Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Big Lump of Coal

I think Dante should have included a ring in the Inferno for people, especially health care professionals, who lie to children. Or at the very least, to mix my metaphors, they should get coal in their stockings.

Our dentist should have a fifty pound lump of coal in his stocking—he lied not only to a child but also to this child’s na├»ve parents.

The Dentist Who Shall Not Be Named In This Blog, (DWSNBNITB, DW for short) because I can’t afford to be sued for libel, told Cal and Matthew that Matt needed some minor surgery because the roots of his two lower bottom teeth were exposed. DW went on to explain that it was very minor, that Matt wouldn’t be in any pain, and that he’d be running around right after the surgery. Yeah, right.

Matt was a little nervous beforehand. After all, he doesn’t like people poking around in his mouth. But Matt knew it was no big deal—the dentist told him so.

Yesterday Matt and I went to the consult, which was scheduled immediately before the procedure. This is a clever trick because if the procedure was several days after the consult, you’d never come back after the periodontal surgeon told you what was going to happen.

Matt had three frenectomies, which means they cut three frenum along the lip-gum line. This really doesn’t sound bad. But the entire procedure took about an hour and I lost count of how many stitches Matt had. Then came the list of post-surgical care. It started with “This is a very painful procedure—he’ll need to be on codeine for 3 to 4 days.” Hey, what happened to this isn’t going to be painful?! The nurse continued, “Matt needs to stay in bed for 24 hours. He can’t do any running, fast walking, etc., for 3 to 4 days.” What happened to running around right after the surgery?!

Of course, it only got worse. Apparently, the success of the surgery isn’t guaranteed—and the periodontal dude didn’t even give me odds. Grr. If this doesn’t work, then Matt has to have skin graft surgery with either his own keratinized skin or donor skin. (Imagine Matt coming unglued at the words “donor skin”—he’s thinking flesh off a rotting corpse. I assured him that wouldn’t be the case, but I don’t really know.)

After the “procedure,” I took my darling home and went immediately to the pharmacy because I was ordered, in no uncertain terms, to get codeine into Matt ASAP. I went to go pick up the meds. The pharmacist told me, also in no uncertain terms, that Matt ought not to take the full dosage of codeine.

Me: "Uh, the doctor told me to give him 1 to 1 ½ pills."

Pharmacist: "No."

Me: "Why not?"

Ph: "Because he doesn’t weigh enough for that dosage."

Me: "Oh. So what do I give him?"

Ph: "One half of one pill."

Me (weighing the thought of Matt in a lot of pain from this “painless” surgery): "Can’t I give him one whole?"

Ph (trying to hide a scowl): "I guess. But it will completely knock him out for the whole day."

Me: "That’s okay."

Ph: "But four hours later, only give him half a pill."

Me (meekly): "Okay."

Back home, an hour and thirty minutes after Matt’s had codeine not only is he wide awake, his mouth/gums/teeth hurt. I notice his face is pasty white. I placed a phone call to Perio Dude.

Me: “Matt’s in pain.”

PD: “Give him more codeine.”

Me: “The pharmacist said that I can’t.”

PD: “Oh.”

Me: “You understand that Matt’s a high functioning autistic person, right?”

PD: “Yeah.”

Me: “A percentage of them don’t process medication like other people do. Matt’s one of those people.”

PD: “Oh.”

Me: “So...”

PD: “Why don’t you wait another 20 minutes or so, and then if it’s not any better you can bring him back in and I’ll inject him with more anesthetic.”

Right. That’s going to work. I relayed the suggestion to Matt who intimated that he’d rather die than go back. At the four hour mark, I gave Matt another whole codeine pill. (However, the PD gets only a small lump of coal in his stocking because he did call back at dinnertime to ask how Matt was doing. I told him under the watch of Matt’s glaring eyes that Matt was doing fine.)

The day, actually night, was saved by a neurologist friend who understands Matt’s neurotransmitter issues. She told me he could take ibuprophen on top of the codeine. It didn’t relieve all the pain, but it allowed Matt to sleep. Our friend should get all the Christmas gifts that Santa intended for the Perio-dude and the lying dentist. Maybe I’ll write Santa a letter—there’s always next Christmas.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Problem That’s Never Solved

I bet you thought you’d heard the last of the basement flooding saga. If you thought so, you’d be wrong. When we got home from vacation, Cal had the presence of mind to check the basement. Instead of a nice, dry concrete floor, we found six inches of water. The sump pump failed.

At 2:30 in the morning Cal was playing with the pump, trying to jerry-rig it to drain the water. Thankfully, the heater was still working—it shouldn’t have been.

Cal got the pump running, and we got to bed sometime after 3am. The next day he called the plumbing “experts.” They eventually came out. They proclaimed the pit too shallow. I assumed that would mean they’d make the pit deeper. No. Instead they put on a different float-switch. It worked...for two or three days. Now we have the opposite problem. The pump runs and runs and runs until it overheats and the fail safe thermocouple thingy turns it off. Then it cools, and guess what? Yep, it starts pumping again until it overheats. We called the super-duper plumbing guys again. They’re coming again to see what can be done. I’d assume they’re going to dig a deeper pit, but I’ve been wrong before.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Benefits of Country Music

The drive from Fort Lauderdale to Chattanooga is supposed to take about 12 hours. Maybe 13 depending on the numbers of bathroom breaks and how long it takes you to wolf down greasy fast food.

I was thinking we’d get home before midnight. Ha. What I didn’t know is that the state of Florida must have use-it-before-the-end-of-the-year Federal Cash for Clunky Highways funds. I mean why else would the state decide to do road repair the week of Christmas? It doesn’t take a lot of brains to realize that there just might be a lot of traffic the week of Christmas and that shutting the highway down to one lane isn’t a wise idea. Nor are the ridiculous lines at the toll booths on the Florida Turnpike. Speaking of which, it seems to me that toll roads are only a semi-legitimate form of demanding baksheesh (bribery). I was complaining about it loudly in the van, and Ariel informed me that roads don’t qualify as a “public good” and thus from an economics point of view, they can charge whatever they want. Yeah, right. Free roads seem like a public good to me.

At any rate, our getting home on time schedule was thrown wildly off kilter. I ended up driving late at night. I’m not at my best late at night, but Cal needed a nap. In order to stay awake, I cooled the car down until I got a bit shivery—it’s hard to fall asleep when you have goosebumps. But that wasn’t enough. I turned on the radio. We were in Nowhereville, Georgia (just north of Valdosta), and the only station I could get was country-western. Not my favorite, but noise is noise. I listened to one song where the guitar was so loud you couldn’t understand the words, which was probably just as well. The next song came on. A twangy voice started talking about plowing the fields and the girl he loved. That’s okay. I like ballads. Then came the refrain. “She thinks my tractor’s sexy and she loves my farmer’s tan.” I burst out laughing. It woke me up for a good long time. I realized someone should start a music station to play wacky country music to keep tired drivers awake. I bet you could make a chunk of change. Or maybe you could get a government grant: Cash for Country. Seriously.

Here we are swimming on St. Thomas.

Ariel at the gate of a cathedral on Antigua.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Code Red

Before we went on vacation, Cal warned me not to overdo vacation preparations lest I get sick on board. Despite all the “wrenches” thrown into preparations, I stayed healthy on the entire cruise. However, not everyone could make the same claim. Somewhere early in the cruise, a vacationer brought back a nasty, highly contagious gastrointestinal bug from one of the islands. Medical chaos broke loose.

My first clue was one morning I walked into the hall and smelled bleach. Stewards were wiping railings, handholds, door handles, every non-fabric surface with bleach. Hmm. As much as the cruise lines prize cleanliness, I’ve never seen them out with bleach. Later that day a steward bawled out Luke and Ariel for taking a fork instead of waiting to be given a fork (which is what they did the day before). Odd.

Next I smelled unpleasant odors and saw floor fans. After that the ship personnel became very aggressive with hand sanitizing—the stewards had to see you sanitize your hands before you were allowed into the dining room.

Cal started running a fever, stopped eating, and had to be forced to suck ice chips. Then came the announcement. All sick or possibly sick people had to notify the medical officers and be quarantined. Cal was among them.

Speaking the obscure, but native language, of the officers came in handy. Our ship was under “Code Red.” We had very, very high numbers of sick people. Certain dining areas were shut down. Certain activities like chess, library lending, etc., were ended. A DVD we rented was free because the rental woman didn’t want to touch my “card” because we came from a stateroom with a sick person. Even the on-board jewelry store was shut down—touching jewelry could spread disease.

When we arrive in Fort Lauderdale, the entire ship has to undergo a complete sterilization before the next cruise. Cal’s doing better—he’s up and about, though he doesn’t have his appetite back. But I’m hoping and praying that the drive from Fort Lauderdale to Chattanooga is “uneventful” because 12+ hours is a long time if you have to find bathrooms along the way. And it’s even longer if you can’t.

(The rumor circulating is that the sickness is so bad it might make the news.)
Here's a picture of me with a canon at a Napoleonoic era fort. Maybe Horatio Hornblower came here.

Here's photo of Luke--his skin is so tan from the ten days that he looks like a native Carib.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Cruise of Discovery

We visited many different islands on our cruise. St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Barbados, Antigua, and St. Thomas. (I think there were a few others, but I can’t remember.) Most people who cruise get off the ship and take excursions or taxis to visit the sites or beaches. But since the excursions are very pricey and the taxis are just as bad, we opted to do a lot of walking. In the end, though it was a huge hassle, it turned out to be a great blessing.

Instead of zipping from one aesthetically-prepared tourist spot—set up to make American/European visitors feel at home—to another, the kids experienced third world countries. They discovered that third world countries rarely have sidewalks. They saw people filling their water jugs from spigots because they don’t have running water at home. They saw pets riddled with mange and worms. They saw people standing around idly because the unemployment was so high there was no work to be had. They saw waste water from homes running into open sewer systems. (Really scary when you consider it runs untreated into the sea and around the beaches. Also from the color and texture of the waste water it seems to have high levels of phosphates.) They saw historic landmarks covered in trash and treated with contempt.

At one point, Jacob took my hand and said, “We’re really, really blessed to live in the United States.” Gratitude instead of entitlement. That discovery was music to my ears.

The next day we went to St. Thomas, which is one of the US Virgin Islands. Five minutes after we were on the island, the kids said, “Mom, this is like being back in the US.” The streets had sidewalks, people had jobs, and the streets were clean. And, yes, the island had poor people, but their situation was nothing like the extreme poverty on the other islands.

Here are a few photos.
Luke is peering into a cathedral on Antigua. It was shut down (the doors had padlocks on it) because a tourist had fallen through the rotting floor boards.

Here we are on St. Thomas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


The other day we were sitting in the dining room next to a huge window, and Matthew asked me, "What is the name of the bugs that swim in the water next to the ship?" I frowned--bugs that swim next to the ship? “I’ve seen them out the windows,” Matt said. Jake interrupted, “They’re not bugs. But they swim just as fast as the ship.”

Ah, I thought, they are confused. I launched into my “there are no bugs, what you see are reflections of the sunlight dancing across the water” speech. “Besides,” I said, “nothing small could keep up with the speed of the ship—we’re booking.” The boys gave me their “you poor confused parent” look. After the meal, they boys took me through a circuitous “secret” route to the very bow of the ship. We looked over the prow. A couple of minutes later I saw the "bugs." Exquisite flying fish—translucent and glimmering in the sunlight. If I hadn’t seen them, I wouldn’t have believed the boys’ descriptions. They leapt out of the water and their pectoral fins flapped with the grace of wings. And they did keep up with the speed of the ship! When they needed a breath, they dove into the sea.

Later on I discovered that they’re able to “fly” so fast because they’re riding a wind created by the ship. Very Cool!
This is a picture of Antigua (I think). Don't you think this would make a wonderful watercolor painting? (Not so subtle hint to Calvin.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Stormy Weather

Housekeeping note: As I write this post, the ship is nearing Fort Lauderdale. I’m sure it will take me several days to unpack and do laundry, let alone get the last minute Christmas things done. But I have several posts scheduled (one will post per day until they're all posted). I hope you enjoy them.

Before we left on the cruise, Matthew asked what we would do if we ran into a storm at sea. I told Matt that this was the wrong time of the year for storms. I should have said it’s the wrong time for hurricanes because I was completely wrong about storms. We left Ft. Lauderdale Friday night and ran right into a storm. The ship rocked and pitched. Passengers started popping Dramamine like peppermints.

We walked around the ship and watched the swells. Clouds of sea spray filled the promenade. After a few strides you could taste the salt on your lips and feel it on your skin. Later we climbed to the crow’s nest, and I clung to the rails of the ladder that led onto a platform enclosed by windows. Despite the protection, the winds whipped over the wind break. Even though the rains hadn’t started yet, the winds stung like pin pricks and pressed your clothing so tightly to your body it was like a second skin. When I turned my back to the wind, it pasted my hair around my face like a heavy veil.

Of course, the rains started and we had to go below decks. It was our turn to take Dramamine, drink tea, and pretend we felt fine. By Sunday evening the weather had improved though swells continued to make passengers stumble the halls and bump the walls. Everyone looked like they’d had one too many martinis.

Eventually, you do get used to the motion, especially at bedtime. I told the kids it was like getting rocked to sleep. They gave me their “your-mind-has-been-blown-loose-by-the-wind” looks. But that’s what it’s like. I could really get used to it. It’s soothing. Most of the time.

Here's our ship the Statendam at our first port St. Maarten.
Note to my NEH grant art students--Notice the visual rhyme!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Open Road

I learned to drive in Honolulu and then spent the next six years driving in Southern California. Both places are known for heavy traffic and ridiculous speeding. The two might sound like mutually exclusive categories, but remember after you get out of traffic you have to make up for all the time you lost.

That introduction is so you understand that I’ve been struggling with the need-for-speed all my adult life. I’ve gotten much better, really. I’m not a speeder. At least not often. Not until you give me a cup of coffee, music with a backbeat, a car pointed toward Florida. The Highway Patrol loves people like me. But not in the way you might think.

I came around a curve in the far left lane and saw a Georgia Highway Patrolman with a radar gun pointed straight at me. I was going at least 10 miles over the speed limit in a work zone. I slowed way down, but clearly it was too late. As I drove toward the GHP officer I thought he was flagging me down. But he wasn’t. He just smiled and waved. I waved back—very animatedly, as if we were old buddies.

You’d think that I’d have learned my lesson. You’d be wrong. Before long, caffeine, a stretch of road with no cars, and some serious U2 had rolling down the highway. I met another curve. On the other side was another GHP. I slowed a lot. He looked at the car behind me.

The third time I was cruising through Atlanta, blasting by the traffic in the HOV lane. I looked into my rearview mirror and a GHP car was on my bumper. I slowed down again (to the posted speed limit) and waited for the siren and lights to go on. But instead, the GHP car whipped around me and continued at the speed we’d both been going at.

Yes, there was a fourth time. Later when Cal started driving, I said, “I thought for sure I’d have gotten a ticket. Do you think they viewed my slowing down as an acknowledgment of their authority and my fault, and so they didn’t give me a ticket?” Cal raised his eyebrows and made a noise that expressed disbelief. He said, “If it had been me, they’ve given me a ticket.” Hmmm. I guess I should be mildly offended, but it’s hard to work up any outrage.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Forced Labor

Whenever I drive through northern Georgia along the I-75 corridor, I’m always impressed by how pristine the sides of the road are. No bags, beer cans, or paper litter the sides of the road. I could it explain it by saying that in small town Georgia people take pride and ownership of their surroundings. And that may be true, but there are plenty of non-Northern Georgians traveling the interstate. Today I discovered the reason the roads are so clean—prison work detail. Twice today I saw signs announcing Prison Work Detail. Sure enough, prisoners in orange vests were picking up garbage. I can imagine the argument going something like this: “We’re not paying to feed and house these prisoners without them doing something to help pay back the state.” Makes sense to me. After all, I came from the state that put Martha Stewart in jail. The rumor is that her punishment included teaching other prisoners napkin-folding. Personally, I think they should have hit her with a heavy fine and made her pay restitution (though for insider trading I’m not sure who should get the money). On the other hand, maybe picking up some trash isn’t such a bad idea...Of course, I’m the woman who calls her children together for housework by yelling, “Time for slave labor”, so maybe I’m not the best person to make such decisions.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Before vacation, my parents’ miniature schnauzer Skia came to spend the night because Cal was taking Skia and Jezebel to “Camp Edna’s for Dogs.” Skia thinks Jezebel is a demonic creature escaped from the nether regions. Jezebel thinks Skia is a mutant rat with pretensions of dog-ness. We’ve tried to negotiate a truce between the animals, but they are intractable. Skia barks and growls even though her whole body is trembling so badly that her nails are clacking on the floor. Jezebel, on the other hand, bends down so Skia can see her bared teeth and snarly muzzle. Jezebel can’t figure out why Skia won’t acknowledge her obvious dog superiority and make obeisance. Skia wonders why no one has driven a stake into Jezebel.

When Cal dropped the dogs at Camp Edna’s, the retired police officer who runs the place told Cal that he can keep dogs from the same household together and asked if we wanted Skia and Jezebel to be roommates. Cellmates seemed more accurate. But the truth is that they both need solitary confinement. That and maybe a dose of chloroform.

Monday, December 14, 2009

How NOT to Get Ready for Vacation, Part Three

As you’re reading this, remember that I’m probably eating Eggs Benedict, or walking around some island wearing shorts and a tee-shirt, or swimming in sapphire water. It makes all the pre-vacation hassles fade into nothingness.

Well, not into nothingness. One member of our holiday party (my dad) had to take a flight to Iowa two days before we left. This was the day that the blizzard hit Iowa. The flight was diverted to Chicago. And the planes were grounded. Somehow he got from Chicago to Moline. An Amish man picked him up and drove him to Cedar Rapids (not in a horse and buggy—they’re not Old Order). My dad spent the night with these Amish people that he’d never met before. For dinner, they served him hamburgers that were two inches thick. My dad and the Amish man got to be good friends. My dad can go anywhere in the world and make friends. I, on the other hand, can exchange pleasantries, talk about the weather, and then always ask the wrong question. It doesn’t matter what the question is. For example, “Why are you in Chattanooga?” Answer, “I’m attending a Mother Ship convention.” Me: “Mother Ship?” Stranger: “Humanity was founded by an alien race, and they’re going to be returning to take us home.” Me: “Oh.”

Once again, I digress. Back to my dad stuck in a snowstorm in Iowa. The state of Iowa announced they’d be closing the highways because 17 inches of snow were on the road, they were expecting a lot more, and high winds would make white-out conditions.

We all began formulating ways for my dad to get to Ft. Lauderdale in time. Most of the plans involved a plane flight. However, that meant we would have a serious baggage issue. Despite the fact that we were going to be cruising in the Caribbean where we’d only need shorts and tee-shirts, everyone needed lots of clothes, etc. Ariel, for example, needed six pairs of shoes. (Okay, I took five pairs. But mine were legitimate and including running shoes for exercise.) The point is that everyone’s luggage, including my parents’ and my grandmother’s would end up in our van—Cal explained to the kids that they’d be holding luggage on their laps and under their feet on the 11 hour drive. They blinked and said “Okay.” Luke quickly told his siblings that he was too big to sit in the middle of the back seat. They even more quickly said, “Fat chance.”

It ended up being a moot point. My dad drove back to Chattanooga. How he got home in such a short time is probably a question best left unasked, except maybe by his insurance company. The rumor is that he befriended a state trooper and followed him through all of Iowa. That makes sense. No one ever tells my dad that they’re waiting for the Mother Ship.

Friday, December 11, 2009

How NOT to Get Ready for Vacation, Part Two

As if the specter of disease wasn’t enough, the plumbing is acting up. I should have known something was up the other day when the dishwasher poured water onto the kitchen floor. But I was too harried to think it through. Instead I blamed it on Matthew who is the dishwasher loader this month. I figured Matt must have spilled too much water into the door of the dishwasher, and then when he closed it, it poured onto the floor. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s not accurate.

This afternoon, Matt called me. I thought, “Leave me alone! I’m trying to get things ready for vacation.” Matt was insistent. I hrumphed my way to the kitchen. He pointed to the problem. The water in the sink wasn’t draining. What is it about holidays and plumbing!? I remember depositing our entire family plus houseguests on the doorstep of a friend (Nancy, you are amazing!) with about one hour’s notice because our plumbing was completely shut down, which meant no sinks, no laundry, no toilets. Cal and the plumber spent all of New Year’s Day digging out the sewer line. (Thank goodness for sewer insurance.) But I digress, back to this year’s fiasco.

I tried all the easy fixes: running the garbage disposal, etc. Nothing worked. I had two minutes before we had to leave for piano lessons. I did what comes naturally to any Dutch woman; I poured bleach down the sink. Bleach is a cure-all for anything offensive. No doubt it would banish all the heinous clogs. Of course, halfway to piano lessons I realized bleach and Drano don’t mix. Well, they do, but it’s a nasty, potentially lethal combination.

Luke and I tried snaking the lines through the line in the laundry room. But it was a huge waste of time. Eventually I took the sink drain pipes apart. Cal and I snaked the pipes—my wimpy muscles ache are now buffer. Snaking did nothing. Next we tried Drano. Still nothing. Next morning we called the plumber. He cleaned the pipes with super-deluxe-machine-driven-no-buff-muscles snake. It worked. Of course, then we found out that that they raised the price $35 since the last time they fixed our pipes. Cal said, “Huh, last time it was only $50.” The plumber said, “Yep, ever’thing’s gone up since last year.”

At this point, ever’thing would have been fine and dandy. Except one small slip of the memory. I forgot to replace the drainage pipe for the washer in the drain line. You can imagine what happened when the washer decided the wash cycle was over. Needless to say, my laundry room floor is now very clean after I mopped up gallons of soapy water.

I’d like to say this was the end of vacation preparation horrors, but stay tuned...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How NOT to Get Ready for Vacation, Part One

We’re going on vacation! And I’m not sure I’ll have internet access on the ship, at least not affordable internet access. But fear not, dear readers. I’m not abandoning the blog. I have posts that are set to post while I’m gone. And if I have internet access, then you’ll get those too. Now on to today’s post.

I always imagine getting ready for vacation as this lovely anticipatory process where I wash, iron, pack, clean, put a hold on the mail and go. And once or twice, I’ve experienced that. But not this time.

First, the day of his last final Luke came down with a cold. And not just any cold. It was a swollen eyes-constant sneezing-spigot for a nose-type of cold. But he took his final. I’m not sure how and I’m not sure he even cared, but it was finished. He left. Until he remembered that he forgot to put his name on the scantron. He hurried back and his professor let him look through the stack of scantrons to find his.

When Luke told us the story at dinner, Matt asked, “Lukie (Yes, Luke is patient with Matt’s nicknames), were there other scantrons without names?”

After sneezing six times, Luke said, “Several.”

Matt said, “How did you know which one was yours?”

Luke wiped his watery eyes and said, “Mine had distinct smudges.”

Each member of the family opened his/her mouth to argue the reliability of this method. But Luke gave us a nasty look that said, “Don’t say a word, or I’ll put the cold hex on you.” We closed our mouths. I just hope Luke put his name on his own paper, instead of the scantron of the kid who didn’t put his name on his paper because he was failing anyway.

But this was merely the beginning of the troubles. Stay tuned for Part Two in the next post.

The good news—since I wrote this post we found out that Luke got an A in chemistry. Whew! He must have found his own exam after all. Three cheers for "distinct smudges!"

Monday, December 7, 2009

State Championship

On Saturday, Jacob, Matthew, and I got up at 5am and didn’t get home until 11pm. Only one thing will motivate them to do that. First Lego League. For those of you who are new to my blog, FLL is an amazing opportunity for kids from 9 to 14 to build and program a robot. Of course, it’s more than that. The kids are given robot assignments and time limits in which to do them. And they compete against other teams. Last year Jake and Matt’s team took third place in the robot performance category in the State Championships.

This year they worked harder. So they went off to the 7 hour Championship with high hopes. The Championship is more than “robot runs” although they have three of those. The kids also have to do a presentation based on their research—this year they were assigned to research traffic issues. They discovered which areas of Chattanooga had nasty accidents, and then they met with the city’s traffic engineer, researched areas of the country with similar problems, brainstormed solutions to the problem and later presented their solutions to the city traffic engineer.

Of course, the kids didn’t want to do your typical science fair report. One day after a team practice, Jake announced, “I wrote a play for FLL.” I blinked and said, “Oh, right. Uh, maybe I can help you.” Without taking offense, he passed me the script. I read the script. I passed it back. “Uh, this is really good. I wouldn’t make any changes.”

Besides the presentation and the robot runs, the judges (professors from Tennessee Tech, scientists from Oakridge Nat’l Lab, and even a prof from MIT) interview the kids on robot design, leadership, and teamwork. They’re even tested on communication skills.

In one of the teamwork/communication/leadership tests, the judges gave the kids a few props and told them to make the tallest structure they could. After the kids did, they tried to pick up the table and make it taller still. The judge stopped them—lifting the table didn’t count.

A team of ten judges interviewed them about their robot’s design. The kids’ design had unique features (including a “hammer,” a ring tosser, a capture box, and reverse mechanism to go over bumps) that the judges hadn’t seen in any other robot. In fact, the design was unique and effective enough that the judges laughed and shook their heads. I told the kids it’s called “thinking outside the box” and engineering professors love it.

I could go on, but I’ll stop. The kids took third place in robot performance, and they were very happy. But we all sat patiently in the stands as the rest of the awards were called out, even the final big awards “Champion’s Award.” When they called out the number of the second place team, the kids just sat there and I said, “Hey, that’s us.” They were in shock. They never even considered that they could take the second highest award in the state championship.
Then Jacob and his friend Andrew got an invitation this morning—to join the next level of First League. The kids are older, the robots and programming are much more complex, and the competition stiffer. But the sponsors want them to join their team. Cal explained to Jake that it’s like going from triple A to the majors just before the World Series. This First League’s State Competition is in February. And just when I thought we were done with robots and programming...

Friday, December 4, 2009


Most of my readers know that I have long hair. In fact, it’s long and as straight as a stick. Normally, I love having long hair. It’s a wash-and-wear style, and it takes 30 seconds to do—brush, twist, clip. Or, on Sundays, brush, twist, pin, which takes about 30 seconds more.

It’s also very cheap to maintain—Ariel cuts it with scissors to keep everything healthy and tidy. However, she’s been busy with college classes so she hasn’t had time to cut my hair lately. This isn’t a big deal as it means my hair just gets longer. But the one down side is that it tends to tangle a bit (Ariel claims this is ridiculous as I could never have experienced REAL tangling unless my hair was curly like hers. She can get Gordian Knot types of tangles.)

At any rate, to prevent tangles (and keep my hair from touching my neck or face, which I hate) I braid my hair at night. Except one night it was late. And I went to sleep without braiding it. Everything was fine until sometime during the night when Cal’s fingers got tangled in my hair. And then he rolled over. He didn’t wake up. But I sure did!

Needless to say, Ariel trimmed my hair and I’m braiding it every night.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Food Fixation

My children are extremely tired of cabbage. Although, in all fairness, I don’t serve it too often. But they’re tired of seeing a big bag of shredded cabbage in the refrigerator along with a massive container of cottage cheese. You see, I’m in the midst of a food fixation. Currently, I crave cabbage and cottage cheese for snacks—not together. I did try it once. It wasn’t pretty, or tasty.

I realize most people crave ice cream or cookies or salt and vinegar potato chips (actually, I crave those too, but I don’t buy the chips because my lips will shrivel up before I can stop). Before these current obsessions, I had a thing for Greek yogurt, which is basically plain yogurt mixed with white wine vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper. It was delicious. But Calvin complained that it smelled like a men’s locker room. And since I used to eat it in bed while we watched movies...anyway, I had to find a new food love. Enter cottage cheese. In my defense, this isn’t your ordinary cottage cheese. This is the Olympus of cottages cheeses, mildly flavored with the velvety texture of ricotta.

Currently, cottage cheese is pushing the cabbage out. Apparently, cabbage with balsamic vinaigrette smells just like a 19 year old boy’s athletic sock. (Do you sense a theme here? I do.) I have to admit that these food obsessions aren’t new, nor did they start with pregnancy. According to a reliable source (my mom), as a child I was taken to the pediatrician because my skin had turned orange. Why? Too much beta carotene. I had a carrot fixation. Speaking of carrots, I need something to replace the cabbage...

BTW, I'd love to hear comments about any of your food fixations, especially if they're odd.