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Family Guide to Putting Up Christmas Lights

1. Spend an hour (or two) hunting through the basement for the lights. Resolve to label the boxes this year, even though last year you were convinced you would remember which boxes you would need.

2. Untangle strings of lights. Yell for assistance when you become so hopelessly entangled yourself that you cannot get free without wire cutters.

3. Plug in lights to make sure all bulbs are lit. Discover several dead bulbs. Spend an hour hunting for box containing replacement bulbs. Wish you were lit.

4. Replace bulbs. Haul lights outside. Wonder where the rest of your family has disappeared to. Wish you had found a good hiding place, too.

5. Contemplate tree in front yard. Wonder why it seems so much taller this year. Get step-ladder. Not tall enough. Get taller step-ladder. Try to decide is it would be better to fall onto the frozen ground or into the tree itself. If ground is not frozen, try to aim for mud, which will cushion the fall.

6. Stomp inside and bellow for family. When they creep out of hiding, place them in strategic positions around the tree: one to hold the light strings, one to climb the ladder, and one to run madly between the light holder and the ladder climber, shouting directions.

7. Argue about the best way to string lights. Husbands: Always take the manly approach. If it is harder, higher, more complicated, always try to convince your spouse it is the one and only correct way to do it. Wives: Always take the aesthetic approach. If a few minor adjustments will make the entire display breathtaking, always advocate for it. Afterwards, if you do not like it, you can make him change it back. Children: Get bored and then run around trying to lasso each other with the light strings.

8. After all the lights are on the tree, haul out extension cords. Spend an h0ur crawling under shrubs and artistically arranging rocks to hide the cord so that it seems that your electric lights are magically working without electricity.

9. Plug extension cord into socket. Start swearing when it doesn’t work. Spend an hour trying to determine why. Husbands:Unplug everything, including all the lights strings already on the tree. Plug it all back in and swear again when it doesn’t magically work this time. Wives: Offer helpful advice, such as “Did you unplug everything and plug it all back in again?”. Children: Get bored and then run around singing the same Christmas song over and over until your parents join in the fun by chasing you around the tree.

10. Finally discover the circuit breaker that popped and reset it. All say “ooh” and “aah” when the lights come on. Marvel at the magic of Christmas.

Family Superpowers

We write science fiction about characters with extraordinary gifts, gifts that most would say are impossible in real life. But when we look around at our family and friends, we notice that many folks have abilities that can only be described as superpowers. Here are some examples:

The Cuteness Factor. We’ve all seen this one. Sure, there are a lot of cute kids in the world, but some can focus that cuteness with amazing results. The world stops for them. Folks give them gifts for no reason. People trip over themselves to do things for them. They send their cuteness vibrations out into the universe and the cosmos rearranges itself to suit them. A Class-A superpower.

The Power of No. This is a good one. Folks with this talent can say no and others accept it. No explanations, no apologies. Just the one word and no arguments, thank you very much. Rare, but definitely powerful.

The Inability to See Dirt. An amazing skill, mostly possessed by men. Dirty dishes in the sink? Cobwebs in the corners? Mud on the floor? Nothing gets through the shield that prevents these guys, uh, people, from seeing dirt. Some are so powerful that even when the dirt is pointed out to them, they still cannot perceive it. Truly amazing.

Techno-demigod. What a great talent this is. The techno-demigod can simply sit down at a malfunctioning computer and it will immediately start working again. He can also perform this feat with other things, such as copiers, phones, and computerized appliances. A household and workplace deity.

The Finder. Finders are very useful. They can locate just about anythings. Can’t remember where you left your glasses? The finder knows. Where did you leave that important paper that you just had in your hand and now cannot locate anywhere? The finder will spot it within ten seconds of walking into your office.  They have a knack of seeing what others do not and an ability to notice details that is super-human.

Moms. The superpowers of moms are many and potent. A sampling:

  • The ability to see through walls and into rooms where their children are playing/arguing/plotting
  • The ability to sense a fever/bruise/scratch or any other physical ailment in a child even if the child is not in the same state
  • The ability to hear children who are playing/arguing/plotting even if the children are in another room
  • The ability to freeze a person with her glance
  • The ability to freeze a person or even an entire group with her voice (We wrote an entire blog about his one. See The Mom Voice.)

Are there any superpowers in your family?



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?

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 Kindness of Cats

Katie (the gray tiger) taking care of Zoe after her injury.

Last week Zoe, our ten-month old cat, dislocated her jaw. To prevent her from re-injuring herself while she is healing, we have been keeping her confined to the master bedroom. We assumed that we would have to keep Katie, Zoe’s sister,  away from Zoe during this time. We thought Katie would be upset because Zoe smelled like a vet’s office. Katie was used to rough-housing with Zoe and might inadvertently hurt her. She would hate being locked in the bedroom, etc., etc. So when we brought Zoe home, we whisked her into the bedroom, closed the door, and wouldn’t let Katie in.

Katie wasn’t going to put up with that. Zoe had been missing for over eighteen hours. (Katie and Zoe were found by a construction crew in an abandoned restaurant when they were one week old. They were part of a litter of six and no mother cat was in sight. The kittens were taken to the local animal shelter and bottle-fed. We adopted Katie and Zoe when they were five weeks old. They have never been apart.) She sat outside the bedroom meowing non-stop. She scratched the door. Her meows became howls. We tried to calm her but she had only one goal: she wanted to see her sister. We finally relented and allowed Katie into the room and braced ourselves for the inevitable hissing and spitting once Katie got a whiff of Zoe’s Eau de Vet’s Office.

Zoe was high on pain medication. Her eyes were dilated and she was walking sideways. We had tried to get her to lie down, but she was too busy marveling at how groovy everything was to relax. We placed her on the bed and Katie jumped up to see just what was going on. She approached Zoe, who was rolling around on the blankets, and started sniffing. We were ready to grab Katie as soon as the fireworks started.

And then Katie lay down next to Zoe and began to wash her. Zoe, amazingly, calmed down. She snuggled close to her sister. Katie put both paws around Zoe, hugged her close, and continued to bathe her. Zoe fell asleep. Katie remained on the bed holding her sister and purring.

It has been one week since we brought Zoe home. Katie has spent nearly every hour of every day with Zoe. She seems to prefer being locked in the bedroom with her sister than having free run of the house without her. What a world it would be if humans had the kindness of cats.

The Thankful Blog

When Mary was nine years old, she wrote her first blog. Yes, we know that the Internet did not exist then. In the olden days, nine year olds blogged by writing their thoughts on paper and handing them in to their teachers. If the teacher deemed the post worthy, she read it aloud to the class. We’d like to share Mary’s Thanksgiving  blog:


We Are Thankful

We are thankful for food, homes, clothing, sisters, brothers, fathers, and mothers. But most of all we are thankful for love. We celebrate Thanksgiving by giving thanks to God for all the nice things He gave us. He gave us the Earth. He gave us water and the sun. We thank God for his love.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

The Mom Voice

We have interesting discussions at our house. The other day we were talking about universal constants. (We can’t remember how this worked its way into the conversation, but that happens a lot around here.) We talked about the speed of light. Gravity. Moms.

Moms was our daughter’s contribution. She firmly stated there is one thing that is instantly recognized everywhere, regardless of where in the world you happen to be. The Mom Voice.

Everyone knows the Mom Voice. It is the voice that freezes children on playgrounds. It stops physical action with one word. It can be heard over distances that would make even fire truck horns sound muted. It is the ultimate authority, that instantly recognized tone to which all beings respond.

We have seen the Mom Voice in action many times. Once, while on vacation, we had a room overlooking the hotel pool. It had begun to rain and thunder, but several kids were still swimming. One irate mom, who had sent her husband to (unsuccessfully) extract their children from the pool, came to the edge of the water, put her hands on her hips and commanded, “Get out of the pool. NOW!” Not only did her children promptly vacate the pool, every other child (and a few dads) also sprang from the water.

At our house, the Mom Voice showed its awesome power just yesterday. One of the kittens was attempting to paw open a cupboard door. After being removed from the kitchen half a dozen times, the kitten waited until Mom had settled comfortably in a chair with a good book. Then she crept back into the kitchen. The unmistakeable sound of kitten claws against wood drifted into the living room. Not wanting to get up again, Mom yelled, “I know what you’re doing and you had better stop it!”

The results were immediate. Down the hall in her bedroom, our daughter froze, thinking “But I’m just doing school work.” Joe came out of the office and poked his head around the corner with an inquiring what-have-I-done-now expression. Both kittens went scampering. And outside the open window, in the neighbor’s yard, two boys stood frozen by the rock wall that divides the yards. They carefully put down the rocks they had been removing from the wall (for what purpose we do not know) and crept away.

The Mom Voice. It’s a superpower.

The Kitten Cure

Last winter, Katie, our beloved tiger cat, died at the age of seventeen. It broke our hearts; we found her when she was five weeks old and she was such a part of our lives that we couldn’t even imagine how to fill the gaping hole that was left when she died.

She was an amazing cat. One year after we adopted her, our daughter was born. We brought the baby home and placed her on our bed, not certain of what Katie would think of the situation. Katie circled the mysterious bundle, obviously wondering just what it was. The baby made a movement that startled the cat. She had not been expecting something alive. To our amazement, she didn’t run. She sniffed the baby from head to toe and then lay down next to her. She then looked up at us as if to say, “Thank you for bringing me this baby.” From that day on, our daughter was Katie’s Baby.

After Katie’s death, we were divided about what to do. Our daughter wanted a kitten. We weren’t so sure. It is so damn hard losing pets and with the pain of Katie’s death fresh in our minds, we weren’t certain we wanted to do it all again. But as time passed, we gradually weakened. We began to talk about getting a kitten. A friend mentioned that two kittens would be an even better idea. They would keep each other company and entertain each other.

In May we adopted two kittens from an animal shelter. They were only four weeks old, part of a litter that was discovered on a construction site when the kittens were only one week old. There was no sign of their mother so they had been bottle-fed by the shelter staff. We dubbed them Katie and Zoe and brought them home. We were ecstatic. We were no longer petless. Happy days!

They were so young their eyes were still blue and they each only weighed 1.5 pounds. We quickly discovered they did not know how to drink out of a bowl. They did not know how to use a litter box. They could not even wash themselves. It was like having newborn babies. We turned the little bathroom off our bedroom into a kitten nursery and lay in bed that night wondering what we had gotten into.

What we had gotten into was two furry, purring little bundles of pure happiness. They learned quickly. They grew fast. They became our obsession and our joy. We plastered Facebook with photos and videos of our darlings. We knew we had the smartest, prettiest, most delightful kittens in the world.

When we see the antics of our kittens, we remember our first Katie when she was a kitten. We no longer cry about her death. We laugh in joy at all the good memories.


When Inanimate Objects Achieve Consciousness

We’ve noticed an interesting trend in our house. Over the years the inanimate things around us have slowly taken on a life of their own. They develop personalities and even have individual quirks.

Take the older vacuum. It has been around for decades. We inherited it from Joe’s grandmother. It resides in the basement where it works sucking up cat litter, dryer lint, and the occasional spider. It is held together with duct tape and has a loud, rumbling roar. We have named this beast Attila.

Attila is the perfect name for this vacuum. He is an old warrior, scarred, loud, but still battling. He may be a little grumpy (he definitely growls when his dust bag is too full) but he gets the job done. His worst habit is that he blows dust out his, well, rear.

Now our upstairs vacuum is completely different. New, sleek, efficient, she glides through the day effortlessly. She has sensors that tell us when her dust bag is full (a bag, by the way, that doesn’t leak dust), she has a HEPA filter and several settings for rugs, bare floors, and upholstery. She is shiny, upright and beautiful. And the name of this vacuuming goddess? Athena.

The air filter in our daughter’s bedroom is known as Wheezer for the sounds he makes. We think he has worse allergies than she does. Wheezer is temperamental and grouchy. He growls at everyone except our daughter, who he seems to like. He particularly loathes the cats, and they take delight in tormenting Wheezer until his warning lights flash into the red zone and he shrieks his indignation at having to filter cat fur.

And the list goes on. We have a pickaxe named Bertha and a computer named Jafrey, after a wise-ass character in our book, Time’s Edge. Jafrey’s personality and the computer’s personality are so similar its downright eerie. And don’t get us started about the toilet in the main bath. It sighs, it groans, sometimes it even hisses. It effectively combines rudeness with martyrdom, and its editorial comments can be, shall we say, annoyingly timely. We suspect it’s suffering from job burn-out and needs to retire. We haven’t named it. We don’t want to encourage it.



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