Thursday, February 26, 2009

Non Inanimate Object

Inanimate objects are supposed to be, well, non-animate. The word is a combination, part of which is derived from the Latin word animus, which means spirit. (I know this is much more than you care to know, but be patient.) So, inanimate objects are supposed to be things without the breath of life in them—things without will or volition. Did you notice how many times I used the words “supposed to”? Guess what that means.

It means that we have an inanimate object that has will and discrimination. Our treadmill. It likes me. It hates Calvin. The treadmill runs for me. It stops for Calvin.

For example, I power up the treadmill, balance my glass of iced lemon water on one side, slip a brainless library thriller in the book rack (it’s my treat for exercising even though I despise exercise), and run. I adjust the speed up and down during my two miles and sometimes adjust the incline. The treadmill obeys all my requests perfectly and immediately.

Calvin powers up the treadmill. It runs happily at whatever speed or incline he turns it to. Until he steps on—then it stops. If he steps off, it runs again. He calls me, and we adjust the various belt pulleys, etc. It still stops whenever he gets on. So, he asks me to run. I step on and the treadmill runs perfectly for as long as I’m on. Then, he tries. It stops. It also runs perfectly for each of the children, including Luke whose weight is similar to Calvin’s. You might think it’s a glitch, but it’s been doing this for months—ever since Calvin broke its hydraulic arm (see blog post, Son of Samson). Our treadmill is punishing Calvin. “Bad Son of Samson—I won’t work for you anymore.” I wonder if it will ever forget what Calvin did to it. Or is a treadmill like an elephant?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Plagiarism, Classics Style

Since Virgil is dead, and I can’t be sued for libel (slander is spoken, libel is in print—I’m not sure which one a blog falls under, but I’m covered), I’ve decided to speak my mind about The Aeneid. For those of you who don’t know, Virgil wrote the epic poem The Aeneid. Something I’m forcing my children to read, much against their will (imagine me smiling—my kids don’t call me the “mean parent” for nothing).

Caesar Augustus supported the writing of the poem in the hopes that it would revive Roman ideals of self-sacrifice, dedication to the state, etc. Apparently, these ideals had deteriorated, no kidding. Augustus becoming emperor might have contributed to that.

At any rate, Virgil decided that Aeneas from The Iliad was the ancestor to the Romans. Why did he decide that? My guess is propaganda. Anyway, Virgil wrote the poem but died before he finished editing. (That explains some things, doesn’t it?) He directed that the poem be burned after his death (and you thought Emily Dickenson came up with that on her own.). Of course, Augustus wasn’t going to waste all the money he put into getting this epic written so he had it “published.”

Some people think that Virgil wanted it burned because he no longer supported Augustus’ policies. (Others think he wanted it burned because it sucked.) But the real reason—remember, you read it here first—is because he’s such a massive plagiarist.

I mean hello, whole chunks are taken out of Homer’s The Iliad. Compare the “shield scene” of Aeneas in (book 8) with Achilleus’ shield in (book 18, Iliad). Pretty similar. How about Odysseus/Diomedes Raid (Iliad, book 10) with the Nisus/Euryalus Raid (Book 9)? Yep, plagiarism, pure and simple. Granted the Dido episode is quite cool and is a lesson to women everywhere to make sure you’re really married and did not just undergo a fake promise/ceremony.

Yes, yes, I know imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Consider this: Imagine I wrote about a boy who discovers he’s a wizard and goes to wizard high school. But instead of calling him “Harry” I called him “Bob the boy Wizard,” and instead of going to Hogwarts he went to Omaha High School, do you think JK Rowling wouldn’t sue? Of course, she would. And she’d get a whole pile of money because it’s plagiarism! The only reason Virgil didn’t end up in jail in Rome (besides the fact that he was Augustus’ buddy) was that Homer had long since rotted in his grave.

Right now I’m thinking about writing a novel—it’s about a man who tries to sail home after a long battle. But the gods interfere, and in the years it takes to get home, he meets lots of weird creatures, including a Cyclops. I’m thinking of calling it the Long Voyage Home. The title’s not as catchy as The Odyssey, but hey, Homer can’t sue me either.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Murder, Death, and Mayhem

Once a month, we have an open house for college students (anywhere from 10 to 40 students attend). After a time of prayer and food, the games begin. Sometimes we play a game with paper and pens that leads to peals of laughter—I know that’s a bit hard to imagine, but it’s a P2C2E (a process too complicated to explain).

The other game we play is Mafia. Basically, it involves secrecy and killing people. After each death, the people who are still alive (no doubt Sicilian peasants) decide/guess who the guilty party is and kill them. The game has a “narrator” who explains the details of each murder, which are generally more gruesome than your average murder mystery. The chemistry majors always come up with new explosions. The lit people describe in detail how brakes are tampered with and cars drive off the edge of Lookout Mountain. My favorite death last night was “how Dan was disemboweled and strangled with his own intestines.” A long conversation ensued between the biology people about whether someone would survive a disembowelment long enough to be strangled.

I became the subject of a discussion last night when three people were left alive. I tried to convince Stellie that Duncan was the Mafioso, not me. Stellie said, “But, Mrs. Keller, the last time you were the mafia, you killed off your husband and all your children and you looked innocent then too.” She killed me.

I always love it when one of the college students (frequently Karin) gets a call from her parents.

Cellphone rings.
Karin: Hi, Dad/Mom.
Karin: No, I’m at the Kellers.
Karin: We’re playing mafia.
Karin: It’s a game. I’ll explain later.
After she tells them good-bye and hangs up, she says, “My parents don’t understand.”

Eventually, Karin will graduate, and we will meet her parents. How awkward that might be…
Me to Karin’s mom: Hello, it’s so nice to meet you.
Karin’s mom: So, you’re the people who play Mafia.
Me: Uh, yeah.
KM: So, you encourage our children to dream up all manner of murder.
Me: Sort of. But we pray first.
KM (nods)
Me: Karin really likes my salsa. Would you like the recipe?

Here are a couple of pictures.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Son of Samson

My husband and I have been married for almost 21 years. That’s a lot of time—in fact, I was married at 21 so I’ve been married nearly half my life. You’d think I’d be used to all my husband’s endearing (and not so endearing) quirks.

We’ve learned to deal with the clothes-on-the-floor habit. For me, clothes on the floor is the visual equivalent to fingernails on a chalkboard. For Calvin, it’s an old way of life. Normally, all clothes go into the hamper, but occasionally there’s a small pile on his side of the bed where I can’t see it. When I ask him why, he responds, “When I was growing up, my mom was always so busy that I didn’t want to put my clothes into the hamper unless they were completely dirty.” I nod my head. “But, for me, dearest, if clothing lays on the floor it’s only getting wrinkled in which case it has to be washed, dried, and ironed again anyway.” He says, “My mom didn’t iron.” “Yes, sweetheart, but I do.” Then, the clothes begin finding their way back into the hamper again. I can live with this.

However, there is another habit (one I can’t blame on his parents). Calvin breaks things. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate his ability to move anything. He can pick up a hide-away bed couch and carry it on his shoulders. He can rip siding off a house with his bare hands. Honest, I’ve seen him do both these things. And, in Hamden when there was a huge boulder that the trustees couldn’t move, Calvin picked it up and moved it out of the way. This is all good.

There is a down side. He doesn’t know his own strength. He broke the hydraulic support on the treadmill. One day I was trying to lower the running surface of our fold-up treadmill, I found I couldn’t budge it. After time spent inspecting the machine, I found that the hydraulic arm that helps lift the heavy running board up and down was completely bent. When Cal had last used the treadmill, he obviously raised the board without remembering to lower the incline.

Me: Light of my Life, when you ran the treadmill yesterday, did you have any trouble getting the board back up?
Cal: It stuck a bit, but I gave it a push and it went right up.
Me: That “sticking” was a solid steel hydraulic arm that is now bent completely out of shape.
Cal: No. That can’t be.
Me: Check it out, Dude.
Cal (after checking it out): Whoa.
Me: Yeah.

In fact the situation is so bad that the children say to each other, “Don’t ask Daddy to fix it—he’ll break it.”

Yesterday, Calvin came back from a visitation.
Cal: I broke my glasses.
Me (imagining a screw needs to be replaced): Let me fix it.
Cal (pulling the multiple pieces out of his shirt pocket): That’s not going to work.
Me: How did you do that?
Cal: I was playing with Joseph’s dog so I put my glasses in my shirt pocket because I didn’t want to get them scratched.
Me: Right, the dog’s a little terrier, so how did they break?
Cal: I squeezed the dog.
Me: Cal, one of your lenses is broken into three pieces. Is the dog dead?
Cal (laughing): No. I’m not sure how it happened. I just held the dog and flexed my arms.
Me: Oh.
Cal: Are you going to blog about this?
Me: Oh, yeah. If I’ve married the son of Samson, I will blog about this.
(BTW, did you notice I found a way to blame my in-laws.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

This Post is NOT about Tech Support

Apparently, my teenage readers are tiring of my numerous posts about tech support. Hmm. I guess they don’t spend much time dialoguing with Indian trouble shooters. I suppose it’s similar to when I was a teenager and my grandmother couldn’t figure out how to use her microwave or VCR. If I remember correctly, most people over the age of 40 had “12:00” blinking on their VCR all the time. Okay. No more posts on tech support—at least not until tomorrow.

How about a report on something nearer and dearer to teen hearts? How about a personal review of one of my favorite Wii games? I would do Excite Truck since it’s my favorite, but I’ll hold off on that and do my second favorite—Mario Cart. I always play as Yoshi. He is too cute with his bulbous green nose and squeaky voice—it brings out the 16 year old girl who still lives inside of me somewhere. And I always drive the standard motorcycle—I was a very cool 16 year old. (Not really—I actually listened to Big Band music, watched old Hitchcock movies, and tried to get the best grades in my class.)

The best tracks in Mario Cart are NOT Rainbow Road or Bowser’s Castle. In Rainbow Road, I always drive off the road and fall into outer space. (The whole thing doesn’t really work for me because it’s illogical unless the road itself is gravitized.) Bowser’s Castle is another hateful track—either I fall into burning lava and become a Yoshi tiki torch, or I get smashed by some idol-lookalikes that fall from the ceiling. Yeah, I think I have a spiritual objection to Bowser’s Castle.

On the other hand, I like Coconut Mall, despite that fact that I hate shopping. Maybe my local mall could install go carts and jumps. I’d definitely visit more often. And Mushroom Gorge is fun. The colors are psychedelic, and you get to bounce on the mushrooms.
All right, all right. The truth of the matter is that I never, ever win on Rainbow Road or Bowser’s Castle—sometimes I don’t even finish. But I am the Mall/Mushroom Champion. Yep, I get the M&M crown. I think they should send me a bag of M&Ms as a prize. I like the peanut kind, not the plain.


The modem finally arrived. And it only took two days and seven tries before all the software loaded properly and we were connected. (Please note: I did it without the help of Mr. Bob and tech support.) I even got the modem and the router working together. However, I don't yet have the network security enabled. Which means, you guessed it, my neighbors can now piggyback on my network! Turnabout is fair play. Hopefully, Belkin will get back to me in the near future (72 hrs.) and then we'll be password protected. Woohoo.

Of course, this probably means no more homemade croutons. Ariel will be sad.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Trust Mr. Bob

Still no modem. I’m going through withdrawals. Though the house is marginally cleaner and I’m making croutons from scratch. My Luddite tendencies are coming back, especially when I consider how long I’ll be on tech support trying to get the modem, router, wireless printer, and computers all communicating happily again. It’s like an ombudsman for the Hatfields and McCoys. It occurred to me that if Osama bin Laden really wanted to bring the US to its knees, all he had to do is have his operatives infiltrate tech support. It should be fairly easy—Pakistan is next-door neighbor to India. And getting hired is easy. They just need to be able to say, “Hi, my name is Bob, and I am happy to assist you today. What is your problem?”

Fifteen minutes into the conversation, “Bob” would say, “Now, Miss Keller, we are going to access your internal hard drive and delete all files that troubling you. Afterwards, everything will be hunky-dory.”

Me: (very giddy) “Oh, thank you, Mr. Bob.” Halfway into the procedure the monitor would flash up the warning, “Are you sure you want to continue with this? It may cause a complete system failure.”

Me: “Uh, Mr. Bob, do I need to backup up my system?”

Mr. Bob: “Oh, no, Miss Keller, that would be waste of your valuable time. Let me assure me that after we finish this, everything will hunky-dunky.”

I would delete the files.

Mr. Bob: “Now after hang up, you will need to reboot the system? You understand?”

Me: “Oh, yes, Mr. Bob. And thank you so much for your help.”

Mr. Bob: “No problem.”
After hanging up and rebooting, the blue screen of death would pop-up. That’s all it would take. Maybe I should be hoping my modem doesn’t arrive, ever. Nah. I trust Mr. Bob.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Thanks, Neighbor!

This morning while I was drinking coffee and forcing my bleary eyes open, I heard yelps of irritation and mutterings of frustration. Then one by one my breakfast companions stumbled to the table, guzzled their coffee, and announced “I can’t get my email.” Of course, I wasn’t surprised because I couldn’t get mine either. I promised all my mignons and the head honcho that I would ferret out the cause of this internet scourge whilst the mignons (French for "little ones"--I try not to name my children after various cuts of beef) did housework and the head honcho attended a meeting.

I’m sure you all know what this means. First, I unplugged and replugged the router. No change. Then I held the reset button for 15 seconds. Still, the internet flatlined. Next step, unplug, replug, and reset the modem. During this I had to wait for various lights to blink, sparkle and reset themselves. And I explained to Mignon #3 that Mom and Dad’s shower still has mildew and soap scum in the crevices and must be recleaned. Mignon #3 was unhappy.

Now that all the lights had a chance to do their thing, I tried connecting. No dice. So, I rebooted all four computers. Still nada. The frustration level has reached Techno-meltdown levels. I decided it must be time to go the store and buy my Honey a Valentine’s Day gift. So, I unplugged everything in hopes that depriving the electronic boxes of electricity would make them want to behave when I got back—it’s sort of like a “spanking” for computers.

After finding a very cool gift for my sweetheart, I returned home to my cyber-mess. I plugged in the modem. No blinky lights. Not a one. I plugged the modem into different sockets. Still, no green light of life. Time to call tech support. There was an eight minutes wait. At the end of seven, they disconnected me. Oops. I called again. In the middle of the eight minutes wait I told Mignon #3 that he could not play Wii, even with the sound turned off. After eight minutes, I talked to a guy in India who asked me if it was okay if he called me “Miss Keller.” I said, “Yes,” but I thought “you can call me Bob the builder if you can make my modem work.”

I ran through the litany of problems. After which, he said, imagine a heavy Indian/Pakistani accent, “Miss Keller, logic would dictate that you try plugging it into different outlets.” I opened my mouth to say, “As I explained, that was amongst the first things I did.” But before I did, he said, “But since you already did that, I think what you have is a complete modem hardward failure.”

Two minutes later, I found out that my modem was not under warranty. No duh—when is anything under warranty any more? After some wheeling and dealing, he promised me a free modem, which he was overnighting to me and would arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday (today’s Saturday, so over-night is clearly a euphemism).

We politely said good-bye, happy to be done with each other. Most likely, he went to help another customer, and I went and took some Aleve to deal with my techno-headache cum migraine. I told myself that at least this could be turned into a blog post, assuming I can hijack (though I prefer to think of it as “piggybacking”) a neighbor’s unsecured wireless connection. So if you’re reading this, thank my neighbor.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mason-Dixon Food

Three years ago if you asked my children “What are greens?” They would have stared at you and said, “You mean like pea green or sea foam green?” Okay, only Ariel would have known that sea foam green is a color, but you get what I’m trying to say. My kids were Northern children and would have had no idea that you were asking them about food. If you made it clear to them that it was a vegetable discussion, they might have come up with broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, lettuce, and maybe even bok choy. But that would have been it.

One of our trips to Walmart brought it home to me.

Keller child, pointing to vegetable bin: Mom, what’s that?
Me, reading bin label: Mustard greens.
Keller kid, pointing to another bin: And that?
Me: Uh, Collard greens
Keller kid: And those weird things?
Me: Well, it looks sort of like kale, but the bin says “turnip greens.”
Keller kid: So, people actually eat that?
Me: Apparently.
Keller kid: In a salad?
Me: No, they cook them
Keller kid: Why?
Me: (shrug)
Keller kid: What do they taste like?
Me: No earthly idea.
Keller kid: They look gross.
Me: Yep—another reason to be thankful you eat at our house.

In our home, we tend to eat things that aren’t leftover when the plant has already been harvested for something else like turnips or mustard. (Though in all honesty, I don’t really know that mustard greens are what’s left over when you harvest mustard seeds.) But it seems like a good excuse to me.

The rest of the kids came in contact with “greens” when the church was collecting food for poor families in the neighborhood. Big baskets were left on a table at church, and members contributed to the baskets. My children were looking through the baskets and came across big cans of “greens.”

Keller kid, holding up a can of greens (not the one who accompanied me to Walmart): What is this?
Me: Greens.
KK: People eat this stuff?
Me: Some people.
KK: I thought you always said we were supposed to give the best of what we had to the Lord, instead of the stuff we wanted to get rid of.
(At this point a Southern church member gets involved.)
Church member: Honey, haven’t you ever had greens before?
KK: No.
Church member: Connie, you’ve had greens before, right?
Me: Nope.
Church Member: They’re delicious.
Me and KK, trying to humor obviously crazed church member: Really?
Church member: Yes.
Me: I think we’ll be sticking to salad and corn with our turkey.
Church member, feeling sorry for my deprived family: Oh.

I also don’t do yams/sweet potatoes/rutabagas/black-eyed peas. I have been known to eat hush puppies and lacey corn bread—but that’s the whole fat, flour, salt thing. Some people have tried to convince me that greens are cooked in fat, salt, etc., but I’m not buying it. I’ll stick to bok choy with green curry sauce.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Corporate Economic Stimulus Package

Why can’t I buy things that are made to last? I realize planned obsolescence is a given ideal in our society, but can’t manufacturers at least pretend to make a product that functions beyond the warranty, which never seems to apply to whatever goes wrong with your appliance?

They ought to be able to. Manufacturers have in the past. For example, I have my grandmother’s sewing machine. It was built in the 1920s and still works great. But the vacuum cleaner that I bought 2 ½ years ago and to be replaced three weeks ago—and that’s after I replaced the rotator brush, which was not under warranty, a year ago. And I actually maintain my equipment. I oil the bearings, change the belts/filters and clean the brushes and the tubes. Why do I bother to do this? It clearly doesn’t prolong the life of the junk that large corporations foist on unsuspecting consumers like me. I suppose one could argue that a family of six probably uses a vacuum more times a week than is planned for by the manufacturers. That may be true.

But what about our microwave, which had to be replaced today? We’re not big “microwave people.” I cook on the stove or in the oven. I never, ever buy microwavable meals. I even heat water for my tea on the stove. Despite this, my underused microwave caught fire. No, a teenage Keller did not put a metal object in the microwave. Instead the internal circuitry caught fire and burned itself into a charred mess that necessitated open doors and fans. Since we have had this microwave for only 2 ½ years (our previous microwave lasted 17 years), one might argue that we bought a lemon. Except that friends of ours have the same microwave, and it makes the same unusual noises that ours did before it expired. (Imagine electrical sounds of torture and mutilation combined with the suspicious sounds of internal arcing and the bass rumble of bassoon). Of course, theirs has not committed suicide by self-immolation. At least, not yet.

But I don’t think these disposable appliances are meant to serve the consumer, at least not for any length of time. What’s really going on is that rotten appliances are undercover corporate manufacturing’s answer to the “stimulus package.” (Clearly the current federal stimulus package is only another governmental cart-and-pony show where “elected” officials “donate” money stolen from the citizens to give to their lobbyist buddies.) What we should learn from this is that if companies who make crummy products can’t balance their books, maybe they should go under. And then, just maybe I could buy a product that would really last, maybe something like my grandmother’s sewing machine, which is almost 100 years old and still can stitch a beautiful seam.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Mold, the Way It Was Meant to Be

What is it about salt, fat, and flour? Why is that so yummy? Why can’t beets, or spinach or even cauliflower taste like that?

Last night I made a roast (I got one on sale last week). I coated it with a spice rub and served it with Yorkshire pudding and a homemade horseradish sauce. Okay, I made peas too—you gotta have a vegetable. But I didn’t eat any, just cut me another piece of Yorkshire pudding (it’s flour, salt, eggs, and milk baked in roast drippings) and serve me another dollop of horseradish sauce.

The horseradish sauce is made from sour cream, lemon juice, paprika, salt, and freshly grated horseradish. Of course, I didn’t tell my daughter that I had to scrape off mold before I could peel the horseradish until after she’d eaten it. Deceptive? Not really—I just didn’t want her prejudices getting in the way. And I think the experience confirms what my French friend Suzie says. This is a vague quote since I can’t remember her exact words, which I’m sure would sound even better in French: “If you don’t have to scrape the mold off something for the meal, it’s probably not worth eating.”

After Ariel found out that mold was involved with the meal, she became philosophical. She doesn’t quite agree with Suzie’s assessment, but she was willing to admit that mold probably wouldn’t deign to grow on American cheese or bologna, which Ariel believes are food scourges on the country. I agree.

Maybe we could start a Ban the Bologna protest, or hold an Ax American Cheese demonstration. Though I’d probably alienate most children, and then I wouldn’t have the pleasure of introducing them to mold. Come to the Kellers and experience mold the way it was created to be enjoyed. Yum.

Monday, February 2, 2009

What's Your Fitness Age?

Our family got its final Christmas present today—Wii fitness. For those of you who have never used one, let’s just says it’s pretty cool. (Nintendo can send me a check any time they want to.) It focuses on five aspects of health: weight, aerobic exercise, balance, strength, and yoga. First it measures your body mass index. That went well. My weight is great for my age and height. Then, it checked my agility and balance. It gave me a “Wii Fit Age” of 47! That’s much older than I am—that’s Calvin’s age.

Needless to say, Calvin and the kids thought this was absolutely hilarious. I didn’t. Especially when the Wii said things like: “Do you fall walking down the street?” (No kidding!) Electronic insults are not something I need. It also said, “Agility is not your strength, do you feel unbalanced?” Hmmm, is that physical or mental balance? Perhaps their next Wii “game” will be Wii psychotherapist…“I see, explain what you mean by rip out my circuitry and feed it to your dog.”

Of course, I couldn’t accept my Wii fitness age. So, I did their training exercises. I rediscovered my center, apparently I lost it sometimes after my years of ballet and jazz dance in college. I also found out that yoga is my thing. I was rated “yoga trainer” on “The Tree” movement. I’m not sure if I’m an oak or a maple, but as long as I’m not a magnolia it works for me.

I also did ski jumping, running, slalom, tightrope walking (I fell to my death) and table balancing, which is rather like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. After all this, I had my Wii age reevaluated. This time I scored 35. Yep, I now have the agility, balance, and all-around health of a 35 year old. Twenty minutes of hard Wii work took 12 years off my age. It’s truly an amazing product. Either that, or I figured out how to use the Wii balance board. Nah. I think I took 12 years off.

This is me doing “The Tree.”