Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dead-End Posts and Decking the Halls

Does any other blogger have this happen? You’re in the midst of a writing a blog post and suddenly it dies. Wherever the post was going originally, it took a wrong turn at Albuquerque. And the post lies like a dead cockroach in the middle of the living room floor. And you stare at the “cockroach” wondering if you should ignore it and hope your husband removes the carcass or get the broom and dust pan.

(In case you’re wondering, we do get the occasional dead roach body—my husband did pest control when he was in grad school, so he knows how to kill bugs other than to spray Raid. But it involves boric acid and wall joints, which “kills bug dead.” But when the weather gets cold and the bugs want a warmer place to live they crawl through the boric acid and die on the floor.)

Back to blog posts. I’ve never had a novel or short story die. But blog posts do. And usually they defy resurrection.

How do I cope? I usually yell out, “Who’s done something funny this week?” And everyone scowls at me. They don’t think they’re particularly funny.

According to the family, nothing funny has happened lately. Of course, there’s the Christmas music incident. Matthew wants to listen to Christmas music once school starts again. I do not. Really, really do not. Christmas music is under the ban until Thanksgiving is over—by January I’m ready to bang Rudolph against the wall. (Though I may make an occasional exception for Straight No Chaser’s Christmas CD, but only if I’m in an excellent mood.) In any case, Matthew chafes at my restrictions. So he found a way around it. (He’s clever that way.) He gathered up a ton of piano Christmas music and took it to music lessons. He said to his teacher (who is a massive Christmas fan), “I want to learn Christmas music”—this was back in the beginning of October!  She said, “Matthew what a wonderful idea!” And she assigned him a whole book of Christmas carols!! A whole book!

Now for an hour a day, I’m listening to Christmas music. I’m ready to Deck the Halls alright. Just not with boughs of holly. Next year, I’m hiding the Christmas music in a dark corner of the basement.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Book Release Draws Near!

Assuming the confluence of tropical storm Sandy and the Nor’easter doesn’t wipe out my proofreader’s internet access, Screwing Up Babylon should be available by this time next week. (Squee!)

In celebration of that, I’d like to set up a blog tour with hopes of spreading the tour out over several weeks.

If you’re interested in participating, you could just host the book or I could do a guest post on a topic. For example,

How to research

Integrating research into plot

Setting as a character

An excerpt from Screwing Up Babylon

Or something else of your choosing.

Please let me know if you’re interested in participating. (Either leave a comment or e-mail me at connie (dot) m (dot) keller AT gmail (dot) com). 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Five

Here’s a peak into our home—five statements that Kellers made this week.

1. Ariel was complaining about a proof for Modern Algebra. Luke told her, “Next semester take Post-Modern Algebra, and you won’t have to write any proofs.”

2. This election is the first time Jacob will vote. So he’s been avidly watching political pundits and quoting them to us. “Candidate X will steal your money, burn your house, and kill your cat. I’m Candidate Y, and I approve this message.”

3. I was singing along to a song in the car. Luke said to me, “That’s a heinous song.” I said, “No, it’s not. It’s about the transitory-ness of life and enjoying the one you love. Death could be around the corner.” Luke said, “Uh, Mom, the song’s about a one-night stand.” Me, “Oh…now you’ve ruined it for me.”

4. Matt’s learning to drive. “Wouldn’t it be cool if they made semi-automatic cars? Then you’d be able to change gears without using a clutch.”

5. “Life is like a melon. The question is whether you’re the fleshy part or the rind.” I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean, but it’s the kind of thing Matt says as walks through the house.


Image from Wikimedia

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

In Praise of Used Bookstores

File:FI bookstore.JPG
This isn't McKay's. I forgot to take a photo
while I was there.

As an author, I have mixed feelings about used bookstores. I know when I buy a book there, the author is not getting any royalties. On the other hand, I view it kind of like a library—it’s an opportunity to discover new authors whose work I wouldn’t otherwise have tried.

I used to buy more books from local bookstores. But as our budget got tighter and books became much more expensive, I became more and more selective. For a while, I bought remaindered books and found books that way. But more often than not, the remaindered books were blockbuster authors or authors the bookstore hoped would be blockbuster authors and the books didn’t quite sell.

Then when we moved to Tennessee, I found an amazing used bookstore, McKays. It’s a two story warehouse of books—a real honest-to-goodness treasure trove. And I found the “bargain section,” a spot where they place novels that aren’t selling fast enough. This is where the real gems are. The books are usually under a dollar and are a mixed bag of everything from spy/legal/mystery/thrillers (which I like to read on the treadmill) to literary novels. Lots of literary novels. And I’ve discovered new authors. I won’t spend $25 on a book whose author I don’t know and love. But I’ll risk a dollar. For 25 cents, I’ll buy a book I think I probably won’t like but want to read for purposes of learning more about writing—and sometimes I fall in love.

The other day, I found a book by Geraldine Brooks. I read her novel People of the Book a couple of months ago and fell in love. If Year of Wonder is just as good, then I’ll buy her new book when it comes out. I’ll get her novel March (a retelling of Little Women), even though I’m not fond of Louisa May Alcott. Brook’s writing in POB was that good.

In a sense, used bookstores were the forerunner of Amazon’s Kindle Bargain Books. They’re an opportunity for a writer to share his/her vision and catch a new follower.

What about you? Do you buy books at used bookstores? 

Monday, October 22, 2012


The other day, my husband had to go out of town. Things always happen when a husband goes out of town. It used to be that all four kids would get sick,  or someone would break a bone, etc. But they’re older now. So it’s different.

Friday night, I discovered that what I thought I had in the freezer isn’t what I had in the freezer. So I decided to grill hamburgers, and I sent oldest son Luke to the store for buns and chips (we never have chips—too expensive for empty calories), so this was a treat. My thought was I’ll grill while he goes to the store and everything will be ready at the same time.

It was working fine, until I got a phone call. My husband called, he was on his way to NC and his directions weren’t good. He wanted me to pull up Google maps and get him back on track. No big deal.

So I asked Ariel to grill the burgers. She said, “Uh, I’ve never grilled anything before.” I was amazed—I guess I make the boys BBQ. At any rate, I said, “No big deal, just watch it and flip the burgers when they get brown.” She gave me a suspicious look. Which I ignored.

Google provided the proper maps, eventually. Then Ariel came in the house.

Ar: I need you!

Me: Dad needs me more.

Ar: The BBQ is on fire.

Me to husband: Go north and you’ll run into the highway you need, though there might not be an entrance.

Ar: The BBQ is on FIRE!

Me: sighing, “Close the lid and turn off the gas.”

Me to husband: When you find the highway, there’s road that runs parallel, so if there no on-ramp—

Ar: I already closed the lid, and flames are leaping out the sides.

Me to husband: Apparently, we have a disaster in progress. You’re on your own.

Husband: Bye.

I follow Ariel to the BBQ. The lid is closed, but the BBQ is surrounded by an orange haze. The thermometer on the lid reads 8,000 degrees (okay, more like over 800+—our BBQ doesn’t measure anything over 800). So, I get the hose and turn it on.

Ar: ACK! You can’t put water on a grease fire.

Me: (The following thought process occurred in about one half of a second.) Hmm. I know you can’t put water on a chemical fire. But I think water’s dangerous with grease, but the fire is sort of contained so it might be safe. And I don’t want to open the lid to douse it with flour because the flames might burn my arm. The deciding factor…I absolutely do not want to clean five pounds of flour out of my BBQ.

I squirt water into the side of the BBQ, and the orange haze disappears. Then, I turn off the hose, open the BBQ, and removed the “fully cooked” burgers. They are charred, but edible. When Luke returns, I serve dinner. I just don’t explain manner of grilling—inferno cooking. And no, they didn’t taste wet—“8,000 degrees” vaporizes water pretty quickly. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Tidying Your Manuscript's Formatting

I finished proofreading Screwing Up Babylon.* Now I have a friend giving it a once over to catch anything I missed.

In the meantime, I’ve begun formatting the manuscript for Kindle. A lot of authors don’t  consider formatting, especially if they aren’t considering self-publishing. But think about this.  Most likely, any agent considering your manuscript will probably read it on a Kindle (though a few use Nooks). And after all the work that you’ve put into the book, don’t you want them to have a great reading experience?

Now obviously, if you’re not at the point where you’re publishing to Kindle, you don’t need a linked table of contents, a copyright page, conversion to html, etc. But if you’re using “returns” instead of “page breaks” at the end of chapters to force a new page, “tabs” to indent paragraphs instead of the using the margins function, or randomly hitting too many spaces in your text, your book may look wonky on a Kindle. And, though I’m sure many agents are used to formatting wonkiness, putting your best book forward can only help.

The good news is that it’s all easy to fix. Amazon has a free e-book called Building Your Book for Kindle that can take you through the step-by-step tidying. (It’s a great “hand-holder” if you’re pubbing to Kindle, even for non-techies.)

Ironically, even though the book is great, it’s formatted very poorly. The font is miniscule, which I had to adjust by several stages because even with my reading glasses I couldn’t read it, and I have yet to find a table of contents page, though I may have missed it. I guess this is a case of “do what I say and not what I do.”

Product DetailsIf you’re only tidying your book’s formatting, focus on using page breaks not “returns” at the end of chapters, using the ruler at the header on top of the Word file to set your indent instead of tabs or five spaces on the space bar, and make sure you don’t have random “returns” or “spaces” scattered throughout the novel. To see where they are, all you have to do is click the paragraph icon in the “paragraph” box and you’ll see all the hidden formatting. Unclick it when you’re done and the marks will hide themselves again. (This is in the 2007 version of Word—it’s there in earlier versions too, just look for it.)

Otherwise, you can Google “formatting for Kindle.” The better news is that the only formatting changes you need to do don’t force you to do anything weird with your text. And, of course, you don’t need to put your novel into html or add headings, etc., since you’re not pubbing, just tidying. So everything stays in a nice MS word document.

And for those of you who are self-pubbing, formatting your novel isn’t that hard. If you’ve learned to use a word processor, you can do this. Just bring your patience and a willingness to learn to the table. And if you don’t understand how to do something, Google it—more than likely there’s a YouTube video that you can stream where someone will show you how to format.

*In case you missed it, I posted the first chapter of Screwing Up Babylon on my book blog. Click here to read it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Beware the Editing Nazi

Last week, a bad thing happened. Something I’ve never seen addressed in a writing blog before. I don’t know if that means it’s rare, or if it’s something no one likes to talk about. But I figure that I can’t be the only person this has happened to. So, for what’s it worth, here’s my experience with the Editing Nazi.

I was supposed to be proofreading my latest novel. Everything else was finished. My betas had approved the plot, voice, tone, etc. I’d done all the line edits. And the proofing should’ve taken only a couple of days, two weeks at the most. And I was on schedule. But then, a lot of stress hit my non-writing life. And then I found an error in my novel. It wasn’t a big mistake—it was small. Small enough that two experienced betas and four other readers and I had all missed it. Most likely, anyone who read the book would’ve missed it.

But the error freaked me out. Enough that I opened the door to the Editing Nazi. And without me even realizing it, I went from proofreading to questioning every sentence, every verb, and punctuation mark. Now there’s a place for that—and you end up with Teflon and stainless steel sentences. Perfect, when you don’t want anything to stick—when you’re writing for technical precision.  (I suspect EN stems from my days working at Harcourt in the Academic Press division and subsequently working as a technical writer.) But you have to be careful when you  become the EN with fiction because it can destroy voice. And if you lose the voice, you lose the story.

Thankfully, I have a beta who has seen me turn into the Editing Nazi once before. I had a lovely short story that I subjected to the EN. Then, I resent her the “fixed” short. She emailed me back and said, “Uh, I hope you have the original short saved somewhere because you just edited the heart and soul out of your story.” Yeah. Thankfully, I keep old versions.

So last week, when I told my betas that my proofread was turning into an edit both of them, expressed concern—both said, “Um, what are you doing? The novel doesn’t need an edit.” And the beta who’d read the short gave me a “writing intervention.” Basically, she told me “Put down the red pen, and back away from the novel.” She had a gut feeling that I’d become the EN.

I was sure I hadn’t. But I promised her that I consider it. So I decided to read passages to my family at dinner time and ask them which they liked best. So I did. After the first passage, they all liked the old version. But I wasn’t discouraged—it was a fluke. Until I read the next passage, and they liked the old version better. So, I asked why. They all agreed that the version they liked sounded like Mark, my main character. Whereas in the second version, it wasn’t bad, it just didn’t sound like Mark, more like some narrator somewhere telling the story.

After I stopped beating my internal EN with a brick, I knew I’d learned an important lesson (again). Unless I’m channeling Mark, I have no business working on the novel. If I go in without the voice, I’m no longer the author, just someone mucking about in the text.

So I enlisted Mark’s help and together we bound and gagged the EN. We’ve agreed to lock the EN in a dungeon and throw away the key. But I know just how resourceful the EN is in escaping. And I’m so thankful for betas who watch my back—my writing swat team who will shout from their megaphones, “EN, we have you surrounded. Drop the red pen and back away from the novel. No one needs to kill a text today.”

And yes, I do have old versions of the chapters I “fixed.” It shouldn’t take long to paste them where they belong. BTW, am I the only one with an evil alter ego?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Going on a Virtual Tour of the Netherlands with my Grandmother

Yesterday, my 93 year old grandmother came and spent the day with us. She’s an immigrant from the Netherlands and ever since I was a little girl, she’s always told me about the old country, the people she knew, and the things that happened.

 (My grandfather was a wonderful storyteller, though it took years for him to start telling stories. Perhaps because he’d never told stories before. Or maybe because his stories were not the stories you tell a child—stories of violence and suffering, the years when he worked with the Underground during WW II.)

I’d thought about bringing out an old linen dinner napkin—it was my great-great grandmother’s. My grandmother gave it to me years ago because it was old, stained, and had a hole in it. But to me, it’s a talisman to the past and I imagine dinner parties at my great-great grandparents’ villa on the river.

But then, I had another idea. I got out my computer, sat next to her on the couch, and said, “Oma, where was your grandparents’ villa.” Then I typed it into Google maps and pulled up the street in Woubrugge. I took her to the street view. She caught her breath. “That’s it!”  And we took a walk down the street, and she pointed out the river that ran behind their villa. (Sadly, her grandparents lost the villa—which is a fascinating story full of family gossip.)

After that, we traveled to the town where she grew up and “walked” the streets. She pointed out an ugly building that didn’t used to be there. Instead, there was a lovely bench and she’d sit and wait there for her father. She showed me the houses that my great-grandfather had built around the turn of the century—they’re still there. He died young, and his widow supported herself and her three children by selling off a house every year or so and living off the money afterwards.

It’s been decades since my grandmother went back to her homeland. That last few times, my grandfather went back, she didn’t go. I suspect it was because of the emotional pain involved (some things are best forgotten) and the out-of-place feeling you get when people and places have changed so much that you feel you no longer have a place there.

But a virtual tour let both of us walk together. I saw places I’ve always heard of, but never seen (even though I’ve visited before). I heard new stories, and she had the fun of visiting without a plane trip, the need to visit relatives, or the exhaustion of walking. Plus, she got to correct my pronunciation of Dutch—she loves that. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Playing the PSAT Game

My youngest child takes the PSAT next week. So I’ve been helping him prepare.

The reading sections are his favorite, so he doesn’t need any help with those.

Then, there are the math sections. Matthew isn’t bad at math, but he has the same issue that I do—calculator error. I reverse numbers. (I’m really bad with phone numbers.) So when you’re moving numbers back and forth from the page to the calculator back to the page a couple of times, you’re almost guaranteed an error. So we look for shortcuts.

For example: “Look if you draw a line here, then you can turn the triangle into a 3, 4, 5 triangle and solve the problem in your head.” (Our brains don’t confuse the numbers, it’s the whole brain, eye, hand thing.)

Of course, other problems are so convoluted in terms of calculator use that I tell Matt don’t waste your time because you’ll have to double check your calculator work too many times. (This is why I hated chemistry in college. I’d have to run the numbers through the calculator multiple times and get many different answers.)

Then Matt and I got to the writing section. Having helped several kids prepare for the PSAT, I knew that I needed a deep breath. The PSAT writing section is not about good writing. It’s about using sentences to test grammar—sometimes. Other times, it’s just…horrid.

So we went over the questions that Matt missed on the pretest. I read the “question,” which isn’t really a question but a list of five sentences and they tell you to “pick the best one.” All five sentences sucked. I said, “These are bad.”

Matt said, “Uh, yeah.”

I said, “Why did you pick C.”

Matt: “Why not?”

Me: “Right.” I take another deep breath and begin to take apart the sentences.

“Okay, A is wrong because the pronoun and its antecedent don’t match—one is plural and the other is singular.”

“And E is wrong because, well, I’ve never seen anything written that poorly before. That clause stuck in the middle totally destroys the flow of the sentence—and I’m not even sure what they think it’s supposed to be modifying. If you wrote this, I’d make you rewrite it.”

D is wrong because the verb’s in present perfect tense and the action was actually completed in the past.”

B is wrong because it doesn’t have parallel structure in the verbs.”

Then, I read answer C—the wrong answer that Matt chose. “It’s in passive voice, Matt, so that’s why it’s wrong.”  I thought for a moment. “Wait a minute, I’ve ruled out every answer.”  So I looked the question up in the back of the book. The correct answer was E.

I was dumbfounded.

I looked at Matthew. “I’m sorry, buddy. This is really lame. You’re going to have to “game” the system. Don’t look for good writing. Just try to pick the sentence that has the least number of grammar and usage errors.”  

As we moved on, I realized that some of the questions were based on idioms—it was basically a match the correct preposition to the idiom. Really? That tests writing ability? I don’t think so. (And, let me just say, I’ve never heard of some of these “idioms.”) Does the ability to do this makes you smart? Does it make you a good candidate for scholarships?

Don’t get me wrong, my hat’s off to the kids who become National Merit Scholars. I know a lot of National Merit Scholars. And, yes, they will do very well in college because they are very bright students—they have to be. And ultimately, that is what the PSAT predicts. So it does what it sets out to do. But as for testing writing ability, not so much.

Standardized testing should dump the “writing” section. If you want to test grammar, then test grammar. If the test makers want to test students’ ability to use words and their ease in doing so, they should go back to analogies (those were actually fun).

In the meantime, I’ll keep telling Matt, “It’s a game. Play it the best you can, and then let it go.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Falling into a Hamper

I have a college senior who’s preparing for grad school. This particular very bright child (who will remain nameless) said, “When I finish grad school, I can’t take any more classes.”

Me: Uh, yeah, that’s sort of the point. You teach.

Child: But I want to take more classes.

Me: Why?

Child: Because I want to learn more.

Me: I believe you can sit in/take classes at the university where you teach.

Child: Really?! Could I get another degree?

Me: I suppose.

Apparently, this child wants to be an eternal student, which I sort of understand—we should all want to learn more and more, to the point of becoming autodidacts.

Of course, this is also the child who (just last night) sat on an open hamper, fell in, and had to be rescued—so maybe a course in common sense would help.

BTW, if you’d like to see the cover of my new novel, visit here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Winnie the Pooh

Last week, I put Winnie the Pooh (the new one) on our Netflix queue. And I told the kids it was coming after the DVD was in the mail. (My queue has been known to alter mysteriously when the kids aren’t interested in what is up next, especially when it’s a documentary.) At any rate, my announcement was greeted with horrified faces all around.

When the kids were younger, Friday night was movie night. I make homemade pizza and the kids would take turns picking a movie—the boys got a good exposure to chick flicks when it was Ariel’s turn. I assured them it would make them more sensitive husbands. Yeah, they didn’t buy it either.

But now that the kids are older, if they’re not interested in a movie, they do homework. They don’t want to use precious study breaks for “lame” movies. And I get that. So I figured that Cal would be the only one who’d watch Winnie the Pooh with me. And I figured he’d sleep through part of it. (He did.)

But I was wrong about the kids. I don’t know if it was nostalgia, boredom, or the indescribable charm of Pooh, but they watched it and enjoyed it. They laughed out-loud. It was a charming movie. It didn’t have quite the animation of the old classics, but the storyline and textual playfulness were all there. I loved how Pooh took letters from the text to build a ladder so he, Tigger, Owl, Rabbit, et al. could climb out of a pit. If you’re a Pooh fan and haven’t seen it, I’d suggest adding it to your queue.

Which reminds me a friend recently shared a Russian version of Winnie the Pooh. After watching it, I think I understand Russian culture much better. No wonder Russians write depressing novels--Pooh the existentialist...

Here’s the Russian Pooh.

BTW, tomorrow I’ll be releasing the cover art for my YA novel Screwing Up Babylon. You can see it here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The IRS and the Hot Potato

Perhaps you’re getting tired of hearing about IRS incompetence. I know that I’m getting tired of talking about it. But until IRS actually does something/anything, I guess I’ll keep reporting on the situation.

For those of you who don’t remember the story, here’s the short version. Back in January when we filed to get our tax return (yes, we are early filers), we discovered my husband’s identity had been stolen. We filed all the proper paperwork and presented all the documents—driver’s license, passports, etc. And then, the IRS agent sent in a change of address, which does nothing in terms of dealing with the fraud—and we never moved anyway.

We sent off paperwork. And we were told that a letter would soon be sent detailing when we’d get our return. The letter never came. And then, the responsibility hot potato game began—we were the hot potato being tossed back and forth from one agent to the next. Each one promised us the prize—the letter of information. But it never showed up.

My husband Cal has called and called. And then, called some more. One excuse followed another—my favorite was the criminal’s rights excuse. Rights—don’t I have some of those? And that letter, which kept being promised, never arrived.

It would be nice to actually meet these fraud agents face to face. But fraud is only handled by the Fresno, CA, office. I’m beginning to suspect the IRS chose Fresno on purpose—I’m mean who goes to Fresno? I’ve been there, it’s not a place I’d chose to visit. (Apologies to any readers who live there.)

Two weeks ago, we were assigned a case worker, and we assured ourselves that now something would be done. We were told we’d hear from her within ten days and that the letter—for sure—would come in ten days. Guess what? Ten days has come and gone. No letter and no contact from our case worker.

Cal called again. Now they gave us our caseworker’s name and number. So, Cal called and got her voicemail. It said to leave a message and she’d get back to us within thirty days. (Yeah, you read that right 30 days). Imagine trying that at work? Can you say “fired with cause”?

Hopefully, the case worker gets back to us much sooner. I’m sure she’s a busy woman, but we’ve been doing this for ten months. And it would be nice if the IRS actually contacted us or followed through on one single promise. If she’s too busy to call—maybe she could send that letter we were promised in January. It would be a nice gesture.

On the other hand, I’m getting a lot of blogs out of this fiasco. Maybe I could get a book deal. Or make a new version of the hot potato game—expect the timer would be set at one year. That’s not much fun.

I found out a curious thing. The IRS came out with a report on September 10, 2012 entitled, "The Process for Individuals to Report Suspected Tax Law Violations Is Not Efficient or Effective (2012-40-106).” Really, ya think?! And the report admitted that sometimes the IRS destroys the forms 3949-A that taxpayers used to file their fraud reports. Oops. Apparently, 3000 forms were destroyed and no one notified those taxpayers. Double oops. And it seems that if an IRS agent incorrectly thinks the report is unworkable, the 3949-A is destroyed within 90 days—and the taxpayer is not notified. Triple oops.

As far as I know, our 3949-A exists somewhere. Maybe.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Five Reasons Why I Watch Baseball

So it’s that time of year again, the end of the baseball season. And my guys are watching the games, especially since their favorite team, the Yankees, has not clinched their division.

I, being the ever dutiful wife and mother, watch with them. Okay, sometimes I play Mahjong, but most of the time I watch. But since baseball is not a natural love for me, despite years of Little League and high school ball (and a couple of years when one son worked as an umpire—that was miserable for me), I’ve come up with my own reasons for watching.

1. I like Andy Pettite. He’s a great pitcher and he came back after retiring and an injury, etc. So he’s an inspiration, but that’s not why I like him. I like him because he’s got this great scowl. He scowls at the baseball, and he scowls at the runner—he reminds me of my oldest son who shares the same scowl. “Mwhaha, I am the bringer of the evil slider of strike-outness.”

2. I like Nick Swisher because he still treats baseball like a game. He’s always smiling as if he realizes that he’s getting paid to play a game. He always tries some silly trick that no one buys. Yesterday, he caught a ball and then pretended that he didn’t know where it was. The Red Sox runner gave him a look that said, “Are you a complete lunatic? This is serious major league baseball, not Little League.” Swisher smiled, shrugged, and threw the ball in.”

3. I like that I don’t have to know anything about the game to participate in the family fun. If a strike is called, I can say “that was high/outside/inside/missed-the-corner-of-the-plate” and someone will argue it with me.

4. I like the weirdnesses. Last night a bird decided to watch the game, which was fine. But he wanted to watch it while sitting in the diamond. Not fine. So a grounds-keeper came out with a bucket and chased the bird hither, thither, and yon. Each time the bird would find a new spot on the field. Finally, he settled just outside the first base line. They let him watch the game from there.

5. But most of all, I watch baseball because I like spending time with my family. The same reason my family listens to me blab on and on about writing. So I owe it to them.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A "Vintage" Home

I’ve been blogging since May 2008, and I’ve decided to take you on a tour of our house on and off over the next few weeks. (Okay, that means that after four plus years, I might be running low on blog topics—but bear with me, I’ll try to make this fun.)

We have/had a hedge of roses, which now have rose rosette disease and have to taken out and destroyed.

Yeah the trees need to be trimmed, but I've been busy with the new book.

First off, this is what our house looks like. It was built in 1940. At least, that’s what the paperwork says. A friend who’s a contractor laughed when we told him the age. Apparently, the city didn’t keep records back then—so they made up the build dates for houses. Ours has been rounded, generously. It was built way before 1940, which would explain some vintage art deco touches, crystal door knobs, and honeycomb tile.

Given that we aren’t restorers and old (vintage) homes are known to be money pits, why did we buy an old house? Aside from aesthetics—old houses are beautiful—at least until something rots, explodes, or dies, we bought it for the square footage. We have a menagerie of a black Lab, a bird, hamster, and four kids.

We have four kids very close together in age—the oldest was five when the youngest was born. It’s kind of like having spread-out quadruplets.  They are all in each other’s business, each other’s rooms, and “share” their rabid opinions on everything. It’s managed chaos—it also meant I spend my entire child-bearing years in sweats and a ponytail, hoping I’d find time for a shower by the end of the day.

BTW, watch your step as you climb the porch steps—because the house is so old, there weren’t a lot of zoning/building regulations, so the porch is concrete and brick on top of wooden supports. (Can you say dry/wet rot?) Though apparently the porch has been shored up.

Welcome to the living room. Yes, we have a very cool fireplace that functions. However, the flue doesn’t close anymore, and occasionally a bird will fly into the living room. Not to mention the heavy rain that splashes down the chimney and leaves soot stains on the brick work. But it’s really pretty.

 When I have grandkids, I’ll tell them how their parents did homework in front of the fire. Of course, my kids will ruin it by explaining that the reason they did their work in front of the fire wasn’t the romance of it all, but the fact that I keep the heat set too low. I tell my kids to put on a sweater—65 is all the heat I’m willing to pay for. Of course, the limited insulation does make it a chilly 65…

But, hey, check out that gorgeous crown molding—yeah, those are divots in the wallboard. When we first moved in, there was a cockroach infestation, and the boys shot cockroaches with their airsoft guns. Only the shells were too hard and the pellets wouldn’t crack the chitin. The boys learned to ricochet the shots so the pellets would hit the roach underbellies. The roaches would split and fall to the floor. And then I noticed the pock marks in the walls.

Oops, sorry about the roach guts. Instead, notice the cool front door with semi-circle top and the beveled glass—which is beginning to show its age as the panels separate. And, of course, they don’t make doors like that anymore. So I’m going to put some long screws into it to hold it together until I’m willing to auction a kidney on eBay to afford a replacement.

But, really, we love it. I love knowing the house has settled (some friends had their new house settle—but it didn’t settle in the same way as the front porch, which has now separated from the house). I love the plaster walls, the built in bookcases, the wood floors, the memories, and even the cockroach pocks.

BTW, tomorrow (Tuesday) I'll be posting the blurb for my new novel Screwing Up Babylon on my book blog. Be sure to check it out.