There’s nothing fun about it unless you count “white sales,” and I don’t.

February is too far from Christmas to retain any holiday glow. It’s too far from April so there’s no taste of spring. Instead, it has skies of gray flannel (thanks for that metaphor, Sharmon) and cold winds that penetrate to the bone. Not to mention that you’ve been shut-up in the house so long that everyone is sharing everyone else’s germs—“Yep, I’ve got this cold/flu/infection for the third time this month.”

But then March comes. March holds the promise of spring. My hellebore blooms, the crocuses blossom, and the daffodils poke their heads up and will eventually flower, assuming they don't get their blooms ruined by some nasty ice storm. On the down side, there aren’t any good holidays in March. (Easter’s in April). St. Patrick’s Day is okay—I buy corned beef the day afterwards when it’s on sale. But I don’t see the point in walking around wearing green (or, at least for me, orange).

Oh, and the time changes in March. The whole “spring forward” thing is a waste. Why on earth do we torture ourselves with this? And if you don’t have teenagers yet, you haven’t experienced the level of torture associated with getting them out of bed an hour early. Said teenagers greet you at the breakfast table with scowls and beady eyes that proclaim, “You, parent, are inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on me—my constitutional rights are being violated.” I smile back with glazed eyes that say, “Take it up with the Congress. And while you’re at it, you can tell them that their health care package sucks.”

So, yeah, it’s March. No cool holidays. The time changes. And it’s still ridiculously cold. And it’s still snowing. Again. Grr. Maybe April will be better.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Cheap Food

Last night was College Fellowship at our house. It includes food (chips and homemade salsa, brownies, French bread pizzas, and soda), prayer, and games. Usually we play “mafia.” If you’ve never played the game, here’s the short version: two people are secretly assigned to be the “mafia.” Everybody closes their eyes, and the mafia kill someone. Everyone wakes up and then we decide who must be guilty. This continues round after round until either the “townspeople” win or the “mafia” win.

Last night in the final round, it was down to Ariel, Tim, and me. I wasn’t a Mafioso so it had to be Tim or Ariel. Tim argued why he wasn’t the mafia. Then Ariel mouthed, “It’s not me, Mom.” I voted against Tim. I lost. Ariel won. Incredulously, I said, “Ar, you lied to me.” She said, “Mom, I played you.”

Normally, my mafia/organized crime instincts are much better; after all, I’ve come into contact with them a couple of times. Okay, I haven’t actually met them (I don’t think), I’ve just come into contact with their money laundering schemes. The first time was in Santa Cruz. Cal and I found this wonderful Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of the city. The first hint should have been the two-way mirrors all over the restaurant. The second hint was when my dear friend (an immigrant to the US who happens to be Chinese) was visiting, we took her there. On the way she said, “Um, I don’t like to eat Chinese food in the US. It’s not very good.” We assured her this would be different. She smiled, politely.

After she tasted the food, she said, “This is amazing. This is authentic. But, it’s so strange because the prices are so cheap—you can’t buy the food for what they’re charging.” On a side note. We asked Ling why the waitresses, who didn’t speak a word of English—when you ordered you just pointed to things on the menu, always rubbed Matthew’s head whenever they walked by the table. Ling smiled. “You have three boys. That’s incredibly good luck—they hope by touching it will rub off on them.” Ariel was duly insulted.) At any rate, the second indication of crime ties was when the ATF shut down the restaurant for one weekend. A small article in a newspaper told us that the restaurant was “the money laundering arm of the biggest gun running operation from China to the US.” Within two days the restaurant was up and running. Why? Walls full of photos of the owner with politicians, including Bill Clinton, seemed to answer that question. Did we continue going? Absolutely. However, Cal couldn’t help but order “gun pow” chicken every time we went. I kicked him under the table and hissed that the restaurant was probably under surveillance. He laughed.

Our second experience was with a wonderful restaurant in New Haven. Imagine a small restaurant whose walls are covered in original art work, where the wait staff only serves a table or two per person, and you get bread, bowls of home-cured olives, salad, tournados of beef tenderloin in Roquefort sauce, etc., and the bill is under $20 (we did have a coupon). Yes, you read that right—under $20. The first time we visited we thought that the restaurant must be going out of business. But, no, we could always find a coupon and the food was always five star quality. We couldn’t figure it out until various politicians were arrested for kickbacks to the mob, etc. In the seven years we were in Connecticut, one governor, two or three mayors, and assorted other politicians all went to jail for “mob relationships.” Right before we moved to Chattanooga, we went to the restaurant one last time.

We have yet to find a money laundering restaurant in Chattanooga. Consequently, we’re not eating out very much. Maybe someone could start a mob venture down here. I like cheap food.