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.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


An hour's work

It is that time of year when we must remind ourselves why we love deciduous trees.  And we do love them, for their bright hope in spring, leafy shade in summer, brilliant colors in early fall, and bare branches in winter.  But maybe we wish they could be on a schedule for the release of their leaves in the fall.  The maple in the front yard could let loose the week of Oct 7th, then the red maple in the back the week of Oct 14th, and so on. Alas, they do not.

It is also the season when we need to remind ourselves why we have teenagers.  Because the teenagers could be useful when it comes to raking leaves.  Alas, they are not.

I spent one hour today raking leaves.  It was a gorgeous day, the neighborhood was quiet, and the work was aerobic.  I had a good time, working hard by myself.  I was rejoicing because my Dad is doing better, with a change in his Parkinson’s meds.  I am expecting he will have another one of these episodes sometime soon, but for now he is stable and might even get out of the hospital tomorrow.

Working in the yard today gave me a rare sense of accomplishment. Raking leaves is hard on perfectionists because it is impossible to do a perfect job and get every leaf.  But still, I much prefer raking to using one of those obnoxiously loud blowers, or the lawn mower, to move the leaves around.  By late afternoon, the men of the neighborhood were home, and doing their version of raking leaves with their noisy, manly machines.

The township comes by every week or so and sucks the leaf piles into a giant truck that looks like an elephant, and takes them away to make mulch.  Then in the spring, everyone in the township can go get free leaf mulch.  A great system!  Except for that part where we have to get them to the top of the hill. 
It took me a long time to figure out how to write that degree symbol.

This evening at dinner, my husband said with admiration, “HOW did you get all those leaves to the top of the hill?!” 

Wanting to impress further, I said mysteriously, “With my mind.” 

He replied, “Good.  I would have thought you had to use your arms to do that.”

Before next week, more leaves will fall.  Maybe it will be the teenager’s turn then. 

Thanks be to God for doctors who know what they are doing, for sunny autumn days, for arms and legs that work, and for teenagers.  And for deciduous trees.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mortal Joins Mighty Chorus on Piano

Tomorrow morning during the worship service I am playing the hymns on the piano, accompanying the organ.  I am excited and humbled to participate in the music in this way.

It is one of those tasks which I am utterly surprised I ever get asked to do again.  It’s a good thing the organ is a lot louder than the piano. Even if I have enough time to practice, and even if I get all the notes right and play ultra-musically during the week, invariably I mess up on Sunday morning.  To plagiarize Paul: I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not play the good note I want, but the evil note I do not want to play is what I do play.  (See Romans 7:18-19.)

So for me, playing the hymns in church is an exercise in asking forgiveness in advance.  I ask God to redeem the foul notes and turn them into heavenly harmony.

I have extra praying to do for tomorrow morning, because the first hymn, “Make Us One,” does not fit with my classical music training.  It starts in the key of C.  Easy – no sharps or flats!  But right there in the second line, it changes up and tricks my fingers.  The keys I’m supposed to play produce beautiful, if unusual, harmonies.  But the keys my fingers find produce harmonies that are just way too unusual.  And then, just when I had gotten used to it in the key of C, it modulates up a half-step to the key of D-flat, which has five (5), count them, five (5) flats.  This is a challenge which my neuronal connections are not quite ready for.  But the music must go on.  Sing loud, folks!  Don’t listen too closely to see if I play the double-flats correctly.

The last hymn is, by contrast, an old favorite: “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”  This arrangement also has a grandiose final-verse finish, with a modulation from G to A-flat, lots of gigantic chords and nifty moving bass lines, but the music director excused me from playing that.  The music director is very wise. 

Playing the hymns this week has been a particular comfort and challenge for me.  My father is very ill.  I am glad to be able to turn to these hymns, both for their lyrics and music.  The challenge of playing them has given me something else to think about besides Dad’s illness and Mom’s despair.  I especially like the 4th verse of “Joyful, Joyful”:

            Mortals, join the mighty chorus
Which the morning stars began;
Love divine is reigning o’er us,
Leading us with mercy’s hand.
Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife.
Joyful music leads us sunward
In the triumph song of life!

So thanks, Mr. Music Director, all y’all hymn writers, Henry Van Dyke, and Louie Von Beethoven, for letting me play along this week, mistakes and all, struggling to be a victor in the midst of strife.   

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Anniversary and Fast

As far as I can remember, this is the first time that our anniversary has fallen on Erev Yom Kippur. So this year we got each other flowers a day early.  Here are those flowers, with a bonus ‘self-portrait’ included in one of the photos.

Now it’s Tuesday already, and I’m still recovering from the weekend.  A 25-hour fast is not to be undertaken lightly.  I participate in the fast partly because I feel it makes fasting easier for those around me.  I once tried a fast on Good Friday, when no one else in the family was fasting, and it was a complete failure.  It’s hard to abstain from food when everyone else isn’t. 

The Yom Kippur fast is also a spiritual exercise for me.  In a certain sense, I find this holiday satisfying because it allows me time to spend concentrating on prayer.  It’s amazing how much less I have to do when (a) I have already cleaned the house and (b) I don’t have to prepare meals for anybody.  

This year it was not the fast itself that was difficult for me, but other things about the weekend that don’t have anything to do with our anniversary or with the Jewish holiday.  Things that won’t be posted here, to preserve the privacy and sanity of people I love. 

But the weekend is over now.  In order to dissipate my tension I did what many self-respecting American suburbanite mothers would do:  I baked chocolate chip cookies.  I talked with friends.  I also went to the dentist today, which turned out to be an excellent psychotherapy session.  And.... no cavities!

And so we move on.  On to the beauty of fall, the pressure of PSATs, the mailing of care packages to college students, the horror of 7th-grade math homework (actually it’s not the homework itself that is a horror, but the reaction of the 7th grader to the homework).

So, dear reader, what have you been up to?  Anything satisfying, difficult, or cookie-related that you would like to share?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Have some cake, honey

Yesterday’s post-prandial dialogue:

Son:  What’s for dessert?

Me:  There is honey cake.

Son: The same cake as we’ve had for the past 5 days?!  When will that cake go away?

Husband: Hey, that cake lasted for 40 years while our people were wandering around in the desert.

* * * * *

On Rosh Hashanah it is traditional to have honey cake.  It is meant to go along with wishes for a sweet new year.  I researched honey cake recipes extensively, and found that 78.4% of all honey cake recipes include coffee as an ingredient.  The coffee bitterness would automatically cancel out the honey sweetness, thereby disqualifying it as a recipe I want to make. And what would such a cake say about our New Year wishes – have a bittersweet year?

I guess if I were actually Jewish, I would not have a problem breaking with tradition entirely, and serving, maybe, dirt pudding.  The sentiment there could be, “Have a dirty year!”

This year for Rosh Hashanah I tried a recipe for orange honey cake that I found on the internet. I thought this orange cake was pretty good, although I disobeyed the recipe  by using 2 8x8 pans, and then overbaked it.  Fortunately for me, the Day of Atonement for Baking Disobedience and Other Sins is upon us.

I added a lemon glaze to one of my cakes, and that rendered the cake very tasty indeed, for those of us who like lemon.  But that does not include the Common Household Children.  They will have to wait until 5773 for me to try a new recipe.

Below are the recipe and photos of the honey cakes and a few other Rosh Hashanah traditional foods.  Happy 5772!  
Honey cakes!

Apples 'n' honey!

It just wouldn't be a Jewish holiday without Manischewitz wine!

Honey Cake
By Int R. Net

Prep Time        20 Min                       Cook Time       45 Min
Ready in           1 Hr 10 Min               Original recipe yield 1 - 9x13 inch pan
12 Servings

1 cup white sugar
1 cup honey
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 cup orange juice

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, honey, oil, eggs and orange zest. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the orange juice, mixing just until incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool.

The glaze I added was simply this:
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
½ cup lemon juice

Mix together.  With a fork, poke holes in the cake about every 1 to 2 inches.  Spoon the glaze over the cake, letting it soak into the cake.  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Physics and other lessons

My son has several big tests coming up, so Saturday night’s activity was to have a jovial study session.  Isn’t that what every family does for fun?  The main entertainment value came from recognizing how little this Mom and her Youngest Daughter knew about physics.

Most physics problems involve moving objects.  The first problem we were given was this:  A plane flies 200 km due West from City A to City B.  Then it flies 300 km 30 degrees north of west from City B to City C.  Along a straight-line distance, how far is City A from City C?  

My son said it would be much easier to solve if I drew a picture.  So I did, but I immediately admitted defeat because the points did not form a right triangle. Instead I drew a picture of people waiting in line at the airport, because waiting in line does not involve moving objects, but stationary people, and therefore no physics problem to solve.
As you can see, the solution does involve forming a right triangle eventually.  I will leave it to you people who remember trigonometry to find the solution on your own.  

Next question.  If a body is moved from sea level to the top of a mountain, what changes: its mass, its weight, or both?  After some discussion of what “body” means in physics class (it means “an object” not “a dead human body”), we determined that the weight changes, because the body is further away from the earth’s center of gravity, but the mass does not change. 

Then came the clincher.  He asked, “What metric units do we use to measure weight?”  Youngest Daughter said, “Grams.”  No, that measures mass.  She said, “Pounds.”  Nope, that’s mass in the English system.  Folks, you will never believe this, but the answer is that weight is measured in newtons!  I thought the only thing measured that way was figs. 

Next question.  A stack of books is placed on a scale in an elevator. The scale reads 165 newtons.  The stack’s true weight is 165 newtons.  Can you tell if the elevator is moving at a constant velocity of 2 m/sec up, 2 m/sec down, or not moving?   Once I was able to stop thinking about bar cookies, I judged Youngest Daughter’s answer to be correct:  “Who would ever put a scale in an elevator?”  Clearly, this elevator is in the physics department at a major university.  My son told me later that no one in his physics class questioned the idea of placing a scale in an elevator.

We went on in this vein, until Youngest Daughter, who was trying to stand on her head on the couch, said to her brother, “I have a physics question for YOU.  If I fall off the couch at 3 meters per second, and I hit the ground in 13/10 of a second, how long is the ground away?”
Son:  “How LONG is the ground AWAY?  Three weeks?  In California?”
But he set to work, saying, “It’s more complicated than you think.  Because, unbeknownst to you, you are accelerating!” 
Youngest Daughter:  “I am?!”
After much calculating, he said, “This is a pretty big couch – it’s 4.381 meters high.”
Youngest Daughter:  “So, did I break my neck?”
Son:  “Probably.”

Then we moved on from Physics to English.  He showed me a 55 page single-spaced typed packet entitled “Concision” (meaning ‘leanness of words’).  ’Nuff said.

On to American History. 
Son:  “Who was the first man in space?”
Youngest Daughter:  “Louis Armstrong?”
Son:  “No!  There are two famous Armstrongs, and Louis Armstrong is one of them.”
Me:  “Lance Armstrong is the other.”
Son: “Well, there are three famous Armstrongs.”
Me:  “Yuri Gagarin.”
Son:  “Right.  Who was the first American in space?”
YD:  “Lance Armstrong?”

Son:  “Where was the Berlin Wall?”
Me:  “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?”

Son:  “What are two civil rights laws passed during the Eisenhower years?”
YD:  “Thou shalt not shoot...”
Son:  “I don’t think there are any American laws that begin with ‘Thou shalt not.’”

I doubt this study session left my son any better prepared for his tests, but he did prove that I am NOT smarter than an 11th grader.