Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Effects of Global Warming

My yard and garden are very concerned about the effects of global warming. Unfortunately, they misunderstand the issue. They’re concerned it’s not warm enough. They don’t rely on falsified climatology reports. They rely on snow. Snow like they haven’t seen in years. Here are some photos.

The following pictures are from our neighborhood. Notice the very cute houses—they are up the street a few doors from where we live. We live in the ugly step-child area of an artsy, hip neighborhood.

See, I told you it was a hip neighborhood.

I'm not sure I get the head-on-a-pedestal thing, but then again I'm not artsy.

Friday, January 29, 2010

I'm a Princess in Disguise

I have sensitive skin. This means that I can’t use soap, not Ivory, not Dove, nothing soap-ish or it burns my skin. Yes, burns. Instead, I have to use Cetaphil for sensitive skin. It means I can’t dry my face with a towel. I have to pat it dry or it stays red and I look like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer—not an attractive look in a woman.

It means I have to put uber-sensitive skin lotion on my face or my skin hurts. And worst of all, if my skin gets really upset I get little water blisters, not pimples, blisters. (Yes, I know this means that I probably have rosacea—but I can’t have it, because that would make my health insurance company extremely unhappy. Just for the record, I have never been diagnosed with rosacea.)

So I researched products for people with “skin like rose petals.” According to various websites, I needed a moisturizing product that would form a barrier to protect my fragile skin from the perils of modern life. Every site recommended a cream from Dermatologica. But it was expensive. I decided I didn’t need it. And then, I broke out in multiple little blisters just above my lip. I ordered the product.

It arrived yesterday. At this point, I’m hoping it’s not snake oil. I did wash and pat dry my face. I put a small amount of the precious ointment on my skin. Ah, the burning was gone almost immediately. It lasted for about 8 hours. At the very least, it makes my skin feel better—and I don’t have any new blisters. Not yet, anyway.

Then the truth about my skin hit me. I’m sure you remember the story of the Princess and the Pea. In order to discover if she was a real princess, her fiancĂ©’s mother made her sleep on top of a stack of mattresses underneath of which was a pea. A true princess is so sensitive that she’d be unable to sleep. I think I have a version of this. My skin is so rarified that the “common” stresses of modern life are too much for it. So, I’m really a princess in disguise. I wish I’d known before, this would totally give me a leg up in getting my novel published.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Criminals Don't Have to Be Geniuses

I’m sure you've heard the saying, “Criminals don’t have to be geniuses.” And that’s true. But if they’re too dumb...they get caught.

The other day I was driving Ariel to her violin lesson (Luke had the van and Ariel doesn’t know how to drive a stick-shift). We turned left at an intersection next to a private school. While waiting to make my turn, I noticed that a house across the street from the school had an EPB (electric and cable company) truck and a police car in the driveway. Hmmm. That’s odd.

I put it out of my mind and went to violin lessons. After the lessons, we retraced our route home. As we neared the intersection, I noticed a policeman was directing the traffic. Even odder...

I looked over at the house. Now a police car was pulled diagonally across the lawn. In the driveway was a big vehicle. Plastered on the side was the logo: Anti-meth enforcement. Right. It was a meth house.

A meth house across the street from a school—how stupid is that? Doesn’t that up the felony status and jail time? Hello!? Couldn’t they find a “safer” place?

And even stupider still, the meth house was only two doors down from the house where the local police officer of the K-9 unit lives—his dog lives with him! Can you say “uber-stupid?” One walk past that meth house and the dog would have had a conniption.

Nope, criminal don’t have to be geniuses. But it sure helps us if they’re idiots.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My Poem

The other day I wrote a poem. I’m not much of a poet—poetry is mostly about images, extend metaphors, etc. My writing is mostly about plot, though I try to make the words lovely and I spend a lot of time working on voice, place, metaphor, etc.

I know you’re saying, “What about the Illiad, the Odyssey, the Epic of Gilgamish, and the Aeneid? Granted, they do have plot. And I’m not getting dragged into the fight about whether the Aeneid is really a case of Roman thievery of Greek epic poems. Let’s just say that the Roman idea was to take what was the best of Greek culture and make it their own.

Aside from epic poems and Robert Browning, whom I love, most poems are musings. And I love them for what they are. So Saturday night as I lay in bed, the loveliest poem came to mind. It wrote itself in my thoughts in beautiful word images. I almost reached out for the pad of paper next to the bed (I keep it there because literary inspiration often comes in the moments just before sleep), but I didn’t reach out. I was tired and thought, “Oh, I’ll remember in the morning.” Except I didn’t.

And maybe it’s just as well. I really don’t remember the poem—maybe I only thought it was wonderful. I guess it’s better to have loved and lost a poem, than to never have written one at all.

Okay, that’s really lame. But at least it keeps my mind off the fact that the sump pump in the basement isn’t working...Again. Cal called the plumbers....AGAIN. We’re on their “work list.” It seems to me that if our basement is the measure of their work, their list of repairs must be really, really long.

Friday, January 22, 2010


This afternoon in front of our house, I noticed a big city truck with mammoth-sized pipe-type sucking/drilling contraptions all over it. Being the curious person I am, I went to take a look. The city workers had the lid off the manhole and the pipe-thingys went down into the manhole.

I felt an immediate flush of triumph. I knew what those men were doing. They were roto-rootering the storms drains. Months ago, I’d told the city engineer that they had a drainage problem—after all, the storm water was backing up into our basement. The city engineer denied it. But now that their water can’t back up into our basement—thanks to a concrete plug...they realize they have a problem. Duh.

I feel vindicated, but vindication never comes cheap.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Writing and Tidying Aren't Compatible

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I write. You probably don’t know that I am a clean-things-up/toss-things-out fanatic. (Actually, I don’t think I am, but the rest of the family does.) Yesterday, these two facets of who I am converged.

But first you need to hear the backstory. Years ago I wrote a short story called “The Fishhook.” Part of me loves the story and part of me is convinced that the story is the bane of my existence. You see, I’ve been trying to perfect this story for years. And I haven’t been able to do it. The story is strange (about a serial killer, although that's not the odd part), yet compelling. My writing friends have been known to say, “Hey, did you ever finish that story about the serial killer? I really liked that story.”

Since I had just finished an edit of my latest novel, I thought, “Why not polish off ‘The Fishhook’ and send it out to a literary magazine?” Why not, indeed...This is why not. The story refuses to be what it’s supposed to be—it refuses to follow all the rules for short stories. Every time I try to finish it, it becomes water in a sieve.

The other day I rolled up my sleeves and steeled my trembling resolve. I rewrote the beginning from scratch, determined to make the story obey the rules. And it slipped through my fingers. I emailed it to my friend/writing buddy. She said, “I know you’re trying to make this fit the genre, but you’ve gutted the heart and soul of the story.” Ugh. I’d be depressed except that a niggling voice in the back of my mind had already told me that truth. Then my friend said, “Go back to the original version.”

This is when the plunge-ever-forward writing part of me crashed into the brick wall of the toss-things fanatic. Gulp. I didn’t have the original version anymore, not even a hard copy. I hesitated to mention this to my family. Because I knew what was coming—they already call me “the mom who cleans things up before you even have a chance to use them.” (I’ll admit that is justified and is part of the reason I drive my kids crazy when they cook or bake.)

I pronounced my problem sheepishly and was, of course, roundly excoriated—okay, I wasn’t excoriated, but it’s a cool word and I wanted to use it. I was teased mercilessly. And Ariel made cryptic remarks that sounded like “I told you it would lead to this one day.”

I emailed my friend, “Uh, you don’t happen to have a copy of the old version of ‘The Fishhook,’ do you?” She didn’t. Now I was getting antsy. Then I discovered that being techno-troglodyte has its benefits. I opened a file by accident and discovered that I’d mis-saved an old version of the story over another disastrous attempt at revision a couple of years ago. Whew!

So I can say “neener” to Ariel. And I’ve learned hopefully to at least keep hard copies, except they take up a lot of room in my file box...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Culture and Its Niceties

I’ve lived in many different cultures, and my mom was an immigrant to the US so it gives me an unusual take on culture. People tend to grow up within a culture and assume that that is a standard by which everyone else lives. And usually despite what they think, the things that are most cultural are the things they don’t recognize.

Because of my odd relationship with American culture I have a lot of friends who are immigrants or who are first generation. My conversations with immigrants go like this:

Nina (Russian immigrant): Why do Americans tell their children how wonderful they are?

Me: It’s called “encouragement” or “positive reinforcement.” Americans believe their children need “good self esteem.”

Nina: How can you have good self-esteem if you are not good at anything?

Me: I don’t know. It seems dumb to me too.

Or consider the west-south thing. I was in junior high and had just moved to a small town in Georgia from California. Here’s my first experience with Southern culture.

Librarian: Would you like to check out that book?

Me: Uh, yes.

Librarian (her face is turning crimson): Yes, what?

Me (very confused): Yes...yes?

My mother got a phone call about the extreme rudeness of her child. Eventually, I learned to say, “Yes, ma’am.”

Of course, as soon as I learned to say “Yes, ma’am” we moved to Hawaii where they speak pidgin.

A fellow student, who was a native Hawaiian said to me: Hey, bra, you go beech?

Me: Pardon?

Student: You go beech?

Me (perplexed): Excuse me, are you speaking English?

Yep, life's interesting.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mother-Daughter Bonding

Not everyone is blessed by a having a teenaged daughter in their life so today I’ll let you experience a small slice of it vicariously.

The other day, I got a birthday package from my mother-in-law. Ariel (oops), my teenage daughter, known hereafter as TD, coveted the Godiva chocolate that I got. (Hurray, my mother-in-law shops the Godiva after-Christmas sales.) After I shared my chocolate with TD, who does agree that chocolate is a food group/medication, TD oood and ahhhed over my new makeup—my mother-in-law is an Avon lady. I pointed out the very hip colors. TD commented on which ones she liked. And that was the end of the conversation. I went back to folding laundry, and she went back to Diff-Eqs (short for differential equations).

Later that evening, I was getting ready for Bible study, and she saw me doing my hair.

TD said: “Hey, would you like me to do your make-up for you?”

Me, mildly suspicious since I’ve allowed her to do this to me before: “Uh, well...”

TD: “Seriously, I won’t do anything too weird.”

Me, thinking—That’s what you said the last time and I had to wash my face: “Uh...”

TD: “Come on.”

Me, thinking—mother/daughter bonding time: “Sure, why not?”

TD, after applying thick goop to my lips: “This lipstick isn’t really dark brown.”

Me, jerking back to reality: “Huh? What did you say?”

TD: “This lipstick isn’t too brown. It looks sort of natural.”

Me: “Oh.”

TD (shielding eye shadow colors from my view): “Close your eyes.”

Me: “Right.” Then I sink into oblivion, meditating on the newest short story I’m working on.

A period of time passes.

TD: “Hmmm. I don’t think you’ll like this.”

Me: “Let me see.”

TD: “I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

I stand up and look into the mirror. My face blanched. “Oh, my goodness.”

TD: “It’s trendy.”

Me: “I look like the loser in a bar fight.”

TD: “I can fix it.”

Me: “With soap.”

TD: “No. Just relax.”

Ten minutes later.

TD: “Ta Da!”

Me, trying not to bite my lip because it’s covered in goo, “That’s better, I guess.”

TD: “I put purple over the blue and then dusted white sparkles over that.”

Me: “I have on three layers of eye shadow!?!”

TD: “It’s really cute, Mom.”

Me: “I can’t wear this to Bible study.”

TD: *shrug*

Me, looking at the clock. “Ahh, I’m late for Bible study! I hope no visitors show up and see me looking like this.”

TD, smiling broadly: “Tell them it’s my fault.”

Okay, dear readers, just so you know—it’s her fault!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Towel Creations

Caveat: my male teen readers may sneer at this post. But here’s a word to the wise—a few “cute” skills make you seem sensitive. Women like a tough, but sensitive man.

When we went on our cruise, every night when we came back to our room the stewards left chocolates on the bed as well as an adorable animal made out of towels and washcloths. They made everything from monkeys to elephants to pigs. In fact, twenty some different animals can be made using a bath towel, hand towel, and washcloth.

The cruise line, being very financially wise, publishes a book on how to create animals from towels. For a fee, you can buy the book. My birthday was coming up and a dear relative bought me a book for my birthday—Yay!

Now when you visit our restroom, you’ll see a towel animal perched on the counter. Here are a couple of photos.

Here’s the elephant.

Here’s the cool pig. (Matthew made this one.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Flood of Another Kind

If you’ve been following my blog, you know we’ve been having some wicked weather. But many buildings, especially older ones weren’t made for such heavy freezes. Thankfully, our 1940s bungalow hasn’t had any problems...

But yesterday, Cal and Luke got to church, opened the front doors, and were greeted by a flood. The source? Water pipes in the ceiling of my Sunday school room. Sometime Saturday night, a pipe split. Luke said that he walked into my Sunday school room and saw a gaping hole in the ceiling. Water was gushing through the hole.

First thing, they moved the piano bench to higher ground and then shut off the water main. However, that meant the church had no water. Not even the fellowship hall, which thankfully did not flood. We held worship services in the fellowship hall and even our visitors were game to stick it out through worship and a hastily rearranged luncheon.

The deacons, elders, and trustees spent the afternoon digging wet insulation out of the attic, breaking hunks of ice off attic structures, and shop-vac-ing water while we waited in line for a plumber/repair/water damage group to come. A lot of pipes split Saturday night and the plumbers were swamped too (pun intended). A couple in the church had a water pipe split—thankfully they heard the pipe split and shut off the main before much damage was done to their laundry room.

Today fans and dehumidifiers are running, the heater is cranked, and Cal’s waiting for the insurance company to come and give an assessment: can we get new carpeting, how damaged are the pews, how many walls, ceilings, etc., will have to be replaced?

I guess the good news is that church is getting an unplanned renovation. Hopefully, one that doesn’t include mold and mildew. I can smell the pleasant scent of bleach already.

Friday, January 8, 2010


We did get snow, sort of. I watched a newscaster bend down and touch the snow. She announced that we got an inch of snow. The problem is that there was so little snow that her finger only brushed the dusting around on the ice. In order to have “one inch,” you finger actually has to sink into something.

But the lack of real snow accumulating on roads didn’t mean that we didn’t have nasty winter weather. Instead of lovely snow, we had ice. A few major roads were treated for ice. But most roads weren’t.

Now having lived in Connecticut, we’re used to nasty weather. (For those of you who can’t remember fourth grade geography, Connecticut is in Southern New England between New York to the west, Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and Long Island Sound to the south.) However, we’re used to dealing with bad weather in one nearly fool-proof way: studded snow tires. Yep, those babies carried me through a blizzard proceeded by an ice storm, which the state had been completely unprepared for. It took me about 4 hours to travel a distance that should have taken 45 minutes, but I didn’t end up in a ditch.

However, that state of Tennessee frowns on studded snow tires. And let’s face it, there’s not enough wintery weather to justify it. So we faced yesterday’s ice without snow tires. Everyone in our family was laissez-faire about it, especially the kids. Last night was the BCS championship, and we headed off to my parents’ house. They have a big, flat screen LCD TV and cable—my kids think my parents’ are very cool TV-wise. Plus, grandparents always have good food. Anyway, we hit some bad patches of ice on the way there. We saw quite a few cars in ditches. We shook our heads sadly—those poor inexperienced Southern drivers.

We came to the twisty, steep hill before my parents’ house. You’d think that multiple cars parked on the side of the roads at odd angles and one car whose rear end was in a ditch might have been a warning. But you’d be wrong. Instead, we plunged ahead. Our van made nice progress up the hill...until about halfway. I caught my breath as the van skittered to the side and then began sliding backwards. Cal got the van stopped. But now we were in the middle of a big patch of ice halfway up a steep hill.

Cal said, “Why don’t you drive and I’ll get behind the van and push?” I gave him my you-must-be-insane-look and said, “My darling, I know you’re quite strong, but this van will mow you down.” (Okay, I didn’t use exactly those words.) Then I started praying while Cal did this fancy maneuver that was a combination of sliding and wheel turning that forced the van into a 180 degree turn, which put us safely at the bottom of the hill, pointed in the right direction without having hit any of the other cars. (I think this was more a result of my prayers than Cal’s driving skills.)

Cal drove to the other way into my parents’ housing development. It also had a nasty, icy hill. Cal got out of the van to survey the hill. I remained in the van with the four kids, two of whom were making accusations of parental lunacy with edges of hysteria in their voices.

At any rate, we ended up going home and streaming the BCS game on the computer. I guess the moral of the story is when there’s ice in Chattanooga...Stay Home!!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

If you haven’t been following the weather news, let me say that it’s darn cold down here. Normally, I like the cold. My mantra in New England was: “I’d rather do two winters than one summer.” And I still believe that. You see, snow justifies the cold. A snowstorm or blizzard is one of life's premiere experiences. Nothing is quiet like the quiet of a snowstorm. It’s as if all sound in the world suddenly disappeared. And a blizzard is tangible nothingness.

And the day after the storm when the sun shines, everything is pristine as if the world has been remade. At least until the snow plows and sanders have their way. But the most remarkable snow experience is thundersnow. Yes, it’s a real, but rare event. It’s basically a thunderstorm. But instead of rain, you get snow. And no, you can’t hear the thunder because it’s muffled by the snow. Instead, it’s a surreal light show where pockets of the dark, snowy sky light up as if a spotlight has been shown on them.

So you see, snow justifies the cold. But plain cold is just plain cold. Your knuckles get raw and bleed. Your feet are never warm—okay, I wear multiple pairs of socks and that helps. You have to wear layers and layers of clothes so you can’t enjoy your mid-winter Caribbean tan. (I know, you don’t feel too sorry for me.) You always have to fight someone to sit in front of the fireplace, and it’s usually the dog. What’s up with that? Jez has a heavy fur coat, but she’s always nosing her way to the fire or the heat-dish.

In spite of it all, it may be that winter will finally validate its existence. The forecasters are predicting snow for tomorrow. I hope, I hope, I hope....

Monday, January 4, 2010

Verbal Efficiency

I realize that lot of people probably don’t spend their time thinking about words. But haven’t you ever wondered about some of the weird phrases we use? What about “thank goodness”? Are you thanking your own goodness, or lack of it? Or is it an atheist/agnostic version of “Thank God”?

Then there’s “Heavens to Betsie.” Okay, it’s not a phrase you hear anymore. But when I was a kid, little old ladies with blue hair said it all the time. And what’s it supposed to mean? Is it a practical outworking of “the meek shall inherit the earth” and Betsie clearly won't?

Of course, English isn’t the only language with weird phrases. Consider the French sacre bleu. Literally, it means “holy blue.” What is that? Is it swearing by some papist vestment? Or is it the French version of “holy cow.”

The weirdest phrase I know is a Dutch one. It’s used as the equivalent of “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe it.” The phrase is mensen kinderen. It literally means “people’s children.” It implies “other people’s children,” and it is said with a sad shake of the head. You get the implication, right? When bad stuff happens, it’s the fault of “other people’s children.” See, at least the Dutch made sure their weird phrases did something—like passing the buck and shifting the blame. Yep, that’s efficiency at work. Don’t you wish you were Dutch?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

I don't have any resolutions. I'm more of a goal person, which sounds similar, but isn't.

This past year I wrote 183 posts! WooHoo. I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. And my blog had about 10,000 hits. I'd love to up that number over the next year. (Yes, yes, I know the hit counter isn't showing that. But I didn't set up the counter until mid February or later, and the counter crashed I don't know how many times.)

Here's one last picture from the cruise. It's taken in the atrium of the Statendam.

The sculpture is an almost exact replica of a sculpture in front of the government buildings of Barbados. Except that this one's big and bronze, and Barbados's is small and cement. Okay, here's one more photo. Hmm, I wonder if the original sculptor got paid...