Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Trying to Understand the Modern World

Cost: about $3.50 or so

In the Common Household, we spend our days trying to understand technology, the younger generation, and life in general.

The Common Household Husband saw this headline in the newspaper, one day back in February:

Pitt to buy former Syria Mosque property from UPMC for $10 million

He said to me, “The university is buying a mosque.  Does this mean the university does not have to maintain a prayer room any more?”
I said, “That is not actually a mosque.  It’s an entertainment venue.”

That left him speechless, as he considered how a building called a mosque would be an entertainment venue.  But it was.  Because this is Pittsburgh.

Then he reading the headlines further.  There was an article about Kennywood Amusement Park.
Husband:  “There’s a new whale entrance at Kennywood.”
Me:  “That’s inexplicable.”
Husband:  “Look, if whales want to go to Kennywood, they need a way to get in.  There will be no discrimination against whales here.  Equal entry for all….. I wonder what kind of railings they are going to use.”

* * * * *

The bank decided to do away with its coin-counting machine.  This made me sad.
Me:  You know, Older Daughter and Son’s generation doesn’t even use actual money.
Husband:    That’s because they don’t have any money.

* * * * *

I texted Son, because I was trying to figure out what clothes I might get for him for his birthday.  (Never mind that he did not want clothes for his birthday. A mother wants her son to be properly dressed in the work world.)

I was left to wonder exactly what the current generation wears under their lab coats.

* * * * *

Younger Daughter took the SAT recently.  The night before, I was frantically searching to find out what time the test started.
Me:  (searching fruitlessly on the internet) “I can’t find the information that says what time the SAT starts tomorrow.”
Husband:    “Let’s try to find out this way.”  (asks Siri)  “What time does the SAT start?”
Siri:  “That’s an interesting question, Dad.”

* * * * *

Husband:    “When I was a kid an ice cream cone cost 50 cents.”
Younger Daughter: “That was back when the penny mattered.”
Husband:     “That's low.”
The fact is that 50 cents in 1970 equates to about the current price of an ice cream cone.  So we have no right to grouse.  And the ice cream is probably better now than it was then.

* * * * *

Husband:     “So Younger Daughter has no school on Columbus Day?”
Me: “I think it should be called Indigenous People's Day.”
Husband:    “How about Endogenous People's Day?”
Me:  “You mean for people who are beside themselves?”

* * * * *

I will leave you to look up the meaning of “endogenous” which does not mean “beside oneself.”  I will be beside myself for the next twenty days, at least, as I try to understand the modern world.  Right now it seems incomprehensible.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Another photo theme, this time from Carmi at Written, Inc.

The theme is "Screens."

Screens are what come into use when teenage boys are forced to attend a dance recital.  
My son and his friend at a Mother's Day Indian Dance recital.
I loved the recital.  The boys tolerated it.

Or when they are forced to attend any family function.
Two red-shirted cousins at some family gathering.

Screens keep creatures in or out.

Inside looking out through the screen, on a snowy day.

Snow leopard on the other side of the screen.

Screening process at Younger Daughter's door.
Extreme vetting in effect here.

Radiator screen, perfect for the family cat.

To see the other entries in this photo theme, go to Carmi's blog here.
To see my photo theme of "Trees" from last week, go here.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Autumn at the Old Folks' Home

Autumn at the local park

Miniature painting, by Older Daughter


My sweet little acorn (Younger Daughter)

View over the roof of the high school
A recent morning in the park

Tree creature

Tree creature

Tree creature

Tree creatures

Phalanx of trees colored in burnt sienna

Autumn on the PA Turnpike

Looking up

Our apple tree, of blessed memory

I thought I would pick a theme and post some of my photos on that theme, just to cheer myself up.  My theme for today is "Tree" because trees are strong and amazing and beautiful and fractal.

This post is now linked to Carmi's Photographic theme "Autumn".  Go here for other people's posts.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

For All Sorts and Conditions

I have recently found renewed solace and challenge in prayer. 

Some situations are harder to pray about than others, and for those situations, it can help me to turn to pre-written prayers.  I went looking in the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer.

Here are some snippets of prayer I found which seem pertinent today, despite the archaic language.

2. For All Sorts and Conditions of Men

O God, the creator and preserver of all mankind, we humbly
beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou
wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy
saving health unto all nations. …We commend to thy fatherly goodness all those who are in any ways afflicted or distressed,
in mind, body, or estate; [especially those for whom our prayers
are desired]; that it may please thee to comfort and relieve
them according to their several necessities, giving them patience
under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their
afflictions. And this we beg for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.

I could only laugh when I read the title of this prayer: For All Sorts and Conditions of Men.  Right now it’s rather hard to pray for all sorts and conditions of men, given the ugly, despicable, and felonious behaviors described this week, behaviors carried out, excused, and/or condoned by self-entitled men against many women everywhere and through all time.  

I find it particularly difficult to pray for the third-grade bully who is running for President of the United Bleeping States of America.  I have found that man’s actions and speech to be offensive long before now.  It only shows how low our human condition is that only now, when he has mocked and degraded fully half of the electorate, are some people able to say they will no longer support him.

No doubt the original writers of this prayer wished to include all humankind, both men and women, in their terminology “all sorts and conditions of men” and “mankind.”  And if pressed, those writers might also acknowledge that God’s goodness is not just described by a masculine adjective such as “fatherly.”

Where I am not able to forgive, God is.  This is grace.  So I am moved to at least forgive the male-centered language and pray this prayer for all sorts and conditions of us, humans, including myself and my own grievous faults.   May there be a happy issue out of our national and personal afflictions.

However, I believe it is right to call out those who claim to be Christians and also condone words and actions of assault against women.  See Rachel Held Evans' facebook page (Oct 9, 2016 post), and this article by Carol Howard Merritt at The Christian Century.

No, women should not be “revered” (as the Speaker of the House said) but rather respected as equal human beings.  Those Christian leaders who have excused words of assault against women as “boys will be boys” are also likely to be people who see no value in gender-neutral language about God.  Words matter, folks.  Must we always use the pronouns “He” and “His” to refer to God?  Try substituting “God” and “God’s” or “She” and “Hers” sometimes.

Here is another snippet from the Book of Common Prayer.

3. For the Human Family

O God, … Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth… through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.

I do pray that God will take away the hatred which currently infects my heart.  Because it’s likely to eat me alive.

These and many other worthy, if archaically phrased, prayers can be found at

in the “Prayers and Thanksgivings” section. I like that those title words are plural.  One of my thanksgivings is that most men in my life have been upright, humble, kind, honorable, and courteous men. 

Anniversary roses from an honorable man

Monday, October 3, 2016

First lines: September edition

It seems appropriate to have another edition of “First Lines” as the Jewish New Year rolls around.  During the next ten days, Jews metaphorically request to be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.  I have never seen the Book of Life, but I am very fortunate to have a life with books.  

Here are the first lines of the seven books I completed reading in September.

Book #1
Standing on the battlements in his pajamas, Balthazar Jones looked out across the Thames where Henry III’s polar bear had once fished for salmon while tied to a rope.

Book #2
In the Law and the Prophets, God reaches out to man.  The initiative is His.  The message is His.  He communicates, we receive.  Our God-given free will allows us to be receptive, to be accepting, to turn a deaf ear, to reject.  In the Psalms, human beings reach out to God.  The initiative is human.  The language is human.  We make an effort to communicate. 

Book #3
As a child, I had a number of strong religious beliefs but little faith in God. There is a distinction between belief in a set of propositions and a faith which enables us to put our trust in them.

Book #4
A Spectacle in the Hotel de Bourgogne
1640.  The great hall of the hotel, an indoor tennis court redecorated as a theatre.

Book #5
In February 1896, Mark Twain – pilot of the Mississippi River, whitewasher of American fences – was just about to board a tiny six-seat open railroad car in the Himalayan mountains in India.  He was circling the world with his wife and daughter, entertaining English-speaking audiences because he needed to make a lot of money in a hurry to pay off debts from bad investments.

Book #6
Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear.  Of course no childhood is without its terrors, yet I wonder if I would have been a less frightened boy if Lindbergh hadn’t been president or if I hadn’t been the offspring of Jews.

Book #7
I believe in ghosts.  They’re the ones who haunt us, the ones who have left us behind.  Many times in my life I have felt them around me, observing, witnessing, when no one in the living world knew or cared what happened.
            I am ninety-one years old, and almost everyone who was once in my life is now a ghost.

* * * * * * * *

Here are the titles and authors.  

Book #1
The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise, by Julia Stuart
This was an enjoyable book, with some funny and outrageously ridiculous spots.  There is an undercurrent of sadness which keeps the book from descending into utter silliness.  Part of the book takes place in that tourist attraction known as The Tower of London.  My favorite scenes took place in the London Underground’s Lost Property Office.  Look for a cameo appearance of Dustin Hoffman.

Book #2
On the Book of Psalms: Exploring the Prayers of Ancient Israel, by Nahum M. Sarna
This book gets into some interesting (to me) exegesis of some of the Psalms.

Book #3
A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, by Karen Armstrong
This book seemed to be about a thousand pages long, which I guess is appropriate for a history of an eternal dude. The gist of the book was that monotheistic religions operate like a pendulum, with the primary religious thinkers swinging from mysticism to rationalism and back again.  I could have learned a lot from this book – it seems to contain enough material for an entire college course – but I was reading it for book club (we have a very special book club) and I had to read it too quickly.  Normally I would enjoy a book on this topic, but not this one.  The main impression I was left with is that while some of us might seek the approval of a Divine Being, it is impossible to gain the approval of Karen Armstrong.

Book #4
Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand (read out loud with Younger Daughter).
Translated by Lowell Bair (I think). 
This was our second time reading this play. A guy with a long nose and proficiency with words and swords falls in love with a ditsy girl who is in turn in love with a regular guy soldier who has no skill with words.  Many puns, exclamations about French lit, and sword fights ensue.

Book #5
Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain’s Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour, by Richard Zacks
Massive debts force Mark Twain to undertake a world speaking tour to earn money.  Twain was a curmudgeon of the first order, and his views on travel and the cultures he encountered are fascinating.  He also experienced deep heartache during this time of his life.

Twain named his dogs “I Know”, “You Know” and “Don’t Know”.  The book has photos, including this one of Twain being a pest.  I enjoyed this book a lot. 
Caption: An irritated Twain demanded his lecture
 agent "travel" him along the platform in
Crookston, Minnesota, since the predawn
train was more than an hour late.

Book #6
The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth
Terrifyingly reminds me of this year’s presidential election.  Read it.  
A style warning: One Roth sentence can encompass several hundred years, forcing the reader to go back to the start of the sentence to remember what was going on at the beginning.

Book #7
Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline
This is the story of two orphans, one an Irish immigrant to the US who is sent on the ‘orphan train’ to Minnesota in 1929.  The other orphan is a teen in foster care in 2011.  The writing is unremarkable, but it’s a good story, if predictable. Except for one scene, it could be a Young Adult novel. I really liked the characters.

* * * * * * * *

This post was brought to you by Manischewitz Concord Grape wine, of which I downed an entire glass before I wrote the post.  Happy new year, indeed.