Saturday, December 31, 2011

In the Year 2512

A writing challenge:  How will people celebrate New Years 500 Years in the future?

The Common Household’s responses are below.  Feel free to participate with your own ideas. 

Maybe you will have a more cheerful outlook than our expectations, which include the obesity epidemic normalized, nuclear war as celebration, and global warming bringing on new traditions.  What can I say? New Year’s is not my favorite holiday.  At least the United Federation of Planets plans on having a good time 500 years from now.

Happy New Year!

Oldest Daughter wrote:
“You excited to jump into the Giant Pudding Cup?” Blobby asked his friend, Fat Jones.

“Yeah, dude. I can’t believe we finally get to go this year!”

“I know.” Blobby belched and wiped a greasy hand on his mouth. “Where’s the rest of the pizzas?”

“We only ordered 39,” Fat Jones said. “That’s 13 for you, 13 for me, and 13 for Burrita.”

As if on cue, a harsh voice called from the other room “Don’t you go eating my pizzas! I’m saving a few for New Years!”

Blobby rolled his eyes. “Did you find the New Years Butter Balls?”

“Yeah, they’re all loaded into the cannon.”

“I call shooting them!”

“As long as you actually aim for my mouth this time.”

“You boys can’t shoot cannons until we go over to the neighbors and finish off their Root Beer Pool!” Burrita screeched.

Blobby and Fat Jones smiled at each other.

“I just love New Years Eve,” they said together.

Youngest Daughter wrote:
They will launch two huge nuclear bombs into the sky, send them onto their enemies, and then ooh and aah as their enemies are destroyed. Then, they’ll AAAAAH! as the nuclear radiation takes effect.  Then, they’ll go underground until the 4th of July.

Son wrote:
“Captain Picard, we need you at engineering.  And bring Data!  It’s an emergency, sir.”  

Captain Picard tapped his communicator and replied, “Very well.  Data, come with me.”

In the elevator, Picard wondered what the problem could be.  “It’d better not be that metal-eating slime again,” he thought.  He stepped out of the elevator and approached the doors with trepidation. As they slid open, he heard a great clatter of pots and pans, and then the entire crew shouted, “Happy New Year, Captain!”

Common Household Mom wrote:
“Optimus!  Come down here!  It’s time to get ready for the New Year’s celebration.”

“Aw, Ma, do I have to?”

“Yes, you do, young man.  Put on your jet pack right now.”

“But Ma, I hate jetting south to Newfoundland for New Year’s.  It’s so hot and swampy there.”

“Now, Optimus, you know it is the tradition to jet to the swamps, find 3-legged frogs, and throw them in the air for New Year’s.  There is no better way to celebrate the arbitrary passage of time.”

“But why does it have to be frogs?  Why can’t we throw something interesting like nuclear grenades?”

“Optimus, stop arguing and eat your recycled food pellet or we’ll be late.”

“Ma, who cares about the year 2512 anyway?  We might as well do something really bizarre, like bang a steel rod on one of those ancient cooking vessels, drink copious amounts of stupor-inducing substances, and sing schmaltzy songs at the top of our lungs.  At least that would be something new for a New Year’s celebration.”

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Jesus' Middle Name

Everyone knows that Jesus’ middle name begins with the letter H.  As in, “Jesus H. Christ, you tracked mud all over the house, and I’m having company over this afternoon!”  Or “Jesus H. Christ, why can’t Congress get something done?!”

I don’t know what that ‘H’ would stand for.   Holy?  Handsome? Heliotrope? 

I’ve been taught that “Jesus” is English for the Greek for the Hebrew (Aramaic?) Yeshua, meaning “God saves us.”  But right now I’m thanking God that Jesus’ other name (although it seems no one actually called him by this name) is “Immanuel” = “God with us.”  It’s certainly more satisfying, in one’s anger, to say “Jesus H. Christ” than “Jesus I. Christ,” so maybe that’s why Immanuel never caught on. 

This Advent I’m finding it very comforting to consider God with us.  Maybe that’s because I see that God does not save us from unpleasantness and difficulty, such as the decline in a loved one’s health, the stubbornness of a child getting bad grades because she refuses to take responsibility, or the machinations of Congress.  (The only thing that can be said about Congress is “Oy vey” with a sad shake of the head.)  Listing these difficulties that I face makes them seem petty, as I know that there are far greater difficulties in life than these.  I’m so grateful that God is with us as we struggle through these parts of life.   The idea that God is with me makes these things bearable.

It’s a good thing that God being with us doesn’t depend on
- how much or how well you have decorated your house
- doing your homework
- whether or not you stayed for the entire aerobics class
- obeying the speed limit
- buying the perfect gift
- Congress
- a whole host of other things

Thanks, God, for Immanuel, God-with-us.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah: the most low-key and most fattening holiday ever invented.

All the essentials, plus some of our favorite Hanukkah stories from past years.

Homemade potato latkes!  Oil, more oil!

I found these in the grocery store - they were labeled "Santa Bucks".  Oh, well.

Dad lost the dreidel game.  The dreidel just would not land on gimel.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gift Suggestions for the Budding Physicist

I have all kinds of thoughts brewing around in my head: how the “God with us” message of the Christmas story is more meaningful to me right now than the “God saves us” part of it; how I love Christmas cards but haven’t sent any yet; how music restores the soul; how I wish my printer were working properly (so that I could send the Christmas cards); and more.

But I can’t formulate those thoughts coherently right now, and of course, there’s no guarantee that they should appear here.  So instead I will give you this wordly discussion I had the other day, in the hopes that you, like my son, will see how to aim high in your requests.

My son and I were talking about toys.  He said, “The slinky, for instance, is very interesting.” 

I said, “I find the slinky to be not so interesting.  It never works the way it is supposed to.” 

He said, “The slinky is very interesting.  It demonstrates lots of physics principles.  You could get me one for Christmas.  Or... maybe you could get me an elevator!  That would be great for physics experiments.”

Me: “An elevator with a scale in it?”

Son:  “Yeah!”  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Island of Misfit Cookies

Last night Youngest Daughter and I made Christmas cookies.  This was partly therapy for me, as I was still regretting my bad behavior on Friday night at the synagogue family dinner.  Sometimes I should just keep my mouth shut.  I should realize that I’m not the only one tired and stressed out.

Youngest Daughter also needed this cookie-making session.  The pangs of adolescence were sharp for her this past week.  We needed some calm Mother-Daughter time.

So we got in the kitchen and made a good mess.  She got creative and decided to meld the different cookie cutter shapes.  She used the 5-pointed star and the 6-pointed star together, and decorated them with red and green for Christmas and blue for Hanukkah.  “Look!  Christmas and Hanukkah are holding hands!”  She started singing one line of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” then a line from “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah, Come Light the Menorah,” alternating back and forth.  That drove me batty, but she was determined to sing through all 12 days of Christmas and all 8 nights of Hanukkah in that manner.

Then the cookie shapes got a little more bizarre.  She had the little-person shape melded to the bell, a tree with a reindeer head stuck to it, an angel flinging the little person around, and the front of the donkey with the back legs of the reindeer.  We got covered with flour, but we didn’t have to look presentable.  She took great care in decorating each cookie, but we had plenty of time.  When I was taking the reindeer cookie off the tray, I nearly severed its neck, but nobody was judging our baking skills.

So we have some ordinary Christmas cookies, some weird cookies, and some partially repaired souls.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Common Household Proverb: The Door

For lo, Children, the door has two functions:  to be opened, and to be closed.  After passing through the door and holding it open for your elders, be certain to close the door, lest the flies, neighborhood children, and other undesirables enter the house.  Yea, even a raccoon once entered the basement when you were camping in the back yard and neglected to close the basement door.

Truly, truly, I say unto you that when you are leaving to go to the school bus and you neglect to close the front door all the way, a cold and mighty wind enters the house, raising the heating bill and depleting your college fund like chaff before the wind.

Beware, lest you attempt to enter the basement door without turning the door handle.  For if you break the glass thereof by pushing on it instead of turning the handle, sorrow shall stir within me at the thought of purchasing a new door.  

But then I shall be clothed with shame, as I remember that I did a similar thing when I was a child; lo, I even required stitches on my arm for my iniquity.  Therefore shall I offer you mercy and be thankful that you did not require stitches.  For behold, I will forgive your iniquity, and the door shall be made new, at a cost equal to the cost of several small televisions.  And the new door shall be a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Common Household Thanksgiving Proclamation

And here is the Common Household's Thanksgiving Proclamation from 2010:

One note: I hate mayonnaise.  I abhor it.  My family knows this and persecutes me mercilessly about it.

Last year on Thanksgiving, I posted this on the fridge, thinking that the family could have fun writing their own proclamations:

Thanksgiving Proclamation
By Our Family

Whereas... We are grateful to God for all the bountiful blefsings which God has bestowed upon us,
Therefore... We will stuff ourselves with turkey and all the trimmings. 


* * * * * *

In response, my brother wrote this, lapsing about half-way into the fake "changing S to F" found in the traditional proclamation:

Whereas...we are grateful to God for providing turkey far in excess of what we can eat in one meal, and...
Whereas...turkey sandwiches are known to be the most delicious sandwich ever concocted, and... turkey sandwich is ever complete without a thick slathering of the Hellmans, and...
Whereas...the compleat fandwich confifts of the trinity of turkey, cranberry and mayo
Therefore we hold thif truth to be felf evident that the Common Houfehold must never be lacking, from thif day forthwith in having a large jar of 

 The other dunning comments were added by the teenagers, my brother's daughter and my own daughter.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

National Thanksgiving Proclamation

Last year at Thanksgiving I found this version of George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789.   I thought it would provide us with some sense of history, so I posted on the wall at Thanksgiving. But I thought the changing of "s" to "f" in this version was fake.

If you want to see the whole text in modern spelling, click here.

Among the things that Pres. Washington urged Americans to be thankful for:

- the "opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness"

 - for The Great Being's "kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation"

- for "the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness"

- "for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed"

Happy National Day of Thanksgiving, everyone.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Helpful? Thankful?

Recent Common Household Conversations about 
Being Helpful and Thankful

Me:  Son, you’re a fine person.  Thank you for being a fine person.

Husband:  You would be even finer if you knew brick pointing.

Son:  Well, Dad, you can’t have everything.

* * * * *

Me:    I need to understand the entire Medicare system by Monday.

Husband (trying to be helpful):  Well, there’s this doughnut.

Me:    Yeah?...

Husband:  And if you eat the doughnut, you’re in a lot of trouble. 

* * * * *

Me:    How shall we give thanks at Thanksgiving?

Son:    By eating huge amounts of food!

Me:    What words shall we use to give thanks? 

Son:    The Gettysburg Address?

Youngest Daughter:  (softly and sweetly): We should write a poem.

Son:  How about “Is this a dagger I see before me?”

Me:   (frown at Son)

Son:    Or “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace.”

Youngest Daughter:  Is that from Macbeth?

Son:    Yeah.  My English teacher says that it is the scariest speech in the English language.  And if you read through the entire play that far, you can tell that it’s true.

* * * * *

Me:    Will you unload the dishwasher while I'm gone?

Youngest Daughter:  I can't tell the future!  A meteor might hit the house.

* * * * *

If a meteor is going to hit the house it would be helpful if it could hit before tomorrow, when I plan to start my Thanksgiving cooking.  I’d hate to do all that cooking and then have a meteor hit.

My son showing appreciation for Shakespeare is, in some small way, like a meteor hitting the house.

But I would be very grateful if there was no meteor. I mean, I’ve got guests coming. And I’ve already cleaned out the refrigerator.  Alas, I haven't yet figured out Medicare.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Thanks for the Grub

At a church retreat I went to this fall, we had this question during an ice-breaker:  What is your favorite holiday?  In my group, all ten of us said Thanksgiving was our favorite.  That might simply mean that all ten of us have tolerable family members who won’t cause trouble at a big family gathering.

For me the best thing about Thanksgiving is giving thanks to God for the gathering of the family, for bringing us to this season, and, yes, for the delicious traditional food. 

Which brings me to my Thanksgiving survey.  If someone asks what we are truly thankful for, we often will say family and friends, as those are the most precious to us.  Nobody ever says “indoor plumbing” or “the library,” but I think we have to recognize that we are thankful for those things, too.

This survey is focused on and limited to Thanksgiving food.  Because I am an American.  Here is my question, which I also posed to my prospective Thanksgiving dinner guests:

Thanksgiving survey
Please complete the following sentence with a food item.  One entry per person. 
It just wouldn't be Thanksgiving dinner without _______________________.

Please answer in the comments.  If you want a bigger platform than this humble household blog gives you, you can go to CNN’s site.

Reading glasses... what every Thanksgiving table needs.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Capitalist opportunity

Dear Fellow Capitalists,

I have discovered a glaring gap in the greeting card industry.

Here’s the story. One of the adult scout leaders in my son’s troop was ill. As a part of my ongoing project to raise my children to be polite and respectable adults, I suggested to my son that it would be appropriate to send the scout leader some get-well wishes.  My son’s idea was this:

1.Type on the computer:
                        Dear Mr. B,
                               Get well soon.
                        Common Household Son
2. Print it out on a plain white 8.5x11 sheet of paper. 
3. Hand it to me to put in an envelope and mail.
4. Play on the Wii.

But I insisted that he had to send an actual card.  I got out my stash of Get Well cards and found some with lovely pastels, flowers, and swirly words of cheer:

Those clearly wouldn’t do for a Boy Scout.  I looked some more and found this one, without flowers:

I handed it to my son.  He looked at me, and said, “Ducks?!  Mom!”

I tried this one:

“CHICKENS?!” he guffawed.  “Don’t they make cards with pictures of people hiking, or tents in a campground?  I can’t send a card with ducks or chickens to Mr. B.”

I spent a few hours and the grocery store, the drug store, and the Hallmark store, looking for masculine get well cards.  I found ONE get well card labeled, “For Him” with a portrayal of tools and gears on it.  I bought it, and every other get well card I found that did not look feminine or crude.

So, capitalists, here is a market niche that you can fill.  Because there has got to be a huge untapped market, worth millions, of Boy Scouts and other manly men out there looking for respectable masculine get well cards to send to their male friends.

I asked my husband about this, and he said he doesn’t believe in greeting cards.  Sigh.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Things which are not as good as

Things which are not as good as the thing they are trying to imitate:

Pumpkin pie Poptarts vs Pumpkin Pie

Wonderbread vs Homebaked Wonderful Bread

Bagel Thins vs Bagels  (bagel fats?)

Stuffed Turkey vs Stuffed Turkey

Monday, November 7, 2011

Beat it with a stick

In October I visited my parents.  I got back home on Sunday October 23rd, and the next morning I went to aerobics class.  The routines included lots of punching, which normally I don’t like, but I found it therapeutic this time around.  Not only did I sorely need exercise after 5 days sitting around at the Old Folks’ Home, but I needed to punch something.

I have mentioned before that my father has Parkinson’s disease.  The doctor who saw him in the hospital said that the only way to treat Parkinson’s is to “beat it with a stick.”  Sixteen years ago, my Dad started out fighting it with Darth Maul’s light saber.  But now it seems his weapon is reduced to a twig. 

Hospital neurologists were able to stop his hallucinations and dyskinesia (uncontrollable, random, violent body movements) by changing his Parkinson’s meds regimen – smaller doses given more frequently.  Within 24 hours of this new regimen he was restored to sanity and was no longer at risk of throwing himself out of bed.  By the time I arrived in town, he was able to carry on a conversation, which meant that I had a good visit with him.

But that doesn’t mean that all is well.  Reducing the dosages decreases his mobility.  I’ll spare you all the details, but it’s not at all easy for him, or for my Mom.  I can't even begin to say what effect all this has on my Mom.  Also, it seems practically impossible for the medicine nurse in the nursing care unit to stick to the 3-hour pill schedule.  The system they have in place works fairly well for all the patients, but does not work excellently for any one patient.

So at aerobics class that day every punch was destined for Parkinson’s Disease.  I want to beat it to a pulp.

Today Dad is back in the hospital with more of the same symptoms.  I feel trapped – I want to go there but I would have to either leave the kids here and come back before Friday or take them with me.  Either option is horribly complicated.  So I stay here, and wring my hands, and go to aerobics, and punch the air.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

D.I.Y. Biological Halloween Costume

As a service to humanity, or at least parents of children with a scientific bent, I present the Common Household home-made scientific Halloween costume: the cell.
A cell lurks in the neighborhood

From my perspective, this costume was great.  Youngest Daughter bubbled with enthusiasm at the possibility of being a cell for Halloween. So I handed her an old sheet and some fabric paint, and said, “Measure twice, cut once. Don’t get paint on the carpet. Go for it.”   That was the full extent of my involvement.  She did all the work herself.

The first task was to cut a hole for her head.  She got out the measuring tape, the stiff metal kind that is useful for measuring rooms and furniture, and measured her head.  She said, “Mommy, do you really think that my head could be 2 feet around?”  Her brother said, “If you want to get an accurate measurement, use a string. Wrap it around your head, and then take the string off and measure its length.”  She bounded off in search of string.  She remembered to figure out where the center of the sheet was before she cut the hole.  Whew!

Then it was just a matter of painting the various parts of the cell.  When I was in school, a cell only had a nucleus.  Nowadays a cell is chock full of all kinds of stuff, including endoplasmic reticulum, which is fun to say but difficult to explain.   My daughter picked the paint colors herself, and outlined everything in glow-in-the-dark clear fabric paint.
Okay, bio majors, what's missing here?   
Answer in the penultimate paragraph.

This costume had a bonus.  The 7th grade science classes are currently learning about cells, so my daughter took her costume into class, and explained it in detail. The teacher gave her not one, but two homework passes which can be turned into extra credit at the end of the quarter.  Halloween candy plus a better grade – there are no losers here.

I have been informed that this cell model is missing something.  When I called my daughter to come downstairs and explain the endoplasmic reticulum to me, she came half-way down the stairs and said, “I can do that from up here.”  To encourage brevity I said, “I’ll bet you can do it standing on one foot” (just like Rabbi Hillel).  So she stood on the stairs on one foot and told me what the endoplasmic reticulum does.  She revealed that her cell does not include the smooth endoplasmic reticulum, because she didn't have room for it.  I didn’t retain much of her explanation, except to note that there is an awful lot that goes on inside a cell.

What is your favorite home-made Halloween costume?  Or do you prefer store-bought?

The benefits of being a cell for Halloween

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Just in Time for Halloween

Guest Post by Youngest Daughter - her own recipe for Witch's Brew.  Happy Halloween!

Witch’s Brew
By Youngest Daughter of the Common Household

What you need: 
a cauldron
an Israeli coffee pot 
3 hand presses of moss (shredded) 
1 ladleful of dirt 
3 coffeepots of tap water 
12 wet leaves (oak is the best) 
1 pinch of ground bark 
2 pinches of pencil shavings 
2 coffeepots of secrets ingredient 
1 large stick (not over 1 ½ ft. long)

What to do: Line the bottom of your cauldron by sprinkling it with the moss. Add the tap water.

Add the rest of your ingredients in the order above, except for the pencil shavings, secrets ingredient, and the large stick. Add the pencil shavings slowly, sprinkling each pinch around the top of your brew.

Add one coffee of the secrets ingredient, say your magical words, and add the other coffee.

Stir slowly with your large stick counter-clockwise 10 times. Stir clockwise 7 times. Allow your brew to sit for 20 seconds, then rest your stick against the cauldron in a 6:00 position.

Immediately clear away the rest of your things, and leave your brew to stew under a maple tree. The next day, your brew should have stewed long enough for it to be done. Add more water at this time if necessary.

DO NOT EAT UNLESS YOU ARE A WITCH! If you are a witch, serve cold.

Word of advice: Sitting water is better than tap water, because it has had more time to collect magic. However, if your mom won’t let you get sitting water for your brew, like mine, then you can just use tap water like in the instructions.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Science at Dinner

I was away for five days at my parents.  My Dad is stable for now, in the nursing care unit at the retirement place.  More on that another time, perhaps.  I got back on Sunday, and was able to participate in this dinner-time science lesson.

Youngest Daughter (plaintively):  Mommy, why do we have to grow up?

Son:  Technically speaking, you don’t have to grow up, but the experimental probability of not growing up is incredibly small.

Me:  If you grow up but your body doesn’t grow up, that’s not too good.

Son:  Then you’re just pretentious.

Me:  ???  Pretentious?

Son:  Yeah.  That’s on our list of 100 SAT words.

Me (after much thought):  Perhaps you mean ‘precocious?’

Son:  Yes.  Something like that....

My son went on to talk about chemicals, and mentioned phosphate.  Youngest Daughter said, “What are the two things about phosphate?” (She meant ‘What are the elements in phosphate?’)

Son: “Phosphorus and oxygen.”

YD:  “Phosphorus and ostrichen?”

He explained that phosphorus is used to make fertilizer.   Youngest Daughter was inspired to write this song about phosphate.  It is sung to a tune she learned at Girl Scout camp, more like a cheer than a song.

A-T-E spells phosphate, phosphate.
It’s the only decent kind of compound, compound
The guy who found it must have been run to the ground, to the ground

A-T-E you see,
It’s inside your manure,
It has phosphorus for sure,
It’s phosphate for me!

Son said, “Why don’t you write a song about an interesting compound, such as nitrogen tri-iodide?”

YD:  “Because it had to have 9 letters.”

We tried to think of another chemical compound with 9 letters in it, but failed.  And I never got to find out why nitrogen tri-iodide is interesting.