Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Taking Charge of Your Nightmares

When I was in college, my Intro to Pysch prof made us keep dream journals because he wanted us to learn to control our dreams. (Yes, we all thought he was certifiable. And sadly he was tenured and spent most of his time talking about Native American dream catchers and not Freud et al.) Despite the 500 of us diligently, or not so diligently, writing down our dreams, none of us learned to control them.

It’s a cool idea though. I’d especially like to control my nightmares. When I have them, I wake up drenched in sweat. And often when I fall back to sleep I end up in the same nightmare. I did learn to “finish” my nightmares when I woke up and that usually keeps me from going back into the nightmare. So if I was being pursued and my legs were frozen and I couldn’t move or scream, I finish the dream by being able to run/scream/shoot/etc. I’m not too creative at 2am. But I’m considering adding a bullwhip and scythe-sword to my post-dream arsenal.

Lately, I’ve been having these semi-nightmares. Not really scary, but disconcerting. First, I’d get tied up and thrown into a tiny box—I had about four nights of these. Thankfully, I’m not claustrophobic, but getting thrown into an igloo cooler was a bit much. The next night, I had a dream that the stalker was back. (If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time, you know that I had a stalker in college—back before anti-stalking laws—who made my life and that of a couple of my friends a horror.) At any rate, in the dream I captured the stalker!! And I slapped him across the face.

I haven’t learned to control my dreams and I still think my prof was seriously crazed, but getting “closure” sure felt good. Next up, the evil shadowy guy that stuffed me in a box. I’ve got a taser and handcuffs waiting for him.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Bob the Criminal Strikes Again

Do you remember those Citibank identity theft commercials from years ago? I used to think they were hilarious (though my family thought I was insane). I still think they're sort of funny, but then things have changed in the last five years.

A couple of weeks ago we received a notice that we needed to submit additional paperwork for our children’s FAFSAs (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). They wanted a data transfer from the IRS. Weird. But we tried, and the IRS notified us that our current address is not associated with my husband’s social security number—strange given that we’ve live here for five years. Cal and I swallowed and hoped it was a typo. We had an inkling where this might be going...

Five years ago Cal had his identity stolen. We didn’t know until we got a letter from the bank stating that they had frozen all our accounts. (Imagine mortgage, utility, & credit card payments bouncing.) I thought it was a mistake. It wasn’t. An illegal alien had bought Cal’s social security number. (According to the Social Security Administration criminals look through old employment records, copy the SSNs of former employees, and sell them). After buying the number, this particular alien set up a checking account with Cal’s SSN and wrote bad checks. And Cal was being held responsible. We tried to file a police report. No good. We aren’t allowed to know the criminal’s name. He has a right to privacy. (Yes, they told us this with a straight face.) Though his name was Jose Cruz (I have an interesting ability—I can read upside down and backwards, just as easily as forwards). And even though I read his address too, we couldn’t file charges because it was across state lines.

So the other day when we had the IRS glitch, I really, really hoped for a clerical error. Cal called the IRS. They wouldn’t talk over the phone. So he went to the IRS to chat—after waiting in line for three hours. It turns out that Cal’s number was stolen again. This time, however, someone was trying to get a tax refund with Cal’s number.

The IRS couldn’t discuss the faux tax return with us because Cal had to prove that he was indeed Calvin Keller who has had the SSN for 50 years as opposed to Bob the Criminal who’s had it for 6 months. Cal had to photocopy his driver’s license and passport and file an affidavit. In 30 days, when the IRS has (hopefully) processed the paperwork, then they’ll discuss the problem with us. And they’ll assign Cal a super-duper secret IRS pin number. Of course, the fact that someone in Michigan knew we’d get a tax return points to an insider job, but no one seems too concerned about that. So I’m not sure how helpful the super secret personal identification number will be...

In the meantime, our tax paperwork is frozen—and the kids’ financial aid paperwork is frozen. (A clock is ticking in the background for that. It’s our understanding that FAFSA issues must be resolved by the end of April.)

So now we have to notify our bank, all three credit report agencies, and the Federal Trade Commission. Doesn’t that sound like fun? It wouldn’t be so bad if I had any kind of assurance that the government or police were doing something to prevent this crime. But all we’ve gotten are shrugs. And as the IRS lady said, “It can happen to anyone.” And, obviously, it can happen more than once.

What about you all? Do any of you have identity theft horror stories?

Nota Bene:

Several people have recommended identity protection services. Unfortunately, these services, which we have used in the past, would not have caught either incidence of SSN abuse because though banks require you to submit an SSN, they are not obligated to verify it. And, of course, federal databases like the IRS are not available to these services. And it’s especially difficult to catch these criminals because while they are using Cal’s SSN, they aren’t using his name.

Identity theft is becoming a huge issue. The FTC has announced that they are now receiving 50,000 notices per week of identity theft. And stealing SSNs to get tax refunds is the new “hot” identity crime. These criminals file early in attempt to beat you to the tax refund. We filed in late January, and Bob the Criminal beat us, which is why the IRS documents had us living in Michigan.

Here's one more commercial.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

In January I entered my novel, Screwing Up Time into the young adult category of Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award competition. Yesterday they posted the writers/books that made the first cut. So I looked for my name and didn’t find it. I consoled myself by saying I knew it was a long shot because the competition is stiff and the first round of the competition cuts the entrants by 80%.

But just before I closed the website, I remembered that I entered under CM Keller and not Connie Keller. So I checked for CM Keller. And it was there! I made it to round two!

The next cut will be a quarter finals cut and will be announced on March 20, so I’ll be hoping and praying. But once again, the cut is big. Of the remaining 20%, they’ll cut that by 75%.

Did any of you enter the competition this year? Did you make it to the second round? Did you enter any of the previous years? 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Scarlett's Questions

My friend Scarlett at Scarlett's Tattoo tagged me yesterday. Here are my questions and answers. (And watch out, I'll be tagging on Friday.) BTW, she regularly posts Barefoot Cook columns, so check out her recipes. Today's is Spicy Sausage Croissant.

1. If your life were a book, what would it be titled?

The Completely Surprising Adventures of a Woman who had her Whole Life Planned Out and then Everything Changed.

2. Tell us a favorite childhood memory.

My mom bought me a stuffed donkey when I was very sick. I loved it so much it lost all its fur.

3. Is there a time limit on fortune cookie predictions?

Um, I don’t like fortune cookies. But if they made fortune chocolate chip cookies, it would be a different story.

4. Name three lessons LIFE has taught you.

1. A baby boy always pees as soon as you take off his diaper.

2. The sewage pipes stop working when you have houseguests.

3. You can say bad words as long as they’re in a poem. (I went to a strict Baptist high school and wrote a poem with a cuss word in it. The other students were appalled. But my teacher said, “The poem is perfect. The cuss word stays.” And people wonder why I write...)

5. Oceans or Mountains, and why?

Oceans. They’re peaceful, and I love playing in the waves. Plus, salt water is good for the skin. And there's always the chance that you'll see a shark. Of course, that undermines the peaceful part.

6. What makes you smile?

Besides my husband and kids, PG Wodehouse makes me laugh. You have to love someone who says,
            “The voice of Love seemed to call to me, but it was a wrong number.” 

             “I'm not absolutely certain of the facts, but I rather fancy it's Shakespeare who says that it's always
              just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind 
              him with the bit of lead piping.” 

            “I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”

7. What would you dare to do if you knew you could not fail?

Publish a book. But I did that even though I knew I could “fail.” But being brave is doing something in spite of your fears. Though that could be insanity too.

8. Do you believe in ghosts? What about Muppets?

Nope. I don’t believe in ghosts. But I do believe in Muppets. I loved Gonzo.

9. What is your favorite thing about yourself?

I have good teeth. I didn’t need braces, and I’m not prone to cavities.

10. Given three wishes, what would you wish?

I’m by nature a perfectionist, so this is a hard one.

1. A house that cleaned itself.
2. Clothes that ironed themselves. Of course, that would mean I wouldn’t get my “ironing treat,” which is streaming a movie on Netflix. Can I change that wish?
3. The annihilation of all mosquitoes. I don’t think they add anything to the balance of the ecosystem.

11. What is the one thing you could not live without?

Indoor plumbing. Seriously. I can cope with just about anything as long as I take a hot bath. This is the problem with camping. That and the mosquitoes.

Monday, February 20, 2012


I know it’s only February and it’s still freezing every night, but the flowers are insisting that it’s spring in Chattanooga. So I thought I’d share some photos for all of you who are still stuck in snow and frigid weather--the icy ground crunched under foot this morning as I took these photos, but when there are daffodils, winter is over.

Here's a hellebore (also called a Lenten Rose).

This picture is boring. But it's my patch of mint that's come out of dormancy. This means I'll soon be having mint tea at bedtime. Thanks, Suzie, for teaching me to make a proper mint tisane. It's like drinking liquid sleep.

Thanks, everyone, for your well wishes for Jake and Matt’s Shakespeare tryouts. Jake got the role of Antonio in The Tempest. And Matt got the role of Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing

Friday, February 17, 2012

Shakespeare Tryouts and Writing

Today Matthew and Jacob have Shakespeare tryouts. They’ve got their lines memorized, and they’ve worked through the blocking. And this afternoon, they’ll try out for the same role, Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. That should be interesting. (The director is also casting for The Tempest, so one or both may be in that play.)

I go to tryouts for moral support. But it’s so hard. I root for all the kids and my heart breaks for the ones who struggle, especially for the ones who’ve never done it before. I want to shout, “Honey, project, we can’t hear you.” And afterwards, I want to console them. I want to tell them that even if it didn’t go well, getting on stage is the first step. And if they persevere, the next year will be better because they’ll know how to project. They’ll know that in stage acting you must always face the audience. And they’ll know how to use the stage and how to gesture.

It strikes me that there are many parallels between acting and writing. While it’s true that some people are more naturally gifted than others, everyone starts as a newbie. The first story/novel you write isn’t going to be very good. In fact, it’s going to be quite bad. Just like the actor who turns his back to the audience while speaking, the writer has to learn not to chase after irrelevant sub-plots. You may love scrapbooking and describing how to cut beautiful paper, etc. But if it doesn’t impact your novel in more ways than giving your MC a hobby, you need to leave it out. And just like the actor who doesn’t know how to project until he can practice on a stage, you have to learn how to choose your words so that your voice shows through and not your thesaurus.

Recently, a blog friend got a rejection on an R&R (an agent asked her to "revise and resubmit" her manuscript). I’ve been there, so I know how much that hurts. To be so, so close to having your dreams come true, and then having your dreams trampled on. But just as the actor who gets a small role, it’s a step in the right direction. Getting a small role means you’re a step closer to getting a big role. Getting a request for an R&R means that the agent thinks you and your writing have real potential. Who knows what may happen next time? Unlike a lot of things in life, you can only get so far reading books on writing/acting, the real education comes in the doing—you must write/tryout, you must hone your skills, and above all you must never give up.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What A Writer Really Does

I came across this photo and had to share it. Sadly, there's no attribution, so I don't know who to give credit to. But enjoy! And just so we're clear. I don't play Solitaire. I much prefer Freecell.

Monday, February 13, 2012

You Had Me With Chapter One

Even though I have a stack of to-be read books, I decided to borrow a book for my Kindle from the library. (Mostly because I was sick and a lot of my to-be reads are books written by people I know and I don’t want to read their books with “sick brain.”)

I was looking for a thriller. I like the slow burn type, where the tension permeates and builds on every page even as the violence hangs on the periphery, waiting to pounce. (A five star example is Sister by Rosamund Lupton.) But being that I had sick brain that is not the type of book I borrowed. By mistake, I ended up borrowing a cozy, i.e. a mystery where the violence takes place off stage. I like mysteries, but aside from Agatha Christie, I don’t like cozies. Especially cozies that try to be funny. I’ve tried to read several of them, but they strike me as trying too hard, like a faux Noel Coward play that doesn’t quite hit the arch irony that undercuts the words. And so I never finish them.

Anyway, I downloaded the book and read the first two chapters. And I realized that it was a “funny” cozy, but I didn’t return it. I was hooked. And I read the entire book in less than 24 hours.

I’m a strong believer in reading outside your genres (those that you normally write or choose to read). I think they’re great opportunities, at least for me, to discover what it is that will pull me through a book in a genre that I don’t normally read. BTW, the book is Sick of Shadows by Sharyn McCrumb. What kept me in this book when I could’ve easily returned it and gotten another book from the comfort of my couch was that I fell in love with the main character. She had a witty, sardonic voice, which sometimes annoys me if the character uses everyone else as a butt of their own private jokes. But in this case, the author acknowledges that arrogance and undercuts it by showing the character’s own weaknesses and having her acknowledge her own failings. Clever. I really liked the MC’s relationship with her brother, who doesn’t even appear until the end of the book. The author establishes the relationship with letters that the MC writes, which the brother doesn’t answer—though the MC sometimes “answers” for him along the lines of “I know you’ll say...” and thus establishes the missing brother, his relationship with the MC, and his character—he loves his sister but hates weird family obligations. Also clever.

The bottomline: Will I read the next book in the Elizabeth MacPherson series? Probably. I really want to find out if Elizabeth falls for Milo, the hot archaeology grad student. And I need to know if Elizabeth will marry first and claim the inheritance of her crazed aunt, who promised her fortune to whomever of her nephews and nieces marries first. And you’ve got to love a series with a crazed aunt. As PG Wodehouse says, “It is no use telling me there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof.”

Friday, February 10, 2012

Top Ten Reasons to be Sick

I’m now officially doing my part to support the firms of Kleenex and Halls. But I’m trying to put a positive spin on it.  So here are the top ten reasons to be sick.

1. I don’t have to go to the gym. No running when you’re sick. No sweating and no stinky clothes to wash. Of course, that means no caloric indulgences either. L
2. Lying on the couch by the fireplace. You can lay by the fireplace and watch the flames. It’s mesmerizing.
3. Cough drops. Okay, they’re not at all like candy, but I can pretend really well.
4. Vaporizer. This also falls into the pretending category. That steamy vapor is really tropical humidity. Can’t you just smell the ocean? (Actually, that’s the salt in the vaporizer, but don’t ruin my fantasy.)
5. Books. I can read books while I rest. Of course, I’ve finished all the library books I have. But I can borrow them online for my Kindle without leaving the couch. Yeah for Kindle.
6. Writing. I can edit. Of course, my brain is a little foggy, but carpe diem.
7. Movies. I could actually watch some French movie that the boys refuse to watch. Agatha Christie movies are perfect in French.
8. Jammies. I can wear my pajamas until 9am and not feel guilty. Yeah, I could technically wear them all day, but that would cause me too much angst.
9. Vaporub. I can’t think of a single reason that this is a top ten. It stinks and makes my skin sticky. But it allows me to breathe.
10. Tea. I’ll be making tea by the potful. (Why isn’t potful a word? It seems so useful.) Anyway, I’ll be starting with Earl Grey, then Ginger Peach, then Black Currant, ending the day with herbal mint tea. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Quarantine Us, Please

Since the school year started at the end of August, we have had maybe three weeks of health. Three weeks where everyone has been healthy at the same time. Yep, three whole weeks of health. (There were some weeks at Christmas, but they don’t count because during those weeks Luke and Ariel were recouping from surgery.)
We’ve had weird viruses: multiple versions of the cold, gastrointestinal viruses, chicken pox, etc. We even had a really weird virus, which led to bizarre itchy rashes. I thought it was from something that Matt caught during the period of his zombie abduction, but it turned out to be a viral exanthum, i.e. a strange rash caused by a virus. (Aren’t you glad that you now know the medical term for “a strange rash caused by a virus”?)
It’s gotten so bad the Matt and Jake’s piano teacher now expects one or both of the boys to be sick on lessons day. Yesterday she told me that she’s beginning to think there’s something seriously wrong at our home. Maybe molds.
I think our immune systems are on strike because of overuse and abuse. I bet you didn’t know that immune systems are unionized. See, this blog is educational. Anyway, I suspect our immune system overuse is the university’s fault. People go to class sick. I know Luke will be going to class sick today. (He has an exam in P-Chem—the physics of chemistry.) And he’ll be exposing everyone there. It was even worse last semester when Jake and Ariel’s profs wanted them to come to class even though they had chicken pox. One pediatrician called it “Spreading immunity to the community.” Hmmm. I call it spreading sickness. But I’m just a mom, so why quibble over words?
Of course, Luke, Ariel I aren’t the only sick kids in class. So when they go to class, they pick up germs from other sick kids who are in class and then everyone brings them home to share with their family/roommates. And the cycle begins again.
A while back, I decided to take action. I’ve tried isolation—stay in that room with your germs. I’ve tried rest—do not move out of that bed, you don’t need to check your email or Facebook. I’ve tried Lysol spray, which is supposed to kill viruses, on every knob and flat surface. (Please no comments on the fact that viruses aren’t really alive.) I’ve tried vitamin C. If it weren’t too cold, I’d open all the doors and windows of the house and let the wind blow through—fumigation. I remember that in some old novels they’d talk about smoking the house after a lot of people had been sick in the home. Does anyone know what that was? Was it legit? Or was it then Shakespearian equivalent of room deodorizer to get rid of the sick smell? (Smoking a room is actually mentioned in Much Ado About Nothing.)
At any rate, since all my anti-sickness measures have failed, it’s time for draconian action. Does someone out there work for the public health department? You could quarantine us, and let us get to the point where we are all healthy at the same time. That would be cool. And maybe that would end this cycle.
If not, I’m going to seriously look into that smoking the house thing.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Zombie Kidnapping

When my alarm clock clicks on in the morning, I listen to the BBC news. That is, I listen to it when the guy at the radio station doesn’t forget to broadcast it. Do you know how disconcerting it is to expect/wait for the news and then it never comes? But that’s another story.
This morning I listened to the latest update on Syria, etc. And then, BBC discussed a South African singer who’d been missing/buried for more than a year. His family thought he was dead. Anyway, he reappeared, claiming that...wait for it...he’d been resurrected and held captive by zombies. Honestly. That’s what he claims. His family, according to the BBC, is divided about whether they believe him.
 I nudged Calvin after I heard that.
Me: Did I hear that right?
Cal: Yeah. Zombies.
Me: This is the BBC, right? It must be a really slow news day.
So I Googled the story. The police plan to do DNA tests on the man and the body when it’s exhumed.
But I can see where this is going and how this is going to affect my life.
Me: Dear child, why have you not loaded the dishwasher as I requested.
Child: I was kidnapped by zombies.
Me (eyebrow arched): Really?
Child: Yeah, they brought me back because when they tried to eat me, I tasted bad.
Me: That makes sense. Go do the dishes now. Oh, and just so you know, the roof is coated with alien repellant, so they won’t be kidnapping you.

N.B. I just discovered that one of the ways Amazon recommends books to readers is the number of tags clicks for that novel. So if anyone wants to click "my tags," that would be great. The tags are located just under the What Other Items Do Customers Buy section. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Baseball: A Squirrel's Memoir

Although spring is one of my favorite seasons of the year, there is one aspect that I hate. Baseball. I can tolerate baseball on television. I can sit next to Cal and embroider, and we have painless husband-wife bonding time. But that’s not what I hate. What I hate is organized baseball teams. Okay, it’s not that exactly. I’m really glad that Jake is playing on a high school team—good exercise, male war bonding rituals, etc. What I hate is bleacher duty. Freezing my butt off in the stands during the early spring. (How can February be considered spring? It was two degrees above freezing this morning.) I hate marinating in my own sweat and serving as mosquito bait by early summer.
I’d hoped when little league was over that we were done with sports. Little league was its own exquisite torture. Besides three boys on three teams playing at three different locations at the same time, Luke also became an umpire at age 12 when he passed the umpiring exam. And because he was big for his age 6’1” and broad and, therefore, more physically intimidating, he was the behind-the-plate umpire, who got screamed at by parents and coaches alike. (This was New England and they scream at umpires. Yeah, that was fun for me, sitting in the stands and having to keep my mouth shut.) Oops, sorry for that digression.
Now before you think that I was one of those women who was never exposed to sports, who never played, I wasn’t. I played women’s softball. I was the catcher. (I think I was assigned the position because it was the spot where I could do the least damage.) And everything was fine, until there was a play at home base. I got on the bag, crouched, and readied my glove. As the ball came towards me, I caught a glimpse of the runner. She was a freight train. I was a skinny, stupid squirrel standing on the tracks, keeping her from softball glory. But I steeled my muscles and my resolve. I would catch that ball, and she would be out. My teammates were counting on me...Freight-train girl plowed right threw me. I ate dirt. And the idea of balls, gloves, and bats as a fun pastime was forever lost.
Yeah, so baseball has started. Jacob is excited. Let the games begin. I’ll be that mom in the stands cheering the team and yelling, “Go, Jacob. Run over the catcher! You can do it.”

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


I am an animal person. Not the sort who kisses their dog or shares a bed with them. (Cal and I have had too many babies/sick toddlers share our bed over the years, so there’s no way we’re sharing the bed with an animal.) And I’m allergic to most animals. But I am an animal person.

I’ve never owned a cat, but from what I’ve observed they do their thing and let you think you own them. They deign to grace you with their presence, and you’re supposed to be grateful. And that obviously works for cats and their owners.

Dogs are different. They’re pack animals and they want to be part of the family. They have emotional needs. Sometimes it’s getting their ears scratched. Sometimes it’s attention, which may be by demanding water for their water bowl. And if that means tipping over their full bowl of water, so they can “make” it empty and demand water, so be it. Sometimes they just want to be near “The Master.” Calvin is the master. And our dog Jezebel will do anything/everything necessary to be with The Master. Even if it means being naughty.

Normally, Jezebel sleeps on a big blanket in the boys’ room. But she’d rather sleep in the master’s room. So she made plans.

I woke up during the middle of the night to strange noises. I had the inevitable thought: Burglars. But then, it didn’t sound like people. And no hooded figure walked in our dark room. So I thought I was dreaming and went back to sleep. And I woke up later. Noises again.  From underneath the bed. And I knew. Jez’d surreptitiously snuck out of the boys’ room. Crossed the house. Crept through Ariel’s room. Slunk across our bedroom and buried herself under our bed—that way no one would see her and banish her to the boys’ room.

In the morning we couldn’t quite figure out how she did it. There were three closed doors between where Jez was sleeping and where we sleep. But Labs are quite handy with their noses and very persevering. (Our previous Lab Jill could open the backdoor, which, like the rest of our doors, has a knob and not a handle. Though she did it through brute force. If you apply enough pressure at just the right spot, a door knob will “pop” open.)

In the morning, Jez was rebuked and made appropriate gestures of shame, i.e. sad eyes. Though secretly she was giddy.  And now, she’s carrying her tail a bit more arrogantly, and I know she’s thinking, “I’ve done it once, you silly humans. I’ll do it again.”

Yesterday I posted "Ten Things You'd Probably Rather Not Know About Me" on my book blog.

I also did a guess post on the challenges and rewards of writing historical fiction on Word for Words blog. 

Here are some photos of Jezebel.