Something just made a low, heavy "BOOM!!" in Charleston and shook the house a little. I thought my father-in-law might have passed out in the shower (because their bathroom shares a common wall with this room). He came out though, because he had heard it, and we went outside. All the neighbors were out...trying to find out what it was, assuming it was nearby...but we could see nor hear anything.

So strange...but also very worrisome.

Update 11:05 p.m.: Oh, no. A chemical plant in Institute (11 miles from here) had a huge explosion. People felt it in Lincoln County. People who lived near there have called the news to say they were knocked out of their beds. There is no "shelter in place" right now but the Interstate has been shut down. Initial reports, though, indicate that there may have been only one injury or no injuries at all.

Update 11:43 p.m.: It still looks like the injuries were few (but more than "none") and a shelter-in-place has been issued for the area from the South Charleston and westward past Institute. I know you probably know this (if you live there), but I just don't want you wandering outside taking deep breaths because Tina told you you could.



My InBox this morning had a nice surprise in it! Someone...a Scrabble player...a Scrabble blog reader...a very nice person...was the very first to click on the donate button. My Scrabble Tour now has at least one benefactor!

So this is a whole new thing. I mean, should I get t-shirts made? Should I write this (and any subsequent) sponsor's name on the bottom of each of my score sheets? Should I give a "shout out" if there are any photo ops or radio interviews? (she says, slowly and thoughtfully shaking her head back and forth). We don't embarrass the benefactors. We accept their kindness with quiet grace and don't force unwanted publicity upon them.

So, thank you, brother or sister whose name shall not be spoken here. Your small act and your few (but precious) bucks have earned you a place in (my) Scrabble history.

If you don't want me to put your name on a t-shirt either, you can also donate. Gracias!!

Fast Weeks

I try not to focus too much on upcoming trips or other fun events very far in advance. It's just that I get so worked up and excited about things. If I start my mental countdowns too early, I just wear myself out...and time seems to drag on and on and on.

But now...I can say that in about three days and 20 hours from this posting, I'll be sitting somewhere around Luna Pier, Michigan, having dinner and drinks with my dear friend, Spinster Girl (a recent transplant to MI). I would be e-mailing her personally about starting my countdown, but I don't want to distract her from her Official Duties, i.e., buying vodka and various things to put with vodka, finding us a great place to eat, etc.

THEN, in four-and-a-half days, I'll be sitting in Pontiac, Michigan, trying my very best to kick off my 2008 Whirlwind Scrabble Tour with a few wins!! V-I-C-T-O...oh, nevermind. I think you get it.

SO...tonight I worked pretty late so I can cut out early on Friday, tomorrow I'll be heading out for dinner and drinks with a couple of friends, Wednesday and Thursday I'll be getting ready for the trip and spending time with those...ohhhh...what are they called?!?! Oh, yeah...Kids!!

The week will likely fly by! Between work, gathering my bathroom items in bottles no larger than three ounces, and those kids I mentioned, I won't have time for time to come to a standstill because I'm so excited! And YET...I'm so excited!! It all makes perfect sense if you stand back about 6 feet and unfocus your eyes.

And, you know, I think both events might produce some pictures and entries for this here Scrabble blog/human interest blog. I can't guarantee anything particularly artful and/or incriminating, but one can always hope.

More Than You've Ever Wanted To Know About My Nose

When I was about 7, I hit an unknown object (stationary, not flying) with my bicycle and flew over the handlebars, hitting my nose somewhere in the process. For months after that, I remember being able to move my nose slightly to the left and right. And for some reason, I didn't tell anybody about being able to move my nose. I don't remember if I was embarrassed by it or what.

Nearly 30 years later, I'm going under the knife. No...I'm not having a nose job! I like my face the way it is, thankyouverymuch, and I think Jennifer Grey's first nose was part of her beauty. What I am having is a surgery called septoplasty. Septoplasty is the surgical correction of a deviated septum. Although this isn't a picture of my nose, this one is close to the way mine looks (the middle, crooked part):

When the one side of your septum is bent in some direction, the opposite side will often grow outward in response. That's why the "deviation" is shaped more roundish than curved. And that's why having one side closed off doesn't mean you can compensate by breathing real good through the other side.

In all probability, that bicycle trauma when I was a kid caused this problem (even though I can't move my nose around anymore). So, last winter, when I made my first visit to an ENT (otolaryngologist) to consult about the problem, I learned that the blockage on my left side was over 90% and that the other side wasn't that much better. Then and now, I've been plagued with chronic sinus problems, the inability to breathe very well through my nose (especially when exercising), and lots more ear infections than most adults.

Despite the fact that the doctor measured my blockage on the left to be so high, he wanted me to try several months of Nasonex and the semi-famous sinus rinse before considering surgery. First of all, obviously, the Nasonex didn't work because a tiny, light mist sprayed into the left side of my nose isn't going anywhere but into the sink. The sinus rinse is awesome and worked well, for the most part, but about one-out-of-five times the liquid would shoot through to the insides of my ears, causing extremely sharp pain (and an hour-or-so of me saying, "Huh? What'd you say?").

So now Eric has a friend working in the same ENT practice. I consulted with him today and we decided to go ahead with the corrective surgery early next month. Although it sounds nuts, I'm very excited!! I really want to get rid of these sinus headaches and ear infections (and some other general grossness).

But you know what?!?!? Eric said I should ask Dr. G. to remove the bump from my nose while he's operating. (Despite the common belief, getting a nose job as part of your septoplasty is not the norm or easy. People with noticeably-crooked noses will have a better look, but even bump removal turns simple septoplasty into a major ordeal, including the swollen face, black eyes, and such associated with rhinoplasty.) Anyway, I told Eric that maybe he should ask someone to remove the blinding reflection coming off his head.

Pawns in Their Not So Little Games (and knights, and bishops, and...)

You've probably heard of a kid here and there who was not yet in elementary school becoming an expert in the game of chess. The possibility for such great success at the game is surely anecdotal, but I don't think as far from the mark as it may seem. The "common knowledge" that kids' little brains are like sponges is fairly accurate. They soak up, process, and adapt heavily detailed and detail-oriented tasks like chess, Scrabble, video games, and foreign languages.

So today I observed some of this for myself as I sat among a group of kids from age 5 to about 12, all of whom play chess pretty well or started playing just tonight (and picked the game up in one session). I mentioned before that my kids' new school, Piedmont Elementary, has a chess team which won the West Virginia state championship last year. Well, my two oldest (10 and 6) decided they'd like to try it out.

This was the initial interest meeting for this year's chess club as well as the first playing session. And I think the method was perfect. New players were paired with experienced players at or around their same age. While there were a few adult sponsors around, the children mostly learned from each other on-the-fly.

Both Stony and Bella picked up the game pretty well and want to go back. I'm really excited! I'm definitely going to have to learn at least the basics of chess. PLUS, I'm hopeful that the popularity of the chess club at Piedmont is at least a good indicator of the interest I hope to get for School Scrabble, which we are going to start in the next few weeks. (I hope and expect that we'll some cross-over players.)

So how awesome (and cute) is all this?!?!? Here are some more pictures:

Golden Tee - rated M for violence

A few nights ago I watched a show on MTV about "gamers." It focused mostly on young people who were about 18 to 25 years old who played online, interactive video games all day and night. Heh...there's no way I'm going to make fun. I study word lists with most of my free time.

The show also featured a young guy who made some money here and there in Golden Tee tournaments. Eric loves Golden Tee. Unfortunately, a few years ago, he suffered a major Golden Tee injury. Yes...that's right...a GTI.

You see that white ball in the middle of the control panel? It's what propels the ball forward (and causes a hook or a slice if you don't hit it quite right). If you've never watched someone play Golden Tee, there are basically two methods for moving that "trackball". Some put their fingers on both sides of it and flip their hands forward really fast, as if they were trying spin something in the air. Others prefer a more aggressive approach. These guys...they draw their arm back, hand about parallel to the panel, and punch their arm forward, skimming across the top of the trackball.

And therein, my friends, lay The Sergeant's downfall.

It was early...only about 10:00 at night when a 6-month-pregnant me sat at home in bed. I had only seen my husband out the door about an hour earlier so he could meet up with his buddy for some beers.

It seems that Eric was drinking what was literally his first (and only) beer of the night when he and his friend, D.B., started their Golden Tee game. I know you can already see how this story goes, but let me tell you anyway. Just like he'd done 59 million times before (trust me, I've sat through many, many, many, manymanymany of the games), Eric drew back his arm and let the spring go. As his arm thrust forward, it missed the trackball target, and instead struck the front edge (albeit rounded edge) of the game. Because he had put so much energy into it, he still managed to bust open his hand on the machine.

The cut was right below his middle finger, about an inch long, and all the way through the flesh. D.B., a physician, somehow came to the medically-sound conclusion that a hand all busted up and such wouldn't require any sort of official, emergency medical attention...except with those medicinal implements one could find in the bar setting. They applied some ice to it...maybe some J├Ąger, I don't know. (To his credit...sort of...D.B. did go out to his car to see if he had a suture kit. Heh...heh...heh. Yeah, I'm not kidding. He did not have one with him.)

Now...I didn't know any of this had happened. When Eric walked back in the house, he didn't speak but only stretched his hand out toward me, palm up. I could see the large cut on his hand and I could see the ligament peeking out from within it. Somehow, these sorts of things are never surprising to me and never shocking. Eric repeated D.B.'s statements that he didn't need to go to the ER. I think my reaction was something like rolling my eyes at him as I flipped my legs over the side of the bed, grabbed my jeans, and put on my shoes.

An hour later, I was admiring the ginormity to which one's ankles could swell even at only six months pregnant as I sat in the uncomfortable emergency room chair. (Does anyone else think those chairs just make you slide down, down, down so you keep having to scoot up, up, up?) At least it was fun joining in with the doctors as they (rightfully) teased Eric for having broken himself on a video game.

And, you know what? Eric's not the only one. It seems that guys break themselves on Golden Tee not only by busting their hands on the console, but by tearing rotator cuffs, accidentally putting their hands through the glass, and, sometimes, by not-so-accidentally kicking the machine.

In the end, Eric's stitches popped out. After that, there's no putting them back in without a whole bunch of yuckiness you do not want to know about. SO...they left it open to heal. Can you believe that?!?! Turns out even a drunk doctor can give some sound medical advice.

East End's Jewel of a School

When my son started Kindergarten, we sent him to the school in the district where his father lives. It's one of the schools in the area where people outside the boundaries of the school apply to send their kids. That worked out really well for us until Stony hit the third grade. His teacher didn't exactly seem do I put children. Because the teacher wasn't having a lot of success with helping Stony learn, we consulted with the principal who could not even accurately detail the requirements for a "504 plan" (the laws setting forth the details for education plans for kids with special learning needs).

The following year, Isabella was entering Kindergarten so it seemed like a good time to make a switch if we needed to. We enrolled her and Stony in a neat little Catholic school with a real dedication to children and a wonderful socioeconomic and racial diversity. Well, there were some things we ended up really liking about it and some things we ended up really not liking about it. As it turned out, following Eric's injury during his job with the fire department, we just couldn't afford private school tuition anymore (no matter how reasonable). Since we're Catholic, the Diocese would pay up to half of it but...that was still a lot more than the free education we could find in a public school.

So what to do? For months, we pondered the right choice for the kids, what public schools might be a good choice, what would be best for them in making a transition, etc. Many of my friends and co-workers had placed their children in one of our local, downtown schools, Piedmont Elementary. Piedmont is interesting in many ways. It serves children who live in some of the roughest neighborhoods in Charleston, children who live in some of Charleston's large, beautiful (and expensive) Historic District homes, and even children who live in the local shelter for homeless families. It's also one of Charleston's year-round elementary schools, where the children go for about 10 weeks then take three weeks off. Lastly, the school gets extra money for extra staff because a certain percentage of its children are below a certain income level.

So how shocked would outsiders be, then, to know that the school's diverse chess team won the state championships last year? How surprised would they be that I know parents who have taken their children out of the exclusive Montessori school to send them to Piedmont? And how surprised would they be to walk in from a city street and see the bright, airy, open-floor plan inside the school? What would they think to know about Piedmont's math and science magnet program and its partnership with NASA?

Well, let me tell you...I was certainly surprised. Several years ago, Piedmont had some reputation problems including behavior issues and an unbelievably-high turnover rate among students (due to transience in the neighborhood). But when I walked into the school in early July for their open house, I knew almost right away that this was the place for us. The building was filled with energetic, smiling teachers and staff. The principal took time from his (also energetic ) runnings around to discuss my concerns about my son's learning, what material was being covered in what grades, and the issues we'd had in the last school with racial discrimination (going in all directions). We talked about the free, all-day pre-school program in which my youngest, Edie, could enroll. Finally, after talking to each of the kids' potential teachers, I walked out feeling great because of this spectacular find (that so many people already knew about) but also hectic because school started the next day.

Stony put up a fuss at first. Somehow he'd forgotten that, only five weeks into summer vacation, he was already announcing his boredom on a daily basis. Bella was her typical, quiet but mildly nervous self but was very happy at the prospect of first grade, new friends, and starting school the next day. Edie was equally excited because she had recently finished potty training and had been walking around announcing that she would be going to school when Stony and Bella went back.

So now we're about three weeks into this summer/fall quarter. The kids come home happy every day. Stony's math is taking off which is awesome because I thought being in the math and science magnet would really give him the chance to showcase his talent in science but might exaccerbate his historically-difficult time with math.

Bella's teacher confirms that, while her nature is quiet, she's having a good time in school and making some friends. Bella's a sweet girl and has always had fun with other children despite her shyness. She kind of takes it all in stride and, even though she can be a little of a drama queen at home, she always seem content around other kids.

Edie has loved pre-school and has had only a couple of mornings (both late in the weeks) when she was hesitant to go. Of course, this morning was the morning I decided to take pictures and, despite her early bedtime, she was tired and most definitely not wanting to go to school. This is the first picture I tried to get:

And here's the best I did at getting her to be compliant:

So there are competing studies about whether or not the educational benefits of a year-round school are greater. Taken at face value, though, and with my limited experience, the kids at Piedmont appear to be academically successful and happy. I'm already a huge fan of the year-round concept which is gaining momentum in West Virginia and even recently earned the endorsement of the governor. Aside from that, my kids come home every day smiling. Of course, it's too early to tell for sure, but I think this is going to be great.