Thursday, September 30, 2010

More Common Household Dinner Conversation

You can judge for yourself how much headway I am making in training my children to speak about proper topics at the dinner table. 

As we all know from the movie “Sense and Sensibility” the two appropriate topics for conversation in polite society are The Roads and The Weather.

We do talk about travel during dinner:
Youngest Daughter:  “Our city has the most bridges of any city in the U.S.”
Husband:  “But how many of those bridges actually carry traffic?”
Youngest Daughter:  “Only one. The others are just for terrestrials.”

Oldest Daughter:  “Is there a place we can go to have free yoga classes?”
Husband:  “Yeah.  It’s called India.”

Husband:  “The next lesson in physics will be to land the lunar module on the moon.”
Son, dismissively: “I did that last year.”
(He did, in a simulation.)

* * * * *

Sometimes there are lessons in logic:
Me:  “It looks like we have to go to the store. We’re running out of milk.”
Son:  “Don’t we have a cow?”
Me:  (nasty look)
Son:  “If we had a cow we could also have hamburgers!”
Me:  “But then we wouldn’t be getting milk from that cow any more.”

* * * * *

Usually the dinner conversation reverts to the fun topics that arise when scientists and their progeny are around.  The first three tidbits all come from the same evening.

Friend of Son: “Early humans ate the marrow from the legs of dead animals!”
Son: “I think primitive humans ate grubs.”
(Or maybe it was my husband who said that.  I was too disgusted by the first comment to notice who said the second.)

Youngest Daughter: “Did you know that a potato has the same number of chromosomes as a human?”
(I am not quite sure this is correct.  But it could explain the existence of Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head.)

Someone brought up the fact that humans have a large number of symbiotic bacteria living in their bodies, making us more like a colony of animals than a single organism.  I said, “So we are more like the Portuguese man-of-war than we would have thought?”  The reply:  “But we don’t eat fish with tubes that stick out of our bodies.”  I admit that one was my fault, for bringing up the Portuguese man-of-war.

We were at dinner, discussing Youngest Daughter’s field trip, where she did science exploration of the river water.  She was describing what she saw in the river mud, but it wasn’t gross enough for her sister.  Oldest Daughter asked, “What about leeches?  And worms that crawl into your body through your fingers?  And through your nose?” 
I protested, “We’re still eating dinner here.”
Then a few minutes later I asked my Son to describe the cybersurgery activity he was planning to attend.  It actually is a pretty tame topic, since it is just a simulation.  But Oldest Daughter couldn’t take it, despite having dished it out earlier, and said, “Oh, please, let’s not talk about surgery! That’s disgusting!”

Youngest Daughter:  “According to cannibals, humans taste like chicken.”

I think they are not quite ready to dine with The Queen.  Or perhaps I should say that The Queen is not ready to dine with them.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

An Apple Dessert A Day

It’s fall, and that means apples!  On Saturday I picked up about 500 apples from the front yard.  Despite my propensity to collect data and count things, this number is an estimate, based on how much my legs still hurt 6 hours later.  I collected 6 bags of apples to be thrown away.

The real reason I harvested the apples was not to count them, but because my husband wanted to mow the lawn one last time. The apples on the ground were covered with dead leaves, and so walking on them would have been like walking on a floor covered with marbles obscured by napkins.  Add a lawnmower to that, and it’s a volatile mix, pretty much ensuring a visit to the hospital.  Thanks to my efforts, which will most likely go unrecognized, there was no hospital visit that day.

I kept some apples which looked to be in pretty good shape in the hopes of making apple crisp.  I do this because it makes me feel like the Original Pioneer Suburban Housewife, baking from the ingredients I raise here on my farm.  Kind of like I feel after manually shoveling 2 feet of snow off the driveway, or battling icicles, only less sore.

Another reason to harvest and use the apples is a bit sadder.  This apple tree, if it had legs, would be on its last ones.  Last year we had to cut off numerous dead branches. It bore a large amount of fruit this year, perhaps as its last hurrah.  It even has some fruit on branches that are now dead.  There is probably some sort of theological metaphor there, but I don’t know what it is so you will have to make up your own. 

These are not the genetically enhanced gigundo apples you can buy at the grocery. We do not spray any chemicals on this tree, so the fruit is small and likely to provide a haven for insects and dessert for chipmunks.  It takes about 5 of these apples to make one cup, peeled and sliced.

On Sunday I made apple crisp, which was quite popular. Yesterday I tried my hand at apple upside-down cake.  We’ll find out if it’s a good idea to just substitute apple slices for pineapple in the pineapple upside-down cake recipe.  Tomorrow, will it be apple pie?

Thanks, Apple Tree!


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Department of Home Security

One morning this summer, I came downstairs for breakfast and found this sign posted on the inside of the front door, right where everyone could see it as they came down the stairs.

P u b l i c
You will acually be asked to sign first
A n o u n c m e n t

I am searching for people to be spies.  Come to the room of the little one when the flute rings an old tune.  There, you will greet me, learn the rules of spying, and, if you still wish to join, sign the document of secrecy.  Come and join!
P u b l i c
You will actually be asked to sign first
A n o u n c m e n t

On the other side of the paper was this:

Document of Secrecy

I do hereby swear that all
 activities, notes, sayings, and
 everything generally done in being a
 spy will be kept in utmost secrecy.

I, ________________, do solemnly swear.
I, ________________, do solemnly swear.
I, ________________, do solemnly swear.

Note: If you break this solemn
 swear, you shall be punished
 severely.  You shall have no screen
 time and no desserts, or any
 kind of sweet food, for a week.

Pigpen code:  .....

Three people signed the secrecy document, although I do not recognize any of the names there. I wonder who they are spying on?  At least now I know what constitutes a severe punishment around here.

I feel safer already.  Don’t you?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ingredients for a sweet new year

Challah and grape juice/wine:

Apples and honey:

Tall candles:

Jewish bacon:

Add family, and you're all set.  
Happy Rosh Hashanah to All

Friday, September 10, 2010

Early Fall, Cloudless Blue Sky

In memory of the Falkenberg family.

On Sep 11, 2001 I was home with my 2-year-old daughter, cheerfully going about my day, when the news began to filter through about the planes hitting the World Trade Center.  After a bit, I couldn’t stand being by myself any more, so we went up to my neighbor’s house, where she was with her small kids.  They had the TV news on the whole time.  The news reports were confused and sometimes conflicting.   They kept playing the same tragic video scenes over and over.  My neighbor’s 5-year-old son understood enough to know that something horrible was happening, but it was impossible to explain. 

Eventually I decided that subjecting myself and my 2-year-old to the constant barrage of news was doing neither of us any good, so we went home.  I knew my other 2 kids were safe at school, but by about 2 PM I decided I just had to have them at home with me.  There are times when the need to just be with your own family is overwhelming.  So I was one of those foolish parents who picked their kids up at school.  Not from fear, but just from my own need to have them near me. 

I later found out that an entire family, my brother’s dear friends, were killed on the plane at the Pentagon that day.  The parents were Leslie Whittington and Charlie Falkenberg, traveling with their children Dana and Zoe.  Dana was 3 years old and Zoe was 8 years old.    Leslie was a university professor going to Australia for a sabbatical, and Charlie and the children were going along for the semester.  These precious girls were the same age as my children.  I still weep when I think of the fear those poor girls must have felt.  

That day there was a cloudless blue sky with the warm temperature of early fall.  Since then, that kind of day brings me a tinge of sadness, because it reminds me of that day and the loss and fear that it has brought us.   

For every perfect blue-sky cloudless fall day, I offer these words:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  (Romans 8:21)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Happy New Year! Let's Talk About Human Sacrifice!

Perhaps faith should be redefined as being able to love God even after reading Genesis 22: 1-14. This scripture passage, “The Binding of Isaac,” always puts me on edge.  This is the passage traditionally read at the Rosh Hashanah holiday.  Which starts tonight.  Happy New Year!  Let’s read how Abraham nearly sacrificed his son!  Hooray!

It just so happens that this was the topic of the sermon this past Sunday at church.  I’ve studied it before, and always leave it behind without being able to say, “Oh, now I understand.”  There are only two lessons I can truly claim to get from this passage:  1) God is inscrutable and 2) Life contains paradox.  It is difficult for me to say that the nature of God revealed in this passage is one I can claim to want to worship and adore.   

The basic story: God decides to test Abraham, and tells him to take his son Isaac to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him there.  Abraham binds Isaac as a sacrificial animal, raises the knife to kill Isaac, and at that moment God stops Abraham.  There is a ram nearby and Abraham sacrifices the ram instead of Isaac.

Our pastor quoted John Chrysostom as saying that in this passage, the command of God conflicted with another command of God.  The pastor didn’t spell out which commands, but I’m guessing they are 
     a) You shall have no other gods before me = Obey me, versus 
     b) Do not murder.  
“The faith was fighting against the faith.”  There is the paradox.  I agree – this passage is an unsolvable conundrum to me.  And that is true of many things in life.

Why did God test Abraham?  I have heard the pastor say in a previous sermon that God wanted to test Abraham, not to prove something to God, but to prove to Abraham himself that Abraham had the necessary faith.  Some scholars say that this was God’s way of driving home the point that the Hebrews were not to engage in child sacrifice.  My father conjectures in his commentary on Genesis that God needed to know if Abraham had faith in God just because of what God had promised him (descendants and land), that is, for the reward, or if he would remain faithful even without the prospect of such a reward.  (If Abraham kills Isaac, then there will be no descendants.)  This Sunday our pastor said that the test is not a pass/fail test, but more like a test pilot taking the airplane out to find out what the limits of the plane are. 

Perhaps these are good explanations, but they still don’t sit well with me.  Of course, nobody said that we have to like scripture.  If that were the case, scripture would probably look more like a Hallmark card.  That would be equally awful in the other direction.

There is a glaring inconsistency in the text, which the pastor did not mention.  Often in church we don’t notice these Biblical inconsistencies because we only read one snippet of scripture.  The part we read says, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love...” (Gen 22:2). But from our study of Genesis two years ago, we know that Isaac is not Abraham’s only son.  Ishmael supposedly was 14 years old when Isaac was born.  Does Ishmael not count as Abe’s son any more because 
     a) he has been banished  or
     b) his mother is just a slave-girl   or
     c) he is considered a man because of his age   or
     d) the inheritance will not be passed on through him.  
Maybe these reasons passed muster to the ancient tribes hearing this story while sitting around the campfire, but they offend my modern sensibilities of how a father’s love is supposed to work.

The pastor tried to convince us that in this story everything turns out peachy keen at the end.  Abraham doesn’t sacrifice Isaac, and so everybody is happy (except the ram).  I say, not so.  I think Isaac would have been one messed up dude after this near-death experience. 

So this Presbyterian enters the Jewish New Year hoping and believing, against all the evidence I see in this passage, in a compassionate, merciful, and loving God.  And may we show those qualities, as parents, to our own children in the coming year.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


I claim that I love to read.  But lately I find myself unable to finish many of the books I start.  I’m rather sensitive, so usually I find novels by current authors too traumatic or scary.  For instance a few years ago it was all the rage to read The Shack, but once my mother told me what it was about, I knew I wouldn’t be cracking that book open.  I did finish The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield, but it was agony for me.  The only thing that kept me going was being able to recognize the author’s tribute to the Bronte sisters’ novels.   Maybe I should just go back to reading 19th century novels and children’s books.  Except sometimes even those books fail me.

Here are some books I thought I would find fascinating, but gave up on.  Are there any books that you have finished and can recommend?

Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East, by Deborah Amos. –  My son, noting that the word “eclipse” usually goes with the word “sun”, insisted on calling it “Eclipse of the Sunnies.”   This book is anything but sunny. It’s about Iraqis after the beginning of the US war there in 2003. Many Iraqis had to leave their country to save their lives. The book describes in detail how difficult it is for them as refugees in Jordan and other places. It was too depressing for me to read any more. 

Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi – too disjointed.  The chapters alternate between the obvious and the obscure.  The author spends a whole chapter pointing out that people send e-mails during short bursts of time – nothing earth-shattering about that.  Then he takes us back to an obscure event in Hungarian history.  I suppose if I had finished the book I might have found out how that event was related to the theme of the book.  When I was in 11th grade English class, my teacher taught me that when writing an essay, the writer must make it clear how each paragraph relates to the central theme of the essay.  Doesn’t happen in this book.

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey – This was recommended by NPR, but it was too crude for me, although funny at times.  By the middle of the book, they hadn’t even gotten to America yet.  I think I would be better off reading Alexis de Tocqueville himself, instead of this spoof.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire – By the end of the third chapter, I just couldn’t sympathize with any of the characters.  I suppose that’s true to life – we all have faults that make us unsympathetic in some way. When I’m reading a novel, though, I want to have someone to root for.  I read enough novels starring the "anti-hero" in college. 

Emma, by Jane Austen – I have tried twice to read this book, but I found the central character to be an annoying ninny.  I loved two other books by Austen – Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility.  What gives with Emma?

The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander.  When I was a girl, I LOVED this book.  I started to re-read it, with the hopes of recommending it to my 11-year-old daughter.  This time around it gave me nightmares!  Admittedly, I read it after an evening of discussing the bedbug plague that is rampant in some US cities (not ours, not yet).  The title refers to a magic cauldron that gives birth to undead soldiers.  Too scary.  Add to that the idea of bedbugs, and it’s just Nightmare City.  Check your mattresses. Now.

The Bible – I tried the “read through the Bible in a year” gig, but broke down in Leviticus.  I retained almost nothing of the parts I did read. The experience convinced me that it is a waste of time to read the Bible without actually studying it.  Now I am in a good Bible study with a group of people who like to read, study, and discuss the text. That’s the way to do it.  Quality over quantity.