Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Teenage Hearing

We were worried about our daughter’s hearing. She’s sixteen and never seems to hear anything we say. Comments made to this kid are usually answered with “Hmmm?” Requests for her to do something invariably are met with “What?” And never try calling to her from another room. You will grow old waiting for a reply.

We were seriously considering getting her hearing tested when we began to notice inconsistencies in her hearing. One day we were in the kitchen pouring some crackers into a bowl when this supposedly deaf child suddenly appeared at our elbows.

“Can I have some?” she asked.

She had been in her bedroom at the other end of the house when she heard the crackers hitting the bowl.

Another time, we had opened a bag of pretzels and were sitting in the living room sharing them when we looked up and saw her standing there.

“How’d you know we had pretzels?” we asked as she dived into the bag.

“I heard you chewing,” she replied.

Or how about the time we were having an in-depth and lengthy discussion about a very special character in one of our books who needed to be able to communicate with other characters without giving too much information away, which would ruin the plot. We went back and forth for a good twenty minutes when our daughter called out from her bedroom.

“Make it communicate with feelings instead of words,” she said.

She had followed the entire conversation, which was taking place in the living room. And what was even more astounding, her suggestion was terrific. We used it, and it added a great dimension to the story. However, when we yelled back, “Thanks!”, we received no reply.

Sigh. Do you suppose there is a test for selective hearing in teens?

Profanity and Freedom

Middleborough, Massachusetts recently enacted an ordinance that allows police to fine anyone who swears in public $20. We have a few questions.

Who decides what constitutes profanity? Does this mean the citizens of Middleborough can dang it and darn it but not damn it? Can a farmer step in horse manure but pay for the privilege of stepping in horse shit? Can you scare the heck out of someone but not scare the hell out of him? For that matter, when is the word hell considered profanity? Are you following the law if you discuss Hell as a place/idea/punishment but out of line if you tell someone to go there?

And what about that little thing called the Bill of Rights. (Fascinating document, by the way. More people should read it.) What about that very first amendment? You know, the one that says,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

And then there is the opinion of the United States Supreme Court,which ruled that the government cannot prohibit public speech just because it contains profanity.

That is really the point. Freedom of speech means freedom for everyone, even people who are expressing themselves in ways we disagree with and promoting ideas that we do not like. For speech is either free or it is not. There is no middle ground.


The Sounds of Today

Boy, the world sure sounds different than it did when we were growing up.

Anyone out there remember the good old days? Basketballs and bicycles, “Tag, you’re it!” and “Race you to the corner!” The noise of a neighborhood football game in the backyard. The sound of feet pounding through the house. Moms and Dads everywhere screaming, “Go outside and play!”

Homes and yards today are very different. The exuberant voices have quieted, the running feet have slowed. The games have become virtual, friends meeting in cyberspace instead of in person. And the sounds of the virtual world and the real world are sometimes hard to distinguish.

Picture this: a mom sitting in her office writing a new chapter for her book, one ear cocked, as always, for the sounds of children, pets, husband, and other miscellaneous visitors. She hears the plaintive cry of a cat. Repeatedly. Upon investigation, she discovers that it is merely a virtual pet, crying out to be fed/played with/brushed or whatever else the computer program demands. She returns to her creating. In another room, her husband is attempting to speak in a computer-simulated monotone. “Yes.” “Service.” “No.” “Service.” “YES.” “SERVICE.” Is he crazy? No, he is merely trying to get a voice-recognition phone system to connect him with the service department.

A baby cries. A baby? We don’t have a baby. Are the cries coming from inside the house or through the open window?  No, Mom, it’s just a virtual baby. Mom wonders if young mothers ever ignore their babies cries because they think it is merely the older children playing with virtual babies instead of their living siblings. Mom settles back to continue her sci-fi novel. She is deep into the description of a space battle  that seems so real to her she can actually hear the sounds of space ships. Wait. Why are the sounds coming from the living room? Of course. A group of kids, computers in hand, have flown into space to defend Earth from an alien invasion. Mom returns to her writing. She can’t help wondering if a real alien invasion occurred, would anyone notice?

And then the creepiest sounds of all. Subtle sounds that take a few moments to break through the writing fog. Shuffling footsteps. Distant moans. Mom looks at her watch. Is it time for dinner already? Are her poor, hungry children dragging themselves down the hall demanding nourishment?

Nope. It is the apocalypse. The virtual zombie apocalypse, that is. The undead are dragging themselves across computer screens not down the hallway. Mom returns to her work, hoping that the day the real zombies show up, she will be able to tell the difference.


The Hero Rant

Why are movie heroes so stupid? This seems to be a trend in movies lately. Last night we sat through two hours of pre-previews, previews, and, finally, the movie. Every protagonist we saw on the screen was a candidate for the Darwin Awards.

It didn’t matter who the hero was. Men, women, teenagers, and children. Animated people and animals. Each one had the IQ of a flea. As brief as the trailers were, it was obvious that the lead characters go through their respective movies oblivious, dim-witted, and destined to fail time and time again (until of course, the miraculous ending where most of them will persevere through a strange and improbable twist of fate).

None of the trailers we watched left us with a desire to see any of the movies. The movie we sat through was equally disappointing. It doesn’t even matter which movie we say we saw. They are all the same. Dumb hero and his equally dumb (except for one token thinking character) friends/colleagues/crew/family all get involved in impossible/improbable situations. The hero never learns. He keeps making the same disastrous decisions. His thinking friend repeatedly tries to warn the hero that his decisions are not going to work out, but the hero won’t listen. Things finally reach a crisis point, and the thinking friend seems to abandon the hero. The hero goes off alone on a final destined-for-disaster trek only to be saved at the last minute by the sudden return of the thinking friend who has all the dumb friends/colleagues/crew/family with him (for entertainment, we presume, since none of them will be of any help except by accident). Fortunately the villains seem to be just as dumb as the heroes.

Where are the heroes who can turn on a dime and make a clever and daring escape? Where are the heroes who can out-plot an equally brilliant villain? We love heroes who are leaders, who make mistakes, have doubts, but grow and learn, and in the end triumph because of their strength, growth, and intelligence. We want heroes we can cheer for. Heroes we can like.

We don’t seem to be alone in this longing. A boy, who appeared to be about eight years old, sitting in the row in front of us, turned to his father at one point during the movie and asked, “Why is that guy being so stupid?”

Good question. Why, Hollywood? Is this really the best you can do?


Fiction in the Garden

We have a lot of fun with our gardens. They are a mix of styles: cottage, Zen. rock, and just plain whimsical. (Plain whimsical? There’s an oxymoron for you!) But they do have one element in common. Each garden contains at least one reference to a work of fiction.

Sometimes it is just the name of the garden. One of  our gardens is called the Thoughtful Spot from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. It sits by a large pair of pines tree and has three boulders for sitting and contemplating nature, the world, or the plot of our most recent book. One of the entries to our backyard gardens is guarded by a large stone lion that we call Aslan. Next to him there is a sign that says “Narnia”  with a directional arrow. A rock with a hole in the center has the name “Excalibur” scribbled across it. The roses that line the sidewalk out front are Robin Hood Roses (aka Mediterranean Musk Roses).

As you wander through our gardens, you will occasionally find a helpful signpost. Need to get to the Emerald City? No problem. A sign points the way. Want to visit Hogwarts? The sign tells you to follow the path through the shade garden. There are numerous signposts throughout our gardens, some boldly tacked to trees, others hidden so that they may only be glimpsed by the careful observer. If you look closely you will see directional signs for Camelot, Xanth, Neverland, Middle-earth, and several others. We are always adding to our collection.

The best part about our gardens? Nearly every one has a place where you can sit down and read. Benches, tree stumps, boulders; nooks, crannies, and hideaways. Just follow the sign to your favorite place, sit down, and open a book (or ebook, depending on your preference). You will be there.



When Greed Overshadows Compassion

We recently had a very unpleasant experience with one of our local veterinary hospitals. Our ten-month old cat, Zoe, crashed into the stairs face-first and dislocated her jaw. It was ten o’clock at night and our regular vet’s office was closed and did not provide emergency hours. They did, however, give us a list of 24-hour animal hospitals, all owned by the same corporation, VCA Animal Hospitals.

The hospital was close to our home and they told us to come right down. Once we arrived, Zoe was whisked away from us. Unlike all other veterinary offices we have been to, we were not allowed into the examining room with her. After about fifteen minutes, a doctor called us in to the room. Zoe was not there. The doctor explained that it appeared the jaw was dislocated and it might also be fractured. She wanted to know if we wanted an x-ray taken. Surprised, we said of course. She then asked if we would “be okay with” paying $260 for the x-ray. Again, we said of course. Zoe needed treatment. How could that possibly happen without an x-ray?

The doctor disappeared for about half an hour. When she came back she confirmed that Zoe’s jaw was dislocated but did not appear to be fractured. However, she said, nothing could be done until a radiologist read the x-ray and a surgeon looked at the cat. Neither would be in until the morning. When we asked why she could not put the cat’s jaw back in place, she said the radiologist “might” see something she missed in the x-ray and the surgeon was really the expert at cat jaws. We looked more closely at her name tag and she was, indeed, a doctor of veterinary medicine, one who, for some reason, could not fully read an x-ray or work on an injured animal.

We objected to the length of time Zoe would be forced to endure a dislocated jaw. The doctor assured us the cat would receive pain injections, that is, if we were “okay” with the cost. Zoe would need to stay overnight and the surgeon would see her first thing in the morning.

Since we had no other option (a thing the animal hospital staff knew full well) we agreed and trudged out to the front desk while the doctor worked up an “estimate” for services. When we saw the bill, we were stunned. The estimate stated: “This treatment plan may range from $993 to $1241”. There was an induction fee of $83.70. A general anesthesia fee of $174.50 for the first half-hour. An anesthesia monitoring fee of $64.35. A miscellaneous surgery fee of $352. A hospitalized feline fee of $73.55. A general hospitalization fee of $43.95. And $200.60 worth of injections. A deposit of 75% was required or no services would be rendered. The woman at the desk curtly explained that if we did not have the money, we could apply for their credit program, funded by a third-party financial institution that we happened to know was currently under investigation in our state for unethical business practices, fraud, and several other things. The office did not offer payment plans. The woman told us bluntly, no advanced payment, no treatment. We paid.

The next morning the surgeon called to confirm that the jaw was only dislocated, not fractured.(How about that? The doctor had read the x-ray correctly the night before. Amazing!) She wanted to know if we wanted the cat treated. (Unbelievable question, but true.) We said of course, refraining from adding the words “you moron”, and she told us she would work up an estimate and call us back. We had a feeling we knew what was coming.

Sure enough, the estimate was a range of $921 to $1151 in addition to what we already paid! We authorized the treatment and said we would have a check for them when we picked up the cat. Five minutes after we ended the call, another person from the animal hospital called and informed us that they would not treat the cat until we paid the estimate in full. We were beyond stunned by this point. We had given them a check for $691 the night before. It had already been over twelve hours since Zoe had been injured. Did they really intend to let her sit there with a dislocated jaw until we got them another check? They did and made that clear to us in no uncertain terms. We rushed down to the hospital and paid.

Zoe is home with us now and is healing. Her jaw was not fully dislocated and while they surgeon was examining the cat prior to the official procedure, Zoe’s jaw moved back into place. Although we were grateful it had been so easy, we were also incensed. The jaw could have been repositioned the night before, saving Zoe hours of trauma. Because the treatment took less time than anticipated and they did not use the anesthesia, the cost was less than estimated. The staff of the hospital seemed to feel they had done us a favor by coming in below the inflated estimate.

Cost to fix a cat’s dislocated jaw: $1308.64. Lack of compassion on the part of the employees and the corporation that runs the animal hospital: Beneath contempt.

A Must-Share Post

Top Ten Ways to Annoy Gifted Children. We couldn’t agree more. Check out this right-on-the-money blog from

2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,500 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 42 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

10 Plus 2 Tributes to Time

Time is. Time was. Time is past. Time is a difficult thing to pin down! As one year turns into anther, we thought this would be a good time to explore that most elusive of all concepts. Here are some thoughts on the subject:


1. Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. William Faulkner

2. For disappearing acts, it’s hard to beat what happens to the eight hours supposedly left after eight of sleep and eight of work.  Doug Larson

3. The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.  Abraham Lincoln

4. The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.  C. S. Lewis

5. Time goes, you say? Ah, no! alas, time stays, we go.  Henry Austin Dobson

6. Time is money.  Benjamin Franklin

7. Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.  William Penn

8. We are time’s subjects, and time bids be gone.  William Shakespeare

9. You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by; but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by.  James M. Barrie

10. Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back. Harvey MacKay

Our own take on time:

Time is a concept, not a reality. We create the illusion of time, but time, as most beings define it, doesn’t really exist. Orazio, the Time Master (Time’s Secret)

And our all-time favorite remark about time:

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once. Albert Einstein

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone from Joe and Mary!

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