Friday, November 20, 2020

Thanksgiving Survey 2020: Animals

 It's time for the Common Household time-honored tradition of the

Thanksgiving survey

2020 Topic: Animals

1. The bird that we in the United States call “turkey” is not from Turkey - it is native to the North American continent.   If you could rename the creature we call ‘turkey’, what more appropriate name would you give to this bird?

2.  Name an animal that you are thankful for, and the reason for your gratitude.

Bonus:  What is the turkey thankful for on Thanksgiving?

Please participate by giving your answers in the comments.  Happy Thanksgiving Preparation Week!

The topic of animals seems appropriate, because 2020 has been mostly a beastly year.

The first question arises from a dinner discussion we had recently.  The North American turkey is native to our continent, so why is it named after a country on another continent?    The name of this creature is all over the place, literally.  In French it is dinde, which means “from India”.  But in Hindi (a language of India) it is called… tarki.   In Portuguese, it is peru.  It seems like no language has gotten the name of this bird right.

The famed Common Household turkey pillow.

One form of a vegetarian turkey.

Not a turkey, but resembles one in certain ways. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Keeping the Tally


A certain subset of Americans has been working for 10+ days, sitting indoors during an airborne-spread virus pandemic, to tally votes.   This post is dedicated to them.  Thank you, election-vote-talliers.  I am grateful to you.

Some of these workers tallying votes are tired, tired, tired.  They have been harassed, crowded upon, falsely accused.  Yet they have stayed on task.  Here’s a description of the process from one election officer in Pennsylvania.

I was an election officer on election day for the past four years.  In 2017, I won an election (!) to become the “Majority Inspector” in my precinct.  This gave me the honor of working for a smidge above PA’s hourly minimum wage rate for 14-15 hours straight, twice a year, to process voters.  Together, my neighbors and I made democracy happen.  Although the conditions of the job are not excellent, it was worth it to me to participate in the election process in this way.  

This year I did not work the primary election, as the spread of covid seemed dangerous.  Silly me.  It was worse by the time the general election rolled around, but I was committed to making sure people in my precinct could vote in person on Nov 3.   

I have spent a portion of my life counting things. It is an activity I like. This is ironic, because I am horrible at mental math – can’t add or subtract in my head to save my life.  But with the aid of spreadsheets, most of my jobs have involved counting things such as corn, soybean, wheat production and trade, grain shipment vessels, members of church, dollars in elderly relatives’ bank accounts, numbers of voters, and, occasionally, the number of small children in the group I have been put in charge of.  This last one has been the most sacred of counting duties.  

Every year at Halloween the Common Household enters into the eternal argument of how much candy to buy.  The Husband buys too much, and I complain that he has bought too much.  It’s a tradition now. I have tried to keep a tally of the number of trick-or-treaters that come to our door, to use to predict next year’s Halloween candy demand.  This attempt failed to reduce the excess candy that enters the house each year.

This year, I only half-heartedly put up Halloween decorations.  But I was delighted to find, inside our Halloween box, three historical documents which I present herewith.

Common Household Trick-or-Treater tally, 1998

In 1998, the Common Household children’s ages were 5, 3, and -0.6 (in utero).   The tally sheet shows that I myself was firmly in charge of the tallying task.  I was aided by a 5-year-old who wrote all her numbers backward but had learned that 10 + 10 = 20.  

Number of trick-or-treaters: 33.

Common Household Trick-or-Treater tally, 2000

The tally for 2000 starts out well, but an interloper hijacks the tally with false data.  The 2020 election tally was secure, but we all know that 2000 had problems, and here is proof.

Number of trick-or-treaters:  who knows?  There is no paper ballot trail.

Common Household Trick-or-Treater tally, 2002

By 2002, our children were 9, 7, and 3 years old.  Our tally team had progressed to graphs and multiplication.

Number of trick-or-treaters:  28.

This year we had 7 trick-or-treaters.  And a lot of leftover candy, which is not a bad thing, considering that my favorite candidate did not win her race.  We must find solace somewhere.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

First lines: Aug-Sep-Oct 2020 edition


Late summer into fall, my life was filled with political activity, caring for elderly relatives, managing in the covid era, and doom scrolling.  I set my worried eyes on loads of news articles.  That left not much time for reading books.  Over those three months, I managed to read six books.  One of these books earned my rare ranking of “Excellent.” Below are the first lines of the six books, followed by the revelation of the titles and authors.

I’d love to hear what books you are reading these days.  

Book 1
Some men enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever. Jimmy Rosolli did this to my
Grandma Mazur.

Book 2
She left us at night.  It had felt like night for a long time, the days at once short and ceaselessly long.

Book 3  (this is an entire poem, because it is necessary.)

The Tradition
Aster. Nasturtium. Delphinium. We thought
Fingers in dirt meant it was our dirt, learning
Names in heat, in elements classical
Philosophers said could change us. Star Gazer. 
Foxglove. Summer seemed to bloom against the will
Of the sun, which news reports claimed flamed hotter
On this planet than when our dead fathers
Wiped sweat from their necks. Cosmos. Baby’s Breath. 
Men like me and my brothers filmed what we
Planted for proof we existed before
Too late, sped the video to see blossoms
Brought in seconds, colors you expect in poems
Where the world ends, everything cut down.
John Crawford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.

Book 4
In 1955, when I was ten, my father’s reading went to his head. 
My father’s reading during that time, and for many years before and after, consisted for the most part of Life on the Mississippi.

Book 5
Chickasaw county, Mississippi, Late October 1937
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney
The night clouds were closing in on the salt licks east of the oxbow lakes along the folds in the earth beyond the Yalobusha River.  The cotton was at last cleared from the field.

Book 6
Isabel Dalhousie, a philosopher, lowered her copy of the Scotsman newspaper and smiled.  

The titles and authors revealed:

Book 1
Twisted Twenty-Six (Stephanie Plum Book 26), by Janet Evanovich.  © 2019.
A light read for Book Club.  Quite amusing.  Watch out for Grandma!

Book 2
Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith.  ©  2015
This is an introspective coming of age memoir and also a book about the death of the author’s mother, when the author was a young woman. Tracy K. Smith was the Poet Laureate of the United States.  The writing is not overly delicate nor flighty, as I have experienced some prose written by poets.  Smith takes us from her very early childhood, growing up as an intellectually gifted African American girl in Northern California, on through her days in college.  I've put an excerpt at the end of this post.

Book 3
The Tradition, by Jericho Brown.  Poetry  © 2019.

Book 4
An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard.  ©  1987
Read for book club.   This book is set in Pittsburgh, so I was familiar with many of the places described.

Book 5
The Warmth of Other Suns:  The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.  © 2010
An astonishing, enlightening, horrifying tale, well told.  At 622 pages, it is not a quick read.  But the tales are so well written, the reading of this book flows easily.  It reveals much that I did not know about the history of our country.  For the parts that I was already aware of, the way the author tells the stories makes them come alive, in ways that we can feel deeply.  These are stories that we need to feel.  

I rank this book as excellent.  I highly recommend it.  We read it for book club, and we had a fruitful discussion.  

Book 6
The Forgotten Affairs of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries Book 8), by Alexander McCall Smith.  © 2011
A much-needed diversion for the final days of the election period.

I leave you with this excerpt from Tracy K. Smith’s Ordinary Light, about the power of telling your story, and the power of fiction.

Silence feeds pain, allows it to fester and thrive.  What starves pain, what forces it to release its grip, is speech, the voice upon which rides the story, This is what happened; this is what I have refused to let claim me.  Suddenly, I understood, though no one had taught me.  I understood, because what I wanted, what I needed more than anything, was someone to listen to my story, someone to help me starve even this pain - this small, private pain - so that I could stand up and figure out how to go on.
I had read novel after novel without realizing how often the narrator was doing just that: claiming the power to name and state and face the events, even the most awful events, making up a life.  This has happened to me, and because I can see it, can call it up and face it again for you, can stand my ground while I sift through it for nuance and meaning, I am stronger.  Telling my story, standing here and telling it to you now, is both a prayer for power and the answer to that prayer.  

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Stopping in Loneliness on a Pandemic Evening


Whose love this is I think I know.
Their feelings are quite distant, though;
Though depth and distance don't relate
When joy and laughter hold their glow.

With distance, strength and sorrow find
A waxing, waning. Love can bind
Across a screen, a show, a call,
But cannot tell your truth of mind.

Inadequate, how words can be
Unable to write poetry,
How gestures, touches, simple modes,
Tell more than frail writers like me.

My love is lonely, dark and deep.
But buried still, I can but weep,
With miles to go to reach your keep,
With miles to go to reach your keep.

A poem for the covid-19 era

by Younger Daughter

A few Fridays ago, Younger Daughter was having a difficult day, one of those days where the pressures of the world seemed too much.  On days like that, add pandemic restrictions, and loneliness sets in.  For some reason, we couldn’t talk at that moment, so I emailed her this:  “Do you know how much we love you?  We love you to the moon and back!”

In less than an hour, she replied with the above poem.  I think it captures the difficulty we are all in right now, at how to express our care and fondness for our loved ones over video chat.  Love can bind us together across a screen, and I am grateful that at least we have that technology.  

This happened a few days after a family Poetry Slam - a gathering (my siblings,  and their young adult children and ours) over zoom where we each read a poem (no longer than 2 minutes reading time!).  There was not anything slam-like about it, but we had a great time. I recommend this activity.  So poetry was on our minds.

Note:  As you may have guessed, the poet is in debt to “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Suburban Housewife Retelling of the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

The Suburban Housewife Retelling of 

the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

from The Book of Exertions 20:1-16

The kingdom of heaven is like a parent of teenagers who got up early in the morning to oversee the task of painting the deck.  It was an odious task, involving nasty-smelling paint and working out in the hot sun all day.  The parent decided she wanted someone to help her.  At first the parent woke her son out of a sound sleep.  He got up and, lo, readily agreed to help paint the deck, after the parent promised him ice cream at the end of the day.  By nine o’clock, the parent inspected the work, and saw that the son had painted one-fourth of the deck.  The parent went inside and found her daughter lounging around watching a movie on her ipod.  And the parent said to her, “You also go outside and help paint the deck.  Ice cream at the end.”  

At noon, the sky clouded over and the parent saw that the deck-painting would have to be speeded up.  The oldest daughter woke up (she had gotten home in the wee hours of the morning, after going swing dancing all night). The parent told her, “You also go outside and help paint the deck.  Ice cream will be involved when you are done.”  At about five o’clock the parent saw that, despite the hard work of her three children, the task was not finished, and rain clouds were fast approaching.  She went inside the house, only to find her niece, who was visiting for a month, sitting on the couch reading a book.  The parent said, “Niece, I’ll give you ice cream when you are finished, if you will go out and help your cousins paint the deck.”  

As evening came, the teens finished painting the deck.  Fortunately for the parent, the rain never materialized (this story does not take place in Pittsburgh). And the parent said to her husband, “Call the teenagers and take us all out for ice cream.  We’ll get in line, beginning with our niece, who started working last, and ending with our son, who started working before 9 AM.”  And they each got one scoop of ice cream in a sugar cone, even the son who started working at the crack of dawn.  Even the parents, whose waistlines showed that they seriously didn’t need ice cream at all, got ice cream.

The son grumbled against his parents, saying that he deserved the banana split, because, lo, he had arisen at dawn and worked all day painting the deck.  But the parent said to him, “Thank you so much, son, for painting the deck.  We really appreciate all your hard work.  We promised you ice cream, and here we all are, getting ice cream.  We chose to reward you not by paying you all an equitable wage, because we know it would have cost us at least $300 to hire someone else to paint the deck for us, but by buying $20 worth of ice cream.  That was our choice.  We’re the parents, and this family isn’t a democracy.  We hope we can all enjoy our ice cream together.”

Alternate ending

Because the teens had all studied economics and understood the principle of marginal rates, none of them complained.  They were also extremely grateful teens who recognized all the gifts their parents had given them over the years: teaching them to tie their shoes, putting them in their car seats, making that birthday cake in the shape of a train, buying them Harry Potter books, paying for a Netflix account, and, most of all, driving them all over God’s blessed creation, dag nab it.  In fact, in gratitude to their parents, these teens were overjoyed to paint the deck and viewed the ice cream as an extra.  Now THAT would be the kingdom of heaven.

About this parable, my husband said:

One person started complaining, and began asking questions about the staff:  Have they done what they actually were supposed to do, for their pay?  Where are the performance evaluations for the staff, and why aren’t they being followed?  That same person who went around and complained about everything went around to everyone, explaining how the leadership is messing everything up because they bollixed up their hiring system and payment system.  And then somebody says, “Why do we have a vineyard anyway? We should have a basketball court!”


For the record, the Common Household Son never grumbles against his parents.


The original scripture

Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Friday, August 7, 2020

First lines: June-July 2020 edition

College class reading, guarded by Isaac Newton, Auguste Rodin, and
Karl Marx finger puppets.
Not my reading list! 

In June I completed reading two books.  In July I managed to finish five books.  Of those seven, two were YA fiction. 


Herewith the first lines, and then the titles.



Book 1

On a spring morning in 1997, Jim Harper, a young man from Durham, North Carolina, woke up in his two-bedroom apartment with no clue that he would soon become gravely ill.



Book 2

Terence crept nervously through the forest, glancing often over his shoulder. He was a slim, agile boy, perhaps fourteen years old – though he did not know his age exactly – and he moved easily among the brambles.



Book 3

September 1981

People wishing to time travel go to Houston Intercontinental Airport.  At the orientation, the staff tell them that time travel is just like air travel, you even go to the same facility.



Book 4

Chapter 1: The Return of Utopia

Let’s start with a little history lesson: In the past, everything was worse.

For roughly 99% of the world’s history, 99% of humanity was poor, hungry, dirty, afraid, stupid, sick, and ugly.



Book 5

There was a time, and it was many years ago now, when I had to stay in a hospital for almost nine weeks. This was in New York City, and at night a view of the Chrysler Building, with its geometric brilliance of lights, was directly visible from my bed.



Book 6

“That is my decision. We need not discuss it,” said the man at the desk. He was already looking at a book. His two children left the room, closing the door behind them.



Book 7

After my junior year of college, ten friends and I planned a trip to drive across the country.


And the titles revealed:




The two books I finished in June:



Book 1

Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine  by Damon Tweedy.  © 2015. 

This memoir flows well, and gives good insights into racism in American medical treatment.  I read it for book club.


Book 2

The Squire's Tale , by Gerald Morris

 (The Squire's Tales, #1)  YA fiction.

Quite violent.  Lots of cleaving in two, without much remorse.   


* * * * * * *


The five books I finished in July:



Book 3

An Ocean of Minutes, by Thea Lim.  © 2018.

A dystopian novel with a rather terrifying premise, but I really liked the main character.  This is odd because the character kept making bad choices, which usually turns me off. 


The lesson I drew from this book:  Do. Not. Time-travel.  We read it for book club, because we hadn’t read any science fiction since our second book, several years ago.  An Ocean of Minutes was more dystopian lit than science fiction. Is there any other sci fi novel where the time travel does not take the traveler into the distant future, but only a few years ahead, and to a time that is in our own history? Polly, the main character, time travels from the 1980s to the late 1990s.  Despite the fact that she ends up in a time period we all had experienced, the 1990s we encountered in this book were quite disorienting, and yet, the book addresses a very current issue in this country.  A pandemic is involved, but is really only background in the story. 


Book 4

Utopia for Realists, by Rutger Bregman  © 2014, 2017.  English translation © 2016 by Elizabeth Manton.

Take the dive into some ideas from the left side of politics and economics.  See what you think.  I found it quite interesting.  Bregman is an entertaining writer.



Book 5

My Name Is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout.  © 2016.

Not a lot of events in this book, but interesting examination of relationships.  The story is related in a dreamy way, with what might be called an unreliable narrator. 

Read for the other book club. 



Book 6

Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness series Book 1)

by Tamora Pierce (Y.A. fantasy).  © 1983. 

This is the first title in a young adult fantasy series, written in what I want to say was a simpler time.   Fantasy is not really my favorite genre, but I found the characters enjoyable.  There is lots to please the fantasy fan here – magic, wizards, knights, swords.  A bully, an honorable thief, and a dread illness also feature in the plot.



Book 7

Trouble I've Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, by Drew G.I. Hart.  © 2016.

My review is here at this link.



I also have been reading this book since 2018.

These Truths: A History of the United States, by Jill Lepore, © 2018.  

Almost half the way through. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

A review of the book “Trouble I’ve Seen” by Drew G.I. Hart

A Common Household book review

Trouble I've Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, by Drew G.I. Hart.  © 2016.

I recommend this book to white American Christians. 

Dr. Hart points out the inability (or unwillingness) of white Christians in this country to be able to see life from the perspective of people of color. This inability supports prolonged systemic racism, both in the church and in the country.  In white American churches, racism is often only addressed every now and then, in a sermon here or there, based on some national event.   Hey, we mentioned racism on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so now we can move on.

This book has tough words for white Christians to hear.  Will we have the heart and energy to persevere in looking at our role in the continuation of racism, in the face of such condemning words? I found it worthwhile to continue reading, and hope that you do, too.

This book makes the point, also seen in other recent books on racism, that racism goes much deeper than individual acts, such as “saying the ‘n-word’.  The perspective of white Americans, when it comes to racism, is shallow and short-termed, whereas the perspective of black Americans is more comprehensive and takes a long view of history.  Are we white Christians willing to try to change our perspective?

Dr. Hart shows how a “whitened” Jesus supports American empire and racism.  At the time of Jesus’ birth, “Rome was the ruling empire over the Jews, and consequently all of Israel understood what it meant to be oppressed – what it meant to live life with someone’s foot against your neck.”  (p. 59)  Throughout American history, white Christians have used a false understanding of Jesus to support oppression, rather than to free the oppressed.

But Jesus is a subversive. “In his life and ministry, Jesus found solidarity with the poor, with the oppressed, with vulnerable women, with the socially rejected and marginalized, with ethnic Samaritan outcasts, with the demon-possessed, and with the blind or physically sick.”  (p. 61)  Jesus stands against Caesar and against the existing social order.  We should consider that Jesus wants us to take a stand against the oppressive aspects of our existing social order, which includes systemic racism.

When trying to start a conversation with white Americans about racism, the author usually gets these kinds of reactions:  defensiveness, antagonism, color-blindness (“I don’t see color” is essentially an inability to recognize racism).  White people discount his experiences.  Sometimes he experiences someone who has good intentions, but who questions the author’s perspective on what racism is.   I think this intense emotional discomfort renders white Americans unlikely to persevere in addressing racism. 

Hart writes, “Dominant cultures have a way of disguising their own oppressive practices from themselves with strong proclamations of innocence and benevolence and universal principles of equality.”  This is amply described in another book I read this year - Mistakes were made (but not by me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts , by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson , © 2007, 2015.  Humans have a basic psychological need to justify their own actions and to view themselves as worthy and innocent.  It is partly this basic human need and partly the socialization of the dominant white culture that prevents us white people from seeing racism.  It’s very hard for the dominant portion of society to see oppression.

The last chapter, “Where Do We Go From Here?” proposes seven “Jesus-shaped practices for the anti-racist church”.  I urge you to read all the way through to the end.

There is one criticism I have of this book.  There are a few pages in Chapter 3, “Leaving Behind the Whitened Jesus”, where I see anti-Judaism on display.  Hart espouses the theology that basically sets up all Jews in the earthly time of Jesus as idiotic bad guys because they failed to recognize Jesus as Messiah. 

Jesus [says] “You will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Luke 13:35).  Most of his listeners would have been anticipating a visitation from God as Jeremiah prophesied, and many would have also expected a messiah who would come and deliver them from their unrighteous oppressors.  This would happen in Jerusalem.  Yet when the time came, they did not recognize God in the flesh.
            Isn’t that something?  They could not recognize that it was God manifested in Jesus. They attended synagogue and served the torah their whole lives.  Yet when God took on human flesh, somehow Jesus looked nothing like many people’s projections of the divine one.  (p. 70)

I don’t like this theology, nor its mocking tone.  I think it is a dangerous and wrong theology (a view I probably got from reading Jewish New Testament scholar Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, and from being married to a Jew).  I believe that Hart is trying to make the point that the Jews (“God’s people”) in that time could not recognize their own complicity in living counter to God, just as today’s white American Christians cannot recognize their complicity in racism.  But I think that Hart’s condemnation of all Jews in first century Palestine is condescending and wrong.   Is it even true that “all Jews” in that time did not recognize their role in society’s ills?  Is it even true that “all Jews” were living “counter to what God was doing on earth as manifested in Jesus Christ.”?  The gospels tell us that many Jews did believe that Jesus was the messiah.  Most of the first Christians were Jews. 

And the Jews who didn’t believe that – who can fault them?  The Christian claim that a man is God is completely anathema to Jewish theology.  In many ways, Jesus did not fulfill the traditional qualities of messiah.  Can we give first-century Jews some credit for actually sticking to their principles?  Also, let’s recognize that the gospels are polemic documents which portray the enemies of early Christians in the worst possible light.  Given the anti-Semitic history of the Christian church, I really wish Hart had not put this damaging theology in his otherwise excellent book.

Maybe Hart’s theology here just shows that the gospel of Luke is anti-Jewish, but these pages left a bad taste in my mouth, and I thought that making first-century Jews the bad guys is not necessary for Hart to make his larger point that we white Americans need to recognize how we contribute to racism – either intentionally or unintentionally.

Again, I recommend that white Christians read this book – it’s time for us to do this incredibly hard work (just don’t adopt the theology on pages 69-70).