Saturday, December 27, 2008

Our Christmas Seder plate

A new tradition for our family:

A Christmas Seder plate.
- lamb shankbone or tiny lamb statue, representing Jesus as the Lamb of God
- a sprig of evergreen, symbolizing new life and hope in the middle of winter
- piece of hay or grass, representing the humility of Jesus, born in humble circumstances
- gold or a small gift, symbolizing that God has given us great gifts
- angel, symbolizing bringing good news from God

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

A blessed Christmas to all.

Last night, the fourth night of Hanukkah, we had real latkes for dinner, rather than ones made from a mix. Yum! Then we headed off to the candlelight worship service. The choir sang, the bell ringers rang, we heard the age-old story of a baby born in humble circumstances, we sang hymns (lots of them!). And the candlelight service brought tears to my eyes (as usual) because of its loveliness. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

It's different being home for Christmas - usually we are visiting my family. We didn't get up until 8 am or so. First we opened the things in our stockings - my favorite part of gift-giving at Christmas is stockings - all those little gifts and candy! There was much trading of candy, something I never did as a kid. Then a leisurely breakfast, followed by opening of gifts to each other. That part goes fairly quickly when there are just 5 instead of 15 people.

Maybe it's good we're home - seems like one of my dear ones has a fever...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Boy Scout Latkes

Recipe for Boy Scout Latkes

Put on hiking boots. Make a fire. Peel a baking potato. Coat one side of tin foil with oil. Wrap potato in tin foil. Cook in fire until done. Remove from fire. Stomp on potato to flatten into pancake. Serve with applesauce and Cheez Whiz.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bring Us a Shrubbery, and Make It a Nice One

Our Christmas tree, decorated with origami made by our own Origami Swami!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Common Household Irony

This week was full of "December Dilemma" irony.

On Monday I was scheduled to talk to the kids at the elementary school about Hanukkah for our school's "Diversity Day." I don't like to do it by myself, not being Jewish 'n' all but my daughter indicated she would be crushed if I didn't come. I had another Mom lined up to help me, but she had to cancel at the last minute. So it was up to me! It went well, and I found that I was enjoying myself. Until a teacher's aide came in, who, it seems, was Jewish. She pointed out right away that one of the menorahs I had brought was not a "kosher" menorah, because the eight candles were not all the same height. Oy vey! When the 4th and 5th grade kids came along, I asked what Jewish holidays they had heard of besides Hanukkah. Only in one class did someone volunteer a correct answer. They all know what a dreidel is, anyway.

On Wednesday I picked up the invitation books so we can pick the invitations for my son's bar mitzvah. On Friday I went shopping for Christmas and Hanukkah gifts.

Today we bought a live Christmas tree! Once we picked the tree we wanted, the lot attendant asked us, "Would you like it clean-cut?" Uh, what's that mean? We just said "We don't usually get a live tree. Can you explain it to us?" The lot attendant got a nice tip.

My daughter decided to make cookies today. I need to take cookies to church tomorrow for the reception after the children's Christmas program. I thought, I'll just take some of the cookies that my daughter makes. She made sugar cookies in the shape of dreidels, menorahs, six-pointed stars, torahs, whales, and bones (?!). And to think that last year I was fretting over whether anyone at our synagogue would be insulted if I brought cookies in those shapes to a synagogue event. i hope nobody at church minds my Hanukkah-themed cookies. They taste great!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pie of thanks

My mother’s apple pie is the pie to end all pies. It will be served in heaven. But this year I was invited to make the apple pie for Thanksgiving. My mother will be bringing mincemeat pie. Today I made my apple pie.

Pie of thanksgiving
Thanks to God for making the apple.
Thanks to orchard growers who tend and grow the apples.
Thanks to those who harvest the apples.
Thanks to those who transport them to my local grocery store.
Let’s not forget all the other ingredients – thanks for those.

Thanks to my Mom who makes the very best apple pie.
Thanks to my Dad who taught me how to make those snakes out of the apple skin. He also knows how to make a pig out of a mango seed.
Thanks to both my parents for inspiring me to look for the low-cholesterol pie crust recipe.
Thanks to all my family for eating the pies I have made and for being so enthusiastic and most of all for just being yourselves.
Let’s not forget all the people – thanks for you.

Playlist during making of Pie of Thanksgiving
Mozart Symphony No. 39
Schumann “Think Spring”
Cheryl Wheeler “When Fall Comes to New England”
Vanessa Carlton “A Thousand Miles”
Oscar Peterson
News: $800 billion of new aid for the ailing US economy; girls in Afghanistan attacked with acid sprayed from squirt guns; Dow Jones up 3 points; NASDAQ down 25 points.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thanks, Dovetail!

I just heard that one of my favorite organizations is closing up shop. Dovetail is, or was :-( an organization offering non-judgmental support for interfaith couples. We went to a conference they held once. It was very helpful for me. Someone there pointed me to an official statement of the Presybterian church on relations with Jews, which gave me some theological ammunition for speaking to some of the more conservative people around here.

But they have run out of people to take on the various tasks they did, and run out of money too, so they are closing. It makes me sad.

Monday, November 17, 2008

One more election campaign comment

I just realized that I have no idea what John McCain's middle name is.

Anybody know, without looking it up?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The picture of autumn

One child sick, husband soon to travel on business, night falling earlier... need this reminder of beauty caught for a moment.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Did you participate?

On election day, near the grocery store, I saw that someone had taken a bunch of those campaign yard signs, six or seven signs with candidates’ names from both parties, and stuck them in a tree. A sort of hanging in effigy? Or perhaps just a way of saying this election campaign has been way too long?

I expected a line at our polling place, so I thought I might take a book to read while waiting in line. Then I noticed that the subtitle to my book includes the word “Bolshevism.” Too risky to take that book. It turns out there wasn’t a line. (The book is “The World on Fire: 1919 and the Battle with Bolshevism” by Anthony Read.)

Assume national voter participation is at around 80 percent (percent of registered voters who actually voted), and 185 million Americans are registered to vote. This would mean that about 37 million registered voters did not vote. Were they sick?

The Bolsheviks got 100 percent voter participation, I believe.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Thoughts while cleaning

Many thoughts enter the mind of the Common Household Mom as she is cleaning the bathroom. Such as:

- Why is there so much hair on the floor?
- Who clogged the vacuum?
- I do not feel like scrubbing the shower stall.
- Chocolate.
- I am not going to scrub the shower stall.

What do you think about while you are cleaning the bathroom?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Common Household Proverb: Dinnner

When the fork clatters to the floor, when the teenager asks to leave, when the growing son arises to root through the refrigerator to look for something he actually likes to eat: Lo, this is how you shall know that it is dinner-time in the household.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Apologies to W.B. Yeats

The Fake Isle of Suburbia

I will arise and go now, to the back yard,
And a small garden build there, of lilacs and bleeding hearts,
A bird feeder will I have there, where squirrels stand guard,
And I will weed alone until my hand smarts.

And I shall have some peas there, for peas grow well in the clay,
Competing with the weeds at the top of the hill down to where the tree once was.
There noontime’s all a-flimmer, and dark where the deer droppings lay,
And evening full of the mosquito’s buzz.

I will arise and go now, for always day and night
I hear the weeds blowing in the breeze
While I stand on the freshly mown grass – suburbia’s pleasant sight,
Listening to my neighbor sneeze.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Soup is good for the body and soul

Financial Crisis Soup

This soup has staying power to help you remain stable as the market lurches, lots of healthy fiber to keep your economy moving, and it costs just a few cents per serving. It’s made in a slow cooker, which my son calls the crack-pot. Perhaps that could be thought of as a reference to the people who thought they were running the financial system.


Make in a slow cooker.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Slow cooker time: 4 to 5 hours on high, or 8 to 10 hours on low

1 package navy beans (2 cups)
Soup bones *
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 rib celery, sliced
½ tsp garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/8 tsp pepper
6 to 7 cups water
1 tsp salt
optional: cubed ham

• You can use: 1-2 ham hocks, smoked pork bones, chicken drumsticks, beef soup bone, or smoked turkey with bone.

1. Layer in a slow cooker, in order, peas, meat, carrots, onions, celery, garlic, bay leaf, and pepper. Pour in water. Do not stir.

2. Cover and cook on high for 4 to 5 hours or on low for 8 to 10 hours or until beans are very soft.

3. Add salt.

4. Remove meat bones and bay leaf. If you prefer a smoother soup, cool slightly, then puree the mixture, 2 to 3 cups at a time, in a blender container. (I never bother with this step.)

5. Cut meat from bone, dice, and return meat to soup in slow cooker.

6. Optional: add cubed ham and stir

Note: I like less salt than most people. Add more salt if it seems to need it.

You can also make this soup with green split peas - the color of money!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Big field
Big flags
Big noise
Big players
Big stadium
Big advertisements
Big marching band
Big percussion section
Big tower of cheerleaders
Big concession stand prices
Big calories for a small amount of food
Big East vs Big Ten college football game

Our team won, but just by 1 point (not big).

This weekend we attended not one but two football games. If I have ever been to a football game, it was so long ago I don’t remember it. Both these games (one high school, one college) were quite the Roman coliseum show, although no Christians were thrown to lions. The game was interesting, but to me the pageantry and the crowd were much more interesting, and very American, in their BIGness.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Tomorrow my Bible study group meets. Every week I look forward to it. Each person brings a unique understanding to the text. Examining the text in detail almost always brings a new level of meaning to it.

We are studying the gospel of Luke, and we’ll be looking at the passage about the Last Supper tomorrow. The disciples have an argument, while there are really significant,sad things going on right before their eyes. Sort of like having a blog which discusses head lice and tomatoes, while the world is in financial turmoil, hurricanes are hitting land, bombs are exploding in Pakistan, and war continues in Iraq. But the remarkable thing is that while people are plotting to take Jesus’ life, Jesus is all about getting ready for a meal with his friends. Jesus is focused on the details, and on spending time with people he values, while the big turmoil swirls around him.

I'm sad about Pakistan - a bomb exploded today in Islamabad. Today I pray for Pakistan, its people, its mountains and valleys, its rice and spice crops – blessing and peace and healing.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Proverb: The Calendar

Common Household Mom Proverb

When the calendar becomes dark with events*,
when you find you must be two places at the same time,
when you are out every night of the week meeting teachers:
Lo, this is how you shall know that it is the beginning of the school year.

* always write in pencil, never in pen

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Common Household Mom Reading: The Battle for Moscow

I recently read “The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow That Changed the Course of World War II” by Andrew Nagorski, about the Battle of Moscow in WWII.

Major themes of the book:
- how both Stalin and Hitler crippled their chance of wining because of their hubris in believing their own military ideas were better than their generals’ ideas;
- how important the battle for Moscow was for the outcome of the entire war;
- what a colossal waste of life occurred because of the two leaders’ actions and policies.

Stalin decimated his officers’ ranks by purging the military of officers with any length of experience. He thought they were politically suspect. He also did not listen to compelling evidence indicating that the Germans would attack the USSR. Stalin went out of this way to fulfill his part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which agreed that Germany and USSR would not attack each other. This meant that Stalin was delivering grain to the Germans, all while the Germans were planning to attack the USSR.

Hitler, for his part, kept postponing his attack on the USSR, even though history had repeatedly shown that the Russian winter was not something to be trifled with (Napoleon lost to the Russian winter). Hitler was not satisfied with his generals’ strategy, and took over the military command himself (a good thing for the world, because it led to German losses). Hitler refused to issue winter uniforms to the army rank and file, because he was convinced that the Germans would have captured Moscow and the USSR would have capitulated, before winter set in. Wrong.

Stalin instituted a policy whereby Red Army soldiers who retreated or refused to enter battle would be shot by their unit’s political officers. Often the Soviet soldiers had no weapons or ammunition, but nevertheless were supposed to enter into battle. The natural tendency of anyone in this situation would be to retreat. (Run away! Run away!) So the Red Army needed political guys to watch the army guys, and be ready to shoot their fellow citizens if they tried to retreat. The political guys had guns.

There was also a policy whereby any Soviet soldier who had been captured by the Germans but managed to escape and return to Soviet territory was automatically assumed to be a traitor, and was either shot or sent to hard labor camp. This was the case for the character of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, in Solzhenitsyn’s novel “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”. Stalin thought that a Soviet soldier worth his salt should commit suicide rather than be captured by the enemy.

Lice figured prominently in this book. Well, maybe not prominently, but I noticed it!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Homegrown tomatoes

I sing the praises of the homegrown tomato!
A few days ago my friend gave me tomatoes from her garden. I wish I were a poet so I could adequately express the heavenly, delightful taste of those tomatoes. We can’t grow tomatoes here: the soil isn’t good, and rabbits and deer will have juicy tomatoes for a midnight snack before the humans can. So for my lycopene intake I’ve been relying on those plasticky things that pass for tomatoes at the grocery store.

Another heavenly fresh vegetable is sweet white corn. A good ear of sweet corn is like candy.

And here’s a recipe that combines my favorite tastes in one dish.

Corn-Tomato Salad
From our local newspaper, July 13, 2000

4 ears already-cooked fresh corn (for about 2 1/2 cups kernels)
2 medium (1 pound) ripe tomatoes
3 scallions (for 1/4 cup chopped)
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed
juice of 1/2 lime
Salt (about ¼ to ½ tsp)
Pepper (about 1/8 tsp)

Cut the kernels from the cob into a shallow dish (such as a pie plate). Scrape the cob to remove any remaining kernels and “milk.” Core the tomatoes (but do not peel them) and cut them into roughly 1/4 inch cubes. Add them to the dish as you chop.

Chop the scallions, including enough of the tender green tops to make 1/4 cup. Add the scallions to the dish. Rinse and drain the cilantro leaves, chop and add them to the dish. Squeeze the lime juice into the corn mixture. Toss well to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Flying the Flag

Today at our house I am flying the flag in honor and memory of Dana Falkenberg, Zoe Falkenberg, and their Mom and Dad, Leslie Whittington and Charlie Falkenberg, one entire family, friends of my brother’s family. All four died when terrorists committed the heinous crime of crashing their plane, Flight 77, into the Pentagon on Sep 11, 2001. Dana was 3 years old and Zoe was 8 years old.

And the flag flies in honor and memory of my uncle Jack. He died on this date in 2002.

And the flag flies in honor and memory of all those who serve, and have served, to protect us and protect our civil rights. This was not as important to me before Sep 11, 2001. On that date, I suddenly realized that I had enemies. One enemy is the fear that works to let us give up our civil liberties. I can say this easily, since I have some sense of security. I don’t know that I would feel the same way if I felt directly threatened at this moment. Benjamin Franklin purportedly said, “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security.” Is it possible to have both liberty and security?

I like to use this day to go about doing ordinary activities, but dedicate those ordinary activities to the Falkenberg family, who, but for that crime on that beautiful cloudless September day 7 years ago, would be doing the ordinary activities that an American family does.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A lousy summer

Very hot water (60 degrees C or 140 degrees F) kills head lice adults and nymphs, if applied for at least 30 seconds.

A test of motherly love: to comb through her child's head-lice-infested hair every night for two weeks.

A test of fatherly love: to vacuum and iron the mattresses and floor in the bedroom of the head-lice-infested child every night for two weeks.  Add to that doing humongous loads of laundry on HOT and drying on HOT.  Add to that earning the money to pay for all that water and electric use.

Do not ask me how I know these things.