Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday Fun

It is going to be hellaciously hot today. I've seen predictions of 106. Yesterday, it hit 100. All of my plants are shriveling in spite of the buckets of water I've been giving them. When I raked leaves yesterday (a curse on all Southern magnolia trees), I thought my skin would melt into a puddle on the ground.

So for everyone stuck in their air conditioned houses and everyone stuck at work, I thought we'd have some Friday fun with "Monsters Are Real."

Yes, I have a psycho sense of humor. But admit it, it was funny.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

24th Anniversary

On Monday, my husband and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary. So we went on an overnight trip to the Biltmore estate. It was fantastic. The house, billed as the largest house in America, was stunning. The history was romantic. And the staff was well versed in Southern hospitality.

Sadly, they didn't allow you to take photos inside the house. (500 year old tapestries don't hold up well to flash photography. Plus, they can sell you a book of photos book later.) I do have some pictures from the outside and the gardens. But Cal and I discovered that without the kids, it's not as fun taking photos. We just had to keep taking pictures of each other. It was better when we could say, "Luke/Ariel/Jake/Matt stand over there and let me take your picture."

Here are the photos.

The Biltmore estate main entrance. 

I think that the lion is protecting me. Cal says that he's getting ready for lunch.

This is the main entrance. At the top corners are gargoyles.

Lily ponds.

On the loggia, overlooking the forest behind the house. Interestingly, the area was completely denuded when George Vanderbuilt built the house. He and Frederick Law Olmstedt planned and planted the forest that's there now. It was the beginning of forestry in the US.

I love architectural details. I won't bore you with all the gargoyle, downspout, and carving photos. But I thought I'd share just one.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Kickin' Back

I'm taking a vacation day today. (It's our 24th wedding anniversary.) I'll be back on Wednesday, and I'll have some photos of where we went to celebrate--the Biltmore Estate.

Friday, June 22, 2012

I Am Offended. Except Not.

At our house, the folding of laundry is a job of the minions. And I’ll say first off that the chore is not spread out evenly among the minions. It’s more like, “You there. Fold the laundry and put it away.”

This summer two of the minions are working (they are doing summer research). That leaves only two minions folding scads of laundry. And since they aren’t paid, they have a communist approach—do the work with little care as to the results.

This led to the following scene at breakfast.

Husband: “You know, the laundry has become a total crap shoot. I get all kinds of clothes that aren’t mine.”

Working Minion (female): “I’m always getting other people’s laundry. Especially mom’s.”

Folding Minion (male): “One pair of pink undies looks like another. I can’t tell the difference.”

WM (conceding the point): “Yeah, but it’s not the underwear. You gave me mom’s dorky shorts.”

FM: “Hmm. True.”

Me, looking up from what I was reading: “Hey, I don’t have dorky shorts.”

WM: “You totally have dorky shorts. Remember those shorts you bought the other day to wear with your swimsuit.”

Me, knowing I bought them because they were cheap even though they were ugly and didn’t fit well: “Okay, those are dorky.”

WM: “You do have one pair of cute jeans.”

Me, feeling better: “Thanks…wait a minute…I have five pairs of jeans. Are you saying the others are lame?”

WM, with a teasing smile: “The jeans with the double buttons are so cute. I love when the boys put them in my laundry pile.”

I guess the lesson to be learned here is that one day in five I’m cool. And the rest, I’m dorky. Hmmm. I’m good with that.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Versatile Blogger Award

Thanks to Alice who gave me the Versatile Blogger Award. I think I may have gotten this before. But it's a fun award, so I'm going to do it again. Here are seven random facts about myself. Of course, I’ve been blogging for a long time—this is post number 626 for me—so there aren’t many random (interesting) facts that you don’t already know. But here’s what I could come up with.

1. I wash my feet before I go to bed. My feet must be clean before they can touch the sheets.

2. I can’t stand the sound of cracking knuckles. Three of my four children do this. I think they do it to torture me.

3. I started out as a bio major in college with thoughts of going to med school. Bad idea. I reverse numbers. So I switched to English and saved myself a malpractice lawsuit—“Take 52 ml of this drug. Oh no, wait! I meant 25 ml.”

4. I am face-blind. (I have several posts on this.) The other day I saw one of my son’s close friends, whom I’ve known for six years. He often comes over to our house once a week. But on this afternoon, his hair was wet and I didn’t recognize him until he spoke. And even then, I stared at him on and off all afternoon, thinking “Is that Duncan?” And he’d speak again and I’d think, “Right. That is Duncan.” But I still wasn’t sure. In the car on the way home, I said to my son, “That was Duncan, right?” My son rolled his eyes. “Mom, you’re insane.” But it’s okay. I’m a writer, and we only have a nodding acquaintance with reality.

5. I am an avid runner, even though I hate running. Why do I run? I think I’m addicted to endorphins.

6. I know I’m addicted to dark chocolate.

7. I love to quote literature at my children. “Beware the Jabberwock, my son…and shun the frumtious Bandersnatch.” Maybe this is why they are majoring in the maths and sciences.

Now I need to pass this award along. Here are my nominees (hopefully, you haven't had the award before).

1. Anne

3. KO

5. Patti

6. Katie

Monday, June 18, 2012

Top Ten Things I Learned While Refinishing Our Kitchen Cabinets

  1.      When you get a burning sensation on your skin, wash it really quickly. If you ignore the pain, you will get a chemical burn. And they can blister. (BTW, pain is a gift from God for the foolish who strip cabinets in shorts and a tank top.)

2. If you live in an old house, you can assume that nothing in your house is standard. It means that hardware is very expensive. I found drawer pulls that would fit our drawers and cabinets. But they cost $400 a piece. Apparently, they were “vintage.” (Vintage is code for it-costs-way-more-money-than-it’s-worth.) We drilled new holes and used wood putty.

3.      “Eyeballing” where you should drill the holes for the new handles doesn’t work. If you don’t want angled handles, use a ruler.

4.      White wood-stain dyes fingernails. I’ve been very hip for weeks now. Not intentionally hip however.

5.      The “helpers” at Home Depot know absolutely nothing about the products that they sell.

6.      Don’t assume that the cabinets are dry. High humidity keeps things wet for a long time.

7.      Remind your kids not to dump laundry on the cabinet doors that are “drying” on top of the washing machine and dryer.

8.      Climbing inside a cupboard while staining the inside leads to volatile chemical brain-fry.

9.      When you talk about stripping, you need to be very specific. People misunderstand. Enough said.

10.  Don’t polyurethane when your dog is shedding. Seriously. Especially if you have a black Lab and your cabinets are white. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Word Choice: Friday Fun

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

In light of that quote, here are some of my favorite Woodhouse quotes for your Friday fun.

“…he once contracted a matrimonial engagement with Lady Florence.”

Bertie, looking at a painting: “It has a nice patina.”
Aunt Dahlia: “You don’t even know what a patina is.”
Bertie: “It’s generally safe to say such a thing when confronted by a piece of art.”

Aunt Dahlia to her husband, Uncle Tom: “You know you always shoot the wrong people.”

Lady Glossip: “Mr. Wooster, how would you support a wife?”
Bertie Wooster: “Well, I suppose it depends on whose wife it was, a little gentle pressure beneath the elbow while crossing a busy street usually fits the bill.”

Mike nodded. A sombre nod. The nod Napoleon might have given if somebody had met him in 1812 and said, "So, you're back from Moscow, eh?”

(This one is for all my writing friends.) “A certain critic -- for such men, I regret to say, do exist -- made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained 'all the old Wodehouse characters under different names.' He has probably by now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha: but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning. With my superior intelligence, I have out-generalled the man this time by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.”

Bertie, talking about Roderick Spode: “You can't be a successful Dictator and design women's underclothing.”

“She looked like something that might have occurred to Ibsen in one of his less frivolous moments.”

This isn’t an example of word choice, but I’m including it since Shakespeare season is upon the Keller household. Next week I start sewing. (This year the kids are in Much Ado About Nothing. Jake plays Benedick, and Matt is Claudio.)

Woodhouse speaking about himself: “I suppose the fundamental distinction between Shakespeare and myself is one of treatment. We get our effects differently. Take the familiar farcical situation of someone who suddenly discovers that something unpleasant is standing behind them. Here is how Shakespeare handles it in "The Winter's Tale," Act 3, Scene 3:

ANTIGONUS: Farewell! A lullaby too rough. I never saw the heavens so dim by day. A savage clamour! Well may I get aboard! This is the chase: I am gone for ever.

And then comes literature's most famous stage direction, "Exit pursued by a bear." All well and good, but here's the way I would handle it:

BERTIE: Touch of indigestion, Jeeves?
JEEVES: No, Sir.
BERTIE: Then why is your tummy rumbling?
JEEVES: Pardon me, Sir, the noise to which you allude does not emanate from my interior but from that of that animal that has just joined us.
BERTIE: Animal? What animal?
JEEVES: A bear, Sir. If you will turn your head, you will observe that a bear is standing in your immediate rear inspecting you in a somewhat menacing manner.
BERTIE (as narrator): I pivoted the loaf. The honest fellow was perfectly correct. It was a bear. And not a small bear, either. One of the large economy size. Its eye was bleak and it gnashed a tooth or two, and I could see at a g. that it was going to be difficult for me to find a formula. "Advise me, Jeeves," I yipped. "What do I do for the best?"
JEEVES: I fancy it might be judicious if you were to make an exit, Sir.
BERTIE (narrator): No sooner s. than d. I streaked for the horizon, closely followed across country by the dumb chum. And that, boys and girls, is how your grandfather clipped six seconds off Roger Bannister's mile.

Who can say which method is superior?"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Floating Admiral

Have you read The Floating Admiral? If not, you might want to add it to your To-Be-Read List. It’s not a new release. In fact, I found it at a used bookstore several years ago. Nor is it the best book I’ve read. But speaking as a writer and a reader, it’s just one of the most fascinating.

Here’s the story behind the book:

It was written by the Detection Club*, a group of fiction writers including Agatha Christie, GK Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Baroness Emma Orczy and others. (Okay, I’m just saying that I would have loved to be a part of their get-togethers. It’s a good thing I never had to choose between being part of the Detection Club and the Inklings.)

At any rate, members of the Detection Club got tired of hearing police officers say, “Well, it’s easy for your fictional detective because he/she knows who the murderer is from the very beginning and gets to follow the clues that you conveniently leave for them.” So the writers set themselves a task: to write a murder mystery where the writer didn’t know the ending. To accomplish this, they decided to have multiple authors, each of whom wrote one chapter of the book.

Whitechurch wrote the first chapter and sent it to the next writer. The next writer read Whitechurch’s chapter, and then wrote the next chapter and sent both on to the next writer. And so it went chapter after chapter until the final author wrote the last chapter and solved the mystery. And voila, they wrote a book without knowing who the murderer was.

What makes it even more fascinating is that at the end of the book, each author included his/her own solution. After the authors wrote their chapter, they wrote a sealed solution explaining who they believed did it and why. It makes for fascinating reading because, of course, each writer had vastly different ideas of who did what and why. Some of the explanations are short and simple. Some are complex involving time tables, mistaken identity, marriage licenses, tides, etc.

Okay, writer friends, doesn’t this sound like tons of fun? Anyone out there want to try something similar?

*Here’s the Detection Club oath of membership.

“Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?”  (According to Wikipedia either Sayers or Chesterton wrote the oath.)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Caveat Scriptor

When I took Latin years ago, I never thought I’d be using it to come up with blog titles. In the spirit of total honesty, when I took Latin, personal computers didn’t exist.

On Saturday, I met a young woman at a wedding that I hadn’t seen in several years. She told me that she was attending a new university and majoring in creative writing. And for a moment I was stymied. I wanted to hug her and say, “Wonderful!” But I also wanted to say, “No! Major in accounting or nursing or some field where you can get a job to pay your bills.”

In all fairness, it is possible to get a degree related job. I majored in English Literature, and when I graduated I got a job with Harcourt in their Academic Press division. Another English degree friend of mine actually makes a living writing fiction. But we both know that we’re the exceptions to the rule.

On the other hand, a writer will write, even if they try not to. The addiction is too strong. And if you’re going to write, you may as well learn to do it well. So, friend, enjoy your writing classes! But, please, minor in accounting. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

What I Learned From Making My Kids Write Thank You Notes

The other day I reminded my son Jacob that he needed to write some thank you notes. According to my kids, no one else they know has to do this. Perhaps this is becoming something of a lost art, but I still hand my kids pen and paper and hope for the best.

I’m not sure what my kids have learned, but here’s what I’ve discovered over the years.

1.      Writing well is not an inherited gift. Several Christmases ago, one son wrote to his grandparents, “Thanks for the assorted stuff.” I told the son, “Uh, this isn’t acceptable.” The son said, “But I’m seriously thankful, and they gave me assorted stuff.”

2.     In spite of the fact that my children have all had to write personal and business letters and envelopes in English classes, my high school graduate son asked, “So where on the envelope do you write the address you’re sending the note to?” I answered, “How are you ever going to pay your bills if you don’t know?” Then it occurred to me that he’ll pay online.

3.     When they were younger, I had to specify exactly how many sentences they had to write. Otherwise, I discovered that they could fill up a note with really large letters.

4.     Instead of using a dictionary to look up a word the child doesn’t know how to spell, he will simply use very messy handwriting to disguise the words. Apparently, if the recipient of the note can’t read the words, then he/she won’t know what’s misspelled.

5.    Over the years, my children have assured me that they’ll never make their kids write thank you notes. I’m guessing that I’ll be getting them. Though they’ll probably be emailed. Sigh.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Games Closet

Yesterday, I announced to Matt and Jake that it was Clean-Out-the –Entry-Closet Day. Since our house was built in 1940, it has only one storage area. A walk-in entry closet. So you can imagine what happens. And you’ll understand why the boys’ smiles became tight and their eyes narrowed. Suddenly, they thought of chores they needed to do.

But to no avail. To understand the boys' chagrin, you need to know that the closet currently houses two sewing machines, three sleeping bags, three sewing boxes, a stereo, winter coats, baby books, boxes of CDs, a tripod, three boxes of piano music and games. Out of all those things, it was the games that the boys didn’t want to deal with.

We are game people. It’s a nice cheap way to spend time with your kids that isn’t mind numbing. Of course, there are the inevitable squabbles. But when the kids were little and they showed “unsportsmanlike behavior” we made them pay the “idolatry tax.” They lost money, points, whatever was valuable in the game because they were making winning an idol. It worked really well until we had an adult visitor, who was a bit “intense” and the kids told said visitor that he had to pay the “idolatry tax.”

Back to the closet. So, uh, we have a lot of games. A lot of games. After I culled the horde yesterday and made a Goodwill pile for the games we don’t like, we had one hundred games. (Cringe. I know that’s a lot of games. But we have four almost adult kids, so that’s a lot of birthdays and Christmases.)

The nastiest problem, besides fixing the boxes, is sorting the “orphaned pieces box.” Every game piece, card, faux money, dice, and timer that I find, which didn’t get put away, ends up in the OPB. And we didn’t empty the OPB last summer. So imagine 100 games and two years’ worth of orphaned pieces. Yep, there were enough Risk soldiers to form an army, enough dice to make Las Vegas happy, and enough faux money to pay off our mortgage.

But we got the whole closet, including the games, done in three hours. But I know that’s not why you’re reading this blog post, you want me to tell you what the top ten games are.

So here’s my list.

1.      Settlers of Catan. (This is my favorite. And it even makes it into the Screwing Up Time sequel.)

2.      Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot. (I hate this game. But apparently, male high school, college and graduate students find this game addictive. I think it’s the cards: Ebola Virus, Kitchen Wisk, Terrible Misfortune card—a bunny pulls a pin out of a grenade because it would make lovely jewelry. Enough said.)

3.      Lost Victory. (Only Luke loves this game—it takes weeks to play. It’s a historical battle between the Russians and the Germans.)

4.      Set. (Ariel’s favorite game. It’s a Mensa game, and the only one who will play this with her is Jacob. I liked the game until Ariel began consistently doubling my score.)

5.      Quelf. (The boys think this game is hilarious. It involves barking like a dog and wrapping people in toilet paper. I don’t understand why this is fun.)

6.      Louis XIV. (You get to be a member of the Sun King’s court. There’s tons of intrigue, manipulation, influence peddling, and multiple ways to win. I love those domination games.)

7.      Guillotine. (You collect heads. Literally. Sorry. But I think it’s really fun.)

8.      Power Grid. (You build power plants across Germany, trying to dominate the industry and become cost efficient. Hmm. That sounds lame. But it’s fun.)

9.      The Farming Game. (You are a farmer in Washington, trying to earn enough money from farming that you can quite your other job. This game was actually translated into Russian and given to Russian farmers when the farms were de-collectivized so they'd know what to expect.)

10.  Zeus on the Loose. (It involves Greek gods and goddesses and speedy addition and subtraction. Weird combo, but it works. Our dog Jezebel hates the Zeus character. One day, she finally got him. His head is now…mangled.)

What about you all? Any game recommendations?

Monday, June 4, 2012


I’m sorry I missed posting last Friday. On Thursday and Friday, ISP wizards were at our house fixing our buffering and range issues—so internet access was only sporadically available. Apparently, our 1940s plaster walls were not built with the internet in mind. On one side of said wall the speed was 28 mb/sec. On the other side it was 3 mb/sec. And if you got much further away, it died altogether.

I’m very happy to say that the wizards now have everything fixed. And they only needed to drill a couple of holes in the floor and add new cool electronics.

However, since I didn’t have internet access, I was distraction free and was able to finish my third edit of the sequel to Screwing Up Time. Yay!! It is now going out to beta readers.

My experience got me to thinking. Internet service providers should offer a service to writers. I’m calling this service Deadline Internet Blackouts. Writers (or their agents/editors) could sign up for a DIB whenever a deadline was approaching and the writer was behind. The catch would be that the internet would be shut down until the word count/edit was complete.

Yeah, I realize that computers actually have a button you can push to shut off the internet access. Or, um, you could just not visit Facebook/blogs/etc. until your work was done. But I can’t make any money off that. Anyway, so what do you think? How many people would be interested in DIB? I’m sure that it would be great for students too. Think about it.