Monday, December 30, 2013

Holiday Highlights

Here are the highlights of my holidays.

1. Watching a two year old tie a long knitted scarf around our dog’s neck and then take the dog for a walk. Both the dog and the little girl thought they were very cool. (I wish I had a photo of this.)

2. Celebrating my birthday with a dear friend who also has a late December birthday. And the restaurant we went to…let’s just say that the bathrooms weren’t clearly marked. Enough said.

3. My husband beginning a watercolor painting from a photograph I took in Paris.

4. Getting a food processor for Christmas. This probably means the quality of the meals I serve should improve. Hmm.

5. Having our Christmas tree fall over. Four times. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

It's Christmas Break!

Today, is the beginning of the holidays (at least for me). Here’s why:

  • I only have three Christmas presents left to buy. (Thank you, Amazon and son with Amazon Prime’s free two day shipping).
  • My husband starts a two week vacation. This morning he cooked bacon and eggs. (He’s also going to do a watercolor of a photo we took while we were in Paris. In case you don’t know, Cal is a gifted watercolorist. When he’s finished, I’ll post a photo.)
  • My kids will be coming home. (Ariel has her last final is tonight. Of course, she’s got grading to do—she’s grad student. But she’ll be home sometime this week. Luke finished his grad school finals, but he's doing his lab research. His one week break starts Friday.)
  • My youngest has deigned to play Scrabble with me! (I love Scrabble and no one except my daughter will play with me.)
  • Visitors. Today, dear friends are coming to visit. We’ll have fourteen people in our house. Air mattresses will line the floors, but it will be a blast!
  • And I finished the edit of book three of the Screwing Up Time series! 

Here's a photo of our Christmas tree. Of course, this is before it feel over. It looks about the same now, just fewer ornaments, which is a good thing. :)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Five, Five Signs You're Been Editing Too Much

1. When people speak, you see their words in your head and you’re correcting them with your mental red pen.

2. You look at the calendar and freak out. “How come no one told me it was Christmas in less than two weeks?!” (Somehow the ten foot tree in the living room wasn’t a big enough sign.)

3. The house, which was pristine and bleach-fresh at Thanksgiving time, now needs a visit from the Health Inspectors.

4. You now speak in metaphors and similes. So instead of saying, “Dude, clean your room.” You say, “My son, your room looks like a tornado hit Goodwill. It needs to be an island of tranquility. Please, see to it.”
                        ~And worse, after saying it you pause and spend fifteen minutes
                        trying to improve the metaphors/similes because they suck.

5. You consider writing a letter to the city government explaining the error in the bumper sticker, “This vehicle responds to emergencys.” (I mean, really, don’t these people use spell check?)

Monday, December 9, 2013

You Know You're Addicted to Books When...

You Know You’re Addicted to Books…

1. When a vacation is coming and you spend more time planning the books you will take than you do planning your vacation.

2. Now that you own an e-reader, you no longer worry when you go purse shopping whether your purse will be big enough to hold a hardback with a library binding.

3. The crack of a book spine makes you swoon.

4. You judge people by their book shelves.

5. You’ll admit to reading through a dictionary and thesaurus, but the truth is…you’ve read phone books too.

6. You’re not really sure who the Kardashians are, but you know all the emotional crises of Katniss, Tris, and Liesel.

7. You’re reading at least three books at once.

8. You own multiple copies of a favorite book, just in case you lose one.

9. Your dream dinner party involves inviting people who don’t really exist.

10. You keep a massive TBR pile because your deepest, most secret fear is that you’ll run out of good books to read.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Musical Connections

The other day a friend of mine posted on her Facebook page that her son was “failing” preschool music class. Apparently, he “infrequently connects to the music emotionally.”

Hmm. I remember my preschool classes where we learned important Western musical classics like “The Eensy, Weensy Spider” and “I’m a Little Teapot.” I’m sure her son’s academic career is threatened (despite the fact that both parents graduated from Yale), and she probably needs to take important steps to rectify the situation. Maybe I should send her a CD of songs like “A Tisket, A Tasket,” “Here we go ’round the Mulberry Bush,” and “The Farmer in the Dell.” I mean, unless remedial action is taken, her son may end up like my son Matthew (he’s 17) who infrequently connects with the musical assignments of his piano teacher. I tell him that it’s probably because he’s emotionally shallow. But he thinks it’s because she picks lame music—anything by Chopin or other composers who lull you to sleep.

Matthew may have a point. It seems like all my sons have connected with Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky. When the boys were young, every Saturday morning they’d put the “1812 Overture” CD into the stereo and crank it. They especially liked the section with the cannons. Maybe my friend needs to donate that CD to the preschool.

N.B. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I normally post on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Between this blog and my other blog, Screwing Up Time (where I post on Tuesdays), I’m blogging four days a week and that’s a bit more than I can do right now. So I’m planning to post on here on Mondays and Fridays and at Screwing Up Time on Wednesdays.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Author Got Dinner on the Table Early

If you’ve been following the blog, you know that I’m in the midst of editing book three of the Screwing Up Time series. Editing is always a very focused, intense time. I’m looking for the last of the errors, polishing the prose, and hunting the typos.

The other day, I was smoothing out a fight scene when this sentence popped up in the middle of the action, “Raise Matthew’s allowance.” And I laughed. Thankfully, my kids are older and usually don’t feel compelled to hack my computer any more. Years ago, I password protected my computer when I found out that my daughter was reading the endings of my books before I’d printed them out. (A great evil!) Anyway, the kids thought the passwords were a challenge and took to leaving notes in my text to prove they could hack my system.

Honestly, I do miss the notes in my texts that said, “Jacob loves Mom.” On the other hand, this recent foray into my latest novel has revived nightmares that after a book is published I’ll get an email from a reader that says, “In chapter 25, it reads ‘Mark got bit by a zombie and stabbed Miranda. They both died and the author got dinner on the table early.’” 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday Five, Why I'm Not in the Kitchen Today

Yesterday I was in the kitchen. Today I’m steering clear because my children are cooking. Keep in mind that these are adult children. This is what I’m hearing.

1. “Uh, Mom, I was supposed to separate the eggs and whip the whites. But I’ve already mixed the eggs in. What do I do?”

2. “What does soft peaks mean?”

3. “Can I immerse the wafflemaker into the sink to wash it?”

4. “Hey, I can fix a measuring mistake by using modular arithmetic. Cool.” 
   (FYI: I use math when I alter a recipe too, but I call it “addition and subtraction.”)

5. “Uh, Mom, I was making crepes, and, well, looked at the wrong recipe. I’ve got a bowl full of flour tortilla dough.”

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Preparing for the Holidays with a Seventeen Year Old Son

Here’s how you know (as if you could possibly be confused) that you’re preparing for the holidays with a seventeen year old son as your helper.

1. He surfs the wood floors with the new chair pads that he’s supposed to be putting on the chairs.

2. He makes the cranberry sauce with fresh cranberries because when you cook them, they explode.

3. You ask him to refill all the bathroom soap containers and he says, “That seems pretty menial.” Then, you casually mention that toilets need to be cleaned.

4. He’s eager to help because he’s gotten off school a day early to help.

5. He asks if he can choose music to listen to while you clean. You cringe and nod. Until Silent Night fills the air. Maybe Christmas music before Thanksgiving isn’t so bad. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Visit From the Editing Fairy Godmother

A week from today, my kids come home for Thanksgiving (woot) and the two at grad school are bringing their significant others (double woot). And my grandmother and parents are coming. It’s going to be great, but I have a ton of stuff to do. Cooking, cleaning, etc. But that’s okay because I still have a whole week.

And then, the editing fairy godmother decided to visit. This is also a great thing. I’ve been struggling with edits—forcing myself to do them. So I’m thrilled that all of a sudden the edits are flowing through my fingers tips like magic. And I’ve been writing long enough to know that you have to write when the magic strikes.

The problem is that I haven’t been able to figure out how to use my magic to do cook, clean, and edit all at the same time.  Next time my editing fairy godmother visits, I’m asking her to give me a time turner as well. I think that should be a standard issue item when the editing FG visits at holiday times.

I love this fairy painting. But I suspect my fairy godmother is a bit more sinister.
File:Fairfacefairy 2.jpg
Art by Sophie Anderson courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Monday, November 18, 2013

Christmas Muzak

I’ve admitted to being a little anti-holiday. But I do like Christmas. I like remembering Christ’s birth, drinking spiked cider, and watching my kids decorate the Christmas tree (a great reason for having teenagers). But I really don’t want to start Christmas early. December 1 is early enough.

Do Christmas trees in all their faux, spangled gaudiness have to arrive in stores even before Halloween? Aren’t American consumers spending enough on costumes and candy?

But the worst thing about the Pre-December Christmas celebration is the holiday music. When I’m shopping for turkey and cranberries, I really don’t want to hear the store’s PA systems blasting “Santa Baby” and “Jingle Bell Rock.” I mean, there’s nothing that makes me less cheery than knowing for the next month and one half I’ll be hearing the Chipmunks squeak out “Frosty the Snowman” whenever I visit a store. I don’t know about you, but nothing drives me out of a store faster than Alvin and his buddies.

There are about six weeks left of the pre-Christmas madness. I’m reminding myself that I can get through them because, aside from the trips to WalMart for food, I can pretty much avoid hearing about Rudolph’s shiny nose by shopping at Amazon. Hmm. Maybe that’s why Amazon has become so popular. Everyone thinks it’s because you can buy Christmas presents on the couch while wearing your pajamas and get free shipping so you don’t have to wait in line at the post office. But the truth is, everyone shops Amazon to avoid the Christmas muzak. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Author Interview with Crystal Collier

Today, I want to welcome Crystal Collier popular blogger and brand new author to the blog. (Congratulations, Crystal!) Her book Moonless will be available November 13.

1. Writers get lots of ideas for stories, but not all of them become books. How did this book start, i.e. why did you fall in love with these characters and this story?

It was 2002, I had just come off a Dickens reading binge and was in the process of querying my first book when I had a dream. One week and a hundred pages later, I stared at the first draft of the easiest story I’d ever written. I tried to ignore it over the ensuing years, but sweet Alexia, freaky Bellezza and he-who-will-steal-your-soul with his blue-blue eyes… Have you met these characters?

2. How did you come up with the title?

Originally the book was “Faery Moon: Dark Night.” The next title was Dark Moon. During Pitch Wars 2012, my amazing coach, Sharon Johnston, went through a brainstorming session with me to find a one word title. She tossed out MOONLESS, and what can I say? She’s brilliant.

3. What kind of research did you do for your novel? Anything weird or strange?

It’s a darn good thing no one is monitoring my web searches. I think one of them was most creative ways to kill someone. Yeah… Tons of research went into this book—years worth. (Like 8.) I now fancy myself somewhat of an expert on the time period, although I won’t claim to be a historian.

4. In your novel the Soulless play a significant role. Can you tell us more about them?

These are beings who’ve been around for centuries. While their bodies decay, their minds never do, and the longer they’ve been around, the hungrier they become. They feed off people—not blood, but a life essence all the same, seeking to satiate a hunger that will never be satisfied.

5. How do you plan to celebrate the book’s release?

I will be eating cheese and consciously ignoring my sales.

6. Are you working on a sequel to your novel?

Soulless, book 2, is in editing with an anticipated release of spring, 2014.

7. Can you share one thing about yourself that might surprise us?

I answer to the name of Chicken, and it’s not even a derogatory thing. In fact, it was my “cool” nickname in high school.

Here's the blurb, and check out that gorgeous cover!

In the English society of 1768 where women are bred to marry, unattractive Alexia, just sixteen, believes she will end up alone. But on the county doorstep of a neighbor’s estate, she meets a man straight out of her nightmares, one whose blue eyes threaten to consume her whole world—especially later when she discovers him standing over her murdered host in the middle of the night. 

Among the many things to change for her that evening are: her physical appearance—from ghastly to breathtaking, an epidemic of night terrors predicting the future, and the blue-eyed man’s unexpected infusion into her life. Not only do his appearances precede tragedies, but they’re echoed by the arrival of ravenous, black-robed wraiths on moonless nights. 

Unable to decide whether he is one of these monsters or protecting her from them, she uncovers what her father has been concealing: truths about her own identity, about the blue-eyed man, and about love. After an attack close to home, Alexia realizes she cannot keep one foot in her old life and one in this new world. To protect her family she must either be sold into a loveless marriage, or escape with the man of her dreams and risk becoming one of the Soulless. 

Add Moonless to your Goodreads list.

Friday, November 8, 2013

You Know You're a Mother of Teenagers When...

1. You know you own a car, but you haven’t actually driven it in months because someone else really, really needs it.

2. When you do get your car back and turn the key, you nearly have a heart attack because the radio is set to some station that plays noise really loudly. Of course, there is the teenage rebel who listens only to Rachmaninoff, which is not bad. But also too loud.

3. There are several people in the house way more hormonal than you are. And they aren’t necessarily daughters.

4. Your child only has two pairs of jeans—one to wear and one in the laundry. And you’re not going to buy more because he’s going to outgrow them next month anyway.

5. Someone tries to convince you that earbuds are a study necessity. 

6. You went grocery shopping in the morning and the food is all gone by the evening. This is closely associated with finding a teenager gnawing on a stick of butter because he/she couldn’t find anything else to eat.

7. There are three food groups for boys. Protein, protein, and more protein.

8. You discover that pure, unadulterated terror is waving good-bye to your licensed teenage driver who is taking all of his/her siblings somewhere and traveling on the interstate.

9. As a corollary, you think you learned to pray when your children were little. When they’re teenagers, you really learn what prayer is all about.

10. The good news is that as they approach the end of the teens, they’ll actually say stuff like “Thanks for everything you’ve done for me.” Or, “I’ll pay for that.” Or my favorite, “I love you.”

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Only A Little Bit Crazy

Isn't freshly cut grass beautiful? (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
The other day, I asked my husband Cal to edge the yard.

Cal said: “You know it’s November, right? The grass isn’t growing anymore.”

I said: “I know, but the edges are rough and I’ll have to look at uneven edges all winter.”

Cal: “Right.”

Me: “And, uh, you know, the grass could be mowed one last time too.”

Cal: “It’s dormant.”

Me: “But it’s messy looking. I could do it.”

Cal: “I’ll do it. But just so we’re clear, I’m only doing this because I love you.”

Me: “That works for me.”

Thankfully, I’m not the only one in our neighbor who’s obsessed with the final trim of the year. Our next-door neighbor had her grass cut yesterday. And the neighbor behind us was mowing his lawn late last night. Weird thing though…he was mowing in the dark. Pitch dark, without a flashlight, outside light, or even a street light.

But he was running his power mower all over the lawn. I’m wondering if he was doing it in the dark as a silent protest. As in, “The crazy wife wants me to mow even though the grass isn’t growing anymore. I’ll show that obsessive lunatic and mow in the dark. Ha, ha.” I’m looking forward to seeing their yard this morning. I can’t imagine how it will look. It’s got to be a completely random trim with patches of cut and uncut grass. I wonder if it will get left that way all winter. If so, I’m going to smile every time I see it. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Driver's Education and Me

Our last child is learning to drive. Actually, he’s learned. We just haven’t given him the okay to get his license because…teenage boys and insurance, that’s a wallet shocker. So he has to wait until we need him to drive.

I don’t teach the kids how to drive, Cal does. (In our state, parents are responsible to teach their kids to drive.) I started out teaching the kids, but then during one outing, I screamed. I guess there’s nothing more freaky than having your mom scream. (Nearly driving into a large ditch will do that to me.)

I’ve been known to reach over and honk at some other car. (Yes, I believe in punitive honking, but only when my kids are driving.)

I also stomp the floorboards of the car, slamming an imaginary brake. I still do this even to my fully-licensed, driving-for-years kids. But now I pretend I’m stretching my legs. Sadly, they are not fooled.

And there are all the times that I’ve done backseat driving. Cal is the official teacher, so I sit in the back. I really try to be quiet. But, well, no one in our family believes in braking. So I tell them when to brake. And I do it forcefully. I’m just trying to protect our health and well-being. But no one else sees it that way. So I get glares and heavy sighs. Now I just grab the seat in front of me and tighten my knuckles. And the driver says, “Mom, chill!”

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

You Are A Stranger

On Monday, my husband did what no person married to a faceblind person should ever do. He changed the way he looked. He shaved off almost his entire beard and mustache. (He didn’t completely shave them—he would’ve given me fair warning about that. He’s done that before, and I’d almost completely freaked because I thought he was a stranger who’d broken into my house. Thankfully, I’m very good at voice/body recognition and I don’t own a handgun.)

However, Cal did shave his beard and mustache enough that there was only a vague shadow of them. Then, he had the gall to find me and say, “I don’t I look ten years younger?”

I said, “Honestly? You want my honest thoughts?”

Cal: “Well, yeah.”

Me: “You don’t look any younger, you look strange. The proportions of your face look completely weird to me. As if your nose grew longer and curled over. Your upper lip elongated. And your cheeks swelled.”

Cal: “Oh.”

Me: “Sorry.”

Cal: “I’ll go ask the kids.”

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Worst Thing About Autumn

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Let me start by saying that autumn is one of my favorite times of year. I love when the leaves turn color and the ambient light turns a reflected pink. I love the cool nip in the air. And the hot cider, and the fresh apples. 
But there’s one bad thing about fall. My allergies. Spring is bliss for me. Pollens are my friend. But leaf mold (and dust) is my kryptonite.

Here’s my experience. I walk to the mailbox. Oh, look, the leaves have started falling. How beautiful. Sneeze.  Walking back from the mailbox, I sneeze ten times and realize I don’t have any tissues. Run back to the house because well, those sneezes were accompanied by liquid goo.

And so it begins. By the next day, I have taken antihistamines. The results are completely underwhelming because they don’t even make a dent in my allergy haze. Phase One of the Allergy Treatment Program, I smear Vicks under my nose. (Yes, yes. I know you’re not supposed to do that. But in mystery books, the detective always uses it to hide the scent of decomposing bodies. So I thought I’d try it. And it does help—I don’t know about the decomposing body stuff, but it helps my allergies. Of course, it’s thick, clear and wet and people have a tendency to notice it and say, “Uh, maybe you need a tissue.” I narrow my eyes and respond, “It’s Vaporub.” The other down side is that it burns your skin after prolonged use, which is probably why you’re not supposed to slather it on your upper lip.)

So, now that my nose and upper lip are burned. I’ve moved on to Phase Two. See the problem is that I tried allergy shots and they didn’t work. AndI can’t take decongestants—I’m “sensitive” to them as in ER-visit-due-to-serious-chest-pains-because-my-heart-beats-so-fast-that-it’s-not-getting-enough-oxygen, at least that’s what the cardiologist said.

Also, I can’t do nasal sprays or irrigations because according to a CT scan (or was it an MRI?) I don’t have frontal sinuses.

That leaves me with antihistamines. And my vaporizer. Phase Two is a beloved vaporizer, which I call DeVil. Not everyone names their vaporizer, but it’s my fall friend. Today I will be moving DeVil, spewing liquid camphor into the air in front of my face, with me wherever I go. Phase Three will commence tomorrow. (Actually, I already resorted to it the other day), my allergist calls it “walking sedation.” It’s where I take way too many antihistamines, and can’t remember people’s names, but it does control the sneezing, etc. Or maybe, I’m so drugged that I really don’t care. Honestly, I don’t care which it is, as long as the sneezing stops.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Holiday Curmudgeon

I’m not much into holidays (even birthdays, to be honest). Mostly they just seem like opportunities to make us spend money or dirty my house. For example, I could live without pine needles all over the floor and trying to remember who put the angel on the top of the tree last year. Or kids hyped up on soda, ice cream and cake. Although teenage parties are easier—“Here’s cake and soda, have fun playing Munchkin.” (Aren’t you glad I’m not your mom?)

This year, Matt wanted to make a Jack-o-lantern. I said, “Okay.” After all, he’s seventeen, which means I don’t have to deal with any of the squishy mess. So when I was at WalMart, I decided to get a pumpkin. Except they were $8! There’s no way I’m spending eight bucks on something you can’t even eat. I told Matt, “Sorry, Dude.”

Then the other day, I spotted a pumpkin for $4. I bought it. Last night, Matt carved it.

Now I’m roasting the seeds with garlic and salt. And the guinea pigs get treats from the chunks of eyes and mouth that were left over. They think that I’m their fairy godmother. And Matt thinks I’m an okay mom. Four dollars well spent.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

No Hot Water

I sort of looked like this, even the dazed
expression looks like me. (Image courtesy
of Wikimedia, painting by Bocklin.)
Yesterday morning, my son Matthew said, “Hey, were you running the dishwasher or washing machine while I was in the shower?” With a huge sense of dread, especially since I hadn't showered yet, I said, “No. Why?” Matt replied, “There wasn’t any hot water.” (Cue notes of doom.)

I tromped down to the basement and checked the fuse box. The fuse hadn’t popped. I pressed on the fuse to see if there was any give in the fuse. I heard a crackling sound. It sounded remarkably like arcing. I pretended I didn’t hear it.

Next step, was to remove the front panel of the water heater and check the circuit breaker. It had popped and wouldn’t reset. ACK! I went back to check the fuse box. And pressed the fuse again. Again, I heard the arcing. So I turned off the fuse and announced to the boys that we wouldn’t have hot water for the day.

But, I still needed a shower! And though I lived in Connecticut for years, I am not one of those Yankees who finds a cold shower “bracing.” I just think it’s cold and I get goose bumps. So I heated a kettle of water and washed myself. And then, there was my hair. It’s waist-length and tangles really easily. But there was nothing for it, I leaned into the bathtub and washed my hair with a mix boiling water and cold. It worked.

The problem is that washing my hair upside down makes it really, really tangled, in spite of using conditioner. And I made the mistake of not combing it out until it was dry. Afterwards...let’s just say that I could have given Medusa a run for her money. And I had errands to run. So, I wore big dark sunglasses and pulled my hair back—it didn’t help.

Thankfully, Last night, Calvin and my dad got all the breakers replaced and restarted the water heater. I can’t wait to wash my hair.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Check Out Node and Variable! And Vote!

Check this out!

This summer my daughter Ariel worked for a start-up company called Variable. She worked on a product called the Node.
slide 3
Here's a Node. Photo from Variable's website.

 "The Node Wireless Sensor Platform, when connected to an iOS or Android device, can act as an in-home scientific sensor to monitor weather, track movement, or perform any one of a number of real-world experiments. When hooked up to a phone via bluetooth, customers are able to measure almost anything, from matching paint on a wall with an exact brand at the store, to detecting whether competitors in the kettle bell lifting sport are cheating." (Chattanooga Times Free Press, 10/22/13)

This morning, I found out that Variable is going head-to-head with another company on a reality show. The company that wins "Get on the Shelf" (produced by the crew that did the Shark Tank) would have their product carried at 

BTW, this summer Ariel brought Node home while she worked on it, and it is very, very cool. (I wanted one, and I'm not a tech-needy person.)

The coolest thing, is that anyone can vote on the product, and the winner gets placement!! If you're interested here's a link to the Chattanooga Times Free Press that gives all the details.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Writer's and Mathematician's Weekend

Last Friday, my husband was having a couple of days of meetings in the same city where my daughter lives, so I went along.

But since Ariel is preparing for her first grad school exam, I brought a lot of my own work. So we sat on the couch, each on opposite sides and worked side-by-side, sharing an afghan because the weather turned cold.

We took occasional breaks. She told me about her proof on Sylow subgroups and asked my opinion. (Which was fun since I don’t really understand them, but I gave her my opinion anyway.) Later, she showed me her proof and I oooed and ahhed over the pages of squiggles.

Then, she listened to me talk about diachronic elements in historical fiction. (I’ve been reading and listening to lectures for my MOOC class--for more on this check tomorrow's post at my Screwing Up Time blog.) And I finished the first draft of my latest lit fic WIP, which she oooed and ahhhed over.

And we ate. I clearly transmitted the European “we feed those we love” gene to her. I had some incredible chicken-mushroom soup for lunch, a snack of frozen yogurt (which has come a long way since I had it in the 80s), then she made an amazing Cajun linguine for dinner and we had mint Klondike bars for dessert. YUM.

I have to try one of these Writer/Mathematician’s Weekends again. Very productive and very fun.

Here's the linguine.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


The other day, our power went out. No big deal. It happens. Thankfully, it wasn’t out for long. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes. I assumed everything was back to normal. It wasn’t.

At some point, I noticed that the microwave was running. Given that it was noon when the power went out, we must’ve been warming lunch. I check and sure enough there was food in the microwave. I pulled it out. And shut the microwave door. It began running. I pressed the “clear” button. It kept running. At this point, I would like to say it grinned maniacally, but it’s a microwave.

I pushed all the buttons, they beeped. But had no effect. The microwave kept running. I unplugged the microwave. It stopped. I figured it needed to be reset. Maybe there was some electrical arcing going on. (Yeah, I’m pretty much making that up. But it has to do with electricity and plasma discharge. I think.)

After ten minutes, I plugged the microwave back in. It began running. I unplugged it. When my electrical engineering son got home, I told him to check out the microwave. He spent a good ten minutes tinkering. His comment, “That’s supposed to be impossible.” I asked if the circuits had been engineered wrong. He shrugged. I asked if a power surge could have fused them. He shrugged. I did not want a shrug. He was supposed to give me a long complex answer half of which I don’t understand. That way I can feel like I’m getting my tuition’s worth.

It’s okay though. My chemist son visited this weekend. He gave me a long rambling explanation using physics terms. I have no idea what’s going on, but I feel so much better now.

Here's a very cool arc using lots of electricity.

Monday, October 14, 2013

I Need a Numbered Off-Shore Account

There are few things as onerous in life as dealing with bureaucracy, especially the electronic variety. But I told myself to “suck it up, Buttercup.” And Matthew and I began to process of college applications.

When my two oldest started college, there were still paper applications. You could write in answers and make notations. Now you click the bubble. Unless the bubble doesn’t want to be clicked. And then, you can click and click and click. And the bubble ignores you. So Matt clicked. And when it didn’t work after twenty clicks, I clicked. Not that I expected it to be any different, it’s just the disbelief factor.

And I began to wonder who designed this form. Particularly since nowhere on the form does it say what else you need to submit to the university. They never tell you to send in your SAT scores or your transcripts.  There are no unclickable buttons that lead to scholarship or financial aid applications.

But finally, we reached the end of the application , leaving the unclickables unclicked. And it was time to pay the application fee. There was a stern warning that if you didn’t pay immediately after completing the application, then you could no longer pay on-line and would have to drive to the university and present them with a check. This seemed kind of odd to me, but whatever.

I filled in my credit card information and clicked submit. And it popped up “Page Not Found” and dumped us back on the submit payment page. Matthew’s hand moved toward the “submit button.” I said, “No!”

I quickly checked my email. My credit card company had emailed me, telling me that I’d paid the university application fee. So I told Matt to just exit the application.

Then I realized the obvious. A student doing work study designed this application. And I wondered where the second would have gone. Probably some numbered account in a country without extradition treaties to the US.

Hmm. Maybe Matthew should consider computer science as a major. And maybe he should look into work study. Who knew it could be so lucrative?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Never Take Your Coffee for Granted

There are some things you take for granted in life. Like the sun rising.  That Friday always comes after Thursday. And that the neon green coffee scoop will be in the coffee canister.

This morning it wasn’t. I blinked and looked in the canister again. Lots of coffee, no scoop. I checked the kitchen drawers. I checked the dish washer. I checked the drawers again. I checked the dishwasher again. No scoop.

I took a deep breath. A missing coffee scoop does not constitute an emergency. Except when, you know, I haven’t had coffee yet. So I got out my measuring spoons. But none of them looked like the right size. I castigated myself for never figuring out how many tablespoons fit into the coffee scoop.

I checked the drawers again. Still no scoop, though why I expected the third check to be different than the first two, I have no idea.  I blamed the children. I considered blaming Calvin, but he didn’t do the dishes (besides he’s been suffering from a kidney stone, so he gets a pass on the missing-coffee-scoop blame game).

Then, I remembered that I’ve been using the same amount of coffee for fourteen years, so I probably have a mental picture of what it looks like in the coffee grinder. (See, I’m brilliant like that first thing in the morning.)

I dumped beans into the grinder until it looked right.  Then, with great trepidation, I ground the beans and made the coffee. The color is good—black in the center, mahogany at the edges where it touches the mug. The smell is perfect. Woodsy aroma with esters of chocolate and smoke. (Does coffee actually have esters in it? Oh, well, it sounds good.) So I pick up the cup and delicately taste it. And it tastes wrong. The bitter bliss is gone. ACK!

I have GOT to find the coffee scoop.

File:Café grain ag1.jpg
Image by Arnaud Gaillard, courtesy of Wikimedia.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Open Door

Last night, I was sleeping and felt cold. No big deal. I pulled up the blanket. Then, I felt a cold breeze on my face. My eyes opened and I sat up. You don’t get breezes in your bedroom. I looked over, and the door from our bedroom to the deck outside was standing open. Adrenaline rushed through my body and I waited for an ax-wielding lunatic to lop off my head. I mean, why else would anyone break into our house, we have nothing to steal? In the moment while I was waiting for the inevitable decapitation, I said to Cal, “The door is open.” He said, “Close it.” He’s like that—cool in the moment of craziness. I, on the other hand, was still considering whether the lamp on the nightstand would work as a weapon.

When the sure doom had passed, I closed the door, realizing that someone (Calvin, which explains his composure in the light of our imminent demise) must’ve have let the dog outside through our door earlier in the day and not closed the door properly and it blew open during the night.

I spent the next hour pondering the use of doors in novels, what else do you do while your body burns off an adrenaline rush. I came up with door metaphors for leaving, death, sorrow, etc.  Yep, doors are important in our culture. No wonder I was worried. If a killer wasn’t coming through it, no doubt it was the wind of change. And that bodes ill for anyone. Even if it’s not an ax-murderer.

File:Basel 2012-10-06 Batch Part 4 (15).JPG
I wish my bedroom door looked like this. But it's a boring suburban white door. This is much more exciting and seems like something an ax-murderer might come through. Image courtesy of Wikimedia. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

I'm not a Zookeeper

We are a pet family. Which is to say that my husband Calvin loves pets. He has never met a furry, fuzzy creature that he doesn’t love/want to take care of. (He doesn’t like cats. I hate them. Cats were a sort of non-negotiable when our relationship began.) I, on the other hand, like/tolerate animals. The kids inherited his pet disposition, and I believe it’s good for kids to learn the experience of being responsible for a living creature besides themselves and learning to deal with death. (Although I’m the one who cries when they die.) So we have animals.

However, (and I want to say this delicately) our creatures refuse to die. It started with Luke’s parakeet Ralph. While they can be long-lived, most live about five years because they’ve been overbreed. But if you follow a very specific diet, etc., they can live longer. We tried the diet. But Ralph will not eat anything on the specific diet. He won’t eat minerals, and he won’t eat fruit or vegetables. He only likes cheap bird seed. And he is now 15 years old. There are unverified reports of parakeets living to 30 years old. That’s a long time, especially since the bird doesn’t even like me. (Click here for more about that.)

Then, there’s the hamster, Rumpelstiltskin, who’s lived way past his life expectancy. Matthew has renamed the hamster Khan (from Star Trek) because one day I hadn’t seen Rumpy and decided to check on him. After all, he’s very old. I found him curled up under bedding on his back with his little tongue hanging out of his mouth. (I teared up.) I watched him to make sure he wasn’t breathing. I didn’t see his little chest rising or falling.

My voice cracked when I told Matt that Rumpy had died. Matt checked on him and decided to bury him. A few hours later when we went to bury Rumpy/Khan, he was running his wheel. And Matt renamed him Khan after the Star Trek character who resurrects.

Finally, Matt’s guinea pig Jack got sick. He was sneezing, wheezing and not eating or drinking. Every site I checked said that GP don’t recover from respiratory infections. So, again I teared up but I prayed, and Jack recovered. Which is great. Sort of.

But now I’m beginning to be concerned. My kids are growing up and leaving home, but they’re leaving their creatures behind—“I’ll be too busy, Mom. Can you take care of them for me?”  Currently, we have five pets. And I’m going to end up as one of the weird old ladies with a menagerie of furry companions. But I’m telling myself that it’s okay. At least, I’m not a cat lady.

Besides, I do have a plan. One day, I’m going to visit each of my kids with their creatures hidden in the car. And just before I leave, I’m going to hide their pet in the bathroom. Then, I’ll jump in the car and leave. Surprise!

Charlie and Jack (Jack's in the back.)

Matthew and Jack

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Plagues, Witches, and War

In mid-October, I’m going to take an online historical fiction class with an optional writing component. Squee! (The class, “Plagues,Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction,” is available from the University of Virginia. And because I’m auditing through Coursera, it’s free.)

I love lit classes, getting my hands dirty in the text—discovering the symbols, controlling metaphors, subtexts, effects on the canon, analyzing it from different critical perspectives, etc. (Though as a writer, I find myself in an uncomfortable relationship with lit crit, which seems like a cranky aunt telling an author that their beautiful child really has Uncle Tony’s warty nose, even though the skin is smooth. But that’s another post.) The class includes many classic texts, which I’ve already read, thankfully. And there are some modern writers who will be guest lecturing, including Geraldine Brooks. (I loved her People of the Book—the writing was lyrical.)

In any case, the class got me to thinking about how much things have changed for writers. Back when I first started, there weren’t any writing blogs, no sites to check for information about agents, etc. You had to join a local writers’ group and hope that it wasn’t dominated by some aggressive person who tried to get everyone to write in his/her voice. (Been there, done that. You can keep your long, flowery, over-adjectivized phrases to yourself.) Or worse, someone who wants to share their very creepy, slasher short stories. (Sorry, I get nightmares.)

The writer’s life has changed a lot. I love that I can check Grammar Girl, instead of pulling out The Chicago Manual of Style. (Though sometimes TCMS is faster—mine opens automatically to the pages I use the most.) I love my online writing friend. She’s got my back. (Sweetie, do not make any radical changes to the plot when you’ve only had five hours of sleep.) I love that I can take a class while ironing or wearing pajamas. Though old habits die hard, so I’ll probably always be dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, my hair pulled back in a ponytail, and red pen in hand.  Wait. Everything’s done on computer. That means, gulp, I’ll have to use MS Word’s Track Changes… Hmm. Maybe all these modern changes aren’t quite so great after all.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Writerly Road Rage

I’m not by nature an aggressive person, but every now and then my writerly road rage comes out in imprecatory fantasies. Especially when I have a migraine and I’m stuck in the car.

To the city I live in that thinks it’s okay to patch a hole in the road with a steel plate whose ends don’t exactly match up with the asphalt, so that when the car’s tires hit the blunt edge of the plate, my aching brain actually bounces against my skull (okay, that might be an exaggeration)…to you, planners of road repair, I hope that you have nightmares where rusty steel plates pursue you across pot-hole covered roads.

To the fifty year old man wearing leather and spikes and some kind of World War I helmet while riding a mid-life crisis motorcycle that apparently came WITHOUT a muffler, I hope your motorcycle falls apart like Cinderella’s carriage at the stroke of midnight. And your bike/hog/chopper becomes a horse. Or, wait, a boar. An angry boar with tusks.

To the twenty year old man in the car behind us with his windows rolled down, wearing dark sunglasses even though it’s overcast, and whose car has subwoofers cranked so loud the fillings in my teeth are rattling…wait, I can’t even come up with an imprecation. Instead, I tell Cal to turn right. He says, “But we’re not going that way.”  I say, “Please turn. If that noise does not kill me, I will kill myself.” He turns right. Sadly, lunatic driver who’s trying to share his hateful music with me also turns right. (Why did he not use turn signals, so I’d know we could go straight?!?!) I feel like I’m going to cry/vomit except my head hurts too much.

By this point, it’s clear to me that I-don’t-care-about-my-fellow-man, woofer driver is really possessed by a demon…although it could be that he’s a super-secret CIA courier (which explains the sunglasses) and the noise is so he can keep his package safe because no one can get close enough to steal it without having their eardrums bleed. Nah. Demon-possessed. And I’ll send Buffy after him. I know she does vampires. But a silver stake through the heart will probably put this guy out of commission too. 

File:Musee-de-lArmee-IMG 0976.jpg
This helmet is actually from Madagascar. But you get the picture.
This image is by Rama courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, September 27, 2013

High Museum

No one got sick! And we went to see the Dutch masters at the High Museum.

I wish I could show you all the wonderful art we saw. Vermeer, Rembrandt, Hals, Steen  (there were some very funny Steen paintings, especially "The Sick Girl," which is not at all what it first seems), etc. But the museum had a very strict "No photos of this exhibit" policy. So this will just have to suffice.

Sorry, not nearly as exciting as the original "Dutch Mona Lisa."
The Girl with a Pearl Earring was luminous. But a little disappointing. Not the art work itself. But like the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, this painting was behind many layers of glass and roped off so you had to stand back a bit. It made a careful viewing difficult. But still...I got to see it with my own eyes!
Here's a Wikimedia Commons image.

And the other paintings. Coorte's "Still Life with Five Apricots" was the biggest surprise--every print and color plate I've seen makes the apricots look dirty. But in real life, they were gorgeous, dripping with flavor. (Sorry, I couldn't find a photo on the web that I was sure wasn't copyrighted.)

Afterwards, we visited some of the other wings. I saw a Monet and a Durer (I love Durer).

This is Durer's "Knight, Death, and the Devil."
Here's a close up.

And here are the wonderful men who accompanied me.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

French Food, Soup

Going to Paris was the trip of a life time. The art, the cathedrals, the gardens...and the food--it was amazing. Here are some of the places we ate.

 Ze Kitchen Galerie, a gastronomic experience where begin a foodie meant you were part of an exclusive club of true connoisseurs. Exotic food bliss, especially the sampler menu. The waiter asked, "Is there anything you won't eat?" We said, "No."

 Au Petit Sud Ouest, where I had truffles for the first time--never do you forget the first time you ate truffles.

Les Papilles, food the way it was meant to be eaten. Perfection.

Le Grand Vefour, history and Parisian cuisine in a palace. What more can you say?

Paris was a food delight. And I look back with pleasant memories. But I've been craving the soups. Badly. Americans don't do soups the French way. I can't think of how to describe it. French soups are a mix of the simplicity of childhood with the demands of an adult palate. So I've searched out recipes. I tried Epicurious. The carrot-ginger soup was good. But it tried too hard. It was too complex--the flavors warred with each other. They were overbearing. And then, I found a blog written by an American woman who married a Frenchman. And I found her recipe for La Puree.

I made it last night. Here are the vegetables simmering.

Below is the finished soup. (Leeks--the French believe leeks prevent cellulite, a big rutabaga, carrots, red peppers, zucchini, and salt.) I did make one change to the recipe. I added chicken bouillon because the soup tasted a little bland--probably because I didn't know how much a handful of salt was. And I served the soup with goat cheese sprinkled on top (Costco's Kirkland brand is really cheap) and a rustic rosemary/olive oil bread.

Even Matthew had a second bowl. And for one meal, I was back in Paris.

I know you're thinking "Where's the recipe?!" Here it is: A Lady In France

Monday, September 23, 2013

Post-High-Museum Cold

This a picture of a rhinovirus, one of the viruses that causes the common cold.
Courtesy of Wikimeida.

This Wednesday, Cal and I are heading to the High Museum in Atlanta on Wednesday to see the Girl with the Pearl Earring. I’ve also got the movie The Girl with the Pearl Earring on my Netflix list, I’ve been told we must see it. It’s supposed to come today.

Here’s the problem. We also have a nasty autumn cold in the house. And the last thing I want is the cold. If I get it after Wednesday, fine. But NOT before Wednesday because the exhibition is almost over.

So this is my plan.

1. Lysol wipe surfaces while sick child (Jake) is at the university for classes.

2. Wash couch cover that is no doubt a virus cesspool—I probably shouldn’t be sitting here while I blog.

3. Use lots of hand sanitizer. I bought a massive bottle at WalMart.

4. And I’m taking vitamin C. I don’t really believe it will prevent a cold, but Cal does, so I’m hoping in the placebo-effect-by-proxy.

5. And, of course, Matt is spraying Lysol like a fumigant. 

6. And pray that no one else gets sick.

If all goes well, I’ll post High Museum photos on Friday. Even if I get a post-High-Museum cold.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Standardized Testing, Better Than Milton

During Matthew’s graduation check (I homeschool Matt, so the overseeing school verifies that we’ve done everything to satisfy state requirements.), the administrator said, “Every student needs a standardized test given during their senior year, so the SAT Matt took in the spring doesn’t count.”

I argued, even though I knew it was futile. Now we’re going to do testing. (I’m a certified tester, so I can give the exams.)

In an effort to have a good attitude so it will rub off on Matt, here’s what’s great about testing week.

1. No regular schoolwork. (Of course, we have to make up the work we’ll miss.)

2. Afternoons off. (Though you don’t usually get to enjoy them because of the post-bubbling-in-stress headache—you know, the one you get when you’re halfway through a section and realize you missed a line and all your answers are in the wrong places.)

3. The phone gets taken off the hook. Okay, Matt doesn’t care about this. But taking the phone off the hook always makes me feel naughty, but in a “good” way. Like I’m “sticking it to the man.” Except, wait, I am “the man.”

4. Buying number two pencils. It makes me feel like I’m in a movie a la “bouquets of sharpened pencils.” But I really don’t like pencils.

5. I can play Plants vs. Zombies while Matt bubbles. Ack. No. I’m not really doing that, Matt. I’m, uh, editing. Or planning your reading schedule for Paradise Lost. See, standardized testing is better than Milton.

File:Pencil eraser.jpg
Photo by Alex Morphin, courtesy of Wikimedia

NB Screwing Up Time is being featured on Kindle Books and Tips. Click here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Screwing Up Mongolia Release

After a few more gray hairs that I gathered from formatting issues, I'm thrilled to announce that "Screwing Up Mongolia" is live on Amazon. "Screwing Up Mongolia" is a short story set between Screwing Up Babylon and book three. (It was originally published in the Winter Wonders anthology.) And it's available for 99 cents, Amazon's lowest price. Click here.

Here's the blurb.

As if being a teen guy isn’t hard enough, Henry is also a time traveler with a job to do. And a horde of Mongols who don’t want it done.

It should’ve been easy. All Henry and his girlfriend Miranda needed to do was time travel into a Mongolian caravan, steal some mammoth tusk, and get out. But thanks to a peacock, the Khan’s warriors attack them with scimitars swinging. Only Henry’s Granddad can help, and he doesn't know who they are.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Paris Photos

I spend most of this past week at the hospital with a friend, so I'm playing "catch up with life" now.

And because I don't have time today to write a blog post, I'm posting a few "never-before-seen" photos from our Paris trip. I hope you enjoy them.

This is in the Petit Trianon at Versailles. The railing originally had Louis XIV in the medallions. Marie Antoinette had it replace with MA.

 This is a barometer/thermometer. The interesting thing is that the temperature is marked like this "St. Petersburg during the winter," etc.

Every member of our home is strictly forbidden from blowing dandelions. I, on the other had, blew one in Marie Antoinette's garden.

In a French cafe for a late dinner. And for reasons that I don't understand, it looks light outside. But it was at least 10 pm.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Five Ultimate Battles

Friday's five this week is ultimate battles. When my boys were younger and their friends came over, sometimes we'd discuss ultimate battles and who would win. So here are my thoughts. Feel free to disagree in the comments.

1.Voldemort vs. Saruman

I think this is the most interesting battle. Evil sorcerer vs. evil sorcerer. My guess is that Voldemort takes Saruman. Even though Saruman has the orcs and the Uruk-hai, Voldemort would use the imperius curse and they’d end up toasting Saruman.

2. President Snow (The Hunger Games) vs. the White Witch (Chronicles of Narnia)

This is one is hard to call. Two very different styles of evil. But I couldn’t resist the two winter themes. My guess is that the White Witch takes President Snow. After all, I don’t see anyone breaking her wand. But I’ve no question that President Snow escapes at the last moment.

3. Old Captain Kirk vs. New Captain Kirk

Old Captain was tough and always in control. But I’m guessing in a battle new Captain Kirk wins—he’s more unpredictable and I think he’d out think old Captain Kirk. (And the fact that Chris Pine is more handsome than William Shatner has nothing to do with it.)

4. Black Widow (Avengers) vs. Eowyn

This is a tough one. Their styles are so different. The Black Widow is conniving, volatile and strong. Whereas, Eowyn is completely forthright in her desires and plans.  And even though I honestly think Black Widow could take Eowyn, I’m giving the win to Eowyn because she’s one of my favorite characters, feminine and tough.

5. Ziva David (NCIS) vs. Zoe Washburne (Firefly)

This last one I’d like your help in determining the winner. In my book, their styles aren’t hugely different. Ziva definitely has Mossad training on her side. But Zoe is Zoe.

So what do you think?

BTW, I released the cover art for "Screwing Up Mongolia," a Screwing Up Time short story. If you'd like to see it, click here.