Wednesday, October 30, 2013

You Are A Stranger

On Monday, my husband did what no person married to a faceblind person should ever do. He changed the way he looked. He shaved off almost his entire beard and mustache. (He didn’t completely shave them—he would’ve given me fair warning about that. He’s done that before, and I’d almost completely freaked because I thought he was a stranger who’d broken into my house. Thankfully, I’m very good at voice/body recognition and I don’t own a handgun.)

However, Cal did shave his beard and mustache enough that there was only a vague shadow of them. Then, he had the gall to find me and say, “I don’t I look ten years younger?”

I said, “Honestly? You want my honest thoughts?”

Cal: “Well, yeah.”

Me: “You don’t look any younger, you look strange. The proportions of your face look completely weird to me. As if your nose grew longer and curled over. Your upper lip elongated. And your cheeks swelled.”

Cal: “Oh.”

Me: “Sorry.”

Cal: “I’ll go ask the kids.”

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Worst Thing About Autumn

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Let me start by saying that autumn is one of my favorite times of year. I love when the leaves turn color and the ambient light turns a reflected pink. I love the cool nip in the air. And the hot cider, and the fresh apples. 
But there’s one bad thing about fall. My allergies. Spring is bliss for me. Pollens are my friend. But leaf mold (and dust) is my kryptonite.

Here’s my experience. I walk to the mailbox. Oh, look, the leaves have started falling. How beautiful. Sneeze.  Walking back from the mailbox, I sneeze ten times and realize I don’t have any tissues. Run back to the house because well, those sneezes were accompanied by liquid goo.

And so it begins. By the next day, I have taken antihistamines. The results are completely underwhelming because they don’t even make a dent in my allergy haze. Phase One of the Allergy Treatment Program, I smear Vicks under my nose. (Yes, yes. I know you’re not supposed to do that. But in mystery books, the detective always uses it to hide the scent of decomposing bodies. So I thought I’d try it. And it does help—I don’t know about the decomposing body stuff, but it helps my allergies. Of course, it’s thick, clear and wet and people have a tendency to notice it and say, “Uh, maybe you need a tissue.” I narrow my eyes and respond, “It’s Vaporub.” The other down side is that it burns your skin after prolonged use, which is probably why you’re not supposed to slather it on your upper lip.)

So, now that my nose and upper lip are burned. I’ve moved on to Phase Two. See the problem is that I tried allergy shots and they didn’t work. AndI can’t take decongestants—I’m “sensitive” to them as in ER-visit-due-to-serious-chest-pains-because-my-heart-beats-so-fast-that-it’s-not-getting-enough-oxygen, at least that’s what the cardiologist said.

Also, I can’t do nasal sprays or irrigations because according to a CT scan (or was it an MRI?) I don’t have frontal sinuses.

That leaves me with antihistamines. And my vaporizer. Phase Two is a beloved vaporizer, which I call DeVil. Not everyone names their vaporizer, but it’s my fall friend. Today I will be moving DeVil, spewing liquid camphor into the air in front of my face, with me wherever I go. Phase Three will commence tomorrow. (Actually, I already resorted to it the other day), my allergist calls it “walking sedation.” It’s where I take way too many antihistamines, and can’t remember people’s names, but it does control the sneezing, etc. Or maybe, I’m so drugged that I really don’t care. Honestly, I don’t care which it is, as long as the sneezing stops.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Holiday Curmudgeon

I’m not much into holidays (even birthdays, to be honest). Mostly they just seem like opportunities to make us spend money or dirty my house. For example, I could live without pine needles all over the floor and trying to remember who put the angel on the top of the tree last year. Or kids hyped up on soda, ice cream and cake. Although teenage parties are easier—“Here’s cake and soda, have fun playing Munchkin.” (Aren’t you glad I’m not your mom?)

This year, Matt wanted to make a Jack-o-lantern. I said, “Okay.” After all, he’s seventeen, which means I don’t have to deal with any of the squishy mess. So when I was at WalMart, I decided to get a pumpkin. Except they were $8! There’s no way I’m spending eight bucks on something you can’t even eat. I told Matt, “Sorry, Dude.”

Then the other day, I spotted a pumpkin for $4. I bought it. Last night, Matt carved it.

Now I’m roasting the seeds with garlic and salt. And the guinea pigs get treats from the chunks of eyes and mouth that were left over. They think that I’m their fairy godmother. And Matt thinks I’m an okay mom. Four dollars well spent.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

No Hot Water

I sort of looked like this, even the dazed
expression looks like me. (Image courtesy
of Wikimedia, painting by Bocklin.)
Yesterday morning, my son Matthew said, “Hey, were you running the dishwasher or washing machine while I was in the shower?” With a huge sense of dread, especially since I hadn't showered yet, I said, “No. Why?” Matt replied, “There wasn’t any hot water.” (Cue notes of doom.)

I tromped down to the basement and checked the fuse box. The fuse hadn’t popped. I pressed on the fuse to see if there was any give in the fuse. I heard a crackling sound. It sounded remarkably like arcing. I pretended I didn’t hear it.

Next step, was to remove the front panel of the water heater and check the circuit breaker. It had popped and wouldn’t reset. ACK! I went back to check the fuse box. And pressed the fuse again. Again, I heard the arcing. So I turned off the fuse and announced to the boys that we wouldn’t have hot water for the day.

But, I still needed a shower! And though I lived in Connecticut for years, I am not one of those Yankees who finds a cold shower “bracing.” I just think it’s cold and I get goose bumps. So I heated a kettle of water and washed myself. And then, there was my hair. It’s waist-length and tangles really easily. But there was nothing for it, I leaned into the bathtub and washed my hair with a mix boiling water and cold. It worked.

The problem is that washing my hair upside down makes it really, really tangled, in spite of using conditioner. And I made the mistake of not combing it out until it was dry. Afterwards...let’s just say that I could have given Medusa a run for her money. And I had errands to run. So, I wore big dark sunglasses and pulled my hair back—it didn’t help.

Thankfully, Last night, Calvin and my dad got all the breakers replaced and restarted the water heater. I can’t wait to wash my hair.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Check Out Node and Variable! And Vote!

Check this out!

This summer my daughter Ariel worked for a start-up company called Variable. She worked on a product called the Node.
slide 3
Here's a Node. Photo from Variable's website.

 "The Node Wireless Sensor Platform, when connected to an iOS or Android device, can act as an in-home scientific sensor to monitor weather, track movement, or perform any one of a number of real-world experiments. When hooked up to a phone via bluetooth, customers are able to measure almost anything, from matching paint on a wall with an exact brand at the store, to detecting whether competitors in the kettle bell lifting sport are cheating." (Chattanooga Times Free Press, 10/22/13)

This morning, I found out that Variable is going head-to-head with another company on a reality show. The company that wins "Get on the Shelf" (produced by the crew that did the Shark Tank) would have their product carried at 

BTW, this summer Ariel brought Node home while she worked on it, and it is very, very cool. (I wanted one, and I'm not a tech-needy person.)

The coolest thing, is that anyone can vote on the product, and the winner gets placement!! If you're interested here's a link to the Chattanooga Times Free Press that gives all the details.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Writer's and Mathematician's Weekend

Last Friday, my husband was having a couple of days of meetings in the same city where my daughter lives, so I went along.

But since Ariel is preparing for her first grad school exam, I brought a lot of my own work. So we sat on the couch, each on opposite sides and worked side-by-side, sharing an afghan because the weather turned cold.

We took occasional breaks. She told me about her proof on Sylow subgroups and asked my opinion. (Which was fun since I don’t really understand them, but I gave her my opinion anyway.) Later, she showed me her proof and I oooed and ahhed over the pages of squiggles.

Then, she listened to me talk about diachronic elements in historical fiction. (I’ve been reading and listening to lectures for my MOOC class--for more on this check tomorrow's post at my Screwing Up Time blog.) And I finished the first draft of my latest lit fic WIP, which she oooed and ahhhed over.

And we ate. I clearly transmitted the European “we feed those we love” gene to her. I had some incredible chicken-mushroom soup for lunch, a snack of frozen yogurt (which has come a long way since I had it in the 80s), then she made an amazing Cajun linguine for dinner and we had mint Klondike bars for dessert. YUM.

I have to try one of these Writer/Mathematician’s Weekends again. Very productive and very fun.

Here's the linguine.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


The other day, our power went out. No big deal. It happens. Thankfully, it wasn’t out for long. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes. I assumed everything was back to normal. It wasn’t.

At some point, I noticed that the microwave was running. Given that it was noon when the power went out, we must’ve been warming lunch. I check and sure enough there was food in the microwave. I pulled it out. And shut the microwave door. It began running. I pressed the “clear” button. It kept running. At this point, I would like to say it grinned maniacally, but it’s a microwave.

I pushed all the buttons, they beeped. But had no effect. The microwave kept running. I unplugged the microwave. It stopped. I figured it needed to be reset. Maybe there was some electrical arcing going on. (Yeah, I’m pretty much making that up. But it has to do with electricity and plasma discharge. I think.)

After ten minutes, I plugged the microwave back in. It began running. I unplugged it. When my electrical engineering son got home, I told him to check out the microwave. He spent a good ten minutes tinkering. His comment, “That’s supposed to be impossible.” I asked if the circuits had been engineered wrong. He shrugged. I asked if a power surge could have fused them. He shrugged. I did not want a shrug. He was supposed to give me a long complex answer half of which I don’t understand. That way I can feel like I’m getting my tuition’s worth.

It’s okay though. My chemist son visited this weekend. He gave me a long rambling explanation using physics terms. I have no idea what’s going on, but I feel so much better now.

Here's a very cool arc using lots of electricity.

Monday, October 14, 2013

I Need a Numbered Off-Shore Account

There are few things as onerous in life as dealing with bureaucracy, especially the electronic variety. But I told myself to “suck it up, Buttercup.” And Matthew and I began to process of college applications.

When my two oldest started college, there were still paper applications. You could write in answers and make notations. Now you click the bubble. Unless the bubble doesn’t want to be clicked. And then, you can click and click and click. And the bubble ignores you. So Matt clicked. And when it didn’t work after twenty clicks, I clicked. Not that I expected it to be any different, it’s just the disbelief factor.

And I began to wonder who designed this form. Particularly since nowhere on the form does it say what else you need to submit to the university. They never tell you to send in your SAT scores or your transcripts.  There are no unclickable buttons that lead to scholarship or financial aid applications.

But finally, we reached the end of the application , leaving the unclickables unclicked. And it was time to pay the application fee. There was a stern warning that if you didn’t pay immediately after completing the application, then you could no longer pay on-line and would have to drive to the university and present them with a check. This seemed kind of odd to me, but whatever.

I filled in my credit card information and clicked submit. And it popped up “Page Not Found” and dumped us back on the submit payment page. Matthew’s hand moved toward the “submit button.” I said, “No!”

I quickly checked my email. My credit card company had emailed me, telling me that I’d paid the university application fee. So I told Matt to just exit the application.

Then I realized the obvious. A student doing work study designed this application. And I wondered where the second would have gone. Probably some numbered account in a country without extradition treaties to the US.

Hmm. Maybe Matthew should consider computer science as a major. And maybe he should look into work study. Who knew it could be so lucrative?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Never Take Your Coffee for Granted

There are some things you take for granted in life. Like the sun rising.  That Friday always comes after Thursday. And that the neon green coffee scoop will be in the coffee canister.

This morning it wasn’t. I blinked and looked in the canister again. Lots of coffee, no scoop. I checked the kitchen drawers. I checked the dish washer. I checked the drawers again. I checked the dishwasher again. No scoop.

I took a deep breath. A missing coffee scoop does not constitute an emergency. Except when, you know, I haven’t had coffee yet. So I got out my measuring spoons. But none of them looked like the right size. I castigated myself for never figuring out how many tablespoons fit into the coffee scoop.

I checked the drawers again. Still no scoop, though why I expected the third check to be different than the first two, I have no idea.  I blamed the children. I considered blaming Calvin, but he didn’t do the dishes (besides he’s been suffering from a kidney stone, so he gets a pass on the missing-coffee-scoop blame game).

Then, I remembered that I’ve been using the same amount of coffee for fourteen years, so I probably have a mental picture of what it looks like in the coffee grinder. (See, I’m brilliant like that first thing in the morning.)

I dumped beans into the grinder until it looked right.  Then, with great trepidation, I ground the beans and made the coffee. The color is good—black in the center, mahogany at the edges where it touches the mug. The smell is perfect. Woodsy aroma with esters of chocolate and smoke. (Does coffee actually have esters in it? Oh, well, it sounds good.) So I pick up the cup and delicately taste it. And it tastes wrong. The bitter bliss is gone. ACK!

I have GOT to find the coffee scoop.

File:Café grain ag1.jpg
Image by Arnaud Gaillard, courtesy of Wikimedia.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Open Door

Last night, I was sleeping and felt cold. No big deal. I pulled up the blanket. Then, I felt a cold breeze on my face. My eyes opened and I sat up. You don’t get breezes in your bedroom. I looked over, and the door from our bedroom to the deck outside was standing open. Adrenaline rushed through my body and I waited for an ax-wielding lunatic to lop off my head. I mean, why else would anyone break into our house, we have nothing to steal? In the moment while I was waiting for the inevitable decapitation, I said to Cal, “The door is open.” He said, “Close it.” He’s like that—cool in the moment of craziness. I, on the other hand, was still considering whether the lamp on the nightstand would work as a weapon.

When the sure doom had passed, I closed the door, realizing that someone (Calvin, which explains his composure in the light of our imminent demise) must’ve have let the dog outside through our door earlier in the day and not closed the door properly and it blew open during the night.

I spent the next hour pondering the use of doors in novels, what else do you do while your body burns off an adrenaline rush. I came up with door metaphors for leaving, death, sorrow, etc.  Yep, doors are important in our culture. No wonder I was worried. If a killer wasn’t coming through it, no doubt it was the wind of change. And that bodes ill for anyone. Even if it’s not an ax-murderer.

File:Basel 2012-10-06 Batch Part 4 (15).JPG
I wish my bedroom door looked like this. But it's a boring suburban white door. This is much more exciting and seems like something an ax-murderer might come through. Image courtesy of Wikimedia. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

I'm not a Zookeeper

We are a pet family. Which is to say that my husband Calvin loves pets. He has never met a furry, fuzzy creature that he doesn’t love/want to take care of. (He doesn’t like cats. I hate them. Cats were a sort of non-negotiable when our relationship began.) I, on the other hand, like/tolerate animals. The kids inherited his pet disposition, and I believe it’s good for kids to learn the experience of being responsible for a living creature besides themselves and learning to deal with death. (Although I’m the one who cries when they die.) So we have animals.

However, (and I want to say this delicately) our creatures refuse to die. It started with Luke’s parakeet Ralph. While they can be long-lived, most live about five years because they’ve been overbreed. But if you follow a very specific diet, etc., they can live longer. We tried the diet. But Ralph will not eat anything on the specific diet. He won’t eat minerals, and he won’t eat fruit or vegetables. He only likes cheap bird seed. And he is now 15 years old. There are unverified reports of parakeets living to 30 years old. That’s a long time, especially since the bird doesn’t even like me. (Click here for more about that.)

Then, there’s the hamster, Rumpelstiltskin, who’s lived way past his life expectancy. Matthew has renamed the hamster Khan (from Star Trek) because one day I hadn’t seen Rumpy and decided to check on him. After all, he’s very old. I found him curled up under bedding on his back with his little tongue hanging out of his mouth. (I teared up.) I watched him to make sure he wasn’t breathing. I didn’t see his little chest rising or falling.

My voice cracked when I told Matt that Rumpy had died. Matt checked on him and decided to bury him. A few hours later when we went to bury Rumpy/Khan, he was running his wheel. And Matt renamed him Khan after the Star Trek character who resurrects.

Finally, Matt’s guinea pig Jack got sick. He was sneezing, wheezing and not eating or drinking. Every site I checked said that GP don’t recover from respiratory infections. So, again I teared up but I prayed, and Jack recovered. Which is great. Sort of.

But now I’m beginning to be concerned. My kids are growing up and leaving home, but they’re leaving their creatures behind—“I’ll be too busy, Mom. Can you take care of them for me?”  Currently, we have five pets. And I’m going to end up as one of the weird old ladies with a menagerie of furry companions. But I’m telling myself that it’s okay. At least, I’m not a cat lady.

Besides, I do have a plan. One day, I’m going to visit each of my kids with their creatures hidden in the car. And just before I leave, I’m going to hide their pet in the bathroom. Then, I’ll jump in the car and leave. Surprise!

Charlie and Jack (Jack's in the back.)

Matthew and Jack

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Plagues, Witches, and War

In mid-October, I’m going to take an online historical fiction class with an optional writing component. Squee! (The class, “Plagues,Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction,” is available from the University of Virginia. And because I’m auditing through Coursera, it’s free.)

I love lit classes, getting my hands dirty in the text—discovering the symbols, controlling metaphors, subtexts, effects on the canon, analyzing it from different critical perspectives, etc. (Though as a writer, I find myself in an uncomfortable relationship with lit crit, which seems like a cranky aunt telling an author that their beautiful child really has Uncle Tony’s warty nose, even though the skin is smooth. But that’s another post.) The class includes many classic texts, which I’ve already read, thankfully. And there are some modern writers who will be guest lecturing, including Geraldine Brooks. (I loved her People of the Book—the writing was lyrical.)

In any case, the class got me to thinking about how much things have changed for writers. Back when I first started, there weren’t any writing blogs, no sites to check for information about agents, etc. You had to join a local writers’ group and hope that it wasn’t dominated by some aggressive person who tried to get everyone to write in his/her voice. (Been there, done that. You can keep your long, flowery, over-adjectivized phrases to yourself.) Or worse, someone who wants to share their very creepy, slasher short stories. (Sorry, I get nightmares.)

The writer’s life has changed a lot. I love that I can check Grammar Girl, instead of pulling out The Chicago Manual of Style. (Though sometimes TCMS is faster—mine opens automatically to the pages I use the most.) I love my online writing friend. She’s got my back. (Sweetie, do not make any radical changes to the plot when you’ve only had five hours of sleep.) I love that I can take a class while ironing or wearing pajamas. Though old habits die hard, so I’ll probably always be dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, my hair pulled back in a ponytail, and red pen in hand.  Wait. Everything’s done on computer. That means, gulp, I’ll have to use MS Word’s Track Changes… Hmm. Maybe all these modern changes aren’t quite so great after all.