Monday, November 30, 2009

Law of Entropy

I understand the law of entropy. Okay, I really don’t. But it has to do with statistical thermodynamics, which I don’t understand either. But for the sake of this post, I’m defining entropy as “things moving to a state of disorder.” I see this every day in my life, particularly with regards to my house. Everything is always getting messy.

Here’s the thing. Some scientist needs to figure out why every day is not equally entropic. For example, Saturday is my clean-the-house-day. By Saturday evening, everything is dusted, cleaned, mopped, vacuumed, etc. Assuming “normal” entropy, things should be normally messy. But this isn’t what happens. By Monday morning, it looks like a tornado has plowed through the house. What happened? Do gnomes, trolls, or evil fairies slip out of their homes in the wood work?

I suspect it is the children. I think that after Cal and I fall asleep, all the kids get up and have a party. (This is what Jacob used to think we did after we got him to bed—he thought we watched movies, ate chocolate and ice cream, and did a happy dance. Reality hit when he was old enough to stay up late. He couldn’t believe that we don’t do anything but collapse. Apparently, we are very boring people.) At any rate, I’m sure the children do get up. This would explain why I find stacks of dirty dishes and why I can hardly get the children up on Monday morning. It would explain comic books all over the table and socks on the floor—they’re the ones doing the happy dance.

So I guess we don’t have a variance in the law of entropy that occurs only in our house. Physicists don’t need to stop by. I’d stay up late to catch them, but I’ve already collapsed by then.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Official Christmas Letter Day

Today is the official “Christmas Letter Day.” It’s the day I send out our Christmas letter/photo to our friends and relatives. This year was slightly easier than last simply because I had a gifted 16 year old take our family photo. (Plus, that meant our kids couldn’t make caustic comments about the insanity of taking our picture.) And it meant that our photo looked professional instead of “Ack-our-mother-made-us-take-this-picture-and-we’d-rather-be-anywhere-else-even-the-dentist!” So assuming that Sam’s Club didn’t wreck the photo, which they’ve done in the past, the picture is done.

The official 2009 letter has also been crafted. And it has now passed Kellerhouse inspection. Inspection consists of each member reading the letter. Then each individual responds in one of two ways. If the child doesn’t like the letter, he/she has a conniption and his/her face splits into two pieces while he/she ponders maternal psychosis as the reason why I included a particular bit of information about him/her. The “approval response” is a shrug of the shoulders. Then I say, “So you’re okay with this?” The child must then audibly answer, “Yes.” It must be aurally perceptible because if the child changes his/her mind later, I can defend myself with the audible “yes.”

Next, comes the printing. Assuming I orient the pages correctly in the Xerox machine, it’s not too bad. But I always mis-orient the paper at least once. Plus, the copy machine tends to develop toner issues, which necessitates taking the cartridge out and doing the “toner tango” every five pages. Then, I have to print the labels, using Excel. In case you don’t know, Excel is a “gift” from the nether regions. Having lived in New England for seven years, we have lots of friends whose zip code begins with a zero—Excel refuses to print initial zeros, so each zero must be printed by hand. (Yeah, I’ve been told there’s a way around it, but no one has been able to give me the details. Apparently, it’s “complicated,” so giving my kids pens seems easier than trying to correct a Microsoft programming error.)

Last but not least, is the actual folding and stuffing of envelopes. This might seem to be the easiest part, but you have to plan on a certain number of paper cuts and a helpful child sticking the stamp on the left side of the envelope instead of the right. Another example of “getting what you pay for,” and since I use what’s affectionately called “slave labor”...

Finally, it’s time for the letters to be mailed. I can leave them out for the postman, but he’s unreliable (he delivers mail only when he’s feeling “led”). Or I can take a drive to the post office and deal with all the Black Friday traffic...or not. Maybe the postman is more reliable this time of year. At least, I can hope.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Laughing at the Rain

Many of you may remember the basement flooding fiascos. If you don’t remember, here’s a refresher. After heavy rains, we discovered that the city’s run-off waste water fountains up through a drain in our basement and floods it. What makes the flood even nastier is that it ruins the circuit board of the heater ($500). We called the insurance—they laughed. We called the city. An engineer came over. His schematic of the underground pipes does not contain diagrams of the pipes that our drain led to. But he assured us it was irrelevant because our drain was illegal. Uh huh. All the houses built in the 40s have this kind of drain if they have basements. Clearly, the city dealt with a problem by out-lawing it. Convenient for them. Not for us.

After a couple more episodes of flooding, plumbers were called. We were told to call the experts. “The experts” came. Since no one knew where the pipes were or how deep they ran, they couldn't put a backflow valve on the pipe. But they came up with a plan.

The specialty plumbers came with concrete and a thing that looked like a chainsaw on steroids. First, they poured concrete into the drain. HA! Take that City of Chattanooga. Now you can deal with your own water issues. Then the plumbing dudes revved up the concrete saw. I thought that with the door to the basement closed, we’d be golden. I was wrong. Within fifteen minutes, the house was enveloped in a concrete dust fog. And the smell of burning cement isn’t pleasant. In Matt’s words, “It’s stinks!” Matt and Jake ended up in the master bedroom with the HEPA filter cranked.

Despite everything, by dinner the basement was fixed. We are now the proud owners of a sump pit and an uber sump pump. I can now laugh at the storm clouds. I can shake my head and tsk at the water spouting out of the city lines. And I can say, “Neener” to the city engineer. Of course, he doesn’t care. He’ll just be telling some other home owner that their basement drain is illegal. You just gotta love the government.

Monday, November 23, 2009


The other morning when our wakeup alarm went off, Calvin said to me, “I just remembered a cheer from high school.” I said, “I don’t want to hear it.” Of course, Cal sang it to me (not something that’s especially pleasant at 7 am). Here it is: “R. O. W. D. I. E. That’s the way we spell rowdie. Let’s get rowdie, rowdie.” I said, “You do realize that’s spelled incorrectly, right?” A second of silence passed. “Maybe they did that on purpose.” I pulled the covers up. “And maybe their spelling is horrendous. Otherwise, they just misspelled it because it fit better with the rhythm, which is also dumb. Either way, it's lame. And it’s way too early in the morning for something like that.”

Guess you can tell I wasn’t a cheerleader in high school, huh? And that I’m not a “morning person.” My sense of humor develops only after the first hot influx of caffeine.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Master's Work

Every now and then you read a book and you think, “Only a master could get away with this.” What I mean by that is that you read a great book and you tell your friends about it and they look at you like you have lost what little sanity you once possessed.

For example, I found a book listed on the New York City Library’s top 100 books for kids. The name of the book was Interstellar Pig. I read the book blurb and decided to pick it up from the library and use it as a read-aloud at home. We loved it. We borrowed the sequel Parasite Pig. It was every bit as good as the first (a rare experience). But then my kids tried to describe the book to their friends. It went something like this:

Keller Kid (KK): We read this really great book, Parasite Pig.

Group of Friends (imagine scorning faces at hearing the title): What’s it about?

KK: It’s about this boy Barney, who gets involved in an interstellar game. But he doesn’t know that he has a parasite living in his brain.

Female Friends: Gross.

KK: He and his friend Katie get kidnapped by aliens and taken to this planet.

FF: Aliens?

KK: It’s really good, honest. Even Ariel liked it. Anyway, Barney and Katie end up on this planet run by crabs who want to eat them.

FF (who are now turned slightly away, i.e. the cold shoulder): Why would we want to read that?

KK: Because it’s really amazing.

Male Friends: So what happens?

KK: They have to outsmart the aliens with the help of an alien intestinal worm named Julien who lives in the gut of a dinosaur.

MF: A dinosaur?

KK: The dinosaur is in the spaceship.

MF (with raised eyebrows): Right. And what about the “pig?”

KK: Capturing the “piggy” is supposed to be the goal of the game, but...I don’t want to spoil it for you.

MF (with the look of “I’ve heard you Kellers are odd”): Don’t think we’ll be reading it.

Later I explain to my kids that only a master writer can take the bizarre threads of a story like that and make them work—it’s part of what makes the book amazing. It’s why William Sleator is amazing.

So, readers, have you read any books like that? If so, please comment and tell me what the titles are. I’d love to read more.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Cure for Writer’s Block

Every writer should be forced to sit in the math computer lab—she (or he) will learn the joys of forced writing/editing. There are no distractions. The walls are mushroom gray and oatmeal blah. The white boards are full ghostly calculations of suffers past, present, and, perhaps, future. No internet access for non-UTC students so I can’t surf blogs. No idle conversation to overhear other than the usual Maple profanities. I’ve discovered that you can only win so many rounds of spider solitaire before that gets tedious. Even Ariel doesn’t distract me except to demand that I examine matrices that look fine to me, but apparently don’t work.

In this environment, it’s either write/edit or die of boredom. Hmm. Maybe I could cash in on this. I could start the Connie Keller Writing Method. I could charge people money to bring them to the Engineering, Math, and Computer Science building and force them to sit in Maple lab until they reach their word count goal. That could seriously work. Although I might get sued for cruel and unusual punishment, but it’s worth a shot

Monday, November 16, 2009


Our toilet started leaking. This forced a decision. Either get new toilet guts or replace the whole thing with a new toilet, which was offered to us for free. Hmm. A new toilet would probably save on water. New toilet.

Cal took off the old toilet—oops, big problem. The new toilet was missing the tank bolts. Cal reinstalled the old toilet back because it was too late to buy new bolts. The new toilet stood in pieces all over my bedroom. “It’s okay,” I told myself, taking deep cleansing breaths, “it’s only for a few days.”

A few days passed. Old toilet came off. Cal scraped off the old beeswax seal and put on a new one and new bolts. Great. He secured them. I looked at the new toilet. “Uh, honey....”

He knows my tone. “What’s wrong?”

“The arm thingy that holds the float is snapped in half and there’s no float at all.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

Imagine me swallowing. “No.”

“Right. Let’s go to Ace Hardware.”

After a trip to Ace, Home Depot, and Lowes, we discovered they don’t make plastic “float arms.” Instead, they sell you new toilet guts. We returned home with new guts. Cal replaced everything. He turned the water on. The stalk thingy leaked.
He tightened it. Water back on. The valve for the water line leaked.
He replaced the line. He turned the water back on. It was dry. Yay!! I cleaned the new toilet, mopped the floor, and arranged the flowers on the back of the tank.

A few minutes later, it was leaking again. This time water leaked from the tank-bowl bolts. Another trip to Ace Hardware for new rubber seals. About this time I took Ariel to violin lessons—I was never so glad to have to go to music lessons.

I don’t even want to go into the fact the floaty thing won’t adjust properly. I read the directions, but after thirty seconds I realized that the directions were written by someone for whom English was a fifth or sixth language. I think we need to re-adjust the height of the stalk thingy, which would loosen all the seals that Cal just fixed. Instead, we’re just going to learn to hold the handle down for an extra second or two. So much for saving water.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Who Let The Dog Out?

Everybody has their little obsessions. When Luke was little, he had socks that he’d wear at bedtime and socks he’d where only during the day. Me? I hate messy counters. It drives Ariel crazy because when she bakes or cooks, I often put things away before she’s even used them.

Cal’s obsession is changing the oil in the car. He changes it every 5,000 miles on the dot. (At least, I think it’s 5,000—I don’t know, I’m not an oil person.) Anyway this past Tuesday in the pouring down rain, he had to change the oil. Apparently, it couldn’t wait another day. This wouldn’t be so bad if we had a garage, but we don’t. And the water streams down the asphalt so he was basically lying in a river.

Our dog Jezebel also has an obsession—being wherever Calvin is, especially if it’s in the backyard. (Jez associates Cal in the backyard with barbequing.) Jez also loves car trips. Once when my parents visited, my dad opened his car door and got out. Jez tore across the yard and leapt. My dad stealed himself for the force of the dog, but she glided right passed him into his car, where she waited for whatever trip he’d planned.

Now put these two images together. Cal was in the backyard, and the car door was slightly ajar. Jez whined loudly at the backdoor. Luke, assuming Jez had serious bladder/bowel issues, let her out.

Imagine looking out the back kitchen window. Cal’s under the car soaked to the skin and covered in dead leaves washed around like a shroud by the rain. In the driver’s seat of the car sits Jez her tail wagging and making an occasional bark that said, “Hey, master, are you almost done—where we going?” Of course, to Cal it sounded like, “I’m here to irritate you, master.”

In the end, Cal staggered into the house with leaves stuck to hair and shoulders, dripping muddy water onto the floor and demanding, “Who let the dog out?” It was more Frankenstein-esque than Baha Men, but I still laughed.

p.s. I've just been told that the oil gets changed every 3,000 miles. Now I know.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I’m reading a book that I don’t like. I’ve read a lot of books I don’t like, but they were good books. Right now I'm reading a book I don’t like, and it’s not even well written. The author breaks one of the cardinal rules of writing: Make your main character sympathetic. This doesn’t mean the MC has to be likeable. For example, in the book I’m reading the MC is nice. She’s just not sympathetic. Quinn (lame name) is attractive, wealthy, independent, successful, has a hot boyfriend, ad nauseum. She’s got everything, and thus she's not sympathetic; my only response to her is GAG.

So why am I still reading the book? Obviously, I don’t like the MC at all. The truth is that I like the dead girl Alicia. This is really pathetic because she’s only around for the first six or seven pages. Why is Alicia sympathetic? After all, she’s attractive, independent, etc., too. The difference is that Alicia’s flawed—before her death, she was depressed, mentally unstable, and not a good friend to the MC, which made me like her even more. And then, you discover that Alicia’s hot, wealthy boyfriend probably had her killed because she found out something she shouldn’t. So...I’m reading this book to find out who killed Alicia and why.

I wish the author had switched Alicia and Quinn. Of course, if she had, I wouldn’t have continued reading the book—I don’t care if Quinn dies. In fact, I’d rather she did.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ladybug Graveyard

Every fall the bugs begin to die. But, they prefer not to die, so they seek out warm places. Houses qualify. Cal has killed a cockroach or two. Ick. But, hey, I have absolutely no problem ending the life of a roach.

In fact, I can step on/swat most bugs without blinking. The exception is ladybugs. I really can’t kill a ladybug. Maybe it’s the “Ladybug, Ladybug Fly Away Home” nursery rhyme. After all, any bug who flies home to rescue her daughter Anne can’t be all bad. Or maybe their appeal is their cute little spots and shiny red hard wings that reminds me of a elementary school drawing. The problem is that the bugs aren’t drawings. They’re real bugs, and they’re invading my house, and I can’t bring myself to slaughter their cheerful little bodies.

A friend of mine sprayed the ladybugs invading her home with a mild pesticide. They died. But they didn’t die quickly or normally. Instead they walked in a death spiral and left bug goo with their every step. So her ceiling was covered with swirls of bug scum. I really don’t feel like cleaning bug gunk from my ten foot ceilings. Eventually, the bugs will die and then I can vacuum them up. In the meantime, I’m trying to pretend they’re happy bugs and that is doesn’t bother me a lot when the fly across the room. I hope they die soon, really soon…because they’re not cute anymore.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tug o' War

My almost 91 year old grandmother (Oma) is staying with us. She’s still fairly spry and her mind is still sharp. And though she’s had dogs most of her adult life, even Alsatians, she’s a bit skittish about Jezebel. So we keep Jez separated from Oma. That’s worked very well…until this morning.

This morning, Jez decided to take her big furry Yankees blanket from Matt and Jake’s room into the living room so she could lay on it where the sun streams through the plate glass windows. And as the sun shifts through the room, Jez carries her blanket to the new spot of warm sunlight. This is her favorite habit, besides laying on the air condition vents during the summer. But this morning would be different.

Jez was carrying her blanket through the dining room into the living room when my grandmother spied her. In righteous indignation, my grandmother yelled at the dog for “stealing a blanket.” As if that weren’t enough, my grandmother decided to take matters into her own hands. So she hurried to meet Jez and grabbed the blanket. When Oma did this, Jez thought, “Oh, cool, she wants to play tug o’ war.” On one end of the blanket we have nearly 91 year old Oma tugging. On the other end, we have a one year old black Lab. I think you can imagine what happened. Oma tugged, and Jez pulled right back. Oma heaved, Jez hoed. About this time Matt has caught sight of the problem and loudly (my grandmother wears hearing aids) tried to rectify the situation, but he didn’t have much luck. Drawn by the loud noise, I came to see what’s going on. “Oma!” I yelled loudly, “that’s the dog’s blanket.” My grandmother looked at me oddly (I’m guessing her dogs never had big fuzzy blankets), but she let loose of the blanket, much to Jez’s chagrin. Finally, I explained the situation, and my grandmother laughed heartily.

You’ve heard it said, “Never get into a land dispute in Asia, and never bet against a Sicilian with death on the line”…I’d add to that, “Never pit a black Lab against a 91 year old Dutch woman—you can never tell who might win.”

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Some people collect salt and pepper shakers—kind of weird. I mean, how much salt do you need? Some people collect figurines—too much dusting for someone deathly allergic to dust. Some people collect cars. Obviously they have more money than brains. I’ve always prided myself on not collecting anything because after all, collectors clearly do not have a life.

But now I’m wondering…I have a lot of word books. I own three thesauri—Roget’s, Langenscheidt’s, and a really lame one that I gave to the kids. I own two or three books dedicated solely to abstruse words. I’ve purchased about dozen books on writing. Don’t even get me started on dictionaries, although I will say the best modern dictionary is Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary—every other dictionary pales in comparison. But that’s not too bad. Okay, okay, I admit it, I even own a rhyming dictionary. I’m beginning to suspect I might actually have a collection. What does this mean? Do I still have a life? Or will I be one of those ladies who wears knit purple scarves and owns ten skanky cats? Nah. I hate cats.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Vengeance is Mine

I love gardens, a riot of flowers, or red ripe tomatoes. There is nothing like the scent of a crimson rose or the taste of a sugar-snap pea right off the vine. Sadly, squirrels and chipmunks feel the same way. I’ve caught chipmunks standing on their hind legs and carefully harvesting my Chinese pea pods, and I’ve seen a lush tomato ripped off by a squirrel. Not to mention cherries and raspberries going to the birds.

You’d think our dog Jezebel would be guarding the garden. But no, she’s lying on the air conditioning vent. Besides she’s not that concerned about squirrels and chipmunks. Only cats and weird fur-ball dogs that look like cats get her dander up.

I’d pretty much given up hope of ever getting even with the little creatures, though I have tried mousetraps, netting, and flooding out the chipmunk’s lair—until the water ended up in my basement. (A friend who grew up on a farm suggested running a hose from the car exhaust into the chipmunk’s hole—good thing I tried the water first, or our house would have been carbon monoxided.)

But this summer as serendipity would have it, I got even. And I didn’t even plan it. I wish I’d seen it happen. But we’ll imagine it together.

Bob the squirrel surveys the yard from the chestnut tree, keeping a lookout for Jez. (He doesn’t know that it’s too hot/too wet/too sunny for her outside.) All he knows is that Jez is nowhere to be seen, so he leaps to our deck and skitters to the tomato plant. Much to his disappointment, all the tomatoes are gone. He ate them already. He checks out the basil plant—leaves won’t satisfy his belly. Bob spies another plant. It’s one he’s never tried before—it’s the bush of the knowledge of jalapeno peppers. Bob’s not sure why he’s never tried these before. After all, they are pleasing to the eye and look like they’d increase his knowledge of valuable food sources. Bob plucks one. He examines it closely. Interesting smell, no bitter or poisonous odor. Bob takes a bite. Not bad, he thinks. Then, the oils penetrate his taste buds. His neural connections scream, “Pain!” As Bob runs away, he tosses the jalapeno where I will later find it with one squirrel sized bite gone. I will pick up the pepper and laugh heartily. “Bwahaha!”

They say revenge is a dish best served cold. I think…it’s best served with jalapenos.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Shalt and Shalt Not

Keller-i-vitical Laws

After reading the Levitical laws, it seemed to me that perhaps I could add a few. (Okay, don’t send me theological rebukes. After all, this is tongue-in-cheek, sort of.)

1. Thou shalt not place thy feet upon the table for this is a horror to thy mother and sister.

2. Thou shalt keepeth thy room tidy for a messy room is a grievous offense to thy mother.

3. Thou shalt not burp at a meal for thou liveth not in China, and if thou doest it, thy mother shall make thee eat Brussels sprouts for thy next meal.

4. Thou shalt thank thy mother for each meal she maketh even if she includeth onions in the comestibles. Ingratitude is an evil thou shalt renounce.

5. If thou willt not be assigned extra chores, thou shalt do thy chores without nagging.

6. Thou shalt not scream like a banshee unless an evil burglar breaketh into thy house for thy mother getteth migraines.

7. Thou shalt clean thy hamster’s cage every Saturday for thy hamster stinketh and is a transgression to thy mother’s nose.

8. Thou shalt practice thy piano properly for thy parents payeth for thy lessons and a pox befalleth those children who would not practice.

9. Thou shalt not leave thy dirty underwear and clothing upon the floor. This is a abomination to thy mother.

10. Thou shalt offer to help with thy mother’s chores for thy mother loveth cheerful helpers and will shareth the good chocolate with them that are servant-y.