Monday, May 31, 2010

Ariel's problem

My daughter Ariel has a problem. She doesn’t think it’s a problem. I do. Now it’s not your typical problem, but it’s the kind of problem that drives a writer like me absolutely batty. She reads the end of books before the beginning. This is utter sacrilege.

She’ll come home with a stack of books from the library. Then she’ll be lying on the couch, reading the first chapter or two and then she reads the last couple of chapters. Imagine me, pulling out my hair. “Ariel, why do you do that?”

Ariel: I have to see if the book’s worth reading.

Me: What?!

Ariel: I want to know if the main character’s going to end up with the guy. Because if she’s not, then I’m not wasting my time with this novel.

Me (I’m beginning to twitch): I understand feeling ripped by the occasional novel, but the author spend months, probably years crafting that book and to skip all the tension building to get to the’re ruining the author’s work.

Ar (eyebrows raised): I’ll read it if it’s good. Besides I hate it when some author pulls a deus ex machina. (Deus ex machina is Latin meaning “god from a machine.” It’s when a writer throws on an ending to tie up the story that the rest of the novel doesn’t justify.)

Me: I totally understand. But that’s the risk you take when begin a novel. You have to give the author a certain amount of trust.

Ar: I’ve gotten burned too many times.

Now the fact that Ariel reads the ending of books is a bad situation. But there is a worse one—one that has played out many times in our house. Imagine Ariel is sitting at my computer with a document open. I lean over to see what she’s doing.

Me: Oh, you’re reading my novel.

Ar: Uh, huh.

Me (looking closer): You’re on chapter twenty-nine.

Ar: Yep.

Me (turning purple): You’re reading the end of my novel before...(I sputter here unable to find the necessary words)’ve read the whole thing.

Ar: Yeah.

Me: I hate, hate, hate that.

Ar (giving me her dimply smile and twinkly eyes): You should password protect your documents.

Me: Like that’ll work. (When Ar was little, I used to password protect my computer as a game for her to try and crack. It’s never taken her more than a day to hack my system.) I know I could come up with an unbreakable code, but then I’d forget it. Maybe I need to put down the “parental foot,” but it’s become sort of a game between the two of us. And I love games.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday Fun

Here's something fun for Friday. I really try hard not to be romantic or sentimental, but I couldn't resist this. Enjoy! Be sure to full screen it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Drip, drip

Four years ago Cal and I put in drip irrigation. The idea was to save water, money, and time. It has saved time. I don’t have to lug around a too heavy watering can and water each plant—I like to garden so I have a lot of plants. It may also be saving water and money. However, that is offset by the days that I forget that I’ve turned on the drip irrigation and it drips and drips and drips and drips.

Cal and I got up this morning to go running and noticed water spilling out of the birdbath (it’s hooked into the irrigation line). Two out of the four irrigation lines were on all night. We turned them off. Later I went to turn on irrigation line three, which I forgot to turn on last night, I discovered that line two was still on—neither Cal nor I can figure out how that happened. So one irrigation lines was on for 15 hours. Yep. I’m guessing I didn’t save a lot of money this month. On a positive note, my strawberry plants are very perky.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


On Monday Calvin and Matthew left to go camping. The rest of us stayed home—we remembered camping. Matthew doesn’t. The last time he went camping, he wasn’t actually born. I was six months pregnant with him and then eight months when we went camping again. This clearly explains why I haven’t been camping in thirteen years. After all, when you’re beached-whale-pregnant and the air mattress springs a leak during the middle of the night, diapers are changed in a tent, and you yell at your toddler “Stop eating dirt,” camping becomes associated with misery.

Matt called me. He told me they set up the tent, hiked, cooked hot dogs over an open fire, and saw beautiful vistas. I’m starting to remember why we used to go camping in the first place. I can’t wait to see the pictures they’re taking.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Almost Summer

This week is standardized testing. For some reason I always dread this, although for me as a teacher it’s actually fairly nice. I sit around with pages of editing—I get to edit while I “teach.” And when I need a break from editing, I get to read. What a bummer! :) And once testing is over, I’m done. Summer Break! Imagine me doing the happy dance. Although...I do have to sew Shakespeare costumes, finish up some serious yardwork, and reorganize/clean every cupboard in the house—they are currently white-washed sepulchers. Hmmm. Teaching sounds much more fun.

Friday, May 21, 2010


I’ve been sick the past couple of days. And the only thing that’s good about it is that before I got sick, I went to the library and borrowed a stack of books. I went hoping that some of the books I’d put on hold were in. They weren’t. So I did the scan the shelves and pick out books—judging them by their covers and the teaser on the inside cover.

Wednesday I finished a YA book titled Gone by Michael Grant. It had a beautiful cover and the teaser looked interesting. Ariel, who went with me to the library, sneered. Apparently she’d started the book and never finished it. I finished it. Here’s my take.

The premise is interesting. One day, for no apparent reason, everyone aged 15 and older disappears. And as people turn 15, they disappear. Of course, with adults gone, and huge power vacuum develops with the good kids and bad kids fighting it out. They use guns and “powers.” Some kids develop them, some kids don’t.

The book wasn’t bad. It kept me reading. Two problems, though. One, the first third of the book wasn’t all that well written. I kept thinking, “Show, don’t tell!” It was almost enough to make me stop. But I really, really wanted to find out what was happening to the kids and if they’d be rescued or rescue themselves, which leads me to problem number two. The book hints at what’s gone wrong (no spoilers), but doesn’t work it out clearly. And in the end the bad guys lose, sort of. They slink off until another day (sequel?). And “The Darkness” is never explained (sequel?). Here’s the issue. As a writer you can leave the door open for sequels, but you’ve got to “spend every emotional penny.” If you don’t resolve most of the issues, the readers feel like they’ve been ripped off. Like the book was teasing them. I don’t know about you, but I hate being teased.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Carrot Coveting

The other day, we were watching NCIS on a Netflix disk when I stopped the movie. Amidst the protests, I heard “Why did you stop the movie?” After all, they hadn’t seen any reasons that I normally stopped a show like inappropriately attired females, etc.

“I’m sorry,” I explained, “but I have to get vegetables.”

All the noise and chatter ended. “What?”

Me: I saw a character eating a carrot and now I’m coveting.

Them: Who?

Me: Agent Lee was eating a carrot in the background.

Them: You’ve got to be kidding. We didn’t even see her.

Honestly, this is from kids who eat every fifteen minutes, when possible. You’d think they’d be the least bit understanding. But I don’t think it was the fact that I wanted to get something to eat as much as the fact that I’d stop the show to get something as “lame” as carrots. They’d understand ice cream, cookies, hamburger, or potato chips. (Okay, I could get a serious craving for salt and vinegar potato chips, but I wouldn’t indulge it because I’d eat the whole bag.)

But carrots... They’re a healthy indulgence—vitamin A, beta carotene, fiber, etc. Besides I’ve always had a thing for carrots. When I was little my mom took me to the pediatrician because my skin had taken on an orange cast, it turns out that I was eating way too many carrots.

While the kids waited, I went to the kitchen. But our carrots were a bit limp. So I settled for cucumbers and lettuce. The kids rolled their eyes. Then we got back to Gibbs and Abby and Ducky. They solved the murder. Agent Lee didn’t help. I guess she’s there just to increase carrot sales.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Son of Hamas

When I first heard about Son of Hamas, I remember thinking it must be a novel. After all, any book that involved the son of a Hamas founder becoming a spy for the Israeli government had to be fiction, right? Never for a second did I think that the book was a memoir. But it was.

When I started reading Mosab Hassan Yousef’s book, I thought that I’d never be able to keep all the groups (Hamas, Fatah, PLO, Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, etc.) straight. But that is one of the wonders of the book. For the first time I have a grasp on who are these people are, what they want, and why. And even if you don’t agree with his conclusions, the clear writing by someone who loves people on all sides of the conflict helps you finally understand what’s going on.

Beyond the conflict itself is the story of Mosab. Growing up in a strict Muslim home, learning about terror first hand, experiencing torture and betrayal, protecting his family, choosing to love his enemies and fighting both sides to prevent murder. It’s an amazing story.

Interestingly, it is written with a restrained hand. Perhaps because I’m a fiction writer, I often thought, “Wow, this could have been written in much bolder way.” But I suspect that Mr. Yousef wouldn’t want that. Though he admits he found the spying “addictive,” he presents the work that he did with great humility. His goal in the book is to explain what he did and why and to point his reader to a better way—to replace hate, vengeance and bitterness with love.

Threaded throughout the novel is Mosab’s experience with the Bible. And though it’s only at the end of the book that he talks about his conversion to Christianity, it’s the words from Matthew 5 “Love your enemy” that alter his life forever. It’s this idea that he holds out as the hope for not only the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but also for us all.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Spending Every Emotional Cent

I just finished re-reading two books. And I never re-read. There are too many good books in the world that I haven’t read for me to think about re-reading, and still I re-read these stories.

Why? The two books were The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. If you haven’t read the books (which I have recommended before in this blog), get yourself to the library or the bookstore. The stories are wonderful. The setting is a dystopian future where the government punishes the population for its past rebellion by making some of nation’s children participate in once year Hunger Games—a sort of modern equivalent of the Roman gladiators only with children. The point is to remind the people what awaits them if they ever try to throw off the yoke of the Capitol again. The story has everything you’d expect from a great young adult novel. Action. Suffering. Bravery. Romance.

But all of that is not enough to make me re-read. What brings me back, is the writing. First class, word perfect writing. And in my mind, these books had two strikes against them before I started reading—I am not fond of novels written in present tense, especially first person, present tense. Usually the verbage gets in the way of the story because it’s such a difficult tense to write in, and it ends up drawing attention to itself instead of propelling you into the story. But instead of pushing me away, it drew me right into the story. In this example, 12 year old Prim has been chosen to fight in the Hunger Games and the narrator, Prim’s sister Katniss, can’t bear it.

“Prim!” The strangled cry comes out of my throat, and my muscles begin to move again. “Prim!” I don’t need to shove through the crowd. The other kids make way immediately, allowing me a straight path to the stage. I reach her just as she is about to mount the steps. With one sweep of my arm, I push her behind me.
“I volunteer!” I gasp. “I volunteer as tribute!”

The immediacy of first person present leaves no distance between you and Katniss—you’re rushing forward with her, sacrificing your own life to save your little sister. In the right hands this point of view and verb tense is a powerful tool.

The second book, Catching Fire, takes up where the first book ends. No spoilers, but let’s just say that things are looking pretty good for Katniss and her family. But we readers are in the hands of a good storyteller, and things aren’t what they seem. If you thought things were bad before, they’re going to get worse. This go-for-broke approach to storytelling is one of the secrets to great novels. You can’t hold anything back. You can’t think, “Hmm, this might be something to save for the next book.” You have to spend every cent of emotional money you have for the novel. Your reader will know if you don’t. Ms. Collins has spent every bit of “cash” she had for each of these books and I can’t wait for the next one Mockingjay because I know she won’t disappoint me. I even have it pre-ordered.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re a Hunger Games fan, I’m totally rooting for Peeta. If you don’t know who he is, you’d better find out soon, Mockingjay comes out in August.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Death of My Vine

Yesterday my treadmill died. Of course, it didn’t just die. It was murdered. Sort of. My eldest son decided to run. Now in all fairness I must explain that my treadmill had gotten temperamental. It worked for me, but had long since stopped working for Calvin. My best guess was that the motor couldn’t pull much weight any more.

When Luke asked to use the treadmill, I thought, what’s the harm? After all, if it won’t pull him and least he gave it a shot. What I didn’t count on was him forcing the treadmill. It didn’t want to be forced and decided death was preferable.

Luke had been working out at the university, and I thought he could run there. But yesterday they announced to him that he could no longer work out because he wasn’t taking summer classes. Luke explained that he was a full-time student, registered for next semester, and was in fact working as a teaching assistant in Chem Labs this summer. They didn’t care. (And for some reason alumni can use it during this gap in classes. Not sure where the logic is in this...)

For my run this morning, I had one option. Run outside. Along the evil ridge hills. Cal pointed out a run that was slightly less hilly—only four ridge hills, instead of eight. And since it’s not a circuit run, multiply it by two. Thus, it’s only eight hills. Anyway, I did it. Though I can’t imagine doing it when it’s 80 or 90 degrees instead of 65. In July if you see someone overheated and puking on the side of the road, that’ll be me. And I really miss reading a book while I run. Instead, I get to watch out for cars driving down narrow roads at ridiculous speeds. I’m beginning to feel a bit like Jonah when his vine died. But at least I’m not waiting for the Ninevites to die. Hmm. Maybe I need to change my attitude. How about: Running ridges in the heat is great. Nah. I don’t think I can ever believe that. How about: Running ridges in the heat is great because it feels so good when it’s over. Yeah. I can live with that.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Our family has an unquenchable need for pets. We have Jezebel, our black Lab. You’d think a big dog would satisfy the “animal need.” But you’d be wrong. Luke has a parakeet named Ralph, and Matt has a hamster named Grover. (Yes, Grover’s the hamster that likes to rub noses with Jezebel and has been known to kick hamster food out of his cage so the dog can eat it.)

At one point, Jacob had a hamster as did Ariel. Ariel’s hamster Oswald was ill-tempered and blind—he bit everyone who touched him. Ariel thought he was misunderstood. Yeah, right. Finally, Jake and Ariel’s hamsters died. Both of them chose not to buy another hamster. So we went from five animals, plus the koi in the pond, which makes six, down to four animals. I’ve always been glad we’ve never lived on a farm or a couple of acres, or we’d have ended up with a goat, chickens, and maybe even a cow (Matt loves cows).

After the death of Oswald, Ariel’s nurturing instincts needed to be expressed. Last week she set up our old fish tank in her room and bought fish. She asked me to come with her to the pet store, but I said, “Nope. I’m too busy.” That was a mistake. Ariel came home with fish, but only four, so that sounded great. I asked her what kind she bought.

Ar: A Chinese algae-eater.

Me: Oh, good. What else?

Ar: Some kind of whitish fish.

Me (squinting from across the room): Looks like a tetra.

Ar: Could be.

Me: What else?

Ar: Two mollies. (Apparently two were purchased so they wouldn’t be lonely.)

Me: What?! You bought Mollies!

Ar: They come in such pretty colors.

Me: Ugh. Mollies. I can’t believe you bought mollies.

Ar: Why?

Me: Mollies are live birth fish. They don’t have to lay eggs. And they are very productive.

Ar: I’m sure the pet store doesn’t keep the boy mollies with the girl mollies.

Me (with raised eyebrows): You can’t be serious.

Ar: Oh. I guess you’re right.

Me: And not only that, dear girl. But mollies store semen so they can have babies whenever the urge strikes them.

Ar: Oh, dear.

Me: You will have a school of mollies.


Ar: Uh, Mom...

Me: Yes,

Ar: The mollie just had babies.

Me: You’re not serious.

Ar: (Nods)

Me: How many?

Ar: Nine.

Me: Oh.

Ar: And she’s eating them.

Eight babies have survived thus far. Ariel sits at the tank watching the babies hide under plant leaves, in rocks, etc. She’s cheering for the babies to survive. (Yeah, Mother’s Day means something different for mollies.) Ar thinks that when the babies are full-grown we can just bring them to the pet store like we did when Matt’s hamster had babies. Maybe. But more likely the pet store people will tell us to flush them. I’ve mentioned that to Ariel, and she scowls.

Anyone want any mollies?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Star Wars: Keller Style

I was in junior high and high school when the Star Wars series came out--the original episodes, which are actually 4, 5, and 6. And like every other kid, I imagined myself in the movies. Of course, there was only one girl role, so although Chewbacca was very cool, I imagined myself as Princess Leia.

A lot of things have changed since then and thanks to a friend (Grace Duke) my children have discovered that with a little computer savvy and some animation, they actually can be in the original Star Wars trilogy. Enjoy. Click on the link: Star Wars Keller-Style (N.B. This is a hefty file and takes a couple of minutes to load. Please be patient.)

For those of you who don’t know my kids: Jacob is Luke Skywalker, Ariel is Princess Leia (duh), Matt is Han Solo, and Luke is Lando.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Self-cleaning Fireplace

Today our slow running bathroom sink finally clogged. And after I cleaned it out, I called out to Calvin, “Hey, just so you know, I fixed the bathroom sink.” He said, “Um, why are you telling me?” “One word,” I said. “Self-cleaning fireplace.” (Okay, that’s not one word. It’s more like two and half.)

Our current fireplace burns gas. In our last house, we had a normal wood-burning fireplace. But because Luke and Jacob have asthma, we burned special logs that were supposed to have reduced particulates and smoke. Of course, that didn’t mean there was less ash. One day, when we had guests over, the man who was visiting said to Calvin, “Boy, you really have a clean fireplace.” Cal went on to wax eloquent about the wonderful logs we burned and how they make the fireplace self-cleaning. After he was done talking, I said, “Um, sweetheart, I clean out the fireplace. The logs actually leave a lot of ash.” Cal gave his best sheepish grin and said, “Oh.”

Of course, Cal’s not the only one who gets the sheepish grin. More than once, Cal will have mopped a floor while I’m gone. And when I get home, he’ll say, “So...” And I’ll say, “So...what?”

Kids get demoralized by lack of notice. Jacob’s wised up. Today he swept the floors without being asked. Then he brought the dustpan to me and said, “Look at how much junk there was on the floor.” He got his “thank you so much, you wonderful son.” That boy is definitely smooth.

Not noticing is so much a part of our nature that in the movie, Kate and Leopold, Leopold loads the dishwasher while Kate is sleeping. As he’s about to start the dishwasher, Charlie says, “No, wait. If a woman doesn’t see a man load the dishwasher, did he really do it?” Leopold agrees and waits for Kate to get up. When she does he starts the dishwasher—in response, she beams at him.

Is there a point to this rambling? Maybe. Remember drain clogs don’t mysteriously disappear. Dress shirts only look good when they’ve been ironed (regardless of what the label says). And floors don’t get shiny on their own. If you didn’t do something, somebody else did. Thanks to all the somebodies.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Some dogs are afraid of vacuum cleaners. Others hate fireworks. All dogs fear thunderstorms.

If you’ve been watching the news, you know that Tennessee and other Southern states have been hit by serious thunderstorms. Down here in Chattanooga, we’ve not had the intense rains they had in Nashville, but last night we had lots of rain, lightning, and thunder.

I love a good thunderstorm, but I love sleep better. So I turned on the hepa filter (lots of white noise) and fell asleep. About half an hour later, Jacob woke me up. He was leaving Jezebel in our room. Jez hates thunderstorms. Last week we had a thunderstorm and Matt woke to find Jez in his bed between him and the wall. She’d climbed into his bed and crawled over him. Matt ordered her out of his bed. Jez played dumb. Matt grabbed her legs and pulled. She fought him. Matt woke Jacob. Together they pulled the dog out of Matt’s bed. She sulked all night. The bottom line was that they weren’t going through that again.

Through my sleep-induced haze I said, “Right, sure.” And so began the night of missed sleep. In all fairness to Jez, she doesn’t bark or whine when she’s anxious. She’s more of a “panting pacer.” She pants like she’s just gotten back from Cal’s three miles uphill run. And she paces. Not just walking back and forth. She forces her body under our bed, pulling the blankets and sheets with her. Then she crawls out and goes into the bathroom, banging against the tub, the sink, and the toilet. But she doesn’t find any comfort in the porcelain--not even in the bathtub, which she briefly tried to sleep in. Cal gets up and brings her back to the side of our bed (for the fourth or fifth time). I just roll over. But lying on the floor doesn’t stop the lightning from painting the room or the thunder from shaking the windows. Jez gets up again. This time she decides she needs to go into Ariel’s bedroom. So she bangs against our door. It’s an old house, and you can get the door locks to “pop” if whack it hard enough. Finally, Jez makes it into Ar’s room. I wake up Cal. “Jez’s in Ariel’s room.” Now Cal is either too tired or too humble to say, “Why don’t you do something about it?” He gets up and retrieves our stupid dog. At this point, Cal put her spiked collar and leash on her. We slept briefly, and Cal remembered that he hadn’t put the trash out. So he gave me the leash. At some point I fell asleep and dropped the leash. It was a long night. I’m beginning to wonder if you can give dogs Benadryl. Of course, with my luck I’ll have the one dog in the world who’s sensitive to Benadryl, and then she’ll end up in bed with us.