Friday, April 30, 2010

Derby Day 2010

Tomorrow is the Kentucky Derby. The beginning of the Triple Crown. For those of you who don’t follow horse racing, the other two races, each of which is about two weeks after the other, are the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.

I love the pre-Derby show, especially the Hat Parade. It’s the only American event in which the wearing of a hat is de rigueur. It’s like a trip to the glamorous past. I’d love to have a closet full of hats and the opportunity to wear them. But I just settle for my gardening hat and remind myself that I bought it in St. Maarten. It adds to the mystique of gardening for me.

And, of course, I love the opulence of the Derby because it’s the beginning of the Triple Crown. The horse that wins has the hopes of most of the racing world pinned on it. There hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner since 1978 when Affirmed won. It's a chance to see history being made.

And to go along with this much hype and history, each race has its signature drink. The Derby has the Mint Julep, which is my favorite of the race drinks. (I mean who wants to drink something called The White Carnation?)

But it’s not the drinks or the hats or history that entices me. It’s the near perfection. I’ve never been able to resist it. I remember watching Mariano Rivera pitch long before I fell in love with baseball. (Okay, I’ve never fallen in love with it. But I do like to watch the Yankees play.) I’m fascinated by Mariano's ability to throw a perfect pitch over and over.

It’s the same with horse racing. I watch them exit the chute and see the excitement in their eyes. As they pound around the track their muscles and sinews straining, I know I’m seeing something rare and amazing. Creatures doing exactly what they’ve been created to do—and they know it. And sometimes a horse breaks free from the pack and pulls ahead. Striding forward and forward so that every other horse is left in the dust and I know that the performance is as close to perfection as I’m likely to see on the earth. And it’s a giddy, almost solemn thing.

Writing is like that sometimes. As I write, the words spill out as if a glass has been filled too full. And it’s as if I’m the transcriptionist, not the writer. And I feel as if I’m doing what I’ve been created to do. To paraphrase Eric Liddel, the famous Scottich Olympian, “When I [write], I sense His pleasure.”

I think that’s why the horses run like they do. In some manner, even as animals, they know they’re doing what they’ve been made to do. And that’s a drug unlike any other. So tomorrow I’ll be watching my fellow creatures do what they do—part of me will delight and part will think “I’ve got to go write.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New Words

Do you ever sit and stare at those “verification codes?” VCs are the letter (and sometimes numbers) combinations that you have to type in when you’re commenting on someone’s blog. I’ll admit that I like to ponder them. (I also like to read phone books, the dictionary, and thesauri. Sad, but true.) Some of the VC combinations are interesting—you could make up definitions for them.

For Example:

1. Ratat: This is the noise a 1930s era tommy gun makes. “Ra-tat, ra-tat, ra-tat.”

2. Rebonico: This sounds like some weird differential equations term. “Instead of taking the inverse of the LaPlace transformation, just use the Rebonico multiplier.”

3. Uslys: As in “You slys.” Imagine two Italian mobsters who will soon be shadowing a peon before killing him. Their boss would say, “Hey, U-slys, if you guys-es see Mickey slip some of that protection dough into his own pockets, put him on ice.”

4. Punte: Doesn’t this mean “fifty” is some obscure Latin-derived language like Frepanish?

Here are some others, dear readers. How about you come up with some definitions?

1. Kellis

2. Entest

3. Audens

Monday, April 26, 2010

Editing and Fire Ants

Ack! It’s 5:00pm on Monday and I totally forgot to post. I’m becoming irresponsible. I know what’s caused it. Before I blamed it on Luke and Ariel’s finals, but maybe it’s not that after all.

I’m out of my routine. You see I just finished an edit on the murder mystery I’m writing and I’m taking a break. This edit ended up much more difficult than I thought. When I started this novel I decided to play with the concept of interior monologue. IM is the equivalent of hearing the character’s thoughts. For example:

Being devoured by fire ants would be a good way for Dr. Bad to die, Ariel thought.

Of course, the more talented/experienced the writer, the less often she (or he) would use the tag “Ariel thought.” For example:

Ariel shoveled the mound of fire ants. Being devoured by fire ants would be a good way for Dr. Bad to die.

This example would be better. No tag, yet it’s clear “Ariel” is thinking of ways to punish her Differential Equations professor for not putting up the answers to the study guide for the final even though it’s only hours away and he promised he’d do it long before the final. (Oops, I digress.)

Anyway, back to the issue. I experimented with IM. The novel is written is close third person (non-omniscient narrator) and in past tense. I decided to put the IM in italic first person present. Yeah. It was kind of cool until I realized it didn’t work.

For example: Ariel shoveled mounds of fire ants onto the body of her professor. She watched as they trailed up the streams of dirt, preparing to sting. I hope you learn this lesson, Dr. Bad.

See. It doesn’t work. Okay, maybe this example isn’t too horrible. But take my word for it—it gets very weird and annoying long term. Not to mention the fact that I have a macabre sense of humor. (Note: Ariel did not suggest this.) So I had to change all of the IM. I thought it would be easy.

It wasn’t. Altering verb tenses and point of view plays merry heck with your ear. I’d rewrite things and then be completely confused about whether I’d actually fixed it or not. After much grief and consternation, I finished it. (I think.) Now I’m taking a break and planting more plants, ripping out weeds, and repairing the drip irrigation. But tomorrow I’ll be back in “Writer Editing Mode” with my Post-It flags, my seven red pens, and my stacks of paper. And I’ll get my blogs posted on time—they are my editing stalls.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Good News

Today was a good news day, sort of. Many of you remember that last December Matthew had oral surgery, a triple frenectomy. (If not, you can read about it here.) He was told it wouldn’t be a big deal and that he’d up and running around later in the day. After the surgery, he was told “this is a very painful procedure—you’ll be on codeine for 3 to 4 days.” And, in fact, it was painful, especially when we discovered that because of Matt’s autism he doesn’t process pain killers normally. And not only did the codeine cocktail not totally knock him out, as the pharmacist claimed it would, it barely took the edge off the pain.

So with great trepidation Matt, Cal and I went to the surgeon to see if Matt needed more surgery. If he did, they’d need to do skin grafts, etc. And, in the meantime, Matt’s been pondering which was worse: donor skin (akin to becoming a zombie) or his own skin (meaning more slicing and dicing). Matt was sweet enough to volunteer for which ever was cheaper since insurance didn’t want to cover this because it was “oral” surgery.

Since December, Matt and I have careful inspections for his mouth. We both had decided he’d need more surgery. Last night, I spent part of the night praying for God to work this out, especially the finances. He’d always provided before, but...

After we arrived at the surgeon’s office, the nurse ushered us to the consulting suite. Matt waited in the chair, shivering. (It was very cold. They should have handed out blankets to the patients. I could have given Matt my sweater, but I was cold too. Besides it was way too girlie and he’d never have taken it.) The doctor came and examined Matt’s mouth. He told me to swab the sites twice a day with an antiseptic, healing rinse and bring Matt back in June. In other words, Matt dodged a speeding bullet, at least for now, and I learned a bit more faith.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spring Cleaning

Okay, beat me with a wet noodle. Usually I have my blog posts up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday by 7am. Now it’s almost 10 am and I’m just now posting. Three hours late!

My excuse is that everything in my life has been so chaotic. Luke and Ariel are in the midst of finals, and papers are due. (I’m the designated editor/proofreader, and Luke’s had six new things papers and essays due for one of his finals. That prof should be hanged, drawn, and quartered.) And since it’s spring I feel the compelling need to wash and organize. Last night I did the laundry room. It still needs to be mopped, but all the winter stuff (hats, gloves, and coats) has been washed and stored until next year. I’ve cleaned up the various tools scattered all over the laundry room. Because our house has very little storage room, Cal keeps his tool box next to the dryer. Eventually, wrenches, screwdrivers, putty, electrical tape, and weird meters with blinky lights form a pile on top of the box, which cascades onto the floor. At any rate, the tools are now sorted and returned to their rightful homes.

Last night after I finished the laundry room, I “rewarded” Cal’s tool situation by reorganizing his armoire, which means that as of this morning he can no longer find anything in it. Of course, it looks really nice now. (I actually tired to put everything back exactly where he keeps it, but now it looks different.)

I have to admit that I like walking into the laundry room and seeing the tidiness. It makes me smile. And it makes me want to start on the kitchen cupboards. My new motto is “If you haven’t used it today, it needs to be stored away.” Okay, I’ll keep stuff in the cupboards if I’ve used it in the last week, but “week” doesn’t rhyme with “away.”

Monday, April 19, 2010

$510 an Hour

$43 for a key. We wanted to get an extra key for Luke and Ariel’s car. Cal went to the hardware store to get a copy made and discovered that new cars have electrical codes in their keys and only the dealership can make copies. Cal went to the dealership. They told him that they’d be happy to make a copy. Cal asked how much it would cost. They said, “Twenty-six dollars.” Cal was a bit shocked. But what choice did he have? He said, “Okay.”

The tech made the key. He handed it to Cal and the cashier rang it up. She told Cal, “That’ll be $43.” Cal said, “Uh, they told me it would be $26.” She smiled sweetly and said, “Labor is $17.” Cal said, “Labor? I watched. All they did was take the key, put it in the ignition, and turn the key to set the electrical code.” She smiled more sweetly. “That’ll be $43.”

I’m offended that a key can cost $26 and that 2 minutes of labor costs $17. Even a non-math person can calculate that hourly wage at $510 per hour. Those payment rates sound pretty good to me. Low stress, high pay. That sounds much better than slaving away over a novel for hours, days, and months for only the possibility of pay. Of course, writing a novel does have the creative payoff of the addictive rush of finding the perfect word, phrase, or simile. But $510 an hour...Can I take a class to be an automotive key technician?

Friday, April 16, 2010

What My Dog Thinks

An old quote goes something like this, “I hope to be half the man that my dog thinks I am.” If you’ve never had a dog, perhaps this post will explain what that means.

Every morning I get up around seven—our alarm goes off and we hear opera. Opera isn’t my choice, nor is it Cal’s. It’s just that the radio station now plays opera at 7am. I think it’s because you can’t sleep through opera. A warbling contralto voice forces you to get your derriere out of bed and turn off the alarm. I stumble out of the bedroom and put on the kettle. Then I get Jezebel from the boys’ room where she sleeps. I give her two cups of dog food. But Jez won’t eat. She looks at the food longingly and I tell her, Eat.” But she can’t, not until she sees The Master.

Jez looks at me with baleful eyes and begs me to let her into our room where The Master is getting dressed. I open the door to Ariel’s room (yes, I know that sounds odd). We have a 1940s cottage and the rooms ramble a bit. The easiest way to get to the master bedroom is to go through Ariel’s bedroom. Anyway, Jez can open the door to our room once she’s in Ar’s room so I let her in. Ariel doesn’t budge, she’s learned to sleep through the sun, the stereo, and dog slobber.

Jez and Cal come into the dining room. Once he’s patted her head the requisite number of times and he’s putting his shoes on, she wolfs down her food. After that, she can’t leave Cal’s side because what if The Master went running without her? It’s never happened, but it could. And if it did, that would be bad because The Master needs her. A cat might walk near Master and she could bark and try to kill it for Master. It does throw the Master off his balance when she jerks at the leash to massacre the cat. But that has be risk has to be accepted because of the danger of cats, who want to be worshiped like they were in Egypt. Speaking of worship, Master might meet various cultists. Jez comes unglued at the very sight of magazine-lugging cults—they won’t even talk to us at the house anymore. They just hand us the literature and run.

But it’s not just the cultists. What if Master is running and comes across a gang of AK-47 totting drug-dealers? And, um...she and Master could die together. Of course, they’ve only ever come across school children waiting for the bus. But it could happen. That’s why Master needs her—because she’s tough and she loves him.

Here's a picture of Jez and Cal coming back from their run. It's actually posed--they were running too fast for the first picture and it blurred.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Luke and Ariel have started finals. This means Ariel needs a steady supply of chocolate and is willing to even eat 85% to 90% cocoa dark chocolate, which tastes like dirt. She’d prefer chocolate with sea salt, but that bar is mine. She had a bar of chili chocolate and a bag of Lindt truffles, but she’s already gone through them. Now she’s eating dirt. Too bad, baby girl.

Luke does not have a chocolate fetish. He just gets a dazed expression on his face and mutters imprecations against one of his professors. The “dark side” of Luke amazes us all because Luke has always defended his professors, explaining that every thing they do is for the benefit of the student. This semester changed that. Prof Bad Guy started off okay. He was genial enough. Then he began giving odd writing assignments. He’d give the students something to read and they were supposed to respond to it, but not actually respond about it. It was to be a springboard to something greater. (What that “greatness” was continues to remain a mystery to all the students.) The grading was arbitary: an A was “Wow me,” a B was “not quite a wow,” a C was “sticking to the topic of the reading material.” Okay, right—can you say “totally arbitrary?” Then midterm came around. Profs are supposed to tell students what their grades are. The problem is BG hadn’t graded any papers yet. Oops.

Then BG started missing the occasional class. And then there was the week he took off because his kids were on spring break, and he wanted to go on vacation with them. The problem when a prof misses a lot of classes is that he can’t give you assignments. Now it’s the end of term and the papers he was supposed to assign hadn’t been. Guess what? He assigned them (2 or 3 short ones and 2 long ones). Just turn in the papers the first day of finals. Even Luke can’t defend that.

I’m so glad I graduated a long time ago. Time for a piece of that chocolate with sea salt. Yum!

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Next Book

I found the book. Our family does read-alouds. We’ve done them since the kids were old enough to sit up straight. Matt sat in a highchair for most of the Lord of the Rings triology. Cookies and hot chocolate were enough to draw them to the table, and the voices I made for each of the characters was enough to keep them, that and the stories were really good. We read all of the Percy Jackson books, the Chronicles of Narnia, some Septimus Heap, the Artemis Fowl series, etc. We even did the last of the Harry Potter books—you have never seen people do chores so quickly! “Children, when chores are done, we’ll start the book.”

And, yes, we still do it even though the kids are now 19, 18, 15, and 13. They still love it, and it gives us wonderful literary commonalities. “Hey, that’s a P2C2E!” (For the uninitiated, it’s a Process too Complicated to Explain from Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie. Yes, yes, that Rushdie.)

Anyway, I was looking for a book to start as soon as finals for Luke and Ariel are over. Then I ran across the book, The Son of Hamas. It’s on the New York Times best seller list. It’s the memoir of Mosab Hassan Yousef. Here’s a blurb from a book review in World magazine. “Take a Palestinian with Hamas in his bloodline, turn him into an Israeli spy, pack him off to a Bible study that leads to a conversion to Christianity, and exile him to America where he tells all—daring both Islamic militants and an Israeli hit squad to come after him!”

Truth is much stranger than fiction, and that is so the next book we’re going to read. I’m off to order it from Amazon.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Friday Five

After much hassling, spread out over many months, I'm finally giving in. This Friday Five is dedicated to favorite video/Wii/PS3/etc. games.

Here are my five.

1. Mario Cart. I love Yoshi. My favorite race course is the Coconut Mall. I abhor with a passion Rainbow Road because I always fall into oblivion. Of course, if I had time to practice (like my kids do) I might not be burned to death as I approach the atmosphere.

2. Excite Truck. What can I say, I love driving fast, drifting, and loud music. Is it any wonder that my kids say, "We're late. Let Mom drive."

3. Asteroids. It's been years, but I loved throwing my spaceship into a spin and pounding out a constant barrage of missle fire.

4. Zoo Tycoon. It's also been years since I played this game. It appeals to my non-violent side. Although Ariel's favorite part of the game was opening the animals cages and letting lions maul the guests and kill the other animals.

5. Slot five is a tie between Pong and Tetris. Yes, my family had the original version of Pong. It was cool, techno-hip at the time. Besides I learned how to put a little English on the ball--it made the game a bit wacky. Tetris was also the perfect mental break--five minutes away from crying babies. All of my babies (except Jacob, whom we called Joy-Boy) were colicky and Tetris was sanity-saving.

So, what are your favorite video games?

P. S. Happy 18th Birthday to Ariel!! You can vote now!!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How Do You Know It's Spring?

How does our family know that it’s spring? It could be that the cars are covered with green-yellow pollen. Or, it could be that Matt and Jake are sneezing all day long. Or, it could be the daffodils or the tulips or the irises that are blooming. Or, it could be that that I now run outside twice a day to water seedlings and check to see which new plant has erupted from the ground.

But the greatest clue, is that the Battle of the Bugs has begun. Yesterday I was outside in the chill of the morning with my tank sprayer of Neem Oil (a safe “natural” oil that treats all kinds of nasty vermin plus black spot and powdery mildew). If I’d been smart, I would have cleaned each part of the tank sprayer before mixing up the Neem Oil. When a tank sprayer sits all winter, salts form in different parts of the sprayer and clog the lines. Needless to say, I wasn’t smart. Instead, I filled the tank, pumped, and tried to spray. Nothing. I decided to open the tank without considering the pressure that the tank was under. With an explosive woosh, I got a face full of Neem Oil—for the next week I can be sure my face will not get aphids, powdery mildew, Japanese beetles or black spot. What a relief!?

After I finished spraying the plants, (Death to the aphids sucking the juices from my irises and rose buds!), I washed my face right away. But at dinner I was still flaking off bits of dried Neem Oil.

Today when I was outside, I noticed snails and slugs. And they’d attacked one of my new lilies of the valley. I’m currently out of Deadline, but Ace Hardware is just down the street. And I don’t think my neighbors will care if I use it. When we lived in Santa Cruz I had to put out Deadline under cover of darkness. Our neighbor “raised” snails. Not the kind that would become escargot. She raised garden snails to feed to road-kill possums that people brought to the SPCA where she worked as a puppy counselor. (Don’t even get me started on her theories of puppy training, which included, “teach a dog not to bark by teaching him to bark on command and then never give him the command. ?!? Like that would work—of course, she’d never owned a dog...) Back to the snails. My neighbor didn’t actually feed the snails. They came over to our yard during the night and stripped our plants bare. Fed-up, I bought Deadline and drew my snail-killing-line-of-death around each plant. The next day, I had over fifty dead snails. She saw me cleaning them up and had a hissy fit. Personally, I believe that possums ought to be road-kill. But I didn’t exactly tell her that as foam was spewing from the corners of her mouth.

Some people begin spring by sneezing, some people by cutting the flowers, I start spring by gearing up with my Deadline and tank sprayer. Lock and load, baby!

Monday, April 5, 2010

New Car

Luke and Ariel have been saving their money for years and together decided to buy a car, and save their mother from spending her entire life driving children hither, thither, and yon. They got a very cool silver 4 door Chevy Cobalt. There’s only one small problem. The car is a standard transmission, and Luke and Ariel drive an automatic. Luke has had occasional opportunities to try a standard, but he’s not “fluent” in standard.

So Saturday evening, I took them and their new car to a parking lot close to the house. I told them to put seatbelts on and take turns trying to go from stop to first. Then stop, then first. Etc., etc. You can imagine what took place. Lurch, lurch, jerk, pop, and squeal. I got lots of practice saying, “Ease off of the clutch.” Jerk. “No, you popped the clutch. Restart the engine, and try again.” Or “Yes, that revving is the engine, let off the clutch.” Lurch. “No, you popped the clutch again.” Some neighbors decided to watch for a while. And later, a man at one of the local businesses decided to come have his break and watch Luke and Ariel “learn.” Let’s just say we left lots of new tire tread all over the parking lot. (And it wasn’t just Ariel who left rubber on the parking lot.)

I’ve promised them that it won’t take long before they are proficient (although with finals coming up, it will take longer than normal). But in the meantime, I’m considering selling tickets to the show.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Rose by Any Other Name

Most writers, especially those without agents and editors, often give an early draft of their novels to beta readers. A beta reader is usually a writing buddy or literature-knowledgeable friend. Personally, I’d call them the alpha reader, but I guess the novelist is the alpha reader.

Anyway, you give your precious baby to your friend for critiques. You dream that the friend will say, “Everything is perfect. This is the next great American novel.” You know that this can’t happen, but hey, a girl can dream.

Finally, your beta reader finished the book. (Depending on their schedule it takes anywhere from one week to one month—during which I’ve done some heroic work to burn off nervous energy. This time I did serious gardening. I planted 70 some plants, weeded, trimmed, sprayed, etc.) Then comes the email, the phone call, the get together. If you have a nice beta, he/she tells you what you did that was right. It’s encouraging and helps to cushion the blow of the things that are wrong and to keep you from destroying the good stuff. They point out plot errors: Did you want me to figure out who the murder was that early in the book? Your character has brown eyes and blue eyes. They point out newbie errors, which I shouldn’t be making anymore: You put the interior monologue of the MC in italics—that’s very irritating.

My beta pointed out another newbie mistake: You have six characters whose names begin with “M.” (Characters’ names are all supposed to start with different letters or it’s very confusing to the reader.) I was dumbfounded. That couldn’t be—after all, early in the novel I checked specifically for that. I wrote down every character’s name and verified that none began with the same letter. (“A” names were popular in my early version.) My beta reader then listed the characters: Max, Mimi, Millie, Michelline, Magnus, and Mary-Louise. How did that happen?! Somewhere in the writing I re-changed all the names to “M.”

Obviously, I like “M” names. My son Matthew says it’s because he’s such a wonderful child that I’ve fallen in love with M names. Of course, now I can only keep one M name. That means coming up with other names to fit the characters that are already established. I went through baby name books, spent hours on baby name web sites. After I finally find new names, they have to pass the “Ariel test.”

Me: How about if Max becomes Stuart?

Ar: No.

Me: William or Gregory?

Ar: Those do not fit the character—they aren’t suave enough.

Me (whine in my voice): Those are the only names I can come up with.

Ar: *shrug* (i.e., that’s your problem, not mine. I have differential equations homework to do.)

I could quote Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet,” but it’s not true. If a rose were called a skunk cabbage, I don’t think people would love it quite so much.

So Max has become Jack (Jackson). Ariel’s idea. So if you don’t like it, it’s her fault.