Monday, January 31, 2011

Go! No, Stop!

On Saturday, Cal decided to have Jacob drive on Brainerd Rd. While Cal and I both drove in big city traffic when we were growing up, the kids have only had small town traffic.  But Brainerd approximates downtown chaos.  So we told Jake that he was driving us to WalMart, located off of Brainerd. (The WalMart trip is Cal’s and my weekly date so it was a bit of an inconvenience to us. But hey, it was for Jacob’s greater good.)

At the car, Cal asked if I wanted to ride shotgun and thus be the driving instructor. I said “no” since I was on migraine meds—I thought that I’d doze in the backseat.  I dozed for about 5 seconds. Jacob pulled out of the driveway and was going forward. Then some imbecile in a massive black SUV decided he didn’t want to wait for Jacob.  He wanted to squeeze through.  Jake kept going—he had the right of way.  After I yelled, from the back seat, Jacob stopped.  Afterward, I gave him my “you-almost-gave-your-mother-heart-failure” speech. To which he responded that I was never in any real danger. Yeah, right. This was not boding well for the trip to WalMart.

We got to the end of our street. To make a right on Brainerd, you have to punch the accelerator because there’s a sharp, blind curve about 10 yards from where our street meets Brainerd. You can’t see any oncoming traffic. So if it looks clear, you punch the gas and pray.  We explained the situation to Jake.  He pulled up to the stop sign.  It was clear.  Cal said, “Go!” Jake hesitated. Cal and I yelled, “Stop!” as a car flew around the curve doing 40 mph minimum. We waited.  Cal said, “Punch it!” Jake punched it, and we didn’t get hit. Yay!

In the midst of avoiding cars weaving in and out of traffic, Jacob commented that no one was using their turn signals.  It is Cal’s firm belief that no one signals because they’re afraid that if they do, the driver they’re trying to get in front of will cut them off.  It is my firm belief that if you turn on your turn signal and make eye contact with the driver, they will let you in. Of course, if it’s a teenager in a hoodie or an old lady, you can forget that. (Yes, I know, that’s profiling. But it works for me.)

The rest of the trip to WalMart was uneventful.  The trip home was peaceful until we needed to make a left turn. Cal and I had decided that we didn’t want Jake to do the suicide left turn across Brainerd at the blind turn. (It’s my favorite way to go because it’s faster, but neither Luke or Ariel will take it because it’s “unsafe.”) Still, that meant that Jake had to make a left onto Germantown—an overburdened two lane road that feeds onto the Interstate.  Of course, the intersection was packed and the only way to get through was to make a left on the arrow, which it looked like we would miss because we were so far back.  Cal said, “Get in the suicide lane and pull through to the turning lane. Hurry, go!”  Jake pulled in. I shouted, “Stop!” An SUV ahead of us decided to do the same thing and he didn’t look over his shoulder.  Jake stomped on the brake.  The SUV driver went on his merry way none the wiser to the fact that Jake’s good reflexes saved his hide.

For the rest of the drive, Jake mumbled, “Go. No, Stop!” to himself.  After we pulled into the drive, he said, “You know, it would be easier with only one instructor. And if you guys didn’t change your minds all the time.”

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Cast Iron Weapon

Maybe it’s the writer in me. More likely it’s the pessimist. But the truth is that I actually consider the question, If someone broke into our home and I was in Room X, what would I use as a weapon?

So assuming I’m not plotting a book or short story, why would I do this? For years, I just figured it was a matter of time. When I was young, my mom and I were home alone one evening. We heard the sound of helicopter. Then, lights shone in our windows. Then, we heard the sound of someone walking on our roof. At this point, we hid under the bed. Then, we heard the sound of someone trying to rattle the bedroom window open. (This was in the pre-cellphone, pre-911 days.) Eventually, the police caught the guy, and he never got into our house. Close call. Add to that a stalker in college. Someone trying to break into our house twice after Cal and I were married. (It’s not a good thing when someone tries to break into the house when it’s clear people are home.) Needless to say, we have a big black Lab. Yeah, I know I should consider a gun, especially here in the South where everyone packs. But I can’t quite get there. Yet.

But I do ponder available weapons in our home. Of course, this is assuming Cal isn’t home and Jezebel our Lab is incapacitated (or someone’s handed her a carrot—her one true weakness). Here is my mental list of weapons:

If I were anywhere near Luke’s room, I could grab his double-bladed sword or one of his fencing foils. Foils are nasty. Just like metal whips. And nice and long so you don’t have to get too close to the bad guy.

In our bedroom, we have some very heavy lamps.

In my writing area, I could always use my laptop and quip that the pen is mightier than the sword. But I don’t think that would work...not too many bad guys have degrees in English or even read. Thankfully, my writing desk is near the kitchen. But the kitchen has always been a tough spot. I mean how often do I have a pot of boiling oil sitting around? Not too often. And it’s not like I could whop someone with my Kitchen Aid mixer. But then, Ariel took me to go see Tangled. If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s fun—Disney the way it used to be with a modern twist. And it gave me my ultimate kitchen weapon...the cast iron skillet. Yep, you can do some serious damage with cast iron.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More Real Than Real

I’m just about done editing my new/old novel. Okay, “done editing” isn’t accurate. I’ll edit at least once more before I start querying it. And I’ll do a read-aloud of the whole novel. (Nothing beats reading aloud to find missing prepositions, incorrect subject-verb agreement—all those pesky things that crop up when you edit the text.)

But I’m not at the read-aloud stage yet. I have to finish this edit, and I’m stuck on the third to the last chapter.  It’s the beginning of the climax. To the reader, it reads as a climax, but it’s a faux climax that sets the reader up for the real climax. This would be great...except I can’t make it flow. I’ve got all the little plots points worked out in the text. And they fit. The problem is the transitions. And my main character isn’t cooperating. Maybe it’s because I’ve put her in a horrible situation and she’s angry at me. But she’s behaving like an actress who’s flubbing her lines on purpose because she doesn’t like what the writer has written. Either that or she wants more money. Is there a Main Characters’ Union somewhere? Maybe this is like a “blue flu” strike. Clearly, the two of us are going to have to have a sit down and hash this out. Have any of you other writers had a character do this to you, just when the end is in sight?

Yeah, I know I take my characters too seriously.  But they are like real people, sometimes more real.

Monday, January 24, 2011

It Feels Shorter

Yesterday evening we were driving to my parents’ house, and Cal turned off a different exit from the interstate and announced that he was taking a short cut.  As we took the short cut, Luke said, “You know, it’s not really a short cut because the vectors are the same.” Jacob wasn’t sure whether he agreed with Luke’s assessment and they began drawing diagrams on the van’s windows. Then, Cal said, “Yes, but there are fewer traffic lights.”  To which, Ariel said, “This is an urban economics’ issue that relates to the problem of distance versus time.” Then she said that traffic flow calculations could determine which route was faster. Luke and Jacob didn’t respond because they were too busy arguing over algorithms for curve analysis.  At one point, one of the three said, “But that doesn’t apply to real life.”

During the hullabaloo, Matt leaned forward and said, “I feel sadly left out.”  I told him not to worry, in another year or so he’d take his place in the math discussions. And then it will be only Cal and I who are left out.  Don’t worry about us though, we can always say that the short cut feels faster.

Friday, January 21, 2011

My Personal Shopper

I have a new dress.  Actually, a new suit and a new dress, but the dress is a summer dress so I won’t be wearing it for a while.  But I wore the new suit this past Sunday.  Several ladies came up to me and said, “How beautiful. Did Cal buy it for you?”

I’m not shocked that they ask if Cal bought it.  They know. My birthday is just after Christmas so Cal cuts coupons and hits the after Christmas sales. But besides the willingness to brave the crowds, he has another gift. Cal is a very talented artist with an eye for line and color. He can pick something off the rack and know (without a shadow of a doubt) if it will fit, if the color will work for me, and if the line will flatter me.

When we were first married, I doubted his abilities.  When I shopped (which I hate with a vengeance), he’d hold out something and say, “Try this on.” I’d say, “Um, it’s orange. I don’t look good in orange.”  Then at his insistence I’d try it on.  Guess what? I can wear orange, it just has to be the right shade.

Nowadays he gets up early and heads to the after Christmas sales with Ariel.  It’s sort of their father-daughter outing. And while she does model the outfits for him, she’s not mainly along to make sure they’re going to fit (although the rule of thumb is that if it’s big on her, it’ll fit me). And she’s not along to make sure that Cal doesn’t make any fiasco purchases (his eye is perfect; he doesn’t make a mistake). She’s along to make sure that Cal buys something appropriate.

When he first started buying clothes for me, Cal came home with cocktail gowns. I’d try on the dress and show him.  He’d say, “Wow. That looks great.”  I’d say, “Honey, don’t get me wrong, I love the dress.  But where am I going to wear a backless, ankle-length velvet gown?  Not to church, clearly.”  He’d answer, “When we go out to dinner?”  Hmm. That would work if we went somewhere other than the cheap Mexican place.  Thankfully, we’ve been able to go on a few cruises and I’ve had plenty of gowns to wear.

But now, he buys things that I can wear more than twice—like the silk shantung suit in stunning mulberry color that he got me this December. It’s gorgeous. Or the white sheath with ruffle tucks—I can’t wait for summer.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Face Blindness

I’m not sure why this has become a hot topic lately.  I know there was a New Yorker article on face blindness so perhaps that’s it.  But for whatever reason, it’s become a fascination.  And I’ve gotten a few questions/comments on it.  You see, I’m face blind.

Now I don’t have the horrible version where people don’t recognize themselves or their spouse or their children.  I’m part of the 2 to 2.5% of the population that has a mild version of face blindness. I didn’t even realize I was face blind until about ten years ago—I just thought everyone had “trouble” with faces.

Ten years ago, we were asked to participate in the Family Study of Autism at the University of Washington.  We have a son with autism and since it is at least partly a genetic disorder, we were asked to participate (close relatives of autistic people often have “autistic traits”). What I didn’t know is that face blindness has a strong correlation with autism.  At that point, I’d never even heard of face blindness.  So we were put through batteries of tests.  At one point, I was shown 6 to 10 faces and told that they’d be showing me a series of faces and I would need to pick out these particular faces.  Sounds easy, right?  Except I was uneasy about the task.  I knew faces weren’t my forte.  I just didn’t know I’d be that bad.  I scored a zero.  Yep, a nil, nada. zilch.  I didn’t even get lucky by accident—and, believe me, I was guessing my heart out.  But I didn’t get one single face.

I could claim I had a really bad memory.  But the next test was the exact same thing, except they substituted intricate line drawings for faces.  I got 100%.  No memory issues.  I have to admit I was nonplussed by the whole thing.  Especially when Cal got 100% on the faces test. (I beat him on the line drawing thing though—not that that has any benefit in real life.)

So what’s it like?  That’s what people are curious about.  My experience isn’t much different than yours.  I learn to recognize people—but by their hair, build, proportional stature (couples are generally easier for me to recognize than individuals).  And my family helps. For example, a lot of college students attend our church and in the fall semester when we get a lot of new students, Ariel helps me.  Me: Uh, Ariel, who are all the tall blond girls?  Every week she goes over their names and distinguishing characteristics until I get them straight.

And yes, it does make for funny moments.  Movies can be hard—especially if a character doesn’t have lots of distinct features. (Thankfully, Hollywood usually chooses distinct faces, i.e. Julia Roberts is the-woman-with-the-horse-like-smile).  Without distinct features...

Me: Uh, Cal, why is that guy trying to kill the main character? 
Cal (heavy sigh): That’s the crazy neighbor. Don’t you remember in the first couple of minutes of the movie he was killing the jogger? 
Me: Are you sure that was him? 
Cal (heavier sigh): YES.

Once Cal asked if it would bother me if he shaved his beard and mustache.  I said, “No problem.”  He shaved.  Within the hour, I said, “Please, grow it back immediately.”  Even though I knew it was him, without the mustache it was like living with a stranger and my heart beat faster (not in a good way) every time I turned and saw him.  He’s never shaved it off again. Phew!

Or lately, I met someone whom I had “never” met before.  I mentioned to Cal after we saw this person “for the first time,” “Wasn’t it nice to meet that man?”  Cal: “Are you serious?”  Me: “Um, yeah.”  Cal: “Don’t you remember when we were at (public place) and there was a drunk man who became very belligerent and I had to call the police?”  Me (I remembered the incident completely): “Are you sure that was him?”  Cal: “Absolutely.”  Me: “Oh.”

I’m a police artist’s worst nightmare.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Today is a waiting day.

I’m waiting for classes to start for the kids. It should start tomorrow, assuming that the rain storm that I’m waiting for doesn’t turn into an ice storm.

I’m waiting for UPS to deliver a package I ordered over a week go (two day shipping was irrelevant). UPS promised me it would be delivered last Friday. The delivery guy showed up all right—to tell me that the package was lost. Apparently, their tracking system isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Speaking of cracked, the package I’m waiting for is a ceramic breadstone...which probably didn’t fair well in its lostness. Plus, the day the stone was supposed to arrive, I made two massive batches of bread dough (both gluten-free and regular), which will make eight loaves. It’s waiting in the refrigerator. It will wait a while longer. The bad thing is that I have a really small refrigerator, and I need to buy groceries for the week.

I’m waiting for a partial rejection to come. I sent out the first batch of queries for my murder mystery the other day and got a partial request. Very exciting. I printed it up and mailed it off (to the tune of $8.70—I hate the postal service). Then today I was preparing to email some sample pages and noticed some of the attributions (dialogue tags, etc.) were “off.” Not wrong. Not bad. But not as smooth as they should be. Grr. How did that happen? How did I not notice it before? It’s like going for a job interview and having a bit of spinach between your teeth. And the interviewer can’t listen to what you’re saying because their eyes keep drifting to that spinach. Hmm. I swore I brushed my teeth--that spinach must have been planted by my enemies. Yeah, that’s it. So now I’m waiting. But at least it’s fixed for the next submission. At which point, I’m sure I’ll find something else that I hate...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Blizzard Emergency?

I’ve been patient. Really patient. But the current “snow crisis” is driving me crazy.  Yes, we had 8 inches of snow last Sunday night.  I get that most Southern towns have no snow equipment and even less knowledge of how to deal with snow, but the 8 inches have turned into an “extended blizzard holiday.”

Trash won’t be picked up until next Monday. Now I understand that there are probably some roads that aren’t passable work around those roads.  Most roads are drivable—I’ve been driving around the city for days without any problems.

Schools are cancelled for a week.  I understand that people are concerned about students slipping and injuring themselves.  But that’s why we have shovels, sand, and ice melt. (I know that most people don’t have snow shovels—we didn’t bring them with us when we moved down here.  But we used garden shovels.) I understand that people have slippery driveways. But again that’s why we have shovels, sand, and ice melt.  If your driveway is too long to shovel, park at the bottom and walk to your car (it’s what the rest of the snowy world does).

Packages won’t be delivered. Why? Apparently, it’s an emergency. I have a friend who wants to pick up his package at the UPS headquarters since the package has been in town all week.  They won’t let him—it’s an emergency.

Here’s another thing I don’t get.  Why on earth do people drive their cars/SUVs/trucks with snow and ice covering the top?  Is it the coolness factor? Or don’t they realize that it melts and becomes a serious hazard?  In many states failure to remove snow and ice from the top of your vehicle results in a hefty fine.  All you need to do is drive on the highways to find out why.  Huge sheets of ice and snow fly off your car and smash into the windshield of the car behind you. Very dangerous. Possibly deadly.

Now I hope you'll forgive this transplanted New Englander her rant; I do realize that most people thought that the snow and ice would melt. I think that people around here aren’t used to dealing with snow that sticks around.  Maybe next time it will be different.  After all, given global warming I’m sure there will be many more blizzards.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Writers' Quotes

'Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators.'

~ Monica Ali

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


We have a black Lab named Jezebel. The name Jezebel has made it into our cultural milieu, but in case you don’t know, she was a Sidonian princess who became queen of Samaria. She was notable for her wickedness and the fact that when she died, dogs licked up her blood.  Since I named our dog after that incident, you get a sense of my love of irony. To me, irony in life is like a literary intrusion into the real world.

Of course, I must not be the only one who likes that. This Christmas, I fell victim to games-that-appeal-to-people-who-enjoy-irony-and-creativity.  For Jake’s Christmas present I bought him a game called Guillotine. You win by collecting the heads of various nobles executed during the French Revolution. Yeah, I know, very macabre. There’s even a paper guillotine that you set up and line up the nobles in front of.

Before the holiday, Cal asked me what we got Jacob for Christmas and I told him, “A game.”  He nodded, which meant “wise choice, dear wife, since Jacob loves games.”  But the happy smile didn’t seem quite honest.  So I added, “It’s called Guillotine. And you win by collecting heads.”  Incredulous might be the best word to describe the alteration that occurred on his face.  He said something along the lines of “Do you think that was wise?”  Clearly, I fell a notice or two in his estimation.  I said, “It’s supposed to be lots of fun.”

The kids have been playing Guillotine all through Christmas break.  So last night they introduced Cal and I to the game. It’s basket loads of fun. Even Cal liked it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Snow Days

I woke up during the middle of the night, and our bedroom was bathed in pale blue light.  That only happens when moonlight reflects off of heavy snow cover.  I sighed delightedly and snuggled under my down comforter.
This morning we woke to 8 inches of snow.  Cal and I took Jezebel for a walk.  No one was out, except a hiker who jovially announced to us that he didn’t have to work today.  We waved and smiled.
Other than that, the scene was perfectly quiet.  Only falling snow and a heavily coated ground can muffle absolutely all noise.  The whiteness is blinding and makes everything around it garish and dirty.
In contrast, our house is giddy and loud. Classes are cancelled, and since today was the beginning of the semester there’s no homework to be done. Christmas break just got extended. WooHoo! The boys are throwing on their snow clothes, grabbing whatever clothing they can find (regardless of who it belongs to—Matt smashed his feet into Ariel’s snowboots) and hoisting sleds on their back.
The dog is in hyper tears.  Partly because she adores the snow and wants to go sledding with the guys.  And partly because Jacob didn’t like his coffee this morning (Cal made it and didn’t use the good coffee), and Jake poured it in the dog’s water bowl.  A Lab on caffeine is not a pretty site.  Jacob has since been instructed in the proper care of a Lab, which does not include a liberal use of stimulants.
Everyone is outside now—Ariel got tired of Jezebel’s whimpering. I’m surveying the damage. Breakfast dishes scattered. Snow melting on the living room floor. Laundry spilling from the hampers.  I guess it’s time to start cleaning up... Or time to make hot chocolate from scratch with dark chocolate cocoa.  Yeah, that’s sounds much better.  The dishes will wait, laundry’s not going anywhere and the water will evaporate.  I love snow days.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Ramblings and Doubts

Like a lot of people, we’ve been dealing with the upper respiratory flu in our family.  Jacob had it first, then Cal and Matt.  Luke and Ariel got flu shots. (The university offers cheap shots and Ariel’s bout with the swine flu a couple of years ago taught them the importance of shots.) So far I remain flu-free. 

I’m hoping and praying that I remain flu-free for a lot of reasons—classes start on Monday for the kids and things function much better when mom is running the household.  But one of the reasons is selfish.  When I have the flu, I can’t write.  I can write with a bad cold.  In fact, it gives me permission to lounge on the couch and write to my heart’s content.  But the flu...I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work. High fevers make my eyes water—blurry vision doesn’t mix with writing.

Right now, I’m almost 2/3s of the way finished editing a novel.  And I really want to be done.  Though that means I have to start the query merry-go-round again—and with two books.  I know I’m really bad.  I have a finished novel (the detective mystery) that’s sitting in a drawer (actually computer file) collecting dust.  I even have the query letter finished.  But I got skittish.  I sent out a couple of queries, feeling very confident.  An agent asked for the full.  I got a strange rejection back. I showed it to one of my beta readers, who responded that the agent much have been “on something” when she read the full because the rejection had very little to do with the actual plot/characters of the novel and seemed to be about what the agent thought my mystery was about. 

Despite what my beta readers have said and the amazing feedback I got when I took the novel to a lit conference, I’m now plagued with doubt.  I know it’s silly, I know it’s only one agent, but...  It’s those buts that have kept me stagnating. But it’s time. As a dear writing friend says, “It’s time to get my big girl panties on.” 

She’s right. It’s time.

What about you, readers?  Have you had similar experiences?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Museum Sirens

 Like a moth to a flame, I can’t get near Washington, DC without being drawn to it.  It’s not the source of political power that calls to me, it’s the free museums.

So we packed into the van, turned on the GPS, and headed toward DC.  About fifteen minutes into the drive, we discovered that Luke and Ariel’s new GPS had some kind of short or computer chip glitch. Near a complicated interchange, the GPS announced, “Bear left and take...”  Ack!  Take what?  And where?  At which point the video portion of the GPS showed us four-wheeling across green fields.  Clearly something we were not doing in our minivan.  Then we got to enjoy the beauty of U-turns and cloverleaf interchanges.

Our kids in Union Station
After much gnashing of teeth, we arrived in DC and found a wonderful parking place.  But then we noticed signs posted that read “Parking with SAA permit only.” All the streets near the national mall had these signs posted. The kids decided that SAA stood for “Society of Amazing Americans” to which they felt that they belonged by virtue of their collective coolness.  Since Cal and I didn’t want a parking ticket, I asked a policeman (they were on just about every street corner) where we could park.  He said, “Union Station.”  We did find parking at Union Station, but the word “gouging” would not be an inappropriate adjective to describe their pricing structure.

We walked from Union Station to the American History Museum.  Since it was bitterly cold, I suggested that we walk through the National Gallery of Art because it would be warm.  This brought bitter laughter to the kids—apparently I tried the same trick last time we were it DC and we spent hours in the Gallery.  Of course, as I remember it, we did spend hours in the gallery, but Cal and I had to drag the kids out of the gallery.

At any rate, we finally made it to the AHM.  Luke got caught up in a Supercollider exhibit.  He grumbled imprecations against the exhibit designers “who were clearly not scientists” as they described something as “degrees Kelvin” and everyone knows that Kelvin is just Kelvin not degrees Kelvin.  And then there was the exhibit demonstration that wasn’t working.  Luke tried to fix it.  I hastily whispered that the Smithsonian probably didn’t want his help.

Jacob with the robot controlled car.
Jake found the robotic car exhibit. He found the sample coding for the robot and gleefully reported that he could read the code.  Then he discovered that different companies hire engineers to program and design these vehicles.  He said, “Does this mean I could actually do this for a living?!”  I said, “Yep.”  If robotics team wasn’t enough to convince Jake that he wanted to be an engineer, the Smithsonian did the trick.

Strad lust.

We also got to see a violin, viola, and violoncello all made by Stradivarius. Surrounding the glass cases were musicians all experiencing varying degrees of instrument lust.

After a visit to see the first ladies inaugural gowns (btw, Mary Todd Lincoln was much skinnier than pictures made her out to be), the boys went to a massive history of war exhibit while Ariel and I made a jaunt to the Museum of Natural History to look at the Hope Diamond—every woman needs to see it once in her life.

Afterwards Ariel and I headed to the National Gallery.  Vermeer, Rembrandt, Da Vinci et al. sing to me their siren song and like Odysseus I refuse to cover my ears.  They call to Calvin too, but he’s the gracious, patient parent and took the guys to the Air and Space Museum.  Ariel and I joined them eventually—ASM has a great McDonalds that serves extra large fries.  Bliss.  Museum experience complete.