Monday, November 29, 2010

Things That Loom Over Me, Part I

Okay, so Thanksgiving is over.  However, two big things are hanging over my head.  One the Christmas tree.  But that comes later and deserves a post all its own.  Before the tree looms The Christmas Letter.  When Cal and I got married, he said that he’d balance the checkbook every month if I wrote and mailed the Christmas card/photo.  (We took more pictures on Sunday—and we got a fairly decent picture. The problem is that not everyone agrees on which picture is acceptable. Ariel thinks that the best photo of her is the snorting/crazed* photo and is tired of having the worst picture of her chosen for the official photo.  She’s right. But usually we chose the one picture where Luke and Matt look normal...okay, and the one where l don’t look too old/odd.)

But back to the letter. I thought that when I agreed to do the Christmas letter that I was getting the easy end of the bargain.  (Actually, I think that the reason Cal volunteered is that he saw my checkbook when we got married—sometimes I added when I should have subtracted and vice versa.  I had a lot more money in the account than I thought.  Which was good, but as Cal pointed out it could have gone the other way.  That wouldn’t have been so good. Can you see now why it’s so odd that I have math kids?) 

Sorry—another digression. Back to the letter. I thought that I was getting the easy part of the bargain, but that was before we had children.  Now I have to write a rough draft and present it to all the kids.  Each one insists on “approving” what I say about them.  Actually, Luke doesn’t care.  So that’s easy.  Ariel doesn’t mind too much, though she says that I make her sound more wonderful than she is.  Jake isn’t too fussy—as long as his paragraph is as long as his siblings.  He hasn’t resorted to a word count, yet. Matt is the most hair-splitting.  He would prefer that I not include a paragraph on him.  Since I insist on a Matt paragraph, he gets to approve every word. I’m preparing my argument—sometimes we get down to the nitty-gritty of the connotations and denotations of various verbs.  Yep. Time to break out the thesaurus. Don’t you just wish you could write it?  I think I hear Cal laughing.

* see previous blog post

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Reprehensible Thanksgiving Tradition

We have a tradition besides the food and festivities of Thanksgiving (which we enjoyed and I have a few pictures to share).  But this tradition causes groans, imprecations, and scowls. It’s the annual Christmas photo.  I usually try to do it on Thanksgiving because:

1. I have a few minutes of down time between when everything is done and when the turkey’s ready and the guests arrive.

2. All the kids aren’t too badly dressed—though Jacob had to be told that a t-shirt that he normally wears to bed does not qualify as “Thanksgiving wear.”

3. I tell them that if we get a good picture, then they don’t have to do it on Sunday morning before church or (assuming they’re not ready early) on Sunday after church.

The six of us went outside.  I explained firmly to the children that I was not going to have the dog in the photo. Imagine more grimaces and gnashing of teeth.  I took eight photos.  Sadly, I did not bring my glasses along so that I could check the photos and make sure they looked good.  When I downloaded the pics to the computer here’s what I found.

Picture One: Not too bad, though some of us look like we need a dose of Metamucil. 

Picture Two: I wasn’t in this one—I forgot to set the timer.

Picture Three: The sun came out and Luke and Matt are squinting so hard it looks like they don’t have eyes.

Picture Four: I’m missing again—why didn’t the losers who designed this camera have a “timer feature” that allows the user to take multiple timed photos until I tell it not to?!

Picture Five: The wind started blowing and my hair is in my eyes. 

Picture Six: Luke and Matt’s eyes are closed.

Picture Seven: Luke’s snorting and Matt is having a crazed moment. Jacob wants to use that one for the Christmas photo.  Fat chance.

Picture Eight: I barely sat down in time and my hand’s blurry.
It looks like we’ll be taking more photos on Sunday.  I’m sure everyone will be very delighted. And this time, I’m bringing my glasses.

Here's the table before we had dinner.
Ariel folded all the napkins.

Here we are having dinner.

I know you want me to post the snorting/crazed photo. Too bad. I value my life. Besides, I have to work with these people again on Sunday. :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's Beginning to Smell Like Christmas!

 Today was the beginning of Christmas.  Yeah, I know that it's two days from Thanksgiving, but Christmas begins when I make fruitcake.  Before you groan, this is not your mother's fruitcake.  This is no dry doorstop.  This is a gourmet fruitcake that bathes in brandy for the next four weeks.

Here's the cake after it came out of the oven just before it had its drenching of holiday spirits.

Four weeks is a long time to wait....

Monday, November 22, 2010

Those Poor Egyptians

I’ve mentioned before that I teach Sunday school for two and three year olds. I’ve been doing it on and off for over 20 years. Most people don’t volunteer to teach these little ones, which is fine with me because I love them.

They are a delight. Once they get passed being afraid (which isn’t bad because they ask to sit on my lap and they snuggle—I miss when my own kids were snuggle bunnies), they are completely honest.

For example, (disclaimer—this one is from many years ago) I asked a little boy to sit in his chair. With sparkling eyes, he said, “Mrs. Keller, what if I say ‘no?’” I said, “Oh, sweetheart, if you say, ‘no,’ then I will have to tell your daddy.” He pondered that for half a second and then sat in his chair.

Then there are the three year olds who try to “shock” me. Of course, what shocks a three year old is not what shocks an adult. One of my favorites is when I pass out animals crackers.

3 year old: “Mrs. Keller, I hate cookies.”

Me: Oh, that’s too bad. Well, you don’t have to have any if you don’t want them.

3 year old, looking terribly indecisive, says nothing. At which point, I surreptitiously slid the child two animal crackers.

And there are the three year old misunderstandings of the world.

Me: There was going to be a famine in Egypt and the people would have nothing to eat.

3 year old: In Egypt they eat only skeletons

Me, trying to figure this out: What?

3 y.o.: They don’t have food. They eat bones.

Me, light coming on: Are you talking about mummies?

3 y.o nods, looking quite pleased with himself

Me: Mummifying is what they did with dead bodies. They didn’t eat them.

3yo, looking disappointed but resigned: Oh.

And, of course, I always have shoe/purse/jewelry bonding. No matter how shy, every two or three year old girl is eager to show you her shoes/purse/jewelry and discuss its merits. And I admit that I’ve worn certain earrings/necklaces/shoes because I knew that “my girls” would love it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Eleventh Plague

Do you know what I hate about the South?  It’s not the heat.  Okay, I don’t like the heat.  I sort of hate it—but in a I’m-so-much-tougher-than-this sort of way.  It’s the heat that makes steel magnolias out of tulip-type women like me.

The thing I really hate is the mosquitoes.  I know I’ve had numerous mosquito related posts, but finding a mosquito flying in the house in mid-November has got to be a sign of the apocalypse.  Seriously.  What else could it be but the Eleventh Plague?

If you think of mosquitoes as irritating insects, I guess you don’t understand the horror of it all.  But remember, mosquitoes are miniature vampires.  The only reason that they don’t make you undead is because they’re too small.  But here’s the thing, mosquitoes are changing their DNA.  The fact that they’re alive in mid-November is proof of that.  And they are changing their tactics—they’re organizing.  (I know because I can see the “just wait” in their sneering multi-focal eyes when they bite me.) While a single mosquito can’t make you undead on its own, a swarm is a different animal all together.  A swarm could suck you dry on the way to the mailbox, which is when they like to attack me.  I’m sure they’re all under our Southern magnolia tree waiting to strike.  The mosquito in the house today was just their advance guard.  It’s coming...the Eleventh Plague.  Beware the mosquito apocalypse.  Don’t say that you weren’t warned!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Writers' Quotes

My friend Andrew sent me some writers' quotes.  Here's one of them.  Thanks, Andrew!

The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say,
but what we are unable to say.
~Anais Nin

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gnashing of Teeth

Nothing quite equals the gnashing of teeth provoked by college registration.  The university assigns registration times to different groups of students.  Luke got up before 6 am to register for next semester (For reasons know only to the UTC system, Ariel registered at 1pm yesterday—I’m not sure why, they’re both sophomores. The fact that she had early reg time caused outrage earlier this week.  I assured Luke that it was because they university doesn’t want to disturb the delicate balance of the math psyche by making them set an alarm.  I know you think I’m joking, but Ariel will back me up.  For example, most of her math professors actually have bottles of prescription medication in lines across their desk. And it’s not antibiotics.)

Sorry for the digression. When I got up to make coffee, Luke was grumbling.  I asked how registration went.  He said that Organic Chemistry was already full at 6 am, and he couldn’t get into the class.  So, theoretically, sophomore Chem majors can’t get into the class.  It’s a sophomore class. And since UTC only offers O Chem 1 in the fall and O Chem 2 in the spring, you’d think they’d know how many students to expect.  I suggested Luke Force Add the class.  He said you can’t.  Fire laws limit the number of students in labs.  Oh, right.  Are the profs planning to fail a lot of students, and thus don’t need the extra labs?  If so, they should tell the students not to register for spring.  Of course, more likely they will add labs.  But why not do it before reg when it helps to plan your other classes? 

But I think I’ve discovered the answer.  Unlike math majors, who need their balance maintained, the university wants chemistry majors to learn flexibility.  After all, these are people who measure meticulously.  They tend to do everything precisely. At two, Luke had a fastidiously organized his sock drawer (even separated by day socks and night socks).  He was so tidy that when he and Ariel shared a room (they were very young), her idea of cleaning up was dumping her mess on Luke’s side so he’d clean it up.

In other words, the whole registration fiasco is really an attempt at character building by the university.  Hehe.  I suspect Luke won’t appreciate my interpretation. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fairy Rings

This time of year we get rain and warm, but not hot days.  That breeds mycelium (mushrooms).  Of course being an avid gardener, I pulled up all the fruiting bodies.  But across the street from our house is a big patch of grass that isn’t so faithfully tended.  And I’m glad.  Because when the conditions are just right, the fairy rings appear.  If you’ve never seen a fairy ring, it’s a circle of grass that’s perfectly outlined in mushrooms.  It’s really amazing, otherworldly actually.  It makes me want to put on fairy wings and dance.
Of course, I wouldn’t be a sweet little elfin fairy with a crinoline tutu.  I picture myself more as Holly Short from the Artemis Fowl books.  Holly may have wings, but she packs Neutrino 2000, can fly any ship with turbo thrusters, and take down a charging bull goblin without breaking a sweat.  Yep, that’s my kind of elfin fairy.

Here’s picture of a fairy ring.  It’s not the one across the street, which is actually better, but I don’t have a photo of it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Study Buddy

I just finished helping my daughter study for a proofs exam.  Why? Because I was too tired to come up with an excuse for why I couldn’t help her study. 

My job as study-buddy is to hold up a flashcard and nod as she recites drivel to me.  If the drivel is vaguely related to what is scrawled on the card, I say “good.”  If the drivel seems unrelated, I say “yeah, maybe.”  Then she looks at the card and says, “That’s exactly what I said.”  And I say, “Oh, right.” I mean how am I supposed to know that a sideways swirl is actually an “R,” which isn’t really an “r” but is actually a “relation?”  (Maybe they’re second cousins once removed, but I didn’t ask.)

However, I did find a couple of interesting things like hUg.  Any math that involves hugs can’t be all bad.  And actually hUg stands for “h” union with “g” so it really is a kind of hug.  Which leads to the integral of e to the x, but I won’t go there.

There are other cool terms we studied and here’s what I think they should mean: supremums (super mums—moms who sacrifice their “down” time to help their daughters study) and infimums (sick mums—moms who stay up too late helping their daughters study).   

Then there’s the set theory thing with inverse images. I told her they looked like paramecium.  She was mildly offended that I’d “managed to taint” math with science.  Hmm. I’ll remember that for next time I want to get out of flashcard duty.  “Hey, Ar, the foot of this swirly R looks like a flagellum.”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Writers' Quotes

Writing, I think, is not apart from living.  
Writing is a kind of double living. 
 The writer experiences everything twice.  
Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind. 

 ~Catherine Drinker Bowen

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Autumnal Conspiracies

How do I know that autumn’s here?  (Okay, it’s November, but I live in Tennessee so fall comes late.)  Is it the apple cider that’s mulling on the stove? Is it the leaves that are going from green to crimson? Is it the leaf mold that makes us sneeze 24 hours a day?

No. It’s none of those things. I know it’s autumn because I need two wardrobes.  In the mornings, I need an undershirt, long-sleeve shirt, wool sweater, jeans, and warm socks.  By afternoon, I need a pair of shorts and a tank top.

It freezes during the night and hits the 70s or 80s in the afternoon.  Why is that?  I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation that has something to do with wind patterns and the seasonal movements of the earth around the sun, but that’s hogwash.  I’m pretty sure it’s caused by an under-the-table deal between the detergent companies and the clothing manufacturers.  (Kind of like the deal between greeting card manufacturers and the postal service, which created holidays like Secretary’s Day and National Talk-Like-A-Pirate-Day. Yes, that’s a real day with real cards.)

Anyway, the temperature swings are clearly a result of weather altering satellites owned by Proctor and Gamble and the Gap. In a bid to make up lost revenue due to the recession, they’ve messed with the weather and engineered these multiple clothing changes. Instead of tossing shorts and tank top in the wash, I also have to wash jeans, an undershirt, a tee-shirt and heavy socks.  Now multiply this by the six people in the house. (thankfully, we have only one girl or you could be multiplying this by twelve to include outfits that were tried on and discarded).  Yep, that’s a lot of laundry.

So I’m going through lots of detergent. (BTW, in an effort to save money and not pay for any more satellites purchased by P&G, I bought the Costco version of Tide.  Don’t do it.  It doesn’t dissolve properly, even in warm water, and leaves little bits of detergent on your clothes.)  However, I’ve outsmarted Gap as well as Target and Kohls, who are no doubt involved in this conspiracy, by buying at a thrift store, sewing, and remaking hand-me-downs.

Thankfully, winter’s just around the corner, although then I’ll have to face the gas company/heating oil conspiracy. I have no idea how to get around that.  Last winter, I tried turning the heater down very low. But when the kids “saw” their breath, mutinous rumors abounded. Their eagle eyes have already been watching the thermostat. I must come up with new ways to thwart the heating company. Or my kids.  Hmm. The heating company is easier.

N.B. For some reason, Blogger insists on putting my final paragraphs in a different font.  What's up with that? I've tried every remedy.  It must be a Microsoft/Blogger conspiracy formulated by the computer imps who really run the companies.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Meacham Baby

You might remember that a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to the Meacham Writers’ Conference.  The day finally came.  If you’ve never been to a workshop before, it’s like showing off your new baby to a bunch of strangers whose job is to find your baby’s flaws. Yeah, kind of scary.  Since I’m not the best judge of my own work. I was nervous.  What made it even worse was that I didn’t have anything new to submit, I just dusted off an old novel that had been “trunked” for the last six or seven years.  So I hadn’t had time to decide if that “spot” on the cheek of chapter one was a cute freckle or a witchy mole with hair growing out of it.  My other worry was that this old manuscript is what I call my “heart novel.”  And I really didn’t want the story to be dumped on. 

Mine was one of the last manuscripts to be dealt with in the workshop.  I was a little more relaxed because everyone seemed to be knowledgeable about writing and fair.  But I was still pasting on my it’s-okay-I-can-take-criticism face in case I was told the story was trite or cliché or had a witchy mole in chapter one.

As it turned out the spot was a very cute freckle, and the baby was tickled and cooed over.  The seminar leader told me to get the book in the hands of agents asap.  I was stunned—my baby wasn’t a three-eyed alien.  I guess I’m going to dress the book in its cutest ruffles and frills, i.e. re-edit it one more time and look for an agent.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Reader Recommendations

(This isn’t exactly a Friday Five, but I’d like some opinions so bear with me.)

The other day, Jacob was looking for a book to read (he’s a picky reader) so I suggested Dune. I remembered reading and enjoying it as a teenager.  He borrowed it from the library. 

Then, of course, I did the parent thing—I thought, “Uh, I don’t exactly remember the details of the book...maybe I don’t want him to read the book.”  So I started reading it again.  And I’m really enjoying it (so far nothing too objectionable).  I’m not a big sci-fi reader, but a well-written book is lovely whatever the genre.  One of the things I like about reading outside my favorite genres is that I pay more attention to the writing and how the author creates his/her magic.

What I’m loving about Dune is that although the pace is slower than I might have imagined, the author is spreading a lot of breadcrumbs for me to follow.  Plus, Frank Herbert, Dune’s author, does his world building with a restrained hand.  A lot of sci-fi is yawn inducing for me because they authors get too caught up in world building.  But in Dune I learn only what I need to know, i.e. no information dumps.  So instead of knowing every oddity of the setting, I learn what the characters experience, what their normative is.  And I’m fascinated.  Small details here and there create a more real, exotic world than a paragraph detailing the differences.  I guess what I’m saying is that I’m learning from a master about place and setting.  That’s what I like about reading out of my favorite genres.

What I’m asking for in this post is for you all to share with me who you think are masters of their genres.  I can’t wait to start putting books on hold at the library.  Thanks!  Here are a few recommendations that I have to share.

Detective Mysteries:

1.Agatha Christie.  But some of her more unusual books.  Try reading a few of her Tommy and Tuppence stories: N or M and By the Pricking of My Thumbs.  In these books (and others with Tommy and Tuppence) Christie allows the couple to age and their relationship to mature. Also check out some of her plays that have been novelized—very interesting style.

2.Dorothy Sayers. The Lord Peter Wimsey books.  (Especially the ones with Harriet Vane—Harriet’s a writer so you can’t help but love her. ;)

Don’t forget, share with us what you love and who the masters are.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Writers' Quotes

A good style should show no signs of effort.  
What is written should seem a happy accident. 
 ~W. Somerset Maugham

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Ariel is fascinated by statistics. Today she researched the professor-student ratio of various majors at UTC. She discovered that the chemistry professor-student ratio was 1 to 36 with a retention rate of 54.1%--the number of students who don’t change to a different major. Then she pulled up the mathematics professor-student ratio, which was 1 to 1.56. Yes, that means that for every math professor there’s 1.56 students (and that doesn’t include the adjunct professors—of course, they usually teach non-major math classes). That’s an amazing statistic. But then you have to consider that the departmental retention rate is 35.9%.  Hmm. So despite the fact that each math professor could teach one and half students, basically private tutoring, they still can’t retain 2/3s of the students majoring in the department. Hmm. Why? Any ideas?  I’m guessing it must be personal hygiene issues.