Friday, February 26, 2010


The Olympics are nearly over, and I’m glad. Not that I don’t love the Olympics, I do. But I’m getting tired of the Russians—“we are number one,” even when they’re not. Those Aboriginal costumes and dance...what were they thinking? Even if we ignore the socio-political aspects of the fiasco, it was still lame.

Or, my favorite, “I didn’t win silver. I won platinum.” Yeah, right. Um, hello, didn’t your parents/coaches/friends ever mention two words: gracious loser. Or even one word: humility. On the other hand, Ariel’s Russian violin teacher always used to say, “You must always think you are the best. You are the best.” So the Russians may be reaping what they sow.

I have to admit that I haven’t been watching the Olympics on television. We don’t have cable, and thus we have no TV reception (yes, I consider this a blessing in disguise), although we did watch part of the women’s freeskate last night at my parents’ house. And we got to see the South Korean girl skate a nearly perfect performance. Sadly, we heard that her home country puts so much pressure on her that she gets nasty emails when she comes in second. (Note to South Korea: it is a game, not a referendum on your greatness as a country.) The TV commentator said that she was an amazingly humble competitor. Maybe the Russians can hire her to teach them humility.

In spite of the “life lessons,” I am glad it’s almost over. People tend to obsess over the Olympics. I understand the draw it is for people to watch the athletes as they try to achieve a moment of sheer perfection under inhuman stress after having spent years and years of training (there’s a comparison to be made to writers who spend years toiling over books that may never sell). But it’s time for Americans to get back to productivity. Have you noticed how many bleary-eyed, crabby people are walking around these days? They’re all staying up way too late. In fact, Luke’s professors come to class and say, “Sorry, I didn’t get the exams graded this week either. I still was too busy watching the Olympics.” I’m sure it will be better after the Olympics are over. Although Ariel has a prof who can’t grade anything when NASCAR is on. NASCAR?! It’s just a bunch of guys (and sometimes Danica Patrick) driving cars around and around and around and around. I don’t get that at all.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Helicopter Moment

You may not have heard the term “helicopter parent.” It’s a term professors use to describe parents who are “involved” in their children’s college education, i.e. those kids who call their parents when they walk from class to class.

Cal and I had a serious helicopter moment today. We have two kids, Luke and Ariel, who started college this year. We were a little more concerned about Ariel since she started college a year early. Most parents I talked to who had a child who started early, especially a girl, admitted that they were fairly protective of their child.

But I was actually doing pretty well. Okay, pretty well for me. I didn’t talk to the kids while they were at classes—if they called between classes I said, “Do you need something because I’m busy?” Though I listened with great delight to their stories over dinner.

But this morning, Cal discovered Ariel’s calculator on the floor. This wouldn’t be a huge deal except that Ariel has a differential equations exam this morning. DE is a class from the nether regions. The prof? Suffice it to say I’ve blogged about him before.

Given that Ariel has a history of last minute preparations, we assumed she forgot the calculator. We mulled the options: Ignore the find and hope things went well, hope she could borrow a calculator from the prof (though I’ve heard horror stories about students who forget calcs), or bring her calc to her.

As we pondered, I said: “I’m not sure she needs a calculator for DE.”

Cal said: “What do you mean? It’s a math class.”

Me: “Yeah, but I don’t think they actually do much with numbers. I think it’s weird alphabet math.”

Cal: “But what if she needs it?”

We called her cell. Sadly, her phone was off. Deciding it’s better to be safe than sorry, we drove down to UTC. I navigated the convoluted corridors of the Engineering, Math, Computer Science (EMCS) complex of buildings. When I found the class room, I looked through the glass windows. Heads were bent over sheaves of paper. But only about ten heads. Ariel told me there were 25 students. I guess a lot of students dropped the class after the first exam. The prof, who curiously did not have horns, was reading a book. He noticed me. I held up a calculator. He nodded, and I walked in. Not a single head looked up. I slipped the calculator onto Ariel’s desk. She glanced at me and said, “I didn’t need it.”

I left quickly. I haven’t heard from her yet. I’m considering blaming it on Cal.

Monday, February 22, 2010


By Friday night, we had a functioning dishwasher and stove. I thought, “Yay! We are good to go. Everything’s back to normal.” Hehe.

Saturday afternoon, the power went out for about ten minutes. I should have known that was a portent. Saturday evening the power went out. Jacob studied Shakespeare by candle light. Luke studied for a biology exam surrounded by seven candles. I told him that he was like Abraham Lincoln who studied by candlelight.

I sat in a hot bath encircled by candles. It was vaguely romantic, until I had to shave my legs. Let’s just say that it’s not an ideal situation. There’s a reason women didn’t shave until the modern era—electricity.

Eventually, I got frustrated and called EPB (our electricity provider). After an interminable hold during which I punched in an infinite number of buttons, I finally got a recording saying, “We are unable to process your call.” Just as I was sucking in breath to scream at them (metaphorically, of course) the power came back on.

Afterwards I discovered that boys, no matter what their age, love to play with hot wax. I have dried circles of candle wax everywhere—now I know what they were doing while I was in the bath. In a few minutes, they will be learning how to scrape dried wax. Yep, parenting is not for sissies.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Books Rule

I love books. And I love movies. But sometimes the two shouldn’t mix.

I know that when I go to see a movie based on a book that I loved, I should pretend that the movie I’m seeing has nothing to do with the book I love. But I can’t do that. Instead, I get excited. I think:

“I’m going to see Percy and Annabeth and Grover and Clarisse.”
Oh, wait, they dumped Clarisse for the movie.
“I’m going to see Posideon in his Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts.”
Oh, wait, they put him in Greek leather armor instead.
“Ares will be wearing his biker dude leather outfit and Percy will best him in a battle.”
Oh, wait, no Ares in the movie at all. And instead of Ares coveting Zeus’s
lightning bolt, it’s Hades.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Percy Jackson & the Olympians movie. It’s just not the book. A two hour movie can’t do justice to a book that’s read over a period of days. And it’s especially true of a book you read aloud. Read-aloud books, by virtue of the time involved and shared enjoyment with your family, become a special, almost sacred experience. No movie can compete with that.

Maybe I’ll enjoy it more when it comes out on DVD and I’m no longer hoping for things that don’t exist.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy remembering the sweet ride when Percy, Annabeth, and Grover escape from the Lotus Eaters. I’m sure that I could make it from Vegas to LA in three hours—in a Maserati.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

One of Those Days

I just had “one of those days.” Except it lasted for three days. It all started on Saturday. First, Jacob relapsed with the nasty upper respiratory infection we’ve been passing back and forth in our family since Christmas. High fever, hacking cough. Then the dishwasher backed up onto the kitchen floor and the laundry room floor. (Their wastewater pipes are connected.) I just love mopping filthy water and washing dishes in a bathroom sink.

And the stove, which had been acting quirky lately, died. Burner by burner. Kind of odd really. We popped the lid. All the electronics were melted. I was very thankful that it didn’t catch fire. Of course, that gratitude morphed into we’ve-only-had-that-hunk-of-junk-stove-for-just-over-two-years irritation by the time I closed the stovetop. Especially since I hadn’t cooked the chili for Fellowship Lunch. And the greasy dishes were going to have to be washed in the shallow bathroom sink. Grr.

Okay, so I’m out a kitchen sink, a washer, a stove, and I have a sick child. Add to this, a sick child whose nose begins pouring blood (I’m beginning to think his nose is hemorrhaging) and the sick child doesn’t want to use toilet paper to absorb the blood because then he has to sit up and he’s got a 101 fever and it makes his head dizzy. So sick child decides to hang his face over a trash can and let the blood just spatter into said can. This would be bad enough. It becomes worse when his sibling sees the blood draining into the can and has a hissy fit.

Now I’m out a kitchen sink, a washer, a stove, and I have a sick child with a high fever and an almost hemorrhaging nose, and a sibling who is grossed-out by blood spatter. (Note to self—do not let sibling become a homicide investigator or a surgeon.)

It’s Monday now. The plumbers have come and worked their magic. Of course, their magic comes with a hefty price—no fairy dust there. But then, in the basement we discover water. Not on the floor. The sump pump actually is still working. No, this water is dripping from the ceiling. It turns out that the seals on the dishwasher have blown out and water is seeping out of the dishwasher, under the flooring and into the basement. Isn’t it just jolly? Now I’m out a kitchen sink, a washer, a stove, I have a sick child with a high fever and an almost hemorrhaging nose, and another child who is grossed-out by blood spatter, and I’m out a dishwasher. And the water seepage destroys the cheap kitchen linoleum. (Okay, the nose thing was over by now and the sink and washer were working, but you get the point.)

By now, I’m beginning to feel hugely sorry for myself. Normally, when things get this ridiculous I begin to laugh. But, hey, I was enjoying a little pity party. I wasn’t about to let a little humor ruin a bout of self-pity. Until Cal said, “God disciplines those he loves.” I got the giggles. Cal knows I won’t say, “I wish he’d love me less.”

I now have a perfectly good hand-me-down dishwasher, a new stove is on order, a throw rug covers the linoleum, Jake’s fever is down, the sibling’s equanimity is restored, and the sink and washing machine both work. Everything’s good...except Matt’s started coughing.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lost is lost

Let me start by saying I’m not a Lost fanatic, I’m not even a Lost fan. Though I did watch it over several years, until last year I got fed up with Ben and his encounter with the black smoke, which found him “Not Guilty.” Personally, I couldn’t think of anything that he was “not guilty” of. Have you murdered someone? Check. Have you tortured people? Check. Have you gotten your daughter murdered? Check again.

But a friend convinced me to watch the final episode last year. So I did. And then, I had to see what happened the final season. After all, maybe the writers could make it all work out in the end.

So Saturday I decided to stream the most recent episode of Lost. Normally, we watch Columbo, and I nap—I’m not excited by detective shows where you already know who committed the crime and how.

When the show started, Cal said, “Hey, is this Columbo goes to the island?” And it occurred to me that Columbo could solve the problems on Lost if we shipped him there. All he needs is a plane crash—I’m sure the island is calling him. Maybe we could put some other experts on the plane too.


Columbo: So Locke you were crippled and then you could walk?

Locke: It is the power of the island.

C: Right. Uh, huh. And I heard you were dead and now you’re alive?

Locke: It is the great and powerful Oz, no, I mean island.

C: Yeah, I got that. Thanks. Oh, wait, one more question. How’s that possession by the black smoke going for you?

Or what about some therapist like Dr. Phil (actually I’ve never watched him so bear with me.)

Dr. Phil: Kate honey, you got to decide between Jack and Sawyer. You’re one of those girls who loves the bad boy, but can’t stay away from the emotionally stunted Jack, who’s really an amazing spinal surgeon and the half-brother of Claire who’s “alive” again.

Kate: You know, I think it all stems from the murder.

Dr. Phil: Of your step-father?

Kate: Uh huh.

Dr. Phil: You’re trying to make peace with your step-dad by chasing two different men.

Kate: Absolutely. Besides I have to track someone and run from someone—two guys works for me.

Dr. Phil: Sweetheart, you can’t be going from one man to the other and back again—it gets confusing. Besides Sawyer has Juliet. Oh, wait, she’s dead. At least, she is for a couple more episodes before she comes back as part of Claire’s posse of black-smoke-possessed-female-forest-survivors-a-la-Rousseau.

Kate: Could I do that?

Maybe we could hire a nuclear physicist for the show (Oh, wait, they’ve already had two. But this time we’ll get them one who has not lost his marbles—sorry, pun intended.)

Physicist: Jack, you’re a man of science, are you telling me that you really believe that a nuclear explosion is going to turn back time so that you can have an alternate reality?

Jack: Well, sure. It happened. I think. Although it’s not totally clear.

Physicist: And you survived the nuclear explosion at ground zero?

Jack: Yep. It bothered my ears a bit though.

Physicist: Let me get out your prescription pad.

What about you? Can you think of some experts who might help sort out the issues on Lost?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Five

A follower of the blog (Andrew) emailed me this week and asked if we could do a Friday Five. I realized that we haven’t done one in a long time so we’re due for one.

I asked my kids for suggestions for Friday Five topics and they suggested “Favorite Computer Games.” I immediately protested that I didn’t have five computer games that I played, let alone five favorites. They suggested I could choose Pong—then, they laughed derisively. Yes, I did play Pong back in the day. (And I was a master Asteroids player.) Maybe we’ll do that Friday Five eventually—when I have five computer games that I like. In the meantime, tell me what your five favorite songs are and why. Here are mine.

1. Anything by J. S. Bach. Okay, not anything—I am so sick of Sonatas and Partitas. *Gag* Ariel’s violin teacher believes S & P are the most beautiful things. They’re not. Get over it.

2. “It’s a Beautiful Day” by U2. Also “Vertigo” and “Elevation.” The music video for “Vertigo” is bizarre, but notice the visual allusions to Dante’s Inferno.

3. Cooking music. My kids will hassle me for days if I don’t admit to my cooking music. When I cook, I listen to an eclectic mix of songs on My playlist includes everything from Pat Benetar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” to “Sloop John B” to “Dreams” by the Cranberries to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (which I really, really love and I don’t know why) to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (I have to say that based on the fiddle playing, the Devil should’ve won, which would be more Faustian anyway.)

4. Dissonant music. Honestly. I like Bartok—it reminds me of forests shrouded in fog and mystery. I even like Schoenberg. *Gasp*

5. “Who Spiked the Eggnog?” by Straight No Chaser. They’re an amazing a’cappella group. (I know that sounds lame, but they make it cool.) Here’s a link to the song. And every aspiring writer, who thinks they’re never going to be published, ought to read SNC’s story on their website.

I’m sure you haven’t failed to notice that I’ve listed way more than 5 songs. Neener. It’s my blog. But you’re welcome to do the same—just make them fit in five numbers.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I understand updates. People move so they need to update their address. Sometimes we change our phone numbers because we’re tired of having a recycled cell number that used to belong to a drug dealer. Call: “Yo, baby, I need a score.” Response: “Pardon me, I didn’t watch the Superbowl. Perhaps you have the wrong number.” I can see the need to update your phone number.

But the other day Luke and Ariel both received an email from the university they attend. It requested that they “please update your race and ethnicity.” Luke snorted, “Idiots.” After all, it isn’t as if they’d left the answers blank.

Then I got to thinking. Update your race. This is interesting because for years Matthew never understood race. Maybe it was part of his autism—that he didn’t distinguish between races. Until a few years ago, he thought my Chinese sister-in-law was my sister—after all, we were both girls, we both had long dark hair, and we both liked salty food. African-Americans were just people who had darker skin than he had. I have darker skin that he has, so it’s all the same to him. Maybe Luke and Ariel could update their race to “human.”

Update your ethnicity. I’d like to join a people group who believe chocolate ought to be prescribed for stress. And who think a thunderstorm is the greatest special effects event ever. And who think puppies were created to remind us how to giggle. And who think the snuggliest thing is being under a down comforter on an icy night with a warm husband next to you.

Okay, okay, way too much info for my teen male readers. Let’s just say, race—human, ethnicity—happy. I know that’s not a cultural group, but I have to break a rule every now and then. Besides it’ll drive the statisticians crazy, and that’s always worth doing.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Contact Uno

At the Keller house we are huge gamers. That doesn’t mean quite what you think. We are nerdy Luddite gamers. So it doesn’t involve computers. We play games: board games and card games. Everything from Settlers of Catan to Power Grid to Bang to Louis XIV to Killer Bunnies. Yes, Killer Bunnies is a real game. The cards include “cyber bunny,” “nuclear warhead,” “miniature black hole,” and “fluorine gas.” Yes, the game is very popular with teenage boys.

But we have normal games too, like Uno. However, we don’t play by the regular rules, which are too tedious for words. We play a version called “Speed Uno” that was invented by a friend of ours. As you can imagine “Speed Uno” is much faster (duh) and players interrupt each other’s play all the time. However, even Speed Uno was still a bit boring. So we came up with a couple more rules to ensure only barely managed chaos. Players are moving so fast that some bumping of arms and shoving of shoulders occurs. We call it “Contact Uno.” You’re welcome to join us, but you might want to bring your fencing masks and some shoulder pads—that way you can get your cards down before Luke wins by playing four cards in a row without even having time to yell “Uno!”

Friday, February 5, 2010

Literary Litmus Tests

I’m easily romanced by the cover art of a book. Yes, I judge a book by the cover. If I’m in the library and they have two copies of the same book, I always chose the one with the prettier cover. Next, I’m influenced by dust jacket copy—you know, the blurbs on the inside front cover of the book. Assuming both are good and I don’t know anything bad about the author, I am tempted.

My daughter on the other hand is much more prosaic. (It must be the math major in her.) She has an uncanny ability to pick up a book and open to the worse page/scene in the entire novel. Imagine: I’m drooling over cover art that looks like it belongs in a museum, and I’ve pointed out to Ariel the lifting melody of the words on the dust cover.

Ariel takes the book, opens it, and says, “Are you sure you want to read this book?”

I nod, eagerly.

She says, “In this chapter a character named Todd strangles the family dogs in his neighborhood.”

“What?!” I grab the book. “But he seemed like a nice boy.”

Sure enough, Todd is a dog strangler. Okay, this didn’t really happen—usually the scenes she finds are worse. When I flip through a book, I never find the weird/perverse scenes. Ariel says they are almost always 2/3s of the way through the book. Hmm, this must be some odd literary rule that no one ever told me. I wondered if there were more such rules.

This morning I read a friend’s blog. She talked about the “Page 99 litmus test” (Thanks, Rowena. Here’s a link if you’d like to read her original post: ). She quoted Ford Maddox Ford who said, “Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you."

As a writer, I got a little nervous. What was on page 99 of the novel I was currently querying? I opened my document and scrolled to page 99. On that page, the main character Henry finds out that his grandfather tried to kill him when he was a little boy. Whew, that works—totally non-boring scene. Now all I have to do is find an agent, a publisher, and great cover art. Yep, should be easy...not.

Note: I really wanted to title this post "Literary Litmi," but "litmus" is Scandinavian in original not Latin. bummer.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Differential Equations

When you attend a major university with over 10,000 students enrolled and only 40 of them are majoring in math, you have to ask yourself why. Is it the inability of secondary schools to prepare students for college level math? Maybe. Is it students’ paranoid fear of math? Could be. But since Ariel’s a math major, I’ve discovered the real reason.

She has a professor whose name shall not be used in this blog because Ariel fears retribution—I told her that my blog isn’t that popular, but...his name shall be Dr. Immigrant. Dr. Im is, according to Ariel, a very good differential equations professor. However, there’s more to being a good professor than teaching. Getting homework graded on time so that students can use it to study, actually being at your office hours, writing exams that can actually be finished in the allotted time—these are all important skills that Dr. Im seems to be lacking. But the worst is that his exams have very little to do with what he teaches in class. The students in Ariel’s class have responded in various ways. The engineering students swear at Dr. Im like drunken sailors, before he shows up for class. The math majors cope with the stress by letting their already marginal personal hygiene slip a couple of notches—Ariel excepted. The students who sit in the back and who are clearly thinking of changing their major spend the class time texting all their friends on the utter lameness of DE (differential equations).

Given past history, Dr. Im copes with students' test grades by threatening to fail the entire class and telling them they are probably all D students whose previous professors gave them mercy grades and that they should drop his class and changes majors. Okay, right. In the words of the inimitable Bertie Wooster, “He is foreign, and therefore, excitable.” I would think (note: I’ve a degree in English—and thus have no authority to comment on math) that perhaps the exams and the class materials should have something in common. But that’s just me.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Most of Chattanooga has recovered from the ice and snow. We stayed snug and had power, though Cal and I did find a downed power line in our neighborhood. Matt and Jake went sledding, and Ariel and Matt built a snowman in the front yard. Of course, we took Jezebel out in the snow. She seemed to enjoy the snow, especially the snowballs. I think she should get a tryout as an outfielder for the Yankees. But we discovered that Jez is afraid of snowmen. Every time she got near one, she shied away.

I guess I can understand it. Snowmen are sort of like zombies, and I suspect that Jez may have read Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. We think she spends the day sleeping in the sun, but instead she smuggles books under Cal’s desk and reads them—it’s what I would do if I were her.

Note: For those of you who are writers, I recently participated in a dialogue on “place” with short story writer and novelist Adele Annesi. If you’d like to “listen in,” click the following link: