Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving Survey: Language

Thanksgiving survey:

While you are waiting for your pies to finish baking, why not take part in the annual Common Household Thanksgiving survey?!  Three easy questions.

1. Name a language which you do not speak, but for which you are grateful, and explain why.

2. What is your favorite word that you associate with Thanksgiving Day?

3.  What is your favorite word in a language that is not your native tongue?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Little Challah That Could

It is well known that in the Common Household family extension on the Jewish side, size matters.

(For proof, please see my previous posts Do Your Balls Measure Up?  and Size of Balls Does Matter.)

On Sunday a week ago, a group of three women, including me, spent four hours braiding and baking 24 mini-challahs, to have on hand for Shabbat services and shiva minyans when needed. 

Since you’re asking, each mini-challah was approximately ten inches long, with a diameter of about three inches.  A normal-sized challah is maybe four times larger.

I was able to bring one challah home for the Common Household to enjoy.  When my husband saw it, he said, “Oh, what a cute little challah…. Wait, you spent FOUR HOURS making that tiny challah?  If I had know you were going to make a challah the size of a toothpick, I would have bought more bread at the store this morning.”

Some of our challah loaves seemed to come out of the oven with personalities.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
This one is called Moses, because it has horns.
(Biblical scholars will know that this
is based on a  mistranslation, but once
people get an image in their heads it
just won't go away.)


Already, the rabbi has taken one of our challahs to someone who just returned home from the hospital.  Last week I felt that my heart had shrunk to the size of a shriveled pea, but knowing that our little challah has welcomed someone home has made my heart just a little bit larger.

The recipe for challah is here, at the end of the post.

Mathematically-minded readers will notice that there are
 only 23 challah loaves here.  We had
 to test the product, of course.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Tarnished Silver Lining

So.  Philip Roth’s dream has come true.  Lindbergh has been elected president of the United States, and has appointed Henry Ford as his right hand man.  Just in case you haven’t read the book, Roth’s dream is a nightmare.

On Thursday, a week ago, we awoke to gloomy weather.  I attempted the following grief therapy:
- walked with my friend for an hour

- called about our health insurance, to find out if our daughter can remain on our plan after Jan 21st.  Broke down in sobs.  No answer because the health insurance provide does not make policy.

- called my pastor. She mainly listened to me sob, and then said some helpful things, mainly that this is a time to examine what are the values that Jesus espoused, and it’s time to stand up for what is right.   

- finished reupholstering the kitchen chairs, as part of my program of heavy labor. 

Thursday was when I recognized that I had something to be glad about.

I was (and still am) glad that Hillary Clinton did not win the presidency.

Because she did not win the presidency, we have averted civil war for about four years.  We only have our imaginations to go on, but can you imagine what would have happened had she won? I imagine repeats of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge armed occupation, only all throughout the country.  I imagine that the reports of ugly harassment and bigotry would be happening (as they are actually happening).  I imagine a complete breakdown of government, with the Grand Obstructionist Party refusing to confirm even one Supreme Court justice appointment. Even the hitherto respectable John McCain was threatening this.  Because she did not win, the first woman presidency does not have to be sullied by dealing with an opposition party that loves itself and its power more than its country.  But that’s just my imagination, which gets more cynical by the minute.

How many empty seats would there be on the Supreme Court?

Another thing that happened Thursday was that I became completely disgusted with what I had on my reading list.  Just before the election, I raced through Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, by Arlie Russell Hochschild, because I was trying to understand people who are not like me.    I was reading If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran, by Carla Power, because I was trying to understand people who are not like me.  I had started The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones, because I was trying to understand people with whom I ostensibly have something in common.

I also had several novels on my reading list.  News of the World, by Paulette Jiles.  Arcadia, by Lauren Groff, about a bunch of hippie communists in upstate New York. Faith by Jennifer Haigh – something about bad priests.  I completely lost interest in all of them.

On Thursday, I said, fuck it.  Why should I spend my time and mental energy trying to understand anybody?  Nobody is very interested in understanding me. It’s every man for himself in this new Escher world.  (It’s now a week later, and I might be revising my view on the issue of trying to understand others.  Maybe.)

A feeling developed that I simply could not trust anyone.   

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Narrow Bridge

All the world is but a narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be afraid.
-Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav

This is the 20,000th blog post I have written this week, but the first one to make it onto the page.

I have jumped off the cliff, and am in freefall.  The only thing keeping me remotely near sanity is physical labor.

The smartest thing the Common Household ever did in all our lives was that on Tuesday evening at around 8 PM we turned off all media and went to bed.   I woke up a couple of times in the night, because I always do, but didn’t look at any media, and actually got a fairly good night’s sleep.  That was good, because I haven’t slept much since.

Wednesday morning the radio said the words, “President-elect Trump.”  I turned off the radio.

Let me say here that for weeks before the election, I expected Mr. Trump to win.  However, on election day, I went to cast my vote for the first woman president, and I felt hopeful.

Despite my expectation, I was profoundly jarred by the result.  I guess I hadn’t truly thought it through. 

Relativity, by M.C. Escher

On Wednesday morning, the world became an M.C. Escher print.  Look at your immediate surroundings: all the lines seem straight, and the ground appears solid.  But start moving around in this new world, and you find that the staircase ends, the ground is now a wall, the wall is now beneath your feet. Everything is in place and yet out of place.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I went outside to rake leaves.  I raked furiously for half an hour, sobbing the entire time.  When I stopped for a moment, I discovered I had rubbed the skin right off my hands in a few spots.

Older Daughter texted me: “I’m scared.”  Grocery shopping in a fog, followed by more sobbing at home.  I drove over to church to try to pray.  All I could get out was one of Anne Lamott’s eternal prayer words: help.  And at the same time I was astonished at my extreme reaction.  Why this deep well of grief for something which I had been expecting?  For something which stands a chance of not affecting my life  huge amount (after all, I’m a white Christian, past child-bearing age, gainfully employed, with proper citizenship papers)?   

A friend said, “It feels like someone died.”  Yes. Is hope dead? Is decency dead?  Is trust dead? Is my faith dead?  I know I feel reluctant to call myself a Christian now.

Instrument of torture: the rivet gun

I thought that the best thing to do would be to get out my gun:  my rivet gun.  (Other people would call it a staple gun, but I’m saying it’s a rivet gun.  Because some of us just have this need to feel powerful in the eyes of others.)

I decided to try to tackle a project I had been putting off: reupholstering the kitchen chairs.  I forced myself into the car for the trip to the fabric store to buy new foam padding. By the grace of God I was able to keep myself pulled together in the store.  It seemed fitting that the coupon I had taken the time to print out applied only to the 79-cent poster board, and not the $50 of foam padding.  As I made my purchase I kept thinking that now that nobody in power gives a damn about the environment, I shouldn’t be buying foam padding at all.

Reupholstering chair seats is a tough job.  It took me about two hours to finish one, and then I was exhausted and quit for the day.  My wrists were in agony and my hands had numerous little cuts from removing the old rivets.  It turned out to be far harder for me to cut 2” foam with scissors than the fabric store employee had implied.  My injuries seemed an appropriate form of self-flagellation.

Then I got the message that the synagogue would be having a hastily-organized worship service of healing.  The service included these words:

Michamocha – facing uncertainty

There was that moment at the Red Sea when our people despaired like never before.  Looking behind, the people saw an enemy coming for them.  Looking ahead, the waters seemed ready to swallow them up.

To stand still was not an option.

Pick up your feet.  Take the next step forward.  Step into the water.

I have no clue what this flower has to do with anything.
But there it is, blooming as if nothing has changed.

A reminder of the everyday miracles than can
help us step into the water.

Note to the reader: In the next few posts I will likely be working out my reaction on this blog.  It's part of my therapy and self-care.  I don't know if I will post a link on facebook or not.  If, for some odd reason, you are interested in my soul-searching, please take the initiative (without the facebook prompt) to come back to this blog again.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

First lines: October Edition

While I pull the shattered pieces of my soul back together, here is a simple list.  The list of first lines of books I read in October.  It seems like it was a different world way back then.

Book #1
To observe your mind in automatic mode, glance at the image below (Figure 1).  Your experience as you look at the woman’s face seamlessly combines what we normally call seeing and intuitive thinking.  As surely and quickly as you saw that the young woman’s hair is dark, you knew she is angry. 

Book #2
Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body.  The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the far west side of Manhattan.  A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak.  When the host asked me about my body, her face faded from the screen, and was replaced by a scroll of words, written by me earlier that week.

Book #3
The regular meeting of the barristers who inhabit my old Chambers in Equity Court took place, one afternoon, in an atmosphere of particular solemnity.  Among those present was a character entirely new to them, a certain Luci Gribble, whom our leader, in a momentary ambition to reach the status of an ‘entrepreneur’, had taken on as Director of Marketing and Administration.

Book #4
I am Uncle Sam, a proud spokesman for the United States of America.  I will be your guide through our country’s history as revealed in the key documents of its past and present.

Book #5
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Book #6
A man recently told me something about his faith life, as people are wont to do with ministers.  He said, “I’m spiritual but not religious, and I want to give you my testimony, if you will, about why I do not attend church.”
            Now, can I just vent for a minute? When I meet a teacher I don’t feel the need to tell him that I always hated math.

* * * * * * * *

Here are the titles and authors. 

Book #1
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. 
This book’s main point is that our brains are wired to do easy (fast) thinking first.  We are much more susceptible to suggestion than we think we are. There are a lot of important concepts in this book.  Unfortunately, I’m too sad to dig up my notes to mention more.  I’m pretty sure that this is in there: if someone repeats a lie enough times, then people will believe it’s true.  And hardly any of us will do the work to investigate the lie and uncover the truth.

Book #2
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
This was a difficult topic: race in America.  Coates grew up in Baltimore, as did I, but in a different world.  Sadly, I can’t say more about this book because I lost my notes.

Book #3
Rumpole and the Primrose Path, by John Mortimer.
Rumpole left me grinning as he solves mysteries, wins (or loses) cases, and gets the better of his hapless colleagues in Equity Court.

Book #4
Uncle Sam Presents The Great American Documents, Vol 1: 1620-1830, by Ruth Ashby, illustrated by Ernie Colón (graphic book). 
I learned some things from this comic book.  I had never thought very much about the Mayflower Compact.  I just assumed that there were only pilgrims on the boat, but that wasn’t true.  Only half were pilgrims, and as you can imagine, the pilgrims didn’t get along too well with the rest, who were “tradesmen, merchants, craftsmen, and their families.”  Hence the need for a compact.  I also didn’t remember much about the Indian Removal Act – a reprehensible part of our nation’s history, and still relevant today.

Book #5
The Gospel of Mark (The Bible).
Jesus' main activities are healing, casting out demons, and defying the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  There is a fair amount of eating in this gospel.  There is much apocalyptic language: Jesus predicts his own death and resurrection three times, and talks about the end times.  And let’s not forget raising people from the dead, and rising from the dead. Here are a couple of my favorite verses:
Mark 2:5 When Jesus saw [his friends’] faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Mark 3:35 “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Book #6
When “Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church, by Lillian Daniel
I was almost afraid to post those cranky first lines.  Because the way I feel about it is that if you are spiritual but not religious and want to talk to me about it, I’m all ears.  I am interested to hear how you are (or are not) spiritual, even if it’s to discuss the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But perhaps that’s the advantage I have, in not being official clergy.  This book made a lot of good points, Rev Daniel’s occasional grumpiness notwithstanding.

* * * * * * * * 

The only reason I am able to post this is because I wrote it before November 8th. If you would like to reply in the comments, please keep it sympathetic.  I’m devastated by the election results.  Any comments telling me to get over it already will be put in the toaster oven on high for three hours.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Standing at the cliff, so you don't have to

Cliff on the coast of California, 2007

Every few days, my mother calls me, in agitation about the presidential election campaign.  I talk her back away from the cliff, blathering on about the weather and the roads, the children and what we had for dinner. By the time we finish our conversation she is feeling a little better.

And I am left standing at the cliff. 

That is why, when a clergy person invited us to meditation last Saturday morning, I jumped at the chance.  I’m not usually one for meditating, but I craved it as a way to put some distance between me and the cliff.  I have a fear of heights, even for metaphorical cliffs.

It was a fifteen-minute meditation.  As an introduction, the rabbi reminded us of The Shema, the Jewish statement “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” (disclaimer: it can be translated more than one way.).  It begins with the Hebrew word “shma.”

Rabbi said, “You know, the word “Shma” is made of three parts.”  Then he gently intoned:


Rabbi instructed us that he would set a timer for fifteen minutes.  This is a great thing to say to anxious, time-conscious people. We don’t want to have to meditate for too long!

He said that before we fell to silent meditation, we would begin by s l o w l y chanting the Shma, with a breath in between each word, five times through.  Then we fell silent and were alone with our thoughts and God.  I spent a fair amount of time reciting “Shhh.   Mmmm.  Ahh.” over and over in my head. 

It occurred to me that “Ahh” could be interpreted different ways, depending on pronunciation.  It could mean calm and satisfaction.  “Ah.  A cup of hot soup on a cold day.”  Or a sharp realization:  “Ah! I missed my flight!”  Or a scream of surprise or despair:  “Aaaaaaah! The election!  That candidate!”  For any of these, “Shhh” follows, confirming calm, or providing a challenge to listen and step away from the despair.

Listen.  Hear.  Shhh.  Mmmm.  Ah.

Cliffs aren't all bad.  At the bottom of that cliff
(which we descended by a wooden staircase)
there was this incredible beach, with
tide pools teeming with sea creatures.
PLEASE click to enlarge.

I have to add that if we had taken the interstate instead of back roads, we would never have seen that astounding beach in northern California.  We were the only humans there.